Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Gardening Article: Appreciating Our Honeybees… and What to Do if You Need to Remove a Nest

I'm fascinated with bees. I've learned how important they are as pollinators, I fret over the colony collapse disorder that killed off nearly one-third of them in 2011 (the good news is that's less than prior years). But most importantly, I love to watch our local honeybees do their thing and encourage others to appreciate them.

I've written several articles on my website about them - see One is a six-month log of plants in our half-acre property in Southern California that provide year-round nectar - and assure pollination of our fruit trees and garden plants. Another goes into detail on live bee removal. We needed to remove a beehive in the eaves of our home in Southern California. But we didn't want to kill them and were happy to find a beekeeper who 'live removes' them. Ours got a plane ride up to a ranch in Central California where their offspring are living today. Below are some photos of the process.

For relocation in Humboldt County
The Humboldt Beekeepers Association keeps an annual list of beekeepers who will come and remove swarms or nests for free. Visit the website or please call Joy Thomas 707-444-1361 or Kathy Lee 707-822-6169. Visit Humboldt County beekeeping organization for more local information.

It was obvious we had a bee problem. 

The beekeeper who removed them was pleased with the quality of the numerous honeycombs.

What about Swarms?
About the same time as the bee removal, some bees built a hive in a date palm tree on our property, and I got to watch them swarm when they outgrew it. It's true what bee experts say  - that bees during swarms are docile as their goal is to protect the queen who is deep in the mass they form, while scouts locate a new home. If you can wait it out, they are usually gone within 24 hours. If you can't, call the phone numbers above.

The bees swarmed around a small tree about 5 feet from their original home and were gone the next morning. The queen is in the middle of the huddle.

In my observations and my reading, here are some  'aha' moments during my bee learnings:

Attract bees year-round by growing a large variety of flowering plants that bloom at different times. Although we tend to tout natives, non-native and fruit trees are all valuable - in fact, two non-natives, lavender and rosemary, have the longest duration of flowering and peak at different times of the year in our area. As Joy Thomas of the Humboldt Beekeepers Association says, if a tree is blooming, it's blooming because of bees nearby. She recommends blackberries and a variety of trees. 

For the garden, rosemary and lavender are great, plus the following. Without bees, our garden's flowers and the resulting fruit and vegetables are limited. 
  • Basil Ocimum
  • Cotoneaster Cotoneaster
  • Giant hyssop Agastache
  • Globe thistle Echinops
  • Hyssop Hyssopus
  • Marjoram Origanum
  • Wallflower Erysimum
  • Zinnia Zinnia
Pesticides kill!  Go Organic. Professional beekeepers have plenty of stories of losing hundreds of hives to pesticides and herbicides, A local beekeeper I know recently lost 350 hives due to the orchard owner of one of his beeyards spraying his fruit trees twice a year - at 20,000 bees minimum in an average hive, that totals up to 7 million bees. Research is showing that an insecticide neonicotinoid -the most widely used insecticide in the world (and in many commercial garden pest products) is a major contributor to colony collapse disorder. Also, the blossoms on GMO (genetically modified organism) crops are also killing bees. The best thing you can do is go as organic as possible.

Exhibit calm around them and teach your kids the same. I actually developed an allergy because I got stung several times within a couple years, and prior to that only got stung once as a child. But I haven't been stung for two years now though I have an epinephrine pen close by in case I get stung. I continue to observe them, fish them out of our pool when their attempt to drink goes amiss. Rarely, a bee colony can be taken over with killer or Africanized bees, which react more easily to noise.

For a good read, A Book of Bees is a classic by Sue Hubbell. It's obvious Hubbell loves her bees, which is evident in her success as a professional beekeeper in the Ozarks. She also wrote A Country Year.

Please support beekeepers. Joy Thomas said that backyard beekeeping in Eureka and Arcata is illegal according to the current laws. It's seldom enforced but please consider contacting city council members or the city manager to urge them to change the ordinance.

About the author: Linda Richards lives in Redlands CA. Her website/blog is dedicated to speaking for our natural world.

Flannel bush (fremontodendron) flower 

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Gardening Article: Organic Gardening is a Great Way to Better Health

You don't need to look far nowadays to see and hear people talking about organic gardening. From the clueless hipsters in the middle of the city to the soccer moms in the suburbs, this topic continues to become more and more popular. People are looking for natural alternatives as opposed to the fruits and vegetables that you can typically buy that are full of chemicals and pesticides. Ultimately, it is for the betterment of the family to have healthier food options when it's time for everyone to eat.

