Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Catching up, bees, pollinators

I'm back! I'm embarrassed at how long it's been since I posted. I think I've had the infamous blogging blahs. Plus, I spent three glorious weeks in England on family matters. I was there during Easter, the hottest since 1949, and it was so sunny, I had to buy sunscreen!

Once I finally sort them out, I plan to post pix of plants I came across, wild and cultivated, in bloom. (My sister quipped that I had taken photos of everything in England with a leaf!)

But today I want to post a bee update and write about pollinators -- how important it is to protect and nurture them, perhaps by supporting the Pollinator Partnership.

Those who have read earlier posts will remember that I have four beehives, maintained by a professional beekeeper, in my typical suburban garden. Two are doing extremely well, and two are so-so. According to Steve, the beekeeper, those two hives have poor quality queens. (Who knew that queens came in different qualities?!) Something else I've learned is that beehives produce a perfume, and these days the garden has a wonderful scent of honey.

So, last week, the first of the honey was harvested, an activity that upset the bees rather a lot, and forcing Steve and his brother-in-law helper, to don shirts along with the face veils. I got my first sting since I was a small child when a bee got tangled in my hair. I wasn't particularly close, but I wish I'd worn a hat. Still, I feel I've been initiated!

The "supers" were laden, each bearing some 60-pounds of honey. We tasted some scrapings from one of the hives; it had a wonderful mild flavor and I'm eagerly anticipating Steve's return with our "rent" of bulk honey.

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I remain fascinated by my bees, happily sitting next to the hives, watching the bees come and go. (As long as I don't block their flyway I'm ignored.)


From: Queen of the Sun
The other day I saw the beautifully shot documentary Queen of the Sun, about the worldwide decline in honeybees and how returning to wholesome practices may take the stress off colonies.

Trucking hives from the Eastern US (and flying them in from Australia because so many American colonies have died from colony collapse disorder), for a three-week pollination frenzy at Paramount Farms' massive almond groves, is, on so many levels, a travesty against nature. Paramount needs to do this because it operates a monoculture, there's nothing else for bees to survive on for the rest of the year.

Taking out every tenth row and planting native flowering plants would likely solve the problem, but that, it seems, would diminish profits. A quick view of Paramount's home page indicates the bees' problem. (Notice that its sustainability pages says nothing about bees!)


While I was in England I saw so many bumblebees, and I can't remember when I last saw one in South Florida, although there are plenty of native species. How can you not love bumblebees? Even the scientific name, Bombus, is wonderful! And, like honeybees, bumbles are another vital pollinator.

Bumblebees were, and probably still are, in decline in the UK, so the Brits launched a massive campaign to save them. (The website includes North American bumblebees and info on encouraging them to visit your garden.)


The UK campaign to save pollinators extended to mason bees, too. Friends I stayed with in rural Dorset in southern England had built a delightful "house" to encourage them to stay in the vicinity. If you have mason bees, and they're common in North America, you'll find lots of info here.


Ultimately, the survival of the bees depends on what we, as individuals, choose to do to save them: Keep your own bees, plant flowers, write to Paramount Farms and other farming conglomerates practicing monoculture, donate to pollinator awareness campaigns are just a few suggestions.


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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Visiting a trial garden

Last week, I had an opportunity to visit Costa Farms' annuals trial garden, located some 25 miles south of downtown Miami in the Redland agricultural area. As the name suggests, the garden tests new introductions for wholesale growers, and these introductions are reviewed by a panel of judges.

There's a formal landscaped garden simply bursting with color, but the trialed plants are in long rows, either in the open or under shade cloth.

It was a picture perfect day so I'll just post a bunch of photos of views and plants I particularly liked.

These are rows of open plantings. The formal garden is laid out around the viewing platform in the background.

The trial garden is entered via this pergola ...

... and then you are greeted by two stunning planters of Calibrachoa 'Can Can Terracotta' (Ball Horticultural Co.)

The next three photos are of the formal garden.

I was so much reminded of Bath, my home in England, which, aside from the Roman baths and the Georgian architecture, is famous for its summer flower plantings and displays.

I forgot to note the name of this Osteospermum, but don't you love the color?

These yummy petunias are "Pink Star."

Tiny, tiny petunias. Named Littletunia "Sweet Pink."

Or, if you want a little more drama, this one is Littletunia "Bicolor Illusion."

I was wowed by these hollyhocks (Alcea rosea annua), which, not surprisingly, turned out to be award-winning. This one is named Spring Celebrities "Crimson." Below is the white version. Oooh, do I want to get some of these!

Like the hollyhocks, this curious little pepper (Capsicum annuum) above, is grown under shade cloth. It's named Mambo "Mixture."

Here's another delicious white plant, also grown under shade:

This is Iberis, commonly known as "candytuft." This one is named "Masterpiece." It's a brassica, therefore closely related to things more usually found in the veggie garden.

Back out in the open rows, this primula wasn't looking happy.

But the label said it was grown from seed and was in week 50, so I suppose it can be forgiven for looking sad. The label also said this is Primula elatior, the true oxlip, but it looks more like a primrose to me. Either way, these grow wild in England and are not tropical.

Here's an artemisia (I don't know which one, but it may be wormwood), a plant I've not seen grown here before. I used this in my garden in England because of its very useful silvery foliage.

This one has the lyrical name, "Parfum d'Ethiopia,"

I think the plant below is Lobelia erinus; the label just says "Lobelia," and is apparently "experimental."  L. erinus appears to have become bigger; the ones I'm familiar with are much more compact.
Lobelia is a wonderful plant to use in containers and hanging baskets, especially the trailing varieties. It looks spectacular next to yellow marigolds. I've grown it from seed, with mixed results. The seeds are miniscule, more like bits of dust, but it's always worth the effort.

Here's a delightful little yellow annual, Sanvitalia, Sunvy "Super Gold."

I'm not familiar with any of the species, but I know I want some!

Back to blue: The verbena below is grown by Proven Winners, so it should turn up in Home Depot, at least in South Florida; I will certainly be looking out for it.

This one has been named Superba "Royale Chambray."

My final photo is of Diascia, which I don't see grown down here. It's another annual I've grown from seed, and deserves broader attention. It's a lovely container plant.


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