Posted on May 3, 2013
In doing the morning garden rounds yesterday, we noticed the little cedar tree over by the beehives looked a bit odd – and as we got closer, we realized, Holey Moley! a swarm of bees was almost completely covering it! And I do mean a zillion bees, clustered together in something that looked from afar like a fuzzy moss wrapping of some sort, only slightly pulsating.
This is perhaps one of the most amazing natural wonders I have seen in my lifetime (short of childbirth) – and I have to admit, I feel rather blessed (in both events!).
We purchased our first package of bees just last year, and unfortunately, it did not make it. They dwindled off before winter, and I believe their colony grew very quickly, they decided to split, and the ones remaining lost their Queen.
The saving grace was that we managed to pick up a little swarm that July (for a beginner beek like myself, it was the perfect swarm to collect - it was hanging on a friend’s birdhouse in her backyard). The colony struggled for awhile, and I thought sure we were going to lose them, but to their credit, they have become quite strong. This spring, we added an extra box to their hive. We also decided to try again with packaged bees, and bought a 3-lb package of Carniolans instead of a 4. (Maybe 4 full pounds was too many for the Warre style of hive?) We installed them a couple of weeks ago, and so far, they seem to be doing quite well.
We wanted to be prepared this year in the event of another swarm event, so Jeff made a couple of swarm boxes (yes! he’ll make YOU one, too! Contact us!). The neat thing about the swarm box is that the bottom is like a drawer that pulls out. It fits perfectly atop the Warre hive, so to install a captured swarm, it’s a simple matter of setting it atop a hive box and pulling out the bottom. A few days ago, we hung one about 8 feet up in a big fir tree near the hives. I put a few drops of lemongrass oil inside.
Such Perfect Timing!
Who would have guessed we would get a swarm so early in the year! At least, other folks I talk with think it’s early – so maybe it’s a weird year or maybe a sign of the times, but I’d say Swarm Season has officially begun!
The question is – are these “my” bees? Did my new Carniolans, reputed to be prone to swarming, decide they didn’t like their new home after all? Do they – or the colony from last year, despite the added box – think they are going to run out of room?
I don’t know for sure, but both hives seem to have a lot of bees coming and going just like normal, and many are loaded with pollen. The newly purchased bees are still feeding from the syrup jars inside the hive, and peering inside, without taking it apart, they seem to be humming right along.
Either way, this swarm is a gift! Ahhh! I give heartfelt thanks!
I can’t help but notice that the bees clinging in the cedar are almost touching the ground! We planted this cedar about 3 years ago as a seedling. It only stands about 3 feet tall at most. So – if you are wondering how high to hang your swarm boxes, I would think the height is less important than the location. They don’t need to be up high, and no use risking your neck on a ladder!
But where would they eventually live?
The swarm box is nice, but it’s just temporary housing. Several bees were checking it out, but logically, I knew it would be easier if they moved into a more permanent abode right from the get-go.
I scurried around and put together 2 boxes, a quilt, and a roof from the old hive that didn’t make it. I set it up on a couple of concrete blocks near the swarm. I painted the inside with a bit of sugar syrup that has lemongrass and spearmint oils mixed in, the same stuff I add to the syrup feeders. If they were from our other hives, they would definitely recognize it. If they were new bees, they would still like it. Some immediately came over to check it out.
I waited with anticipation all afternoon. How to encourage them? I didn’t want to cut down my litte tree to “install” them into the hive. It would be better if they just moved in on their own.
They still clung even more tightly together on the tree. They were quietly hunkering down. Ok. This must be what bees do. I am entering their world, after all, not the other way around. I walked away.
This morning, thankfully, they are still here! Hooray!
In the morning sun, bees are checking out – and going inside – BOTH places, the swarm box AND the new hive.
Hmmm. One more attempt to persuade them.
I put together an in-hive feeder setup, which allows 2 pint or quart jars to be elevated over the top bars inside an empty hive box. They set on a piece of wood with cut-outs for the jar lids. The rest of the area is screened off so the bees don’t get inside and build comb in the empty box. I filled the jars with syrup, added my homemade Bee-Healthy combo, and dabbed a few extra drops of lemongrass oil around in the hive.
I am currently sitting in the morning sun with a cup of coffee, watching lots of them dance around the hive and going in and out. I do think they like it! There are also some checking out the swarm box. The majority of the cluster (and the Queen) is still on the little cedar. I would love to watch them move!
Which way will they go? What will they choose?
