Garden Visitors of the Day: Busy as Bees

The bright greens, pinks, whites, and yellows of summer have given way to the muted purples, golds and olives of fall. Why have I posted a video of nothing happening you ask?

Look a little closer. Zoom in on the purple New England Asters on the left side of the video. They are absolutely humming with bumblebees and honey bees. I know it is a little grainy posted here – but can you see the way the bees work their way around the central disc of the flower, visiting each of the disc flowers around the edge in turn? They spend a lot of time on each because what looks like one flower to us is really a collection of many tiny little flowers. Lovely, isn’t it?

If you are looking for a plant that sustains the bees through the fall, consider the New England Aster. This and Goldenrod, plus perhaps some hardy geraniums, will keep them fed.

Garden Projects: Bee House

When I made the new raised beds, I was left with a short (16″) segment of 4×4 left over. Not wanting it to go to waste, I decided to make a solitary bee house out of it. I’ve wanted one of these for a while, and this was my chance to have one for free out of only materials that would otherwise go to waste.

My new bee house, affixed to the side of the compost bin

A master craftsman I am not, but I don’t think the bees will mind, do you?

Here is how I made the house.

  1. Used a chop saw to angle one end of the 4×4 45 degrees.
  2. Found a scrap piece of 4″ wide board and cut one end at a 45 degree angle. This allows the roof and the back of the house to line up flush.
  3. Drilled holes in for the bees. Different types of solitary bees will use different sized holes ranging from 1/8″ to 1/2″. Holes 1/4″ and smaller can be made ~4″ deep. Holes over 1/4″ should be 6″ deep. Since my wood was only 4″ deep, I went with all 1/4″ holes, all approximately 4″ deep. By angling the holes upward slightly I was able to make them longer than I could have if they had been perpendicular to the ground and also ensure that when it rains the end of the tunnel stays dry for the bee.
  4. Screwed the roof onto the top of the house.
  5. Screwed the house into the side of the compost bin. You could really affix it to any sort of post or fence.

It isn’t perfect. I had some ripping when I drilled the holes. I’d like to try again and try to do better. Maybe some day soon I’ll find myself with another scrap of wood that looks like it would make a good hotel and will try again.

Garden Visitor of the Day: Spring

Although the temperatures here are still in the 30’s and 40’s (0-5C), signs of spring are here. Although the trees are still bare and many of the plants are behind, others are starting to green up. And the first baby bunnies and chipmunks started showing up as of last week. The baby bunny (bunnies?) seems to be hunkered down under our rain barrel and is making 20+ appearances a day on our compost cam. This doesn’t bode well for the vegetable garden, which is just in line of the camera, but may help justify the money I spent on a spring/summer CSA share this year. I’ll grow for the bunnies, and Westridge Organic Farm will grow for me.

Clip #1:

“Hey kid, get back here!”

Clip #2:

“Oops! Maybe not!”

Since this is a blog not just about cute critters, but also about supporting the natural world in our own yards and spaces, I want to mention some of the plants you see in the videos.

To the left of frame, you can see daffodils. They provide not just a welcome flash of color in the spring when Wisconsin is still pretty brown, with its life hidden deep inside where we cannot easily see it, but also some much needed pollen for the bees. I add 50-200 bulbs to our yard each fall, a mix of daffodils, crocuses, mini irises, scillia, hyacinth, snow drops, puschkinias, guinea hens, windflowers, tulips and others. Some naturalize, some grow a few years and disappear, some get eaten by the critters before they ever get a chance to bloom. But each one is a symbol of hope and life.

Just above the daffodils you can see the branches of a black currant shrub. It also blooms very early in the spring and is almost done blooming right now despite the cold temperatures. In a couple months it will be covered in small black berries that taste and smell foxy when fresh but make a delightful summer cordial when cooked with some water, sugar and lemon juice.

To the right of the frame you can see the corner of my compost bin. I’ve bucked convention by putting it right up against my house, just under the kitchen window. That means kitchen scraps can be tossed out the window and straight into the bin as easily as they could be tossed into the trash. There is no excuse not to compost here! Is it advisable to have a compost bin right up against your house? Certainly, most people would say no, and for good reason. They can cause unpleasant odors and attract pests close to your home.

About 10 years ago we decided to try it anyway, and we have not had any major issues. Part of my reason for adding the compost cam was to see if there were critters I was not aware of. I know there are occasionally voles in the bin, but since they never try to invade the house, I don’t mind them terribly and their numbers have never gotten out of hand (perhaps thank you to our resident fox?). The odors do occasionally get bad in the late summer, but adding a good layer of straw or hay solves that issue rather quickly. This might be one of those cases where our climate is in our favor – cold winters and short summers do tend to keep the pests and odors down. Have you thought of putting a compost bin close to your kitchen? It might be worth a look!