May 2011

James A. Baggett

The Buzz on Honeybees

You could say that bees are in my blood. After all, my Dad’s twin brother, my Uncle Steve, was for years an avid apiarist in central Indiana. Every December I could expect to find a beautiful, brand-spanking new jar of Baggett Honey waiting for me beneath my parents’ Christmas tree. And I would ration my special jar of Baggett Honey, using only a couple of tablespoons of the sweet elixir at a time on my morning oatmeal. I’ve always been fascinated by bees of all shapes and sizes, most especially our non-native honeybees. I like to show children who visit my garden how easy it is to pet the fuzzy abdomen of a bumblebee while feeding on the nectar of of my bee balm or anise hyssop. A couple of years ago, I was even lucky enough to produce a story on backyard beekeeping, so I had the chance to experience the process up close and personal. That’s me below suited up in a veil and protective overalls.

“The historic relationship between humans and their bees is long and enduring,” reads the introduction to The Beekeeper’s Bible: Bees, Honey, Recipes & Other Uses (Stewart, Tabori & Chang; 2011) by Richard A. Jones and Sharon Sweeney-Lynch, just one of one a half-dozen recent titles to come across my desk that explores the culture of bee and backyard beekeeping. “Honey, beeswax, and mead (the alcoholic drink made from honey) are part of a worldwide industry, yet, in the twenty-first century the numbers of honeybees are falling at an alarming rate, due to a mysterious condition known as Colony Collapse Disorder, which emerged late in 2006 and for which no one has yet discovered the cause. It is only as more and more of the world’s honeybees die that we are now beginning to appreciate not only hoe fragile their survival really is but also their importance to the agricultural economy globally owing to their pollination of crops. If bees are to survive into the twenty-second century, we must take them seriously.”

Here, from top to bottom, are the books pictured above:

Confessions of a Bad Beekeeper: What Not to Do When Keeping Bees (with Apologies to My Own) by Bill Turnbull (The Experiement; 2011).

Honeybee: Lessons from an Accidental Beekeeper by C. Marina Marchese (Black Dog & Leventhal; 2009).

The Quest for the Perfect Hive: A History of Innovation in Bee Culture by Gene Kritsky (Oxford University Press, 2010).

Homemade Living: Keeping Bees by Ashley English (Lark Crafts; 2011).

The Beekeeper’s Bible: Bees, Honey, Recipes & Other Home Uses by Richard A. Jones and Sharon Sweeney-Lynch (Abrams, 2011).

• The Backyard Beekeeper’s Honey Handbook: A Guide to Creating, Harvesting, and Cooking with Natural Honeys by Kim Flottum (Quarry Books; 2009).

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Eric Liskey

Cutting back

In our April issue, we wrote about Sedum ‘Maestro’, a summer/fall blooming sedum, available through Garden Crossings, whose best attribute, as far as I’m concerned, is its sturdy stems. Seems like a funny thing to key on, but if you’ve ever seen an ‘Autumn Joy’ or ‘Ruby Glow’ flop flat on the ground in the fall, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Sedum 'Maestro'

I bring this up now because sedums are one of those plants that benefit from pinching or cutting back to help them stay more compact later in the year. Gardeners usually know this about asters and mums, but not so much with sedum. But the latter does respond well to pinching back before June. I don’t actually pinch….it’s more like shearing. In fact, that’s the easiest thing to do. Just get out your shears, and start cutting, then rake up the trimmings when you’re done. Better than one stem at a time.

It’s very effective, but why do it if you don’t have to? That’s where ‘Maestro’ comes in. Anything that lessens the work load is a good thing, right?

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Everyday Gardeners

Love a Tree Day

Today’s post is in honor of Love a Tree Day, which happens on May 16th every year. (Who knew?) I would write about my favorite tree, but that’s like asking a parent to choose a favorite child. I have dozens of favorites.

With ash trees under attack by emerald ash borer, American elms barely hanging on against Dutch elm disease, and American chestnuts all but wiped out by chestnut blight, I feel that it’s important to create diversity by planting a wide variety of trees.