Posted on April 27, 2013
[or How to Completely Botch a Relatively Simple Bee Installation By Making Things WAAY More Complicated than Need Be (bee) (and 1 long video and 3 short ones to show you exactly it's done!)]
Ok. Does anyone else out there see the utter impossibility of shaking 15,000 bees through a small hole in the center of a box DOWN into another box without them all just flying UP into your face??? Come ON! Who came up with this plan? This has got to be akin to getting a guitar pick out of the hole in your guitar – only now lets just try it with a ball of bees!
And from the perspective of the little creatures we are trying to protect and save: what can it possibly be like to be caged in a small wire-mesh enclosure, stacked among a hundred similar boxes in a concentration camp of others of your kind (family members who knows where), jostled about for hours on end while being transported to unknown places and climates, eventually put in a dark box where you remain for a couple of days in a quiet, cold, space…waiting…waiting, hovering together to keep each other warm, then brought out into the blinding sunlight, repeatedly sprayed with a wet sticky substance by some gargantuan creature (covered with a soft, sensitive epidermis, I might add), pounded on the ground with such violence that everyone falls in a heap on the floor, then tipped upside down and shaken shaken shaken through a small hole into a larger cavernous box (wait – could it possibly serve as a hive?) – and during all this, all you can think is, “God, Save the Queen!!!” or maybe, “Air! Fresh Air! Give me Air!” or maybe, “Aggghhh! The Sun is Freakin’ BRIGHT!” or maybe, “Where the heck are we???” If this sounds to you like Amplified Pandemonium, you would be right.
There has to be a gentler way.
In my attempt to avoid what I call “Shaken Bee Syndrome,” I managed to completely botch this bee installation. In fact, I still feel shaken just thinking about it. Such are most great learning experiences. Now I better understand why beekeepers do things the way they do and have done for quite some time (because it works!), although I still feel there must be a better way. I invite you to watch the video and benefit from (or laugh at) my ordeal and that of our bee-brethren. In fact, I made 4 videos documenting this extraordinary experience.
Initial Explanatory Notes & a Few Minor Discrepancies
- Ok, this was my first video with this camera, and I cut off my head throughout most of it. That’s ok – my head is not the important part anyway – but it wasn’t quite the “professional” look I was trying to achieve. Once the bees were out, it’s not like I was going to convince them to go back in for a do-over!
- It was not April 16 – it was the 15th – not that it matters which day Exactly. I lose track of days. A lot, it seems.
- Not my 3rd package – only the 2nd. However, it WAS the 3rd time I installed bees, the 2nd being the little swarm we captured last summer (which is still doing very well!)
- The bees from the swarm hive were everywhere partly because of the sunny day and partly because the camera was on a tripod right next to their hive. Lots of dancing going on as they were checking out this large object.
- When I talk about “taking apart the hive,” I really meant taking apart the box or package.
The Edits (or What You Missed):
- I think it’s important to move slowly around the bees; however, turtle speed does not make good video. I cut out over half of the video of me taking my time, fumbling around, being clumsy, or otherwise just plain screwing up, knowing it wasn’t thrilling material for watching; hence, the video is a bit jerky at times as we jump ahead in a time warp.
- Since I have this habit of what my husband calls “providing a running commentary,” there was a lot I couldn’t cut out, because the thoughts are part of the process. Those of us with strong inner monologues recognize that talking through a task helps us stay focused and increases perception capabilities. This is a proven scientific fact. Just sayin’.
- Some things I edited out are still worth noting because they affect the smoothness of the bee installation, which is important for the sanity of your bees (and quite possibly your own, too). For example:
- Knocking over syrup bottles, the bucket of supplies, and other items might indicate there are too many objects around the hive.
- “Dressing for success” based on your comfort level increases confidence in working around the bees (watching me get dressed, not so much). And speaking of dress code, what is that on the bee hat? Truthfully, mold. It was up against something it shouldn’t have been up against. Like a pumpkin that did not make it through winter storage. Ah well. A new bee hat only stays new so long.
- Parts of the video that recorded my dealing with certain difficulties were minimized; however, it’s good to know that some tasks might take a little longer than expected. For example, getting the feeder can out – hard to get a grip on that thing and I thought it might drop into the box! Figuring out what to DO with the feeder can while it was still covered with bees (it’s good to have a plan). Getting the cork out – not to worry – I had my finger over the hole; not sure where the cork fell – it was the least of my worries. Trying to find the Queen in her cage – I mean, those bees on the outside were not willing to be lightly brushed off! Trying to hang the cage where it wouldn’t be in the way of the top bars (keeping in mind that in a couple of days, you have to get back in there and be able to remove it) (fortunately, if it drops into the hive, you can just lift up the box and pick it up off the top bars on the 2nd floor).
