Saturday, February 28, 2009

Ant Chat 2: Ant Anatomy

Ant Chat Episode 2: Here Cody and I talk about Ant Anatomy. We were still starting out with the show.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Native Honeysuckle

Lonicera sempervirens is one of the most beautiful honeysuckles in my opinion. It's naturally hot pink flowers do a superior job of attracting hummingbirds, if present, and it certainly look a whole lot better than that awful Japanese Honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica. The real difference that matters with these two plants is size.

Our native honeysuckle is not invasive. It only gets 10' long at it's maximum size. Growing it up a poll or short trellace will make it look like a hanging plant as it balls up around itself. It isn't long enough to strangle plants either. It's foliage is more open so when it grows over bushes it doesn't kill them.

The invasive japanese honeysuckle is a huge problem. A single plant will grow 30' and it can kill a small tree. The process is slow but it eventually coveres the entire plant in it's dence leaves. The vine strangle the trunk as the rest of it completely shades out the rest of the plant. Worst of all this evil vine can grow in full shade and will slowly slither it's way throuth the forest floor.

Not only is the native honeysuckle more likely to attract hummingbirds with it's bright flowers (also available in yellow!) but it's a more likely host plant to our native Hummingbird Moths. Vibernum would also likely work for this moth.

So remember, if you plan on buying a honeysuckle this year, make the right choice and go native!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ant Chat Shows Coming Soon!

For the past few days I've been tweaking around with posting Ant Chat shows directly on my blog. And sure enough I've found a way to make it happen. But now there's the problem how best to release them. They're already out and available on the Mevio Ant Chat website. I want to post the new shows I do here too but I don't want my blog to have an incomplete listing of shows. The other issue is I don't think I wan to suddenly post 10 episodes of past ant chats all at once. So I think I'm going to post them one or two a week. Any thoughs?

Monday, February 23, 2009

The 2009 Philadelphia Flower Show

Sometime next week I'll be attending the 2009 Philadelphia Flower Show. But before I do I figured I'd write about my experiences when I went last year. As you can imagen I'm sure there flowers there. So many in fact that the smell of pollen is somewhat heavy for the entire room The Philadelphia Flower Show in particular is one of the biggest, if not the biggest in the country. However it's actually small enough to fit in one room at the convention center. You could probably walk the entire show in about 1 hour; 2 if you stop for some of the entertainment.

The show is broken up into several parts. There are flower arrangements, plant pictures and paintings all on display being judge. One area highlights the single plants themselves. The emphases with all of these tends to be bulbs and flowering trees. Some grasses and other plants are present but one has to look extra hard to notice them. Perhaps it had something to do with last year's theme which was either New Orleans or Gardens of Scotland.

I believe bulbs are over used for two reasons. First off, they're marketable. We import thousands of "Easter Lilies" every year from Asia and sell them in April. Normally though they only bloom in the Summer. The Second reason explains this phenomenon. It's easy to make bulbs bloom. Take any bulb and put it in the refrigerator for a few weeks (usually 4 to 8) and that gives them enough cold hours to think that winter is over. So despite the Easter Lily blooming in time for Easter you can trigger it to bloom when you want if you time the cold hours just right.

Another aspect of the flower show was design. Three or four rooms were on display, each one showing off a different color and making the best use of certain flowers. They were not open for the public to walk through but you could view them.

Probably the highlight of the show for sure were landscape displays. There were probably 10 of these on display at the show and all of them beautiful. A few of them featured a particularly tall snapdragon that were taller than me. Many of these had assorted trees and shrubs in full bloom. The people who make all this wonderful stuff happen must be obsessed with their job. To time all of these plants to flower at just the right time must take years of practice.

A few of these landscape displays were open for the public to walk through. Many of these were more recreations of natural environments than achievements in landscaping. On in particular I remember gave you a packet of wildflowers for walking through. I didn't have anything good or special in it though.

And Lastly there were the venders. All of these are setup on the opposite side of the room as the displays. It's almost like a different show entirely though as they're just setup with such a bland color plait. You can buy almost whatever you want for this time of the year, which is mostly seeds. Very few of them were selling live plants though. I was surprised at this. For the entire show, devoted to showing off loads of landscaping beauties, only three venders were selling plants. And most of them weren't used in any of the display! One of which was a Pitcher Plant for $20 and well worth the money in my opinion. Everyone else was just selling decorations and yard tools.

