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Bumblebee Garden Project - Advice Please!  RSS feed

 
Vera Stewart
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Location: 7b at 1050 feet, precipitation average 13 inches, irrigated, Okanagan Valley
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There is a newly installed driveway in the backyard of the house, and it is asphalt. There is fear in the household that nasty weeds will grow into the asphalt and destroy it. There is so much fear that someone purchased Round-Up yesterday. I blame the driveway guys who apparently left word that poisoning the ground alongside the driveway was going to be necessary to preserve the driveway. So I had a talk with the Round-Up purchaser, and they agreed that if I could lay down a garden strip that had no "invasive" plants along most of one side of the driveway, then that area would not be poisoned. (The other side is mostly on town land and it's fairly pointless to plant there as the town has rights to come along and spray whatever anyway.)

Previous to the Round-Up purchase, I had worked out a plan for a garden bed with a focus on plants that would attract pollinators, but without especial consideration for plant "invasiveness," by which I think we mean the propensity for a plant to spread by rhizome. Now I need advise on how to revise that plan. I also would appreciate advise on whether feeding pollinators just a few feet away from an area that will be sprayed with Round-Up will be more harmful then helpful to them. Assuming that it's not, there are some plants that I was hoping to establish. Please let me know if any are in your experience likely to be seen as overly vigorous and invasive and a threat to the driveway : I'm especially fond of bumblebees, so I would in addition enjoy hearing suggestions for (non-spreading) plants that bumblebees in particular seem to like. I'd like most of the area to be perennial, but it's not necessary.

The space is about 25 feet long, slightly curved, so the 25 feet is the small side of the curve. I'm thinking I'll make it about 3, maybe 3.5 feet wide

Plants I thought might be good, realizing that not all of them will fit:

Bergamot (I already have seeds)
Lavender
Showy Milkweed (already have seeds)
Wild aster
Anise Hyssop
Chicory (might not grow more then once here, but it's something I just want to try anyway)
Peppermint(already have seeds, and a big pot for it to grow in)
Globe thistle?
perennial sage?
Thrift?
Butterfly weed?
And then I thought I might throw in some breadseed and/or oriental poppies
and maybe some dahlias, because I like dahlias and I figured they could fit sort of around the edges of the other plants
Also thinking about orange arnica, which is native to the area

I'm hoping to establish red clover elsewhere

I have one Bocking 14 comfrey starting to grow out in a pot, and I wonder if it would make sense to include it in this beegardenstrip?

Thanks for your thoughts!
 
David Livingston
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How big an area are we talking about ?
 
Vera Stewart
Posts: 227
Location: 7b at 1050 feet, precipitation average 13 inches, irrigated, Okanagan Valley
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Oh! Right, knew I'd forgotten something! It's about 25 feet long, slightly curved, so the 25 feet is the small side of the curve. I'm thinking I'll make it about 3, maybe 3.5 feet wide.
 
David Livingston
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There is no right answer to this but I like going bold and big .
I would plant lavender down the middle or bushy fushia and an annual at the sides . Eventually the annuals will be pushed out by the bigger perennials.
Bees love the fushia and the lavender , the lavender you can do stuff with as its edible and you can make smelly stuff out of it , fushia is edible also

David
 
Casie Becker
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I'd agree with the big and bushy thought. Large plants whose roots would be at a slight distance from the actual asphalt.

I wonder if plants whose primary root system is built around a tap root would delve deep enough below the asphalt to not be a threat?
 
Crt Jakhel
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Is this a full sun area? (And if so, does it also get super hot because of the asphalt?)

How far away are the neighbors' lawns? (Some of your plants would tend to self-seed.)

What happens in the winter, will your close-to-the-driveway bed get snow / salt piled upon it?

How much traffic will the driveway carry? (Will you be able to use your plants for edible purposes or do you expect too many exhaust fumes etc?)

 
Vera Stewart
Posts: 227
Location: 7b at 1050 feet, precipitation average 13 inches, irrigated, Okanagan Valley
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It is in full sun. Perhaps a few feet might get a little shade, but it is mostly in full sun. I don't think it will effect the neighbour, even if it did, they have a rather wild garden and would probably not complain if they got a few extra seeds. I don't know if the asphalt will make the area even more hot, it is already quite hot.
As for driveway use, it will be minimal and there won't be any salt, perhaps a little snow, but judging by the past two winters, any snow piles will be small and melt quite quickly. I expect I will feel comfortable eating any plants that are planted in the area.

