First, you have to be a bee. I was curious, so I looked up how bees make honey and wished I never found out. The process requires two bee stomachs, saliva and prolonged mastication of the nectar to make it gooey. We’re basically enjoying twice regurgitated bee spit mixture. Read more…
Old lore says that the salamander is a creature of fire. It is said to be renewing its scales in the flames and even to be nourished by them. I don’t know if this myth was born of the salamander’s habit of hide under rotting logs and jumping out of the flames when the logs were set on the fire or of its unusually bright markings which glow in the sunlight with an almost flame-like intensity. Read more…
So, you have your heart set on creating a wildflower meadow and those packages of mixed seeds beckon you from the stands, irresistibly. You picture wild flowers and the thought of perpetual, zero maintenance beauty springs to mind. Wild flower meadows are not low maintenance, at least not for the first five or six years, while they are getting established. Read more…
Our tropical plant conservatory offers a wonderful and very welcome respite from winter blahs. One of the glazed enclosures houses a butterfly show. It is almost surreal to be surrounded by these diaphanous creatures, which are trained believe it or not to land on your finger. There is a wide assortment of butterflies: translucent, colorful, large and small, but above all some enormous ones that are bright cobalt blue on one side and a warm chocolate brown with exquisite peacock patterns on the other. The kids were beside themselves walking around with butterflied fingertips among orchids, tropical vines and vibrantly colorful glass sculptures.
We greeted the macaws that bob their heads when you call their names, pet the fish in the pond, wondered around the succulents and the banana trees and then took this picture. It was a good day.
This butterfly decided to pose for the picture and actually turned around so we could also take pictures of its wings.
The crab apple tree provides two things during the cold seasons: crab apples and birds. Earlier today the branches were weighed down by an assortment of cardinals, finches, robins, sparrows, and blue jays.
This little beauty decided to pose for the picture, so there it is.
If want to know more about your feathered visitors take a look at this guide: All About Birds form the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
I have been trying since spring to get this picture. These little guys must have a special sense that tells them to disappear the second a camera is pointed at them.
Winter is harsh on the little feathered friends, and food sources are scarce. If you provide for them in the winter months, they will be more likely to make your garden their home. Even if you might have planted lots of flowers that provide the birds with food (dill, sunflowers, and cone flowers are a few that come to mind), make sure to give them consistent and substantial food during the cold months (adding suet to their diets in winter will help them overcome the brutal cold, they burn a lot of calories trying to keep warm.)
Remember also that birds need water all year long, so if there is not a lot of precipitation provide some fresh water every day in a shallow bowl or a bird bath. The water and food sources need to be protected from predators and close to a large tree or thicket, so that the birds feel safe that they have a place to hide if attacked.
I’m sure you must have seen “Certified Wildlife Habitat” yard signs, for example my children’s school has one. If you would like to certify your wildlife garden (clicking on this link will take you directly to the application process and requirements), here is what you need to provide:
- Food – Provide three of the following types of food: Seeds from a plant • Berries • Nectar • Foliage/Twigs • Nuts • Fruits • Sap • Pollen • Suet • Bird Feeder • Squirrel Feeder • Hummingbird Feeder • Butterfly Feeder
- Water – Your garden must have at least one source of clean water for birds to drink and bathe: Birdbath • Lake • Stream • Seasonal Pool • Ocean • Water Garden/Pond • River • Butterfly Puddling Area • Rain Garden • Spring
- Hiding places – At least two places to find shelter from predators and harsh weather: Wooded Area • Bramble Patch • Ground Cover • Rock Pile or Wall • Cave • Roosting Box • Dense Shrubs or Thicket • Evergreens • Brush or Log Pile • Burrow • Meadow or Prairie • Water Garden or Pond
- Places to nest – Provide at least two nesting places: Mature Trees • Meadow or Prairie • Nesting Box • Wetland • Cave • Host Plants for Caterpillars • Dead Trees or Snags • Dense Shrubs or a Thicket • Water Garden or Pond • Burrow
- Sustainable Gardening – Engage in at least two of the sustainable gardening techniques below:
Conserve soil and water: Riparian Buffer • Capture Rain Water from Roof • Xeriscape (water-wise landscaping) • Drip or Soaker Hose for Irrigation • Limit Water Use • Reduce Erosion (i.e. ground cover, terraces) • Use Mulch • Rain Garden
Control Exotic Species: Practice Integrated Pest Management • Remove Non-Native Plants and Animals • Use Native Plants • Reduce Lawn Areas
Organic Practices: Eliminate Chemical Pesticides • Eliminate Chemical Fertilizers • Compost
Please check out the National Wildlife Federation website to find out how to garden for wildlife and a lot of other important information about preserving wildlife habitat.
Next time you harvest your vegetables, pick up fruit from your trees or collect seeds for next year’s planting don’t forget to thank your diligent worker bees. Since 80% of the pollination is done by insects, welcome them in your garden and make sure they feel comfortable. Please, please, please don’t use insecticides, since they have catastrophic effects on bee communities. Plant flowers rich in nectar to entice flying insects – good examples are honeysuckle, garden phlox, marigolds, geraniums, roses, holyhocks (see photo), dahlias, sedums, roses, beebalm, raspberries, and mint.
If you want butterflies to come to your garden make sure you have butterfly bush (there is a reason it was given that name). If you want the butterflies to stay in your garden plant fennel and dill to provide them with a home (butterflies lay eggs on the seed heads of these herbs).
Just in case you haven’t seen it up close, here is a picture of how insects help with cross-pollination. Yeap, that’s actually pollen.
Bees are essential if you have fruit trees, since with a few exceptions they depend on cross pollination (mostly done by flying insects) to bear fruit. Some trees, like sour cherries and the “Conference” pear tree variety, are self-fertile. Most apple trees are not: they need pollen from a different apple tree, or even a different variety of apple tree to bear fruit.
Also, keep in mind that for plants that have male and female flowers on different plants, such as holly, melons, cucumbers, and squash, for instance, the bees are essential for pollination. If you have only one holly plant in your garden, of if you have two plants that are both male or female, you will never see the familiar berries, which are produced by the female plant. As a rule of thumb, one male holly for four female hollies is a good proportion, and they need to be in close proximity (less than 30 feet).
Some plants, such as tomatoes and peppers, are self pollinating, but they still benefit from the assistance of bees in cross pollination.
All in all, please remember that a lush, thriving, fertile and abundant garden is all-a-buzz. If bees and butterflies come to your garden, pat yourself on the back. You will see a bountiful harvest in the fall.
If your garden is a lush, thriving environment, you are sure to receive some winged visitors, some of which may choose to stay and build their nests next to yours. If you would like to attract more of them, provide them with what they need: food, shelter and water.
A bird bath is an old time favorite and greatly enjoyed by your fine feathered friends during sunny summer days. If you have tall mature trees in your yard, you will notice nests being built and rebuilt every year.
As far as food goes, there are lots of flowers that provide an abundance of food for goldfinches, doves, robins, sparrows, cardinal birds and even a woodpecker or two. Ornamental grasses, crab apples, flowering dogwood, goldenrod, thistle, roses, zinnias, cosmos, echinacea, sunflowers, black eyed susans and rudbeckia are just a few examples.
Honeysuckle, morning glory, azalea, lantana, and butterfly bush will attract humming birds.
Make sure to provide high calorie food for the birds in winter, when their resources are scarce and their metabolic needs are higher.