Years ago I saw this wonderful bamboo star in the chicken run at the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks and have wanted one ever since.Read More
From “Cultivating the Wild Suburbia”by Ellen Honeycutt:
Contrary to what you might think, suburbia is a place where we can create habitat. That is my goal in our yard. I create habitat by making conscious decisions such as: plant a diverse mix of regionally native plants; minimize the use of chemicals; create places of habitat by leaving some dead trees, some bare ground, some brush piles; research what I plant to have bloom times throughout the year for pollinator support. [photo via site]
Santa Fe Honey
I remember standing at a farmers market in Santa Fe New Mexico in front of a table lined with jars of amber and gold honey. I was surprised at how much honey the high-desert produces, given the dry scrub covering so much the hilly terrain. The bearded beekeeper in a cowboy hat explained how nearly all of what I saw as “scrub” bloomed, and the bees flourished. He was sharing samples and the tastes were spectacular.
Like the honeys in any region, the different waves of flowers throughout the seasons created different tastes, bouquets, high and low notes, like wines. “But the very favorite honey of my customers, hands down, is autumn clematis honey.” He shook his head slightly, “You can just open the jar and you smell flowers.” He closed his eyes as he said this, as if he was inhaling the scent just now. Before I had time to speak a single word he answered my next question, “I just get it in the fall and I sell out right away, so I can’t offer you any. But people are asking me if I have any the rest of the year.” That was 2010 and I’d never even contemplated keeping bees.
Sweet Autumn Clematis blooms in September and October across the Ozarks and as I drive through town I spot the big green mounds of vines on fences covered up with so small frilly flowers it looks like a blanket of white foam. It is a weedy green vine unremarkable for most of the season. Come autumn, it explodes into a starry blanket of creamy blossoms with a delicious scent. I think back to the Santa Fe honey. That trip was in 2010, before I ever contemplated keeping bees.
These days I look for good things to plant for my bees. I looked up Autumn Clematis only to find that is not native to the US can be invasive/opportunistic in some climates and I’m not really sure if it is a problem in the Ozarks. But then there’s Virgin’s Bower (Clematis virginiana) also called woodbine, which is less showy but native. The native variety has an added bonus of being good for songbird food and nesting materials, though I’ll have to find a special spot to plant it given that it loves a moist setting…. But this is all part of the pleasant mental wrangling gardeners engage in for fun when it’s too cold or wet to dig.
But the thought of new plantings immediately runs into another, one that says I may not be here to see it. By the time it blooms I may be breaking new ground yet again on the home we hope to find when we move back to the Blue Ridge Mountains in the next year.
Ahhh, the gardener’s quandary: If you know you are going to be in a place a relatively short time, do you bother to plant things you will likely never get to see fully grown, or bearing fruits or flowers or shade?
I once read a story about a Quaker gardener, a woman, who lived in a town about to be invaded by German troops in World War II. At least that’s the way I remember the story began. Just before she left her home to escape to a neighboring country, she was planting seeds in her vegetable garden. I don’t remember what. Neighbors thought she was crazy to be planting just before leaving and said, ‘You won’t be here to eat it!’ Her answer something like ‘Whoever lives in this house next, they will need to eat.’
Oh those beautiful Quakers. This story has stuck with me for decades, the compassion of this woman willing to plant food she would never eat. Another way I’ve heard this belief is that ‘true wisdom lies in planting trees even if you will never live long enough to sit in their shade.’ It’s very hard to remember to lift up my attention from my wants, wishes and worries and to think of this land going on into the future without me. But when I do, it feels right. And oddly, I feel better—lighter—about how long I will be here. As a hospice nurse, I can’t help but note the larger echo of that realization.
So let me plant more stuff I may or may not be here to see bloom. If only for the reason that when the wash of white frilly flowers appears in some future autumn, bees will arrive at each bloom. There will be nectar for them.Are there any quotes or stories that inspire your gardening? I’d love to hear them if you leave a comment (look above or below this post for the “comments” link – the position varies depending on how you are reading this). Also, if anyone knows the source of the Quaker gardener story, I would love to find it again. Special thanks to www.beautifulwildlifegarden.com for some of my favorite online reading. —A Larrapin Garden. Where posts may be boom or bust depending on the season. If you subscribe here you’ll get one weekly email with selected posts. You are also invited to get related miscellany wherever you like to ramble online: Facebook [brand new page…needs your “like”] | Twitter |Pinterest | Instagram. Read More
Book Review: The Edible Front Yard: The Mow-Less, Grow-More Plan for a Beautiful, Bountiful Garden by Ivette Soler
Our first garden book giveaway starts today and it is The Edible Front Yard: The Mow-Less, Grow-More Plan for a Beautiful, Bountiful Garden by Ivette Soler. (How to win this book is at the end of this post.)
