After a long cold winter, gardeners are itching to get some color outside, even as early as St Patrick’s Day. Most hardy annuals tolerate light frosts, but not freezing. St Patrick’s Day marks the start of my container season. Including edibles such as kale, lettuce, and spinach gives my containers double duty. And the leafy greens are attractive too.
I use the following cold hardy annuals:
Pansies/Violas-technically not an annual, but I treat it like one
Calendula-great orange and yellow color
Lobelia-a small flowered blue or white trailer that is a non-stop bloomer. It creates masses of flowers that cascade or trail out of a container
Alyssum-honey-scented white or purple trailer
Dusty Miller-good foliage foil with felted grey leaves
Nemesia-comes in a variety of colors and the scent is fabulous
Ranunculus-multi-petaled flower which loves the cold; looks like a rose
Snapdragons-upright flower used for height, seen in cottage type gardens
Ornamental Cabbage-Yes, this looks like a full grown cabbage!;Great foliage in pinks, greens, and whites
Dianthus-The quintessential cottage flower, pinks are treasured for their blue-green foliage and abundant starry flowers, which are often spicily fragrant. They come in pinks, whites, and reds and are sweetly scented
For an excellent chart of frost hardiness of annuals, go to Cold Tolerant Annuals a publication by the University of Minnesota. If anyone knows cold, people who live in Minnesota do! Some flowers can take ice and snow, like Ornamental Cabbages and Pansies; others can take a light frost and temperatures in the thirties, like Nemesia.
Lasting for 6 to 8 weeks, the containers will have run their course by mid-May, and it will be time to plant for the summer using heat tolerant plants. Most people wait to plant their containers until May in the mid-Atlantic region when the danger of frost is past. But why wait? You are missing out on all the wonderful cold hardy varieties that will be done in by the coming heat, like Ranunculus and Violas.
Ranunculus is actually a corm, a small type of bulb, and the flowers look too perfect to be real. Exquisite, rose-like blossoms, they are often seen in wedding bouquets. Silky petals are layered like a rose in bright, paint box colors.
Buying my plants from a variety of sources- big box, wholesale nurseries, and independent nurseries with a good selection – I hold my plants in my cold frame. Staying about 10-20 degrees warmer than the surrounding air, it is convenient to stash the plants somewhere and to look at all my color combos before planting. Sometimes, when I place them in my cold frame without any thought for color, a new pairing of texture or color will leap out at me. If you don’t have a cold frame, storing in an unheated garage or shed will work too.
It is really important to acclimate your annuals to the cold by gradually exposing them to colder temperatures than the warm temps in a greenhouse.
Using accessory elements like statues, balls, and twigs, will make the container pop.
Having flowering plants out in March and April is extremely important for the pollinators that are flying in chilly weather and have trouble finding nectar sources. You are providing a vital source of nectar and pollen for these important native bees by planting out early, as well as giving yourself a boost of color therapy after our cold winter.
Trailing white Alyssum makes this container look lush
Perennials like Coral Bells, Carex, Bergenia, Hellebores, Scabiosus, Lamium, and Evergreen Ferns, can be used in the early spring container as accents and fillers. The worn out annuals can be pulled out leaving the still performing perennials and newer heat tolerant annuals inserted in their place.
Painting hive bodies a boring white was the norm when I started beekeeping 20 years ago. Fast forward to the present and everyone is trying to outdo themselves with wild and beautiful designs decorating the bee yard. Art and beekeeping?…. Great combination of two of my favorite past-times and I can give you some pointers on how to accomplish a beautiful beehive even if you have no artistic abilities. Stencils, spray paint, and stickers can all be used to come up with a design that people will think you spent hours on!
Inspired by the designs seen at Beekeeping Like A Girl and IzzabellaBeez on Etsy, I am now thinking about how I can jazz up my apiary. In the past, I have used stencils as a quick pick-me-up for my hives. Once you paint a base coat, it is so easy to apply stencils and you are done! But I would like to do a full makeover of free-hand painting of my hives.
If you have lots of hives placed together in a row that look-alike, customizing your beehive makes it easier for your bees to find their proper hive and eliminate ‘drifting’. Drifting bees can get confused if all the hives look-alike and need a special homing designation to get to their particular hive.
