Tag Archives: bees

Florence Ribbed Courgettes & Hanging Tomatoes

Alongside the bee-loved plants, vegetables grow apace.

The Kings Seeds Florence Ribbed courgette is a stunner. Here are babies on some of my seedlings transplanted to a Lower Hutt garden.

Fancourgette

And this is looking down into one of the four plantings in my back garden.

Florence couregettes

Some of the flowers are HUGE, but they don’t seem to attract bees. On the biggest plant, some courgettes rot at the ends as they grow. (When I harvest I slash off any rotten bits. And all the courgettes have been good to eat.)

The plants that travelled up the coast to Kapiti are doing the best of all. Look at this monster that grew there, over just a few days while the owners were away.

comparative courgettes
That big one is 14 1/2 inches long.

The two in the middle came from Kapiti, too, along with an excellent recipe for courgette and feta fritters. Those on the far right are the largest so far from my plantings here.

And, at last, I hung some tomato plants upside down, after transplanting them and  keeping them ‘right’ way up for some days without watering, so they would establish their roots.

tomato

The bigger one, in the foreground,  is a Cherokee Purple, the smaller a little rescue Black From Tula. I’m intrigued that both tomatoes are still trying to grow upwards. See how that stem curves in the middle, towards the top of the pic?

And the compost sure holds the water. When we first hung them up even though I didn’t water them, for DAYS water dripped out via the Black From Tula, which hangs a little lower.   So I put a pot of marjoram underneath, to catch the drips.

The contrast with this lovely row is considerable, isn’t it?

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But I’m doing my best. Learning heaps.

Meanwhile, out on the zigzag, more tomatoes, silver beet and the parsley are growing well. Though something’s nibbling at one of the silver beet plants. A slug? A snail? A bird?

silver beet slightly eaten

Perhaps not snails. The other day,  a guy leant on the rail above the  cape gooseberries, next to the silver beet. He gazed at them for quite a while, without saying a thing.

cape gooseberries doing well
cape gooseberries

Eventually I said–

‘Are you wondering what they are?’

‘No,’ he said. ‘They’re cape gooseberries. I had some and snails ate them.’

So I’ve decided that if snails aren’t eating these gooseberries, it’s unlikely they’re around to eat the silver beet, either.

Anyway, I hope that guy will return, to eat some cape gooseberries when they ripen.They’re flowering now. I don’t think they need bees for pollination.

And then, after claiming yesterday that the bumbles are interested only in lavender, poppies and borage, today I saw one dancing among these flowers. Nothing left in the poppies, it seemed, so she tried the yellow calendulas and the cornflowers on the right.

all of them

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The Bee-Loved Flowers Are Growing & So Are The Conversations

I had NO IDEA that growing beeloved flowers would stimulate so many conversations. Not always about bees.

On the zigzag the conversations are with passersby. Some I know. Some I don’t.  Sometimes I’m happy to chat. Sometimes I’m not.  And I loved it when a strong and chatty house guest dug a trench for me,  in a clayey zigzag spot, for the sunflowers which I should’ve transplanted weeks ago. You can see they’re not that happy, a week later. But today it’s raining steadily. That may help.

sunflowers on zigzag, with woollen weed mat (to be continued)

I left the rest of the group in my back garden where they flourish.

sunflowers & glimpse of Florence courgette flower on left
sunflowers & glimpse of Florence courgette flower on left

I loved it on the zigzag when an old acquaintance passed by and said he’d like a  parsley patch. So when the sunflowers were in, in front of them I planted a group of volunteer tomatoes a neighbour donated, some Black From Tula toms that I’d left far too long in their pots, some phacelia that the birds – or a cat frustrated by the netting on the backyard garden – immediately scratched up. And at the very front, next to the zigzag path, a little patch of small parsleys and a few calendulas.

parsley
part of the parsley & calendula patch

I also have conversations with people who are growing tiny plants from here, at their place.

fBr-t6N4
I’ve lost track…

This picture came in a tweet, in a little group of tweets from one household–

I’ve lost track of what some of these plants are… Also, I tried three of the toms hanging from buckets but I didn’t get their roots in far enough so had to replant them more normally.

