Saturday, June 28, 2014

Where the bees are

I'm officially worried. 

Unless you have your head in the sand, you know that bees are in serious trouble. But it's one thing to read about it and another to experience it first hand.

Last year I named my side yard the Abeille Allée, or bee lane (you can read about it here), due to the incredible number of bees on the plants in that area of my garden. If you stood still, you could see motion everywhere among the flowers. The bees buzzed my head constantly when I was weeding. There was always activity. 

No bees on the bee balm

This year, the absence of activity is startling. At first, I thought that maybe the long winter and delayed spring meant they were just hiding out until it got warmer. But as the days grew longer and hotter there was barely any bee activity at all in the allée. Their usual favorites - the nepeta, the coreopsis, and particularly the St. John's Wort - were devoid of activity.

No bees on the Nepeta 'Walker's Low'

In fact, it's only been in the last day or two that they've shown up to the St. John's Wort. Happily, that particular bush is now buzzing (sorry!) with activity. 

They've arrived!!

Still, the St. John's Wort has already hit its peak and is starting to lose its flowers so the timing of their arrival is troublesome, considering they've been all over that bush for years as soon as it blooms. And try as I might, I can't find bees on any other plant in the allée.

No bees here either

I'm not sure what to do from here. This is a problem much, much larger than me. I can do my part, but when my neighbors use Round-Up regularly, am I making much of a difference by not using pesticides and trying to use organic seeds?

What's the bee situation like in your garden?  

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - June 2014

With a week until the official start of summer, we're experiencing a very comfortable spring. Highs have rarely gone past the mid-80s and many days have still been in the 70s. I woke up this morning for a run and it was 55* outside. I'm not complaining. If I look at my June 2013 Bloom Day pictures, I can see we're about a week or two behind. Flowers are starting to pop but it doesn't seem like a lot is going on yet.

Back yard

In the back there is very little going on. The baptisia and peonies are done for the year. Spiderwort bloom daily but I'm waiting for different plants to start blooming. Note to self: Plant more transitional flowers for next year.

I have historically not had a lot of shade in my garden but I do love some shade-plants like astilbe. I created some welcoming spots for them by underplanting them beneath large shrubs or perennials that would create shade, like my giant baptisia or this red twig dogwood.

The ubiquitous salvia

The allée

The real show is going on here - where I barely had a semblance of a garden last year. This space is about to undergo a transition soon, one being forced upon me, but I'll save that for another day. 

Nepeta 'Walker's Low', Heuchera (variety escapes me), and Geranium 'Rozanne'

Geranium 'Rozanne'

Monarda 'Jacob Cline'

Coreopsis 'Moonbeam' beginning its show

Above, Penstemon 'Dark Towers' looks very similar to Penstemon 'Husker Red' (below). The biggest difference I see is that 'Dark Towers' foliage is much more red.

Knautia (with missing tag - oops!)

Coreopsis 'Mercury Rising'

Coreopsis 'Moonbeam, Nepeta 'Souvenir d'Andre Chaudron', Echinacea, neighbor's new
shed (foreshadowing!)

Phlox paniculata 'Blue Paradise' just starting to open

The front

The flower beds in the front yard at this time of year are mostly muted. The real show will be getting started in the next few weeks. 

Grandma's evening primroses, the last of the Amsonia 'Blue Ice'

Verbena 'Homestead Purple'

Astilbe, a couple different Euphorbia, Nepeta 'Walker's Low'

And my favorite:

Callirhoe involucrata

That wraps up another Bloom Day. Slow and steady wins the race, right? Thanks to May Dreams for hosting again. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Front yard vegetable garden: The beginning

In January, I posted (here and here) that I was going to turn my front yard into a vegetable garden. That area gets at least 9 hours of sun each day and I thought it'd be a great spot to plant edibles. The excitement! The designs! The ability to feed my husband and I off the land!

It's not that I've never grown veggies before. I have and have done so for most of my life. But I think the snow and cold this year added a layer of forgetfulness to my noggin that I'm only now starting to shake off.

