Posts Tagged ‘bees’

A long held dream of mine has finally come to fruition.

Of course, Jim and I have always had compost piles.  The first one was a very informal affair out at the back corner of the garden I created in San Francisco.   When Jim got transferred and we moved to Bremerton, Washington, we loaded that compost pile into a 33 gallon garbage can and transported it with us.   I could not bear to leave it behind, because it contained the remains of all the bouquets that Jim had sent me during his year long deployment to the Middle East.

This may be the only compost pile on record that was moved across state lines due to sentimental reasons.

When we moved to the Havens location, almost the first thing Jim built was a series of bins in which to make compost.   The compost area was always a busy spot, and quite often it was unlovely.


There are six bins for compost, and then the bench area at the end which was where we  store tools, and all sorts of things too numerous to mention.  As you can see in this picture, there is a large pile of stuff that needs to dry enough to be run through the compost grinder, which is the tool underneath the black rubber cover.   To the left you see two compost tumblers which are useful if you don’t have a lot of compost to make.   With two acres, we generate a lot of material; much more than those sweet little tumblers can manage.

Here is a shot of the bins in action.


The six bins were just lovely for about a year and a half.   Then the row of elm trees behind them in the picture discovered them.   It became a trial to turn the compost  as it was making due to the invasion of elm roots.   Jim poured shallow concrete floors in a fruitless attempt to discourage the elms.   This worked for about five minutes, after which the elms discovered they could just come up over the edge of the concrete and still invade the compost.

We moved operations off to the back of the property for a while, building the compost piles out on sheets of left over pond liner and/or black plastic.   The tree roots more or less stayed out, but the bermuda grass  would creep over the edge of what ever barrier we put down.   And I can tell you that neither of those substances stood up to pitch fork tines worth a damn, and so it wasn’t long before the tree roots would find a way into the compost piles through the convenient rents in the base.

I longed for a compost area like they have at the Missouri Botanical Garden, with concrete floors, walls to push against and a front end loader to turn the piles.

Finally, after a certain amount of negotiation as to size and location, we decided to have a concrete pad poured upon which we could pile compost.   We desired it to be done by professionals so that it would have a little slant and water would drain off, but not too fast.   Also, hopefully, if a contractor and his men did it, the surface would be smooth enough to easily turn the piles.

This would have been so much more easily accomplished if it had not started raining a couple of weeks ago, making the idea of bringing a redimix truck into the backyard a potential nightmare of ruts and stuck trucks.  So we had to wait for the weather, and the contractor got the flu, so we had to wait for him to get well.

A couple of days ago, all the stars came into alignment and the waiting forms and wire reinforcement received concrete.   It was polished and smoothed, and now, voila!


I should have taken a picture of the old bins, too.   They have been cleaned and organized and are now being used as storage for the various bird annoying devices we have created to keep the lovely avian tenants of the place out of the apples and strawberries.   Also, the tools have been organized and it all looks just very nice.   Another day.

The forms are gone now, and in a couple of days the concrete will have cured enough that I can move the waiting piles that are now out by the root cellar onto the pad.   I am very excited!

So, of course, there was some amusement to be had while the concrete was being poured and finished.


This is a view of the corner of the pad during the time while it was still wet and being finished.   If you look very closely, you will see a little black speck on the edge of the concrete right about the middle of the picture.

This is what it is.


This is a mud dauber wasp.   They are always looking for wet mud with which to build their nests.   If they can’t find mud, they pick up dirt and take it somewhere there is moisture and create mud.   Apparently, this wet concrete was the Best Mud Ever, because the whole time the pad was curing, as long as it was wet enough to pick up concrete, those little wasps were busy making beautiful little balls of concrete and flying off with it to their building site.


I really like this shot, because just above the wasp you can see the area where she collected her last ball of “mud”.  That is the mark of her jaws in the concrete.  I tried to follow her to her nest so I could see her impregnable concrete reinforced nest, but I lost sight of her.   I think she was building inside the place where the soffit of the sauna is loose.

