Tag Archives: borage

What More Can I Do?

 

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Rosemary

I started to grow neonic-free bee-loved plants to nourish the bees. Because there were few of them, perhaps because the city council sprayed nasty chemicals on the public zigzag outside my gate. The chemicals made me ill, so what were they doing to the bees?

So a lost two years ago I arranged with the city council that I’d care for a big area of the zigzag closest to our place, in return for No Spraying. And I planted lavender and rosemary, alyssum, phacelia, cornflowers, thyme. Nearby, the fruit trees, herbs and bushes flowered in my organic garden as they always did.

This New Zealand summer, the dandelions, calendula, parsley and borage kept right on flourishing and self-seeding in my garden and on the zigzag and I encouraged clover wherever it appeared. Would more bees flourish?

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Autumn: mature lavender above nearby borage, parsley, calendula and silver beet (chard) seedlings, near a primitive shelter for my turmeric plants, growing well in this warmer time

The answer, sadly, is No. At the end of this long hot New Zealand summer there were few bees, in my garden or on the zigzag. After my parsley plantation finished flowering, every so often I saw a bumble bee or honey bee on a rosemary or lavender bush in the garden, or at the edge of the zigzag path on the thyme, growing well. But none on the alyssum, now vigorously self-seeding everywhere and flourishing in spite of little rain. This autumn, still quite warm, I see about one bee a week.

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Alyssum

This is much worse than last year. I don’t know what more I can do.

I also asked ‘Is it possible to maintain a useful garden without water?’ Out on the zigzag, where there’s no tap, I’ve experimented with hugelkultur, raised beds above buried wood, because they’re known to be good for plants and good in drought and flood, both more common than they used to be because of climate change.

And I’ve planted vegetables and small fruits among the the zigzag’s bee-loved flowers and  native plants and trees: ngaio, harakeke (flax), ti kouka (cabbage trees) and grasses.

I’ve found that in some parts of the zigzag and on some of the hugelkultur some plants flourish: tomatoes among the harakeke, bordoloi beans on a hugelkultur (but not the more common scarlet runner beans) hardy silver beet in some places but not others. On one problematic hugelkultur not even the borage and calendula bloomed strongly. There, and elsewhere in the home garden I’ve added more mulches; and  Environmental Fertiliser products. Will let you know how they go!

The best news is, that like friends throughout New Zealand I have a huge quince crop, the best for decades, another result of the dry weather, I believe.

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One of the quince pickings

This year I’ll continue to experiment, maintaining the bee-loved focus while working hard to produce more vegetables. We’re aware of water security here because of the earthquake risk and it’s time to consider future drought risk and food security, too. (I hear passersby on the zigzag discussing these possibilities as they admire – and critique – the trees and plants.)

This week because it’s rained recently I’ll start to clear the noxious weeds, transplant some self-seeded land cress and bury the freesia bulbs I’ve been given, for their scent in the spring.

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Self-sown land cress below some thyme and above the thyme, flourishing hollyhock plants, galangal and calendula, dock and dandelion

I’d love your stories and advice, if you’re engaged in similar projects. And in the meantime, off to the kitchen for the quince paste-making.

 

 

Waiheke Island Honey Co: A Joy!

Waiheke Island at dawn, from Waiheke Honey Co
Waiheke Island at dawn, from Waiheke Honey Co

You may have read about Waiheke Island, half an hour by boat from central Auckland, in Aotearoa New Zealand.  It’s fifth on Lonely Planet‘s current list of Top Ten destinations and fourth on Conde Nast Traveller’s list of the Best Islands in the World.

Late last year I was blessed.  I needed to be in Auckland for a little while and a generous artist friend lent me her beautiful, simple studio/home on Waiheke. And I got to visit Richard at Waiheke Island Honey Co. My first apiary visit ever.  Here he is.

Richard
Richard

I loved hearing and watching how much Richard loves and cares for his ‘girls’, as naturally as possible. He even names each queen – then he puts her her name on the lids of the jars of the honey he collects from her hive. From what I saw and heard, every product he makes receives the same imaginative loving care, from beginning to end. (My chef sons love the elegant-and-sturdy Waiheke Honey Co. aprons.)

