No Bees, No Squash, No Nothing

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When I was a child, there was so much clover and so many bees in the yard, this yard, my grandparents’ yard, that we couldn’t play outside barefoot, or even in sandals because the bees would get stuck between our toes.

Now this yard–and it’s a big yard–has a few patches of clover. Most are on the shady side of the house, near the dogwoods and crepe myrtles. We let that side of the yard grow as wild as the Historical Society will allow. We can get away with not mowing the clover because it’s only a few inches tall.

Last year, I saw a couple of honeybees. As in, two. I saw a few tiny bumblebees. I saw a few again this spring. I thought they were nesting in a hole in the base of a dead dogwood tree.

I haven’t seen one honeybee all year, and I haven’t seen the bumblebees since spring.

I planted my container garden this year. It’s been an awful year for tomato plants: leaf fungus, plants just not flowering. I planted pole beans and only got a handful. The basil did great. It always does. The peppermint plant came back from near-death. The marigolds bloomed. The forget-me-nots haven’t yet. Several wildflowers have over the spring and summer, and they’re still going. Right now, I have something purple that might be in the aster family blooming. And, I have three sad, fading squash plants.

My friend sent me seeds from one of her productive plants. They all germinated, and I was so excited when I saw this:

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Then some of the flowers started curling up and falling off.

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I googled this and found that squash plants have female and male flowers. Male flowers are supposed to dry up and fall off after the female flowers are pollinated. By bees.

All my squash plants are bare of flowers now. I found out too late that I could have hand-pollinated them. That would have been easy, with only three plants. I couldn’t have done it with the beans. But how do we hand-pollinate a big garden like my grandparents had, a garden that actually supplemented the entire family’s diet? Well, we can’t. We have to rely on the artificial pollination techniques of huge farms, and produce shipped in from other countries. Eating in season is supposed to be part of a healthy, natural diet. We can do that by buying produce at the supermarket, but this honeybee die-off isn’t confined to North America. It’s a world-wide problem. And what about those of us who just enjoy having a garden and growing tomatoes, squash, zucchini, green beans, things that used to be simple, reliable?

It’s not cell phones. It’s climate change, herbicides, and pesticides. I grow almost everything from seed, because most ready-to-plant vegetables, herbs, and flowers have been pre-treated with pesticides. Pesticides don’t differentiate “harmful” insects and bees, or harmful insects and monarch butterfly caterpillars. I used to think that wasps were harmful and useless. Then I found out that they’re pollinators. So are many moths.

Too many people look at clover and dandelions as unsightly weeds. Dandelions are the first wildflowers to appear in spring and the first food for bees. Clover is a favorite of honeybees. An even, green lawn and some hanging baskets from a big box store aren’t natural. Not if you want to have vegetables on your table.

There are things that you can do to try to attract bees to your property. You can plant clover and other flowers that honeybees. You can use organic methods of pest control. You can weed by hand. You can become a beekeeper.

Educating your children about bees and their importance to the environment is crucial for right now and for the future. The best gift you can give a child is a book.

SonnyBee is probably the most active voice for the bees on Twitter. SonnyBee is collaborating with a yoga teacher to publish a book for kids to “…teach nonviolence, respect the environment and save the bees!” They’re 70% of the way to reaching their goal of raising enough money to pay their illustrator. What they need from you is a) a donation (even $5 helps if that’s all you can give) and a share. They’d really love it if you’d share this link https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/yoga-book-for-children-sonnybee-learns-ahimsa?secret_perk_token=8639f673#/ on your Facebook page.

Bringing back the honeybees is not impossible. It’s going to require a lot of work, but everyone can do a little.

 

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Container Gardening – Squash?

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A friend suggested that I try growing squash in a large planter. She told me to look for a “bush” variety. I wasn’t able to find that type of seeds anywhere here, so she mailed a few seeds to me from her own plants from last summer.

I planted three seeds. They all germinated and the plants seem to have plenty of room. Per my friend’s advice, I mixed used coffee grounds and crushed eggshells into the potting soil before planting the seeds. I added more coffee grounds to all my plants a couple of days ago when the plant looked like this:

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Today, I have actual squash blossoms!

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Used coffee grounds are a WONDERFUL fertilizer. But look up the plant before you add coffee grounds to the soil, because they aren’t appropriate fertilizer for all plants.