For those who have been snoozing since 2007: Edible is In. Whether it’s food prices, the appalling state of commercial food systems, or some deep instinctive turn toward self-sufficiency skills that we may need soon given the state of the world and the climate, lots of folks are starting to grow their own food. More urban dwellers in particular are venturing into growing edibles and there’s a bunch of new books on the particular challenges of growing food in the city, often in a very small space.
Usually, the next challenge is sunlight. Now why is it that more front yards are in full sun than backyards? Go figure. Since I compulsively assess the garden potential of any neighborhood I happen to be driving through, I can tell you it’s true. Home buyers take note: If you want to garden in your back yard, you are looking for a house with a front door facing North…and no neighbors who love shade trees. For everyone else, Ivette Soler is going to show you what your front yard could be!
Front yard gardens do face additional challenges beyond the usual soil, critter and plant-based varieties. These may include neighbors, neighborhood associations, and the opinions of your family on having your dinner out there for everyone to see. The usual delight of harvesting your produce may also produce a big blank spot in your yard. What about passing children, dogs, or someone with boundary issues who feels free to harvest when you aren’t home? All this and more is covered quite handily in The Edible Front Yard, published by Timber Press.
Now let me say that many garden books by California authors are not that useful to those of us everywhere else. The plants and garden techniques that work great in the climate-of-paradise-to-most-fruits-and-vegetables are often a no-go if you deal with humidity, abundant/erratic rainfall, particular plant diseases & pests, high/low temp extremes, etc that pretty much the rest of the country faces. I’m delighted to report that I found many ideas and tips in Soler’s book that are transferrable to most every gardening situation, even my own large, backyard and countryside spread in the Ozark hills. Actually, the “removing concrete” how-to box rang some bells regarding bed prep on this rocky ground of mine!
I immediately loved the luscious photography and book design. The colors and textures make the book seem nearly edible. Luckily, the content is great too. I was pleased with how many she lists that will also grow in most regions. Soler brought my attention to several plants that I’ve neglected to explore, like passionflower and mints. Passionflowers grow wild in portions of the Ozarks, is beautiful, edible and beneficial to butterflies and I haven’t planted one yet! This is soon to be remedied. I already fixed the mint shortage at the Fayetteville Farmers Market last weekend…
Soler is generous with suggested plants and their profiles. I particularly like the ‘how to use’ sections on herbs. Some plants I have for wildlife-gardening reasons but hadn’t really thought of as edible to me—like juniper—were pleasant surprises. There are also many how-to boxes, handy techniques for hardscaping & hellstrips, advice on dealing with neighbors and neighborhood associations (Really, just show them the pics in this book…), transforming a yard to garden, and maintaining your now productive and edible plot. I think new gardeners will find good advice and more advanced gardeners will find some very clever tips and ideas.
Finally, like Rosalind Creasy and several other edible pioneers, Soler goes a step further in breaking down the myth that edible gardens and beautiful gardens can’t be one and the same. The photographs are the proof. Readers of this blog will know I believe if you combine edibles with beauty, add some permaculture ideas, then cross it with generous wildlife & pollinator pantings then you have created one truly LARRAPIN Garden! Soler’s book is going to help more front yards get bountiful. And I like that a lot.
So, wanna win this gorgeous book? First, check out some of the wonderful titles at Timber Press. Then tell me why you would like to win “The Edible Front Yard” in a comment below or on the Larrapin Garden Facebook Page. (Ok, ok, you can do it via twitter too. Just mention @LarrapinGarden in your tweet so I can find your entry. Follows are great, ‘natch, but not required.) You can enter once by each method if you want to triple your chances to win this book! I’ll compile the entries then do the random.org-choosy-thing and announce the winner in the blog post next Wed, 5/11/11. Winner will have a week to claim the book or I’ll pick another lucky gardener.
