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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Go Native...

One sunny day when the canes were in full bloom, I wandered out to my black raspberry patch and was gratified to find eight different species of pollinators hard at work among the blossoms. I counted at least two species of bumble bees, two or three honeybees, a pair of solitary native bees, both different species, a wasp, and a California hairstreak butterfly.

Pollinators, their plight and diminishing numbers are much in the news these days, and while the honeybee and Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) claim much of the spotlight, one should note that 80 per cent of pollinated crops in this country is effected by native bees and other pollinators. According to my hymenopterist friend Don Rolfs there are some 600 species of native bees in Washington State alone and at least 4,000 nationwide. When you think about those numbers, consider the vast potential for pollination the nation's horticulturists and agriculturists have in their (and our) favor. Recognizing the pending agricultural crisis, the Federal Government last year initiated the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honeybees and Other Pollinators, earmarking 82 million dollars for the program.The Strategy addresses three issues:
  • Cut the number of losses of overwintered honeybee colonies to 15 per cent (Note: many beekeepers lose all or a majority of their hives over my case five or six hives.)
  • Increase the population of the monarch butterfly to 225 million butterflies occupying approximately 15 acres in the overwintering grounds in Mexico.
  • Pollinator habitat Acreage: restore 7 million acres of land for pollinators over the next five years.
I am of a mind that one can't have too many bees on one's property, especially if he or she gardens or has fruit trees. My honeybees have set the apple crop on our one slim acre to the heaviest in memory. But one doesn't have to tend honeybees to encourage and sustain populations of bees and other pollinators on his property. Perhaps the best examples are tube bees, communal bees (bees that nest in the same vicinity but carry out solitary reproductive cycles) that lay eggs and raise young in tubes.
The orchard mason bee is the most popular and well-known tube bee pollinator. To sustain working adult populations, mason bee cocoons can be harvested in fall, and reintroduced the following spring.

A few years back my brother Kevin gifted me with a creative and practical gift any bee lover would welcome: a nest box packed with six inch bamboo tubes of various diameters fashioned from bamboo canes he cut from his bamboo "forest" at Chipping Twig Farms in Orting.
Mason bees don't do well on our property. Masons only have a range of a hundred yards and nest close to food sources. Bee forage, I suspect, is slim here in early spring when the masons begin their cycle. (The urban bee lover should be gratified to know masons flourish in city neighborhoods because of the diversity of pollen and nectar sources in the urban landscape.) In July, however, native bees throng to the bamboo tube box. At midday half a dozen or more busy insects flit about the box, working the tubes.

Miner bees also flourish on our property. I first noticed little mounds of soil in the garden and alongside the driveway. At first glance I thought them to be worm castings, the byproduct of night crawlers. Closer observation proved the hillocks to be access tunnels dug by miner bees, mining subterranean homes for themselves. One species of miners is a dazzling iridescent green, a striking little beauty less than half an inch long.

Even if you are a rural resident with a mere postage stamp lawn, you can do much to encourage and sustain a pollinator population in your backyard. For one, make your property a bee-friendly habitat: choose and apply organic pest and weed controls where and whenever possible.

And don't forget the bumblebee, that hearty foul weather flier you will find buzzing about the spring blackberry and blueberry blossoms. They will brave light rain and drizzle when honeybees and small natives stay indoors warm and dry. This spring bumbles established a colony in one of our bird nesting boxes. (The Man Who Poked the Bumblebee Nest, 5/4/2016)

Houses for tube bees take up little room. Hang them on your fence, above an exterior entryway, from a backyard tree. Bee houses, tubes included, are readily available at garden shops (nice for gifts, too, especially if you have your own bamboo grove).

A container garden--vegetable and floral--creates a symbiosis between the gardener and his apis-type friends. Alliums, zinnias, certain varieties of dahlia are pollen and nectar rich (alliums are bee magnets). The Butterfly bush or buddleia is a pollinator's delicatessen. Vegetables: cucumbers, zucchini, squash and pumpkins are pollen producers and proliferaters.
As the squash blossoms unfold in the morning sun, honeybees furred and laden with pollen particles valiantly seek the necessary lift for the flight back to the hive. Native bees, I've discovered, are partial to tomatillos and on a late summer day nearly every blossom  in the garden has a striped native bee foraging on it. In today's pollinator-conscious world a brief search is certain to turn up lists of plantings bee lovers might select to create pollinator and butterfly gardens in their backyard and property.