I don’t know the name of this squash variety, just that it’s a variety that grows up into a bush instead of running in vines on the ground. It won’t reach its full height in this container, but if you have to container garden and you really want squash, you can have it!

Late summer gardening

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It’s not really “late” summer in North Carolina. As the saying goes, we have four seasons: Almost summer, summer, still summer, and Christmas. Which means that, where I live, I can safely keep herbs and vegetables on the sunny side of the porch until mid-October.

My basil is fabulous as always, and I planted enough this year that I think the dried and crushed leaves will last until next “almost summer.” I bought two large tomato plants from Walmart months ago (NEVER AGAIN) and they looked healthy and had flowers and small green tomatoes on them . . . but once I got them home and the tomatoes started turning red, the leaves turned yellow, got brown spots, and dried up. A friend of mine identified the problem as leaf spot disease. I cut off all the dead  and dying foliage and set them around the side of the house to deal with later. A few weeks later I looked at them and they were putting out new growth and flowers! I pruned them again and watered them. Now they seem to have gone dormant. Go figure.

I bought tomato and basil “grow kits” from Family Dollar and they really took off. I had so many tomato seedlings in one little pot that I split them between three planters and gave the other pot to my neighbor. The seedlings have tripled in size in the two weeks since I planted them in big planters.

The friend who identified the tomato disease mailed a few bush-variety squash seeds to me. I planted three. They all germinated and look sturdy and healthy.

I’ve never planted squash in containers before. I decided to try more herbs and vegetables than flowers this year, so I chose something that looked fairly easy: pole beans. One pot looks to be on the verge of doing something. The plants in the other pot are a pallid yellow and are struggled. I ran a screwdriver up all the drainage holes in the pot, put the pot on a plant stand, mixed up a big bowl of potting soil, coffee grounds, and crushed eggshells (per my friend who has 12 foot sunflowers) and added the mixture to the pot. The soil was too low in that pot and most of my other vegetable pots. What I did today was add the potting soil/coffee grounds/eggshells to pots that were low on dirt, rearrange vegetable containers to maximize their sun exposure, and then snip yellow leaves and deadhead wildflowers. Container gardening won’t save you from weeds and grass. I did quite a bit of weeding today.

It rained hard two days ago, and it’s been “cool” (under 90F) since, so I watered some plants and gave the rest of them a splash of water on the leaves after the sun set.

My next gardening project is moving irises, very, very old irises that aren’t getting sun and rain because of a massive old maple and overgrown hedges. I’m not looking forward to it, but it has to be done. The soil in that flowerbed is exhausted. The worst outcome is what’s inevitable if we don’t try to move them.

Otherwise, my moonflowers are blooming, and the forget-me-nots and marigolds are starting to. I’ve learned a lot about gardening this year, plants for containers other than tomatoes, treating plant diseases, and what to do with the shady side of your yard.

–RobinIMG_0155IMG_0158IMG_0159IMG_0160

Photography Around the Yard

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Porch vegetable and herb garden. I planted a very mushy tomato in the spring and got several seedlings. When they were several inches tall, I gave half of them to my neighbor and separated the other half into two big planters, each planter big enough to hold an entire large bag of potting soil. I ended up with two adult plants. It took until August for them to reach their full height of over three feet and start putting out flowers. Now, in September, I have my first tomato. Luckily, North Carolina “enjoys” warm weather until the end of October.

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Another moonflower bloomed late this afternoon. This one is growing from a planter on the porch, on a yarn “trellis.” You can see the wrinkles in the petals from the folds of the bud.

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Scientific name polypores, common name shelf fungi. Sometimes referred to as “seashell fungi.” They grow on tree trunks and branches. This is a fallen branch from a dead dogwood tree. Eventually, if left untouched, the fungi may petrify. I have a petrified shelf fungus from a birch tree stump on Long Island. However, the extreme differences in temperature and humidity between Long Island and North Carolina may result in these fungi dying and rotting. I’m going to try removing one intact to see if it will dry out in the house.

More bird and garden pics

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This juvenile cardinal is in the most embarrassing phase of moulting! I thought it was a female, but the new feathers are so bright red that it seems to be a male. If you look closely, you can see the black starting to fade from his beak.

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At last, a healthy sunflower.

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This moonflower opened in just 30 minutes. I actually saw it start to unfold.

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