Mason Bee populations plummeted throughout Boulder County due to harsh spring weather, so it’s especially important to coddle them this winter! Mason bees normally nest in holes in tree trunks, which offer stable temperature, moisture, and protection from predators. To provide extra assistance, bring your Mason and other native bee tubes/cocoons into a sheltered place with ambient (outdoor) temperatures, but with less fluctuation, like a garage or refrigerator. Cocooned bees are now adult and safe to handle in their cocoons. If you used liners or reeds, take them out of the guard tubes and shelters and store them in the fridge. Ideally, unwrap the liners/reeds and just overwinter the mason bee cocoons. Place them in a Humidi-bee chamber (in stock), and keep the lower pad moist.
Bees and Pollinators
September has been designated Pollinator Appreciation Month, and Harlequin’s Gardens will be participating in the Bee Boulder Festival this Saturday from 10:00am to 2:00pm in Central Park, 1236 Canyon Blvd, Boulder.
The focus of this family event is on appreciation of pollinators and education about who they are, what amazing things they do, what they need, and how we can help and protect them. Bring the kids for activities that combine education, fun and prizes!
It’s official – Mason bees are flying! Make sure you have new, clean nesting materials for them and for the other bee species that follow throughout the summer. If you have overwintered cocoons, get them out now. You can use one of our release tubes (pictured left) that allow the bees to emerge but not to renest in the same old dirty straws.
Mason bees only fly from about mid-March to early June. If you don’t have plants blooming then, such as fruit trees or Mahonia, you won’t be able to support mason bees. Don’t worry though because there are many other cavity nesting species that are happy for a clean safe place to nest.
Our BEE BARN has a great selection of Bee Equipment for Honeybees and Native Bees!
BUZZZZ ON BY TO CHECK IT OUT!
The happiest people don’t have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything.
If you were lucky enough to get any mason bees nesting this spring, you’ll want to coddle them through the winter. Their populations are down throughout Boulder County because of the weather, and Tom Theobald, our usual supplier, isn’t even sure whether he’ll have any for sale next spring.
Mason and other native bees should be brought into a sheltered place with ambient (outdoor) temperatures, but with less fluctuation. These bees would normally nest in holes in tree trunks, which offer more stability in terms of temperature, moisture and, of course, protection from predators. Mason bees are already adults now and are safe to handle in their cocoons. If you used liners or reeds, take them out of the guard tubes and shelters and store them in the fridge. Ideally, unwrap the liners/reeds and just overwinter the mason bee cocoons. Place them in a Humidi-bee chamber and keep the lower pad moist.
You can do the same with leaf cutter bees but handle them very carefully as they aren’t yet mature. Our supplier, Crown Bees, will be livestreaming a cocoon harvesting demo on Saturday. We also have large organza bags for storing blocks or shelters to protect from parasitoid wasps.
Now is a good time to stock up on supplies for the spring, replacing single use tubes and liners to provide clean sheets and immediate vacancy in your spring mason bee hotel! Many folks have been asking about releasing bees in the spring. We now have a special tube designed for exactly that which should make the process easier and clearer.
Having plants that flower through the growing season are one of the best protections for helping bees (and other beneficial insects) to survive and thrive. Early and Late bloomers are especially important and ideally there will be always something in bloom. To help you achieve this we’ve prepared the guide below. Bloom time varies by variety, by year, by sun exposure, by elevation, and by soil type and moisture.
What a storm we had last week! With the windy conditions and record-setting low temps, everyone’s gardens looks very different this week and may need some attention. If you haven’t already, this is a good time to review our blog about garden cleanup. The good news is that soil temperatures have cooled down to the optimal soil temperature for bulb planting, ~50 degrees. And, our current mild daytime temps and above-freezing nighttime temps are ideal for planting perennials, and still good for planting roses, shrubs and trees. Inoculating with mycorrhizae and attention to fall and winter watering are the keys to success.
