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A New Reason to Love Goldenrod

Goldenrod is an important fall food source for honeybees and native pollinators.

I’m digging the goldenrod right now.

It’s such a lovely shade of yellow and is blooming in the most unexpected places.

I’ve been using it in flower arrangements and photographing it.  Every time I closely inspect it, I find honeybees and native pollinators foraging there.

Goldenrod is a really important late season food source for these pollinators.  I’m convinced that the extra food stores help my honeybees to make it through the winter.

The most common goldenrod around here is Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis).  I weed it out of my flower beds because it is an aggressive grower.  I leave it for my honeybees though along my nature trails.

Roughleaf goldenrod does well in prairie gardens or more manicured beds.

Two of my other favorites, sweet goldenrod (Solidago odora) and rough goldenrod (Solidago rugosa),are well behaved enough to earn a place in a flower bed.

There are many other landscape worthy goldenrod species.  But… in spite of their wildlife benefits, ease of cultivation and knockout fall color I rarely see goldenrods in landscape plantings.

Native plant lovers and beekeepers have been giving goldenrod a lot of positive press for years.  But still every fall, I am surprised how many people claim that they are allergic to goldenrod.

Goldenrod pollen is sparse and relatively heavy.  It is designed to be transported by insects.  So… how in the world do these people think they are inhaling goldenrod pollen?

I staged this picture to compare leaves and flowers of common ragweed, giant ragweed (center) and Canada goldenrod.

Instead, of course, fall allergies that occur when goldenrod is blooming are likely caused by ragweed.  Ragweed is wind pollinated.  It produces lots of lightweight pollen that is designed to float through the air.  It drifts on the wind to other ragweed plants and up the nose of anyone who happens to be breathing in the area.

I realize this is old news to most people but seriously this year I have heard dozens of people complaining about goldenrod allergies.  The thing that annoys me the most about this is that I seem to be unable to stop myself from correcting them.

But I didn’t know everything about goldenrod.  Last week I discovered goldenrod tea.

My research indicated that goldenrod has anti-inflammatory properties and is a natural diuretic that is really good for your kidneys.  According to my reading it was said to have a pleasant taste.

I found that interesting because I have in the past tasted herbal teas that invoked the gag reflex.

I said to myself – “I must have some of this goldenrod tea.”

Goldenrod tea is tasty!

Later that day I was making a flower arrangement.

When I stripped the lower leaves off the goldenrod, I saved them.

The next day I added them to boiling water and let them steep for about 20 minutes or so.

My husband and I drank the tea iced and both of us thought it tasted remarkably like green tea.  It was really good.

I researched a little more and found that leaves and flowers can be used for tea.

When flowers are added, the goldenrod tea prevents allergies!!!

We tried a tea made from the flower/leaf mix and found it to be a little more bitter but still not unpleasant.

I liked goldenrod tea well enough that I plan to gather enough to have tea this winter.

I’ll try not to harvest too much goldenrod though.  My girls down in the beehives need it too.

 

Five Reasons I Love My Mume

These blooms were buds that survived snow and nine degree temperatures,

I am a big fan of the Japanese apricot (Prunus mume).

My trees are the ‘Peggy Clarke’ variety.  They sport deliciously fragrant pink flowers as early as December here.  They flower for a month or six weeks.

With record low temperatures this year, I have had intermittent blooms since mid January.  The open blooms did not survive the snow or the single digits.  The buds, however, hunkered down and then popped open as soon as the ice was gone.

This tree is one tough cookie.  The mume in my old garden was crushed beneath a giant pine during Hurricane Katrina.  After the pine debris was removed and all the damaged wood was pruned, the mume was little more than a stump.  The tree regenerated from the trunk and scaffold branch stubs into a nice specimen.

This Japanese apricot regenerated from a stump after Hurricane Katrina.

Mume flowers are particularly lovely.  They are a clear bright pink and are borne on bare green twigs.  They look like cake decorations and are a wonderful addition to winter flower arrangements.

On warm winter days I like to stand beneath the tree and just inhale.  The floral scent is intoxicating – sweet with a hint of cinnamon.

Just this year as I was basking in the mume scent, I noticed a persistent droning buzz coming from the blossoms overhead.

I investigated and there were a lot of honeybees foraging on the mume.  After I began paying attention I realized that every day (weather permitting) the mume was full of honeybees.

