Bee, Bee & a WannaBee: Pollinator Week Continues

Starting with a bee all up in the rain lilies that are blooming their fool heads off after the weeks of showers we’ve had lately. This dude hit up all three flowers multiple times. He was a happy camper and may have stopped to take a nap in there when I took this photo:

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I was sipping my coffee while looking out the kitchen window this morning and contemplating the garden work I needed to do when I saw movement on the torenia out of the corner of my eye. Went out to investigate and found this bumble greedily filling up on all the clown flowers. Packing those pollen pads!

And finally the wannabee. This little wasp was enjoying the new addition to the garden—the Salt & Pepper plant. I am also loving this one. The flowers are different from anything else I have and the habit is open and airy. So glad I decided to try it.

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Pollinator Week: Wednesday Rewind

Today was another rainy day, so I couldn’t find many pollinators out and about in the garden. I did find a red-headed bush cricket and a common grasshopper, but decided instead to share a video I took on Monday of a bee on one of the best pollinator attracting perennials out there—the anise hyssop.

I still can’t believe the size of the pollen saddles on that bee! Impressive work, buddy.

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.

Soil-sense Intervention

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Meager morning harvest. Was this really it? I was already on the path of knowing I needed to improve my soil, but this was a total eye-opener. Even these few offerings from the veggie garden aren’t as healthy looking as they should be. I realized recently that I’ve been gardening the same backyard for ten years now and somewhere along the way I forgot that soil upkeep doesn’t happen with an application of leaf mulch twice a year.

I’ve always known that the soil is where it matters most in the garden. Regardless of the quality of plant or seed or the amount of sun and rain, if you don’t stay on top of building and maintaining the health of the soil, you’re losing.

At some point, I got lazy. That’s the truth of it. I could give the typical excuse of “life” getting in the way and all that bull, but really it was pure laziness. And then last week a book that has been on my shelf for two years finally caught my attention—The Third Plate by Dan Barber.

Just 100 pages in and there have already been so many poignant quotes that have made me say, “DUH, Jenn. DUH.” Gah.

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It’s embarrassing, really, to acknowledge here that at some point I lost all sense when it came to the soil of my gardens. After that pitiful morning harvest, I started thinking back to just a few years ago when I would go out on a similar morning and come back with my big ol’ antique colander and shirt full of tomatoes, peppers of all sorts and sizes, piles of herbs, eggplants with depths of purples so beautiful it became my favorite color. I would make sauces and salsas, cook and freeze, share with friends, coworkers, and family, and still have more.

It wasn’t just the abundance either. You could taste the difference in each variety of tomato, pepper, and eggplant. There were flavor and textural variations, as intended. I think I first noticed two years ago a drop off of not only production but quality. Did I do anything? Put out six inches of leaf mulch twice a year and hoped for the best. Stupid.

Today, I started the fix. With a weather forecasting rain for the next few days, I figured it was a good time to get some nutrients into that soil. By the way, this is what the skies looked like even with a 90% chance of rain for the day…

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But anywaaay, I know weather prediction will never be perfect or spot on, so I got out there to work. First thing, I put out a big bag of mushroom compost. Pulled what was left of the leaf mulch and some of the scrappy, dry dirt away from around the trunks of my tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and herbs, and filled in with a hearty moat of the compost. I know it’s not ideal to apply the compost in this way, but the hope is that the rain will work it in and the worms I know are still down there will come up to pull it down.

After doing this around all of them and going through the mushroom compost and a bag of cow manure I forgot I had, I put down a fresh layer of leaf mulch and watered it all in. This is my idea of a patch in hopes of salvaging some flavors and production. I also started more long term repairs.

Finally got a compost bucket going again. I used to always have one and it was easy and obviously rewarding. Again, laziness took over. No more. I set up the bucket right down off the back deck, which is right where the kitchen is, so all kitchen scraps will now go into the compost pot. Luckily, I found a 30 gallon black plastic pot under the front deck that still had some previous composting attempt in it. Already rich with worms, I added some leaves and grass clippings and will start to add those veggie bits. Getting back on the right path seems doable now.

I know that there are the fancy-schmancy compost bins you can buy, but an elevated bucket that drains has always worked for me. It’s big enough to make good compost, but not so big that I won’t want to work it correctly.

My other longer term plan is to plant clover or beans or some other nitrogen-fixing cover crop. That will make a big impact for the next growing cycle. I am also doing more research into crop rotations that will improve the soil in a specific area for the planting following it.

I’ve had a soil-sense awakening because of a book. It’s overdue, but I’m relieved that it happened. My gardening practices needed an intervention, and as I get back on track to improving my garden soil, I’ve found a renewed interest in learning as much as I can about soil and the microbial life that is right below our feet. It truly fascinates me. For some people, it’s the galaxies above. For me, it’s the intricate universes below.

 

 

 

Earth Day Faith

Last week, a new friend asked me if I had any spiritual beliefs. Without hesitation, I replied, “I can’t wait to become compost.”

I realize this may sound a bit grim, but as a gardener, I’m a witness to death giving rise to life.

Soil. Dirt. Earth. Whatever you call it, it’s the starter of the garden. There’s nothing quite like burying bare hands into healthy dirt and lifting it free. The heft and scent of it. The hyphae strands like highways for worms. It’s a world of its own and to hold that cradled in my palms is the closest I come to communion with a higher being.

It was years ago now when I first learned of the mycelium networks in soil that my scattered thoughts on spirituality became cohesive. Everything is just energy in different forms. From spongy fungus to screeching hawks, tomato blossoms to cirrus clouds, box turtles to magnolias, dung beetles to humans–all energy.

When I say I can’t wait to become compost, what I really mean is that though I’m content in my current form, I know through the natural breakdown of my body, I could become so much more. In the words of Bill Callahan in his song titled Say Valley Maker:

“So bury me in wood
And I will splinter
Bury me in stone
And I will quake
Bury me in water
And I will geyser
Bury me in fire
And I’m gonna phoenix

I’m gonna phoenix.”

 

Earth Day garden pics

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