Starting with bulb planting: Recommended planting depths are to the bottom of the planting hole where the base of the bulb rests. Planting depth can vary depending on how light or heavy your soil is – plant deeper in light soils, shallower in heavier soils. (If you’re in doubt, a general rule is that planting depth is 3 times the height of the bulb.)
You don’t have to dig a single hole for each bulb! You can dig a large hole, say 8-14″ wide by 16-24″ long, to accommodate a large grouping, or swath of bulbs. This is a great way to save time, to create a more naturalized look, and to combine two or three types of bulbs in one grouping.
Single Early, Triumph, Darwin Hybrid, and Multi-flowering tulips should be planted 8″ deep to perform as perennials, and fertilized each year just after bloom. Be sure to allow the leaves and stems to wither naturally before cutting them down.
You may want to sprinkle bone meal in the bottom of the hole so that it can touch the bulb roots. We love Root Rally, which is a blend of bone meal and Endo/Ecto mycorrhizae spores and plant nutrients, providing mycorrhizae life support for all plants. (See more on mycorrhizae, below.) Refill the hole and water well.
Planting perennials, roses, shrubs and trees: The fall is a great time to plant perennials, roses and shrubs as they can focus solely on root growth instead of trying to reproduce. After gently removing its pot, gently swish the root ball in a bucket of unchlorinated water with water-soluble mycorrhizae (let the water sit overnight to release chlorine and add the mycorrhizae later). Mycorrhizae is a beneficial fungi that attaches to roots, allowing them to better absorb water and nutrients. This results in faster plant and root growth, and better transplanting success. If you only have granular mycorrhizae on-hand, sprinkle it on the roots as you are planting. Read more about mycorrhizae in Mikl’s article, “Mycorrhizae: The Hidden Marriage of Plants and Fungi”.
By gently swishing the root ball in water, the root mass will loose its pot-shape and individual roots will be lengthened. This allows the ends of the roots to be planted deeper, helping to ensure long-term drought hardiness.
After late-season planting, be sure to (hand) water deeply and frequently, at least twice a month for woody plants, throughout the winter.
For specific info on rose planting, see Eve’s rose planting instructions.
Finally, a quick additional word on garden clean-up. Some of our Southwestern plants should not yet be cut-back. Wait until April to do so, which will give them additional time to gather and store nutrients, and keep the crowns of the plants from getting too cold. These plants include, but aren’t limited to, Agastache, Salvia (S. lemmonii ‘Desert Rose’, S. reptans, S. x microphyllus ‘Royal Ruby’, S. greggii ‘Furman’s Red’, S. darcyi), Zauschneria (Hummingbird Trumpet), Scrophularia macrantha (Red Birds in a Tree), Scutellaria suffrutescens (Cherry Skullcap), Gaura lindheimeri.
Autumn has declared itself on the Front Range, and many gardeners are itching to bring a close to the gardening year by tidying up. But wait! There are some important issues to consider here before bringing out the rakes, blowers, clippers and shears.
Now is a great time to take a long look at your gardens and make notes on successes, disappointments, gaps, and changes that you’d like to make. Assess the ecosystem you have created, and think about how you can make it even more supportive of our precious wildlife, beneficial insects, pollinators and soil life.
A certain amount of garden cleanup is very important for reducing diseases and pests that are difficult to control. If you haven’t already done so, do remove diseased plants from your vegetable garden. You should have been removing and treating diseased foliage from roses or shrubs with fungal diseases like mildew, blackspot or rust before now, but if their disease-carrying foliage is falling now, keep them picked up and dispose of them responsibly.
But don’t be so quick to scalp those perennials and annuals! Many of them provide natural food and shelter sources that wildlife and beneficial insects depend on for winter survival. You may not have noticed, but so many beneficial insects and butterfly larvae spend the winter in the (often hollow) dead stems. If you throw them out, you’ll lose most of the beneficials that would otherwise keep the balance next year. Always keep an eye out for egg cases attached to stalks when you prune or clean up. There’s often an aesthetic side-benefit – many seed-heads look fabulous either crowned with snow or silhouetted against the snow-covered ground.