If you’re in Waiheke, Richard has a honey shack for roadside sales. (His experience is that passersby are pretty honest.)

honey shack

I’m sad that shortly after I visited the photos I took were lost in the Cloud, with the rest of my iPad’s info. But I do have this picture of some pohutukawa honey I brought home for a friend – along with active manuka, multiflora and clover honeys for others (I ate the active manuka when I needed a boost, but gave the friend the empty  jar, ‘her’ jar, with ‘Queen Amanda’ on); lip balm for a mate in the sub-Sahara where sometimes it’s very hot and dry and sometimes cold dry winds blow; those classy aprons.  And a lovely memory of a special morning. I learned so much.

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Pohutukawa honey, on a pohutukawa stump among a group of pohutukawa close to home.
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the pohutukawa

This summer, Richard’s posted some pictures that feel affirming of what I do, here in the city.

He too scatters parsley seed and then lets the parsley go to seed.

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Then he gives away the seeds.

parsley seeds

For Christmas, he grew ‘the girls’ a special roadside meadow, beside the honey shack.

wide shot Christmas pressie

I recognise flowers that also flourish here, 600km south.

Christmas present to bees
marigold, calendula, cornflower, phacelia, borage (etc!)

(My phacelia didn’t grow this year. Not sure why not.)

the flower whose name I can't remember
phacelia with bee

A big thank you to Richard and Sheena (it’s very much a family business!) for their warm welcome.

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Waiheke Island  Honey Co’s website (that’s the island on the label!), where you can’t yet order their products but can contact them.

And here it is on Twitter, on Facebook, on Google+.

All photographs from the Waiheke Honey Co. Facebook page, except one, as indicated.

And here’s where I stayed– totally perfect if you’re a nature lover who likes to be comfortable, want to be close to beaches and cafe and a good library and within walking distance of the ferry (there are also buses and taxis). More than totally perfect if you want to settle in to paint, draw, write.

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More Spring

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quince blossom above Oriental Bay

I went away. And iCloud lost all my photos, including some of an amazing beekeeper on Waiheke Island and his honeys.

And the weather’s been awful. And I’ve been busy with other work. But spring continued anyway.

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a tui in our apple blossom

The bees are back and I’m gardening when I can.

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blue borage, forget-me-not, poppies & calendula

In one part of the garden, all those open-pollinated seeds from last year grew, flowered and went to seed. Those seeds became a stunning early spring show of poppies, calendula, alyssum, borage (white and blue), night scented stock.

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night scented stock, beginning cornflowers,white borage, alyssum

And, of course, the lavender is still there.

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Out on the zigzag, new seeds have sprouted and the hollyhocks are growing.

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the growing hollyhocks, other flower seedlings, flowering geranium, some shepherd’s purse and in the background a kaka beak (just finished flowering)

This year, around the hugelkultur, I’m experimenting again, as I work with the seasonal arcs of the sun, very different than on the other side of the zigzag.

I’ve emulated the neighbours and tried pumpkins, some seedlings for me, some for them. Bees love those big yellow blossoms.

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The tin cans and other (homemade) metal circles are to deter slugs and snails, which don’t like sharp things. Also cats and birds.

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pumpkin seedlings on the hugelkultur

The wire netting helped with some new seedlings. But the birds got under this wire netting and pulled at my Biogro pots, even though the pots were buried. That killed a bean plant or two, alas. The birds scratched out almost all the coriander, too.

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climbing beans and the remains of the biogro pots the birds destroyed

And this morning, I’ll plant the very last of the pumpkins and some coriander someone gave me.

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Off up the path I go, past the bees already busy in the blossom. Into the spring(ish) day.

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After breakfast.

Spring Is Coming!

It’s been so cold. But people have been planting on the zigzag: fruit trees and natives. This is my contribution, a Royal Rosa apricot from Waimea Nurseries. I planted it at the edge of one of our hugelkulturs, also known as swales, mounds of rotting wood.

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If you look carefully, you will see borage, calendula, lavender

The Royal Rosa is ‘a very early, freestone selection with firm tasty gold flesh, yellow skin with a red blush. A disease hardy, low chill selection recommended for home gardens throughout New Zealand.’ And its fruit will look like this.

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And of course the Royal Rosa will flower, for the bees. I chose an early ripening one to suit the arc of the hillside’s summer sun.

