Bee “Arrival Sequence”

“Arrival Sequence” is an expression used by some designers (not me I’m afraid, I’m far to common for that) to refer to the approach to your house–how you get there, what you see as you’re getting there, and what you see and experience once you’re there.

That’s my artsy way of introducing this bee.

This is one giant bee!

Bumble bee.

Bumble bee approaching.

 

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Bumble bee landing.

 

I love watching all kinds of wildlife in my garden, whether from indoors on cold or miserable days, or outdoors on warm unexpectedly sunny days in February. So when this bee that looked almost the size of a hummingbird flew by, I went outside to follow her (her?).

It doesn’t take much to attract wildlife to your garden, but unless you’re looking for it/them, you’ll miss tons of beauty and enjoyment. So as I mentioned in a previous post, get out that camera or phone, and stand in some likely spot, and just wait. You’ll be rewarded in no time with something like this:

Love that melodious background music!

I’ve been searching google to try to identify what kind of bee this is, unsuccessfully. If any of you can help me out, I’d appreciate it.

 

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Winter Interest, Part 2

Winter interest part 2

I mentioned in the previous post that ways to create winter interest in our garden is to “think of the aspects to the garden that you like through the rest of the year, and then find winter tolerant providers– texture, colour, movement, smell”.

So a quick note on “movement”.

Wind causing movement of feathery plants:

Stipa tenuissima. Photo credit.

Stipa tenuissima. Photo credit.

Feathery grasses that "flow" in the breeze.

Feathery grasses that “flow” in the breeze. This Miscanthus will be brown now in January (picture was taken in July), but that just means you get not only the visual interest but also auditory interest–the crunchy/crackly sound of the dry grass blades.

Water flowing from fountain or stream:

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This garden will have movement from the water  as well as the Pennisetum (Fountain Grass), altho’ it’ll be brown now in January, will still be “blowin’ in the wind”.

 

Thanks to Outdoor Makeover for the picture

Thanks to Outdoor Makeover for the picture

Here in coastal BC, we don’t often have to worry about freezing temperatures when it comes to water. But if you do, you may not have the luxury of letting your fountains continue fountaining through the winter. Check your night-time temperatures, and if it’s going to be below 0° C, just keeping it running through the night might be enough to keep it liquid. Unless it’s well below 0°.

Birds of course create an delightful amount of movement, and even more so if you provide “some of their favourite things”–food and water.

House finches

House finches and a junco at the bottom.

This feeder is filled with mostly black sunflower seed top and middle, and then Nyjer in the bottom section. (I was disappointed to learn that most Nyjer seed is imported from Africa or India. So much for 100-mile diet!) Enlarge the following clip to get  better view of the house finches “eating and spitting”. 

Chickadee having a little drink.

Chickadee having a little drink.

Besides keeping the feeder filled, I like to leave faded flower stems in the garden in the fall instead of doing a fall clean-up, so the birds can enjoy the seeds.

Sedum spectabile 'Autumn Joy'

Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’–lots of seeds.

Rudbeckia hirta seed heads

Rudbeckia hirta seed heads. You’re right, this isn’t beautiful, but still provides joy when you see the birds pecking away at them.

Crocosmia seed heads. These are a big seed and I don't see much bird action around them. I wonder if I collected some and actually put them in the feeder?...

Crocosmia seed heads. These are a big seed and I don’t see much bird action around them. I wonder if I collected some and actually put them in the feeder?…

Stay tuned for the next post on “Water in the Landscape”.

Help, My Lawn Has Been Thrashed!

CHAFER BEETLE DAMAGE

Female chafers lay 20-40 eggs over their lifespan. They are laid singly, 5–10 centimetres (2.0–3.9 in) deep in moist soil, and take 2 weeks to hatch. The grubs hatch by late July. In frost zones, the grubs feed until November, then move deeper into the soil. In frost-free areas, the larva will feed all winter. Vigorous feeding occurs from March through May. In early June, the grubs again move deeper, from 5–25 centimetres (2.0–9.8 in), to form earthen cells and pupate. The pre-pupal and pupal stages last 2–4 days and 2 weeks, respectively. By June, the new beetles begin emerging. (Wikipedia)

Thanks Wikipedia.

Crow damage

Crow damage

If you live in Metro Vancouver you have seen this, probably in your own neighbourhood, and possibly in your own lawn. This is European Chafer Beetle damage, caused not only from the beetle grubs, but even more from the predators that feed on the grubs.

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Crow damage

The C-shaped really disgusting-looking grubs (how could anything called a “grub” be anything other than disgusting-looking?) started the damage by feeding on the roots of mostly turf. Some sources say they’ll feed on other vegetation roots if there’s a shortage of turf, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue yet, since we have lots of lawn. So you will seldom see this kind of damage in a lawn that is thick and green–it’ll have nice long roots preventing the animals and birds from pulling up the turf. You can see in the pictures that the undamaged areas still look pretty patchy. Of course, it is winter…

Then once the predators know the grubs are big enough to provide a tasty morsel, they start to dine–seems to be Fall through Spring. And since the grubs have already eaten away at the roots, the turf is now more like a carpet laid on the soil, so the crows, racoons and skunks don’t have to work very hard to get the turf out of their way.