Some perennials die back to below ground (peonies, false indigo, gas plant, golden banner, balloon flower, desert four o’clock, gayfeather, leadwort/plumbago, etc.) leaving no basal growth and leaving a completely blank space. To make sure you don’t forget where they are and accidentally dig them up or step on them, leave dry stems until the new growth begins to appear in spring.
Unless you have an ‘ornamental’ grass that self-sows aggressively, leave grasses and their seedheads standing. If they are ‘cool-season’ grasses, you’ll want to leave them until about mid-February, then cut them to 3” above the ground so they can begin making unimpeded new growth as soon as the soil thaws. Dormant ‘warm-season’ grasses can remain attractive until warm weather comes and don’t need to be cut down until April.
Leaving dry stalks standing in the winter also helps preserve soil structure. Snow collects between the stalks and provides protection from freezing temperatures by insulation for the crowns of the plants, especially important for marginally hardy plants. Captured snow keeps soil temperature more consistent, protecting from extreme temperature fluctuations, and helps prevent the alternate freezing and thawing that can disrupt mycorrhizal networks (and uproot plants, especially new and small ones).
Leave the leaves! The larvae of many butterflies overwinter in the blanket of autumn leaves, as well as other beneficials. The leaves also provide cover for frogs, toads and spiders. Songbirds eat more than just seeds; they search in the leaf litter for insect eggs and caterpillars. As leaves naturally break down over time, they feed the soil microbes that make nutrients available to plants. Worried about harboring snail and slugs? Before those leaves begin to fall, spread a non-toxic slug bait like Sluggo in areas of concern. You may want to remove leaves and twigs from patios, decks, walkways and lawns, and that’s fine – especially if you can spread them under shrubs or pile them in a corner where they’ll remain undisturbed through the winter. And very large, flat leaves from trees like Catalpa, Basswood (Tilia americana), Norway Maple, Sycamore/London Planetree) should be cleared from beds or they can form a slick solid mat that smothers the crowns of smaller plants.
Here is the basic approach which we use at Harlequin’s Gardens to grow hundreds of roses without using any pesticides or fungicides, and only using a few soft controls.
Xeriscape? Are you kidding? With all the rain we’ve been getting, isn’t the drought over?
As I understand our current water situation, water restrictions are still in effect for the Denver area, Colorado Springs has had a very dry spring until July and is under water restrictions, the Western Slope has been dry, New Mexico has been dry until July; and Montana and South Dakota are having severe droughts. What this means is that the wonderful moist season we are enjoying in the Denver area depends on ephemeral conditions we cannot count on. In addition, much of our water comes from the Western Slope where weather patterns can be quite different from our own, so even if our gardens are getting watered, it doesn’t mean our reservoirs will be full. We live in a semi-arid environment and water conservation and xeriscaping will be increasingly important as our population grows, especially if global warming increases our temperatures.
Food safety is one of the most critical issues of our time. What we eat is directly related to our health, and health care has a direct impact on our personal and national economies. Major chemical companies like Monsanto, Bayer, Dow and Dupont have introduced 86,000 synthetic chemicals into our environment, food, drugs, cosmetics etc and most of them have never been tested for toxic effects on human health and the environment. Since the mid 1990s, some of these same companies have been filling our grocery stores and feed stores with genetically engineered food products which may be causing serious health problems but are being approved by our government without safety testing.
How can we deal with all the bugs and diseases without using toxic poisons, and how can our gardens really produce without high-powered chemical fertilizers? Many people wanting to garden sustainably are asking these questions. And it is not easy to find the answers, partly because the answers are not simple. I want to admit this up front, but don’t be scared off, because it’s not that hard to garden sustainably once you get the hang of it. However you must know that you can’t just exchange a slam-bam chemical approach for a slam-bam sustainable approach.
It used to be that beauty was enough. If the lawn looked good and we had a few shrubs and a few flowers, we could relax, having done our duty to the neighborhood.
Now we have to be water-wise, save the bees and the Monarch Butterflies, and on top of that, we’ve got to have Biodiversity.