I looked at this herb, growing on a sunny windowsill I’m familiar with. It’s grown more quickly than most of my own herbs sown from the same seeds at the same time. But all their labels blew away when they were seedlings. What is it?

I know it’s not thyme. There are thyme, hyssop and bergamot babies in my garden. I sowed two kinds of bergamot, bergamot bee balm and bergamot lemon but they and the hyssop are new to me. Thyme’s the only one I’m sure of, by look and smell and taste.

Thyme and bergamot?
thyme (left) with bergamot or hyssop

Is that plant on the windowsill anise hyssop? Maybe.

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anise hyssop

Is it bergamot? Also maybe. See how it has serrated leaves too? Do you know what the plants on the windowsill are? Please feel free to let me know–

2037a
bergamot

Like hyssop, bergamot is an aromatic perennial herb. It’s also thought to be a good companion to tomato plants. So I hope  those little plants in the sunny window are bergamot and will  join the now-flourishing tomato plants in my friends’ also-sunny garden. And that they will flower soon and feed many bees.

Via email, I have another conversation,  with my mate who identified shepherd’s purse on the zigzag. We swapped bean seeds last year. My bordoloi for her scarlet runners. And both are going great at her place.  She sent me some photos. A bordoloi already–

the first bordoloi
the first bordoloi

And lots of scarlet runner flowers.

scarlet runner flowers
scarlet runner flowers

I gave her a Florence ribbed courgette too. Like mine, it’s looking good. Well on the way.

Florence courgette
Florence courgette

And as for the bees, they’re regularly on this little path leading from my place to the zigzag, more bumbles than honey bees.

The red wheelbarrow
single wild sweet pea, dandelion, alyssum, giant pink Palestine stock, more alyssum, daisy or two, calendula, borage on the left, geranium, red wheelbarrow and lavender on the right

(I’ve learned now that bees stay away from geranium, so it’s a good plant to establish around places we want bees to avoid, like a child’s sandpit. I’m keeping mine here by the mailbox, as a courtesy towards the posties.)

AND, for the first time, I’ve  seen a (bumble) bee on the zigzag. It alighted on this forget-me-not, near the new tomato plants.

yay this random, volunteer, forget-me-not
yay this random volunteer forget-me-not

Weeds & No Bees

zigzag

Outside my front door is a public path, a zigzag on a hillside. Originally planned as a road, it’s well-used by people on their way to the beach. Or to climb further up the hillside and perhaps then to drop down into the city. It’s Busy.

They run. They plod. They chat online and in person.

They walk their dogs. Some with plastic bags they use to remove their dogs’ shit. Some not.

And the zigzag tends to get Overgrown. So the city council employs contractors to tidy up.  And SPRAY.

I wasn’t happy about the spray. Not good for the bees. Or the soil. Or people. So I volunteered to care for the spaces close to me.

Some neighbours look after other sections and on one area I care for neighbours also kindly cleared around some native trees. And we’ve all collected a lot of rubbish. This chicken satay wrapping touched my heart. Did it come from whoever ate the chicken flavoured crisps?

Chicken satay
chicken satay & chicken flavoured crisps

Even though the zigzag is  close to my own bee-filled garden, I never see bees there. Or butterflies. Too few flowers. Probably too much spray residue, too, though the bees wouldn’t notice that.

I’ve been clearing spaces for sunflowers and tomatoes.

area for sunflowers

And for cape gooseberries.

area for cape goosberries

A neighbour’s  growing pumpkins outside her place. And herbs. And I’ve added herbs too.

thyme
thyme
lemon balm
lemon balm (with tiny parsley seedlings)
marjoram
marjoram

And native grasses someone gave me, grouped around the area where I’ll make a little path.  If you look carefully you can see three of the grasses here.

grasses
grasses

It’s a mission, to Get Rid of Weeds Without Sprays. Especially Dock, with its big roots and many seeds. Especially Fennel with its big roots and many seeds. There’s Wandering Willie. There’s ConvUlvulus.  Actually ConvOlvulus, but I wonder about that ‘vOlvu’ combination, because of the leaf’s shape.

