Bee Downtown keeps the Triangle Buzzing

We cannot survive without bees. No bees, no food. We ignore this relationship at our own peril. Central North Carolina has a couple of hive-minded organizations that recognize the urgency of maintaining a healthy bee population – Bee Better and Bee Downtown. I have volunteered for events sponsored by both organizations, and I highly recommend them both.

In December, I spent an afternoon at the Interfaith Food Shuttle’s Geer Street Learning Garden, planting fruit trees, herbs and perennials that attract pollinators. The Geer Street Learning Garden is part of the Interfaith Food Shuttle’s effort to bring fresh vegetables, and the knowledge of how to grow them to a neighborhood that was once a food desert. The garden helps feed the hungry and educate the community, especially children, so that they can grow their own fruits and vegetables. The Durham Agricultural Manager for IFFS,  Eliza Bordley, brings creativity to the endeavor – incorporating hugelkultur, a pizza garden and a soup garden. This planting day was a joint effort between IFFS and Bee Downtown.

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“Bee Downtown installs and maintains sustainable bee communities for businesses in urban areas. Starting with one of the Nation’s fastest growing regions, the Triangle, our beekeepers work to repopulate the environment with healthy hives while providing partnering companies a one-of-a-kind green marketing opportunity.” http://www.beedowntown.org

Bee Downtown has installed hives all over the Triangle, with their most visible hive at Burt’s Bees World Headquarters at the American Tobacco Campus in Durham. They have placed hives at Bull Durham Beer Company, Capitol Broadcasting Company, and Durham Public Schools’ Hub Farm, to name a few.

What makes an organization successful? Its people. While volunteering, I met Leigh-Kathryn Bonner, the founder and CEO of Bee Downtown, and Justin Maness, their lead beekeeper. Both impressed me with their knowledge, commitment, warmth and enthusiasm.

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Super-Sod of Cary donated a BigYellowBag (one cubic yard) of OMRI listed Soil3 compost to the Geer Street Learning Garden. Personally, I welcomed the opportunity to get my hands dirty helping two local organizations do a good thing for the community. If your hands are itching to dig in the dirt and help your local community, contact one of these local organizations.

Gardening: It’s Not Just About Plants

Peacock I

With every garden space I create, one of my side goals is to invite more animal life into my garden. Butterflies, birds, bees, my dogs and my friends’ dogs, wandering cats, turtles, salamanders, and even squirrels and rabbits. I’m a sucker for a cute furry, flying or feathered face. I’ve always felt that since we have invaded their habitat, we should welcome them into ours.

Without meaning to (well, maybe, a little), I have brought that need to embrace all things animalia to my work world as well. My boss and my co-workers have been very supportive and understanding. I introduced two feral cats to our work environment. One is still here, but seen only on night camera footage. The other passed away weeks after her installation in my office. She was old and ill, and we gave her a wonderful place to convalesce. Maggie, the neighborhood dog, wanders in every other day or so, looking for affection and treats. Customers bring their dogs in pretty frequently, and they get balls or frisbees and treats. Always treats.

Peacock IV

Word must have passed through the animal pipeline that this was a pretty cool place, because a month ago Mr. Feathers, an Indian Blue Peacock, came to stay. What did we offer that was so inviting? Well tended green space, some rough green areas as well, a small shaded pond, open site lines, shelter, and food. Of course. But there is something special about this place. Animals just show up – uninvited, but always welcome. Turtles have ambled into the store. Little frogs hop in on a regular basis. Crows dance on the tin roof and eat the figs off the tree by the pond. No one shoos them away. Someone usually finds them food and water. None of the animals seem to mind the tractor trailers, the forklifts, the comings and goings. They have found a haven that may not be perfect, but it meets their needs. They are welcomed without questions, fed, housed, loved. And along with the ordinary creatures, a rare bird has graced us with his presence. There’s a lesson here somewhere…

Visiting Helen’s Haven

Gardeners love visiting the Personal Edens of other gardeners. They provide insight into the style of the gardener, as well as the whims and impulses that make each of us unique.