For functionality, start with a neutral base coat and add at least 2 coats to get good coverage to protect the beehive from the elements to last for years. I troll the paint sections of the big box stores for quarts or gallons that were returned and you can pick up for a fraction of the cost.
Everyone paints their beehives to protect them from the elements, but why not make it beautiful and eye-catching? The bees don’t care, and this is your chance to express yourself. Lasting longer in the heat, sun, and, and bad weather that we can get in the Mid-Atlantic region, paint makes your wooden ware last a whole lot longer.
Paint the outside surfaces of the beehive and leave the insides where the bee live free of paint. Use a gloss paint on top of your primer or base coat as it seems to slough off dirt better than a satin or eggshell paint.The color of the primer is not important. But primer is important to seal and protect the wood, and it enables the final coat of paint adhere better, and helps the surface paint resist moisture and mildew.
I want my painted beehives to last. And if you don’t want to bother with painting it yourself, just browse IzzabellaBeez and order one of her gorgeous hand painted hives on-line.
Only on display at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania for two to three weeks, the Himalayan Blue Poppies are stunners and considered a rare garden treasure. Almost extinct in their native habitat of Bhutan, photographers flock to Longwood to capture some photos of these amazingly true blue spectacles. Sporting deep sky blue crepey petals with mauve highlights and a ring of golden stamens and anthers, the plant is much sought after to add to gardens.
Unfortunately, in North America it can only be grown in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, and parts of New England successfully. Meconopsis grandis is the national flower of Bhutan, a country high up in the Himalayas, above 10,000 feet, and wants cool, cool temperatures, like 45 to 50 degrees F. The conservatory at Longwood Gardens is certainly warmer than this so the flower is fleeting in its beauty.
Once considered a myth and brought back to the west by plant hunters, the Blue Poppy is a challenge to grow for the most experienced gardeners and a mark of distinction for any gardener succeeding in its cultivation.
Requiring moist and cool conditions, Longwood Gardens, one of the few places to see them, forces the variety Meconopsis ‘Lingholm’ into bloom every March and increases their number each year because of their popularity.
Drawing large numbers of people, especially photographers getting that perfect shot, the colors are unbelievable-saturated blues with streaks of mauve plum tones- on a large 4-5 inch flower.
A shade of blue rarely seen in other flowers, the foliage is also stunning with grass-green hairy stems and leaves. Longwood Gardens gets their Blue Poppy plants shipped to them from an Alaska grower in the fall and they grow them in perfectly controlled greenhouse conditions to force them into bloom for display in the spring. Longwood has two different batches that it refreshes the flowers with so they can extend the brief bloom time for visitors.
Growing in the warm clime of the conservatory, the mauve highlights were evidence as a sign of stress. The ephemeral quality of their blooms is part of their attraction and charm and visitors flock to see them.
Demanding a rich loamy well draining soil in partial sun in cool conditions is the primary ingredient to successfully growing this garden gem. Way too hot in my mid-Atlantic climate, I get to photograph them and enjoy them at Longwood Gardens in the spring. For more information on how to grow them if you are in a better suited climate than mine, go to Himalayan Blue Poppy Care.
Ok, drumroll here….I think I can say that Hellebores are my favorite perennial plant. A well-kept secret of garden enthusiasts, Hellebores should be more widely known to serious and not so serious gardeners alike; this is a plant that is worth seeking out. What other plant resists deer, neglect, likes shade-even deep shade, is evergreen, arranges beautifully, and has stunning flowers? Did I mention that it blooms for 3 – 4 months of the year? That was not a typo- Hellebores bloom for at least 3 months, sometimes longer, starting in mid February for me in the mid-Atlantic region, and soldiering on until at least April or May. Increasingly, I have seen them for sale at Trader Joe’s and other unlikely places, so I think finally people are waking up to the value of this flower. Poisonous, deer turn up their nose at these beautiful plants.
So, why isn’t this plant in more gardens? Several reasons…First they are pricey. Retail prices can range from $15 to $30 a piece. Second, when most people are browsing the garden centers in May, the plants have mostly finished their blooming show and people move on to fresher blooming plants. Third, Hellebore flower colors are usually subtle greens, pinks, and whites, and many gardeners want something brighter and flashier. But hybridizers are working on that with increasingly colorful flowers being released every year.
For bee and nature lovers, this plant is extra important because it is an early nectar source for pollinators. There isn’t much blooming when they are in their glory in the late winter and I am sure to see the flowers filled with bees on a warmer day.
