What’s da Buzz: No Bee Biz


Forlorn, I stand in the garden on a warm summer morning. Flowers–of three different beans, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers and corn–are open and ready for business. Or buzziness, I might say. Except in our garden this week, there’s no buzz.

I even planted buckwheat for its white flowers to lure pollinators. It isn’t working.

And doggone it, the only consistent drone of wings I heard as the sun rose over the ridge and warmed my back were the always-frantic yellow jacket wasps zipping and zinging in all directions, including down invisible among the large leaves of the hubbard squash. I don’t know if they were involved in helping the squash bees with the job of spreading pollen (my guess is NOT) but they were doing SOMETHING there in the garden.

Even pesky yellow jackets serve some ecological service, I grudgingly admit as I follow their flight into and out of a hole on the bank just the other side of the garden fence. My first inclination was to spray them; my second was to leave them alone and let them do whatever it is they are destined to do in this world. For now, at least.

But what I’d rather have than yellow jackets are honey bees. European honey bees–a beleaguered species whose long term fate remains in precarious balance against our ignorance, our corporate agriculture and our tendency to replace forest and meadow with shopping malls or interstates, and to poison weed or wasp on a whim.

We’ve paved paradise. Where in this entire valley, save for the basswoods now blooming, does a honey bee go to find flowers except a garden like ours? And the most I’ve seen at any one time is two. Thank goodness for the roadside bloomeries, probably one of the best sources of flower blooms in Floyd County.

So when there were many dozens of honeybees in the Zion church meadow, yes, I was thrilled.

This one, you see, is about ready to go back to the hive (I thought about trying to follow, but it could be a mile or more away). His tibial depression called a “pollen basket” or corbicula is filled with the pollen groomed from its hairy body, pressed together in an aerodynamic ball.

But in serving its own purpose of feeding the hive, pollen grains (and the sperm nucleus each tiny sculpted grain contains) was carried by this bee from flower to flower (of the same species) to find the sticky stigma of the female flower parts.

From there, it will eat a tube (sometimes several inches–think about corn silks which serve this purpose) until it finds and fertilizes an egg. And a fertile seed is born, as often as not, inside a protective shell, this inside a sweet or otherwise attractive package we call a fruit or vegetable. What a neat system–except it’s not working so well anymore.

We need the honeybee, folks. Colony Collapse is not just a tree-hugger’s silly worry. We should all be concerned. And plant the kinds of flowers and habitat that gives what’s left of the pollinators a fighting chance.

So what do you say? Put on your costumes, Bee Boys and Girls, and do the waggle dance. Dude.

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You Say Potato, I Say…


…summertime, and the living is….not terribly picturesque. I tend to take fewer pix in summer than any other season, with the exception of close-ups of insects and garden critters and veggies. So, here ya go…

This, for you city types, is a potato flower. Country types will recognise its similarity to the tomato flower, a sound alike name, a close flower family relative among the Solanaceae.

Lamenting the lack of pollinators in the garden, that will not keep these plants from producing, as it is their roots and not their fruits we eat. For plants in which the fruit is the edible part, of course, if the embryo inside each seed doesn’t get spermed (boy meets girl, pollen nucleus finds egg nucleus) then the embryo’s womb as it were–the flesh of the apple or “meat” of a squash, may not grow very much, and even if it does, there won’t be any sexually derived genetic variety for the next generation. But that is just so much agro-biology.

I can’t say that I’ve ever noticed potato flowers going to fruit, but we have them out in the garden now–half-inch round orbs (coincidentally, very tomato like) that resulted from potato flowers “going to seed”. I’d thot I’d have take a picture of a cross sectioned potato fruit for a small insert here, but I got lazy AND rained out yesterday. I may yet become so at a loss for subject matter that I show you the inner anatomy of a potato fruit, as it is summertime and the photography is not easy.

Nature Green in Tooth and Claw


Wonderful rain overnight, more probably on its way. The pastures aren’t brown the way they’ve been the past several dry Julys, but the streams continue to fall, so I imagine the same thing is happening to the ground water from which almost all Floyd Countians get their water. We are still some 4 inches behind the “normal”–if we can still use the last 100 years to measure from anymore.

So between storms, I will go out for my morning worm picking at the broccoli patch–the large gray-green leaves holding so much moisture beaded up on their unwettable surfaces that I ought to wear a wetsuit. I’ll get drenched. I look out the window and see the fog settling down into the far end of the valley, and I’m glad we don’t live over near the parkway where the low cloud has probably settled in for the rest of the day.

As caught in the act yesterday morning, here is the culprit I’ll be seeking for digital compression (Imported Cabbage Worm). If there were only some way to make them–say–glow in the dark, or to stain them red so they weren’t so cussedly easy to overlook while stooped over, oh my back. It would also be easier, while I’m having gardener’s fantasies, if I were only two feet tall.  We’re off to see the wizard…

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Tangled Web

 Butternut Squash bugs-eye view

Another not-fav veggie besides broccoli that is now taking over what little garden space we have inside the “compound” is the trailing vines of the aforementioned butternut squash. Too little bang for the buck, as far as I’m concerned, a single vine requires far more garden square-footage for a pound of produce compared to just about anything else of a more vertical persuasion–like corn or even beans.

But the hard Caucasian-colored goard-shaped lumps are highly prized by one of the gardeners who Must Be Obeyed. They make great tasteless custard for making pies, She says. Just add cinnamon and it tastes like, er, cinnamon!

Far as I’m concerned, the only redeeming quality of this plant is the large, fluted photogenic flowers, seen here at a bug’s-eye view. Click image for a larger version that gives a different flower, different view.

I may print this one up and follow through with my pledge to start getting some of my shots framed and on the wall, maybe even to some local galleries. Nah. I’ll just talk about it.

Fresh From the Vine


Nothing tastes better than fruits or veggies warm from the sun, soft and ripe out of the garden of a morning–the transfusion immediate from Earth to Man. Pluck and eat, the cycle complete.

I feel the same way about a certain kind of photo-moment, and just had one of them. Not only that, but had the opportunity to confess this “fresh-eaten images” feeling with someone the other day over coffee. Amazingly, he seemed to understand.

So HM, this morsel is for you, not a half hour old as the sun rises over our un-mowed pasture–not so good for hay but wonderful for spider web pix.

Which reminds me of a little piece from Slow Road Home, and I’ll take the liberty to plegarize from the author as I’m certain he would approve:

I’ve been asked more than once what it might be we plan to do with ‘all this land’. The question is often asked by those who think, because we are ‘from off’ that we might not know how to use land wisely.

I have an idea of the answers that they expect. I could tell them that someday we will fence it off to keep a few head of cattle; or I could say that we were going to  plant Christmas trees like so many other landowners in the county who can’t make their land pay for itself by farming alone.

The truth of the matter I’m not certain yet what we might do with this bit of pasture. But I believe that, until we decide, when they ask I will tell them this: I plan to use this bottomland for taking spider web pictures.