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.

Bee Better Garden Tour 2016

Nothing inspires you to whip your garden into shape like committing to a garden tour. Suddenly you have a hard and fast deadline. And then there is the pressure of dozens of people with high expectations coming to tour the garden and…gasp…critique it! I commit to a tour about every 10 years or so. So my garden looks (almost) perfect every 10 years.

This year I signed on to the Bee Better Garden Tour. Bee Better is a great local non-profit dedicated to educating homeowners on the critical importance of pollinators. http://www.beebetter.info  I kept bees for about 3 years, but the bees were better off with another beekeeper. This is not a hobby for someone who works 6 days a week. However, I learned quite a bit about what to do, and what not to do, and beekeeping strengthened my commitment to gardening organically.

Years ago, when I was young and my back was strong, my husband and I would have done all the work ourselves. This time around, I hired two dear friends (and excellent gardeners) to help me with the heavy work – removing overgrown and crowded shrubs, pruning the ones that had “high aspirations”, and hauling away the debris. The detail work I did myself. My husband was a huge help as always. The day was a great success! So much so that I am inspired to commit to another garden tour…in about another ten years.

 

Vegetable Gardening in NC

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8JhO_wN9_Y

I have been teaching a series of classes at Super-Sod in Cary this year, and we now have a video of my first class, Vegetable Gardening in NC. I hope you find it helpful. We have had great success gardening in pure Soil3 organic compost. We have a bumper crop of heirloom tomatoes this year, as well as eggplant, cucumbers, peppers and herbs! Be sure to watch the section on building a potato tower!

 

 

Groundhog Day Starts the Garden Season

If you have seen the movie Groundhog Day, you know the theme: if something really matters, keep repeating it until you get it right. As a gardener in NC, this hits home every February when it’s time to venture out into the garden and begin again, repeating the annual gardeners’ rites of Spring – cleaning, pruning, composting, mulching, re-designing – all in an attempt to get it right this year. I’ve ordered my organic vegetable seeds, and my Big Yellow Bag of Soil3 compost. It’s time to put on the gloves, pick up my tools and get to work.

Task List:

Cut back perennials and ornamental grasses

Prune shrubs that bloom on new wood – particularly my roses

Prune fruit trees and Japanese Maples

Identify hops rhizomes to share with beer brewing friends (mmmmm, beer!)

Muck out the water garden

Edge the beds to create that clean line between beds and turf

Top-dress perennial, annual and vegetable beds with compost (I love Super-Sod’s Soil3!)

Clean out containers and add more compost in preparation for new plants (mmmmm, new plants!)

Clean outdoor furniture and yard art

Check landscape lighting and add new bulbs as needed

Pruning Roses Groundhog Day 1 BYB

Have I forgotten anything? I know I have! Will my garden be perfect this year? Of course not, but is that really the point? Every gardener knows the process is more meaningful than the end result. My nails are short, my hands are calloused and scarred, I have lots of sensible shoes and I know my way around tools. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. So out I go to try to get it right…I’ll do the same next year with a smile on my face. Happy Groundhog Day!

 

 

Nothing Tastes Better Than Home Grown

           Collards 1 Collards 2 Collards 3

Edible Landscaping is near and dear to my heart because I love to garden, and I love to eat fresh fruits and vegetables – who doesn’t? This year I got a very late start on my Winter vegetable planting. But here in NC,nature provided an unexpected warm-up in December, and 8″ of rain, resulting in a bumper crop of greens. It helps that they were planted in pure Soil3 from Super-Sod. Soil3 is my favorite compost http://www.soil3.com and I use it in my vegetable gardens, as a top-dressing for all my perennial gardens, and on my Emerald Zoysia lawn. As a disclaimer, I work for Super-Sod, but if I lost my job tomorrow, I would still use this compost.

Yesterday afternoon, I headed out to the raised vegetable beds and cut Cabbage Collards and Curly Kale. I added them to some organic bok choi, onions, homemade ham stock, bacon fat (yum), turmeric, salt and pepper. This mix simmered for about an hour and a half. I served the greens with back beans and a perfectly cooked steak (thanks to Gary the Grill Master). If you grow your own food, you know it always tastes better because it doesn’t get any fresher than picked that day; and the personal satisfaction of saying “I grew that” is pretty tasty too!

What grows in your Winter Garden? If you don’t have one, start one in your Personal Eden! Need advice? Just ask! I will be offering a Vegetable Gardening class in March so 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