- Things I could not put in: my head, for one.
Note: I don’t take the bees out of hiding until about 6 minutes into the clip, so if you want to skip the intro and explanation of the setup, feel free to do so.
And now on to Video 1:
Evaluation of This Supreme Learning Experience:
Things to Think About / Learn:
- The debate on what and what not to wear. The nitrile gloves were a little easier to use than my previous too-large rubber gloves, but they were extremely sweaty and difficult to get off. I am hoping I will eventually gain confidence to do this bare-handed.
- Some may question my feeder jar set up. I will do a more detailed blogpost at another time, but I found the screen necessary to keep the bees from building inside the feeder box. Nylon mesh (found in craft stores) is more flexible, but I will probably go back to a wire mesh on the next one.
- I was reluctant to spray the bee package with the sugar syrup; I have watched videos where people seem to almost drown their bees! However, I have been told by more experienced beekeepers than myself that the sugar syrup does two things: 1) it keeps them preoccupied with cleaning up while the other stuff is going on, and 2) it weighs them down a bit so they are less likely to fly. Not much is needed, but probably a little more than I applied would have been helpful. All those bees flying around wondering where to go was a problem! (or so I thought!)
- As mentioned in the video, these bees came from Oregon, which I think has advantages for us here in NW Washington. The Oregon climate (as opposed to that in CA) is closer to ours. The travel time is shorter. Despite a few dead ones in the box, which can be expected, I think the colony looked really strong. Our thanks to Mike Radford, Alaska Bee Products, for the good job in getting the bees to us!
- I really think someone should invent a better bee package that facilitates a non-violent installation of the bees! Maybe one with a bottom that could be slid open over the hive box?
- In retrospect, I should have made 2 videos – one for the set-up, one for the actual installation. Since I was just sort of wingin’ this by myself, I had no way of knowing when the camera quit.
- Getting the feeder can out of the box. It fit exactly into the hole, almost to the point of where it could fall through and smash the bees below; there is not much of a ledge to grab onto. I think the can could be better designed.
- Getting the Queen out. That cage was wedged in there, and so there you are, with the main hole open, bees escaping while you are trying to take away their Queen, and they KNOW you’re up to somethin’ no good!
- Seeing the Queen. Those attendants did NOT want to leave her side! That was a GOOD thing! They already loved her.
- Hanging the Queen cage in the hive. It’s hard to hang on to it with those bulky gloves and all the bees on the outside, much less to tack the metal hanger into the side of the hive or onto a bar, and to hang it low enough so it does not interfere with putting the top bar back in. I couldn’t get a tack into the metal at all. Devising a hanger of some sort would be a good idea for the next time.
- Taking the box apart to install the bees and avoid “Shaken Bee Syndrome.” More on this under “Goof-Ups.”
- Once “installed” (such a poor descriptor!), getting the bees to stay out of the inside of the feeder box. They could smell their Queen below them but could not reach her through the nylon screen. Every time I brushed a few out of the box, more would fly back in. In the end, I left a few and came back later to release them (when everyone else, exhausted, had gone to bed).
- Notice how when I finally got the Queen out, I was so enamored that I completely forgot the main hole was open! Out came the bees! Don’t do this! After you get the Queen out, you’re supposed to cover the hole back up! (duh)
- Can you believe I almost hung the cage in the hive without taking out the cork & replacing it with a marshmallow?? Yikes! In the first package I installed, the cage came with a candy already in place. Not so with this one. Good thing I checked. Good thing I bought an entire bag of mini-marshmallows just to have one for this occasion.
- Taking apart the box proved to be disastrous! Why did I think this was a good idea? Let’s review: the objective was to avoid Shaken Bee Syndrome. It’s kind of like giving birth underwater. You want the transition to be smooth, calm, and happy. We want well-adjusted bees, not a bunch of frantic, nervous, traumatized bees. Only I didn’t factor in that as soon as I opened up a little corner of the screen, they would immediately start squeezing out into the open air, and NOT into the hive! Bees are smarter than we give them credit for! Open the hole bigger, MORE come out! Go figure! Open up the whole side and now nothing is in your control! It just keeps getting worse and worse! The situation was quickly turning into a state of Wild Mayhem, and needless to say, bees were EVERYWHERE. As I was approaching controlled panic stage, you have to admire how I managed to keep my voice calm and collected.