Good Things Come to Those Who Wait
Another drawback other than their high price, and I warn my clients about this when I include them in a garden design; they take a while to establish. To get a nice size blooming clump, it will take about 5 years if you start with a quart size plant. So, in this day and age of instant gratification, this can be a deal stopper for some people.
Very few perennial plants can tolerate the winter snow and wind that nature throws at them in January and February, but Hellebores emerge in late February with a welcome spring show. Some of the evergreen foliage might get burned on the edges and get tattered but you can quickly nip off those leaves for fresh to emerge.
The most popular varieties are the Oriental hybrid Hellebores (Helleborus x hybridus ) which grow in the USDA zones 6-9.
The common name for Hellebores is Lenten Rose, because they bloom around the season of Lent. Hybridizers have latched onto Hellebores and specialized in creating a rainbow of colors, such as yellow, burgundy, spotted, black, pinks, and picotees. And the names!….Honeyhill Joy, Ivory Prince, Amber Gem, Berry Swirl, Cotton Candy, Black Diamond, Golden Lotus, Onyx Odyssey, Rose Quartz, Peppermint Ice, are just the tip of the iceberg. They sound like paint colors on a paint swatch.
The normally downward facing flowers have been bred to tilt outward instead of tilted to the ground so that you can easily see the flower show. Hybridizers have also turned their attention to the foliage, breeding for variegation, burgundy flushed stems, and silvery sheens. All these efforts must have paid off as they are flooding the nurseries and the prices are top dollar. I have seen Hellebores for more than $50 a piece. They are getting as expensive as some hybridized peonies!
The culture of Hellebores is so easy that if you just plant them in a shady or partly shady spot, you’re done! I have some in sunny locations here in Maryland, but in more southern states, like Florida, plant them in full shade. In particular, Lenten Rose is a valuable player for dry shade, the nemesis of many gardeners. I use them as a ground cover under large trees where deer are prone to browse. For more shady ground cover choices, go to Made for the Shade.
Hellebores will set seed all around the plant and when the seedlings appear, dig them up and scatter them around. You will have large clumps in no time that last for years and years.
As I noted earlier, if you nip the older outer leaves in late winter, so the new stems and leaves can come up in the center. That is it for maintenance!
My advice for buying these beauties is to buy them in bloom so you know what you are getting as the colors can vary widely. Take a nursery shopping trip in late February and early March to get the best pick. For people who live near me in Central Maryland, go to Happy Hollow Nursery off of Padonia Rd in Cockeysville, at 410-252-4026. Tell them TheGardenDiaries sent you!
So, gardeners of the world-Are you listening? Tell all your friends and neighbors about this plant. It should not be a secret any longer.
Satiny, frothy, picoteed, ruffly, frilly, glowing, shimmery…………..the adjectives go on and on to describe poppy blossoms. There is nothing about a poppy that is unattractive. Even the fuzzy hairy foliage is handsome and the seed pods distinctive. Beauty happens in the garden when my poppies blossom and attract native and non-native pollinators from miles around. When my poppies are in full spate, all is right with the world!
There are two types of poppies, perennial Papaver oriental, and annual ones, Papaver rhoeas and Papaver somniferon, the Opium Poppy. The uses of the two plants are also very different. Gardeners grow oriental poppies for their glorious beauty, and they usually come in red or peach. Easy to grow with coarse downy foliage, they make lovely indoor cut flowers.
Although it is illegal to grow opium poppies in this country to make narcotic drugs like heroin, they are grown in other countries for this purpose. Opium poppies are also responsible for producing the poppy seeds that work so well on muffins and bagels, while oriental poppy seeds are not edible and are poisonous. Plant any poppy where deer browse as they will leave them alone.
Cool Facts About Poppies
During WWI, the poppies disappeared from the battlefields for four years because of the trampling and disturbance of the battlefields, After the end of the war, the poppies exploded in growth, up to 2,500 poppy plants per square inch!
The poppy began to spread in Europe after the soils in France and Belgium had large amounts of lime left over from the rubble during the First World War. This also caused the flowers to grow around the grave sites of the war dead.
Major John McCrae’s poem, In Flander’s Fields, was supposedly written on the evening of the 2 May, 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres, in memory of his friend, Alexis Helmer.
