Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Spring Blueties

One of the Bluets, Houstonia caerulea, I planted last year is already flowering. Right now it looks like a unique little blew jewel in the yard. In time hopefully the others will start blooming and maybe in a few years I'll get them to create the illusion of a spring snow fall as I know they're capable of doing.

Also emerging is Spring Beauty, Claytonia virginica. Right now it's a very grassy looking thing, easily to get lost in the lawn. Corms must send up multiple shoots as I certainly didn't plant that many in that location.

Individually they're not much to look at. Hopefully the smaller plants will fill in some.

Down below I see several of them have a small cluster of flower buds waiting to unfurl. I'm dying to know if they'll be white flowering with pink vanes or pink flowering with magenta vanes. They're planted specifically around an Eastern Redbud, Cercis canadensis, and I'm hoping they all bloom at the same time.  

Monday, March 28, 2011

Friday, March 25, 2011

Ant Web Goes National with it's Citizen Science Program

This morning I was happy to read Alex Wild's blog to find that Ant Web is expanding it's citizen science program with the aid of an Android ap.

Also you should all be subscribed to Alex Wild's blog if you're not already. Along with being a brilliant macro photographer I've come to know him as the voice of reason when it comes to a lot of the more controversial things going on in biology. In this case he writes.

It seems silly to me that we in the U.S. lack a national biodiversity survey program. That is, there’s no biology equivalent to USGS. Our knowledge of where species occur in our country is- and I’m really not kidding- a haphazard history of where collectors have gone on vacation. As a result some parts of the continent are basically black holes. Try finding a comprehensive list of the ants of Kentucky, for example. It doesn’t exist.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Nonnative Flowers Help Fill Late Winter Nectar Gap

Ants have started mating already for the year as demonstrated in the most recent Ant Chat episode. I regret not using the words "gang rape" and "orgy" more in it. Oh well there's always next year for that species.

Temperatures are warming up, but the tree line has yet to fill in. This means it's time to keep an eye out spring blooming ephemerals. These are all plants that take advantage of the full sun during the spring time but typically can't handle a full sun settings in the heat of summer. 

Crocuses are among the first to join the action. 

These are not native, but they're just to pretty for me to pass up. As a beekeeper I'm always looking to fill in some gaps wherever possible with as many angiosperms as possible. The more native the better but this late winter, early spring time is tricky. 

I'm tempted to add yellow flowering dwarf narcissus to the patches here for some added color contrast, as they bloom the same time as the purple crocuses. But as far as I know the Daffodil like plants such as narcissus are not very popular with the pollinators. I'd say of all the spring bulbs Honey Bees only go for Crocuses, Grape Hyacinth, and Snow Drops. I have never seen them on anything else!

This is actually the first year I've seen my honey bees work the purple patch of Crocuses. Normally they go for the yellow and white flowering Crocuses that bloom several weeks sooner and go to the flowering trees from there. The weather has been a little off though so the trees might not be in full swing yet. Hazel Nut was also blooming but has since finished. 

The only real native ephemeral that is blooming now is Skunk Cabbage but that demands moist soil year round and that's not what Crocuses like at all. I've also noticed some Speedwell blooming (the creeping kind), but I don't think it's a plant to many bees go for. The sad fact is that several nonnatives actually help fill the blooming gap here. Crocuses, Dandelion, and Creeping Charlie (annoying as some of them) are almost worthy of being called important nectar sources for bee populations. Honey Bees are probably benefiting the most but I've seen lots of bumblebees out pollinating these plants as well. I'm strained to think of or find anything native blooming at this time that I haven't already mentioned.

As a beekeeper I'm stuck with this conflicting view point of providing nectar sources for my bees but doing it in an environmentally friendly way. I've actually introduced Pasque Flower seedlings as yet another alternative. However, because they're not native to New Jersey I might as well have planted more Crocuses. Somehow it feels like slightly less a gardening sin though because Pasque flowers are at least native to North America. This is just another one of those confusing issues I don't think there is a perfect answer for.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Ant Chat Episode 25 Prenolepis imparis Nuptial Flight

Wow, I come off as a total pervert toward the end of this. But it's all in good fun despite not sounding very scientific. But hay that's nature.