- The turning point was when I realized I was going to have to “Dump them in there” one way or another; “pouring” was definitely not an option. I ended up doing EXACTLY what I was trying to avoid: Shaking them out!! At least the hole was the entire side (which proved to have its own associated problems) and not a small hole in the top. With so many bees already out, though, I had to be extremely careful in knocking the box so as not to squish anyone. I dumped them as gently as I could into the hive and found it helped to use the hive tool to hit the outside of the screen, which convinced those hanging on to decide to let go. However, the screen beneath, now taken apart from the hive, was now IN THE WAY and was actually blocking them from “falling gently” into the hive. NOTHING was working as intended. Very awkward indeed! Did I mention bees were EVERYWHERE??? We’re talking THOUSANDS of them! I am sure they could smell my adrenalin at that point! As in, “Agghhh! What to do??? What to do???” VIDEO STOPS HERE, thankfully, at that moment when I was about to throw up my hands and leave them to their own devices. I SERIOUSLY wondered whether I might just watch $100 and 15 thousand or so bees just take off and fly away!
The part you missed:
- Yes, the camera quit before the entire installation was finished, which means you missed the part where I exclaimed (paraphrasing here for a general audience), “Oh my goodness! I think I just really blew this whole show and NOW what do I do???” ahm.
- Well, I figured the logical thing to do was to close things up, walk away, and hope for the best. So I put the bee package – with still a LOT of bees in it – on the ground near the entrance to the hive. I placed the feeder jars on the top bars and the protective box around them. I put on the screen and cloth cover that goes between the top box and the quilt box. I put on the quilt box and the roof, and I connected the Bunge cords to the eyebolts on the sides to make sure nothing tipped over in case of a strong wind (which we have been known to get). What more could I do?
Follow-Up Video #2 (All is not quite lost. I call this Post Traumatic Stress (mine) following Shaken Bee Scenario (bees), or SBS / PTS):
So NOW What?
- Hmmm. Amidst what I perceived as confusion, there appeared to be a lot of communicating going on. Numerous bees were gathering at the landing and doing this odd little dance with their tail ends high in the air and rapidly beating their wings.
- As a last-ditch effort, I decided to drape a towel from the entrance to the ground, dump whatever bees I could onto it, and see if they would really “march” up to the hive like I’d seen in other videos. It seemed like an odd thing, but what did I have to lose?
- I stood back in amazement and watched.
AND NOW FOR THE GRAND FINALE – THE MOST AMAZING PART OF ALL!!!
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! ONE MORE TRICK! USING A FEATHER TO HELP THE BEES (as opposed to a bee brush to shoo them away)
Epilogue: What I Did Right:
- Yes! From a detached perspective, I did EVERYTHING right! (well, maybe not Everything). I took out the feeder can, removed the Queen’s cage, replaced the cork with a marshmallow, and hung the cage inside the hive. I dumped quite a few bees inside with her. THAT WAS KEY. These bees were able to let everyone else know that the new hive was established with an honored Queen inside. From then on, everyone else wanted to go to the hive and protect the Queen and get busy doing what they do best: building comb and nurturing their Queen.
- I am not sure why the towel trick works, but it does. Without it, the bees flew around a lot. With the towel, they almost ran right in! They seemed relieved to get there! Numerous bees stood close together at the entrance with their little butts in the air, rapidly fanning their wings. They seem to be saying, “This is IT! This is our new home!”
- THE MOST IMPORTANT THING I DID RIGHT: I got out of their way and let them take over!
[Note: Want to raise bees?? Seriously - such a worthwhile endeavor! They teach us so much! And I truly believe the answer to the bee crisis in our world is for more individuals to have a hive or two in their backyards. Small-farm beekeeping as opposed to mega-farm beekeeping. It just makes sense. We build and sell Warre hives. I am convinced they support strong, healthy colonies of bees because they allow the bees to "be bees" - i.e., to build their own comb and survive with minimal interference from us humans. Check out our Warre page and contact us for more info! ]
Posted on April 17, 2013
I had intended to post a series about the bees. Somehow, recent events in Boston made such ramblings seem rather inane in the big scheme of things. It occurs to me that the American Dream has changed from owning your own home and a two-car garage to just being able to raise your children in peace – to allow them to experience the innocence and fun of childhood that many of us took for granted – to help them figure out for themselves what they are good at and to help them pursue their passion. We don’t need cars, garages, and chrome-plated toasters.
With increasing frequency we see these acts of terrorism – or even assaults from nature – tear apart our communities and families at a very personal, individual level. At the same time, we see people pull together and demonstrate that the human spirit is stronger than evil or any disaster that can be thrown at us.