A little further up the hill are some feijoas and three plums, from the Wellington City Council’s Community Fruit Tree programme, planted by our lovely neighbour. Here are two of the plums.

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And yesterday the sun shone and I saw a bumble bee on a calendula. So I worried about the next burst of the council’s Roundup spraying, because Roundup harms bees, as reported here.

I also read  another new report, about how Roundup harms people (see Bibliography page for more research about this)–

Many neurological diseases, including autism, depression, dementia, anxiety disorder and Parkinson’s disease, are associated with abnormal sleep patterns, which are directly linked to pineal gland dysfunction. The pineal gland is highly susceptible to environmental toxicants. Two pervasive substances in modern industrialized nations are aluminum and glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide, Roundup®. In this paper, we show how these two toxicants work synergistically to induce neurological damage.

But then I read, in the council’s response to submissions to its latest Suburban Reserves Management Plan that–

We have just finalised beekeeping guidelines for public land and consider ourselves a bee friendly city.

As fruit trees, vegetable and bee-loved plants proliferate, especially on public reserves like our zigzag,  if the council is committed to being a bee-friendly city, it will have to stop using Roundup and other poisons. Whew and Yay.

In the meantime, in an exciting initiative that supports pollinators, at Bee Gap,  a New Zealand-based  programme to raise awareness and assist gardeners to encourage and add pollinators to their gardens. They’re keen to encourage native bees, bumble bees and leaf cutter bees and have some products for us to use at home.

And on their Facebook page,  the first contemporary image I’ve seen of bees in trees in New Zealand–

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Bees in a tree, New Zealand

The woman who posted it said it’s near New Plymouth–

This natural beehive in a 60ft tree is massive. I had driven past this so many times and didn’t even know it was there. A work mate pointed it out to me. I’m 5′ and could probably fit inside it.

And note, these bees are utterly thriving. It can be done. And this year I hope to have some bees in a tree myself. As well as many flowers for them.

#Bee-Loved Flowers (& Tomatoes!) in Almost-Winter

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After a cold night, it’s warm here now. I still harvest tomatoes, mostly Gardeners Delights from King’s Seeds, like someone down the road who shared the plants (thank you for this handful image, on Twitter in exactly the right week).

This morning in the garden I can’t see a single pollinator, but it’s a thrill to see the rapid spread of alyssum. It seems to be more highly scented at the moment, too.

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alyssum! & look at those healthy calendula leaves & flowers!

A single anise hyssop is flourishing now it’s no longer competing with tomato neighbours. It looks as though it may flower soon. Nearby, one of the Italian parsley plant patches, there for passersby.

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centre top, anise hyssop, plus nasturtium at left, some alyssum and (in front) that Italian parsley patch

The late-planted thyme’s flowering well in places.

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The dandelions are going from strength to strength now I’ve embraced them.

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In the back garden there’s a herb forest alongside the fruit trees. Some bergamot is still flowering (and seeding) among more parsley, borage, alyssum, lavender, vietnamese mint, the very last of the basil fino verde and anise basil. And those tomatoes.

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see the little mauve bergamot flowers?

On the front doorstep, some baby hollyhocks to flower next summer.

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And across the water, in Nelson, some travelling plants, in my mate’s garden near her flowering rosemary, New Zealand fern and late hydrangea.

Pip's garden

The borage shouldering out – as always. The calendula and alyssum going for it across the side. The parsley doing its best. The basil and coriander are probably over.

Some Bee-Loved Plants Leave Home

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Gazebos going up on Ghuznee Street. We were down Leeds Street, just past the most distant gazebo pictured.

So Out in the Park became Out in the (Car) Park, as part of a much bigger event, Cuba Dupa.

And our Bee-Loved stall was there, under one of these gazebos, thanks to my qi gong teacher, Fan, who contributed some – very popular – plants of her own. And to Tasha Haines, whose lovely eye and generous heart are always valuable to have around.

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Fan womanning the Bee-Loved stand (Maeve Lonie poster being blown about behind her, Anna Keir bunting in foreground)

We also advertised qi gong and sold some women’s film-related things.

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And Anna Keir’s quirky crafts.

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Anna Keir birds

It was fun. And good to talk with visitors, share the plants and the accompanying handouts.

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Until a Wellington gust lifted the row of gazebos. Twice. The gazebos were dismantled and we went home early.