The contractor and his workers were fairly amused by the fact that I was taking pictures of the wasps and chasing them around.   But these guys have been here before.  They were the ones who fixed the beams under the house, and when they found the big black snake wrapped around the hot water line, were amazed that the housewife/owner was very concerned that they NOT hurt the snake.   So they already know I am odd.

I compounded my oddness by turning my attention from the busy mud daubers to the goldenrod by the sauna, which was being used by very happy bees.   This one has an impressive collection of pollen on her back legs.


In other news, the Monarch butterflies are migrating through right now.   I find them on my asters, and they seem to like the sedums too.


I wish them happy trails and plenty of food plants on their journey to Mexico.

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It seems that the desert heat of July and August are over.   We got quite a bit of rain in September, not enough to make us even for the year, but enough to make everything much much happier.   Especially me, when I get my water bill for September!

However, rain means grass, which means mowing.   Jim has been keeping up on that chore; in fact he is out there doing that thing right this very minute.    Now, I have lots of clients who have lots of things to say about how their husbands mow off their shrubs, etc.   One of them got to the point where she would plant an 8 inch piece of rebar with each plant she did not wish to have mowed off.   After her husband injured his lawn mower trying to mow off the rebar, he stopped being so callous towards her shrubbery.  I certainly do not have that problem.   This is how the lawn looks after Jim has mowed around the wild flowers and grama grass I am hoping to collect seeds from.

This sort of piecemeal mowing job gives the Compliance Officer heartburn, but we are generally such good citizens that they don’t cite us for our tall weeds.   I can hardly wait until I start the front prairie garden installation.  I’m sure to have several amusing conversations with our local constabulary regarding the height of my weeds flowers.   Doing a front yard no-mow garden often involves educating the local politicians.   I’m practicing my non-confrontational polite tone of voice now in anticipation of needing it later.

Anyway, the grama grass has a friend.   This crab spider has been in the same place for several days now.

This is my curbside Mexican hat  (Ratibida columnifera).   I have a lot of it in the prairie too.

Aside from the fanciful name, I love this flower.   It is a perennial that reseeds itself freely, and yet is not terribly invasive.   It also was one of the few things that continued blooming throughout the harsh conditions we had this summer.

Up in the front entry garden, the colchicums are drawing to a close.   I moved the sternbergia around last year because I wasn’t happy with its location behind the peony, where I couldn’t see it unless I walked out onto the lawn. This is why I love bulbs.  You buy six and after a while you have a lot more.   Anyway, these are doing quite nicely in their new locations.

I have a minature rose by the front door step.   Miniatures seem to be the only ones I can keep alive for any appreciable period of time.   Please don’t freak out at the following picture.  Remember the rose is only one inch in diameter, and you are not even seeing the whole rose.   This little occupant is probably why the rose isn’t full of holes.

Out in the labyrinth, I planted a few bulbs by the central rock.   In the spring there are crocuses and chionodoxa.   Now there are colchicums.   I think I may put a sternbergia out there.

I put in a few hours in the last couple of weeks putting the vegetable garden to bed; at least as “to bed” as I ever get it put, I suppose.   Needless to say, there were a few things that I couldn’t pull out because they were doing so well; like the salad green patch, the chard, the beets, the zucchini squash.   There are also butternut squashes that are still ripening.  In spite of that, I planted all the beds with a winter cover crop.   The first stands are well up, as you can see in this shot.

In the foreground are the leeks, which will stay in the ground all winter.  We pull them as needed.   The far background is the asparagus patch, which I have not cut back because it is busy being the lady bug nursery and pupating ground.   On the right in the background you can see the zucchini plants.

They are not done.

All that gorgeous mulch came out of the compost pile I made last fall from the leaves we mowed up around the place.  That condensed down from a pile three feet deep to one about 9 inches deep.   On top, it doesn’t look like much, but when you take off the top half inch, what is underneath is pure black gold.