With each of these accounts, I am reminded of how very privileged I am. I don’t live in a fancy home; I don’t have a lot of land; we don’t make a lot of money. And yet – we have everything we need; we have 5 kids, 6 grandkids, and everyone loves one another; we have plenty to eat, grow much of our own food, and have access to uncontaminated food, water, and air; we are able to support others in our community; we live in an incredibly beautiful area and can take time to explore and enjoy it.
True, we live in a relatively obscur region; we have eagles, whales, and a rainforest out our back door. Even so, it would seem that everyone should be able to find or create that place that keeps them grounded — a sanctuary where, even if the world seems to be imploding, they can get re-centered.
For me, this place is my garden. It is not just one place, but a series of places, and I am always creating more of them – a little spot where you can sit and enjoy the beauty around you, find calm, create, hide, or all or none of the above. Like the garden, these places are always changing, transforming with the seasons and with my life.
The willow room is one of these places. I planted these willows a couple of years ago, and they have already grown into something I could not have fully imagined. In late winter, I pruned and shaped their long stems, weaving them together to cross overhead and over and under one another on the sides to form strong columns. They take on a life of their own. It is an interesting analogy. Individually, they are supple. They bend with the forces that shape them. Together, however, they are strong – forever interlocked.
And so we are. We cannot – will not – allow events such as the Boston bombings or the Newtown killings or shootings in a movie theater in Colorado or any other number of atrocities – destroy who we are. Recognizing that people in other places in the world live with this terror every day, we refuse to let hate define us as a species.
My sincere condolences to those who have lost loved ones in recent acts of violence.
We are reminded to return to the garden, to that place of peace, to play the music we hear in our hearts, to focus on a positive force greater than ourselves. BE in your garden. Be Grounded. Nurture and Grow. Reach for the Sun. And for one another.
P.S. This particular willow variety is called “Harrison’s.” I originally purchased it from Steve at Dunbar Gardens in Mount Vernon, WA. They have an excellent selection of willows (and baskets!), and I highly recommend them.
Posted on April 4, 2013
Ok, I know, it’s officially spring and that means the beginning of Panic Season. There is so much to DO, I haven’t even taken time to write on this blog for over a month. As every plant awakes, every weed seed jumps out of its pod, every blade of grass begins it’s spring flush, and as our neighbors are frantically revving up their lawnmowers and weed trimmers twice a week if not more often, how can we NOT feel the intensity of this “now or never” insanity? New seeds and primroses, pansies, and daffodils have arrived earlier than ever, and the stores have metamorphosed into a riot of color (and can someone tell me why lots of bright colors are described as a “riot?” Surely they didn’t live through the 60s!). But seriously, as a plant addict, this seems to be unreasonable temptation. I am salivating over seed racks and strawberry plants I don’t need, and I often arrive home wondering, “Where am I going to put this?”
Spring. We are breathing a sigh of relief – “Ahhh – Spring has arrived!” – while gasping in overwhelmed apprehension – agghh! Spring has Arrived! – seemingly overnight. Just as we’ve finished up with pruning chores (we hope!), we are already behind in starting starts, planting plants, prepping pots, building beds, digging up grass before it can’t be dug, pruning out the dead stuff, and trying to instill some sense of order before we can’t – recognizing that we never could anyway, which is, indeed, the definition of insanity.
Whoaa whoaaa whoaaaa –
I am going to add one more desperate need to your to-do list, which should be *starred* in order of necessity, since in reality, we are taking care of desperate needs first. And since we are in triage mode (not my normal ADHD/easily-sidetracked mode), this is a 5-star order: WEED YOUR GARLIC.
Now. Not tomorrow. Not – “Oh, it looks like it’s doing fine – it’s a strong plant & can hang in there while I plant more sweet peas…”
It should have been done before the equinox – so if you were on top of things, Bravo! Yes! Plant more sweet peas, spinach, salad greens, kale, chard, beets, broccoli, berries, shrubs, trees, and the many of their kind who love to get a good start before the heat arrives….
But – if you didn’t get the Round To-it, here is the deal:
Early Spring is the most important weeding you will EVER DO in your garlic bed.
Bold & Italics-type Seriously.
- Because the tender, brittle roots have not yet extensively spread throughout the soil – so weeding now is less likely to break them.
- Because the weeds, too, are just getting going – and although some may seem quite large already (especially grass and dandelions) – it’s nothing compared to how quickly they will soon get a grip in the soil, at which point, they may be impossible to remove without damaging the garlic.