A few years ago, around the Tower of London, a total of 888, 246 hand crafted ceramic poppies, each one representing a British military death in WWI, were individually placed in the moat. The placement culminated with a ceremony and a two minute silence to honor the dead.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz book features enormous poppy fields and a chapter of the book is titled ‘The Deadly Poppy Field’.
The poppy’s use in medicine was reworked in George R.R.Martin’s Game of Thrones – where a medicine entitled ‘milk of the poppy’ is used.
The way opium/heroin is harvested involves picking the poppy plant, taking its unripe bulb (seed pod), making diagonal cuts along the unripe bulb (seed pod), collecting the milky-white fluid which oozes from the diagonal cuts, then allowing the gathered milky-white fluid to dry into powder.
Opium poppies are grown commerically in Berkshire, Dorset, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Lincolnshire and Wiltshire for use in medical opiates such as morphine.
Poppy seeds can remain active in the soil for 8 years. Poppy seeds do contain opium alkaloids, meaning that if poppy seeds are ingested, it can give false readings during a drugs test. As a result, people travelling on planes between countries are advised not to carry poppy seeds, and in Singapore they are classified as ‘prohibited goods’.Average seed numbers per plant can range from 10,000 to 60,000.
Not all poppies are red. They also come in yellow, orange, white, blue, pink, and all shades between.
Poppies are considered a symbol of both sleep and death. According to Greek and Roman mythology, poppies were used on tombstones to symbolize eternal sleep.
Cold treatment is essential to good poppy seed germination. Planted in February, I look hopefully to see new shoots about 6 weeks later. My ritual of planting these beautiful flowers for garden enjoyment or to enjoy up close and personal in my house is part of my February chores. Ordering the seeds in December to get the best variety, I receive them in the mail and it looks like I am going to make lots of poppy seed desserts! For I don’t order packets of a measly number of seeds, but baggies of thousands of the distinctive poppy black seeds.
Using the seeds in cooking is part of my pleasure with the seeds but not the main reason for growing these wonderful flowers. Buying large 1-2 ounce packets of seeds on line is the way to go for me. But it isn’t cheap; For a 1 ounce package of Lauren’s Grape, it runs $26.96! Below is a video of my bees on Lauren’s Grape. It is mass hysteria!
I save the seed heads for dried flower arrangements and crush them to release their thousands of seeds for planting next year. But I can’t save enough of them for my plantings so I buy more, especially of the newer varieties like Lauren’s Grape. The seed pods are ready to collect when they appear wrinkly, feel leathery and the seeds rattle inside the pod. Since they take up a lot of room in my vegetable garden, I need to collect the seed pods while green to dry them in my potting shed. The space in my garden is too valuable to keep the pods in there until ripe. That cuts down on the amount of viable seeds that I can collect.
Sowing the seeds early means that they get the necessary freezing and thawing necessary for germination. Taking about 5 months from seed to flower, the earlier I can start them, the better. Starting inside is an option, but I haven’t had much luck transplanting them.
If you leave poppy seed heads to ripen fully, the seeds that fall to the ground have a good chance of germinating next spring, unless a heavy mulch is applied. Mulch will smother the seeds and keep them from germinating. See how to plant poppies atCool Season-Early Spring Bloomers.
The Himalayan Blue Poppy, Meconopsis ‘Lingholm’ is a part of the Poppy genus and occurs in the Himalayan region of the world where it is a lot cooler than most of the U.S. The Pacific Northwest and Canada are successful in growing this beauty but not where I live in the mid-Atlantic. Fortunately, I can visit nearby Longwood Gardens in early spring to see them in person. See my post on these beautiful flowers at Blue Poppy Envy.
Attracting bees with the right plants is important, but what about inviting them to make a home nearby with attractive ready-to-move-in housing? A custom condo became my project in the winter for solitary native bees of all kinds who come knocking on my door for a place to lay their eggs.
Native bees start looking for homes in early spring so I wanted to have it in “move in condition” with lots of curb appeal in early March to late May when they were likely to be house hunting. Mud is a necessary component to make partitions and seal the entrance to the nesting tubes. The eggs hatch into larvae and these feed on the ball of pollen left behind for the rest of the year until they emerge as adults. Sources of water and exposed soil to make mud was number one item on my building list for the bees.
