Friday, October 31, 2008

Last Chance to Plant

Some of the plants I ordered arrived this week and are now planted in the ground. Mostly the ones that were best shipped as bare roots or bulbs. They were 3 varieties of Trillium (probably the only three in production), Turks Cap, and Bloodroot.

Thanks to deforestation most of the remaining forest land in America isn't in good shape. Fragmented forests only have so many species in them and the weaker species are only a short disaster away from going locally extinct. Because of this most people have probably never seen a Trillium in person. I am among those people. Trillium grandiflorum is probably the most widely sold Trillium in the US and I look forward to it's wonderful white flower next year. The other two are T. luteum which is yellow, and T. erectum which is red.

Blood Root is a short little early blooming wildflower. It's always fun to find a native wildflower that isn't widely considered to be a weed. The only downfall I've read about this one is it's flower is short lived. This is a shame because pictures I see online look nice.

The last one was Turks Cap Lily. Garden stores always have so many lilies for sale. I believe most of them are native to Asia. Our US natives tend to have the flowers pointed down. The peddels are also spotted and blend from orange to pink.

After planting all of these I added some decomposing leaves from the compost bin and watered the ground. This isn't nessessary for their survival but it's highly recommended. Squirrles are notorious bulb eaters and will happily rip up your prize winning garden for a meal. However, they don't dig in wet soil. The water will also hide your work.

I've had squirles digging up my bulbs before. I usually don't care though because most of the time they just replant it elsewhere in the yard.

I haven't decided yet if I'll be growing bulbs inside yet. Some of them are very fragrant and it's always good to freshen up a room now and then. They usually don't require much care at all either. What I don't like though is how expensive they are. Some of them are $20 or more for one plant. It's kind of worth it if you really love the scent and keep triggering it to bloom. The only reason most of them bloom over the winter is becasue they've already been wintered. It's not uncommon to find ones that haven't sold in late winter that are bursting out of their packaging.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Plant List

Why is there Snow in my October!

Being cooped up in the house is no good for a gardener. Though I do have a few indoor plants and am combating the mold gnats, I still can't help but think about how my garden's doing. I walk outside and see most everything is dying away, with the exception of our Garlic which is green and growing in cold temperatures. I walk through the garden now and see all the leaves are falling, the tomatoes have rotted, and the goldenrod has fallen over. Soon I will cut everything back to the ground, compost the old growth and think of next year.

As it so happens today I compiled a list of plants to boost the various things I love to look for out in the garden. You may think it funny that I actually promote insects in my yard but that's the best way to get birds in my opinion. It's one thing to have a bird feeder feeding them seeds but quite another to provide caterpillars which are vital to a young bird's growth.

Prunus (Black Cherry Tree)
One of the best trees for the job, so I have read, is the Black Cherry Tree. This is targeted 448 species of Moth and Butterfly as a host plant, including a number of tent caterpillars. Of all the plants in this genus I've narrowed it down to either Prunus virginiana (Choke cherry) or Prunus pensylvanica (Pin cherry) and it's probably going to come down to whichever one I can find sold. Certain native plants are often hard to find anywhere. The berries to both can be mashed up into homemade jam or left for the birds to eat. These trees are often called June Berry because they're one of the first to ripen in the year, if not, the first. Both only grow 15' or so. Despite being skeletainized on a bimonthly basis I'm told trees are hearty enough expect this and quickly rebound.

Fennel, Parsley, and Dutchman's Pipe
I'm growing these specifically as butterfly host plants. The larger yellow and black swallowtail butterflies use these and other plants as hosts. Fennel and Parsley can also be used as herbs and I look forward to tasting them (maybe I'll become a butterfly too, LOL). Dutchman's Pipe, Aristolochia durior, is a native vine for where I'm at. Normally I hate vines for their efforts to choke trees to death. It's also somewhat carniverous I think which is another negative, but if it can swallow some of the moiscitos I'll be happy.

