In the Pink

After a sweaty morning of gardening–tweaking in one area, planting in another, I was wrapping up the work by stowing shears and shovels.  As I bumbled down the pathway, a single deep pink spot on one  petal of a Rock rose, Pavonia lasiopetala, caught my eye.  It was no heat related mirage that I spied, but a resting Pink moth, Pyrausta inornatalis.

The pink winged thing wasn’t nectaring, flying, or laying eggs. It perched–very still and very pink–on the topside of the petal, its deeper hue augmenting the floral pad on which it rested.  As I maneuvered for a photo, the moth attempted concealment.  I found it on the flip side of the petal, readjusted my position, took one quick shot, and left it to its day.

I spent the morning focusing on a big picture project in one part of the garden, but it was a gentler, quieter scene which made my morning in the garden worthwhile.

I’m pleased to join again with Anna and her Wednesday Vignette.   Check out her blog, Flutter and Hum, for musings of various sorts.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): A Seasonal Look

The joy of summer green and beauty of cool white are accurate descriptors of the Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, in my garden.   Gifted to me as a passalong plant some 20 odd years ago, it is a plant that is lovely to view and easy to grow.

A member of the Asteraceae (Aster) family, common Yarrow grows throughout a large area of continental North America.  According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (LBJWC) plant data base, the plant is classified as both a single species with varieties and as multiple distinct species. 

My guess is that mine is the true native variety, considering how long I’ve had the plant (hybrids and cultivars are now more readily available than when I was given my Yarrow starts) and that the blooms are a natural snowy white, rather than hybrid pink or yellow.  Yarrow’s fine foliage is 5-6  inches tall and acts as a lacy ground cover for most of the year.   In early spring, the graceful low-growing foliage grows anew and also sends bloom stalks upward to meet the spring sky.  In time, buds appear at the terminal ends of multiple branches.

Depending upon sun amounts received, Yarrow bloom stalks can reach upwards to three feet.  Mine all grow with some shade, which is ideal for Yarrow. While Yarrow is a great plant for shade or part shade, in my experience, deep shade will render the plant a full-time, evergreen ground cover, but it abandons all attempts at blooming.

But with some sun, the garden benefits from both beautiful foliage and flowers.

By May and throughout June, the disk flowers open for pollinator business and gardener admiration.

Most of the pollinators I see on Yarrow are of a diminutive sort; these include many types of flies, tiny native bees, and the smaller butterflies.

This Horsefly-like Carpenter bee is one of the larger pollinators to visit my Yarrow blooms.

 

I grow Yarrow in several areas of my garden and it’s complementary to other members of a perennial garden.

Additionally, Yarrow adds a prairie quality to the summer garden.   The prime bloom time lasts about 6-8 weeks, but even when the flowers fade, Yarrow remains handsome.

 

Into July, a toasty quality appears on Yarrow as the pure white flowers go to seed. As summer settles in with its heat and glaring sun, the flowers decline, seeds develops and Yarrow’s pure white tops turn tan and toasty.

The white Yarrow blooms are hard to improve upon, but as the plant undergoes its seasonal evolution, I don’t mind the transition from blooms to seed.  It’s a gradual transition and the plant remains attractive for most of summer.

I’ve seen House Finches and Lesser Goldfinches nibbling at the Yarrow seeds, so along with it acting as a good pollinator plant, other wildlife benefit from this perennial as its growing season advances.

Yarrow’s flower-to-seed heads beauty doesn’t last forever, though. Typically, by the time the flowers are long done and the seed heads are crumbling, the bloom stalks are also bent with age and environmental impacts.  After all, they’ve held aloft sweet blooms and nutty seeds for many to enjoy through spring thunder and wind storms and searing summer sun.   Bottom line:  Yarrow is messy by late summer.

Sometimes, parts of the foliage turns brown in sympathy with the beige seed heads.

Once the bloom stalks have flopped for good, I cut them back.   There’s no real art or skill with this pruning, it’s just about cutting the now-brown stalks at or near the ground, which usually reveals new ground cover growth settling in place for the coming seasons:  autumn, winter, spring.

In the above photo, the remains of pruned stalks lie disguarded outside of the garden’s limestone border; you can see new Yarrow foliage emerged on the other side of the limestone.  This foliage will be the basis of the ground cover which will flush out during autumn and remain evergreen in winter.

In especially dry summers and/or if I haven’t irrigated, the new ground cover foliage endures a breaking-in period where it’s sparse and ratty looking; Yarrow down-time usually occurs in August.  Fortunately, the ugly duckling phase doesn’t last long,  because the foliage quickly greens up and fills in with help from the shorter days and regular rainfall that September normally brings.

 

While Yarrow flowers produce seeds (those finches are eating something!), the only spread I’ve observed is with the roots of established plants.  In this shot, the foliage has crept out of the border of the garden and into a walkway.  I’m tolerant of this creeping action–to a point.  When I’ve had enough of Yarrow’s teen-like testing of boundaries, I simply dig out the offenders and toss them into the compost bin or give to another gardener.  With healthy attached roots and a smidge of extra watering, Yarrow transplants easily.