P.S. About Larrapin Garden book reviews & giveaways: I love to read garden books—particularly on edible landscapes, local food, cooking from the garden, permaculture, homesteading, chickens & backyard barnyards and other organic topics. I welcome titles to review. If I love it, I’ll write about it here on the garden blog. Disclaimer for readers: I receive no compensation for any endorsement I give in the posts on this blog, just so ya know if you read it here then I think it’s fab.Read More
If you were raised in the South, you’ve heard the expression ‘Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.’ (Pronounced: lordwillinanthecreekdonrise.) Usually it’s used just after a statement of something you plan to do, kind of a disclaimer, a humble acknowledgement that there are many things that might happen between now and then, things over which we have no control…
For example, when you have a brand new hive of bees over which you are deliriously happy and on day-four you watch helplessly as they swirl away in a big bee-tornado off into the tall forest full of hollow trees that must be more inviting than the lovely little home you so carefully prepared. Humbling indeed. Hence the new variation of the old expression: Lord willin’ and the QUEEN DONT FLY!!
“Absconding” is the beekeeping term for when you install a new package of bees into a hive and they, well, decide otherwise. I found this out after obsessively reading for hours on what could have happened or what I could have done wrong. Absconded. (Visions of wearing the Scarlet “A” of Shame to the next beekeepers meeting did flash through my mind…) It was a rough day all around, even after I found out that sometimes bees just do this. “It happens,” say the bee discussion boards. “It happens,” say the experienced beekeepers, adding a shrug. It happens most often when installing ‘package’ bees in brand new equipment that lack the honeycomb and brood that tether bees to a homeplace. Some sources say there’s a one in four chance of absconding in a brand new package-bee installation.
Sometimes the swarm lands nearby in a low tree and you can fetch them back. Sometimes they leave again. “It happens.” Mine just went once, but with a sense of purpose and no hope of retrieval from the forest. Worse yet, this late in the season and with an ongoing ‘bee shortage’ it seemed unlikely I’d find more bees this year in the short Spring window for starting a new hive. It was a sad day. Those happen too.
But you know how difficult events sometimes bring their own gifts with them. One huge gift on that sad day was my wonderful bee mentor dropped what she was doing and drove right over in hopes of locating the swarm. I’d never been so happy to see a green truck pull in the driveway. Her kind presence and determination to get me more bees this year is something I’ll never forget! Thank you so much Charity!
Mendy was so kind and supportive throughout all my distress and dismay, an award may be warranted. Being a poet, she added at one point it was worth the price of a package of bees just to actually witness a swarm —an awe inspiring sight! It is, after all, what bees do to make create more bee colonies in the Spring, adds the poet. It’s much more enjoyable, I observed, if those aren’t YOUR bees swarming away! Later, there was her short summary Facebook post of the events of the day: “Queen leaves. Seeks better disco?” I laughed, and that was a good sign.
Then there was knowing we’d contributed roughly 10,000 pollinators to our ecosystem since swarms usually travel less than a mile to locate a new home… And that did help me to feel better. I hope my errant colony found a wonderful, spacious hollow tree and are setting up housekeeping right now. I send them fondest wishes and luck since I couldn’t help but fall in love with every fuzzy golden one of them in the brief days they were here. Every one was magic and their absence was palpable here at Larrapin.
Days passed and another good thing happened. The local swarmcatcher of the beekeepers association told me he’d call me if they caught a wild swarm. Jim’s the person who gets the call if a beeswarm shows up on someone’s front porch, the playground, etc and someone calls the police or animal control or the fire department. Jim shows up both to save the day for the folks scared of the bees and to save the bees from any harm. If the swarm is caught, some lucky new beekeeper is going to get THE telephone call…THE call that has been the reason the new beekeeper has kept the cellphone at his or her side for days or weeks…
I got THE call on Wednesday: a small swarm in a lanky tree overhanging a patio. My lucky day. With the help of Jim, the homeowner, several ladders, a prop, good luck and a long bee-catching pole, the swarm was placed in my hive.
There are no guarantees at all. Will they stay? No one can say. Will they thrive? Will this current cold weather snap and harsh wind harm their homemaking? Will the colony grow to a size they can survive winter? No one can say. Jim did say that if they flew away to call him and he’d catch me another swarm. Charity has offered all assistance needed. Another friend’s Grandpa may have bees to sell soon too. Beekeepers are a good bunch. And I find I’m willing to pursue every angle, because it’s been a long time since I felt as enthralled by an endeavor as since picking up that first book on beekeeping last fall. I love everything about it and the more I know the more I love it all. I’m determined to learn this amazing art, and that includes the challenging parts and the humbling parts too. It all feels worth it just to experience such amazement.
So for the second time in as many weeks, Larrapin has bees—lord willin’ and the Queen don’t fly.
Above are some pics from my first bee day with my mentor Charity at an early spring hive inspection with her own mentor beekeeper. Enjoy!
—A Larrapin Garden www.larrapin.us
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