Ooops!

Excuse me ma’am, I think you dropped something!

Following this busy honeybee as she buzzed from sunflower to sunflower, I caught her in mid-air.  Her pollen pantaloons (corbiculae) were full-up with a nice load, but it appears some of her precious cargo slipped loose in flight.  I’m betting she had enough packed away by the time she arrived back home at the end of her foraging run, and she and her hive mates will make good use of the stuff.  Certainly during  our periodic hive checks, we’ve seen plenty of comb cells packed with the yellow gold.

Celebrating National Pollination Week, I’m also delighted to join with Anna and her Wednesday Vignette.   Buzz on over  to Flutter and Hum and check out garden and other musings.

A Place for Pollinators

This week is National Pollinator Week, a week to celebrate and appreciate the vital role that pollinators play in healthy ecosystems.  Pollinator Week is sponsored by Pollinator Partnership whose mission it is to support pollinators through research, conservation efforts and education.

Syrphid fly

Nurturing environmental conditions conducive for pollinators, and allowing for pollinators to be–to exist, to procreate, to pollinate, are worthy gardener goals in establishing and maintaining biodiversity in urban and suburban areas.

Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus)

Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica)

There are many reasons for the deeply concerning and potentially catastrophic decline of pollinators.  The average person doesn’t have much sway over the varied and complicated issues involved with this decline.  But gardeners, whether in their own personal space or at a school or community garden, can certainly contribute to the creation and implementation of lovely and living pollinator and wildlife habitats and with that, affect their local environmental paradigm by gardening for pollinators.

Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

Mosquito? Fly?

What does it mean to plant or garden for pollinators? Several practices are key to a successful pollinator gardening.

Even if you’re new to the gardening world, you’ve probably heard it:  limit chemical use.  Insecticides and “gardening” chemicals don’t produce balanced systems where wildlife flourishes, and pollinators are especially impacted by home and agricultural chemical use. In fact, the use (and over use) of chemicals typically causes more problems than it solves.  Additionally, if you plant native and well adapted annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees, most, if not all, chemical use is unnecessary.

Honeybee and Syrphid Fly

Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus)

Accept that nature is sometimes messy!  Have a few holes in your leaves?  Don’t grab the bottle of insecticide and spray, willy-nilly, everything in sight.  Instead, observe who’s munching.  It’s probably a moth or butterfly–in childhood form (caterpillars!)–munching away contentedly before building strong exoskeletons, wings, and antennae, on their way to morphing to responsible, pollinating adults.  When you’re invested in butterfly gardening, you must be willing to tolerate some foliage damage in the garden.  Yes, adults butterflies and moths sip nectar and therefore pollinate, but their offspring–the very hungry caterpillars eat the leaves of host plants; if you want a butterfly garden, you’ll must plant for their larvae.  Clearly, spraying insecticide does not produce a good outcome for butterflies and moths, or any other beneficial insects.

Small Carpenter Bee (Ceratina sp.)

To encourage all wildlife–pollinators included–minimal or no chemical interference is a a given.  Avoiding chemicals is also less expensive than constantly purchasing on the chemical treadmill.

Commit to ridding your property of at least some of the sterile, water-guzzling turf.  Americans’ love-of-the-lawn is a direct contributor to declining insect populations, especially pollinators. Carving out areas for wildflowers, shrubs, and perennials will allow habitat for all sorts of wildlife, including pollinators.

If you plant them, they will come.  The them are flowering plants:  native plants are always best because they’re easier to grow and have fewer disease problems.  The they are the pollinators: butterflies, honeybees, native bees, flies of an astonishing variety, moths, and hummingbirds.  Truthfully, planting perennial gardens is less work than a lawn.  I’ve experiencd both and my full-on urban wildlife/pollinator garden is less trouble, less work, and more interesting than a swath of grass.