The last highlight came from viewing a supposidly rare plant. The name is on the tag there in the link if you can read it. This plant was advertised for as part of the show. But they had it sitting all the way at the end of one of the plant displays around a few other plants with little if anything special about them. I'd have thought if this plant were so special they'd put it on a podium or something and encase it with glass or something other than just put it with the rest.

So that does it for this, I'll be sure to post about the 2009 show later next week. Thank you for reading.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Garden Websites to Check Out

One aspect of beekeeping is planting as many plants the bees like as you can. Not all beekeepers do this but for those that do they're helping their bees out and potentially growing more food for the family. Though a single garden probably doesn't add much honey to the hive, no one can deny that if everyone did it the impact would be greater. Recently at a beekeeper's meeting I sat down with some beekeepers who garden and asked for some of their favorite sources on plants. These come highly recommended.

Bluestong Perennials
High Country Gardens
Wildseed Farms
Prairie Nursery

Happy Gardening

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Crocuses are an early blooming bulb one has to plant in the fall to see next spring. They're usually 3 to 8 inches tall depending on the variety. They also divided into small colonies that grow each year, but only in soil that's good for them.

Second week of February the yellow ones I'd planted started blooming already. The honey bees went nuts when they found them as they normally do with early blooming plants. Assorted weeds (dandelion, and skunk cabbage), as well Willows are also blooming at this time.

Ant Chat | Mevio

Ant Chat | Mevio

I do a podcast called Ant Chat so give it a listen. Topics range from everything about ants to bees and my attempts to incorporate both into my garden.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Killer Ants

Recently I started over thinking a statement made on a documentary about ants. I believe it was called Killer Ants and it was about a camera crew traveling the world to find an ant that could kill someone. I think it's unclear if they actually found it in the sense they're looking for. With the aid of their Ant Cam they safely film a variety of dangerous ants. They showed Jack Jumpers, Myrmecia species, that have a painful sting, but if you have an allergic reaction it can kill you. They also showed Driver ants, Dorylus, which would kill someone through suffocation. Their colonies reach 20 Million ants which is impressive for a single queen to maintain. This rivals many supercolonies maintained by hundreds of queens.

So here's the thing that gets me though. The're doing the Driver Ant thing and the narrator says something like. "These are Driver Ants. The locals believe they're the reason why Madagascar doesn't have any Elephants, and recently they've been blamed for the disapearance of a toruest."

Really one tourest? I don't know the story here but how does just one tourest mysteriously dissapear in a foreign country?

So they go on to show a farmer sleeping and suddenly the ants come and bite his feet and he casually gets up and walks away. His chickens were killed though because they couldn't run away. They show office workers Glad, and Overjoyed that the murderous ants have come to clear out their office of all the scorpions and roaches.

How could anyone blame these ants for the death of a tourest when you can simple get up and walk away from them?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Greening up the City

A certain trend that has come up is planting trees and small gardens in the city area. Some places have gone 10 steps farther and began planting on rooftops. This is wonderful. It doesn't exactly counter the effects of all that traffic but it doesn't hurt to try. I haven't actually seen what they're planting though but at least if they are invasive, they're not in a good spot to spread.

One tree that I know they've been planting is the Bradford Pear. Basically a "Pear" that only produces flowers. But here's the problem, farther south it actually makes fruit, (a small green/yellow crabapple like thing). And the trouble is it's invasive. So maybe the city is the perfect place for it. Yet another problem is it's a softwood tree. Literally the trees fall apart under harsh wind. So they're not the best thing to plant where people will be parking their cars. Another issue with the Bradford Pear is it's useless. The only thing it's there to do is flower. It is a nectar source but the reason why is usually doesn't produce fruit is because it flowers to early for anything to pollinate it. Thankfully the cities around me have stopped planting this tree.

I have no idea what they're planting now but I'm trying to think of what in the world be best. See I can't get around the car thing. I want to say some sort of Hardwood Oak or native Maple would be best. Birch, and Redbud would be nice. Mostly because they don't fruit a whole lot but are used as host plants bye loads of insects. A Willow tree might also be good, (that is to say a true willow, Salix,) but those are hard to fit anywhere. So I'll leave the decision making of trees to the people who know best for city life.

Cities are so void of biodiversity in general that I think almost any sort of vegetation is a godsend. Particularly if they're supporting hundreds of species of butterflies, and birds, even if it's just a season.


Recently I attended an State Wide Agricultural Convention of some sort. It was open to the public but I don't think it should have been. There really wasn't anything there at the time I went. There was a honey show, a photo contest, and a display of apples with potatoes. That was it...