Convulvulus

One writer says this about convolvulus–

Convolvulus is a tricky weed to deal with, because it spreads underground through its deep roots and rhizomes. Try to pull as much out as possible, following the white roots underground as you go, trying to pull them out rather than let them break off (where they will continue to grow). Convolvulus is another weed where it’s often helpful to use a little weedkiller; one time consuming but effective way to deal with it is to break the tip off of the runner[s] and dip them in bottle caps of Roundup, keeping them in the caps until it spreads into the roots. Otherwise, similar to Wandering Willie, it’s worth maintaining constant vigilance after removing it once.

Yep. I’m tempted to use Roundup for convolvulus.  But never have.

Then there’s this plant – I don’t know its name and can’t find it in weedlists.  It has huge underground roots, too.

anonymous (to me)
anonymous (to me), on the zigzag beyond ‘my’ bits

It also has lots of seeds. They scatter-and-sprout-in-cracks-and- crevices very very quickly  so I try to grab them as soon as they appear. Sometimes I can’t face digging the mature plants out, because of their roots, so I run round chopping off the flowers before they seed.

But one weed I can celebrate. A mate wandered around the hillside and found this.

shepherd's purse
shepherd’s purse

Yum, she said. She picked a whole lot and made an egg soup with it. Days later she sent me the English name and I looked it up and saw that yes, it is a healthy and useful herb and yes, there are all kinds of recommendations about how to kill it with chemicals. I ‘weed’ this little shepherd’s purse plot now, so it will divide and multiply.

And I’m putting my mind onto LABELS. So passersby know what the plants are. Know they can help themselves to anything they like. So they can offer ideas and plants if they feel like it.

And I’m thinking about a PLEASE CLEAN UP YOUR DOG’S SHIT sign.

As soon as the sunflowers, tomatoes, cape gooseberries are in the ground, on their nice woollen weed mat, I’m onto more bee-loved flowers out there.

The woollen weed mat – more of a carpet really – comes from Biogrow, the  same place as the biodegradable pots. Two big boxes of it dropped at the door.

weedmat1

In theory, I could use it without grubbing out all those nasty weeds. Just add compost on top and plant.

BUT I can’t cover the whole zigzag with the mat so it feels right to clear the soil where I am going to use it.  And the soil around that area. At least.

weedmat2

(The wool cuts easily with scissors. Could be sewn? A woollen-weed-carpet-collection-of-garments-to-garden-in?)

Heartbreak

1.

When I woke up the other morning the bee box was gone.

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IMG_0994

A couple of bees remained nearby. I wondered, ‘Will they fly across town to find the others’?

The garden was a little quieter, all day. But it was more than sound. For a few days the bee box and its occupants had added a very special feeling.

That evening, half a dozen bees flew into the kitchen, its door near where I’d stood to watch them move around their box. I helped them to leave the kitchen. Gently. One was very feisty. The others were more passive. One seemed dazed.

Then, as night fell, I looked up. And saw a tiny bee huddle, near where the base of the box used to be.

IMG_0995

I texted the neighbour. Who collected them to take to the rest of the hive, in the morning (with a dose of honey).

That was my little heartbreak for this week. I miss those bees.

But there’s a much larger heartbreak. The neonics story.

2.

It’s taking me longer than I imagined it would to research the nasty chemicals that harm bees– neonicotinoids, or neonics, which I find easier to pronounce and to spell. But it’s almost Labour Weekend  in New Zealand, that big holiday weekend when we all PLANT. So here’s some brief neonics info, for Australasians who visit plant shops this weekend.

Dave Goulson, the scientist who wrote A Sting in The Tale about bumblebees, tweeted this the other day–

A single seed

And this, a wider view of how neonics affect the environment around them–

Into soil etc

Neonics harm bees in various ways, when they go into soil and last for ages and when they go into crops. That little 1% in the dust, I’ve read, kills heaps of bees.