Honeybee

Female Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri)

There are a few simple practices that every gardener can employ to help our beleaguered bees, both native and honey. The easiest is to simply leave some untended spots in your property.  Maybe it’s where you keep your gardening shed or garbage bins, or perhaps, where you store firewood.  Allow bare soil–no mulch, no plants, no cement–just a solid plot of open dirt left untouched for ground nesting bees. Unless you’re very lucky, you probably won’t even know they’re there, raising their little pollinators to help the Earth–and your garden.   One reason that the American Bumblebee is declining is that they nest in the ground and there’s little uncultivated ground left. The sterile, neat yard is not a normal, healthy yard.

Set out some older wood in a protected spot for wood nesting bees.  Their babies will thank you and it’s fun to watch the adults drill into the wood. The downside? You might have to sweep after they’ve drilled baby drilled.

Build an insect hotel–there are many easy DIY plans available–and see who moves in.  For excellent information on building and maintaining insect hotels, please read this article from The Entomologist Lounge.   Insect hotels have become a cool garden thing to do, but they require effort to safeguard the insects who utilize them.   My own insect hotels are small and easy to keep and clean.  Thanks Bee Daddy!  (aka, The Hub)

As well, you can go all-out, bee-crazy and get into honeybee keeping.  It’s fun!  It’s fascinating!  It’s also work, especially at the beginning.  The learning curve is steep and everyone you know will think you’re weird, but will want some of your honey. That said, our beekeeping efforts have been rewarding, especially with the best honey (according to everyone who’s ever tried it) and we congratulate ourselves as gardening do-gooders with our backyard beehives.

I adore the honeys, but for what it’s worth–native bees are actually better pollinators (in general) than honeybees. The suggestions I’ve mentioned are easy ways to develop the right environment in which native bees will thrive.  Most homeowners and community gardeners can easily afford the time and funds required for hosting pollinators in their garden spaces, directly benefiting their personal gardens and the greater ecosystem.

Planting the lovely flowers that pollinators need,

Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor)

Green Sweat Bee (Agapostemon texanus)

…and the host plants that butterfly and moth caterpillars eat,

…means that you’re part of the solution.

For all the good reasons to convert your space into a pollinator garden, I’ll add one more:  they’re beautiful.

Bordered Patch (Chlosyne lacinia)

Horsefly-like Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa tabaniformis)

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

Aflutter: Wildlife Wednesday, November 2018

My heart’s aflutter as I relish the beautiful Central Texas autumn and my garden’s a flutter with late season pollinators. As is typical in autumn, there are multitudes of pollinators busily working.  Especially in the early morning hours and at sundown and afterward, there are scads of flutterings everywhere, with ghostly, diaphanous wings highlighted by whatever light is available.  Most of those active during the day are small skippers and bees, but also in the mix are a huge variety of flies, larger butterflies and moths, and other winged insects, all making the rounds of the bonanza of autumn blooms.   Welcome to Wildlife Wednesday, a monthly blogging huzzah celebrating the winged, feathered, scaled, and furred which give gardens their buzz-n-hum.

I grow plants not only because of their looks, but for what they provide for wildlife. I’m not picky about color or form–I love’em all, but I focus on plants that nourish something at some point in the growing season.

Some plants in my gardens are dynamite pollinator providers and Frostweed, Verbesina virginica, is one of them.  This Greater bee flyBombylius major, nectared with intent one cloudy afternoon throughout a patch of Frostweed.

Proboscis deep in the flowerets of Frostweed, these flies spend lots of time at the blooms.

I’ve observed a number of these fuzzy flies this fall.

The same is true for the Tachnid fly, nectaring on another pollinator powerhouse plant,  Prairie goldeneye, Viguiera dentata.

Ive  primarily seen the Tachnids in the fall on goldeneye and Frostweed. I’ve nick-named them my ‘hairy-butted buddies’.

We give lots of credit to beautiful bees, butterflies, and moths, but all kinds of insects pollinate, including the lowly fly.  As well, there’s a great variety of flies, more than just those that annoy at picnics.