I was proud of my plants, from heritage seeds, in their biodegradable Fertil pots from France, in their organic compost and growing sturdily: alyssum, two kinds of basil, bergamot, borage, calendula, coriander, parsley. Many flowering or about to flower. All attractive to bees. All going to provide seeds that their owners can use next year.

Now it’s time to prepare the garden for winter.  There are still bumble bees in the lavender. And the anise hyssop is flowering. But daylight saving ends soon.

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anise hyssop with ratty leaves – not sure what caused those.

 

Out In The Park

Tomorrow, with assistance from lovely mates, I was having a stall at Out in the Park, Wellington’s Queer Fair, down the road at the harbour’s edge. For the first time, I was going to sell bee-loved plants. I even have this big (A0) vinyl poster, logo designed by Maeve Marama Lonie, the daughter of one of my oldest friends.

Maeve's poster
awful pic quality of posters, not great with using the flash–

There’s a coldish southerly tonight, so I brought the plants inside for the last time, sad that they’re going. Each biodegradable pot holds alyssum, two kinds of basil, bergamot, borage, calendula, coriander, parsley, all grown completely organically and without neonics. The idea is that people get to know these plants as they grow and flower, attract bees and then seed. And because the plants all come from heritage seeds, buyers can collect their own seed for next year.

plants tucked in for night

The plants loved it when my qi gong teacher spent forty minutes giving them qi, on Tuesday. ‘They’re happier’, she said afterwards. BUT last night some little organism got to the large basil – the fino verde is fine – so that happiness didn’t protect them.

And now the fair’s been postponed till Sunday because of that nasty southerly, whoosh! in from Antarctica. Irritating, because my driver isn’t available that day and the day’s timeframe for the fair may change, too.

But the extra day gives me time to replace the munted basil and to better organise the other, film, side of the stall. There, I’ll be selling items that aren’t at risk from the environment in the same way plants are.

Pure cotton tea towels from my Development project. All the same size, unlike the bergamot, for instance.

Developent t-towel

And Complex Female Protagonist military caps. Three colours – black, white, khaki. All standard, unlike the greens of the plants. Here’s the poster–

CFP poster

I’ve been too timid to open the carton they arrived in– what if I hate the caps I ordered, military-style, as befits a ‘campaign’?

And now there’s lots of time to do that tomorrow. And to enjoy the sunflowers. Even if it’s raining.

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I might even walk along the zigzag to our local park, formerly a monastery garden. Traces of the garden are still there – brick walls, a huge pear tree, some herbs. But most of all, I love the mature pohutukawa trees. The bees love pohutukawa too, when it flowers in December.

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Bees In The Blossom. And Other Winged Insects

It is DRY. I have to restrain myself from dragging the long hose onto the public zigzag. I need to know what will grow well out there, even if neglected, even in a drought.

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left to right– borage, poppies, daisies

But it’s hard when I look at this borage (yes, the borage is back, in some places at least), these poppies. They are all stressed. The daisies seem very hardy. I’ll add them in other places next year.

In the regularly watered home garden, there are very few honey bees. But the bumbles are busy. And they LOVE the phacelia, now flowering abundantly. Even when there’s fresh borage nearby.

bumbles choose phacelia
bumbles choose phacelia, among borage, calendula, cornflowers
Bumbles in phacelia
going for it
phacelia with bee
this one so you can admire the phacelia leaves

I’ve added a little bowl of water in the back garden, for the bees. (A bumble bee fell in and was in bad shape when I came to the rescue. I put it in a shady place to recover. And then it was gone.)

The water hasn’t attracted the honey bees. Occasionally one comes by. This one had a lot of flower choice and went for a series of calendula blossoms.

honey bee in calendula

And I’ve noticed other winged insects. Here are two. I’ve searched on Google reverse image for them, without success. Are they busy eating little pests? I hope so.

another winged creature at rest

winged creature at rest

If you know what these are, I’d love to hear from you.

I’ve had a few ‘black’ poppies, too, with a range of colour. The insects, including the bees, seem to ignore them.

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(only slightly) black poppy

I keep watching.

Uprooting the Borage: A Bee-Loved Flower Experiment In An Overcrowded Garden

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cornflowers at upper left, larkspur below, calendula in middle, surrounded by courgettes, tomatoes and sunflowers

My garden is overflowing. Flowers and vegetables packed in. Still too few bees. And all of them bumbles.

