Monday Escape: Pollinator Week Wrap-Up (with design plans!)

Bee and Foxglove. Photo copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved.

The first “official” customer of my pollinator garden!

Pollinator Week officially ended yesterday, but I wanted to mention a few more things you could add to your garden, patio, or even balcony to attract these helpful little insects. I’ve something for our Canadian friends, and a list of garden design plans you can use to inspire or plan your own pollinator garden as well!

  • A water source: Insects need water too! A shallow bowl set flush with the soil is perfect. Put a few stones into the bowl—by the way, water catching saucers from old terra cotta pots work perfectly for this—for your ‘visitors’ to sit upon as they take a drink. For butterflies, the NABA suggests a puddling station of damp ground covered with sand; a birdbath with shallow water and a few stones inside will work nicely as well.
  • Sunning spots: Unlike humans, bugs don’t need sunblock (lucky critters), and in fact need the warmth of the sun’s rays. A flat stone or two set into spots that receive at least six hours of sunlight a day are ideal, and will draw many butterflies.
  • Plant sunflowers! Bees especially love sunflowers, and come autumn, these perennial (well, actually, they’re annuals, but…) favourites will be swarmed with birds eagerly taking their fill of the flowers’ famed seeds. Feeling lucky? Plant some clover—which is great for your lawn, by the way, because it pulls nitrogen into the soil.
  • Mud pies: Most of America’s native bees—which again, are quite docile and laid-back, and thus unlikely to sting—make nests using mud. A little mud spot will be quite useful to them, as well as butterflies, who will drink water from the mud (some of the things butterflies are happy eating turned my stomach, but…hey, we all have our jobs, right?).
    Monarch Butterfly at Mount Vernon in B&W. Photo copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved.
  • Nesting spots (2-page PDF from Xerces.org): There are countless online tutorials for such things. I like this one, which uses an old tin can and rolled-up paper; there’s another made from an old stump, though I’d put a removable paper tube of some sort into the holes. Be sure to replace the paper tubes after the bees have hatched; old tubes can attract and harbor mites that will kill the mason bee pupae, and I know you don’t want that to happen! Bare, sunny spots of soil—no grass, no plants, no mulch—are attractive to other species of bee. Bat houses are becoming more commonplace, too—one of my favourite local shops here in the Columbus area, Outside Envy, has some very attractive, understated ones made by a local artist (and the owner of Outside Envy, who is very nice, will ship just about anywhere!).
  • Shelter: Many bees will take cover in brush piles and even overwinter there (no wonder they’re furry). Obviously this sort of thing has the potential to  be unattractive, but tucked into a back corner of your pollinator garden, behind a shrub, it won’t be as noticeable. You can also grow vines such as passionflower over the area during the summer to camouflage it. We just tore out some ugly, overgrown shrubs this weekend, and I made a small brush pile in the back of the pollinator garden for just this purpose. Continue reading

It’s Pollinator’s Week!

Bumblebee and orange-red zinnia. Photo copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved.

“Packin’ Heat”

Though I’ve hit a bit of a wall this year, it’s little secret that I love gardening. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that I’m also “celebrating” Pollinator’s Week, and wanted to spread the word about it!

As a gardener, I’ve long understood and appreciated the help I get from my little garden “assistants”, and confess that watching them go about their business in my gardens is one of my ideas of real fun (a wolf spider did get a little too close to me last year, but we both survived). Not only are these creatures interesting, they can be unintentionally silly—I’ve seen bumblebees fall out of flowers onto broad leaves below and am regularly buzzed by neighborhood hummingbirds when I wear flowers (fake and real!) in my hair, which is often.What can I say? It’s cheap entertainment, and clean to boot!

Though I am firmly of the mind that the planet can take care of itself, I am not a fool, and able to recognize a matter for real concern when I see one. Also…again. I just plain love bees, particularly fuzzy bumbles and masons, and want to do whatever I can to draw them to my garden by providing food and shelter.

Started by the Pollinator Partnership several years ago, Pollinator Week began as an attempt to draw attention to the declining populations of pollinators—bees, butterflies, bats, beetles, moths, hummingbirds, wasps—and their disappearing habitats; more recently it has (happily) become a celebration of these creatures, their activities, and how we enjoy the fruits of their fluttering, meandering labour.

Bumblebee and forget-me-nots. Photo copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved.