- Because the chickweed, for example, can easily be pulled out, but will soon go to seed and be all over the place (eat it – you’re not weeding; you’re harvesting).
- Because if you applied mulch, you have to get it off there pronto so the ground can dry out and warm up (or you risk getting the dreaded MOLD) – and while you’re at it, you can clean things up.
- Because everyone is beginning the competition for nutrients – and you need to help your garlic by eliminating (or at least reducing) the competition. They can’t do it on their own. Indeed. You DO have a purpose.
- Because the garlic is now a hungry green vegetable – and Now is the best time to give it more nitrogen, kelp, and fish fertilizer. Healthy green leaves now mean bigger bulbs later. It’s important. Really important.
- Because the last thing you want to do is fertilize a bunch of greedy weeds determined to dominate the universe! Get them out of there!
So – Go for it. Pull back the mulch if it’s there. Weed that garlic. Give them some food. Tell them how proud of them you are for getting through the winter. It doesn’t mean that easier days are ahead, though. There are more weeds out there that want to steal their food and water and strangle them out of existence. There are incessant natural forces of wind, rain, and blistering heat. After they survive the elements, they are lifted out of the comfort of the soil and are left to desiccate in dry air. Lastly, they are chopped into tiny pieces and outright eaten with great relish by ravishing beasts. Such is life.
While you are lovingly nurturing these tender (yet sturdy!) sprouts, don’t tell them that last part, mmm-kay?
Posted on February 12, 2013
Ok – so the truth is, I just cannot narrow it down. I have spent days and days looking at websites of different nurseries and purveyors of exotic seeds – and I have spent months and months reading about plants and planning different guild arrangements and compiling “wish lists” that rivaled the loving letters I used to send to Santa Claus – and I, much like our dear friends (ahm) in Congress, cannot seem to reconcile the expenses with the budget. And, like them, the debate goes on and on – because my vision does not coincide with reality, which I am still trying to define, in terms of the vision, of course. It’s a loop-thing. As is life.
And so I took a break to try to put it all back together in the Willow Room, because even in winter, this is a good place to go see how things with a little creativity, intertwine. (Besides, it was time to do a little pruning.)
I have a few seed companies/nurseries that I repeatedly go back to – those companies that over the years, have served me well – and some of these are not actual nurseries, but local stores that allow me to see a plant and hear it speak to me before adopting. To McComb Gardens, Red Rooster Grocery, Nash’s, Sequim Open Aire Market / Port Angeles Farmer’s Market / Port Townsend Farmer’s Market, and Sunny Farms – thank you from the bottom of my heart for supporting my habit.
To be truthful, I don’t know why I am even trying to buy more plants. I mean – get real – I DO have enough! I HAVE SEEDS TO SHARE. And we could get into a discussion here about what is enough and why it is important to recognize that whatever we have is, in reality, e n o u g h.
Still, another part of me says, “plants are like garlic – one can never have too much,” right? and so the conflict…. There are just so many interesting plants out there – and there has never been a more important time to protect the diversity of plants that are available to us. I am, truth be told, answering to a higher calling…(ahm!)
That, in itself, is good reason to grow something different.
On My Wishlist: an assortment of perennial vegetables, including water plants, some more good beeplants, maybe some grains? and I’m always a sucker for herbs… I don’t have a lot of room for very large trees, so I may never get a chestnut or a walnut, but perhaps those that can be coppiced, like a linden? Or maybe a dwarf variety of a mulberry? And now that I have planted much of the overstory in my permaculture vision, it is time to start filling in the spaces below. I really do need more groundcovers.
How I Narrow it Down: I look for the unusual – the things I can’t get through our local markets & CSAs – and I look for the functional, preferably multi-functional… I look for “holes” in the landscape – places where a certain something might fit in and fill a particular niche, whether it be as an insect attractant or possible repellant, provide mulch material, add nitrogen, a medicinal benefit, serve as a windbreak, bird habitat, provide basketry materials? … any number of things depending on location and conditions. I like perennials.
So – it is with some excitement I share some new-found – or newly revisited – online sources –
Plants for a Future database. Hands down, a great (and growing!) resource.
Permaculture Activist lists seed companies by state (and Canadian Province).
Looking for Native Plants? Try these sources:
King County Northwest Yard and Garden: Seattle oriented, but a ton of information, and after all, they are just across the water.
Plant Native: Large database – growth requirements – availability – plug in your location and voila! Lots of how-to information on creating your own “naturescape.”
