Bee and Butterfly Gardens

After many summers of trying to grow winter squash, this year I decided not to.  I had dedicated an entire garden bed to trying to grow my favorite squash, ‘Buttercup’.  One year I had a wheelbarrow full of them but that was never to be repeated.  I could never really figure out what the problem was but it could be less light from trees growing in.  Another thought was lack of pollination.  Since then, I’ve tried to keep adding in more plants that keep the bees and butterflies happy!

Thyme blooming providing food for bees!
Thyme blooming providing food for bees!

Why Important?

Now, I’m no bee or butterfly expert but I do hear a lot about protecting bees of all kinds.  I also haven’t seen any Monarch butterflies in a while.  Why are our pollinators so important to us?  About 1/3 of crops rely on bees for pollination.  This improves yields and fruiting.  You may have noticed when driving by blueberry fields the colorful bee boxes here and there.  Many farmers rent bees to ensure proper pollination.  According to Berkeley University, fruits can vary greatly in size and quality if insect pollination is taken out of the equation.  So many of the things we love, and rely upon, depend on pollination.  Coffee, tea, cocoa!

Helenium makes a great landing spot for pollinators.
Helenium makes a great landing spot for pollinators.

Other pollinators include birds, flies, beetles, wasps, small mammals, bats and moths.  If you ever get to watch a hummingbird moth or Sphinx moth in action, it is truly amazing!  The first time I saw one I actually thought it was a tiny hummingbird!

Butterfly weed is a pollinator magnet!
Butterfly weed is a pollinator magnet!

From the time the bees emerge in the spring they are searching for food.  They start with the first crocus, grape hyacinth, tulips, dandelion blossoms and clover.  As the seasons move on they take on each new flower.

Common marigold.
Common marigold.

Try to keep harmful chemicals out of the garden.  They are deadly to our pollinators.  Once the biodiversity is increased on your property, pest management can improve on it’s own.  Think of making your little space a haven for these wonderful helpers.

A Few Thoughts On Design 

What makes a great bee and butterfly garden?  I was at a garden talk many years ago, I’m not even sure what it was about.  I do remember the idea of planning ‘plateaus’ for pollinators.  This means large clumps of key plants so they can almost hop along from flower to flower, making it very enticing for them.  One of our local Maine gardeners, Lee Schneller, wrote a helpful book in 2009, The Ever-Blooming Flower Garden: A Blueprint for Continuous Color.  She outlines many garden plans that continually bloom.  Her simple formulas are really a fail-proof way to keep things blooming.

Echinacea acting as bee and butterfly plateau.
Echinacea acting as bee and butterfly plateau.

Now, as we think about design, the usual cottage perennial garden will do just fine.  To really keep these insects attention, continual blooms will be needed.  Think large groupings of echinacea, bee balm, and bushels of daisies!

The tiniest of bees on the Gypsophilia.
The tiniest of bees on the Gypsophilia.

Shrubs

Most flowering shrubs usually attract a wide range of bees and butterflies.  Some to consider are Rhododendron, Azalea, Lilac, Button bush, Roses, Weigelia, Privet and Indigo.  Butterfly bushes, with their powdery sweet scent are a favorite of Monarch’s and Swallowtail’s.  Honeysuckle bushes or vines could also be added to the landscape.

Swallowtail butterfly on Rhododendron.
Swallowtail butterfly on Rhododendron.

Perennials

There are so many perennial plants to put in a bee and butterfly garden that you will have trouble fitting them all in.  In keeping with the continual flowering theme, you can start with more traditional plants such as lupine, Day lilies, foxglove, bee balm, liatris and rudbeckia.  Many sedums, such as ‘Autumn Joy’ bloom for months and don’t stop until late fall.  You can also leave room for echinacea, globe thistle, lungwort, scabiosa and gypsophilia.  Wild plants like milkweed should be allowed to bloom.

Big bee enjoying some anise hyssop.
Big bee enjoying some anise hyssop.

Annuals

Although a pollinator garden will do well without a single annual, bees and butterflies adore the bright colors and ready supply of nectar!  Low growing types include allysum, gem marigolds and pansies.  Tall annuals to mix in with the perennial garden are snapdragons, cleome, marigolds, sunflowers, cosmos, verbena and zinnias.  Many of these also make wonderful cut flowers that you can bring in to dress up your table.

Herbs such as Oregano make great bee food.
Herbs such as Oregano make great bee food.

Bulbs

Remember how few flowers are actually blooming in early spring?  You can improve your pollinator population by adding in clumps of squill, crocus and snowdrops.  Mix groups of species tulips, taller tulips and grape hyacinths.  Naturalize some daffodils along your driveway.  The many kinds of allium are flower coated orbs that bees love.  The pollinators will be all over them and you will be so grateful for the spring color after a long winter.

