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February 2007
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April 2007

Spring Fever--Too Busy to Garden!

I have been busily preparing to speak at the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show at 11:15 tomorrow on How to Choose a Plant: Avoiding the Heartbreak of Falling in Love with the Wrong Plant. Finally wrapped it up and off I go in the morning.

It will be nice to be done and have a little time to get into my gardens, though now I think we are due for a big storm. When the days were warm, I was writing columns and lectures! Our one sheared hedge needs shearing, the back yard needs weeding, my windowsill is full of seedlings for the college garden and the community garden, some of which still need to be potted up.

A sad discovery this year is that my favorite cucumber, 'Burpless Tasty Green' isn't available to the seed sources I usually use. I bought 'Sweeter Yet', which I am told is similar. Well, maybe it will be better! My seedlings look healthy, and I have my fingers crossed.

My apple tree is starting to bloom, and I am hoping that some bees turn up to pollinate it. There are plenty of bumblebees in the honeywort (Cerinthe) in the front garden, and there are many fruit trees in backyards on my block, so I hope the bees have been tending to the plums and pear and then stick around for the apples.

I still have a very few of my apples in the fridge from last year. They smell a little refrigeratery when you take them out, but after you wash them thoroughly with soap and water, they smell fine and taste fine too. About half of the ones I kept this long are kind of rubbery and need to be tossed, but the good ones are really good. I call that a good keeper. We harvest in mid-October. And no, I don't know what kind they are, and neither did two apple experts who examined the fruit and leaves.

Happy spring!


What is happening to the bees?

This week I've been listening to reports that bees are disappearing from their hives. Every year, many hives travel around the nation, following the bloom of the crops that need pollinating. Beekeepers transport the hives in trucks, unloading them next to an orchard or a field in bloom, then move on to a different field. But this year, up to 90% of the hives of particular beekeepers have simply emptied out. The bees set forth, and didn't return.

Beekeeping is, by all accounts, a difficult way to earn a living, and a beekeeper whose bees are disappearing is in a precarious position indeed. Scientists have come forth to try to determine what has happened. They say that they are keeping an open mind, but one of the things they have been investigating is whether the pesticides that beekeepers themselves have been using for the past few years to killl the mite that was killing bees in their hives. They will also be looking at pesticide use on crops, presumably for any changes in the ones used or how they are being used. Some people have asked if the pollen of bioengineered crops could be killing honey bees, but we simply don't know what is doing it yet.

While the scientists work on this puzzle is a good time to contemplate our general situation vis a vis the bees. There are 4,000 native bee species in America, 1,500 of which occur in California. Most have no colonies or small ones, so aren't easily amenable to "domestication." The honey bee is a bee of the "Old World"--of Europe and other nearby lands, brought here by Europeans in the 1600s.

Our agriculture has become dependent on monocultures--large acreages of the same crop. If the crops need pollination, they are mostly dependent on a bee monoculture--only European honey bees. So when this species is threatened, so is the pollination of crops like almonds, citrus, melons, strawberies, cotton, apples, pears and plums.

Articles in the SF Chronicle on May 21, 2005, when the main concern was the mite that was killing bees, are instructive. There are s(.everal, including one about maintaining bees in San Francisco, but check out the one by Deborah K. Rich about the native pollinators, and what farmers will/would need to do to get more help from them (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/05/21/HOGIBCQN9Q1.DTL&hw=Abuzz+About+Bees&sn=001&sc=1000).

Because many native bees plant their larvae in shallow holes in the ground, unplowed areas help. Also areas where native hedgrows can grow, since these provide attractive pollen and places for other bees to nest. One native bee, the orchard mason bee, can be attracted by paper tubes or wood in which the right size holes have been drilled. But it is all a matter of how much help, how much land to natives, how many tubes to hang. UC Davis scientists have begun to research these matters, and the article mentioned above tall some of their findings

Meanwhile, the bumblebees are very peased with the Cerinthe growing in my front yard. It isn't much, but I hope that they, or some other bees, find my apple tree when it blooms next month. And I hope that someone figures out what is getting the honey bees, since I certainly do like a little honey in my yogurt with walnuts and home-grown apple!


The other weeds: Wildland Weeds

Some weeds escape mainly in gardens. Others may be weeds in gardens, or may not, but are able to grow in undisturbed, or relatively undisturbed wild habitats. A prime example is Algerian Ivy, which can cover the ground under redwood trees and climb them, sometimes causing them to die. Most plants not native to the redwood forest woudn't be able to grow there, but this one, from North Africa and the nearby Canary Islands, just takes over.

As the information about these pest plants gets out, gardeners who want to do the right thing begin to check whether a plant could be a wildland invasive before they plant it. This is a good thing, but going online to check can be tricky. If a search for the plant's name with the word "invasive" or "wildland weed" turns up a lot of hits, you still may not be clear whether the plant is invasive where you live.

In California, the best site to check for this information is the California Invasive Plant Council. Here is a link to their site:

www.cal-ipc.org California Invasive Plant Council. This nonprofit seeks to reduce the escape of non-native invasive plants into California’s wildlands. The entire book Invasive Plants of California’s Wildlands, with both text and photos, is available on their site.

If what you want to do is find out where wildland weeds are being combatted near you, with the thought you might volunteer to help, this next link is for you:

http://www.ice.ucdavis.edu/nrpi/  This is the Natural Resource Project Inventory. If you scroll down and click on "county" and then select your county and click on "submit" you will find out where the nearby action is. These projects welcome volunteers and can be fun and a good place to make new friends.