Mume blooms look like lovely pink cake decorations to me!

I also noticed that my own little worker bees were returning to their hives with pollen baskets full.  Click on this link to see a short video I made of  Honeybees on Japanese Apricot

I’ve always loved my mumes because they bloom for a long time in a season when floral color is lacking.   I’m appreciative that they are tough, fragrant and lovely in a vase.

And now I have yet another reason to love my mumes.  Their fragrance beckons to my queens – Elizabeth, Latifah and Maria – and the worker bees come forth and return to the hive loaded with pollen.

And there you have it – Reason #5.  The mumes feed my honeybees in winter.   That, my friends, is really special!

 

 

Frost in August

Here in Mississippi we’re in the midst of the oppressive heat of August.

I’m not complaining.  It’s just a fact of life.

But still – it’s August… in Mississippi…

Unless I stay indoors with the ac cranked, there is not much relief.

I can take a soak in the cold tub and dream of Paradise Falls for a while.  But… you can’t stay in the tub all day.

So I do all my gardening early while it’s still a little cool.  Then I opt for a cruise in the golf cart from one patch of shade to the next.

I pause at the Bee Meadow and watch the honeybees fan themselves on the “front porches” of their hives.  Then I linger to study the flowers.

This is the season of yellow daisies.  Sweet coneflower (Rudbeckia subtomentosa), orange black eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida) and starry rosinweed (Silphium asteriscus) offer their golden blossoms to the sun.  The grasses (switch, big blue, Indian and Eastern gamma) are their stalwart companions.  The heat does not discourage these robust beauties.

But looking at all those warm orange and yellow blooms seems to make more sweat trickle down the back of my neck.  And looking at the grasses makes me itch.

 

Whiteleaf mountain mint and switch grass grace the Bee Meadow in August.

I am refreshed a bit though when I set my eyes on  the frosty bracts of the mountain mint that is blooming now.

Whiteleaf mountain mint (Pycnanthemum albescens) is among the last native mints to bloom here.  In July tiny purple spotted flowers make their appearance surrounded at first by white edged leafy bracts.  By August the first frost comes and the entire bract turns hoary white.

 

Here's my best attempt to capture mountain mint's frosty white bracts.

I am not the only one who is drawn to the mountain mint.  A steady stream of pollinators visits the flowers.  At every viewing, I usually see at least four or five kinds of native bees and flies.    When I lean in close to study an unknown pollinator the mountain mint releases a heady mint scent into the air. Ahhh!

Last weekend I managed to identify an unknown pollinator that has intrigued me for over a decade.  The first time I saw this bee relative, I described it as an iridescent purple dirt dauber.   I’ve seen it regularly over the years but only when the mountain mint is in bloom.

So… I set out to solve the mystery and after a wasted hour (in the ac) on the computer, I determined that the mystery pollinator was a giant black wasp.  This is a gentle ground nesting wasp.  Usually the males visit the flowers and they cannot sting me because they have no ovipositor.

 

The giant black wasp is busy foraging on refreshing mountain mint nectar.

The females are far too busy to sting because they are hunting, stinging and carrying paralyzed katydids back to the nest to feed the youngsters.

The giant black wasp has a slender thread-like waist.  It is commonly close to 2 inches long.  In certain light it appears to be black but soon the sun illuminates metallic purple pigments.  It is quite striking.

So for a few moments I forget that the heat is hanging heavily around me and that the humid air is almost too liquid to breathe.  I am transfixed – I watch the giant black wasps forage.  I make note of the tiny sweat bees, the flower fly and a mysterious pollinating fly.  All of them are headed for the frosty bracts and minty nectar of the whiteleaf mountain mint.

I look past them all – hoping to see a giant black wasp mama flying toward her nest burdened by a stupified katydid.

I have not seen her yet.

But… there is still tomorrow!

Bee Meadow Update

We have had a rainy summer and the Bee Meadow has prospered.

During late June and July, wild bergamot or beebalm (Monarda fistulosa) and purple coneflower (Ecninacea purpurea) dominated the space.  Since beebalm is a member of the mint family, it is very aromatic.  On hot days, it wafted like incense and we could smell it as we approached the meadow.  The place was buzzing with all sorts of insect pollinators as well.

My friend Denice Kopf enjoyed the beebalm, purple coneflower and native grasses during her visit in late June.