Crows doing the damage.

Crows doing the damage.

More crows, more damage.

More crows, more damage.

 

Damage control

Damage control

Trying to keep the “carpet” pinned down will have limited success, since the critters can easily pick away in the spaces. Enlarge the above picture and you can see patchy areas that may have been damaged before the netting went down, or since.

Racoon damage

Racoon damage–just a little.

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Same site, different angle.

This was what I found one morning in early December. I’ve had crummy turf, but no CB damage for the 7 years I’ve been here, but since I wasn’t going out of my way to make my lawn really healthy (I keep vacillating on replacing it with…something), an infestation was inevitable–I was disappointed but certainly not surprised. Why racoon damage instead of crow damage? Who knows–I guess because there are racoon families in some of our neighbourhood Douglas-firs.

THIS did surprise me though.

Lots and LOTS of racoon damage.

Lots and LOTS of racoon damage.

Between waking up (in the dark) last Monday morning (I like to look out the front window while I’m brushing my teeth–sometimes I’ll see skunks or racoons ambling by) and leaving the house (in the dark) 45 minutes later, the racoons had had breakfast.

I guess I should be grateful to the racoons, not only have they probably decimated my chafer beetle population, they’ve also made me stop procrastinating making a new design for my front yard. I’m checking out Houzz “lawn alternatives” page.

PREVENT DAMAGE:

I’d like to see your lawn protected from this damage in the first place. We’ve got the invasive beetle here in Metro Vancouver, so either you prevent a devastating infestation, or you clean up the mess. Hoping it won’t happen is ineffective management!

The following is taken straight from the City of Richmond “Chafer Beetle” site, a nice concise lawn management guide:

Minimize lawn damage caused by chafer grubs by keeping your turf healthy and thick with proper lawn care practices:

* Increase mowing height to 8-10 cm (3-4 in). Longer grass blades mean a longer root system that is more resilient to the larvae feeding. (Ed. It may also help prevent the female from laying here eggs in your lawn, since apparently she prefers shorter grass blades.)
* Fertilize regularly by top dressing twice a year with compost or by using organic, slow-release fertilizers. Leaving grass clippings on the lawn, rather than bagging and disposing of them (grasscyling), also naturally fertilizes your lawn with nutrients after each mow.
* Water your lawn deeply: 2 to 3 cm (½ to 1 inch) once a week to promote a lush lawn with deep roots that better resist insect damage and drought. Follow the water use restrictions in effect from June 1 to September 30.
* Overseed your lawn annually with a grass seed mix will contribute to maintain a dense, healthy, and weed-free lawn. (EdThis can be done with the “top dressing” of compost.)
* Lime your lawn in fall and spring to counteract the soil’s natural acidity. Acidic soil prevents grass from taking up key nutrients necessary for its optimal growth and health.

If you’ve experienced the damage already, you can, like me, plan a new design that doesn’t include grass turf–or very little of it. If it’s Jan 6 and your turf looks like mine, there’s not much you can do until the weather warms up a bit. For now, you can clean up the mess and cover the bare soil with mulch, and in Feb or early March, if you’re hoping to keep lawn in this area, you can heavily grass-seed the area.

Besides the above maintenance regime, there’s a biological control, Heterorhabditis bacteriophora, or nematodesThese are a microscopic round worm that actually feeds on the the CB eggs before they turn into larvae. So it has only a short window of applicability–the latter half of July, after the eggs have been laid, and before they hatch into grubs. You can get nematodes at any nursery, and they’ll give you instruction on how to use them. They’re not cheap, and depending on your lawn maintenance you may need to repeat every year, so it may be another reason to consider removing your lawn.

Mosquito Prevention–5 Things

Mosquito Prevention–5 ThingsLarson Mosquito

 

I don’t get a lot of mosquitos where I live, in fact, several of my windows don’t even have screens on them. But I hate a mosquito bite as much as the next person, so I was interested  in a recent article about mosquito-repellant plants.

Preventing an invasion, tho’, starts with knowing a bit about the little fly. For example, who knew she’s attracted to Carbon Dioxide?

Some other facts:

♣Most mosquitos breed in stagnant water, but it can be as little as the drop that remains in a leaf axil or cupped leaf.

♠In colder climates, many mosquito eggs and/or larvae can over-winter frozen, or even dried out, in a state called “diapause”, beginning to grow again with thaw or water.

♥Usually the period from egg to adult is up to 40 days, but the adult lifespan only a week or so. And contrary to popular belief, the female will only feed once (unless disturbed from getting a “full blood meal”), then rest several days while digesting the meal and making eggs. They can only do this two or three times before the end of their natural life. So that one mosquito that bugged you all night and left you with multiple bites was actually a family of mossies.