I think this is a good trend. Gardens are more than something to look at. They are a piece of Nature and the more diverse they are, the more like Nature they are.
Overview: The Good News: 100,000 insect species; only 200 pests. We do not need neonics or any toxic pesticide to grow plants well. The solution is human attention, biodiversity, nutrient-dense soils, application of nontoxic management, and tolerance.
The Bad News: Most people and most nurseries don’t know the good news. They believe the chemical companies that we need to fear and attack insects and fungi as enemies.
More Good News: The concern of ordinary citizens who call nurseries and businesses and ask them if they are using systemic neonic poisons in their plants, is having a powerful effect. These companies now know we care and will buy plants that are neonic-free if we can. This could get them to change.
Pesticides were never a good idea. They were designed to make money from petroleum, not to benefit the public good. Pesticides, fungicides and herbicides are poisons that were developed to kill life. Not only has this approach poisoned our earth and ourselves, it has failed to control Nature. Our soils are less productive, and weeds and pests have adapted by becoming resistant. Stronger poisons are not the answer.
In the last 20 years, the new “nicotine” pesticides (neonicotinoids) have become the industry standards because they are less toxic to people and animals than the old organophophate pesticides, and that is good. But the neonicotinoids (neonics) are even more toxic to insects; they last 3 months to 5 years; all parts of the plants are poison, and the poison goes into our water.
At last! Spring is officially here and more plants are starting to bloom, providing much needed pollen and nectar for bees. You should be seeing honeybees and queen bumblebees feeding on dandelions, the ubiquitous and pretty weed Redstem Filaree (Erodium cicutarium), the fantastic, long-blooming Golden Storksbill (Erodium chrysanthum) – not a weed!, Creeping Phlox, Maple trees, tulips, crocus, Crown Imperial Fritillaria, and other spring-blooming bulbs. Soon the willows that grow along our creeks and ravines will have their inconspicuous bloom which provides pollen, and there have even been a few flowering crabapples starting to bud and leaf out. The time of abundance is near as apples and other fruit trees unfurl. Native bees will begin emerging from their winter nests and will be flocking to these plants as well.
Plants are one of the most successful life forms. In fact, we could say that they are the most successful life form, because plants are self-sufficient. They can live without eating other beings because they can make their own food. Only plants, phytoplankton, algae and cyanobacteria can synthesize food from sunlight, carbon dioxide, minerals and water.
At the same time, plants have a serious limitation: they are rooted to the earth, so they can’t run away from pests and they can’t pursue another plant in order to have sex. But are plants helpless. Oh, no. They have developed chemical warfare and chemical magnetism to protect themselves from predators and attract allies.
HEAR YE, HEAR YE!
ANNOUNCING the new Harlequin’s Gardens BEE BARN & our new WHERE the BEES ARE Bi-Monthly Reports
Harlequin’s Gardens is now open for the 2015 season!
We at Harlequin’s Gardens have loved and supported bees for a long, long time. We also know that many of our customers keep bees, or would like to learn more about how to support bees and other pollinators and how to keep honeybee hives.
Now we are very excited to announce that we are inaugurating a Neonic-Free policy, (about which we will tell you more in our upcoming Spring Invitation & Newsletter). And, we are now offering an extensive line of beekeeping supplies! By the Herculean efforts of Mikl, several fabulous helpers who pitched in at just the right time, and our staff of amazing Wonderwomen, we have transformed the back portion of our building into The Bee Barn (painted the color of honey, of course!).
The first shipment (over 80 boxes and 3 pallets) of beekeeping supplies have arrived and more is on its way. Our new Bee Barn is full of a good selection of products including Langstroth hive equipment such as starter kits, Deep, Medium and Honey Supers (both assembled and unassembled) as well as a selection of Top Bar hives. We have locally constructed Top Bar Hives made with Beetle-Kill Pine and screened bottoms. Come and check out our great selection of Hive Tools, Equipment, Protective Gear, Feeding supplies and great books including the recently published, “Beekeeping Mentor in a Book” by local beekeeping expert, Don Studinski. Special Ordering is also available and we will be expanding our product line in coming months.