Thanks for the advice so far!

Edited to add - most of the area will fall within the current irrigation system, which although I would like to stop using, is availible. I plan to place stray wood and compost material in the base of the bed to help with moisture retention.
 
Crt Jakhel
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Location: NE Slovenia, zone 6a
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Mint a possibly bergamot might, in my opinion, be overwhelmed by the sun/heat.

Milkweed, butterfly weed - these guys can be hard to grow from seed.

Dahlias and asters love to get powdery mildew.

Lavender and sage sound great to me. Especially if your sage flowers in a color other than blue so it can complement the lavender. They will require some cleanup pruning each year but that needs to happen just once or twice. Oh, and with lavender, be safe, stick with Engilsh lavender (angustifolia).

Maybe some purple coneflowers ?

I was also thinking about the native orange arnica which you mentioned, to make things more colorful. I don't have any first hard experience with it but I read that it loves to self-seed so maybe that's not a good idea in your situation - as I understand it you don't want to give the impression that the plants are "escaping" the bed and are about to eat up the asphalt... - correct?

And, of course, whatever you're eager to try out regardless of others' opinions - it's not a super critical thing and it's good to be able to experiment

I considered the following plants which I love and definitely see bumblebees on them but gave up as probably unsuitable because of their tendency to spread: rudbeckia (it self-seeds obsessively) and a hedge of buddleia (butterfly bush; also a strong seeder) and/or rosa rugosa (super tough and would have been great for this situation but it will send out suckers in great quantities).

However, if you decide to be bold and want to try a hedge anyway, a mass planting of buddleia is really something...
 
Zach Muller
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Bumblebees really like abelia bushes, which can be trimmed to stay small, or allowed to grow up quite large. I have 4 bushes about 4'x4'x4' and when they bloom there is at least one bee for every few inches. I know you said things that don't spread, but worthy of a mention is wysteria. In my area there is nothing bumblebees flock to more, like 5 bees per flower cluster during the peak of blooming. The whole vine vibrates and buzzes in a spectacular way, my suggestions for fully controlling it's invasive type growth is grow it freestanding and keep the edges controlled so it has nowhere to go but up and over itself.
I have personally see bumblebees on my comfrey, sage, poppies, crimson clover, and would recommend any of them for easy growing.
 
Todd Parr
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Bumblebees cover my comfrey plants.
 
Neil Layton
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I don't want to go into too much specific detail because I don't know what species are liable to become opportunistic in your area, and only generalities about Nearctic Bombini, but here are a few general points to think about.

1) It's important to have nectar and pollen from when queens first awake in spring: you can usually take this to be the 10-degree Celsius thermocline, when photosynthetic efficiency wakens those species that lack much stored energy, but some species will take advantage of early flowers, so it's good to have a few early spring flowering plants (mostly this means bulbs) in your mix, through to when the next year's queens go into hibernation. I'd advise against a short species list.

2) It's convenient to divide bumblebees by tongue length (this doesn't work well taxonomically). Evolved resource partitioning means that long-tongued bumblebees can forage from flowers with both long and short corolla tubes, but will preferentially feed on the former, while short-tongued bumblebees can only feed on flowers with short corolla tubes. I have also noted flower size partitioning. For example, I have noted that Bombus hortorum is pretty well the only species observed on my foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea), but are almost never seen on my catmint ( Nepeta × faassenii, I think) or Dalmatian bellflower (Campanula portenschlagiana), although these are often covered by B. pratorum and B. lapidarius. My raspberries (Rubus idaeus) are almost exclusively pollinated by B. terrestris.

Putting together a species list for your ecoregion is beyond me, but species diversity and extended flowering periods are key: continuity is vital.
 