“Summer Sip”

Personally speaking, I think focusing on the great things pollinators do is the better way to get people’s attention than constantly hand-wringing; once educated, folks are far more likely to have an interest in seeing what they can do to help, and everyone knows how vital pollinators are to our own well-being. Besides, helping out native pollinators is actually pretty easy—and has its benefits for us, too, in the form of less demanding gardens, better pollination of our own flowers and gardens, and the simple joy seeing butterflies, hummingbirds, and fuzzy bees go about their business in your yard. (If you can’t tell…the bumblebees and mason bees are my favourites!) If people understand how simple it can really be to assist these creatures, they’re more likely to take action than if guilted or scared into doing so.

Moreover, ladies, tiny flies known as “midges”? They provide us with all of our chocolate. Let’s not mess with this. Let’s help the pollinators out!

Butterfly and unidentified purple flower. Photo copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved

Untitled

First of all, though, many people are concerned that having all of these pollinators buzzing about means they’re at greater danger for bee stings, which are unpleasant whether you’re allergic or not. The truth is, native American bees (my international readers should be able to find local guides with a quick internet search) are pretty easygoing and will not be bothered by you if you leave them alone as well; in fact, I’ve petted bumblebees on occasion and gotten nothing more than an irritated buzz from my tomato-gardening buddies (they’re so FUZZY! I couldn’t resist!). Continue reading

Monday Escape: Fuzzy Time!

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Bumblebees like this one are among the very first pollinators out and about in the spring; a few have already ‘buzzed’ me when I’ve been out and about in the yard this year. They have a long working season ahead of them!

By the way, it takes quite a bit of provocation to get a bumblebee to sting you; they are pretty docile bees, much more so than honeybees. There’s relatively little reason to fear these friendly, fuzzy garden critters, so enjoy watching them work.

People are the best part of road trips.

This truth is evidenced by Bruce Gamble’s tale of potentially very bad car trouble and Good Samaritans (in this case, of the Californian variety) during his road trip following Jack Kerouac’s journey as Gamble promotes his latest (wonderful—the publisher sent me a copy, completely unsolicited, and I’ve been enjoying it!) book:

Certainly the Mustang has had some delays caused by mechanical issues—a loose brake caliper in Denver that could have been calamitous, and a separated ignition switch that might have broken a day earlier while I was in the middle of the Nevada desert—but thanks to the help of Good Samaritans, the worst scenarios were averted.

It’s all part of the adventure of taking a 45-year-old car on a cross-country odyssey.

Go read the whole post. If you don’t get the warm fuzzies afterwards, I’m worried about you. Folks invariably ask about my favourite part of Route 66 or the Lincoln Highway or Virginia or whatever latest photo shoot I’ve done—and invariably, it’s the people I meet. America is filled with fantastic, fun, clever, friendly people, and if you don’t chat them up while you’re on the road, you’re missing out on great riches.

 

 

 

Road Trips: Good for your heart

If you can’t tell, I’m a BIG fan of road trips. This is likely because I grew up driving and RVing, not flying, around the country. We drove everywhere; in fact, I’ve only been on an airplane six times in my life! Clearly, I was born into this love for the open road and photographing everything on it (Dad is a shutterbug, too). But not only are road trips great fun, according to this story they might be good for your romantic life, too!

When Greg Moore was planning his road trip of a lifetime, he never imagined it would also lead to the love of his life.

“I knew in my heart something big would come of the trip,” says Moore, 43, a quadriplegic who refuses to let his wheelchair get in the way of his adventurous spirit. “I just had no idea that it would be to fall in love and get married. I didn’t see that coming at all.”

But that’s what happened on Saturday, when he and Keri Cameron, 29, said their vows surrounded by family in the backyard of the Kitchener home where Moore has lived for 12 years.

It all started when Moore placed a Kijiji ad seeking travel companions for his kitsch-hunting road trip from home to Los Angeles and back, and he ended up travelling another man from his town as well as Ms. Cameron. Not only did they all have a good time…well, clearly, he found love for life. See? Road trips are great for romance! Best wishes to the couple for a long, happy marriage—one with plenty of road trips.

The story gave me the warm fuzzies all the way through and left me with a big smile on my face. Hope you enjoy it too!

A ribbon of Route 66 in Oklahoma curves toward the sunset.

If The River Can Bend or…”Travelling This Road Can Improve Your Romantic Life!”
Route 66, Oklahoma, USA