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
This is another host plant that produces berries as well. It's host to the Spicebush Butterfly, which is another large black swallowtale. I need to do more research on this one though becasue this plant has genders and berries only occur on females.

Ceanothus, specifically New Jersey Tea
I forget exactly why this one's on my list. It's a native Lilac, and if I recall right has a butterfly or two that go with it.

For Ants I'm looking into planting a few native wildflowers. Ants are where my hobbies in nature all began and in my opinion are one of the most overlooked signs of a healthy echosystem. Some 12,000 species are known and the more types you have in an area the better it is. I'll talk more on this at a later date perhaps.

These are a wonderful flower, but somewhat rare today. They're a simple 1' to 2' tall plant usually with a single flower per plant. After blooming in the spring it produces a berry that is filled with seeds. The seeds are coated with a "brown sugar" like substance that ants go nuts for. They actually take the seeds home and eat the good stuff, while planting the seed in the process.

Birds Foot Violet, Viola pedata
This is another one that ants will happily plant for you.

I think part of the reason why more Trilliums and native Violets aren't around today is becuase of the overuse of pestacide. With both of these plants you find isolated populations with very limited genetic diversity. The only time this changes up is when an ant from another group of these plants happens to find a seed from another group of these plants. In a way these are natural ant garden and I look forward to watching them spread here in the yard.

Concord Grapes
I actually already have a vine of these going, as do my neighbors. But mine has yet to flower and produce any fruit. It's something I look forward to. In a recent news artical I read one of the foods people who live to be 100 eat is Purple foods. Blueberries, Red Wine, and Concord Grapes all gain their color thanks to specific chemical which has been found to have antiaging properties.

That's the list so far and I'll probably add more to it later on. Now the trick is fitting it all in the yard.

Purple Loosestrife

For the past year or so I've been trying to break the habit of buying plants at garden centers without doing any research. Sure most of the plants are clearly labeled and all the facts you need to know about their care are right there. But one has to remember these people are trying to sell you something. One day while walking through the isles of one of my favorite garden places I saw they had a new plant. It looked like Fire Weed, a native wildflower, but when I read the label my jaw dropped.
Purple Loosestrife
This is a dangerous weed in the US. It's something of a raggy looking plant that does great near the waterways. So good infact that most other plants can't compete with it. Each one is loved by pollinators and has no trouble dropping a few thousand seeds each year. Worst of all, simply destrubing the soil is enough to trigger them to germinate. This makes them hard to control and simply trying to pick the plants will cause the seed bank below to all sprout into action, while the river takes them farther down stream.

So I asked the one of the top gardeners there "Why the Hell are you selling this!?"

He explained "It's not banned in our State." and then he did something amazing. Without taking another thought on his part he actually went on to name All the states that it was banned in including all the serounding states and many of America's heartland states where farming is often done.

I was just staring at him a while and he did the same to me. I didn't need to make my point, he had alread done it for me. After a moment I just walked off nodding my head. I'm not sure if I got through to him on that day but I was happy to see, upon returning a month later, that someone had cut all of the flowers off the Purple Loosestrife.

If I find they're still selling it next year I'll contact whoever I must to get it banned. I don't care if it's not an invasive in our state at all, the fact that we're allowing it to be sold undermindes the work of conservationiests and the Millions spent each year on it.

This plants hogs all the space so our natives like Milkweed, Joe Pye Weed, Goldenrod, Fireweed, and ButtonBush are all tossed to the side. Don't let their common names fool you. Milkweed is the host plant to the Monarch Butterfly as well 11 others; Joe Pye is our native version of the also invasive Butterfly Bush (in my opinion); Goldenrod, Fireweed and ButtonBush are all importan food sources for our native bugs, which inturn feed our native birds and so on.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Honey Bees vs Native Bees

America has 4,500 to 5,000 species of native bees. I don't think anyone has a definitive count, and then issues like DNA or over looked species confuse everyone. Darn you science! Anyhow, it's safe to say we at least have 4,500 species of excellent pollinators out there. So why then do farmers mostly use Honey Bees, Apis mellifera, as our primary pollinator?