Organic gardening is great for the environment as you are nursing the soil as well as the plants that you grow in your backyard and gardens. The common misnomer is that you're feeding your plants when in actuality it is the soil that is providing nourishment to the plants. If the minerals in your soil are unbalanced, the plants will not have sufficient nutrients to survive. Getting your soil balanced is one of the first steps in producing a well-nourished and nutrient-rich garden, which will in turn produce a healthy, abundant yield of organic vegetables and fruits.

When you are first starting out with organic gardening, it can be overwhelming with all of the information that exists. If you're looking for organic gardening information, your local farmers market can actually be a good resource. They can give you excellent ideas about which fruits and vegetables take the least amount of maintenance. This can be quite helpful since you don't want to spend an enormous amount of time growing something only to have it spoil or get eaten by rodents or pests. They can also give you some great tips on which fruits and vegetables thrive in your current environment. There are some fruits and vegetables that grow better in cooler environments versus an environment that is very arid. This will also help you avoid wasting time trying to grow something that wouldn't have a positive outcome in your specific location.

The Internet is another place where you can get some great organic gardening tips. Doing a search in your favorite search engine will pull-up a ton of relevant information as it relates to growing your garden. Social networks like Facebook can also be a great place to bond with people that share the same interests. There are Groups that you can join where you can share tips, recipes and lessons learned. Another option online is to check for the forums related to your hobbies. This is also another great meeting point where great minds can share information about organic gardening.

Now that it is spring, groups also meet at public libraries and local bookstores to find out the latest tips and tricks for their organic gardens. There are certain sections devoted specifically for those that share this interest. These groups are also beneficial since you can visit each other's gardens locally to brag on your successes and also monitor each other's progress.

Organic gardening continues to be the natural alternative to the old-fashioned way which included using fertilizers and chemical sprays that actually harmed the fruits and vegetables that you put on your plate. There are plenty resources that exist both locally and online so you do not need to feel alone in trying to have a successful organic garden. The result is that you are not only taking care of the planet, and living a healthier lifestyle, but you are also teaching your children and those around you how easy it is to grow your own fruits and vegetables without using harmful chemicals.

Image courtesy of 

About the Author: Ruth Martin is the stay-at-home wife of an avid organic gardener who spends all his spare time out in his large garden when he's not working as a carpenter, or fishing. Ruth and her husband live in the heart of the Fingerlakes Region of Upstate NY with their 2 small children, who love helping their daddy in the garden. For more organic gardening information and tips, visit their blog at:

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Gardening Article: Balcony Gardening

Have you ever come across an idea and thought, "Where has this been all my life?" Having lived in various apartments for over ten years, my gardening has always been limited to a few sad rosemary and basil plants by the kitchen sink. When a friend mentioned vertical gardens, I was blown away. My tiny balcony suddenly can be more than bicycle storage. Below are the steps I followed to create my own vertical garden; however, there is a lot of room for creativity in this sort of project so you can use my instructions as guidelines.
Getting Started
First, I gathered the basic materials. Many tools were lying around the house: screws, screwdriver and a few extra shelves. Then I had to hit the hardware store for a screen, two-by-fours, a large piece of plywood for backing, and a big bag of soil. Finally, I chose some flower buds, though many people use climbing plants like ivy for fuller coverage, I prefer flowers. Fortunately, previous tenants had mounted storage racks to the brick balcony wall, so all I needed were some new brackets to hang my garden.
Building the Garden
I decided to start with a relatively small frame -- about two feet by three feet. Even having seen pictures of a vertical garden in action, I found it hard to believe that all that dirt would stay put! I used long screws to build the frame, and then cut out the screen to the size of the frame, adding an inch around the edges. I attached the screen with intermittent screws, though a stapler would probably have worked just as well, and poured in most of the soil. The trick is to pack it as tightly as possible before flipping the frame to tack on the back, which I learned through a messy trial and error.
​Plant away
Finally, all that remained was to press the buds into the garden. I widened a few of the squares and dug small holes with the end of a pencil, then pushed my buds through. I watered it, just a little, and mounted the whole frame to the wall. A few extra shelves are holding gardening supplies for now, and maybe eventually potted plants. Within a few weeks, the flowers really started to bloom. I showed anyone who came over, even the person who delivered my bag of broken tile pieces for a little mosaic pattern around the frame.
I would definitely suggest that anyone considering this project approach it with a lot of patience. It took some guessing and checking to figure out the hardiest plants and the amount of watering needed to have my vertical garden really thrive. However, in combination with one of those hanging tomato plants, my balcony is now a source of beauty and lunch, instead of an eyesore. With my relocated basil and tomatoes I can make a pretty mean caprese salad, and enjoy it by a flowering garden. Not a bad way to spend the afternoon.

