Green Thumb Gardening

Go to fullsize image  Honey bees = Honey.  Yes, that’s true and I have to admit that I love that honey.  I could go on and on about it’s benefits and time honored reputation.  However, we should think about this: Honey Bees = Our Food Supply.  We need honey bees to pollinate our crops in order to produce fruits, vegetables, and grains.

A Cornell University study has estimated that honeybees annually pollinate more than $14 billion worth of seeds and crops in the United States, mostly fruits, vegetables and nuts. Every third bite we consume in our diet is dependent on a honeybee to pollinate that food.  In other words, 30% of our necessary diet is dependent on these mighty little workers.  One would be naive to think that this was a little issue.  It is a world wide issue.  It is estimated that Italy’s 50 million Euro a year honey industry, has lost 50% of it’s honey bees.  When the pollinators are gone, humans are gone.

They are calling it colony collapse disorder.  What happens is the hives inhabitants are affected by an infectios disease often leaving only the queen, some eggs and a couple workers.  The rest disappear.  Colony Collapse Disorder has been reported in 24 states and 70% (possibly up to 90%) of the managed colonies have been affected by it. 

Although no one is absolutely sure why this is happening, there is speculation that chemicals (from pesticides, contaminated water supplies and household run-off), habitat destruction, invasive species, microbes, and global warming all may be playing a role.  Another lesser talked about suspect is genetically modified crops.  Some suspect that the chemicals used to create the modified seeds is passed on to the bees affecting their immune systems.

Honey bees are a biological indicator.  If the honey bees aren’t happy, than nobodies happy.  Scientists can use the honey bees health to gain clues to the environment’s overall health.  So, that environment thing isn’t looking so good right now, is it??

What are you supposed to do, oh little reader about this enormous mystical problem?  Thankfully, there’s a few things you can do to help the honey bee, help you.  You can support chemical free farming practices by purchasing organic products and nongenetically modified foods.  You can spread the word that honey bees are in trouble and impress upon others how important honey bees are to our life.  Wouldn’t it be interesting if our presidential candidates discussed the declining supply of honey bees along with oil supplies?  If people thought fuel prices were causing economic problems, wait until there’s a problem with the pollinators.  Our food prices will be astronomical!!  Attract honey bees to that little place you call home by following some of these or these VERY simple steps.  Here’s a list of “Honey Plants’ from Purdue University Extension you can place in your yard (or weeds to keep in your yard:)):

  • apple blossom (and other fruit trees)
  • asters (in fall, especially the small, white frostweed aster)
  • basswood
  • black locust
  • blackberry
  • blueberry (bees are very important for blueberry pollination)
  • box elder
  • clover: small white (dutch), yellow sweet, and white sweet (major honey source)
  • currant and gooseberry
  • dandelion (important in the spring because it blooms early)
  • goldenrod (late summer to fall, different kinds)
  • ground ivy
  • mint
  • raspberry
  • silver maple, red maple (maples mostly important for pollen, not honey)
  • tulip poplar (tulip tree)

Bee a friend.  Bee kind.  Bee aware.


Go to fullsize imageI went to visit my friends at the local nursery again today for more cocoa bean hulls.  MMM!  Chocolate bliss.  Maybe it’s a new diet, if you are craving chocolate you can come over to my house lick my mulch and roll around in it.  (Sorry, that really doesn’t sound quite…right??)  I just had a little bit more of the flower bed to cover up and I wanted to avoid any type of greenhouse/nursery this weekend.

My instincts turned out to be excellent (for once!).  The small parking lot was packed and there was a line at the checkout counter that wrapped all the way back to the perrenial section.  I can’t imagine what tomorrow will hold for business!  So, I wanted to hurry because the kids had to nap yet.  I ran up to the bags of mulch.  A wonderful yound salesman helped put a big bag of cocoa beans on my cart thing.  Then, he asked me a very evil question…”Do you need any flowers/annuals to go with that?  We are having a GREAT sale today.”  Uuugh!  He had me at “Here, let me help you with your cocoa hulls.”  I responded, “Well, maybe just one more flat of annuals.”

I quickly speed walked through the annuals.  Grabbed one flat of verbena.  There done.  Wait, these little tiny wave petunias are so cute!  Grabbed one flat of those.  Yes, I now have 2 flats.  Then I saw some herbs.  They were on sale too.  I mixed some cilantro, lavender, oregano, thyme, and chives to make up a flat.  In only 3 minutes, I have tripled my original spending plan. 

As my back was turned from my cart to search for the best quality herb plants, a woman starts to look over my selections and begins to take some of my annuals. I slap her verbally, slightly scare her, and head for the cashier, grabbing some tomato plants on the way.  (I am going to try growing them in pots on my deck.)  I fork over the cash.  Load up my car and head home.

Once I am home and unloading my garden goodies, I notice that my group of annuals has gotten quite hefty.  This means 2 things: 1.) I have tons of planting to do this weekend.  2.) I have will have a mountain of plastic pots and those black flat containers when I am done. 