Forest West
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I keep honeybees and there are always lots of bumbles around. One plant I didn't hear anyone mention is wild marjoram. It is the queen of all my bee plants that they like the most. It is drought resistant and usually starts to bloom in July through August. An important time when there are fewer blossoms around. Wild marjoram is also a pretty tough plant if it gets roughed up. It seems to spread mostly by seeds. Another great flower for bumbles is purple tansy phacelia lacy. Not to be confused by tansy ragwort. I am using it as a cover crop and once your grow it, there are numerous seed pods to replant for the next year. As for the Asphalt guys....I can't imagine plants just wanting to grow right up in the asphalt, unless the asphalt is getting old and cracks are developing. And when that happens of course nature will try to fill those cracks with seeds that blow around. The only true way keep this from happening is to pull them out as soon as you see them
 
Jill Emerson
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Location: New York City/Woodstock NY
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Bees do really love comfrey, so I would by all means include it. Bees love, love, love anise hyssop as well, and it's easy to grow, so add that to the mix too - the leaves are edible.

The only other comment I have on your list of possibles is the mint. It spreads very aggressively via rhizomes. Think about substituting something bees can feast on in the fall, as you have mostly summertime blossoms listed. Bees need blossoming plants to start early in spring and bloom as late as possible in fall. I would suggest goldenrod, but it can be aggressive and spread via root. I've read elsewhere that borage can seed itself and young plants will bloom into the fall, or perhaps Caryopteris x clandonensis cultivars, such as ‘Dark Knight', a spirea that has been known to blossom in late summer, with dark blue blooms. Asters are native fall bloomers. I've not known them to develop powdery mildew, but perhaps that is true of some hybrids. Look for heritage seeds.
 
Shawn Harper
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I too always see bumble bees on my comfrey
 
Rick Valley
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You could try- design from observation! (it's a permaculture design methodology) Look around and see what the bees like in your zone. No Nationwide habitat list is going to have many of your native plants. Like, maybe you can grow Fuchsia if you take them in in the winter- or buy new ones every year, and build a shade structure and put a constant water drip on them...
If you want a reference, try the Xerces Society book Attracting Native Pollinators. (not that all your bumblebees are going to be natives, but they won't care) Washington resident Robert Pyle founded the Xerces Society, (for invertebrate conservation) and they do good work. Start by planting any part of the area that you aren't putting immediately into specific perennials into annuals. Lupines for instance, fix nitrogen and are good pioneers for other plants to follow, and I've seen bumble bees on them.
 
samiam kephart
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I plant forage radishes in the fall on the edges of my beds.... they are among the first things to bloom in the spring but they will put out a lot of seed . bees love them and the comfrey too. you can chop and drop the comfrey several times during the season
 
Vera Stewart
Posts: 227
Location: 7b at 1050 feet, precipitation average 13 inches, irrigated, Okanagan Valley
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Lots of advice from everyone coming in, thank-you, I really appreciate it.

I've started digging the bed, it's about a foot and a half to two feet deep, soil, definitely dry (my sandal-ed feet are getting dusty, not dirty) and lots of small rocks, and a few that are larger then a fist but smaller then my head. I've had one inquisitive neighbour so far, and I was able to talk about preparing to place compost, etc., at the bottom to make it easier for the plants to grow, which was sort of fun. (I'm stacking up the rocks as I work for a mini-rock wall around a separate rhubarb n' strawberry area.) After about two feet down I start to run into a considerable number of fist+ sized rocks, so I'm going to let the plants hopefully work their roots around them instead of spending time heaving them out of there. I've turned up a very few earthworms and a few beetles and creepy crawlies, but definitely not nearly as many as I overturn with regularity when working in my vegetable garden area.

Casie Becker wrote:I'd agree with the big and bushy thought. Large plants whose roots would be at a slight distance from the actual asphalt.
I wonder if plants whose primary root system is built around a tap root would delve deep enough below the asphalt to not be a threat?


David Livingston wrote:Bees love the fushia and the lavender , the lavender you can do stuff with as its edible and you can make smelly stuff out of it , fushia is edible also


Crt Jackhel wrote:Lavender and sage sound great to me. Especially if your sage flowers in a color other than blue so it can complement the lavender. They will require some cleanup pruning each year but that needs to happen just once or twice. Oh, and with lavender, be safe, stick with Engilsh lavender (angustifolia).


