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The bees and butterflies are back….

April 22, 2009

….and the garden is loving it!

After a shaky first year with our garden where I wondered if the lack of fruiting had to do with the dearth of bees and other beneficial insects, I’m cautiously optimistic about this year’s crops.

First, our bees are back! Where they disappeared to last year I can’t say, but this year the garden is literally crawling with pollinating insects (including our resident hummingbirds). More importantly, fruit is setting like mad on the fruit trees. The orange trees didn’t have much to say for themselves last year, but this year there are literally dozens upon dozens of small green oranges on them. Same story with the plum tree. I did spend some time last year putting in plants rumored to attract bees and butterflies, but I’m not sure this is related to the visits—few of them are in bloom right now. So it may just be a fluke (though hopefully one that’s not going away anytime soon!)

This guy is a honey bee (I think) but we've seen no fewer than four different types of bees---plus a bunch of parasitic wasps, which is exciting!

This guy is a honey bee (I think) but we've seen no fewer than four different types of bees---plus a bunch of parasitic wasps, which is exciting!

We also had a mini heatwave this week, and the squash and tomatoes are basking in it. The arugula is even trying to bolt—and it’s only April!

Greens---yum! (I snapped this before the Oakland heat record was shattered on Monday when we hit a whopping 88 degrees....these plants are even larger now!)

Greens---yum! (I snapped this last weekend, before the Oakland heat record was shattered on Monday when we hit a whopping 88 degrees....these plants are even larger now!)

But my favorite find, nestled in my fennel plant, was this little bugger.

Anise swallowtail caterpillar

It's an anise swallowtail caterpillar!

A bit of digging on the Internet revealed that he’s an anise swallowtail caterpillar, and pretty common in California. After reading that they typically infest a plant, I went back to look. Sure enough, there were several other very, VERY tiny caterpillars eating up my fennel! Unfortunately, the fennel hasn’t been doing so well, and while I’m happy to sacrifice it to the butterflies, I have a feeling they’ll run out of fennel long before they’re ready to pupate. For now I’m leaving them there, since apparently in this very early stage, they just eat and eat and don’t move around a whole lot, so it’s a safe bet that (barring a hungry bird) they’ll still be there when you come back. But if they make it to being beautiful big caterpillars, I’m contemplating bringing them inside for a butterfly-raising adventure. (Apparently their foods of choice are anise, fennel, dill, parsley, carrots, parsnips, Queen Anne’s lace, seaside angelica, and—augh!—citrus trees. I don’t really want them eating up my dill seedlings or my parsley, and definitely not the citrus, so once they start wandering, it could be hazardous to the rest of the yard.)

Now that I know they’re out there, though, I’ll be putting in a lot more fennel plants this year—even if we don’t get super bulbs from them, it would be wonderful to have some nesting space for these guys.

And in miscellaneous other garden news:

Yes, those are teeny tiny grapes on there---our first crop!

Yes, those are teeny tiny grapes on there---our first crop!

We’re on track to start harvesting the loquats this week, with the cherries, plums, and pluots following late next month. (Sadly, this will be our last cherry crop for now—we took one tree out this winter, and the other tree is deathly ill with bacterial canker, which is contagious, so it will go sometime later this year too. Next winter, we’ll be in the market for a new cherry tree or two, though, so there should be some fun market taste testing in the offing this spring!) Strawberries, blueberries, and the breba fig crop should show up in June or July, and by mid-summer we’ll be rolling in apples. Hard to believe, but we’re already more than halfway to this year’s persimmon season, too!

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3 comments

  1. Things are looking good. Question: what sort of wood did you make your raised beds out of, and how well are they holding up? Thanks — we’re planning on some raised beds once I finish the kitchen.


  2. Thanks! Our raised beds are made of untreated redwood, which so far has held up well—though they’ve only been in for a year. (I got it at Piedmont Lumber in Oakland, where it’s whatever type they recommended for raised beds; I think it’s rough construction heart but I’m not 100 percent sure.) We do also have a new giant planter that’s Doug fir, so it will be an interesting comparison to see how the respective woods weather…


  3. It was great to see you last night. I am very impressed with your garden! I think I will get some fennel and see if I can attract some anise swallowtail caterpillars too. I am happy to report that there are lots of bees buzzing in my lavender this year.



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