Butterflies, Bees, and Moths: Pollinator Week Back in Full Effect

After weeks of dreary, rainy days, the sun finally came out today and so did the pollinators. I walked through the garden after lunch and caught sight of tiny wasps, bees, moths, butterflies, and flower flies. The garden I planted out by the road last summer has really taken off and although it was intended as a butterfly garden, it has attracted way more than that.

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As an after vet check-up treat, I took my girl Ruby Joon to Native Nurseries today and got to see even more pollinators while she drank from all the water features. Captured this beauty (monarch?) proving that the nursery’s signage is accurate. The Brickellia in my garden isn’t blooming quite yet, but I hope it attracts big ones like this guy…

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Back home, I found that I have swallowtail butterflies on the way. Caterpillars are currently destroying the bronze fennel, which I plant just for them. I noticed the first few pillars yesterday and one of the plants is already looking a bit thin today. This beast probably has something to do with the fennel demolition.

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This whole “Pollinator Week” thing has really gotten me out taking a closer look at the garden. Instead of seeing it as a whole, I’ve focused on individual blooms, looked under leaves, and even checked the zinnias hanging down into the ditch. Not only have I learned of pollinators I never knew were out there doing their thing, but my drive to garden regardless of the heat, humidity, and mosquitoes is back up—I’m energized again. Bring on the dog days of summer. I have a lot of work to do to be ready for fall and I’m ready.

 

 

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Pollinator Week: The Workhorse Wasp

Maybe this dude isn’t pollinating 15 floors up in the rain, but in the garden, yes. Wasps of all sizes are the main pollinators I see in my vegetable garden. I have my fair share of bees, butterflies, and moths as well, but wasps do double duty in the garden. Not only are they pollinators, but Braconid wasps will lay their eggs on hornworms and when they hatch, the larvae feed on the worm killing it. Instant pest control. And that is just one example of the over 200 possible pests that parasitic wasps control in a garden. Boom.

Mayday May Day

The day after a garden install can be similar to a hangover for me. Headache, exhaustion, soreness in places where I’m not sure why I’m sore in that spot, and a seemingly unquenchable thirst. Yesterday was National Plant Something Day and I planted a lot of somethings. A whole new butterfly and bee buffet garden, in fact.

For the last few years, the ditch in the front of my property has been filling up with dirt between the sandbags and growing weeds, ferns, and most recently, mimosa trees. Yes, trees growing out of the ditch cracks. Any time I’d contact the city to clean it, they would come out and take a weed whacker to it, effectively making the weeds grow back stronger and more robust. Finally, after gobs of emails, they called to set up a time to meet with me about the issue. Once they came out and saw what was going on, the dude agreed it needed to be totally dug out and re-cemented. Part of fixing it meant that I would have to move some of the garden I had planted between the ditch and the road by my driveway. Thankfully, they were very cool about it, since it is technically city property, and gave me a three week head start to move some of the plants out of their way. They could have just come in and plowed over the whole thing, so I was grateful he appreciated the work I had put in the existing garden bed.

20160414_164230.jpgI ended up removing perennials, herbs, and bulbs from an area of about two feet on either side of the ditch and transplanted them into the back garden. My first thought was to just set them aside in pots and keep them watered until I could replant them out front. Then I saw the destruction and the collapse of the sides. Of course, they dug it out right before three days of rain, but you know…yeah. So I decided it might be time to just redo the garden altogether.

Recently, a neighbor a few houses up put in a big, butterfly garden out by the road and I thought, why not do that too and try to make our street into one huge butterfly buffet? I set to work doing one of my favorite creative activities:  garden design.

I’ve loved designing since I was a kid. Started with dream house designs that I would draw 20160501_205707.jpgthe floor plans for each room and actually build the houses. Drove me mad if my mom, dad, or brother would come into my room without warning and the draft from the door opening would blow over my paper houses. Grrrrrrrrr. I still enjoy drawing ideas for the house I will build one day when I find the perfect property. Garden design didn’t start until I went to work at a local nursery. Once I started learning about plants, I couldn’t stop. It was an addiction…might still be. After five years at the nursery and having been formerly married to a landscaper, I learned quite a few tricks about design and installation. Unfortunately, I found myself without adequate drawing materials, so I was left with a piece of notebook paper and Crayola colored pencils–need to fix that.

My new garden added about 36 square feet of extra space. I spend most Saturdays this time of year at my favorite local nursery, which focuses on native plants. After looking at all my options for butterfly attractors and larval foods, I added a few of those natives into the mix. As I said, plants are an addiction of mine and I’m a big ol’ sucker for one I haven’t tried before. I just can’t help myself. Since most of the same flowers that attract butterflies also bring in the bees, the garden will be beneficial to both and beneficial to me as well with those bees hopefully heading out back to my vegetable blooms.

There was was one weekend between the city finishing the concrete work and laying the sod. I used those days to dig out the new section of garden, transplant the existing sod from that area, and put in the edging. The following Monday, I came home to all new grass around the bed and they had even cut and fit in the last piece of edging that I had left flopping in the ditch out of pure exhaustion and none fox to give at that point.

Finally, yesterday, I was able to get soil amendments, fertilizer, and mulch and get to work installing my pretties. First step was digging out a trench at the edge of the ditch, which is lower than the existing dirt, and moving the railroad ties back into place. I moved those bastards all on my own. RAWR! Next I mixed compost into the soil and leveled off the bed. Then it was time to place and plant the flowers. I like to set them out according to my drawings, but inevitably end up moving things around once I see it all right in front of me.

