Last night the UPS guy arrived during dinner.
Because I’m not overcommitted, yesterday I ordered 6 pounds of bees and two hives. I’m taking a beekeeping class run by my local beekeeping club. And in about six weeks I’ll drive two hours west to Brushy Mountain Bee Farm, pick up my bees, and begin a new adventure.
If you garden much at all, you’re probably aware of the plight of Apis mellifera, the European honeybee. Between varroa mites (Varroa destructor), the mysterious colony collapse disorder, and a charming array of other pests, diseases, and environmental insults, only about 16% of feral bee colonies survive one year (American Bee Journal). Sustainable colony management is essential to helping the species survive.
Yesterday I began preparing my bee yard. I’m resisting calling it an apiary; that seems a rather aspirational term given that I’ve got two hives and no experience.
The ideal spot to locate hives is in full sun, away from well-traveled paths. That place doesn’t exist on my half-acre suburban property. The full-sun locations in my garden are immediately adjacent to my neighbor’s driveway, where a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old play daily. Everywhere else on the property is well shaded by mature oak trees.
I’ve chosen a small spot behind my shed, where the bees will be sheltered but should still get some morning sun. I’ll face the hives towards the southeast, because light stimulates them to start their day. Yesterday I cleared the area of ivy and vinca vines, leveled the ground, and laid a few inches of gravel where the hives will be. Gravel helps suppress small hive beetles, a pest I’m told I will have to accept around here. Chickens are also excellent at helping to suppress the beetles–they adore the larvae–but that’s a project for another day.
I’m also clearing ivy vines that have grown up the trunk of one of the nearby oaks. I won’t be able to reach them at the top, but by getting as much as I can off the trunk, I will permit more light to reach the bee yard.
I started at ground level, wedging a cat’s paw tool–a wide, flat crowbar/nail puller about 12 inches long–between the trunk’s bark and the vine. I pried it back from the bark, slid it up the trunk as far as I could, and pried again.
I’ve wedged brick fragments between the trunk and the vine to keep the vines from reattaching until I can complete the project.
I hate to use herbicides in my garden, but this is a desperate case. I’ll pull off as much as I safely can, and paint the remaining vine with brush killer. I will probably also paint the base of the vine with the same, and dig it out once it’s dead. I know from experience that if I don’t use herbicide on something as large as this, I will never eradicate it.
Wish me luck. I’ll post photos of the carnage when I can.
Today’s temperature was only in the high 80s, so I felt brave enough to venture outside and tend long-deferred tasks. Weeded grassy area off the deck; I’m impressed with the resilience of Eco-Grass, a fine fescue blend I’m trying out. I sowed it in cool weather, early spring, and did the requisite watering to get it established but since then haven’t watered or fed, or even mowed. It’s long, at about 5″, but what’s growing in the shade is still very green. I’ll have to be careful establishing it in the main pathway between house and shed.
Made notes of shrubs to buy for fall. Started weeding rain garden; weeded & mulched maybe 20%. Weeded and mulched 1/3 of ophiopogon path, watered with nettle tea. Made more comfrey tea. Both plants have made a rebound after a brutally hot and dry June.
Moved a Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) to where the side gate will be (oh, yes; we’re getting a fence for the yard to contain Henry). Watered and mulched it, the existing jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides variegata), and the ‘Yuletide’ camellia. Moved 2 loads mulch to the very damp corner behind T’s room; perhaps later this week I will till it in to improve drainage. Ferns looking superb in the rain garden and hanging in there in the new rain barrel bed. The fungus that grew on the blueberries earlier this year seems to have stayed away. Found a big fruit on Arisaema.
Despite 70F (21C) temperatures today, it’s winter and I must govern myself accordingly in the garden. I went through the seed packets and found a handful of treasures to winter sow:
- Anemone canadensis
- Spinach (Bloomsdale)
- Louisiana iris ‘Black Gamecock’
- Bachelor buttons (Centaurea sp., double form, blues and purples)
- Cleome (pink and purple)
- Salvia viridis
I’ll keep an eye on the anemones and spinach. For now, I’m growing the spinach in the cold frame, though I may transplant some of it into a larger bed as the month progresses. The anemones will need a second cold, moist period, so in late spring they’ll migrate to the refrigerator for a month or two. I hope to be able to transplant them to the garden this fall.
January here can be terribly unpredictable: This week, we’ll swing from a high of 70 to a high of 29F (-1.6C). I’m sure we had winter temperature swings when I was growing up, but I don’t remember anything like this. And we always had at least a few snows; that’s not a guarantee now. The more time I spend in the garden, the more I worry about climate change.
My snowdrops are blooming and the foliage of daffodils and crocus stands just above the mulch. I’m closer to my goal of having something in bloom all year round.
This year’s bumper crop of acorns has meant that the deer have stayed away up to now, but two days ago I saw seven (seven!) adult deer at once in the neighbor’s backyard. I hope my garden looks more trouble than it might be worth to them. Thinking more and more about the necessity of a fence, especially with Henry‘s addition to the household. Perhaps he’ll frighten off the squirrels and voles, who are making one heck of a mess in the soft, wet ground.
Holiday decorations from the garden delight me in ways other ornaments can’t. I’d rather have pots of forced bulbs, a Christmas cactus, or fresh garlands of mixed greenery than anything else. Well, except for a tree.
It is not in my nature to decline a free giveaway, so when the gentlemen at the tree lot offered scrap trimmings (all I could cart away!), and my spouse was preoccupied with tying the tree to the car’s roof, I grabbed an armload. I kept them in a bucket of water on the deck until I discerned a future for them.
Yesterday, armed with a paddle of florist’s wire and a pair of hand pruners, I crafted a garland for our mailbox.
It began as an 8-foot-long rope of Fraser fir (Abies fraseri), wired together from cuttings 18 inches long or so, and annotated with silver wired ribbon. But it suffered acute dullness.
Pondering what might give it some verve, I remembered the cardinal rule to add texture. And what luck; I have never, in the ten years I’ve lived here, conquered the English ivy (Hedera helix) that I inherited on closing day. So I yanked up a few yards’ worth and tucked them in amidst the fir. In the winter, the marbling of the leaves seems more pronounced.
A march around the garden yielded leaves of Magnolia grandiflora, seedlings of privet (Ligustrum) and loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), and clippings of Nandina domestica‘s leaves and berries.
I uprooted an entire plant of Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ that has never done well. Off with its evergreen heads, and into the mix they went. They drooped quickly, but no one driving by will notice.
Not bad for compost-in-waiting, I think.
Last year, I planted cyclamen seeds. Last month, I saw their first stirrings to life.
This month, they’re going nuts. Every time I pass by the pots, I find more leaves pushing up from the gravel.
Two species are doing very well: Cyclamen coum album, and Cyclamen graecum ssp. anatolicum. I’m surprised that Cyclamen hederifolium isn’t doing as well, as that’s supposed to be the easiest to grow. I have heard that C. graecum is supposed to be quite finicky, although plants from Greece and Turkey tend to perform well here as long as the drainage is good. I can’t wait to see their foliage take on its pattern. Here are two images from John Lonsdale of the Pacific Bulb Society:
I can transplant them after they have 3-4 sets of true leaves–no idea how long that will take. The Pacific Bulb Society indicates fertilization with an 18-8-18 formula, alternating with a fertilizer based on calcium nitrate. I’ll show in a future post how to mix your own fertilizer blends.
For now, I must sow the rest of the seeds and see if I can get another batch going. The prospect of having such wonderful foliage to get me through a grim winter cheers me up immensely.
What are your favorite winter plants?