Borage is another beneficial herb.
Borage is another beneficial herb.

Herbs

Bees and Butterflies are not just after the usual flowers.  Herbs are great providers of food for them.  Not just for culinary use, basil, chives, garlic chives, thyme, rosemary and lavender.  So many of them have flowers, think mint, catmint, anise hyssop, borage and sage.  You could even plant comfrey, fennel and oregano.

Great spangled fritillary on echinacea.
Great spangled fritillary on echinacea.

Fruits and Vegetables

The very species you would like to pollinate can also be inviting for bees and butterflies.  Fruits such as blueberries, raspberries and strawberries are covered with flowers.  Fruit trees provide early nectar.  In the vegetable garden, many types have blooms.  Tomatoes, beans, potatoes, squash or cucumbers.  If you need to attract more pollinators to your veggie garden, think about interplanting with beneficial flowers.  Marigolds and nasturtiums are always a great idea.

Tomato blossoms.
Tomato blossoms.

Many seed companies sell mixtures that could be planted near the garden in a band, working as guardians of the garden!  Johnny’s Selected Seeds offers a Bee Feed Mix, a Beneficial Insect Attractant Mix and a Butterfly and Hummingbird Mix.  All are combinations of annuals and perennials tailor made for each application.  Fedco has a Beneficials mix.  John Scheepers sells four different beneficial habitat mixtures.  All of them sound like they would add so much to your veggie, herb or kitchen garden!

No matter how big or small your home garden is, your plants can benefit from more pollinators.  Not only will the plants be more productive but the extra flowers and resulting pollinators can bring so much enjoyment to the time spent outside.

Alyssum is beloved by our bees and butterflies.
Alyssum is beloved by our bees and butterflies.

If you are interested in a more prolific yield, try attracting more bees and butterflies.  Get out there and watch, it is truly a sight to see!  Hope you are all enjoying the weather.  Thanks for coming along this week.  Don’t forget to subscribe by email in sidebar.  You won’t have to find me, my weekly blog will appear in your inbox every week.  See you next week!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

 

Beauty In Forgotten Places

Do you ever go back to where you grew up and feel totally nostalgic?  You can feel like a kid again one minute, then feel like you’ve grown up way too much the next.  On one of my recent visits, I was wandering around on my parents’ property in the evening.  The sinking light was casting a dreamy glow on the whole landscape and the dragonflies were swooping back and forth.  I probably took more than a hundred pictures but few captured what I saw.

Evening light through the trees.
Evening light through the trees.

There are a few old gardens here and there, some very woodsy now.  They are filled with Rhododendrons and a Hydrangea in the background.  As I walked around, the scent of several different roses filled the air.

In the wild garden!
In the wild garden!

Flowers peeked out from under the weeping cherry.  Hardy geraniums, columbine, vinca.  The day lilies just setting buds.  Hosta plants making their soft, effortless borders.  All persistently blooming though long neglected.

Field grass against a blue backdrop.
Field grass against a blue backdrop.

The field behind the house was sparsely covered with wild strawberries that I could smell as my feet stirred up the plants.  The grasses and clover swayed against the evening sky.  A sea of grass with a thick swatch of purple blue vetch.

Delicate pink columbine.
Delicate pink columbine.

Something really struck me over those few days.  We can spend a lot of time working on our flower beds to make them look perfect.  But, perhaps it’s not such a bad thing to have wild spaces.  Mowing helps keep the big stuff down and from having your house be swallowed up by the foliage!  Even using a weed trimmer in the fall on these spaces can be helpful.

Sea of purple vetch.
Sea of purple vetch.

In her 1961 book Carefree Gardening, Jean Hersey stated, ‘The weeds that in other places and other times were our enemies are here and now our friends.  We have grown more and more aware of much that we formerly missed-the quiet beauty of a twisted old laurel root kicking its way up out of the earth , the detail in the center of a wild geranium blossom.  These things, and a hundred more, are introducing us to a new kind of beauty, to a whole new kind of gardening-gardening the easy way-the carefree way.’

Flowers proudly blooming!
Flowers proudly blooming!

She and her husband had retired to many acres in rural Connecticut after raising a family in a New York city suburb.  Their previous home made use of every inch of the small lot, everything tended and in it’s place.  With big plans of moving to the country and conquering the meadows, streams and hillsides, they soon realized how wonderful the property was already.  So with a little attention and renovation here and there, they kept it much more natural.  A more relaxed approach using basic designs, hardy plants and simple techniques, keeping chores to a minimum.  A gardeners dream right?  She does have a revised version of her book out now and it’s definitely worth a look.

Some pollinators on the rambling rose.
Some pollinators on the rambling rose.