And neoniced flowers also harm bees, even flowers of otherwise beneficial bee plants, flowers that they love. Here’s a view of how neonics move into a single plant with a flower that feeds bees, from a recently released Friends of the Earth report

poster neonics

In the words of the report, this is how the neonics work–

Nurseries commonly apply systemic pesticides as soil injections, granular or liquid soil treatments, foliar sprays (applied to leaves), and seed treatments. Water-soluble pesticides are readily absorbed by plant roots and transported systemically in the plant’s vascular system to other portions of the plant, including roots, pollen and nectar, leaves, stems, and fruit.This systemic action results in the exposure of beneficial, non-target insects such as bees to potentially lethal doses of these pesticides.

Neonics aren’t regulated in New Zealand and I haven’t so far found research about their use here. But when I learned that many seeds are coated with neonics, I thought my garden was safe because I save and exchange seeds and buy them from the Koanga Institute and Kings Seeds and don’t use sprays. I don’t know about other branded seeds on sale at garden centres though. I don’t know about the plants and other products on sale, either.

But the Friends of the Earth research found that 51% of plants sold to consumers at a range of garden centres across the United States Canada were contaminated with neonics–

The high percentage of contaminated plants…and their neonicotinoid concentrations suggest that this problem is widespread, and that many home gardens have likely become a source of exposure for bees. The results indicate that neonicotinoids occur in both flowers and in stems and leaves, with some samples having higher concentrations in flowers than greenery and other samples showing the reverse.

So what can we do this weekend to protect bees? It’s obvious of course. We can ask at our garden centres if their plants or the soil they’ve been raised in have been treated with–

acetamiprid

clothiandin

dinotefuran

imidacloprid (Consumer* names Yates’ Confidor as a product that includes imidacloprid )

14sep-pesticides-imidacloprid-_medium

thiacloprid

thiamethoxam

We can look on the labels of the other garden and domestic products we buy (some might be non-garden products like ant killer), for –

acetamiprid

clothiandin

dinotefuran

imidacloprid

thiacloprid

thiamethoxam

(I’m repeating here, planning to make a little song to help me remember the words.)

And we can refuse to buy any seed plant or product that may place our bees at risk.

If you live in Wellington and want some safe bee-loved plants, let me know in the comments and I can provide you with some from my garden, where I’m raising quantities to give away this year, to explore growing them as a business.

And here’s another poster from Friends of the Earth, in case you’d like to print it out for your fridge–

 

Bee safe gardening tips

 

*GARDEN CENTRE BUYERS PLEASE BE AWARE OF THESE TOXIC-TO-BEES PRODUCTS

The Consumer article also refers to some other products. Checking them one by one, in case neonics in New Zealand had different names than I was familiar with, I found these toxic-to-bees products, which may or may not be neonic–

Diazinon

Diazinon, according to the New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research, is highly toxic to bees. It is in these products–

14sep-pesticides-diazinon_medium

Carbaryl

Carbaryl, according to the University of California at Davis, is also toxic to bees. Consumer names this product as containing Carbaryl (it is also toxic to humans and in New Zealand only ‘approved handlers’ will be able to apply it after July 2015)–

14sep-pesticides-carbaryl-_medium

Acephate

Cornell University research shows that Acephate is toxic to bees. Consumer lists these products as containing Acephate–
14sep-pesticides-acephate_medium

 

More toxic-to-bees info to come, I’m sure. Please let me know if you have any additions! That’s going to be a multi-verse song, I reckon!

I’m disappointed

 

yes, they're out--
yes, they’re out–

The bees are out, on a fine morning. There are more of them in the borage today, but only bumble bees in the blossoming trees.

So I walk around and up to the neighbours’ side of the wall to see whether there’s something that obstructs the bees’ access, to get the bee perspective if I can. I look out and down. Is the washing on the line a problem I wonder?

IMG_0971
apples and pears in full flower, bits of other blooms. & the washing.

The blossom’s as close to the bee box as it seems to be from my place.

IMG_0974
pear, borage, nasturtium

Yep. I’d feel invited.

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To the pear blossom. And to the apple blossom just a bit further away. And they’re all safe. Never been sprayed.