When I did my research on solitary native mason bees and other bees, I discovered to my surprise that they are a much more efficient pollinator than the social honey bees which were originally imported from Europe with the colonists. Mason bees are one of the few managed native pollinators in agriculture because of this terrific pollinating ability.
DifferencesBetween Mason & Honey Bees
Mason bees are about the same size or slightly larger than a honeybee and color is your best way to tell them apart. A mason bee is a dark metallic blue, not striped brown and orange like the honeybee. Being solitary, the mason bee tends to its own brood, instead of having a queen and worker bees like the social honey bee. They seem to appreciate the company of others of their kind and happily build their nests next to each other. They also readily accept the hollow tubes provided by the orchard grower for this purpose. Mason bees don’t produce honey like the honey bee, but collect pollen and nectar just like the honey bee for feeding their young.
Home gardeners can attract mason bees in their own gardens by placing home-made bee houses and blocks in their own yards. Scroll down to see my version of a DIY house for mason bees.
Unlike the honey bee, the mason bee flying season is early spring because they can tolerate lower temperatures. The honey bee will only fly when it reaches the 50’s, but the mason bee flies in the 40’s. Once a mason bee emerges from their over wintering tube, they mate, search for empty holes that are the right size and shape, and start to work. They collect food for their brood, which is tree pollen plus nectar. Females collect this food, bring it to their nests, and knead it into a ball, mixing it with nectar and their own saliva. Once they have a food store that is big enough, they lay an egg on top of this mass and seal-off the chamber or cell with mud. The video below was taken in mid-March and I am not sure of the bee variety.
Then, they start the process all over again until there are five to eight eggs with food, each separated by a thin wall of dried mud. They seal the entrance to the hole with a thicker mud wall. The larvae grow and, by the end of summer, metamorphose into pupae and later into adults, and remain safe and sound inside the nest in a cocoon until the next spring. The new generation emerges in early spring, usually in perfect timing with the blooming peach or apple trees.
Nesting House Basics
Since many wild bees are sedentary, residing where they originated, they will stay nearby, provided there are suitable nesting sites. The greater the variety of species and population density in the area, the faster the colonization.
Location, Location, Location
For locating your house, look for a south or westerly facing aspect to make full use of the morning sun. Protected from wind and rain by locating the house under a roof overhang, will increase your chances of bees and other insects moving in. A ready source of uncovered soil for the mason bee to use as mud in sealing the eggs, is also important as well as proximity to floral sources. For help in planting the right plants, go to Plant These For Bees.
Easy DIY Mason Bee House
For an easy mason bee habitat out of wood, I created this simple box with a roof out of cedar wood. The house measures 18″ x 22″ high with a peaked roof, 6″ high. The depth of the house is about 4″. I took an untreated (no chemicals) 4 x 4 timber and cut it into chunks the depth of the house, and drilled holes into the blocks of different diameters. The various sized holes give pollinators a choice in picking out the most suitable hole for their species. This house would be appropriate for different varieties of native bees. The back was just a piece of plywood to give the house stability.
Chas and Mark Simmons collaborated on making 3 artistically beautiful houses using all recycled materials. Taking about 4 hours to make the frames- pallets, screens from the safety guards of greenhouse fans, and other repurposed materials were all put to good use. But the time consuming part, 4 days, was collecting all the materials to go inside and paint them. Everything used in the construction was used from the property of Cavanos’ Perennial Nursery, where they both work. Once the weather warms up a little, they will be hung up where the bees have a entire nursery to pick from for their floral sources.
Craft paint and sealer was used on the edges to make these houses pop!
Move In Day
Filling in all the spaces with lotus pods, pine cones, and hollow stems of sunflowers that I cut down from my garden last year took some time. Topping it off with plastic covered hardware cloth, the bee condo was ready to hang and open for business.
Tubular is the main feature that mason bees are interested in. Finding something round is critical for their egg-laying success. I keep looking for tubular shaped objects, like bamboo, sunflower stems, or any large stem with a cavity in the center. Even paper straws would work.
Go to www.crownbees.com to browse ready-made houses and tubes, if you don’t have time to build from the ground up. You can also get an attractant pheromone that will be sure to entice the mason bees to nest in their new home. The site is also a wealth of information about many native bees.
Crown Bees recommends that once summer is over, that you harvest the mason bee cocoons and place them in a humidity tray with a moist cloth in your refrigerator to keep conditions right for surviving until next spring. They would still hatch outside, but predators and disease are more likely to kill them.