 

By autumn, brilliant green, ferny foliage returns and the groundcover is set for the upcoming cool seasons.

I’ve experienced no insect or disease problems with Yarrow and it’s a drought tolerant plant.   Another plus with planting Yarrow is that it is deer resistant.  Its foliage and flowers are fragrant and has been used for medicinal purposes.  I’m not big on cut flowers, but Yarrow is a nice addition to a vase.

Because it’s somewhat statuesque from April to August and low-to-the ground for the rest of the year, care should be exercised when considering placement of Yarrow:  it works in the back of a bed during its peak blooming time, but will be unseen for the remainder of the year. My solution has been to plant all my Yarrow along pathways and pair it with similar sized plants.

Whether you purchase Yarrow or it’s given to you as a passalong plant, treasure it!  Yarrow is easy to grow and lovely to look at.

In Spring:

 

Summer:

My sweet old dog, Asher, enjoying the garden one afternoon, several years ago.  Asher died late last summer.

 

Late Summer:

Yarrow in its ground cover mode planted with Chili pequin (top right) and a container plant (left).

 

Autumn and Winter:

 

 

Bees Be Nice

I haven’t written about my honeybee hives in a while and thought it was high time I catch you up on their antics.  Both Langstroth hives, Woody and Buzz (seen below) are humming along beautifully, though spring saw each as quite cranky.    In our first early spring hive check, both hives were full of busy bees with lots of larvae, meaning that the queens were doing their job.  By late March, our bees turned mean.  Really mean.  I couldn’t go near the hives without one of the scouts harassing me, which usually ended in (at least) one sting for me.  Dreading the necessary hive checks, we suited up and popped into each hive a couple of times over the course of a few weeks and found that both hives had developed queen cells.  One cause of a hive developing queen cells is that the original queen has died or is critically ill and not laying eggs.  For a hive to survive and thrive, it needs a constant replenishing of eggs, larvae, and adults.   We  pulled off Buzz’s first set of queen cells, thinking that queen development was preparing to swarm because of overcrowding. We misread the clues.  When we checked again two weeks later, the workers had created more queen cells. We realized that the queen was probably dead, so we let nature take its course.  Worker bees can and do make their queens when necessary;  after all, honeybees know their stuff.  It takes two weeks for a queen to develop in the hive, then she exits for her mating flight which lasts up to a week.  Afterwards, it’s back to the hive and the start of her career of egg laying.

We learned our lesson with Buzz and so let Woody do its making-a-queen thing and within a month, the hives were happy with their respective new queens and back to their gentle selves.  Honeybees are aggressive when they’ve lost their queen, but gentle when they’re queen right, meaning that they’re living with a healthy, active queen.

Both hives have two kinds of boxes, brood and dadant.  The deeper boxes are primarily for brood, but also contain some honey.  The dadant (shallower) boxes are only for comb and honey.  If you look closely at the hives in the photo, you’ll notice double wood pieces between the top brood box and adjacent dadant box.  That’s where the queen excluder fits into the hive structure.  The exluder is a metal mesh in a wooden frame in which the mesh is large enough for worker bees to climb through–and up into–other parts of the hive to continue honeycomb making, but too small for queens to get through, so their egg laying is limited to the brood boxes.

What can I say?  Queens are fat bottomed girls.  Sorry, Queen.

Honey creation is what honeybees are driven to do, whether or not the queen is in the box. Excluders allow the worker bees to make honey in the upper boxes while the queen is  unable to crawl in and lay eggs on the comb.  With a box of pure honeycomb, beekeepers are then able to take honey without damaging larvae or possibly injuring or killing a queen, which is a win for everyone.

In Woody, the bees have combed out the frames of the bottom dadant and made honey in several frames.  The top dadant also has comb, but with no honey; we probably added that box too soon, though no harm done.  In Buzz, its lone dadant is nearly full of honey and we’ll add another dadant soon.  I expect to extract honey from dadants of both hives by fall and that will give us a chance to finally use our honey extractor  purchased some months ago.

Buzz’s one dadant is full of honey; we’ll add another soon.

But we won’t have to wait until fall for new honey–we extracted some from our original Warre hive, Scar.  Scar’s top box was jam-packed with thick comb and gooey honey, so we cut chunks of the sweet stuff off of six of the eight top bars.  Removing honey from a Warre hive is a messy job which spills plenty of honey into the hive and displaces bees.  For about 48 hours, some members this remarkably productive hive stayed outside the hive structure, though I noticed yesterday morning, most were back inside early in the morning.

Because the Warre hives holds top bars and not frames, the honeycomb must be crushed and the “extraction” involves a solid afternoon of work, squashing comb and sieving honey.  This past weekend, the result was nearly a gallon of honey!

These are 9 of the 11 jars of our newest honey collection.

In our four years of beekeeping, the Warre hives–specifically Scar–have delivered all the honey we’ve ever extracted.  While a difficult hive to check, Scar has proved a wonderfully prolific hive and its honey is liquid gold!

This mid-July finds our honeybees nice-n-sweet, ignoring me when I’m in the garden, and making delicious honey.