So make your backyard bee-friendly. It's a good way to study bee behavior, a great opportunity to teach the younger generation about bees, allow them to observe nature's "busy bees" up close and personal, help children understand bees are the gardener's friends, not something just to swat at. And bee watching allows the gardener to take a welcome break once in awhile from those seemingly endless gardening chores.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

At Sixes and Sevens...

An interesting phrase, this one. I first ran across the saying in the script of Thornton Wilder's play The Skin of Our Teeth. I was a high school drama director at the time, and as it was my directing debut, I had something to prove. First time directors, I'd heard, often chose Wilder's Our Town because the staging required a simple set, a bare stage with chairs representing cemetery plots. The Skin of Our Teeth, on the other hand, called for elaborate sets and numerous set changes which the set crew rehearsed countless times so that each took less than three minutes.

The context of the phrase: the Antrobus household is in a topsy turvey state because father George has failed to return from work at his customary six o'clock time. Lily Sabrina, the household maid, sums up the turmoil by saying: "It's the coldest day of the year. The dogs are sticking to the sidewalks. The world is at sixes and sevens." In other words, things are in a state of chaos, disorder, disarray.

I've been thinking about that phrase a lot these days. Geopolitical turmoil, terrorism rampant ("The Middle-East is everywhere," someone recently said), mass shootings here at home. I can't remember the last time I've seen the flag flying high at its masthead. The current political scene: someone who's never had a job suddenly wants one; the other, who has had several, given a tainted resume, will have a hard time finding an employer. The oceans are warming, melting the heat reflecting icecaps. Our refrigerator ice maker is on the fritz....

And I'm expecting a phone call at any moment. The news will not be good.

The world is at sixes and sevens.

Monday, July 4, 2016

A Foolish Consistency: a Literary Digression...

Strange where one's head goes when pricked by certain stimuli. Take this morning, for instance, when Gladys and I rolled out into the mist for our constitutional in the Valley. Propped up at the entrance to Jim Cabe's driveway was a garish orange warning sign. I knew it was the weekend before the anniversary of our Grand Old Republic but thought it highly unlikely Jim would be hosting a celebratory Hell's Angels motorcycle rally: as if the Cabe residence is the Sturgis of Tualco Valley. Besides, if a biker can't navigate 200 yards of roadway without tipping his bike, he shouldn't be straddling one...unless, perhaps, it's a trike.

The County has been prepping the Upper Loop Road for resurfacing all spring. I first noticed the white graffiti highlighting pavement cracks. Then the serpentine black sealer cover up, (one looked suspiciously like a '60's peace symbol; County guys having a little fun?). Yellow plastic tabs next and the gravel overlay for the asphalt to follow. Thus the warnings for bikers rumbling (screaming?) devil-may-care through the Valley.

But propping a warning sign at the head of a long driveway seemed a bit superfluous and brought to mind a string of literary allusions, the first of which was Emerson's famous quote from his essay "Self-Reliance": "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds/Adored by little statesmen, philosophers, and divines."Another on the topic of consistency stated by Kenneth Roberts in the forward to his novel Lydia Bailey:

"...; narrow men who consistently upheld the beliefs and acts of one political party and saw no good in any other; shortsighted men who consistently refused to see that the welfare of their own nation was dependent on the welfare of every other nation; ignorant men who consistently thought that the policies of their government should be supported and followed, whether these policies were right or wrong...;"

And then there's the poem "Mending Wall" by New England's poet laureate Robert Frost in which his subject is a stubborn neighbor whose "foolish consistency" binds him to the old saying "Good fences make good neighbors." As he complies with the neighbor's stubborn demand they annually repair the stone wall dividing their properties, Frost maintains their labors are just "another kind of outdoor game...there where it is we do not need the wall:/ He is all pine and I am apple orchard./ My apple trees will never get across/ And eat the cones under his pine trees, I tell him." But the neighbor "...will not go behind his father's saying,/ And he likes having thought of it so well/ He says again, 'Good fences make good neighbors.'"

Our County servants, in their defense, constipated by regs, codes, and guidelines would be the first to justify--consistently, of course-- the misuse of common sense and resources as "We're just doing our job." After all, Jim Cabe's driveway is a designated "County Road" (Christenson Rd.), thus must be posted with the cautionary warning. However should Gladys and I decide to visit the Cabes, we'll heed the advice and pedal carefully because Gladys is like William Faulkner's mule, "[She] will work for you patiently for ten years for the chance to kick you once."

Just one more allusion for you. No need for thanks. Call it literary lagniappe.