Monday, June 1, 2015

Foraging for Bee-Friendly Flowers: The Natural Look

For anyone getting interested in starting their own garden whether great or small, the *very first* necessity before you buy your first seeds or vegetable plants is to get on the radar for all your natural pollinators.  If you skip this crucial step, expect a small harvest.  Some first-time growers might even mistakenly assume they have a 'brown thumb', when actually it could just be that their yard isn't bee and butterfly-friendly.
 
You could go out to a local nursery and purchase all the flowers the bees seem to love most.  This is a very good strategy, of course, and you can see in the foreground here that I've gotten some lovely bee-balm myself this year.  However, it's that tall, graceful so-called weed plant in the background that I'd like you to take a good look at.
 
 
Do you know it?  It's a Queen-Anne's Lace. 
It grows all over roadsides throughout much of the US.  It is a favorite of bees and butterflies for its thousands of tiny flowers in umbelliferous (umbrella-shaped) clusters.  To identify it from its poisonous look-alike, find the one purple flower in the center of the flower cluster, and you have your lady's lace plant for sure. 
All you need to do is go foraging along some country roads with a shovel and a bin to keep your plants in.  I take my short-handled shovel for easier transport.  Sometimes the ground is very hard on roadsides from drought conditions, so don't go expecting a trowel to do the job.
 
And there's one other thing.  Don't expect the Queen-Anne's Lace to look like it's survived the first year.  It's an extremely hardy plant, but like all carrots it doesn't take the stress of transplanting well.  But don't worry!  Make sure you get a good, strong root ball, and then wait.  When I foraged my original QAL plant last spring, the seed heads dried and I scattered them around.  The original plant didn't come back, but a tiny little carrot-looking seedling sprouted in the fall and over-wintered.  Others came up in the raised beds but I culled them out, because I can't have them there!  QAL's great strength is that you don't even have to really prepare the soil.  Since it's a native plant used to making its own way without any human pampering whatsoever, you can plant it in the most uncultivated part of your garden and it will still thrive.  The one in the photo above took its stand in the middle of my walkway and survived numerous tramplings while small, as well as a very harsh winter.  I did give it a bit of encouragement and some pine-straw during the toughest months, and told it I was proud of its will to survive.  Yes--I talk to all of my plants.  There have been acoustic resonance studies that show plants will grow toward sound.  So my Gran was right: plants are alive, and they can tell when they're loved.  She talked to her plants and so do I.  Try it.
You can see this roadside castoff has no complaints now.
 
So...If you want to start a garden, make sure you have your yard bee-friendly before you plant any flowering vegetables.  And watch out for native plants!  They are your hardy friends and the bees are used to them already.
 
 
Dill is in the same family as QAL (the carrot family, in case you're wondering--so don't plant them close together if you hope to save any organic dill seed!), except its flower clusters are bright yellow and of course the leaves and seeds are everyone's favorite pickle ingredient.  I love dill plant, too.  This year I'm growing lots and lots of mammoth dill in perennial borders as well as around a test tomato plant, because I've read that dill deters hornworm.
Come mid-summer we'll see about that.
 
Needless to say though, I am totally set for making dilly beans, pickled squash and cucumbers.  There will be absolutely no dearth of this herb this summer.


 The colorful foliage above is sun coleus.  I kind-of have a thing for coleus and always have.
 
A front-view of the garden as you enter:
 
 
And a lovely little harvest from today--the first beet!  So pretty and I love that all of it is edible.
Such a useful and hard-working plant.

 
Well, that's all for now lovelies!  I've got amaranth cooking for amaranth fritters and a big garden-fresh dinner for tonight.  Yellow summer squash, onions, bell peppers, turnips, and rattlesnake beans--all from the garden this year.  I don't know if I'll even need to harvest more lettuce for the salad.
 
Be well and be happy friends,
--Kathryn