I see lavender in my future! I've tried three times now to grow lavender from seed (the real English angustifolia!) and have consistently failed, so I'm now preparing to visit the "fancy garden shop" to buy actual plants.

I like the idea of non-blue sage flowers, I will have to investigate if I can find that here, if I end up with sage. So many options are coming up!

On the question of dahlias and aster getting powdery mildew, this is a concern for because I had mildew problems with my squash last year.

Todd Parr wrote:Bumblebees cover my comfrey plants.
This might be a stupid question, but can bumblebees (and other pollinators) get nutrients out of a non-seeding comfrey?

I will return to responding to everyone's advice after supper! Thanks.
 
Tracy Wandling
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The flowers in my yard that have gotten AMAZING attention from the bees are the Breadseed Poppies. They bloom in a variety of colors, from purest white to dark hot pink, mauve, and 'poppy' red. They also come in single petaled and huge pom-pom double petaled. They are my new most favorite flower. They required NO care - no watering at all. They are just growing everywhere. It's June, and they are still blooming, with new ones coming into bloom still. Each plant produces many flowers, and they are always covered with bees. These will definitely be planted in my vegetable garden next year to attract the bees.

So, if you can get your hands on some seeds, these are the most amazing flowers I've ever grown. Mine grow anywhere from 2 feet to 4 feet tall, so they are best at the back, or in the center of, a planting. The foliage is a light blueish green, and the pods of the single petaled flowers are bigger than the double, but all are good sized. Oh! And the deer don't seem to be interested in eating them, so that's a bonus.

Here are some photos.
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After the rain
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Red, pink, white
BreadseedPoppy-bees-1.jpg
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Breadseed poppy with bees
 
Vera Stewart
Posts: 227
Location: 7b at 1050 feet, precipitation average 13 inches, irrigated, Okanagan Valley
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Neil Layton wrote:I don't want to go into too much specific detail because I don't know what species are liable to become opportunistic in your area, and only generalities about Nearctic Bombini, but here are a few general points to think about.

1) It's important to have nectar and pollen from when queens first awake in spring: you can usually take this to be the 10-degree Celsius thermocline, when photosynthetic efficiency wakens those species that lack much stored energy, but some species will take advantage of early flowers, so it's good to have a few early spring flowering plants (mostly this means bulbs) in your mix, through to when the next year's queens go into hibernation. I'd advise against a short species list.
.....

Putting together a species list for your ecoregion is beyond me, but species diversity and extended flowering periods are key: continuity is vital.


I am concerned about including plants that will flower from spring through fall. I have also been reading about bumblebees being ground nesters and how it's helpful for them to have a "no mow' area and maybe make them a nest area of piled up leaves/twigs in the fall to last through the winter till after their emergence in the spring. Fortunately I have a couple of areas in my yard that I already avoid mowing, initially due to laziness, now in order to allow unplanned species to show up, and with a third reason - for the bees - I see those areas being institutionalized as no-go areas.

I'm planning on leaving space in the bed in order to have space for a species or two to cover times when my initial plantings don't bloom. I've never been sucessful with bulbs, but I haven't tried them here yet, either. So perhaps I can find some that will work? Or radishes...

samiam kephart wrote:
I plant forage radishes in the fall on the edges of my beds.... they are among the first things to bloom in the spring but they will put out a lot of seed . bees love them ...


I'm hoping to fit six or seven different species of plants into the space, although when I look at some of the space 'required' for growing some of my current choices, I wonder how on earth I'm going to manage it!

Rick Valley wrote:You could try- design from observation!


This would be easier if I had more flowers to look at! Right now practically the only thing blooming in my neighbourhood are yucca - which don't have pollinators here at all as far as I can tell! I also see some snapdragon that I've seen bees (and hummingbirds) visiting - but it's quite invasive here, I see it a lot in abandoned places. It would fail my minimal spread requirement. And I observed a probable yellow-faced bumblebee at my potted heliotrope this morning. I've read that heliotrope is supposed to smell amazing. It dosen't smell like anything to me at all.

Re mint - While I plan to grow peppermint, I am also planning to have it in it's own pot, where it will hopefully not escape. Also I will be able to move it around if the sun proves too hot for it.