Prenolepis imparis, The Winter Ant, holds it's nuptial flights sooner than most other species in North America, with the exception of a few ants in the south west and tropical regions. This is just a video showing what their nuptial flight looks like.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Ant Chat Episode 24: Spring Ant Activity

I really didn't expect to find so many ants out already. There were even Tapinoma sessile, Nylanderia sp., and Lasius neoniger wondering about but I didn't record those as I couldn't located their nests.
This is the camera I'm using for this video. The default setting for video is AVCHD Lite which is meant to be viewed directly on HD TV's. So there isn't a whole lot of software out there that can edit it. This setting can be changed to Motion Jpeg which isn't HD as I mention in the video, but I'm happy with the quality all the same. I see there are better versions of this camera now, but I haven't researched how they vary with quality though. My next camera investment will be more advanced than a point and shoot though.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Resource Updates

I've just published a new tab up above called Identification and Distribution of Ants. In it I have listed almost all the known species of ants that can be found in North America as well as what region(s) they can be found. It is a work in progress and I'll eventually be going over each genus one by one as I have free time. My goal is to locate the studies that described each and every one of these species and find out what it was that made someone say "Oh Hah! This is a new species!" So eventually I'll post a little synopsis for each of these to act as a sort of home made key. If actual scientific keys exist online I'll be happy to link to those too. To say the least, this project will take several years to complete, and it's taken about two just to get here.

My species list is coming from the back of "Ants of North America: A Guide to the Genera" which is a great resource. The Online Catalog of North American Ants also lists a few species not featured in that book and has some good descriptions for some of the ants, but not all, and is notably lacking the subfamily Myrmicinae, the largest one in North America!

All species names will eventually be clickable and lead to their page on AntWeb.org which has some of the best scientific photographs of ants around. Bugguide.net and Alexanderwild.com and other sources are also occasionally linked to for images of live specimens, but neither have a complete list of ants. AntWeb.org is at least run by one of the authors of "Ants of North America" so the list and the website typically work well together. It is a shame however, that Ant Web doesn't have more information than it does. It's still a great resource all the same, and frankly some sciences would do better to create a similar resource for their field. EOL.org is getting there, and on the topic of ants even uses some of Ant Web's photos but not all. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Beneficial Herbacious Plants for mid-Atlantic Lepidoptera

Doug Tallamy's Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Updated and Expanded just keeps getting better and better. While I'm not sure about his most recent edition of his book, arguably the bible of our age, but his website now offers a key to herbaceous plants.

Here is an excerpt.
Common Name
Plant Genus Butterfly/moth species supported
Goldenrod Solidago 115
Asters Aster 112
Sunflower Helianthus 73
Joe pye, Boneset Eupatorium 42
Morning glory Ipomoea 39
Sedges Carex 36
Honeysuckle Lonicera 36
Lupine Lupinus 33
Violets Viola 29
Geraniums Geranium 23
Black-eyed susan Rudbeckia 17
Iris Iris 17
Evening primrose Oenothera 16
Milkweed Asclepias 12
Verbena Verbena 11
Beardtongue Penstemon 8
Phlox Phlox 8
Bee balm Monarda 7
Veronica Veronica 6
Little bluestem Schizachyrium 6
Cardinal flower Lobelia 4

Learn more about the study from which these numbers were derived or download the complete list of data from this study (an Excel spreadsheet).
 This coming year I'll officially have 5 different species of Solidago, hopefully 5 Aster, 2 Sunflower, and 3 Eupatorium. Ipomoea is a neat idea, but really only 5 or so are native to the North East. I'll have to look into adding a few of those. Certainly I. lacunosa or I. hederifolia might make it into my garden. Carex isn't my favorite but it seems I'll have to look into them too. Frankly though I'd rather establish a patch of Irises though. Lupinus I've tried before, but I believe my soil is just to clay like for them to establish. The Violets here were a weed well before I started gardening. Geraniums will be on the list next year for sure, maybe even a fall planting. Rudbeckia I'm taking care of in Spring for sure.

So it's sounding like I'm doing things right.

There is also a list for Woody Plants as well.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Philadelphia Flower Show 2011

This year's show in my opinion was awful. First and foremost I wasn't hit by that big overpowering burst of pollen the moment I entered the doors. Honestly in years past this was a huge problem. Cars featured at the show for you to win often had so much pollen coating them they emphasized every little finger print and flaw. So this year apparently they didn't bother using Hyacinths to their fullest potential. Or maybe someone changed the filter in the AC unit? Anyhow.

