Friday, February 25, 2011

The butterfly amaryllis

Here's a plant you don't see often. I was fortunate enough to buy a large crowded pot of them from a former Fairchild Garden curator who was moving to Michigan.

The butterfly amaryllis, Hippeastrum papilio, is not technically an amaryllis since it's native to Brazil and all such South American bulbs are in the Hippeastrum genus; Amaryllis are native to Africa. But, as you probably realize, they are both are in the Amaryllidaceae family.

To my mind, these blooms are way more sophisticated than the gaudy Dutch amaryllis, as cheerful as they are. I love the lime green center and the maroon outline of the petals. The only drawback is that the flowers don't open as fully as commercial amaryllis.

I'm still figuring out the best light for them, but they seem to be happy in either bright sunlight or dappled shade. And they didn't mind the cold snap, either.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Great Backyard Bird Count

A blue-gray gnatcatcher
The 2011 Great Backyard Bird Count is taking place this weekend, and everyone in North America is invited to participate, even if it's only for 15 minutes. All you need is pen and paper, and you've got today and tomorrow's holiday to participate.

For me, of course, it's just another excuse to be outside on this glorious day. But instead of gardening tools I've got binoculars, camera and bird books .

I logged 12 species in the hour from 11:30 to 12:30, although I suspect if I'd started in the early morning, I would have seen more. Maybe I'll get up early tomorrow. Maybe ...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Oak and mango blossom

This morning, I was standing under one of the oak trees and realized there was a familiar humming above my head. For a moment, I thought the bees must have swarmed, but they were just collecting pollen from the extraordinary abundance of flowers the oaks have produced for the second year in a row. I'm sure it's the shock of a sharp cold spell that encourages them flower so prolifically.

And for a third year running, the mango trees are covered in blossom; again, I'm sure, because of the cold weather. (Who knew mango trees like a shot of cold?) We should have another bumper crop in a few months. If you don't live in the right climate to grow mangoes, consider moving!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A sweet deal: honey for land

The starter beehives. The smoker calms them down.
Last fall we talked to a beekeeper about installing a hive or two on our smallish suburban property. Steve, the beeman, surprised us by saying there was room for four, and he shocked us by saying that we should get about five gallons of honey a year in exchange for "renting" the land for his hives. I mean, we love honey, but five gallons seems an awful lot. But, of course, it does solve the Christmas present dilemma...

So, in December, Steve brought four "starter" hives and made sure that there was enough sugar water for the bees during cold weather. Now, we've moved on to the full sized hives, and he says the first "supers" will be going on soon.

Steve, the beekeeper, inspects a frame from a hive and ...
I asked him about the problem of Africanized queens, and he said that he changes out the queens once a year so it won't be a problem. And since I've been weeding close by, I've learned that bees really don't bother me if I don't bother them.

Steve has some 600 hives, mostly in agricultural areas, and they have to be moved to wherever the blossoms need pollinating, but he really likes urban/suburban hives because they don't need moving and because there's always plenty of stuff in bloom. He already had hives in a friend's large backyard, which is why I called him, but your local extension office probably has a list of licensed beekeepers. Or, if you're in Florida, check or the Dept. of Ag.'s website.

Hosting beehives  is such a friendly thing to do, and I would encourage you to investigate for yourselves.

... points out the queen. Click for a better view; she's immediately to right of the colon.

Sparky and Highway investigate.

Sparky discovers that bees are tasty, but there is a drawback... It took several stings before he got the message! Highway, the chow, lost interest after the first inspection, but I think his fur is too thick for a bee to sting him, anyway.

Finally, the full size hives arrive. From now on they will grow upwards as our busy bees make lots of honey. :-)