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silver beet, parsley, sorrel, calendula and two mauve phacelia in middle at top

More than ever, I regret my failure to transplant all the sunflowers to the zigzag. They’re now taking up far too much space and overshadowing tomatoes and herbs, the bee-loved plants that I hope will soon flower .

A couple of days ago I saw the borage and parsley growing and seeding like crazy and decided to make space by ripping out all the borages.

Two advantages. More space. And I could observe what (bumble) bees choose when borage isn’t immediately available.

No guilt involved– the borage is great in the weed bins and there are already tiny borage plants everywhere for the not-too-distant future.

And yes! The bees made for the other blue plants– larkspur and cornflowers.

bumble bee on larkspur
bumble bee on larkspur
cornflower
bumble bee on cornflower and yes! that’s a bergamot or hyssop in the foreground, still not flowering alas

I saw one briefly on the phacelia but didn’t have time to catch a pic.

my favorite, phacelia, again, among the tomatoes and awaiting a passing bee
my favorite, phacelia –again – among the tomatoes and silver beet and awaiting a passing bee

I even saw a bee among the nasturtiums.

nasturtium moment
nasturtium moment

Meanwhile, on the other side of the house the poppies are going for it.

poppies with 'fluff' – I need to learn some 'proper' names
poppies with ‘fluff’ – I need to learn some ‘proper’ names

And the bees love them. But I’ve noticed that once the fluffy bits around the seed head in the poppy centres disappear (often on the very day the poppy flowers– is it the wind, the bees, or just a normal rapid poppy change?) the bees avoid those poppies. The fluffy bits must carry the pollen. It makes sense.

fluff gone
fluff free poppy

 

Bee-Loved Flower Mysteries

geraniums in situ
red geraniums and weed mat on the zigzag

So I’ve planted the red geraniums. I hope they’ll grow into a little hedge that spreads across the weed mats, where mulch will soon replace those old rocks and bricks.  But now I can’t find the article that told me that bees avoid red geraniums. And why. I can confirm that bees see and distinguish all colours except red so they won’t see them. But that might mean that the bees will just fly straight past and into the spray zone. The geraniums won’t be a barrier. Is there another factor? The geranium scent perhaps?

Or the multiple petals? One reason to use heritage seeds is because new and hybrid flower varieties with double or triple flowers and new colours tend to produce less pollen and less nectar. Bees sense this. (And some heavily petalled old varieties, like peonies, are also unattractive to bees.)

And, in a related issue, how come the bumbles are right into our red poppies at the mo? I watch this wild piece of garden regularly and have yet to see a bee land on the calendula (yellow) or daisy (white with yellow centre) or cornflower (blue). But they visit every red poppy that blooms.

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there’s a bumble bee in that central red poppy

Susan Brackney’s Plan Bee explains that – unlike human beans (I’m reading Roald Dahl’s The BFG) – bees see ultra violet light. They rely on the location of the sun to help them navigate and they find their way on cloudy days because ultra violet rays penetrate clouds. And red poppies reflect ultra violet especially well. If we could see ultra violet light, we’d see red poppies shimmer in the sun and extra streaks and lines like airport landing strips, which show the way to the nectar.

I’m disappointed that there are few bees in the garden over this mid-summer time and that they are all bumbles. Not a honey bee in sight. And the only flowers they seem interested in are the borage – white and blue – and the lavender.

bumble bee in borage
bumble bee in the blue borage, early January
bumble bee on white borage
bumble bee (left) making for the white borage, same day

It’s especially disappointing because at last some of my new bee-loved flowers are in flower and so far the bees just whizz past them en route to the lavender and borage. They’re phacelia (purple tansy). Most of the seedlings died, so there aren’t many mature plants.

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lavender-coloured phacelia among the tomatoes and calendula – growing through a net which is protecting nearby seed beds from birds and cats

The alyssum doesn’t attract the bees either.

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alyssum

Nor the cornflowers. Though I did see one on this yellow flowering rocket (there for seed), in among the cornflowers. Briefly.

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rocket flowers among the blue cornflowers (aka bachelors buttons)

I’m following the action closely. Hoping to learn more.

And if you know anything about these little mysteries that intrigue me, I’d love to hear from you.