The beebalm and coneflowers seemed to bloom forever.  Through most of July they were still going strong.

During July the orange butterfly weed bloomed for a second time and the purple liatris 'Kobold' chimed in.

A first sighting of a plant is always exciting.  This year I had the first blooms on the shiny coneflower (Rudbeckia nitida).  I planted it 3 years ago and had seen foliage but no blooms.

Rudbeckia nitida glows in the bee meadow with native switch grass and a mass of beebalm.

The finger false dragonhead (Physostegia digitalis) had bloomed before but this year with all the rain it was spectacular.  This species is native to Louisiana and Texas but not to Mississippi.  The plant was given to me by Jessie Johnson.  She dug a small start for me from the meadow at Briarwood.  So, of course, the plant is very special from an aesthetic point of view as well as an emotional one.

 

The physostegia is one of those rare plants that is as beautiful in bud as it is in flower.

I will say that the buds are very intriguing – like beautiful rows of niblet corn.  But … the flowers are not too shabby.

Physostegia flowers are strking!

And this brings us up to date.  It is now August.  The grasses are robust and the yellow daisies are in full bloom.  The whiteleaf mountain mint is frosty in spite of the heat.

I don’t think I have ever gotten so much enjoyment from a gardening effort with so little work!

An August update will be forthcoming.

More Bee Meadow, Please

I’ve been ailing this spring.   Sciatic nerve pain has prevented me from doing many things that I love – like gardening…

This new condition has made me even more appreciative of the plants that grow with little or no maintenance.

Because of this, the Bee Meadow is one of my favorite spots these days.

In mid-May, I vowed to post regular pictures of the Bee Meadow.  The last were posted on May 15.

Here is the latest installment.

This shot was taken on May 26, from my neighbor's hill. Richard is lounging in the golf cart as Woodrow meanders through the meadow.

The orange milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) has been the highlight of the planting recently.  This native milkweed is beautiful in bloom but I am hoping it will provide a food source for the Monarch butterfly caterpillar.

The orange butterfly milkweed is a beauty right now.

This New England aster always provides a few early flowers.  The main bloom time will be in fall when the bees are in need of forage.

This New England aster came from my friend, Jan Midgley. According to Jan it dependably offers some blooms in early summer.

The bee balm (Monarda fistulosa) is just beginning to bloom.  It is a wonderful plant for all the pollinators.  I love the scent of the blooms and the leaves.

Yellow rosin weed and a robust eastern gamma grass sing backup for the lovely lavender bee balm.

So there you have the latest installment.  But… fear not, there is much more meadow to come!

 

 

The Ever Entertaining Bee Meadow

As those who subscribe to this blog have probably noticed, I have been on hiatus.  I have probably published only two blog posts this year.  Hopefully I am about to get back on track with this update on the Bee Meadow.

Newcomers to this blog can search “Bee Meadow” and read 12 or so posts that tell the story of this native pollinator planting that was installed in 2010.

I have discovered that the hill in my neighbor’s back yard is the perfect vantage point for taking photos of the site.

Ursaluna looks like a black bear headed off to rob the honeybees in this late April shot taken from my neighbor's hill.

During April we had a few scattered prairie phlox  and yellow false indigo flowers but mostly a carpet of white clover.  Now in mid-May, more flowers are blooming and budded.  This week the first flowers on the starry rosin weed (Silphium asteriscus) appeared.

Starry rosin weed shows off the chunky bracts that make up the silphium's unique involucre. The chunky bracts help to distinguish rosin weeds from sunflowers which have much narrower & pointed bracts.

Yellow false indigo (Baptisia sphaerocarpa) has been blooming for a couple of weeks.  Since there is diversity in the population of plants, they all bloom at slightly different times.

Woodrow meanders behind a lovely yellow false indigo. This one came from my friend Allen Anderson in South Mississippi and is always the last to bloom.

I’ve noticed that my dogs enjoy grazing on a spring tonic of goldenrod and big bluestem leaves.

After snacking on goldenrod leaves, Dotsie pauses to admire the prairie phlox.

I have decided to photograph the Bee Meadow at regular intervals all summer.  I’ve chosen vantage point near the prairie phlox (Phlox pilosa) and will try to shoot from the same spot each week.

Since it looks as if we have four robust bee hives this year, I also hope to be spending time here harvesting honey!