There are a number of reasons for this and it's ripe full of controversy. The main reason Honey Bees are here in America is to pollinate foreign crops. The Xerces Society's view on honey bees seems to be we're better off without them. The pollination needs of farmers can easily be handled by our natives bees.They're argument is naive bees have evolved with certain flowers and are ideal at pollinating specific crops. The trouble is with 4,500+ species who can say the right pollinator for the job is even in the neighborhood?

Native Bees probably aren't used more in agriculture because they can't be controlled as easily as Honey Bees. Unlike our native bees, Apis mellifera maintains hives of 20,000 to 80,000 bees all year. Social native bees die off almost entirely, only the young queens produced in the fall survive the winter and start new hives in the spring. Wasp and Bumblebee hives have to start over every year. The Native Solitary bees though have an advantage here.

Solitary bees actually make up about 90% of the native bee population. The bees are only active for 6 to 4 weeks of the year, and depending on the species this can be any time of year. During the time the species is active females spend the entire time pollinating flowers near their nest. They'are somewhat social in that they love to nest next to other bees of their species. Despite being solitary it's possable to have an entire field, hill, or forest filled with these bees. Because so many of them nest next to one another it's just as good as having a hive of Honey Bees. The trouble here is land.

Farms are typically just a monocrop and perhaps some forest land acting as a border to help prevent erosion and other land issues. Monocrops are AWFUL! Even a forest full of native maple trees is bad. The reason is because it's a fradgile echosystem. There just isn't enough diversity around to keep things under control and farmrs have to resort to insectacides at some point or another. There are a few exceptions to this but they're not the norm. A single crop of anything is only blooming at one time of year. Honey Bees are ideal pollinators here because their hives can be carted around the country and propped up at a specific crop that blooms as a specific time, and repeat. Only a few Native Bees could really work under such limited foraging conditions.

What's worse is that it could be said the Honey Bees are stealing food from the natives. When you're a solitary bees that's only active when apple trees are in bloom in early spring, foraging can be extremely limited when you have to compete with a hive of 80,000 honey bees. Honey Bees happily fly up to 6 miles away from their home for food where as the Native bees usually don't go more than half a mile.

Don't get me wrong Honey Bees are still needed. A number of US crops actually aren't native and in many cases the Honey Bee is ideal for pollinating them. It's likely that this was the main reason why Honey Bees were used in the first place. Package that with the face that we can control the genetics of their hives and maintain them all year and it makes them all the more appealing to Beekeepers. To an extent this has also been done with Bumblebees but it's nothing compared to Honey Bees. You can find dozens of books completely devoted to the single species of Apis mellifera. And despite not being native they're the leading sources of pollination in the US.

The alternatives for farmers are to follow some of The Xerces Societies's plans. Some sound more outrageous than others but they've found farmers who sware by them.

1) Devote as much as 30% of the land to native forests.
This is a huge one to consider. But if it will provide 100% pollination year after year as well a more balanced echosystem it could be well worth it.

2) Limit the use of insectacides.
They say 90% of the insectacides sprayed are only to get the last 10% of quality. Most insects are not out to get you in any way. Solitary Bees are timid compared to everything else out there anyway.

3) Plant a cover crop to provide year round blooming.
This one fixes all the foraging needs your native bees might need and it will help their populations grow year after year. If there are any fears of the cover crop competing with the main crop then simply mow it over until the main crop is done.

4) Provide Nesting Where Able.
This is a big one. The forest itself adds to this but they're only foraging a half mile from their nest. Considering the natural home of tube nesting mason bees is the resulting hole of a particular sized grub in a dead tree branch, it might be useful to just drill some holes in a nesting block to speed things along. Bumblebees actually nest in former rodent burrows, and thatch nests. So stop mowing the grass and let the mice run wild.

More details can be found on their site.