Image courtesy of
About the author: Along with writing and gardening, Kristine likes to jog, watch bad TV and paint.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

More Spring Trimming in the Garden

Spring trimming gets started as soon as the rains will allow here in my north coast garden. Not surprisingly, between the window blowing out during a storm, good old tiredness, and the usual winter rain deciding to descend on us in spring, there has been less going on in terms of trimming and the usual garden care this spring. When we finally did get out in the yard more in April we started trimming and cleaning up as much as possible.

First I began with more heather trimming. There is another flowerbed that needs some heather trimming but I got the main flowerbed trimmed up of old heather flowers. I also spent some time trimming up the large pink fuchsias in the back yard, cutting back the branches so they would fill out with new growth, leaves, and blooms by mid to late summer. Everything here blooms about a month later here than in warmer Sonoma County, so my fuchsia blooms come later in the season. Which reminds me ... we need to replant the hanging fuchsias on the back deck. The dirt and liners have finally pooped out and the fuchsias are growing much less since last summer. We decided to try out some burlap for the hanging basket liner instead of cocoa lining (which falls apart easily), and the concept worked. We will buy many yards of burlap to create round liners then fill the baskets with dirt and replant the fuchsias. I need more plants in the basket and its probably time to add some other flowering plants with the fuchsias other than lobelia.

With a little time left in the garden I decided to plant a few boxes of bulbs that hadn't made it into pots prior to spring. I prefer planting spring bulbs earlier than this but its just how things played out with weather and all, and late planting is better than no planting at all. At least if bulbs don't flower this year they will flower next season. The boxes of bulbs from the store tend to have small bulbs in them which is why they only run $2.00 a box. I'm patient and at that price willing to take a chance on small bulbs that pay off down the road, so to planting I went. I planted some tall purple star shaped brodiaea flowers in with the yellow and purple tulips and new rannuculus bulbs. The tulips are much smaller this season, which probably means they have run their course for blooming. There are some tulips that bloom for a few years but many, like these, bloom well the first season and are much smaller or don't bloom the second season. The rannuculus blooms are tiny this year so I'm not sure if they will do much next season. I also planted some giant columbine in the tulip pots on the patio table. I've never had luck with columbine so I'm hoping planting them in a pot here will do the trick. Lastly I planted the little purple windflowers in my heather barrel. The small windflowers are the perfect height to accent the smaller heathers that are growing in the back yard barrel.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Let the Spring Garden Trimming Begin

This last weekend was spent with trimming back the garden in mind. I am late trimming back the heathers that already bloomed this winter, usually I get to them a little sooner than this. What with too many hours at work, the recent storm that helped push our already weakened front window out of its frame onto the lawn and part of the back gate falling down during the same storm, we've had our hands full. There is more than enough to do on a regular basis in our garden and so I've put on my patience hat and decided I'll get done what I get done. The good thing about gardens is they generally take care of themselves for the most part, it's the cleaning up around the edges that is needed from our end.

I started with trimming up the heaths and heathers. It's going to be a fairly long job, my handy little curved hand trimmers I got from my husband are the perfect tool for this job. The curved edge of the trimmers is small and fits in easily between the delicate branches of the heaths and heathers. The heathers closest to the porch were first, the orange/bronze winter heathers really had very few old flowers on them so that sped things up. I have an old heather I brought up from Petaluma that adjusted very well once planted here. The shrub has got to be eight to ten years old now since we hit the five year mark of living on the north coast recently. This particular heather flowers quite a bit but it is getting a little woody in the center of the plant and not standing up as well. I did a fairly hard trim back a few years ago of this plant to help re-generate it and it seemed to work, but there is still some sparse area in the center of the shrub. I don't mind so much because it still looks good all year long in its evergreen leaves and has pretty pink flowers. I trimmed up a newer heather that was nearby the older plant, it had a small amount of old flowers on it and has been in the ground probably two years now. I also trimmed a little bit of the burgundy flowering heather but there is still more to do on this one because the stems are long and floppy. As I was part-through with the burgundy flowering heather it started to rain a bit which made me shift gears quickly.

The final item of the day for a trim was my large garnet pestemon. It is really gorgeous in the summer months and is covered with long garnet red tubular flowers. Since it started to rain I knew I wanted to cut this shrub back quickly before I had to fold up and head inside. I managed to trim up the garnet pestemon well so it can bloom better this coming summer. A few days later I can see some new growth starting up on the pestemon already. I have another garnet pestemon growing under the pink roses, it is a piece of the original pestemon I grew in water to establish some roots then potted it up for a year so it would get bigger. It was planted last year and is already getting tall and full. I'm hoping it fills out quickly once the weather starts warming up in spring and flowers this summer.

Stumble Upon Toolbar