 

Pleased to Meet You, Queen B!

Where the %*$* is she?

I have been a beekeeper for about three and a half years.

For that reason, it is most embarrassing to admit that I have never been  able to spot a queen bee by myself.

In the beekeeping workshops that I’ve attended, queen identification is definitely emphasized.

The instructor always points toward the queen and asks the twenty or so novice beekeepers clustered around “Do you see her?’.  They all nod.

I did see her sometimes but then, when inspecting my own hives the queens were invisible to me.

So I decided that was okay.  I was able to recognize the signs that a queen was in residence.  There were eggs and young larva.  Theworkers were calm.  All was right with the world.

Last month, though, I lost a hive to the dreaded wax moth.  The hive was probably weak to begin with or the wax moths would not have stood a chance.  Maybe the hive had somehow lost its queen.  But then – how would I know?

So I cleaned up the empty brood box and decided to make my first split.   I chose my most productive hive – Queen Elizabeth.  I took frames of honey and frames with brood and placed them in the new box along with the accompanying workers.  I apologized to Queen Elizabeth for the intrusion and backed away.

Then it was up to the workers to raise their own new queen.  I left them alone for a spell and came back in about three weeks to look.  I could not find a queen but I did find some larva and a few eggs.

Aha!! There she is marked with a green circle so that you can find her if you are slow like me.

That was a good sign but sometimes if a queen is not present, a worker can start laying eggs.  That, my friends, is what we beekeepers call a “hot mess”.  A laying worker produces only a few eggs and all of them hatch into drones or boy-bees.  The non-queen will try to kill any legit new queen you might try to install.  The boy-bees won’t forage for nectar or feed the young.  They are slackers – just hanging out doing nothing.  And gradually the hive goes into a downward spiral.

So – I decided to make one more thorough inspection to see what was really going on in the split.

I studied up real good – looked at tons of pictures of queens on the internet.  I noticed that a queen’s abdomen is not just longer than the workers.  It is tapered and segmented.  It reminded me in some ways of a cockroach.

With that image in mind, I inspected each frame this morning and suddenly I saw her!  She was unmistakable!  She was THE queen.

She is Queen Beatrix a.k.a  Queen B and I was very happy to meet her!

Queens for a Day

I spent half of my Earth Day doing computer stuff on the couch.

I did finish the blog post on baptisia that has been lingering in my “Half Finished” Box for over a week.

But… sitting on the couch is not what one should be doing on Earth Day so off I went to explore the land with Richard and our pack of dogs.

We rambled on the nature trails.

I photographed some flowers.

But mostly we sat and went snake-eyed – just gazing with no comment.

Queens Maria, Elizabeth and Latifa manage the hives in the foreground. Cleopatra can be seen in the background.

As we drove past the bee hives, I was inspired to write a blog post even though there was already one for the day.

I started thinking about how the honey I harvest from my bees allows my palette to have a taste of the land.

My honey is flavored by red maple, henbit, redbud, buckwheat titi and Japanese apricot.

It tastes of willow, native hawthorn, spring beauty, blackberry, vetch and clover.

At times there is a tinge of wild plum, huckleberry, wild cherry, black locust and black gum.

Then the essence of tulip poplar, native holly, persimmon, palmetto, rattan vine and milkweed comes to the table.

Woodrow strolls toward Queen Kelly Mitchell's hive.

And… the savory nectars of sumac, cyrilla, sourwood, clethra, goldenrod, boneset, Spanish needles, asters and eastern baccharis are added to the medley.

I tend to think that the honey is tainted by the less desirable plants on my land like Chinese privet, Chinese wisteria and popcorn tree.  But these invaders are part of my land and so it is only fitting that they put their own peculiar spin on the final product.

I guess it was inevitable that a flower freak like me would become a beekeeper.  A spoonful of my honey is a distillation of the flora of my land.

This melange of nectars results in a spicy honey different than any I have tasted before.

It melts on my tongue and I know that I am tasting a unique representation of my land.

So tonight I will pour a glass of home-made mead and drink a toast to my queens – Latifah, Elizabeth, Maria, Cleopatra and Kelly Mitchell.  This Earth Day post is in honor of them.  They have changed my perception of the land.

 

Change of Heart

Junebug (aka Muffin) grazes behind a righteous clump of Spring Beauty in a disturbed area on our land.