Hansen’s Northwest Native Plant Database (“The Wild Garden”): Ok. I am truly blown away by this website. Their mission is “To generate interest, even passion, in the magnificent native plants of the Pacific Northwest through information and illustration,” and to that they definitely do succeed. You can spend a lot of time here. I particularly like the list of chores for each month. I think I have my marching orders! Lots of pictures.
For some local (or relatively nearby) companies, try these:
Far Reaches Farm is just down the road from me in Port Townsend, WA. Not only is their plant selection impressive, but their catalog is a seriously good read. Here is how they describe Mock Orange: “This plant smells so good in flower that it should be illegal or barring that, taxable. This could help with budget shortfalls because it is frankly addictive. One sniff and the response is “Ooh! Do you have this for sale?” Southwest native remarkable hardy with grape koolaid fragrant white flowers in masses.” (With a description like that, it is – you guessed it – out of stock.)
The Desert Northwest is another local nursery I’m excited about. Ian writes an informative blog and is extremely knowledgeable about xeric plants and those that do well in our dry climate. Believe it or not, we in Sequim are classified as “semi-desert,” averaging only 17” of rain per year due to our location in the rainshadow of the Olympic Mountains. Water availability is already becoming a problem, and water conservation ever-more important! The time for dryland native plants is here!
Uprising Seeds out of Bellingham has really expanded their product line! Find grains as well as veggies, herbs, flowers, all adapted to our climate. A good source for hulless oats and quinoa at $3.25/pack and bulk seed options.
Burnt Ridge Nursery: This is a small family-owned company (mostly a nursery – not so many seeds) in Onalaska, WA – I have ordered from them several years in a row now, and I am always happy with their plants and reasonable prices. I have ordered currants, gooseberries, lingonberries, cranberries, honeyberries, bamboo, hazelnuts, aronia berries, serviceberries, seaberries, Siberian pea shrubs, a medlar tree, goumi berries, and this year, I confess, I broke down and bought a weeping mulberry. What can I say? I like these folks. Everything arrives well-packaged and in good health.
Some Companies out of Oregon:
Restoration Seeds: I am excited about this seed company out of Ashland, OR that provides hard-to-find seeds of perennial vegetables, grains, and also many herbs.
Horizon Herbs: Another beautiful site with an emphasis on medicinal herbs and lots of vegetables you don’t find in “standard” catalogs. It’s not just about seeds for these folks – it’s an attitude toward life and humanity: “Live fully this precious life! Empower yourself! Grow your own food and medicine! Plant seeds with love, in the spirit of sustaining and healing yourself, all beings and the Earth. Use what you grow. Enjoy every moment of it. Heal yourself, body and soul, your family, your community, make it whole. Feel the pulsing of the moon, the nourishing heat of the sun, the cooling rain on your uplifted face. Grow your love by sharing the bounty. Give that ye may receive.” Strong words to live by. Seeds are indeed, powerful medicine.
Wild Garden Seed is also in Oregon – they sell the “French Vanilla” quinoa (2013 has been declared Year of the Quinoa by the United Nations, noting its untapped crop potential”). They grow quite a few unusual types, e.g., Alexanders, a biennial relative of Celery and Angelica that is very attractive to beneficial insects, as well as good to eat. They also sell chickweed, and I, too, thought, “Who buys chickweed seed?” – but they make a strong case for growing it where you want it so you have it when you want it. They also supply “critter mixes” for chickens, rabbits, and friends. Where else can you find Huauzontle, Old Growth Palm Kale, Giant Goosefoot, and Wild Garden Perennial Insectary Mix. I rest my case.
Renee’s Garden continues to be one of my favorite small seed companies; not only do they sell high-quality seed, but they donate seeds all over the world. Their website is a great source of info from everything on how and what to plant to recipe ideas at harvest time. They specialize in heirloom & gourmet vegetables, herbs, and old-time, cottage-garden flowers.
More Good Sites for Plants & Seeds:
Seed Saver’s Exchange: This 890-acre heritage farm near Decorah, Iowa, sounds like an absolutely amazing place. It’s mission is “to conserve and promote America’s culturally diverse but endangered food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.” We’re not talking about any ordinary seed company here – this is a non-profit organization (great benefits for members!) that is one of the largest seed banks in North America. Through SSE, you have access to over 12,000 open-pollinated and heritage varieties of seed! I find this simply mind-boggling.
Siskiyou Seeds from Seven Seeds Farm attracted me from the get-go by their cover page photo of a little boy sitting in a tangled polyculture of colorful edibles and flowers – absolutely beautiful! If you’re looking for kamut, millet, sorghum (that grows in the PNW???), flax, or poppy seed – look no further.