Every bed in the vegetable garden has gotten its layer of this grand stuff.   The rest is going onto the hostas and out in front.   Just as soon as I finish this post, actually.

Moving along, we have drifts of wild flowers around the pond and all over the root cellar mound.  There are white asters like snow banks, and clouds of goldenrod and New England asters.   The pollinators are loving this.


The stroll garden is looking quite special right now.

There are all sorts of things blooming in there:  red annual sage, two colors of hummingbird mint  (agastache), a few late canna lilies, little white asters, mexican hat, goldenrod and some other things that aren’t in the shot.

One of the ones that isn’t in the shot that I am quite fond of is a plant I acquired at the Missouri Prairie Foundation plant sale last year.   It didn’t do a darn thing last year except not die, but this year it went to town.   It started blooming in July and hasn’t quit.   It’s common name is Texas Green Eyes, a perfect name for this little beauty.   Sceintifical appellation:   Beriandiera texana.

There is so much more going on out there, but I really must get to work and finish spreading that mulch.   Because very soon there are going to be leaves to pick up and put in a compost pile, and I need that space…

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I was supposed to be canning pickles (both dill and my sweet gherkins), plus I had apple sauce that was hot and waiting for the canner to heat up.  But before I got started packing the pint jars, I thought I would run out to the garden once more to look through the cucumber vines and see if I missed any.   I had.  So I picked them, and noticed that there were some tomatoes that also needed to be picked.   I needed a basket for that, so I started back to the house to get it.

As I scurried past the pond, I noticed that the apple mint was in full bloom.   It is taking full advantage of the lapse in memory I had a few weeks ago when I started the water running into the pond to fill it up, went inside and promptly forgot all about it.  In the morning as I was waiting for my teapot to fill so I could make coffee, I thought idly to myself,  “Gosh, the water pressure sure doesn’t seem to be as high as usual … OH SHOOT (expurgated for the blog)!!!  Whereupon I crashed out of the house, scaring the dog away from her breakfast, ran out to the garden to turn the spigot off and observed that the pond was approximately 5 inches over flood stage.  Further investigation showed that the water had flowed all the way down to the Petite Prairie, watering the day lily bed quite throughly.  The drain pipe at the other side of the vineyard was also trying to deal with the overflow.   I still have a green circle down there, where everything else is sere and brown.

But I digress.   The apple mint was blooming furiously, having been so well watered previously.   I just deviated from my course a bit to see if perhaps my honey bees were availing themselves of the pollen source.  They were.

The honeybees had lots of company out there.    I forgot all about pickles and apple sauce and went to get my camera.  I spent quite a while out there, standing quietly just inside the border of the mint patch.  When I first arrived with my camera, everyone got very excited and nervous about the big thing that had just disturbed the feeding frenzy.   But as I stood quietly, things settled down.   Here is a group of four different sorts of wasps, all intent on their food source.


The variety of pollinators present was impressive.

There were yellow jackets, of course.



Several different types of wasps were in attendance.


That big black wasp was at the large end of the size spectrum.   But there were teensy wasps too.


Some of the wasps were overcome with optimism for the future by the large quantity of food available.   The sudden onset of a good energy source put them in the mood, I guess.

The female went about the business of flying and eating as if the male wasn’t even present.

There were also several female bumblebees at the buffet.


A tachnid fly — one of several different varieties flitting about.


Butterflies –a buckeye and a little blue.   The little blue has a mud dauber wasp sharing the frame with her.


I saw a beautiful bright green sweat bee, but it didn’t stick around long enough to get photographed.   You can see what it looked like here.

There was an interesting beetle.

I’m not positive, but that may be an assassin bug, which means it isn’t strictly a pollinator, but more a pollinator eater.   They wait in flowers for the pollinators to come along, grab them and then suck the juices out of them.

Here’s another predator.   Probably not big enough to be a danger to anyone other than that tiny wasp above, or possibly a gnat or aphid.