Jill Emerson wrote:Bees need blossoming plants to start early in spring and bloom as late as possible in fall. I would suggest goldenrod, but it can be aggressive and spread via root.


Yes, I initially planned on including goldenrod, but I've been scared off by it's aggressiveness. I am happy to have bee love for anise hyssop confirmed. I would very much like to include it. I am always looking for heritage seeds - preferably planting species/cultivars available in interior B.C. pre-1900ish as part of my overall garden plan!



 
Vera Stewart
Posts: 227
Location: 7b at 1050 feet, precipitation average 13 inches, irrigated, Okanagan Valley
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Forest West wrote:I keep honeybees and there are always lots of bumbles around. One plant I didn't hear anyone mention is wild marjoram. It is the queen of all my bee plants that they like the most. It is drought resistant and usually starts to bloom in July through August. An important time when there are fewer blossoms around. Wild marjoram is also a pretty tough plant if it gets roughed up. It seems to spread mostly by seeds. Another great flower for bumbles is purple tansy phacelia lacy. Not to be confused by tansy ragwort. I am using it as a cover crop and once your grow it, there are numerous seed pods to replant for the next year. As for the Asphalt guys....I can't imagine plants just wanting to grow right up in the asphalt, unless the asphalt is getting old and cracks are developing. And when that happens of course nature will try to fill those cracks with seeds that blow around. The only true way keep this from happening is to pull them out as soon as you see them


Adding wild marjoram to my list of potentials....

I did a lot of internal eye-rolling at the pronouncements of the asphalt guys - were they trying to tell us that they did a bad job and cracks would start to appear anytime? But I have to consider what I have to consider, and if asphalt "protection" is one of them, then...okay...


Tracy Wandling wrote:The flowers in my yard that have gotten AMAZING attention from the bees are the Breadseed Poppies.


Oh, goodie! I meant to order breadseed poppy seed this spring, but somehow they weren't included in my orders...so, I do definitely want to include them in this!

Thank-you everyone for your advice. I still have more digging to do before I can start putting the flower bed "together" and then start planting, so fortunately there's more time for me to digest all this information.

Currently I'm thinking I'll try planting:

Lavender
Anise Hyssop
Comfrey
Breadseed poppy - perhaps 2 or even 3 different varieties
Sage?
(Peppermint, not necessarily part of the flower bed)
(Crimson clover elsewhere)
Maybe some heritage asters?
the showy milkweed if it sprouts. This is attempt two at starting it from seed. But there is some growing wild in an abandoned lot nearby, so it should grow...
 
Hans Quistorff
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I planten bluebell bulbs thickly along the walkway border. [they were a heritage with the farm and dug up preparing the foundation] They come up early in the spring. when the flowers are done I shear off the flower stalks. by the time the plants further back are developing the leaves collapse and become a mulch. I trim off any that overlap the paving so that it looks neat.
This might be a stupid question, but can bumblebees (and other pollinators) get nutrients out of a non-seeding comfrey?
Nectar but probably not pollen. The advantage is it only spreads by root division so although the clump will gradually enlarge it will not invade your lawn if planted along the inside edge of the curve. But if closely spaced will prevent the lawn from invading the bed. The large leaves in the spring make a good backdrop for the flowers Then the flower stalks come up and bloom. when the bloom finishes cut the whole plant to the ground for compost and it will repeat.

The best plant for fall bee food is mock bamboo but that is one that will come up through the asphalt and take over the whole yard.
 
Todd Parr
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I forgot to mention sedum. I don't know which variety I have. I got them from my Mom, but I have never seen more bumblebees than I have on her sedum plants. They do spread.
 
Vera Stewart
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Location: 7b at 1050 feet, precipitation average 13 inches, irrigated, Okanagan Valley
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This project has not been forgotten.

I've been delayed, but managed to complete the digging a few days ago.

I've also been going around to various places trying to find some big 'ol tall Lavandula angustifolia for sale, and keep being told that no one sells the tall stuff - which is a ridiculous thing to say, as I can see tall lavender growing in various places in town. So my plan is to sneak a few cuttings off of public space lavender some evening soon.

My showy milkweed has once again not sprouted, and I seem to have misplaced my bee balm
Fortunately the one comfrey plant I have is thriving, so I have at least one thing I can plant in to the bee garden right away when I finish preparing the bed.