In March, we borrowed a rototiller and went to town on one side of the front yard. This was the end result:

Which quickly turned to this during the rains in April:

This would be a great home for a pig

My neighbors kept asking what I was up to. They seemed a bit horrified at my mud pit. 

In late April, I threw my original design plans out the window when Neighbor M drew up, in 2 minutes, a new design for me. It included a curve and some anchor bushes (like boxwoods). Well, I managed to get the curve in with some old Belgian blocks we had lying around. I still haven't figured out what I want as the anchor bushes, if I want anything at all. They'll need to come later on as there's something currently planted where they would go (next to the curve).

Sugar snap peas are currently taking up the place where one of the bushes should be (see bullet point at the bottom about a plan). I decided that everything in the vegetable garden would be non-GMO and organic if I could help it. I bought seeds from either Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds or Cubit's. These peas were the first direct sowed seeds to germinate.

Sugar snap pea seedlings

I also direct sowed carrots, turnips, and three varieties of beets. I started them in April and nothing happened. About two weeks after my first sowing, I tried again. Still nothing. It took a conversation with my mother to realize that they're all root vegetables and so it's probably my soil (common sense is not my forte). When it cools down in the fall, I'll amend my soil with some sand and try them again.

Sugar snap peas today

In February/March, I started some seeds indoors. I started Black Cherry tomatoes, Bonny Best tomatoes, Butternut-Waltham squash, and California Wonder peppers. I think I learned a tremendous amount about vegetable seed starting this winter thanks to other garden bloggers and look forward to an even more productive indoor growing season this winter. What I didn't count on with my seedlings was my schedule in May. I was out of town four of the five weekends in last month, including one 10-day stint in Mexico. It was still pretty cold in May and I felt like it was definitely not time to put the tomatoes in the ground. Hardening off did not happen, unless you count hardening off for two days. After those two days, left my seedlings at the mercy of Neighbor M to water while I went south to frolic (aka, read) on the beach. She left them outside. They survived. They're doing well.


My tomato patch, pre-stakes. They're flopping over but alive.

I do want to figure out a different way to stake the tomatoes. The cages are ugly and as they're all in my front yard....I'm not a fan. But for now, they're helping the plants grow upright instead of parallel to the ground like the picture above.

Clearly one of the things I didn't take into account was the weeding. Plants take time to grow and in the mean time, weeds sprout up everywhere in barren soil. I'm constantly weeding. Or at least, I should be constantly weeding. The picture below shows some greens (spinach and arugula) in front of the curve and then some peas and weeds behind it. The crabgrass makes my eye twitch every time I walk out the front door.

Butternut-Waltham squash and weeds. The squash plants are on a little bit of a slope so hopefully they'll enjoy growing downhill.

Despite my best intentions to keep everything natural and without GMOs, sometimes one's partner steps in and buys plants you don't necessarily want. To wit: The pepper plants and strawberry plant below.

The California Wonder peppers I grew from seed didn't do well (my fault, I think, as I didn't give them a deep enough container in which to grow roots) so J went and bought some peppers. He buys pepper plants every year and then doesn't eat them. It's a vicious cycle.

Lessons I've learned so far with my front yard vegetable garden:
  • Though I often garden without a plan, a plan would be best here. I was wandering around without any real vision about what to plant and where which resulted in some seeds being planted haphazardly. I had a basic plan but could benefit from a more detailed one in the future.
  • My intentions may be good, but it's okay if there are some non-organic, GMO-style plants in there my first year (or even my second, third....).
  • Don't bite off more than you can chew! Pace yourself. I had the option of tilling the other side of the front yard but didn't because I knew it'd be too much to manage in my first year.
  • Figure out a better method of weed control. Cardboard, perhaps?
  • It's okay if my front yard perennial beds still haven't been moved from the vegetable garden. Do what you can. In any case, they add interest for now.
  • Watering is definitely easier in my front yard than in the community garden. One point for positivity!