♦It appears to be a myth that if you allow the mosquito to finish supper, and remove her proboscis unmolested, you won’t feel the itch of the bite. Couldn’t find any evidence for this.

The feeding preferences of Mosquitos include those with type O blood, heavy breathers, those with a lot of skin bacteria, people with a lot of body heat, and the pregnant. (Wikipedia)

WOW! Hard to change most of those things!

5 Things

Standing Water

Periodically check around the yard for standing water. Could be in a planter tray, the tarp covering your winter tires, the edge of a pool where your hose bib drips. Have you got a container garden without drainige holes (or enough drainage holes)?

The key here is standing water–if there is movement to the water, the mosquito won’t find it a hospitable place to lay her eggs. So if you’ve been resisting installing a fish pond (with pump adequate to the its volume), or water feature of some kind, never fear–there’s way too much turbulence for a mosquito nursery.

Fish

If you do have a pond, consider stocking it with fish for those quiet areas behind rocks or plants where the water isn’t really moving.

Of course, that means you’re keeping more pets, because even tho’ they are easy to look after, they do need some looking after. Not to mention fish predation–but that’s a subject for another post…

Diversity

I’ve harped on about this many times–it’s the answer to most of your garden concerns, from disease and pests to garden delight. In this case having habitat for many different species in your yard will decrease the likelihood of mosquitos enjoying the same neighbourhood. Mayfies, damselflies, dragonflies all love mosquitos and their larvae, but won’t eat enough to keep your evening read in the garden pest free. Ditto for birds. But lots of different birds and dragonflies, and frogs and toads, and spiders, combined with other prevention methods will go  a long way toward ensuring your family’s comfort.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Plant repellants

Plants with a lot of volatile oils are apparently good mosquito repellants, so plant them near your preferred sitting area in the garden–as well as further away, so you’ll have a mosquito-free zone.

Lemon balm--my tenant "accidentally" planted it in his section of the garden--it didn't stay there!

Lemon balm–my tenant “accidentally” planted it in his section of the garden–it didn’t stay there!

 Many of our favourite herbs have offensive smells to mosquitos–basil, rosemary, lemon balm, mint, lemon thyme, lavender, probably more. Besides growing them, picking off a few stems and rubbing it on exposed skin may increase the effect. Then there’s non-herb fragrant plants: garlic, marigold, rose-scented geranium (pelargonium, the annual kind), catmint (nepeta)…

Skin Care

Some of the above herbal applications may only work for a short time–half hour or so. Barbara Pleasant at Mother Earth News suggests watching out for what the mosquitos do: initially they don’t come near, then they alight but don’t bite, then they alight and bite. During that middle phase, get up and reapply some lemon balm or lavender–maybe try a different herb than last time? Some other suggestions are not wearing perfume and having a fan nearby. Apparently they’re weak fliers, but I guess the fan should still be pretty strong!

It’s a little late in the year to initiate many of these strategies, but maybe you’ll be inspired to add “anti-mosquito garden design” to your garden to-do list for fall or next spring.

Anyone have any great suggestions that I haven’t mentioned? Please share them here.

Ways to Keep Your Garden Looking Great

Steve Whysall (Vancouver Sun gardening columnist) wrote a great article in Friday’s paper entitled Six Ways To Keep Your Garden Looking Great.

He interviewed Egan Davis, the chief instructor of the Horticultural Training Program at the University of B.C. Botanical Garden, but formerly at Van Dusen Botanical Garden, and one of my Master Gardener instructors. So I’m really happy to report that all of Egan’s “six ways” have been previously addressed here in the pages of Real Life Garden Solutions!

Here’s a quick overview:

1. Mulch. And only use organic amendments to the soil, and only fertilizers that are actually needed. See here for LOTS more info.

It's about 5' high, 10'across. That means probably about 10 cubic yards.

Mountain of mulch. It’s about 5′ high, 10’across. That means probably about 10 cubic yards.

2. Make sure your soil is carrying enough moisture. Adding compost will help with that.

3. Leave your fall garden “unkempt” for the critters. Read more here.

Crocosmia seeds. Beautiful to look at, but I wonder what bird has a big enough beak to crush these. They're probably 3-4 mm diameter.

Crocosmia seeds. Beautiful to look at, but I wonder what bird has a big enough beak to crush these. They’re probably 3-4 mm diameter.

4. I love this one: Don’t be afraid to make changes. It’s one of my design mantras. A garden should be something that delights in changing over the years.

5. Grow some from seed. I haven’t written this post yet, but the pictures are all ready to go…

6. Become a backyard ecologist. Yes, I’ve written lots on this.

I think this might be a bumble bee. It's pretty fat and fuzzy.

I think this might be a bumble bee. It’s pretty fat and fuzzy.