Tomorrow is a yard waste collection day in town so I will be going around picking up tree branches to hug.
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Vera Stewart
Posts: 227
Location: 7b at 1050 feet, precipitation average 13 inches, irrigated, Okanagan Valley
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And...I'm done with the hard labour.

Fortunately a neighbour was trimming one of their nut trees and was happy to have us whisk the branches away instead of having to chop them up for waste collection. So they went into the bottom of the trench. Also some grass clippings, and a cardboard egg carton. Of course I have no idea how fast these branches will decompose. I guess I'll just have to wait and see. I am NOT digging them back out of there, I guarantee that. Well, unless they start growing lots of trees. That would be somewhat alarming.

As you can see I decided to leave a little bit of a grassy strip between the driveway and the garden bed. If I'd been thinking properly, I would have used the rocks I pulled out of the trench to cover up the space. But instead I used the rocks as mulch elsewhere. I could still move them, I suppose. But I'm hoping that what will happen over a couple of years is whatever I plant in the bed gets so huge that it'll shade out the grass space, or I'll dig up the grass strip to accommodate something I feel super-confident won't cause asphalt cracking problems. At the moment I'm playing it safe with the driveway/garden bed interaction.

And...I ceremonially planted the first plant - a comfrey.

I should have some sage soon, as well as the lavender I plan to,er, "liberate."





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Vera Stewart
Posts: 227
Location: 7b at 1050 feet, precipitation average 13 inches, irrigated, Okanagan Valley
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Thought I should update this thread just to say that the comfrey is settling in well, and I have some chicory starting to come up beside it.
The sage seeds I planted don't seem to want to sprout, but I do have a couple of lavender now, which I can transplant sometime soon. *It's currently 35Celcius/90F out there*
 
Nadine McKenzie
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Location: Old Fort, North Carolina, USA. Sandy Loam.
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Honeybees get a remarkable immunity boost from the mycellum of Wine Cap Mushrooms.  This fungi is very easy to grow and can happily dine on cardboard.  I would imaging that anything that is good for honeybees would be equally good for bumblebees.  Paul Stammets has some interesting video on the research behind the Wine Cap mushroom and its immunity boosting properties.  The mushroom is also edible and tastes like potato sauteed in wine. 
 
Vera Stewart
Posts: 227
Location: 7b at 1050 feet, precipitation average 13 inches, irrigated, Okanagan Valley
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I went away for two and a half weeks, without mulching this bed first, so all I've got growing now is grass, some purslane that moved in by itself, and the comfrey, which fortunately seems to be thriving despite my neglect. I don't know if any of the chicory that was starting to come up has survived, as I have yet to pick through all the weeds. It's starting to look like this project will be really advanced only next year now. I need to pick up some mulching material during the next yard waste collection day!
 
Hans Quistorff
pollinator
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Location: Longbranch, WA
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That is the role of the comfrey it will anchor your border better each year. As the roots get biger they will send up more and stronger flower stalks.  You will be able to leave the flower stalks for the bees but harvest the large leaves for mulch or compost. When the flowers are done you can cut the stalk and with a roling pin press it toward the cut end to extract a gel like aloe vera. Then it will send up attractive new leaves and possibly bloom again. 
If the grass is growing from roots invading the mulch then you need to keep cutting an edge between the grass and mulch a dry air gap to air prune the roots. Purslane stores a lot of water so it is a welcome addition to the compost during the summer. Usually you cant eat it alll.
 
Vera Stewart
Posts: 227
Location: 7b at 1050 feet, precipitation average 13 inches, irrigated, Okanagan Valley
22
bike books dog food preservation greening the desert
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The comfrey has reached out to the edges of the bed with it's biggest leaves so far - good stuff.
The chicory I planted is doing well now, and would be doing better if I hadn't seeded it too close together. Unfortunately it will likely be killed off by frost long before it has a chance to flower, since I planted it far later then it should have been, but I'm proving to myself that it will grow here, and I have seed left over for planting it (better) in this bed again next spring.
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2017 Permaculture Design Course at Wheaton Labs
http://richsoil.com/pdc
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