If you are a new beekeeper, we can help you decide what you need because we have beekeepers on staff to answer questions and give advice. You will find our prices are quite reasonable. And we are offering three different classes about honeybees (in which you’ll be able to visit the bees in our own Top Bar and Langstroth hives) and native bees, as well as other great bee-related subjects. Please review our extensive class offerings here.
~Introducing a new Blog~
We are happy to present the first edition of our new feature, Where the Bees Are, a bi-monthly report on what’s happening in beehives around the Front Range area, and what bee-supporting plants are blooming, both in the natural landscape and in gardens. We plan to send this informative report to you twice a month through the bee season, and post it on our website as well. We hope it will give gardeners and beekeeper-gardeners some new ideas for choosing plants and sequencing bloom in their gardens to make the garden a haven for honeybees, wild bees (Boulder County is home to hundreds of species!), and other pollinators. If you have feedback about Where the Bees Are, please contact us by sending a note in the mail to 4795 N 26th St., Boulder CO 80301.
As we all know, late February and early March have been bitterly cold and snowy, which is very hard on honeybee colonies. Honeybees are the only bees that over-winter as a colony. This makes hive management interesting and challenging. Temperatures in January and February were unseasonably warm, which triggered the bees to get out and take cleansing flights and search for forage. The Maple trees bloomed about 3 weeks early this year and pollen was eagerly collected. In some sunny gardens, early Crocus and Species Iris, like I. reticulata and I. danfordii, began blooming as early as the first week in February. One of our native shrubs, Silver Buffaloberry (Shepherdia argentea), was blooming in February – inconspicuous to us humans, but definitely noticed by the bees. Honeybees will leave the hive if the weather is sunny and temperatures are over about 50 degrees, but when conditions are cold they stay in a cluster in the hive, shivering to create the kinetic heat that keeps the Queen and the brood warm. The rest of the bees in the hive rotate from the outside to the inside of the cluster and back again for warmth. The brood is very limited in size to 50-100 bees and the brood cycles overlap and become larger over time as forage and weather begins to be favorable. Hopefully, there is enough stored honey for them to make it through these lean times, but many beekeepers supplement with pollen patties and sugar cakes. Even so, prolonged cold can cause hive losses as the bees are reluctant to move away from the cluster and the brood to tap into nearby reserves and may starve within an inch of stored honey as they will not leave their brood unprotected. Sometimes robbing occurs and the bees entering and leaving the hive are not the residents. Beekeepers check their hives for dead-outs caused by weather, starvation and disease whenever temperatures are warm enough to observe the bees out and about around the hive or by opening the hives on warm, sunny days.
As this latest cold snap recedes and throughout the month of March, things become a lot more exciting for beekeepers. Equipment needs to be cleaned, repaired, replaced and built in anticipation of bee packages and nucs (brood frames), ordered at least 45 days ago for delivery and installation in April. Inspections will be conducted more frequently as Queen health and brood sizes are checked. Colony strength is assessed for the possibility of splits and old comb may be removed from the bottom of Langstroth hives. It’s also time to scrape off burr comb and remove uneaten candy, if any.
As temperatures warm a very important bloom time begins – Dandelions! Dandelion pollen is moderately nutritious and the nectar is abundant and they bloom just in time to feed over-wintered colonies. Dandelions are a vital source of food for honeybees at a time when almost nothing else is available. And they often occur in large groupings, which makes foraging more efficient.
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Special thanks to Engrid Winslow for providing much of the content of this report!
Look for our second edition in your mailbox later this month.
We look forward to seeing you soon!
In MARCH we are open Thursday, Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays, from 9am to 5pm
for soil amendments, potting soils, seeds, seed-starting supplies, gardening supplies and tools, seed potatoes, onion plants, early cool-season veggie and herb starts, beekeeping supplies, great classes, gift certificates, and much more!
Beginning APRIL 1, we will be open daily. Please see our upcoming Spring Invitation & Newsletter for more details.
Eve & Mikl Brawner and the fabulous staff at Harlequin’s Gardens