Posts Tagged ‘bees’

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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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City bees

September 24, 2008

For the last few months, we’ve been having a lot of trouble with fruit setting on some of the plants in the vegetable garden. While there are lots of potential causes of this (not least of which is me constantly forgetting to spray the plants regularly with milk and neem oil to fend off powdery mildew and munchers!), we also seem to have lost a lot of our hummingbird and bee visitors that hung out in the yard all spring when the trees were in bloom. So I’ve been doing a lot of research on how to attract native bees (which, lucky for us, are solitary and don’t sting!) and what to plant for both bees and hummingbirds, since we have a lot of empty perennial beds near the vegetable beds right now.

Turns out that, in the wake of the honeybee disappearance, there are some terrific resources out there for bringing back native mason bees to the city:

  • UC Berkeley has a whole site devoted to urban bee gardens that includes not only a stellar plant list, but also tips on how to plant to attract bees. For instance, bees apparently need blocks of a single type of plant, so many of the beautiful landscapes you see around town don’t work for them, even if the plants themselves are bee-friendly. And the ground-nesters hate mulch (doh!).
  • KQED did a Quest episode and also a web feature on bringing back city bees, too.
  • CityBees hasn’t been updated recently, but has some good info on bees in San Francisco nonetheless, including more details on keeping honeybees (who, unlike mason bees, live together in a hive and produce honey).
  • The National Wildlife Federation has a how-to page on building mason bee houses, which you can do by drilling 5/8-inch-wide holes in just about any old block of wood (if it hasn’t been treated).
  • See what mason bees look like at Free Range Living.
  • Finally, not a DIY type? You can order some really nice-looking mason bee houses at these (and other) websites: Mason Bee Homes, The Backyard Bird Company, Clean Air Gardening, Planet Natural, Gardeners’ Supply, and more.
Bee gardens from KQED Quest

Bee gardens from KQED Quest

Next on the list: a bat box, since I saw our first bat the other night, and we could sure use some help with mosquito control….plus, I was surprised to find out that bats are also important pollinators (especially for figs!) Who knew.