Many of you may have heard of Ruth Stout and her book Gardening Without Work.  Another great read in Weedless Gardening by Lee Reich.  Both authors advocate heavy use of mulch.  This practically eliminates weeds and conserves moisture while building soil.

Day lilies gone wild!
Day lilies gone wild!

Now apply this theory to your own property.  You may think that I’m talking crazy.  If you know me, you know that I love a nice edged, freshly weeded flower garden.  And yes, people do hire me to do this for them.  I’m not knocking it!  Sure, have some well tended flower beds near the house and by your entrance but have some areas that can be wild.   Hosta borders interspersed with day lilies and ferns.  A hedgerow of flowering shrubs.  Think continual flowering with azaleas, lilacs, quince and rugosa roses.  Plant a wildflower meadow.  Establish a stand of daffodils followed by lupine then daisies.

Tractor in the morning light.
Tractor in the morning light.

I noticed in my own yard a clump of traditional orange day lilies with other wild flowers.  Blooming as proudly as any cultivated perennial.  My husband had planted the roses and lilies, the wildflowers (weeds!) came up on their own.  I’m really happy to let this go on.  Just mow by them once a week or so and all is well!

Climbing hydrangea.
Climbing hydrangea.

I wanted to talk about the beauty of untended or forgotten spaces this week because summer goes by so fast and we often feel that we are never doing enough in our gardens.  There’s always some dead heading to be done or a patch of weeds to deal with.  Consider some wild spaces of your own.  You might just be struck by the raw, untamed appeal of these wild gardens!

Still life in the garden.
Still life in the garden.

For more Ramblings & Reflections, you can click on these posts A Throwback To Times Gone By.  Or Apple Trees In Bloom: A Window To The Past .

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

 

Growing Great Swiss Chard

If you really want to start growing some of your own food, chard would be a great place to start! What could be better than a cut and come again crop that provides countless meals until late in the season? Add Swiss chard to your garden plan this year!

This garden vegetable is botanically the same plant as the beet but has been bred to be all leaf and stalk with very little root. The result is a leafy green so versatile that it can be used in so many ways. Really two veggies in one! The Fedco catalog this year printed a quote from the now defunct Salzer’s 1915 catalog, “Swiss Chard produces more food for the table than almost any other vegetable and it also requires less care; it yields a constant crop from July to winter.”

Baby chard leaves are a great addition to salads!
Baby chard leaves are a great addition to salads!

Called leaf beet, silver beet, chard and Swiss chard, it is a heat tolerant, cold tolerant, culinary wonder. With it’s gorgeous array of colors, you will be eating the rainbow in no time! Chard is packed with healthy nutrients.  The seeds are actually seed containing pods, not just one individual seed.  Chard can be eaten in the baby stage or at any size. Smaller leaves are a yummy and colorful addition to a salad greens mixture. The seeds can also be grown for microgreens. They can be used in a decorative form in an edible landscape. Our local coop had a stunning display last year that included chard, kale and a huge patch of beneficial flowers. Chard can be planted in the smallest of gardens and does well in container situations.

Quite the bouquet of chard!
Quite the bouquet of chard!

How To Grow

Chard is not really that picky about soil but I have noticed that my friends who use lots of aged manure get the best results. So this year, after having many years of wimpy chard, I decided to go heavy on the rabbit manure in my chard bed. I can’t believe how well the chard has done. The biggest, most prolific chard ribs I’ve ever grown. I also fertilized with manure tea a few times early on.

Lush leaves of the Rhubarb chard!
Lush leaves of the Rhubarb chard!

Chard can be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring.  It can be sown directly in the soil. Either sow seeds thickly or space further apart depending on how big you want the ribs.

Bring into the harvest!
Bring into the harvest!

Chard is rarely bothered by pests, although I have noticed that certain caterpillars enjoy munching on the leaves.

Look at those red veins!
Look at those red veins!

Harvest

I start harvesting leaves early on to add to my salad mix. You know me and my salad mix! Always cut the outer leaves and let the center stalks grow. Scissors or a knife work well, I use my lettuce knife for clean cuts.  Just keep picking and the stalks will keep coming. Place chard in a plastic bag, I use a grocery bag and tie it up to keep fresh. Wash just before use for best results.

Harvesting chard is easy!
Harvesting chard is easy!

Varieties

Among the chard varieties are the usual ‘Fordhook
White’ and ‘Rhubarb’ or ‘Ruby’. Now we have even more varieties to choose from such as ‘Bright Lights’ and ‘Five Color Silverbeet’. I grew a few of these this year and I’m really astounded by the result. Even though cooking takes away some of the color, I still love all of the shades. I have one called ‘Perpetual Spinach’ that is a lot like spinach and can withstand the heat of summer.  Fedco Seeds has a few others I may try next year.

