Pausing for Bumblebees

Covered in pollen in a zucchini flower
Bliss in a zucchini flower

It is the height of summer blooms. Bumblebees are to be found everywhere about my yard.  I find them in the cool of the morning sleeping in flowers, drunk from the previous day’s feeding.  As the day warms I pause to watch them at their work, mindfully probing into pistils within blooms sucking out nectar.

They are especially fond of compound flowers, those in the genus, Compositae, the daisy family, the largest example being a sunflower. These are flowers within flowers.  Look closely in the middle of a dahlia, zinnia, daisy, dandelion sunflower, etc. and you will find multitudes of tiny flowerets surrounded by showy petals. It’s like one-stop shopping for bees.

Bumblebees make up the genus Bombus with 255 different species.  Generally, they are black with varying stripes of yellow and sometime red. They make nests near the ground under logs, duff in small colonies.  They are honey producers but in smaller quantities.

Though bumblebees don’t get as much press as their smaller cousin, the honey bee, they are extremely important pollinators.  Bumblebees are particularly good at it. Their wings beat 130 times or more per second, and the beating combined with their large bodies

photo courtesy livescience.com
photo courtesy livescience.com

vibrate flowers until they release pollen, which is called buzz pollination. Buzz pollination helps plants produce more fruit.  Bumblebees flap their wings back and forth rather than up and down like other bees. Researcher Michael Dickinson, a professor of biology and insect flight expert at the University of Washington likens wing sweeping like a partial spin of a “somewhat crappy” helicopter propeller,

They are gentle bees, single-minded in their work and rarely sting which is good because their sting can be particularly nasty.  I have never been stung even though I sometimes gently pet their fuzzy backs then they are immersed in feeding.  Such sweet bees.

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In Praise of Bumblebees

They probe dreamily in the center

Of pie sized yellow flowers that nod towards the east

Keeping me company

As I work in the garden

 

These tiny winged beasts do their work

Heads up down, up down

Placing in precision their needle-like proboscises

In a sea of stamen and pistil

 

Gentle black creatures

Intoxicated by pollen and nectar

So immersed in their work

My finger can stroke their furry backs

 

I find them in the morning exhausted

Dozing in the midst of flowers

Dusted with yellow

Dreaming bumblebee dreams

 

Buzz and bumble

Find purpose in my zinnias, my dahlias

And sleep until the warmth of a new day

Calls you to your tasks again

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Fun facts thanks to livescience.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Art of Germination

Growth drawing

It’s the growing season and my garden is being planted in stages.  I marvel at the magic of seeds- how something so small can germinate to become a huge sunflower or a plant that offers juicy red tomatoes.IMG_2158

With the exceptions of weeds, seeds cannot manage successfully on their own in a garden.  The soil must be tilled and enriched.  Then once the seeds have been planted they must be nurtured with proper watering and attention lest they be eaten by some pest or choked by weeds.  It’s work to bring seeds to their full potential of flower or food.

Ideas are so much like seeds.  The soil of the mind must be fallow and fertile.  To have a fallow mind, one must be open and ready to receive the seeds of ideas.  Fertile means paying attention and being open.  Ideas often come when the mind is relaxed like when you’re taking a shower, on a walk or doing something innocuous like washing the dishes.  Having a head is full of earbuds and social media is not conducive to collecting seeds the muse has to offer.

IMG_2164When they come, catch them by writing or sketching them in a notebook less they blow away into someone else’s “garden”.  Then give them the attention they need to germinate.

Like seeds, not all ideas will manifest.  Some are not viable. Then others are past their shelf life.  Don’t be afraid to throw them out and get new ones.

I’ve had ideas like these artichoke plants that surprised me and grew into something much more than I expected.  I started these plants last year from tiny seeds and now they are 6-foot record-setting monsters!IMG_2146

You don’t have to plant a garden.  Just get a pot with healthy soil, some seeds, water them, and enjoy the magic of germination.

