Bugs, Blooms & Vittles: Springing toward summer

By Chandra L. Mattingly

My woodland wildflowers are about done blooming but the domestic flowers are coming into their own. Pink blossoms dangle from the bleeding heart, the centaurea's bachelor-button-like flowers are a lovely deep blue, and buds are forming on the false indigo.

Between weeding and planting the vegetable garden, I have to remind myself to stop and enjoy the beauty around me. Fortunately, the oriole is back in the huge sycamore by the big garden and entertains me with his singing and flashes of orange as I pick asparagus each evening.

Tomato and bell pepper plants stand upright where I planted them one evening last week when rain was forecast. I got seeds in the ground for sweet corn, carrots and green beans as well, but the rain amounted to only a tenth or two of an inch. More rain Saturday dampened the ground, but we could use a few days' worth of water. I think the total rainfall last week was less than an inch for us.

Of course I also planted flower seeds – you have to balance one with the other, I think. I love the pink variations of cosmos but scattered the orange and yellow flowering cosmos seeds as well. A few volunteer castor beans are up, and at the far end of the garden the yellow sweet clover I planted for the honeybees is up thickly enough to shade out any weeds.

That won't bloom till next year, but in a few weeks I'll plant buckwheat as a combination cover crop/honeybee feeder, timing it to bloom after the white clover scattered in residential yards is done. And I still have to get my sweet potatoes, dry beans and eggplant planted.

But much of my time last week was spent digging and wrapping perennial divisions for my plant sale, then having the first part of that sale. I've one more day of plant sale Saturday, May 24, but will have plants out for sale on the honor system most of the summer. Especially recommended for beekeepers: butterfly weed, dragonhead, butterfly bush, purple aster, catnip and other mints. Often the mints provide nectar in mid-summer when other plants languish.

Tuesday I worked my four honeybee hives, dividing three of the four that showed signs of swarming: active but as yet uncapped queen cells. With any luck, I'll have two or three divisions for sale in a few weeks as single deep hives, once I'm sure they have mated queens.

One super was heavy with honey and the three stronger hives had white wax atop the top frames, indicating a honey flow already has started. I added additional supers to all but the divisions.
White clover is blooming in lawns and fields now, and soon will provide the main spring nectar flow for most honeybee hives. If we beekeepers – and the bees – are lucky, there also will be a locust tree nectar flow. Though the locust flowers don't last as long, their nectar makes a very fragrant light-colored honey – if it doesn't rain much during the blooming period.

Many other flowers and crops provide both nectar and pollen to feed honeybees and other pollinating insects through the summer. In return, these insects pollinate the flowers and crops, ensuring they'll set fruit and grow seeds. Gardeners and farmers can help this process by limiting any pesticide applications to very early morning and late evening, and using pesticides only when absolutely necessary. Soapy water spray and hand picking can control a number of insect pests.

And please check your labels and don't use neonicotinoids, which have been so strongly implicated in the losses of honeybee colonies to Colony Collapse Disorder. See http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/study-strengthens-link-between-neonicotinoids-and-collapse-of-honey-bee-colonies/

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