When warmer weather rolls around, bring the humidity tray outside in the warmer air and wait for the cocoons to hatch and release the bees. I ordered some cocoons from them and a few hatched in transit which I released outside when they came.
There are many other strategies that you as a homeowner can do to help out with our pollination crisis. See my action plan outlined at Sex in the Garden.
Have you ever been served a dish in a restaurant which was garnished with colorful and vibrant greens? Most likely these were microgreens, know for their visual appeal, and crunch. Though minuscule in size, they are concentrated with nutrients. Studies have shown that micro greens are loaded with good stuff, such as vitamins C, E, and K, lutein, and beta-carotene- many times more than the mature leaves of the plant.
Flavorful and providing a textural contrast to a dish like a soup or slab of fish, a few microgreens can go a long way.
Not to be confused with sprouts- germinated seeds that are eaten whole, seed, root and shoot, a microgreen is an immature green that is harvested with scissors when the plants are about two inches tall. The stem, cotyledons (or seed leaves) and first set of true leaves are all edible. You are essentially eating seedlings! And the variety of seedlings include herbs and flowers, and vegetables. Most popular are sunflowers, radishes, peas, arugula, basil, beets, kale, and cilantro.
Pricey to buy in a grocery store and hard to find, microgreens are a snap to grow quickly in a small amount of space. Gather your supplies and you could have a variety of greens growing within a half hour of starting. The harvest time is a mere one to two weeks.
Root pouches are the way to go for me in growing microgreens. The Designer Line of Root pouches are made out of porous material that allows the plants to breath, and the containers come in three colors: Navy Blue, Forest Green and Heather Grey. For my microgreens, I used the Joey size at 5″ in diameter and 3″ high.
Growing bags made out of recycled materials, studies have show that they produce healthy, strong fibrous root systems on plants. Breathable material, the Root Pouch company says on its website: “Root Pouch is a family run business that turns discarded plastic bottles into a versatile, geotextitle material. The Root Pouch fabric planting container keeps plants healthy by letting excess water drain and allowing roots to breathe and grow.” Allowing air to pass through the pot, it promotes a healthy root system.
How to Plant
Fill pouch or container about 2/3 full of potting medium
Firm soil with fingers, and water with a light spray until saturated
Place in a warm place in indirect light
Shoots will sprout within a few days
Working carefully, taking care not to crush or bruise your tender seedlings, cut the shoots right above the soil line. Begin cleaning by laying a damp paper towel on a tray and placing it near the sink. Give tiny clumps of seedlings a dip in cool (not icy) water, and lay out onto the paper towel.
Store greens between the paper towels and place in a ziploc plastic bag in the refrigerator. They will last about a week wrapped up this way.
Good raw unpasteurized honey tastes very different from the plastic clover honey bear that you purchase at the supermarket. I compare it to processed cheese vs. a home made varietal cheese. Honey bears are simply an accumulation of many types of honey that have been mixed together, heated and made into a homogeneous mixture which lacks any hint of ‘terroir’.
Raw honey has a sense of place of where the honey bees gathered and deposited the nectar. As complex as chocolate, wine, and olive oil, honey deserves a greater appreciation with many layered notes or flavors. The video below shows how a frame of honey is uncapped, prior to extracting.
Honey tasting is like wine tasting – you wait for the bouquet and flavors to cascade over you. Honey is not just ‘sweet’, there are floral notes that are hard to describe. Butterscotch, caramel, florals, dried fruit, mineral….you name it, honey has it all. The flora, climate, and nature of the terrain determine the flavors of local honey. Below, are the seven geographical regions in the U.S. that determine the taste of honey.
My state of Maryland falls into the Southeast region. And according to William P. Nye of Utah State University, he describe my region as:
” In the mountainous area, sourwood is the prevailing
source of quality honey, along with tulip poplar
and clovers. Sourwood honey is almost
water white, does not granulate readily, and is so
esteemed that it usually passes directly from producer
to consumer at far above the price of other
honeys. Various other honeys, from light to dark
and from mild to strong, are produced in the
There are some sourwoods around here, but the predominant source for me is clover, tulip poplar, and black locust. Go to my post on Black Locust.