(Some pears and some but not all of the apple trees attract codlin moth and pheromone traps have never been effective. When I prepare pears I often have to cut out the codlin larvae and wash off their frass.  And sometimes I have to pick little black bugs off the pear’s leaves, towards the end of the season.)

Will the bees find the blossom? No idea. I can’t see the problem.

And then I notice a bumble bee, on top of the box. It seems to be trying to burrow into a chip in the brick.

IMG_0968

As far as I know, bumbles are solitary. But does it smell that lovely bee smell? Want to be nearby? Or is it just looking for somewhere to live that’s close to the beautiful blossom?

More Magic

bees on back fence
bee box on back fence

A neighbour brought some bees home from work. From urban bee hives. They’re in and out of a little box, up on our back fence, exactly the week that our fruit trees blossom, in a garden filled with borage and calendula and lavender flowers.

And I’m in love. Can watch those bees for hours. Pop out to visit when I want to smile. And I can smell an entrancing honey-ish aroma. The beeswax perhaps?

So far, they’re not much interested in our place. This calm and sunny morning we have the same number of bees and bumble bees we’ve had here for weeks, making a pleasant hum. Are the visiting bees more interested in the neighbour’s own wisteria?

But I put out some water for them, anyway. And thought about the water. With chlorine and other chemicals. Hormones even. Have I missed an essential element in bee well-being? Should I collect rainwater? Should I worry about more than flowers grown from seeds coated with neonics (writing about them in my next post)?

heritage apple blossom, calendula, lavender, borage.
heritage apple blossom, calendula, lavender, borage. waiting for those bees.

PS That aroma. Reminds me of Dani Ehrig’s pure beeswax candles. I found a tea candle and a little heart candle in Commonsense Organics and then Dani’s catalogue with an amazing range.

Bee-Loved Flowers

I worry about bees. In my garden, a wild bee is a rarity. Each year there are fewer honey bees and there are more and more bumble bees, which tend to damage the blossom on my fruit trees and beans.

When I learned that most flowering plants are grown from seeds treated with neonicotinoids, neuro-active insecticides that reach flowers and harm foraging bees, I decided to grow more flowering plants. Bee-loved and SAFE,  from seeds without neonicotinoids, where possible heritage seeds and open pollinated seeds that will then provide more ‘safe’ seeds and plants. To distribute as widely as possible. Let me know if you’d like some.

bumble bee in the borage on this windy spring morning when I'll never see a honey bee
A bumble bee in the Borage on this windy spring morning, when I’ll never see a honey bee – they hate the wind

I already have Calendula and Borage. Alyssum. Poppies. Evening Primrose. Italian Parsley and other flowering herbs-to-cook-with. All self sown in my garden, which has been spray-free for almost 35 years. And some plants from the organic shop. Lavender. Rosemary. But now I’m adding others, from Koanga Institute and  King’s Seeds– Peony Black Poppy, Hyssop, Wild Thyme, Bee Balm Bergamot, Anise Hyssop, Lemon Bergamot, Cornflowers. My Sunflower seeds from last year have already sprouted.

And my mates are helping me. They live on the Kapiti Coast, where it’s warmer and their garden gets more sun. Yesterday, one mate brought the  first batch of seedlings into town. I met them at the station and it felt like meeting a new baby.

the seedlings from Kapiti, with colourful labels
first seedlings from Kapiti, with colourful labels

After that, to celebrate, we went to French Can Can, the best-ever Wellington cafe for French savouries and cakes. The boss, Eric Hauser, has TWO Michelin stars. And it shows.

French Can Can, Willis Street, Wellington
French Can Can, Willis Street, Wellington

One of us had a quiche and a mille-feuille with coffee, the other an amazing little chocolate friand-like cake, filled with a delicious gooey chocolate and raspberry sauce, with a pot of tea. The tea came with a three minute tea timer, so the tea drinker could be sure to get some anti-oxidants. Then I took the baby plants home to meet the tomato seedlings.

Welcome to the world, baby plants!

borage and calendula from heritage and untreated seeds, waiting to welcome the bees
Borage and Calendula from untreated heritage seeds, waiting to welcome the bees