bees

It’s Blueberry Season!

We learn by doing.   It’s an age-old saying for a reason.  We read books, study the almanac, listen to the experts, but sometimes there’s no substitute for experience.   The tried and true kind.  Shall we say, true blue?

Blue, as in blueberry patch.   My pride and joy, my dream come true… strolling amidst the morning chirps and peeps, plucking fresh blueberries for my yogurt and bran flakes.  Well, you understand.  This little patch of heaven has come to mean a lot to you.  You work hard for these sweet, luscious, high in anti-oxidant fruits and you don’t want to lose them to the natural elements.  Wind, pests, birds.

bird netting for berries

 Blueberries are fairly easy to grow.  Lots of sun, lots of water, a good acidic soil (think pine bark/needle mulch), a well-balanced organic fertilizer and you’ll have yourself a blueberry patch in no time.  However, once you set out on this project, understand that birds are a definite problem when it comes to berries.   Like you, they enjoy a plump serving of berries with their breakfast.  But they’re hungry varmints and will eat you out of house and home—and garden, if you let them.  But me, I count myself as smarter than the average bear (no pun intended to my friend and also fan of blueberries).  I figure I can outwit these flying friends with a simple bird net.   Says so right on the package:  bird nest for fruit and shrubs. 

Wonderful.  Problem solved.  All I have to do is cover my plants—all twelve of them—and I’m off and running in the blueberry race.  It’s not pretty, but it is practical.

First recommendation:  don’t choose a windy day to start your net project.  Blueberry blossoms are extremely sensitive to the slightest tactile cling and snare easily.  Translated: touch them and they pop off the vine.   Bad.  Very bad.   No blossoms means no berries.

With a little practice, though, I became quite good at throwing and securing my net without touching my delicate blueberry blossoms and only lost a few to the endeavor.   Can you really miss what you never had to start?  If you’ve noticed, philosophy seems to be on overdrive in my garden.

But abstract distractions aside, I finished my task an hour later, rising with a nice deep yoga stretch for my back before I secured my last stake in the ground. 

Second recommendation: don’t attempt this after several hours of weeding and tilling in the garden.   Me?  I’m more doer than planner.  “Oh look, I still have two hours before I need to pick up the kids!   What else can I slip in before my time runs out?”

That’s when I heard it. More

A Photo Journal of My Winter Garden

It’s February in Florida and that means different things to different gardeners.  Some have closed up their garden until spring, opting out of the fight with Jack Frost.  Others are focused on cleaning out and preparing for spring.  Me?  I garden all year-long–except summer.  It’s simply too hot and my garden is supposed to sustain me, not kill me. 🙂

You understand what I mean.  So this February, my garden holds mixed blessings.  My potatoes are thrilled with the warmer winter.

My sweet onions don’t mind either way… More

Pick me! Pick me!

It’s springtime.  The season when winter eases its chokehold, the ground softens, making way for new growth.  Buds burst open and leaves unfurl, as young flowers mature into their blossoms.

Nestled together in the garden, it’s not long before the inevitable comparisons arise.  Each amazing and breathtaking in their own right, they can’t help but wonder how they measure up against the whole.

“Are my petals too plump?

“Do these leaves make my bottom look wide?”

Of course not.  You’re beautiful.

“You’re just saying that because you’re my gardener, aren’t you?”

Then it happens.  The handsome stranger strolls along and spritzes the crowd with a mist of attention.  The bed goes crazy.  Everyone brightens, arching further toward the admirer, each hoping to be noticed.  “Pick me.  Pick me!”

He leans over and plucks you by the stem, taking you home for his own.  You’ve been chosen as the most beautiful bloom, a stand out among the crowd, worthy of being taken home for display.

But you despair.  You’re alone.  You find yourself perched on a pedestal.  No longer surrounded by your colorful counterparts, once admired by many, you’re now occupied by one.  Passersby gawk and exclaim, but rarely linger.  Why would they?

You’re taken.  Chosen

You glance around, and wonder, “What are the others doing?” Are they basking in the sun?  Adorned by bees and butterflies?  Or swaying to the breeze, wild and free.

Why so sad?  Isn’t this what you wanted?  Weren’t you feeling cramped, lost among the cluster of your peers?  Didn’t you yearn to be deemed most lovely?  Most desirable?

Well, sure…in so many words.  We all want to be “picked,” cherished as the most beautiful, perfect creation of all.   Doesn’t it follow that we should be ecstatic when clipped free from the crowd?  Aren’t we supposed to be happy?

Yes and no.  If your petals were chosen to express love, then yes.  But if they were chosen to be displayed like a trophy…then no.  What’s the point?

Odd to compare girls to flowers, I know.  But as my daughter grows and blossoms, I can’t help but see the similarities.  While toiling away in the garden, weeding and pruning, mulching and fertilizing, I feel a swell of anticipation —  it’s spring!  The time for renewal and growth, blossoms and beauty –

And my daughter’s birthday.  Time passes so quickly, she’s maturing so fast.  It seems like only yesterday she was a little girl.  But now, she’s heading toward adolescence and the change is remarkable.  She’s blossoming toward her teenage years, flowering into womanhood.