It really felt like it was open to the public so they didn't have to pay for security or bother carding people. The hours when the convention starts weren't even clear. All anyone could tell me was it's only open for 12 hours. And okay, fair enough, but I arrived at 10:30am and the only thing going on was a speech from the Governor. I was told the Honey for the Honey Show wouldn't even be ready and displayed until 3:00pm.

So I walked around for a few minutes. There was really nothing to see at all. Just empty booths of different organizations that showed up. One of which was for Conservation. Now I didn't read it much, I was actually quite bored. But the photos in the booth were awful. They featured a field, with a creek running through it and a forest in the background.

That isn't conservation! Conservation would be a lush field of flowers, small shrubs, and tall grasses, infront of the forest, and a fence infront of the place with a sigh that reads "Keep the F*** Out!" "DANGER BEES" or "BEWARE, Nature!"

Now I wasn't reading much about the Conservation booth but you'd think they'd have a picture of good conservation. I certainly hope the pictures I saw showed off their achievements because I've seen better.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Seed Mix vs Seed Packets

Home Depot and Target are two stores I've found so far this year that are starting a little early and selling seeds for the following spring. For the area, February is outrageously early. Though I've bought seeds from them already I won't be planting them indoors until March 1st at the earliest. And these won't make their way outside until late April or May.

So the topic I wanted to write about today is the choices we have. Just to use Home Depot as an example, they have a huge selection of seeds. Individual varieties of all sorts for almost anything you could want. Organic or Non, Foreign or Native, they have almost everything you'd want as far as commonly used plants goes. But then they also have Seed Mixes. These are mostly for wildflowers and have certain things in mind. Things like Butterfly Mix, or Hummingbird Mix have a huge variety of plants in them. But let me point out how stupid Seed Mix's actually are.

First off they're not that bad especially if you're looking for a quick and easy solution. But would you ever take seeds to all your fruits and vegetables and mix them together? No of course not! Imagen what that farm would look like. Cucumbers, Pumpkins, Cherry Tomatoes, Broccoli, and Potatoes all coming up randomly among Peas, Beans, Peppers, and asparagus. I'll point out that this might work but they're never sold this way. They all grow different heights, and have different needs, and the humidity generated from all the mass planting would cause the fruits to rot quicker.

So why would you mix the seeds of wildflowers all together and let them be planted randomly? One seed mix from Territorial Seeds is their Flower Mix for Honey Bees. Here's what it contains.

Honey Bee Flower Mix
Forget-Me-Not, Chinese
Baby Blue-Eyes
Wallflower, Siberian
Poppy, California
Poppy, Corn
Gaillardia, Annual
Mignonete, Common
Beeplant, Rocky Mountain
Gilia, Globe
Prairie clover, Purple
Rockcress, White
Coreopsis, Plains
Coreopsis, Lance Leaved
Black-Eyed Susan
Coneflower, Purple
Daisy, Fleabane
Aster, New England

Now I have a list of plants that I know Honey Bees go nuts for and I have to say not many of them are on this list. Forget-Me-Not is a biannual and won't bloom until it's second year. Poppies are one I haven't tried yet but do well. Coreopsis ... sure why not. Black-Eye'd Susan, Coneflowers, and Daisy are all related and do average at best (they're also a wonderful landscaping plant!). Asters are a great choice too but won't be blooming to their full potential for honey bees until their second or third year.

As for the rest ... I have no idea. I know beekeepers who garden like I do and we've never herd of half of these.

You're not going to attract Hummingbirds to your garden unless you have the habitat they normally nest in. They eat way more insects than nectar in a day. They also need evergreens to make their nest in. Flowers in the shape of their long beak tend to help and can become a regular visit for them on a daily basis.

Butterfly mix you'll have greater luck with just becuase there are more butterflies to go around. However most of them won't be around until late May or June at the earliest. Monarchs don't even start to lay eggs on a regular basis until Auguest. Others over winter though and are more likely to hang around but only if you have their Host Plant. Things like Joe Pye Weed, Milkweed, and Spicebush take time to grow. Joe Pye Weed actually requires sterification (a period of cold) which goes against what some of the other annuals they're seeds are being mixed with.

One seed mix I had just for color had Morning Glory mixed in. This Vine, though an annual, can grow 15 to 25 feet long and will take over your small patch of color.

In short, it is always better buy individual seeds or plants. And don't mix everything together.