I am not so worried about the planting part.  I love methodically digging in and designing my flower beds.  The extra used plastic flower pots bothered me a lot in the past.  I would save and store them forever because I always thought I could find a way to reuse them.  I never did.  The recycling centers usually don’t allow you to put plastic flower pots and containers into the recycling bins.  Thank goodness I found that most greenhouses and nurseries would be ever so grateful if you would kindly return the empty trays and pots for reuse.  It saves money for them and it also saves that plastic from hanging out in the landfill forever.  You can also check with any colleges/universities or high schools in your area to see if they can use them in their teaching greenhouses.  Another option is to use them yourself if you are planning on growing any plants from seed in the relatively near future.  Whatever you do, PLEASE DO NOT throw them away!  There are so many options to repurpose or reuse them.  It would be a shame not to complete this one simple task so we can all wave our big green thumbs around with sustainable pride. 

Go to fullsize imageIt’s Memorial Day this weekend and for me, that is not only a day to remember our veterans and service people but also a HUGE gardening event.  It’s the kick off to my summer planting/gardening extravaganza!  I am SO excited (you can tell by all my caps).  There is nothing better than getting your hands dirty in beautiful black soil.  Of course, my yard offers more of a hard tan clay than black gold but I like to fantasize a little. 

I think what I most enjoy about gardening is the process of finding out what works and what doesn’t.  It’s like a puzzle that is constantly changing.  One day you plant a flowerbed that fits together in size, shape and color, and than a month later everything is going in it’s own nonsensical direction.  And you begin the puzzle again, studying, sorting, and moving each plant.  It’s strangely relaxing to me.  I love it.

So, it’s only natural that I throw a somewhat new aspect into my gardening.  I am going to try and make my green thumb bigger, badder and greener!  This summer my gardening is going greener than ever!  I have been working on greening the inside of my house all winter and now it is time for my masterpiece.  I am going to greenify all aspects of my gardening plan.

I started today. Yes, true to form I began early because I was so excited.  I have a hard time waiting patiently if some of you haven’t noticed already.  I went to my favorite little local greenhouse for annuals.  By the way, get to know your local nursery.  They have oodles of info and if you look really sweet, they will give you great “unadvertised” discounts like they did for me today 🙂 I specifically looked for flowers that would require very little “intervention” for the sites I was going to place them.  That way, I won’t need to water them more than the other plant life in that area and they will be healthier and require less pest prevention.  Prevention of future problems is one of the keys to organic gardening.  I grabbed some varieties of marigolds for my sunny areas and some begonias for my shady zones.  Nothing exotic, just the standards.

I then grabbed some bags of cocoa hull mulch.  It’s the first time that I have used this personally.  I couldn’t resist placing the mulch in the flower beds by my front walkway.  Yum! Yum!  Everything out there smells like chocolate right now.  I can still smell it because in my rush to spread it, I inhaled all that dust and it’s trapped in my boogers.  Tomas is really annoyed with it.  He’s a vanilla man.  But that’s okay, he also is hiding his bottles of Round Up and bags of fertilizer from me this year.  He’s running scared from my big green thumb.  I kind of like it.  Anyway, back to the mulch. 

Cocoa mulch has some great qualities that help organic gardening.  For one, it’s the shell of the cocoa bean that removed during roasting.  Therefore, it’s utilizing all parts of our beloved cocoa beans.  There is also no chance that other seeds or weeds could be mixed into them.  It also retains moisture better than other mulches, gets darker with age, lasts longer and adds nutrients to the soil.  Plus, you can use it around any type of plant or tree without worry.  The one downside is that I can’t use it everywhere because I have pets that would want to eat it and since it’s the original source of chocolate, cocoa mulch can be bad for dogs if ingested. So, place it in areas where dogs won’t be tempted by it.  Or find a way to train your dog better than mine have ever been trained.  Seriously, I think my dogs were never even domesticated.  I think they are wild untrainable dingos.

Now that I have my first basic gardening purchases taken care of, I can focus on other aspects of my big green thumb.  Next up, figuring out how to make a cheap compost bin that suits my greenie soil needs and looks sassy cute.  Then, I am going to set up a series of rain barrels to assist me in my watering needs.  I am hoping I can tell a little difference in watering needs with these sweet smelling cocoa hulls but the proof will be in the puddin’.  I also need to look into a natural pest repellent in case of nasty little visitors that get past my integrated pest management tactics.  Finally, I want to begin a few veggie plants in pots (I have a really shady yard that doesn’t allow for a good veggie garden) and expand my herb/aromatherapy garden (Ah yes! The fruits of this garden also need to be used more efficiently this year.  As in, I need to use my herbs for something.)

But before I begin anything…this weekend holds the key to my organic gardening practice.  A huge sale at a local wholesale nursery.  Locally grown shrubs, trees and perrenials at beyond believable prices.  It’s an annual event for my mother, sister and myself.  Rain or shine, we are there searching for special specimens that we just have to purchase, if only for the fact that it is dirt cheap.

Read about Cocoa Mulch here and here and here (the last link is by the ASPCA about dogs and dangers)