 

In Every Seed a Promise

A germ of possibility

Tucked into a tiny package

Waiting to unfurl its cotyledons

Up in the sunlight

From the depths of fertile ground

 

The sprout will grow vigorously

With the right conditions

Beneath the suns rays and the spring rains

With the breath of nature whispering

“grow, grow”

 

Tend it with care

Lest it be choked by weeds or eaten by pests

Then feast from your labors

and natures’ mystery

The wonder of a tiny bit of matter

That waited to reveal its purpose

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to be a “Tomato Artist”

IMG_1093It’s tomato time here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.  The only advantage I can see of the hot summers we have been having is that the tomatoes love them.  Growing good, delicious, organic tomatoes is an art form and I have gotten good at it- actually a little too good. Frequently I get tomatoes over a pound and they aren’t even the beefsteak variety.  But, there are only so many tomatoes the two of us can consume. We have a freezer full now and they are still coming on. Finding the extra homes other than the compost pile has gotten to be too much effort.  Next year I will have to go down to three plants.  The varieties I grew this year….

  • Sungold-  (cherry tomato- so sweet!)
  • Amish Paste (Prolific and huge)Garden Basket1
  • Brandywine (the best slicer)
  • Black Krim (great flavor)

Really, I can’t take all the credit for the success.  I’m just conducting a series of variables that I have figured out to be a good “Tomato Artist.”  I need to thank the following contributors to my bodacious tomato harvest:

  • Quality heirloom tomato starts
  • My partner for tilling the raised beds,  hauling manure, and installing a drip system
  • The sheep up the road for their great poo
  • The cows and horses down the road for the same
  • Our composted kitchen scraps
  • The earthworms and microbes for decomposing the above
  • The earthworms again for aerating the soil and leaving their casings
  • The farmer that raised the straw that I much with
  • gloves-1252355_1920The rain
  • The sun
  • My own two hands for their labor in planting & tending

 

To be honest, I am feeling burnt out on gardening right now.  There is something so satisfying about growing your own nutritious and tasty food but it is work.  Usually this time every summer I swear I’ll take next summer off.  Knowing me, come spring the lure of fresh tomatoes with basil and dill will lure me back again.

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The Artful Garden

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.

— May Sarton

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It’s hard to imagine that in March my garden was seven big wood boxes full of brown soil, a blank canvas so to speak.  Now it’s a tangle of vines and plants that spill over those same boxes. There are five varieties of bushy tomato plants, at least as tall as me.  The bean teepee, full of romano beans, towers over six feet tall.  There is kale, chard, dill, hot peppers, onions, cucumbers, basil, zucchini, strawberries, beets, cardoons, sunflowers, and marigolds.  Two of the beds are now empty, the garlic being harvested earlier in July.  The peas have died back and the lettuce and arugula have gone to seed.

Planting a garden is a statement of hope, sowing seeds that bear the promise of food and Garden Basket2.2flower.

Planting a garden is a creative act, painting with a palette of plants, considering what varieties will complement the other, then executing the plan with hoe and shovel instead of a brush.

Planting a garden is work.  The soil must be amended, supports constructed, seeds and starts planted.  Then the beds must be mulched, watered, weeded and then harvested.  But then the payoff is the abundance of delicious fresh food it provides for the rest of the summer.

Garden Basket3Planting a garden is an alchemy of human interaction with natural processes.

A garden does not need to be big or complicated.  Even a couple of tomato plants on the porch or herbs on the window sill is better than nothing.   It’s gratifying to tend plants and watch them grow. For children, it’s an especially enriching experience.  To be able to feed oneself and share the bounty with others is powerful.  Gardening is an anchor to the Earth. You don’t get that from a grocery store.

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Awakening My Inner Gardener

IMG_0433It seems like just yesterday I was pulling out spent tomato plants & putting the garden tools away for the winter.  But here we are again- Spring and my inner gardener is awakened again.

SEED CATALOGS
They arrive like expected guests
In the days after the New Year
A steady parade of seed catalogs
All shapes and sizes
From varying corners of the country
Filled with beckoning colored photographs
Of fruit, vegetable, & bloom waiting to fill the garden
Ready to awaken the winter-weary to a fresh frame of mind
The possibilities of the planting season.

Continue reading “Awakening My Inner Gardener”