Syrphid flies are ubiquitous in my gardens during the late summer and autumn months.

This one is a Common Oblique SyrphidAllograpta obliqua, but I’ve observed other species too, which I hope to capture in photo form for next month. The blue blooming beauty is the Henry Duelberg sage, Salvia farinacea.  It’s another plant which has a long and popular blooming cycle.  Pollinators are nuts about it.

Like the Syrphids, Fiery Skippers, Hylephila phyleus, love the Henry blossoms, and their autumnal coloring complement the vibrant blue of the Henrys.

Wings spread!

Wings closed!

 

It’s a huge year for the beleaguered Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus.  Because of good weather conditions in their northern breeding areas, their numbers are up from the last decade or so.  While I didn’t have many come through my garden as they migrated to their wintering grounds in Mexico, enough visited and fed hungrily that I’m glad that I grow plenty of nectar plants for them to choose from.

This female nectars on the excellent wildlife plant, Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii).

Cousin to the Monarch is the Queen butterflyDanaus gilippus.  It’s more common than the Monarch and a resident of Central Texas.

I like this shot of a family reunion:  Monarch and Queen enjoying a meal of Goldeneye together.

 

The prize for most common of the large swallowtails in my garden definitely goes to the Pipevine SwallowtailBattus philenor. I grow a host plant, the White-veined Dutchman’s pipe and have enjoyed these gorgeous butterflies all growing season as they visited.  Their life-cycle for this year is closing, but my Dutchman’s pipe has seeded out and the mother plants will overwinter, so there should be plenty of the host plant for next year’s butterfly babies.  I’ve already promised to share seedlings with gardener buddies next spring.

 

Dressed in fall colors are a couple of year-round visitors, a Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta,

The Admiral is nectaring on a Plateau goldeneye. The purple daisies in the background are Fall Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium).

 

…and a Gulf FritillaryAgraulis vanillae.

The Fritillary is nectaring on a West Texas native, Shrubby blue sage (Salvia ballotiflora).

 

In addition to eating, insects are mating to assure a next generation.  These two Clouded skippersLerema accius, pitched woo on the foliage of a Turk’s cap.

 

I had a difficult time identifying this lovely critter, but  I believe it’s a Four-spotted PalpitaPalpita quadristigmalis.

It doesn’t show the four spots, but that could be the limitations of my camera or that the wings are a bit tattered and the shape of the wings and body are similar to the targeted insect. I think this is one of the multitudes of early evening/nighttime pollinators, though it’s hard to tell.

Did you think I forgot about the bees?  Nope, of course I didn’t!  My honeybees are all over the place and even with our many rainy days,  if just a bit of sunshine streams through the clouds, the bees are out-and-about.

The Green Sweat bee, Halictidae, sports a gorgeous color which complements its food source.  These pretties have been active in the past month or two.  Some nest in wood, others in the ground.

 

This fast-flying, quick-nectaring bee was hard to catch, but I think it’s a Longhorned bee, Apidae.  The individuals I’ve seen have favored the Henry Duelberg blooms as shown here.

 

More common in my garden are the Eastern Carpenter bees.  This one is also a fan of the Henry Duelberg blooms.

That Henry Duelberg sage–it’s a pollinator winner!

 

Alongside the pollinators, some hangers-on appeared.  I typically see Obscure Bird GrasshoppersSchistocerca obscura, in the fall and this year didn’t disappoint.

Hanging on a window screen, he/she looked warily at me as I sneaked a shot.

There’s nothing obscure about this big beauty!

 

Common Green DarnersAnax junius,  dart here and there in the gardens, and when they alight, are camouflaged by foliage–hard to see, but lovely to behold once observed.  This one was easy to spot and cooperative with the photographer.

 

There is much happening in my fall garden!  What’s in your autumn–or spring–garden?  Share you wild happenings and don’t forget to leave a link when you comment.  Happy wildlife gardening!