And I worry.  She’s feeling the pinch of the crowd, the snip of comparison.  How do I reassure her of her glorious and unique qualities?  Remind her she is an extraordinary, oxygen-breathing, life-creating creature to behold?  An integral piece in the cycle of life? 

I want to tell her: rejoice in your color and shape.  Embrace the length of your stems, the breadth of your petals.  While they may differ from others, they all work the same.  Ultimately, our physical parts all perform the same tasks.

Yes, indulge in the sunshine, reach for the sky, bask in the attention of your admirers — but be wary the gardener interested in clipping your beauty for his own.  If your blooms must be taken, aim for love.  A rose shared between hearts lasts a lifetime.  Cuttings die within days. 

Consider instead, the bees.  They’re willing to work hard for your nectar!  And rather than selfish, their goal is worthy; seeking the highest and best good.  I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the gardener willing to spritz you with attention, just keep in mind some spritzers carry toxic substances.  At first glance, they appear harmless, but upon closer inspection, the poison is revealed.  But then again, my sweet, you were so focused on being noticed…

Please.  Take your time.  Allow nature to take its course.  You’ll be happier in the end.

Birds, bees, and blueberries

We learn by doing.   It’s an age old saying for a reason.  Sure, we read books, study the almanac, listen to the experts.    All wonderful and recommended arenas for the novice gardener — let alone beginner — but sometimes, there’s simply no substitute for experience.   The tried and true kind. 

Take my blueberry patch.   My pride and joy, my special morning ritual (well, once it’s established I plan to make it a morning ritual – plucking fresh blueberries for my yogurt and bran flakes…strolling amidst the chirps and peeps).   Well, you understand.  You work hard for these sweet, luscious, high in anti-oxidant fruits and you don’t want to lose them to the natural elements.   Wind, pests, birds.

Birds are a definite problem when it comes to berries.   They too enjoy a plump serving of berries with their breakfast!  But they’re hungry varmints and will eat you out of house and home – house and garden – if you let them.  But me, I count myself as smarter than the average bear (no pun intended to my other native blueberry fan).  I figure I can outwit these flying friends with a simple bird net.   Says so right on the package.   Bird nest for fruit and shrubs

Wonderful.  Problem solved.  All I have to do is cover my plants — all twelve of them — and I’m off and running in the blueberry race.  Woohoo!

First recommendation:  don’t choose a windy day to start your net project.  Blueberry blossoms are extremely sensitive to the slightest tactile cling and snare easily.  Translated: touch them and they pop off the vine.   Bad.  Very bad.   No blossoms means no berries.

With a little practice, though, I became quite good at throwing and securing my net without touching my delicate blueberry blossoms and only lost a few to the endeavor.   Can you really miss what you never had to start?  If you’ve noticed, philosophy seems to be on overdrive in my garden.

But abstract distractions aside, I finished my task an hour later, rising with a nice long yoga stretch to the back before I secured my last stake in the ground.  Second recommendation: don’t attempt this after several hours of weeding and tilling in the garden.   Problem is, I’m more doer than planner.  Oh look, I still have two hours before I need to pick up the kids!   What else can I slip in before my time runs out?

That’s when I heard it.

Bzzzzzz.  Bzzzzzzz. 

I looked up and honed in on my little bee friend.   Okay, it was one of my BIG bee friends, but nonetheless, a bee friend.   There he was, patiently, persistently, hovering about the outside of my netting.

Realization trickled down through my tired, aching limbs.    He’s outside the netting.   Outside my netting!

In addition to my Rabbit Eyes, I planted High Bush blueberry varieties.   They need cross pollination.   By bees. 

Aaaaargh!   Not only had I effectively kept the birds out, I was keeping my bee friends out, too!  Bad, bad, bad.  If you want your blossoms to grow and provide — which I do — you need bees.

Now I was in a bind.  What to do?  Leave my hard work in place, or tear it down so the bees can enter safely and do their business?  Since I’m no expert, this was a tough call, because I don’t know when the plants actually need pollination.   Do they bloom after pollination and blossom into blueberries?  Or do they need pollination between bloom and blueberry?   How the heck do I know?   I’m just a berry enthusiast trying my hand at a blueberry patch!   I have no idea how Mother Nature runs these things.

After two minutes of hair pulling, you know I pulled the netting down.   No way around it.   It made more sense that when there are flowers present — and I have tons of flowers present — they need bees.  Bees work the flowers! 

Later that night, I shared the events with my husband who promptly replied, “The bees will get through.”

“No,” I stated, calm and matter-of-fact.  I was calm by now, having had several hours to absorb the incident.  “The netting holes are this big,” I made a circle with my thumb and forefinger to simulate the size less than a dime.   “The bees are this big.”   A centimeter larger, and granted, undetectable with my fingers, but my point was clear.   Too close to call.   A bee may try it, but he would most likely be snagged.   Wings.   They’d throw him over the threshold of size “allowability.”

Determined as any man would be, my husband remained convinced there was a way to beat the problem.  Sure enough, next day, the birds were swooping on my plants, sending my heart racing.  Eyeing my poles already in place, I was determined to win this one.   No wind, it was much easier to assemble my netting “cage” and took ten minutes.   Satisfied it would work, I went to the garden.

