By Cynthia Kerson, UC Master Gardener of Napa County
For the past few years, I've been researching beekeeping. Recently, I decided to simply supply the bees with food and to let them live where they naturally would. I'm not that fond of honey, and I live in a woodland area near a creek, so this is my best option.
In addition to planting or already having lots of salvia, lavender, milkweed, sunflower, wild berries, fruit trees, herbs and veggies, in April I created a bed for pollinizers, planting it with a container of Renee's Garden Scatter Garden Seeds expressly for pollinator flowers.
The bed is about a foot high and 6- by 10 feet. I used concrete corners, redwood sides and metal gopher netting on the bottom. I created a simplified “lasagna compost” with cardboard and newspaper on the bottom of the bed and left it to get rained on for a few weeks. I then filled the bed with a layer of compost and then a high-end garden-quality soil and more compost from the recycling center. I scattered the contents of the seed container and covered the seeds with about an inch of mixed soil and compost in a 70-30 blend. The bed is in full sun all day.
At first, as the seedlings were popping up, I couldn't tell which tiny plant was a pollinizer and which was a weed. I didn't pull anything I didn't clearly recognize as a weed. I am an organic gardener and so did not spray or feed with anything that would be harmful to bees.
I watered right away, and about every two weeks afterward I watered with a mixture of fish emulsion and kelp, a good all-around food for soil and plant health. I also fertilized with an organic fertilizer about once a month. The bed was watered every other morning for about five minutes.
The seed blend I used contained seeds for Chinese forget-me-not, baby blue eyes, single Chinese aster, cornflower, Shirley poppy, sweet mignonette, tidy tips, Virginia stock, creeping daisy, clarkia, globe gilia, lemon mint, California bluebell, lacy phacelia, tall white alyssum and plains coreopsis.
I noted when each flower type bloomed, how long it bloomed and how abundant the bloom was. The container listed the percentage of each variety, so I looked for that. I didn't find the stated percentages to be perfectly correlated with the flowers that appeared. The most prolific were the cornflower, creeping daisy and lacy phacelia. Lemon mint didn't appear (or I missed it). Most of these flowers have continued to bloom for four to six weeks, and the individual blooms lasted about two weeks. Shirley poppies lasted the shortest time, blooming for two to three weeks, with individual blooms lasting about a week.
The first to bloom, starting in the beginning of May, were Virginia stock, California bluebell and tall white alyssum. Toward the end of May, Chinese forget-me-nots, tidy tips, baby blue eyes, creeping daisy, globe gilia and lacy phacelia bloomed. The beginning of June was the most prolific time (about two months after sowing). The big bloomers then were cornflower, Shirley poppy, sweet mignonette, Virginia stock and clarkia. All the varieties continued to flower and die off, so every day the garden bed had a slightly different array of color that was fun to study.
Bees seem to have preferred another area of my property with large beds of lavender and salvia over this bed of many varieties within a small area. Possibly large expanses of one flowering variety are better for attracting bees since that's how they naturally forage. That said, the bees loved the mix. I see dozens there at any given time. Should you have only a small area to devote to pollinators, a dedicated bed of pollinator flowers is a beautiful option.
It appears that the garden will keep the bees (and me) happy for the rest of the summer. I have cut back the watering to every four days since the plants are mature.
If I let them go to seed, the plants will return next year. One drawback to this particular mix is that a few of the varieties are not native to Northern California. Next year I might supplement with more natives to support the health of the bees and other pollinators. With natives, they are digesting pollens that are natural to them; and they need all the help they can get.
For further information on building layered garden beds to plant those wildflower seeds, click the link:
The UC Master Gardeners of Napa County are volunteers who provide University of California research-based information on home gardening. To find out more about home gardening, upcoming events or to submit gardening questions, visit the Master Gardener website (napamg.ucanr.edu). Our office is temporarily closed to walk-in questions but we are answering questions remotely and by phone or email. Submit your gardening questions through our website, by email email@example.com or leave a phone message at 707-253-4143. Master Gardeners will get back to you within a few days.
Suddenly it feels like winter. Well, not really, but the mornings are definitely brisk now and the days have cooled off. We've had a smidgen of rain. Plants have stopped blooming. What are the butterflies and bees to do?
Any poor bees and butterflies still in my garden will have to look elsewhere for nectar. But I want to fix this problem so that, next fall, I will still have some blooms for my pollen-loving friends.
I fear the drought is not behind us, so I have been looking at seeds for drought-tolerant native plants that continue blooming into fall. Native plants and our native bees, butterflies and other fauna evolved together and have adapted to our winter rains and dry summers. My water comes from a well, and because I can't see what is going on down there, I am very frugal with it.
Bees and butterflies like flowers with flat heads that make it easy to gather nectar. Sunflowers are a good example. My plan is to scatter their seeds in different areas of my garden after a rain and stomp them into the ground. Then, I hope, they will not blow away and the birds will not find them before they have a chance to sprout. However, I have noticed that those cute little quail that I have invited to live in my yard are eating the tops off of some tender plants, so I will have to use floating row cover to protect the seedlings.
After reading about the nectar plants that bees and butterflies favor, I have gathered seeds for tansy, wild senna, meadow rue, yarrow, bee balm, prairie blazing star and sea holly. Some of these are annuals and may reseed if I just let the seeds drop.
I also plan to increase the amount and varieties of milkweed (Asclepias)I have in the garden. Their flower heads are the shape that most small bees and all butterflies appreciate. And the different types bloom at different times during spring and summer. The native Asclepias speciosa grows tall and blooms in early summer. As its flowers fade and its leaves get tougher, the butterflies move to later-blooming varieties for nectar and egg laying. Asclepias fascicularis (narrow-leaf milkweed) blooms in late July and August. The bees love those flowers, too.
Hot Lips sage (Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips') is a favorite of bumblebees. I started with a single one-gallon plant when this variety first debuted and now I have four huge plants in my garden. It needs little water and blooms almost all summer. When I visited the arboretum in Dublin, Ireland, last June, I was surprised to see it growing there. I have other salvias, too, but they do not bloom as long as ‘Hot Lips'.
Others have told me that Asclepias curvassiva, a tropical milkweed, has naturalized in some Napa Valley gardens. It has also played host to many Monarch butterflies. The plants die down in winter and renew in the spring from self-seeding. Most bees and butterflies like its nectar. Another popular milkweed isAsclepias fruticosa, sometimes called swan milkweed because of the shape of the seed pods.
Free Tree Walk: Join U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County on Saturday, October 22, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., for a guided tree walk through the lovely Alameda of Trees at the Yountville Veterans Home. Established in 1884, the Veterans Home has a unique and diverse tree collection. These majestic mature specimen trees are a focal point in the lives of the men and women who live there. Come learn more about these wonderful trees. Meet at the parking lot of the Napa Valley Museum on the Veterans Home grounds, 260 California Drive, Yountville.
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County ( http://ucanr.edu/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.