Bee vs Man

It is a war zone in my Richmond VA brother’s garden.  Daily battles… bee vs bee, bee vs man, bee vs dog, bee vs anything that comes too close to its nectar zone… a chaste tree.

He summoned his siblings for help with a “HELP IDENTIFY BEE” email full of photos and description of the aggressive and hostile bee behavior. The mystery bee is a warrior bee, yellow and black like a yellow jacket but it’s not, able to maneuver like a hoverbee but it’s not, the size of a small bumble bee but it’s not.

With his other bees relentlessly being attacked, battered, bitten, and headbutted, he wanted answers fast. We had plenty of questions and plenty of guesses but it was he who solved the puzzle. It’s a European wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum), a solitary bee that was accidentally introduced to New York state before 1963 and is named for the fuzz the female collects from plants to line its nests.

Here are some of his photos:

European wool carder bee

European wool carder bee

European wool carder bee

European Wool Carder Bee

European wool carder bee

Claiming a flowering plant as territory just for female carder bees to better his chance of mating, the male carder bee will attack and ward off any intruder it feels is a competitor. And, yikes, that can be humans!  Run or be headbutted!

wikimedia.org

wikimedia.org

It was tricky but my brother eventually trapped a male just to examine him more closely. His abdomen was fairly flat like a hoverfly but, whoa, this guy had had fierce toothed mandibles that he tried to use as a weapon against my brother. No, definitely not a hoverfly! He had no stinger, but had 5 sharp spines on his abdomen to better maim his opponents. These males mean business…..  😳

With an arsenal of weapons, he can kill other bees, like the honeybee, but from what I read online, this non-native and our non-native honeybee have co-existed for many thousands of years in Europe. Some die, yes, but many are killed by other means. And the good news is… the carder bees are pollinators, too!

These male garden bullies are the fiercest warriors in my brother’s peaceable kingdom but I believe he’s taken the view, ‘Live and Let Live.’  Cross my fingers that I don’t see them anytime soon in my New Hampshire garden. I’m worried because I built a cute little solitary bee house in the garden mama carder might like and I grow several plants in the fuzzy Stachy family that she would simply love.

If one shows up here, I could always suggest another occupation for this nasty tempered insect.  If he grows tired of garden warfare, I think he’d be a shoo-in on Game of Thrones with his wicked temper, his built-in arsonal and his acrobatic agility. In all probability, I think he could manhandle the Mountain a bit better than some of the other challengers!

Clover isn’t really a weed

Can you remember (way back for me) when you were a kid and white clover (Trifolium repens) grew in everyone’s lawns?  Can you remember those warm summer days sitting over a patch of clover looking for the illusive 4-leaf clover?  Finding a 4-leaf clover was a big deal because there is only one in 10,000 regular 3-leaf clovers.

Maybe you have to be of a ‘certain age’ today to remember those long gone days when clover/grass mix lawns were the norm. The mixture was prevalent because white clover was once a larger part of grass seed mixtures.  All that changed in the 1960’s when broadleaf herbicides hit the market. Now clover is considered a WEED.

clover/grass mix

The reason it was a part of our grass seed is it’s good for the soil. Clover is a legume and like all legumes, it deposits nonstop nitrogen into the ground thus enriching and fertilizing the soil.  That should make the lawn healthier and greener… especially right here with clay soil around our house.

I happen to have a fondness for the look of white clover mixed in our grass. Our association does not.  As in so many “maintained” properteries, professionals try to eradicate it but, insert sly smile here, clover seems to have the last laugh. It wilts after treatment but it soon begins to recover.

Here are a few of the reasons I encourage a clover/grass backyard (where lawncare professionals dare not tred):

It can be mowed.
It grows in poor soil.
It is drought resistant.
It crowds out broadleaf weeds.
It grows harmoniously with grass.
It is a favorite bloom of honeybees.
It does not turn a deeper color from dog urine
It will stay green when dormant grass turns brown.
It keeps the bunnies occupied and out of my flower borders.
It is also pollinated by native bees, like bumblebees.
And although not a native plant, it hosts the native Eastern Tailed Blue and Sulfur caterpillars.
Lastly, the flowers are lovely.

bunny

Drawbacks:

It stains clothes.
If you are alergic to bees, clover might not be such a good idea for you…. or you could mow it more often and short.
It will send creeping stems into your garden beds.

Yes, it does spread but I find it manageable. Once a month, I edge my borders and that takes care of the wayward shoots. I do like the look of my clover/grass lawn and who knows?  Maybe I’ll find an illusive lucky 4-leaf clover one day! I’m looking….

 

My Styrax japonicus up and died!

My beautiful Styrax japonicus tree bit the dust.  Two years ago, I splurged and bought this beautiful tall specimen tree. That first summer we had a mild drought but I kept the tree well-watered. Last summer, our drought was in the extreme category and a citywide ordinance banned outdoor watering. I dragged every container I had beneath the drip line of the roof and collected water like crazy… 100 gal. at a time during our rare rainstorms and I soaked the tree well…. I thought. But maybe it wasn’t enough.

This spring, with most of the tree dead and only a few branches leafed out, I decided to act. I cut it down.

styrax-japanicus

Styrax japonicus

I left the suckers at the base, fertilized and kept them watered, hoping that the roots would support them enough to grow a styrax shrub. So far so good. The shrub seems to be fast growing.

So I didn’t get the sweetly scented pendulous white bells this spring and I won’t have the beautiful fruit this year, but fingers crossed that I’ll have a lovely full styrax shrub next spring as a focal point in the garden.