Helen's Garden Art

A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate to be invited to visit the Personal Eden of one of Raleigh’s most well-known garden writers, Helen Yoest. Helen calls her garden “Helen’s Haven”, and what an apt description. Not only is it a haven for Helen, her family and friends, but for birds, bees, chickens and other wildlife fortunate enough to enter. On a small city lot, she has created a living, breathing, blooming and buzzing environment, with just enough structure balanced with just enough exuberance. Art is everywhere – some in prominent spaces and some in hidden nooks. And honey bee hives are supplemented by bee boxes for mason bees and other pollinators. Outbuildings (oh how I love outbuildings!) provide shelter for chickens and people, and her small greenhouse is just perfect!  I made the rounds three or more times, and saw something new on each pass. (And I must admit, I may be stealing an idea or 3 or 4…)

Helen’s new non-profit project is a Go Fund Me called Bee Better https://www.gofundme.com/pyt2cc9g, and I hope to have my Personal Eden on the Bee Better Fall Pollinator Garden Tour. Stay tuned…

Winter Warm-up – The New Normal?

Like most folks I know, I have been enjoying this taste of Spring in December. Long walks in the woods, evenings around the fire pit, games on the lawn with my grandson, cut flowers in Winter… But at the back of my mind there has been a nagging worry. What does this mean for gardens and gardeners? Is this the new normal?

First let’s focus on what it means for our plants this year. These unseasonable temperatures will have consequences this Spring. The plants themselves are not at greater risk, but blooms now mean fewer blooms in Spring. Fewer blooms mean less fruit, seed and nut production. Less food for us, less food for foraging animals, and less nectar to feed our pollinators.

I’ve seen a few bees out foraging this week.  Foraging now means they return to the hive hungry, and feed on their precious store of honey – honey that they will need to get them through the Winter. If you keep bees, make sure to supplement their food this Winter. Come Spring, they will venture out and find fewer blooms, less nectar. The life cycles of pollinators may not coincide with flowering this year, and that will have a negative effect on both pollinators and plants. We will see reduced pollination and thus less fruit production. This is sad for home gardeners, and financially troubling for commercial growers.

Whatever you do, don’t prune yet! It is tempting to get out in the warm weather and do some cleanup, but pruning now will encourage new growth that will be susceptible to winter kill when the temperatures drop again. Fruiting plants need more cooling hours before they are ready for production, so leave them be until February.

So is this the “new normal”? Climate science says we can expect continued gradual warming, and Winter warm-ups like this will become more common. http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/tar/wg2/index.php?idp=353 While an individual cannot change the weather, we can do our part to reduce our personal carbon footprint, and put pressure on corporations to do the same. And we can keep on gardening, organically whenever possible. Please reduce or eliminate your use of pesticides to give our bees a fighting chance. Our Personal Edens have a net positive effect on our local air quality, soil health, wildlife health, and our own health. So keep up the good work, fellow gardeners! Keep Calm Garden On. Magnolia in December

 

Dead of Winter Garden Check List

Rainbow over Foster Hill

To avid gardeners, Winter can make you feel separated from your beloved Personal Eden. The leaves and the blooms have retreated and the ground is hard and cold. There may not seem to be one single reason to venture out into the garden, so I’ll give you 7 reasons that will allow you to reconnect with Nature and get excited for Spring. And you’ll get a little exercise too!

  1. If you’re like me and you haven’t done this yet, cut back perennials and pull up dead annuals. I should have done this in November, but… And look for Winter-damage. Ice storms can cause damage to tree limbs and shrubs. If you see ragged tears, use a sharp edged tool to make a clean cut. Ragged tears are open wounds and are very susceptible to insect and disease infestation.
  2. Pull winter weeds – in the middle and lower South, we have them! In February, you can add corn gluten to the lawn and beds where you will not be seeding. Corn gluten is a great organic pre-emergent weed killer. But for now, eliminate weeds the old-fashioned way. Weeding warms you up!
  3. Fluff your raised vegetable beds and add compost. Not all commercial composts are the same, so be sure to do your homework. I add 3-6” of Super Sod’s Soil3 compost because it is OMRI listed for use in organic gardens, and the results have been amazing! http://www.soil3.com
  4. Feed the birds with seed and suet. If you keep bees, feed them too! Food is less available in the winter months, and if we get a warm period, the bees will go out foraging, expending energy. They will return from their expedition empty-handed and dip into the stored honey they need to get them through to Spring.
  5. Walk your garden path with a pad in hand and make notes of changes you would like to make. The bones of the garden are obvious now, and it’s easier to see the need for design changes or new placement of yard art. Winter is a great time to identify areas that need screening – like your compost bins, a busy street, or the neighbor’s trampoline. Or plan a new garden! There’s always room for more.
  6. Clean, sharpen and organize your tools. You will be pruning soon.
  7. Go inside, warm up, and order seeds! Some of my favorite sites for organic and non-GMO seeds are www.seedsofchange.com www.highmowingseeds.com www.southernexposure.com