Black Locust, not to be confused with Honey Locust, produces a fruity, fragrant honey that ranges from water white to lemon yellow. The lexicon of honey flavors are as varied as the floral sources that it comes from. It can smell fresh as grass or tarry and dark as molasses. Honey varietals are becoming increasingly popular with honey tasting events of local and not so local honey on the menu. These varietal honeys come from primarily one source of nectar such as clover or orange blossoms. More than 300 varietal honeys are produced in the United States. Worldwide, it is in the thousands.
When black locust blooms here in Maryland, I know the nectar season for honeybees is ramping up in full gear.
Many beekeepers use the blanket term “wildflower” for a honey gathered from different kinds of flowers, but what “wildflower” means, varies by region. I label my honey ‘Wildflower’, because it is a variety of flowers that my bees visit for nectar. In my Maryland climate, that means, goldenrod, clover, berries, and sumac; the western Rocky Mountains have cactus, yucca, agave, alfalfa, and mesquite. So a Maryland and a Western wildflower honey will be very different.
Honey overall is enjoying a renaissance. Among the world’s oldest foods, “nature’s sweetener” has been rediscovered by consumers interested in natural foods or locally produced ingredients.
Changing seasons also affect a honey’s taste, texture, and color. A plant only has so much sugar that goes to its blossoms. In spring, when those blossoms are just budding, the resulting honey tastes less sweet. Later on in the season, when plants are competing like mad for pollinating bees to pay them a visit, they disperse more sugar and nutrients into fewer flowers, producing darker, more full-bodied honeys, like the late-season buckwheat and goldenrod.
Buckwheat honey is almost black and I can only describe the flavor and aroma as ‘earthy’. It is an acquired taste but it promotes healing in the body, supports immune function, and boosts antioxidants. It’s also great for soothing sore throats and coughs.
Crystallization occurs in three to eight months after harvesting honey and is not a sign of spoilage nor does it change the taste or healthful properties of honey. It simply changes the texture and color. I notice that honey suppliers are selling crystallized honey as ‘raw honey’. After going to Stockin’s website, they explain that all honey crystallizes eventually and that it is just as good as syrup honey. I don’t agree. When my honey crystallizes, I heat it a very low heat to make it syrup again.
My favorite tasting choice is ‘Chunk Honey’, fresh honey with a chunk of honeycomb floating. Just cut off a chunk of the honeycomb and chew it like chewing gum to get all the goodness out.
Here are some common honey notes:
Floral: Flowers like violet, rose, peony, honeysuckle and jasmine.
Fruity: Tropical fruits like pineapples and mango; berries; citrus (is that a lemon, lime or grapefruit?); and dried fruits like raisins, prunes and apricots. Beyond that, are those fruits ripe and sweet or unripe, like green figs or bananas?
Warm: Burnt sugars like caramel, marshmallow, and butterscotch; creamy notes of yogurt or butter; deep flavors of vanilla and chocolate.
Fresh: Crisp flavors like citrus and herbs like thyme and mint.
Vegetal: Fresh plants, raw vegetables, wet grass, hay and straw.
When I extract my honey, like the above video, it is not heated, just removed from the frame by centrifugal force and strained though a paint strainer to remove bee parts and debris. Pure heaven! For a post on extraction, go to Spinning Honey.
Winter is the time to sow your Cool Season Annuals as soon as the soil can be “worked”. This term is gardening slang for soil with a texture that is neither mud nor frozen! After determining that my soil was ready by drawing a rake through it, I gathered my cool season annual seeds together with plant stakes, sharpie for marking, and my favorite multi-bladed sowing rake. On the menu for sowing was Poppies, Bells of Ireland, Love-in-the-Mist, and Calendula.
Cool Season Annuals differ from annuals that you sow after the danger of frost is past because the seeds need cold temperatures to germinate and cool temps to grow well in the garden. When hot weather hits, they are history and I pull them out to make way for annuals that relish the hot weather. Poppies are one of my all-time favorite flowers and I make sure to plant plenty. If you are into blue poppies, go to my post on Blue Poppies.
My honey bees love the poppies and go into a frenzy when they are blooming.
Growing quickly in the cool temperatures of late winter and early spring, the cool season annuals are old-fashioned flowers that you would find scattered in an English cottage garden. Best sown outdoors, these flowers are frost tolerant and grow quickly to give you a much-needed dose of color after the long winter. If you want to plant edibles like brassicas, go to pegplant who writes an excellent blog on gardening and is a fellow GWA member.