The many colors of Chard!

Preparing Chard for the Table

I did mention earlier how versatile chard is. It can be used in place of any leafy green. Just look up chard recipes and you will find a lot of ideas. Just be creative. Add it to a veggie lasagna, a stir-fry, a quiche or boil it in a pot. They are very tender and do not need the addition of salt pork or bacon to tenderize them.

This week I’m sharing a really basic recipe. I call it ‘Lazy Weeknight Sauteed Chard’. All you have to do is heat a cast iron skillet on medium heat with olive oil. Add a sliced onoin to the pan. After washing chard leaves and stalks, roughly chop the plants into cooking pan. Cover, stirring occasionally. Add a little water so chard doesn’t burn. Garlic and pepper make a tasty addition. Cook until tender. It’s quick, easy and very delicious!

Lazy weeknight sautéed chard.
Lazy weeknight sautéed chard.

I would love to hear about your chard growing adventures. Maybe if you haven’t grown chard yet, you can add it to next years garden plan! Hope you are enjoying this fabulous summer weather. Don’t forget to subscribe in sidebar.  It’s always free and simple to sign up! Or follow me on Pinterest, Facebook or Instagram. For more information on leafy greens, try reading my post How To Grow Lettuce. Have a great week!

Hilary|Everlongardener

Garlic Scapes

You may have seen garlic scapes for sale at a farmers market or received them in your CSA basket for the week and wondered, what on earth are these things!  The long , curled flower stalks of garlic plants are entirely edible and wonderfully delicious!  But, you may ask, what do I do with them?

Scrumptious garlic scapes!
Scrumptious garlic scapes!

What Are Scapes?

Garlic scapes are the flower buds of hardneck garlic bulbs that emerge from the garlic leaves and grows into an elegant curl.  Left to grow, the scape will bloom.  When the scapes are cut off, more energy can go to plumping up the garlic bulb itself.  The scapes share many of the health benefits of the Allium family.  It is possible to collect seed from these bulbils, as they are called, but I think that the process would be very long-term.

You must plant garlic to get the garlic scapes!
You must plant garlic to get the garlic scapes!

When and How To Harvest?

Depending on the variety, garlic scapes can be harvested as soon as the scape is fully formed.  If you wait too long, the stalk gets too hard and woody.  I found some really helpful tips in the article Garlic Scapes by William Woys Weaver.  He feels that the best time to harvest is afternoon so that the wound that you create can dry quickly and not seep.  I usually cut them when they have curled and are no more than a 1/4″ thick.  When they are just right, they are so tender!

Elegant garlic scapes!
Elegant garlic scapes!

Simply cut the stalk above the top leaf.  It’s as easy as that.  Rinse them off and they are ready for use. If storing in refrigerator, dry them off and place in a plastic bag.

Scapes!
Scapes!

How To Use Scapes?

Most people eat the scapes.  Some scape lovers eat them raw while in the garden.  They do make a refreshingly different addition to flower arrangements but I prefer to eat mine.  I often treat them like green beans.  Either roast or sauté them. Mix them with other vegetables.  There are tons of garlic scape recipes out there.  Garlic scape pesto is wildly popular.  Pickling, freezing, canning, so many options.

Garlic Scape Stir-fry

One of our favorite ways to use the scapes is to stir-fry them.  Any of the usual vegetables will work with the scapes.  You could use onions, zucchini, mushrooms, peppers, pea pods, carrots, broccoli, to name a few.  For flavor I use soy sauce, grated ginger, red wine vinegar, honey, minced garlic, and pepper.  No measuring, just a bit of this and that.

Stir-fry veggies.
Stir-fry veggies.

I simply chop veggies fairly uniformly and snip up the garlic scapes into 2″ pieces.  After heating a cast iron skillet with oil, add all veggies and cover.  Cook till tender.  Add soy sauce and other desired flavorings.  Quickly toss vegetables and sauce.  Be careful not to overcook.  Serve immediately.

Stir-fry made with garlic scapes!
Stir-fry made with garlic scapes!

For more recipe ideas, try the article 10 Things to Do With Garlic Scapes, the Best Veg You’re Not Cooking Yet.

I’m thinking that maybe this post will inspire you to plant some garlic this fall so that you can harvest your own garlic scapes!  Maybe if you don’t have any planted this year, you can pick some up in your travels and find out how tasty they really are!  Never want to miss a post from Everlongardener?  Subscribe to the blog in sidebar, it’s free and easy!  Just click in subscribe box, add your email address and confirm.  Thanks for joining me and I would love to hear from you.  Have a fabulous week!

Hilary|Everlongardener