Right now in my part of the world a humble little wildflower adorns the roadsides.  It even occurs in fields and lawns if herbicide has not been rampantly applied.

I am speaking, of course, of a frothy little thing known as Spring Beauty or Claytionia virginica.

Many years ago my friend Peter gave me a carefully nurtured pot of Spring beauty.  I accepted politely, but as he handed it to me I wondered “WTF?”.

After all it was not a very showy plant even in full bloom and it was everywhere in the Black Belt Prairie where I grew up.

Why propagate it and label it with a carefully scripted tag indicating date and place of origin?  Seemed like overkill…

But I was younger then.  I missed a few subtleties.

And I was not alone.  For the most part, I don’t think young people notice Spring beauty.

It is too small.  It is white or pinkish and seems to disappear in certain kinds of light.  It is difficult to photograph.

Now, however, my attitude has certainly changed.

I’m on a crusade.  I must have more Spring Beauty.  I crave it like Chris Walken craves the cow bell.  I’ve learned that the power of Spring Beauty lies in numbers.

I want it in every patch of lawn.

I want to watch it feed my honeybees.

I stop people and point it out to them.  They look quizzically at me.

And I realize that I’ve come full circle.

 

 

Bee Balm, Bumblebees and Burns

Bee balm is the most exciting flower in the Bee Meadow right now.

Despite the heat and drought, the wild bergamot or native bee balm (Monarda fistulosa) is blooming now in my Bee Meadow and in the wild.

This weekend I visited a prairie in Scott County that was full of bee balm blooming in harmony with butterfly milkweed, black eyed Susan, prairie clover and narrowleaf mountain mint.  It looked like a wonderful flower garden but the presence of charred wood indicated that the prairie was probably burned in March.

I enjoyed the prairie outing but am also glad to have bee balm close to home.  The flower heads are a beautiful frothy cluster of many individual florets.  In late evening as we approach the Bee Meadow, the fragrance of bee balm is delightful and reminiscent of the bergamot orange peel used to flavor Early Grey tea.

The bee balm blooms seem to glow in the late afternoon sun.

The scent attracts foraging bumble bees and other long-tongued bees, many other solitary bees like carpenter bees, butterflies, hummingbird moths and even ruby throated hummingbirds.

The foliage is aromatic as well.  A few moth caterpillars feed on the leaves but it is unpalatable to the ever encroaching deer.

On our late afternoon nature jaunts, we have particularly enjoyed watching the bumblebees and carpenter bees forage on the bee balm.

Bumblebees are very hairy and usually black with some sort of yellow striping.  They are closely related to honeybees but live in much smaller colonies.  They nest in holes in the ground or in cavities in rotting wood.

This carpenter bee is foraging on narrowleaf mountain mint. Note the smooth rear of the abdomen. A bumblebee would be uniformly hairy.

Bumblebees are especially efficient at pollinating flowers that are tubular shaped with pollen held on anthers deep inside.

They release the pollen by grasping the flower and vibrating their flight muscles.  This technique is called “buzz pollination” or sonication.

In addition to wildflowers, bumblebees are important pollinators of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, blueberries and cranberries.

Bumblebees are even released into greenhouses to pollinate tomatoes and strawberries .  Honeybees are very inefficient at pollinating all these crops so buzz pollination results in more and larger fruit.

Carpenter bees are solitary. They have the annoying habit of tunneling into wood to make their nests.  They are working on my front porch railings this summer.  Male carpenter bees are unable to sting but the females can inflict a painful stab.

In this Scott County Mississippi prairie, wild bergamot and butterfly milkweed are enticing the pollinators all day long.

Like bumblebees, carpenter bees practice buzz pollination.  Sometimes, however, they steal nectar without pollinating.  They bypass the pollen and go directly to the nectar by making a slit in the side of the flower.

At first I was calling all the large bees in the bee meadow bumble bees.  I finally learned that a bumblebee’s entire abdomen is hairy while a carpenter bee is smooth on the rear.

Just as I expected, the bee balms, mountain mints and other wildflowers in the Bee Meadow are attracting some interesting critters and bringing them in close so I can learn.

Bee balm and the other wildflowers mentioned here have a delicate appearance when in bloom.  But they are tough. They will grow in full Mississippi sun without irrigation in 100 degree plus temperatures.

And… they even thrive in areas that are regularly burned.


 

 



 

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