Archive for March, 2010

Orchard Mason Bees

I couldn’t resist! I spent nearly $40 (yikes) for a Mason bee house, straws and cocoons.  It’s been nearly a month since I bought them. The males came out first. They’re hard to distinguish from an ordinary house fly.

Look for the antennas! There are also 4 wings (instead of 2) … but hey, that’s hard to see. Click on image to enlarge. You can almost make out the double wings. I believe this is a male.

Mason Bees (Osmia lignaria) are native bees. They’re hardy to our climate and far superior pollinators to the European “honey bee”. I probably didn’t need to buy the cocoons, since they’re everywhere.

I just couldn’t wait to post this 30 second video. I’ve spotted about 3 females inside the tubes (they’re a LOT larger). Again, I believe this is a male. I don’t know what the “tail wagging” is about … they do this frequently in and around the nest box.

If nothing else, this experience has made me much more sensitive to bugs in general. It’s one of the things about winter that I never noticed … there aren’t any bugs! It wasn’t until mid-way though February that flies reappeared. Never thought I’d live to be excited to see flies.

Cheap thrills, as we used to say. You can find a useful video on orchard mason bees on the Oregonian’s video  page. Portland’s Xerces Society is another bee resource.


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A Walk in the Woods

The Master Gardener Road Tour visited Bob & Joan Zumstein’s Tree Farm / Nature Preserve in Woodland, WA. With the clear skies the nighttime temps have been below freezing. We passed acres of tree farms being “watered” with overhead sprinklers — to create an ice shield to protect the seedlings.

At 9AM it was still frosty at the Zumstein’s.

First stop was the water wheel Bob had rigged up to catch fresh creek water for his cows — so they wouldn’t clomp down to the creek bed and wreck havoc on the fragile vegetation and creek bank.

Click on image to enlarge and see the ice-crusted spokes.

This was a wild-flower walk through the Zumstein’s 85 acre farm which includes a forested ravine. Creeks lace through the property. Here’s the high-spirited, ever-smiling 70 year old Joe pointing out ferns and other wild flowers.

At the edge of one forested trail we came upon a Thatching Ant (Formica spp) mound. Dr. Brun, the WSU faculty advisor for the Master Gardeners can be heard in the background. (more info)

It was nippy at the start — but proved to be a glorious spring day. We came out of the woods onto a high rolling meadow, where I lay down in the grass under pristine blue skies. Here the rest of the tour follows Joe to another destination.

On our way back to our cars we passed the junk and ‘spare parts’ section of the farm — something every gardener knows comes with the territory of working the land! Here’s a relic of former days.

I found these old objects visually satisfying.

Next stop was lunch in Kalama and Watershed Gardenworks in Longview.

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Pink Madness

Every year I tell myself that this year I’m not going to get excited about my flowering cherry. But, heck! Spring is imminent and the bees are out in full force.

I brought out the step ladder and just sat up there in the blossoms and got a little mad with pink.

You’ll note the pollen-laden ‘thighs’ on this bee.

When I’m gardening under the tree I hear an electric hum of bees overhead. It doesn’t quite translate in this video. It’s only a minute and a half. There’s a surprise visitor in the last 25 seconds.

That little Bush Tit was a foot from my head. Those birds know me and just don’t understand why I haven’t replenished the usual supplies.

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Cherry time

With this El Nino winter, the blooms are “breaking bud” much earlier than usual. My Akebono flowering cherry tree is a good 3 weeks earlier than last year. We had a cold snap and rain just as the blooms opened.

But somehow they survived!

It’s hard to photograph into the sky because the contrast is so harsh. The photo above was taken looking straight up on an overcast day. I’ll keep trying.

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Avian Update

Well, I’m going to have to take down all my feeders, suet cages and bird bath for at least 2 weeks. There’s another bird sick — this time a Dark Eyed Junco. I’ve discovered there’s also such a thing as Avian Pox. It’s hard to distinguish which disease they have. Whatever it is —  it’s nasty!

These birds eat and poop collectively. Their close quarters spreads the disease among them.  So my feeders and birdbath – lovely as they are – are also disease “vectors” — so to speak. *sigh*

Cornell Lab of Ornithology is one of the best resources for bird ID. Their Feeder Watch program has a wealth of information on backyard observation and care.

The local Audubon also answered my emailed questions immediately.

Fortunately, the bugs and blossoms are out now so the birds aren’t as reliant on the feeders as they were during winter. Count yourself lucky if you’ve never had to deal with this.

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I keep my outdoor garden clogs on the front porch. They’ve been there all winter with little use. I bought some fertilizer the other day and grabbed my shoes to scoot them over to make room for the 3.5 pound box.

I actually plopped the box down right on top of it. I thought it was a snail. I quickly retrieved the box only to discover it was a little frog.

These typically bright green “tree frogs” – Pseudacris regilla — now called Pacific Chorus Frog abound at this time of year. I love their song which reassures me that they have survived.

This little critter apparently survived my squashing and has remained in the arch between the two shoes ever since. I’ve put out water. I have no idea of its sex or behavior. Usually, I find them in between tiny structural crevices around the house — from whence they shrink or dart upon discovery.

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It’s almost spring! Buds are beginning to break, flies and bees are rousing from their long sleep. There’s a quickening in the air while fragrant chimneys still burn.

Here’s my Ribes Sanguineum just coming on. I’d pruned it hard late last fall, so it’s a little tardy.

The Cherry Akebono on the other hand is several weeks early.

I love these Osmantus Delavayi for their heavenly fragrance!

I see flowering plum and magnolias in full bloom out along the roadsides.

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