This year's theme was "Springtime in Paris," Now there are two major flaws with this title. The first being Springtime. So all you people expecting Grape Vines, Poppies, Lush Herb Gardens, boy are you wrong! The second being the word Paris, as in the city. So apparently this year's "Flower Show" consisted of Bulbs and Orchids, and for some reason Ferns.

All things considered, this year's theme could have easily been "The Moon Landing" and the exhibits would have made just as much sense.

Okay so right when you walk in you're greeted with this Eiffel Tower looking theme, that supposidly has web cams on it. Okay I'm getting it so far. We're supposed to be in France.

Umm... so behind that is a Marry-Go-Round. And they lost me. 

Oh here we go. This is really French, kind of a mix between new and the old. Though I have to say these are the most annoying bug zappers ever invented.

The centerpiece here is fantastic though. They get big points from me. My understanding is modern day France arose from the Roman Empire. So they got me with architecture with this one.

And we successfully end our French Theme here with this exhibit that actually had nothing to do with the main entrance way exhibits. Just about everything here is edible and herbs are what I think of when I think of the French.

Really what this show was lacking was a supermarket with fresh food in it. Seriously there are more note worthy greens in my local Walmart Food Section than in some of these exhibits.

To add to the French theme there were cooking demonstrations and wine tastings but these were events that only took place on certain days.

So how French was everything else? I'll let you be the judge.

Really nice I could see this as a wedding setting.

It's a sale boat, and a table with an unfinished chess game on it.

Blind fold the children and hand them baseball bats?

What's French about this? My neighbor has most of these plants.

I actually like this one.

However, it's like I'm looking at Siegfried and Roy's bed room. They just make the tigers jump through the gay hoops before going to bed.

Realistically I could see these pink ring flower planters suspended in a stair tower. So there could be a practical use for these. It's just hard not to joke about them in a bedroom setting.

Someone went a little nuts building bird houses.

This year's Koi Pond was fantastic! It was a lot more creative than the past three years. And I liked that they had the living wall gardens mimicking the trees. I really liked this one.

Another theme seemed to be the over use of copper in everything. This house display has a copper gutter system. If someone installed that in my neighborhood the scrap metal guys would ransack the house over night.

There were almost to many Orchids everywhere. I don't understand the appeal. Last year these were all over the South America and Africa exhibits.

A few Featured Plants that I really liked.

Fritillaria meleagris. These really caught my eye, and as it turns out they're native to the west coast. 

I am not even certain of what this is. It looks a lot like a member of the pea family, and I know we have native plants that look just like this, but the flowers are yellow.

These lilies were actually orange and black. The black though reflects as a magenta.

I believe this is a False Indigo. Not certain what one yet.  

Amsonia sp. Not the Daffodils, the spunky blue stuff in the middle.  

Mist Flower. A Eupatorium I recall. Not something I would ever consider blooming in spring time. I've always known it as a late summer bloomer.

Pitcher Plant.

So my prediction for next year's theme is A Funeral.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Some Garden Planning

Hay look! Shouting horrible obscenities at the garden since last December for all the neighbors to hear seems to finally be paying off. Or maybe it's because bulbs just need a certain number of cold hours before emerging over the warm days we've been having. One of those I'm sure.

Anyhow so this was the original design for the new garden, which is going out back. And I've made several changes. For starters I'll say my perspective was WAY OFF! But that's okay as it's just needed to give me an idea.

Here's the actual site. You can't really make it out but there's a dogwood tree between the big maple (left) and the beehive (right). I'm sure when it leafs out it will stop being invisible. Anyhow it used to be at the top left of the turned over spot. When I originally planted it there the idea was to have something for the birds to land on. Well that's about where the Tall Coreopsis is going now.

I'm turning the soil now to get a head start, hopefully. The grass there is very aggressive, spreading both by root suckers and by producing roots wherever it touches the ground. Breaking this mass up at least will hopefully kill some of the corms. It's actually snowed once or twice with all the roots exposed too so that should help some. I plan to mix in some straw to get some organic matter in there, as well as throw on a top dressing of mulch after everything is planted. Hopefully this will help favor the plants I bought. They're due to all arrive around the first week of April. So I hope this all turns out well.