I’ve taken that to heart in my own landscape. On my half-acre lot I have planted the following trees: a callery pear, a serviceberry, five Alberta spruces, three Austrian pines, three Eastern white pines, a sweetbay magnolia, a Japanese tree lilac, a goldenrain tree, five arborvitaes, eight upright junipers, a dawn redwood, a Vanderwolf limber pine, a black gum, a blue Colorado spruce, a red maple, a weeping European beech, an Eastern redbud, a shingle oak, a ginkgo, a Swiss stone pine, a kousa dogwood, and I’ve allowed a squirrel-seeded bur oak to grow in one of the perennial beds.

This doesn’t even count the trees growing in containers: two Meyer lemons, a Valencia orange, an Oroblanco grapefruit, two bay laurels, and various dwarf conifers.

I’ll admit to punishing several “problem children”. Self-seeded cottonwoods, hackberries, chokecherries, box elders, and willows are removed from my flowerbeds where they all too often take root. I also dig out sprouting black walnuts that the ambitious squirrels bury in the planting beds.

After six years of planting, I think that my lot is about full enough of trees. I still want sunny areas for growing veggies and sun-loving flowers. So from now on, new trees will have to be dwarf. I’m envisioning dwarf conifers in a new rock garden…..


Justin W. Hancock

Wordless Wednesday!

It’s Wednesday…that means time to show off some fantastic photos from the BHG Share My Gallery.

Summer BorderA beautiful summer garden from reader maxfield2632905!

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BottlebrushA delightful red bottlebrush from reader arshg2011

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FoxgloveColorful foxglove and birdhouse from reader celbroussard200

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How’s your spring garden looking? Show it off AND win a chance to grow a new-for-2011 Hydrangea Endless Summer Bella Anna from Bailey Nurseries. Enter our photo contest today!

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Justin W. Hancock

Win a Gardener’s Trip

BiltmoreGreat news! We’ve teamed up with the folks at Preen and the Biltmore estate to offer the gardening trip of the season!

Enter our sweepstakes for your chance to win a trip to visit the fantastic mansion in Asheville, North Carolina. The prize includes accommodations  at the Inn at Biltmore Estate, travel to and from the Biltmore, and more.

What we’re most excited about is the private, behind-the-scenes tour from a Biltmore horticulturist the winner gets of the fabulous Biltmore gardens. Imagine getting to spend some time with a gardener who gets to design spaces like this one!

And, at the risk of sounding like an infomercial — but that’s not all! The winner also receives a trip to the Biltmore Spa and wine from the Biltmore.

Sound ideal? Enter our sweepstakes now!

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Denny Schrock

dandelion wars

I have to admit that the golden yellow blooms of dandelion can be quite beautiful. But their “pretty” season doesn’t last long. They soon develop fluffy white seed heads that float on the breeze to take root in any available speck of soil.

This year’s crop of dandelions in Des Moines has been prolific! And although the lawn is a lower priority for me than flower beds and the vegetable garden, I just couldn’t leave the dandelions to propagate throughout the neighborhood. Maybe it was was my reputation as a gardener that I was trying to protect. Or maybe it was lingering guilt about “What will the neighbors think?”. Whatever the reason, my husband Patrick and I have assaulted the dandelion scourge with a variety of dandelion removal tools.

I try to garden with few chemicals, so all-out chemical warfare wasn’t a top choice. (I must admit to occasional spot treatment with herbicides, however.) Instead, we use a variety of digging tools to remove the dandelions roots and all. Patrick’s favorite weapon is the Fiskars dandelion digger, pictured on the left side of the photo at right. It has a convenient step bar to aid in puncturing the soil, and a convenient long handled lever that grasps the dandelion root and pulls it out in a single motion. My only objection to it is that sometimes as it pulls out the dandelion root it also removes a large plug of soil, which must be filled back in. I like the long-handled garden trowel at right. The long T-bar handle provides good leverage and results in a minimal amount of bending over. I find that the dandelion root pops out without having to completely remove the soil plug. We also have a traditional forked dandelion digger, which I find just too small for our robust dandelions.

Have you battled dandelions and won? What are your weapons of choice for eliminating the pests? Or perhaps you peacefully co-exist with dandelions, enjoying the greens in salads and using the flowers to make dandelion wine.