Kitazawa Seed Co. out of Oakland, CA: check out this company that specializes in Asian vegetables (including non-GMO open-pollinated soybeans/edamame) - for 8 kinds of bunching onions, 3 kinds of burdock root, an astonishing 44 varieties of radishes, “microgreens,” & a lot of things that are best in warmer climates. Just $3.50 for a packet of a bunch.
Bountiful Gardens: This has got to be one of my new favorites. Heirloom, untreated, open-pollinated seeds, plus tools, such as a home oil press, flour mills, and hand tools you can’t find in other places. Specialties: Rare and unusual varieties. Medicinal herbs. Super-nutrition varieties. How about a broccoli that heads high above the ground where the slugs can’t get it? Now we’re talkin’! Tree Collards!!! Try to find tree collard cuttings! Not easy! 5 kinds of Amaranth, burdock root, cardoon, scozonera, sea kale, salsify, miner’s lettuce, which we find wild here – but interesting to see it offered as seed. Also find grains: amaranth, barley, quinoa, millet, oats, triticale, quinoa, & even sorghum, which I don’t think we can grow here. Located in Willits, CA.
J.L. Hudson, Seedsman, La Honda, CA: If you can’t find it anywhere else, this site, dedicated to the preservation of biological diversity, just might have it. They distinguish themselves as a “seed bank” – not a seed company – and their format is somewhat different from other websites. Not all plants are easy to start from seed, of course – but if you are looking for sea kale, astragalus, saltbush, or any number of different medicinal herbs or heirloom vegetables, you will pleasantly surprised. If you are looking for a way to distinguish what you grow from other farmer’s market vendors, they offer bulk seed and a whole lot of unusual varieties to choose from.
Oikos Tree Crops: Another family-owned company, this one out of Kalamazoo, MI, that specializes in native plants, rare and unusual plants, a wide assortment of fruit and nut trees, and an ever-increasing assortment of perennial vegetables. Very reasonable prices, too.
Outside the U.S. (but still worth checking into):
West Coast Seeds: Out of Vancouver, BC – these folks have a fantastic website chock-full of information of what to plant, when, and how, including lots of great articles, such as info on cover crops, companion planting, composting, seed saving, planting for bees, edible flowers, and a whole lot more. They specialize in heirloom, heritage, and organic varieties. Check them out.
Richters Herb Specialists: These folks are up in Canada (Ontario), which means their seeds are acclimated to cooler conditions – but they also gather unusual seeds from all over the world. I have to list them here because they are so well known and have such a comprehensive selection of herbs. You have to admire a company that has done so much to protect diversity. And seriously, their selection of herbs is simply mind-boggling.
Chilterns: Ok, yes, they are in the UK – BUT – the climate there is SO similar to ours – and Chilterns is a great resource – and Yes! They DO ship to the U.S. for just 4 British pounds (we are lumped in with “the rest of the world” – and they accept Pay Pal, so it’s not that difficult). “Good King Henry” DOES sound a bit more authentic, does it not? And they have a category called “Good for Bees,” which goes on for 20 pages of nearly 400 varieties – they definitely won me over right there. Over 100 varieties under “Dye Plants.” Plus they carry things like salsify, scozonera, sea kale, skirret, tree spinach, and strawberry guava…I’m only touching the tip of the iceberg lettuce here, obviously…Great to gain a different perspective, too.
So many, many good sources of seeds and plants out there!
It is wonderful to see this growing awareness of the importance of good seed, even if that be the flip side of a growing awareness of the increasing threat of sterile, patented seed, changing climate, and losing control of our food supply. There is no better time than now to grow our own food, whether it be for providing a healthier food source for our families, increasing our independence, lowering our expenses, or on a bigger scale, doing our part to protect the diversity of our food system. Seed Savers’ Exchange said it best:
By planting the seeds in this packet you have become a steward of our food heritage, a link in a chain that goes back thousands of years. Use this seed to grow food, but please save the seeds, share them with others, and replant them again in your garden to allow the seed to adapt to your local growing conditions.
As if we needed a reason to buy more seeds and plants!
I can’t possibly list all of the good sources of seeds here.
What are your favorites?
Posted on February 2, 2013
Whether it be groundhogs, prairie dogs, woodchucks, marmots, or maybe some other small furry mammal, we of the supposedly more intelligent species are looking to them on what for most is a cold day in early February for guidance. Silly humans. If you really want to know about the day, just look at the bees! If the bees are out, it is a good day for certain. Look around a little further, and it is easy to see more good signs of a good day and more good days to come!
Happy Day, Everyone!