My planting process is:  dig hole, set root ball in, add fertilizer, fill hole with water, and then press in the dirt around it being careful not to add soil above the existing root ball top. That is the easiest way to kill a plant…suffocate it. I generally keep the dirt below that level to account for the mulch. Once all the potted plants were in, I added three seed areas for parsley and tall zinnias. Then it was time to mulch. I really like the look of pine bark mulch. Not the nuggets. It has a clean look and each bag covers a large space, so not only aesthetically, but economically, it makes sense. Depending on the size of the potted plants, I will sometimes mulch before planting. Since a lot of these were gallon-sized or larger, I was okay doing it after. When dealing with a lot of small starters or 4″ pots, do it first, so as not to have to take all that time being careful to not cover the plants after.

Boom! The transformation is complete and now I can sit back and watch it all fill in. I can’t wait to see all the butterflies, bees, native pollinators, and other wildlife this roadside garden brings to the neighborhood. Hopefully it will also make the people slow down for a moment to appreciate the simple happiness of flowers and living things.

 

Here are some before and after pics with a list of plants I used afterwards:

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Plants used for the butterfly and bee buffet garden:

Buddleia, purple, ‘Attraction’

Pentas, pink, ‘Jessica’ and ‘Starburst’

Verbena ‘Lolipop’

Zinnias, low growing coral

Zinnias, tall mix colors

Gallardia ‘Mesa Yellow’

Echinacea purpurea (native)

Phlox, pink

Lantana, ‘White Gold’

Salvia, ‘Victoria Blue’

Rudbeckia, ‘Irish Eyes’

Blue Daze

 

Larval plants:

Zizia aureas, ‘Golden Alexander’ (native)

Passion vine, purple (native)

Milkweed, yellow

Fennel, bronze

Parsley

 

You can add any of these to your gardens, including vegetable gardens. It’s always a great idea to mix flowers into the veggie garden to attract pollinators.

 

 

 

Hawk Moths, Eggshells, and a Super Harvest Moon

I slept. I actually slept until 8:34 this morning. This is a fall miracle. The weather broke yesterday and I was able to open the windows and let the cool night air engulf my room last night. Fresh air and the sounds of nature in the night lulled me into the best rest I’ve had in months. Finally.

I woke up to the usual lovefest from my girls, Ruby and Frita. They start every morning giving and getting attention before we get out of bed. It’s their way of saying, “good morning, ma!” and I have to admit there’s no way to begin the day without a smile because of their routine. Once up, I made some coffee and went out to the back deck for some garden contemplation time. Today was my first day of seed planting, so I needed to have some sort of plan in my mind for the layout before getting started.

The coolness of the night was lingering and the hawk moths were everywhere. Flitting from flower to flower, faux hummingbirds of the insect world, they drank from the pink pentas, purple buddleia, and blue salvia alongside the Zebra Longwings and Giant Swallowtails. Big bumblebees zoomed in and sampled from the zinnias and horsemint on the breakfast buffet. The garden was teeming with activity and I was roused by it.

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With my first stack of seeds to plant, I was ready with a plan based on soil and sun exposure. Then I actually took the time to read the planting directions on the seed packets and realized I needed to soak the beet and chard for best performance, so I started those to soaking in some Moo Poo Tea. The radishes and carrots would be planted in the lower part of the yard where the sun is strong most of the day and the soil is rich and evenly moist. As root crops, I thought those would be the best conditions for their growth and flavor. The kale would do fine up at the top of the garden with a little less sun.

I set to work taking back that portion of the garden from the summer weeds that had taken over. As it usually happens when weeding, I just kept going and ended up cleaning out a much larger area than I needed for today’s planting. I also decided to move a few perennials while I was at it and before I knew it, I had completely forgotten my original task.

wpid-wp-1443300084948.jpgWorking my way around, I noticed that a few of the cabbages I planted the previous week had holes in their leaves. Chew holes. CABBAGE WORMS. They found it already? Dammit.

Luckily, I have been saving eggshells and was ready for this nonsense. I decided to take a break and prepare my organic cabbage worm (or maybe slug) defense–crushed eggshells. Not only are the sharp eggshells brutal on the soft bodies of worms and slugs, they do double duty as a beneficial nutrient by adding calcium to the soil.wpid-wp-1443300092215.jpg

A few quick pulses in the food processor and I had my organic, coarsely-ground pest death. I bagged it up and went back out to heavy hand it around the starter plants. I went ahead and encircled the broccoli plants as well. Even though they did not have any chew holes yet, I knew they were on the list of delectable delights that those pests liked.

Broccoli and cabbage plants surrounded in safety, it was time to get back to the seed beds. First, I lightly hand-tilled some mushroom compost into the top layer of loosened soil. Then I spread the seeds, sprinkled more of the eggshell bits on top, and covered with a thin layer of pine straw–just enough to protect the soil from washing away when watering or in the rain. Watered everything in and put a few pruned rose branches around the seeds to keep critters out. Once I see those little seeds sprout, I will hit them with Moo Poo Tea to get their root systems going strong.

With the weeds eradicated, perennials relocated, and seed beds planted, it was time to relax on the back deck once again and appreciate the changed view. In the weekends ahead, I will be adding more and more. Remember, I went a bit overboard when buying seeds this year, so I still have a lot of work ahead of me. Some of the areas will have to wait until my fall tomatoes are done and other spots will open up as perennials and larger deciduous plants lose their leaves, allowing the sun in. I will also do subsequent rounds of the root crops so they aren’t all ready at the same time.

Overall, it was a productive day in the garden and my timing could not have been more perfect. We are supposed to be getting a few days of rain coming up and nothing is better than rain for those transplants and seeds. Also, I have done some research on gardening by the phases of the moon and with tomorrow night’s super harvest moon and total eclipse, I am interested to see how this round does compared to the ones I will plant in the next few weeks/months. I’m keeping notes this year.

Let me know your experiences with gardening by the phases of the moon and don’t forget to go outside and look up tomorrow night if you have clear skies!