The wood from the tree did not go to waste. I saved the trunk and all the twigs and branches, cut them into short lengths, and built a small solitary bee house.  No solitary bees yet, but I saw two ladybugs wandering in and out.  All good….

solitary bee house

 

 

Who’s your Mama?

Brown headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater) are called brood parasites, birds that lay eggs in other birds’ nests. It’s said that up to 150 different species in North America are parasitized by cowbirds and the host parents then raise the young. Needless to say, cowbirds are generally looked upon with loathing. Whenever I see this species near our bluebird house, I am out the door clapping and shooing the scourges away.

That is until a fledgling cowbird nearly landed in my lap a few days ago. It had been reared by a tiny chipping sparrow and now it seemed abandoned. I watched as it chased every chipping sparrow it saw, more than a dozen around the feeder at a given time. All flew away or scurried to hide when this big baby ran at them, mouth open, flapping wings, and warbling like a baby chipping sparrow.

After watching it beg for a day with no food, I broke down and fed it a few mealworms.

cowbird 1And now the fledgling flies to me several times a day! That makes me wonder how the heck it can learn to be a cowbird. It is still excited to see a chipping sparrow but absolutely thrilled when it sees me open the door. Hey, you are a cowbird, little guy!

cowbird 2

I’ve seen cowbirds walking in the grass nearby but our fella doesn’t seem at all interested. With a Google search, I found Matthew Louder, an ecologist, who states in Animal Behavior journal that the juvenile cowbirds leave the host’s territory at sunset, perhaps encountering adult cowbirds in wooded areas, returning to their hosts in the morning, thus fostering independence.

But it doesn’t explain how juveniles locate and recognize their own kind. Does our little fledgling fly to the woods when the sun sets to meet up with other cowbirds? We don’t know. But, each day it is standing at the door when we rise at 6 a.m.

cowbird 3

Fly away soon, little cowbird.  Fly far, far, far, far away and never come back to lay an egg in our bluebird box!

Atlantic Heights Garden Tour 2017

My first home as a child was in a planned neighborhood, the nation’s first Federal war-housing project established during World War I in Hilton Village, Virginia. Five hundred lovely English cottage-style homes were built by Newport News Shipbuilding to supply homes for their workers. The neighborhood opened on July 7, 1918. Following the war, the homes were sold.

Years later, my parents bought the small home below and, my gosh, what a wonderful neighborhood it provided for a community of young families in a much simpler time. We had sidewalks, shops, an inn, our church, a movie theater, and a very nice school… all on the historic James river.  After the 4th of 8 children was born to our parents, it was time to move from this small home… but nostalgia being what it is, we siblings occasionally still meet to drive through the hood and reminisce. Nothing has changed in this well-maintained historic neighborhood… but maybe the paint colors. Yes, we have home movies and photos galore so we can’t forget, and one brother still keeps up those childhood friends.

On Friday last, mister gardener and I saw a news article about another World War I Federal war-housing project located in Portsmouth NH, 20 minutes from us, that provided housing for the Portsmouth Shipyard. We knew nothing about this war housing project. They were having their annual garden tour the following day…. no charge, just donations.  We didn’t have to think twice about visiting this hood.

Absolutely adorable was my first thought when driving through the neighborhood…. quaint brick homes, sidewalks, a beautiful park with a baseball game in progress, old people and young people, a great sense of community. The folks we met were friendly and happy to share their neighborhood and their pocket gardens. Most of the homes were old brick and several styles that repeated with small changes, many were duplexes, and all the residences were quite tiny but very charming. Here are a few of the homes I photographed at random (click to enlarge):

And here are some photos of interesting sights here and there and some of the gardens they graciously shared with so many visitors (click to enlarge):

Thank you to Atlantic Heights for throwing open your garden gates to fellow gardeners and the curious… both of which we were. Great hospitality!

‘Breaking Away’ in Exeter NH

We are determined to be more involved in everything our community offers, so when our quiet, little town hosted the 34th Annual Exeter Classic criterium bike race recently, we were there for all the fun.

What’s a criterium you say? If you are new to a criterium (or crit) like we were, it is a one-day multi-lap race on a closed circuit… usually through a downtown to showcase speed, agility, and cycling technique. This was our second year attending and it was even more exciting this time around because we understand a bit more about what was going on.  It’s an awesome race that attracts many of the best cyclists in New England.

Exeter Classic

We watched the women’s race first. Twenty amazingly fit young females charging around the circuit in a tight pack was a sight to behold.

Women-Exeter Criterium

We were in a prime spot to watch the participants for the men’s race arrive, register, attach their numbers, and check in bikes for their hour long race coming up shortly.

men - Exeter Criterium

Men - Exeter Classic

And when those 93 participants in the men’s race lined up at the starting gate, the atmosphere was charged. Fans and family members were clapping, hollering, and encouraging their favorites before the race even began. And they were off….

Exeter Classic

If 93 cyclists pass you in a tight pack, hold onto your hat! I discovered there’s a blustery wind tunnel following these teams.

Exeter Classic - NH

The cyclists stayed in a fast-paced pack for the most part. The race was powerful and intense with teams jockeying for position, maneuvering tight corners, and reaching high speeds for an hour. Although we didn’t witness accidents, crashes often happen. Of the 93 starters, just 59 finished. Were there crashes? I haven’t heard.

All the funds from the criterium go toward an annual scholarship to a worthy University of New Hampshire cyclist.  All good…..  See you next year!

 

Wordless Wednesday 

First light