That’s my finger holding the flower apart because the little crab spider wasn’t anxious to be photographed and kept hiding from me.   No escape from the paparazzi, I’m afraid.

There were a couple of dragonflies around too.   This is a rather small red one.

Just a few feet away is the pond, and this big blue dragonfly was hovering around there.

It was heartening to see all that life burgeoning in the yard, since it has been scorchingly hot for three weeks.    I mean really hot, too.   The temperatures have been over 100°F every day for three weeks, only cooling off into the low 80s at night.   (That would be 38° C for all the rest of the world.)   This heat has been accompanied by a complete absence of rain of any measurable amount.   We had a respite today, a line of storms came across the plains.   We got about 1mm of moisture out of that, enough to settle the dust (barely) and raise the humidity to about 90%.   Ergh.

This is what the garden along the back of the house looks like.   All those burned hostas are not dead, they are just conserving their energy and protecting their roots.   Still, it is a little depressing.   The Hosta Dell exhibits similar damage.

Please notice the lawn to the right of the path.   Our whole place looks just like that except around the landscape shrubs and trees, which we have been pampering with regular water.   This also encourages the grass, which gives the rabbits something other to eat than the fruit tree bark.   The rabbits out browsing gives the owls something to eat.

There is a note of hope in the middle of all that devastation.    The naked ladies have made their appearance.   I just love them, their combination of hardiness and delicacy is inspirational.

The pickles have been put through the canner and are cooling on the counter.   They are accompanied by 6 pints of apple sauce.

Now I believe I’ll get that basket and go out and investigate the tomato situation.








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The stroll garden is looking fantastic right now.  That’s the small prairie with the barn behind.

The poppies are blooming.

So are the campanula.   I have two kinds intermingling.   They make wonderful bouquets that last well in the vase.

The swamp milkweed is out now, and the honeybees have found it.   They are also really interested in the lamb’s ears right now, which are producing pollen for feeding the young brood.   The colonies are both growing nicely.

Up close and personal with a poppy —

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The bees settled into their new home without incident.    With beginner’s luck, I managed to get the queen neatly into the new hive and everyone seems to be happy about the situation.

Accordingly, a couple of days after we captured the swarm, I donned my borrowed bee suit and proceeded out to the new hive to replace the frames I had removed to effect the capture.

As you can clearly see in the above photo, the bees were completely unfazed by my activities.   In fact, the bee suit seemed extraneous.

After my visions of bees boiling up out of the hive busily attacking me and defending their territory, their complete disinterest in my presence, the fact the top had been removed from the hive, and that I was messing around with it was quite the anticlimax.

So, we have acquired a couple of books on beekeeping from the library to hold us until I can get something shipped from Amazon.   The book I was reading this morning starts right off telling you that you most likely do not need a bee suit at all.   I’m inclined to agree after my experience the other morning.

In other news, I was looking at the shrubs at the side of the house; a couple of box bushes that came with the place when we bought it.   They have mostly been completely unattended to, and so they look rather unkempt at the moment.   Additionally, the ajuga was blooming vociferously when we mowed the area, so we left it alone, and needless to say, the grass took full advantage.

I went over there to sort of tame the unruly wild oats and contemplate pruning the box.   I was bent over at my task when a bird exploded out of the bush right by my head and hustled over to the fence, where she began to tell me all about how awful I was in no uncertain terms.

Of course, nosy parker that I am, I immediately investigated the box bush, and this is what I found, right at chest level.

Needless to say, I won’t be pruning that shrub for a few weeks.

The snowball bush out by the Petite Prairie is pretty spectacular right now, as is the Hosta Dell.

But nothing can quite compare to the specacularity of the interior of iris “Pagan Dance” in the early morning sun.

Unless possibly it is the interior of this un-named burgundy beauty that one of my friends gave me a couple of years ago.

In my not-so-humble opinion, there is nothing quite as fabulous as the interior of an iris bloom with the morning sun illuminating it.

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