Tormented by thoughts of harming the bees, I thought maybe the answer was mobile netting.  I could put up and take down the netting on a daily basis, according to the bird’s feeding schedule.   “Do they have a feeding schedule?”   Mine seem to eat all day long!

Trekking back to the house from the garden, collecting my kitchen compost bin along the way, I heard it. 

Yep, you guessed it.   My bee friend was back!  I swung my head around hoping to catch sight of him and sure enough, there he was, hovering about a blueberry plant.

Inside the netting.   I rushed over for a closer look, wondering  how exactly he managed entry.  Pleasure poured through me.  There, where my two nets overlap, was at least a foot of space.  Perfect.  Bees could easily maneuver this section while birds could not.  They wouldn’t even attempt to sail through for fear they would be unable to escape, and thus be trapped.  (Birds don’t hover as well as bees.  They need some distance for landing and take-off.)

Heaving a sigh of relief, I headed into the house.  Problem solved. 

And not a moment too soon.  My blueberries are nearing maturity!

Look at these beauties.  They’re still green, but big and round and about to turn blue.

Learn something new everyday

Gardening with kids can be enlightening.  Fun, entertaining, eye-opening.

The key to successful garden management is to do a little bit everyday.  More specifically, working in small batches is the key to keeping the kids on top of their garden chores.   Let’s face it, some tasks aren’t fun.  They’re simply necessary.  Take weeding, for example.  The kids don’t enjoy it.  It’s not their favorite part of gardening.  It’s just another job that must be done.  So what do we do to distract ourselves from the tedium?

We tell stories!  We take turns and create them as we work down our prospective beds, alleviating some of the boredom.  It’s actually quite fun when you here how your children’s minds work.  My daughter’s stories tend to focus on girls; their likes and dislikes, their squabbles and resolutions.  My son on the other hand, veers toward the action-adventure.  Go figure.

So it makes sense when he comments on the bees buzzing nearby his row that he would compare them to an action-adventure movie, right?

“Hey, Mom.”  He pointed to the enormous bee hovering about the broccoli florets now bursting with bloom.  “Do you know what that is?”

“No,” I played along. 

“It’s a drone bee.”

The boy’s an avid fan of Star Wars and sees everything in terms of warriors and epic struggles.   Why not bees?   “Really?”

“Yep,” he stated matter-of-fact, as he states most things.  Boys, I’ve learned, like to have a handle on the facts.  “He’s the defender.”

I suppressed a smile.  As his mother, I’m a firm advocate for his imagination and encourage him to go on.  “Wow.  I didn’t know they had defender bees.”

He promptly left his row to come over and explain.  “He’s not a worker bee.  His job is to protect the queen bee.”

“What about the other two.”  They were much smaller than the larger one under discussion.  “Are they worker bees?”

Walking back for closer inspection, he nodded and pointed.  “See how they fly into the flower?  They’re collecting pollen so they can spread it around.  I remember this from primary.  That was a year ago and I still remember it!”

“See,” I told him.  “That means you learned the information.  That’s great!”

Proudly, he strolled back to me and expounded upon his drone bees, the queen, and all the workers, then decided he wanted to take their picture, which I offered to do for him.  “Let me do it, honey.  So you don’t get stung.”  My camera is NOT a toy and well-intentioned as he may be, is off limits to the lad!

That evening, I relayed the story to my husband.  “It was so cute.  He called it a drone bee, like Star Wars.”  I shook my head.  “I think I’m going to comment on it on my blog.”

My husband turned to me.  “You might want to check your facts, first.  I think there is something called a drone bee.”

There is?”

He nodded.  “I believe so.”

I glanced away and laughed.  “And to think I thought it was one of his stories.”

Hmph.  Apparently, one of us learned their botany lesson better than the other!  Sure enough, I went online to check my facts and there it was — drone bees.  While not the defenders of the queen but her fertilizers, I was duly impressed — for real, this time.   The kid knows his stuff!

Yet another reason I enjoy gardening with the kids.  Not only do I enjoy listening to their creativity, I learn things along the way.  Bonding, 101.  Our visitor may actually be a carpenter bee, as he was diligently working the pollen, which from my understanding, drone bees take no part in.  But this fellow is definitely a worker bee.

On another note, the kids noticed some interesting developments in the garden.  “Hey, look at this!”

I gazed down at the sprout and wondered, How did that get there?  It’s definitely not a bean.  Zucchini, squash…cucumber?  I wracked my brain to remember which vegetables we recently threw in the compost pile that could have produced this little guy.  At the rate we eat vegetables, it could be any one of them!

Hmmm…  Either way, it needs to be moved.  I run a tight garden and my rows are not only evenly spaced, but organized according to family and flavor, and staked out to differentiate between planting dates!  This way I can track how long each plant actually takes from seed to harvest.  I know the information can be found on seed packets and planting sheets, but I’ve come to learn those are “guidelines” at best, as my real life experience has often proven otherwise.

With the busy garden season at hand, I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us tomorrow!

Gardening — share the adventure with a child.