Raking the soil with my sowing rake is the only preparation needed. I broadcast sprinkle the seeds as evenly as possible, using dry hands, then tamp down the soil firmly with the rake, not adding any additional soil. Sprinkling the surface with bits of straw or leaves helps keep the soil moist and hopefully hides the seed from wandering birds. I spray a light mist of water on top to moisten the surface and wait with anticipation.
Sowing seeds with my favorite rake
Popping up quickly through the leaf litter, weeding and sprinkling with water is necessary if we hit a dry spell. Then it is time for the color show! Cutting flowers from these early blooms make great arrangements in the house.
Fore a great video on planting cool flowers, go to Cool Flowers, a great website by Lisa Ziegler.
Love in the Mist
Pink fringed poppy
Lauren’s Grape Poppy
‘Lauren’s Grape’ Poppy
Love in the Mist
Calendula Simplicity Mix, from National Garden Bureau
Calendula comes in both yellow and orange
I love the fringed poppies
Annual poppy, I don’t know the variety
Nigella or “Love in the Mist”
Poppy seed heads are great dried and used in arrangements
‘Love in the Mist’ seed head catching the rain drops
The best way to jump-start a conversation at a party is to tell people you are a beekeeper. Inevitably, people will barrage me with questions about my hobby and how they always thought of becoming a beekeeper themselves. Most people don’t have a clue of what is involved and for people who are intrigued but don’t know where to start, the following pointers should help you decide.
If you are really thinking about beekeeping, first learn all you can about the basics from experienced beekeepers. Oregon Ridge Nature Center conducts a local course by the Central Maryland Beekeepers Association which is called the ‘Short Course in Beekeeping’. Starting in the early spring for 6 weeks and concluding with a delivery of a package of bees which you take home and install, this will jump start your hobby. Hands on demonstrations in a communal beehive will give you a good idea of how to set up your own apiary. The instructor is the State Apiary Inspector who will teach you basic bee biology, management of colonies, and extraction of honey, or as he describes it ” a full year of beekeeping”.
An excellent starter course with lots of reference materials available and encouragement and mentoring from experienced beekeepers, I was primed and ready to go when completed. Even if you are not interested in starting up a colony, the course is fascinating. If you don’t live in MD, just search for a local beekeeping group to take courses from. Increasingly, they are being held all over the country. Attending one of these courses will help you to become a successful beekeeper.
The expense of starting up a hive is considerable-hive bodies, feeders, the bee suit and hat, smoker, and various beekeeping tools will run a minimum of $600 to $1200. For all the bells and whistles, it will cost considerably more. A good extractor alone could set you back $1000. I don’t own an extractor as I rent it for a reasonable sum of $10 from our local beekeeping association. I would advise starting with two hives so you have a backup if one bombs. I sell my honey but only collect a fraction of the cost of what it takes to set up and maintain my hives. Also, don’t forget that you will be buying many 20 lb bags of sugar a season to feed your bees! So, don’t consider this a money-maker – more like a money pit!
The initial investment is steep but once you have your basic equipment, the cost levels off. You can add other items that you need later on, such as solar wax melter, honey strainer, pollen/propolis traps, and a long list of beekeeping paraphernalia, which you won’t need right away.
You can also buy used equipment from a local beekeeper to cut down on your start-up costs but make sure that the equipment is disease free. The cost of your initial package of bees with a queen will run around $145. A Nuc, which I prefer, is a miniature beehive with a laying/working queen will run you more like $170. By attending the ‘Short Course’, experienced beekeepers can help you to obtain the proper equipment that you need to get started.
How much work is involved?
Another question that is asked of me frequently is ‘How much time is involved?’, in maintaining your colonies. The lion’s share of your time is spent in the spring to make sure that the hive is happy and healthy. I spend at least 4-5 hours a week in the early spring, feeding, inspecting, and manipulating the hives. Manipulating the hives just means you are pulling your hive bodies or boxes apart, making sure that the queen is healthy and producing, and that there is sufficient room for her to lay eggs in the frames.
Later when there is a ‘honey flow’, which means the favorite flowers that bees prefer are blooming in abundance, you need to add extra supers, or hive bodies to your hives to handle the extra honey. Go to my post on Honey Flow to see exactly what this means. Bees normally will not produce excess honey the first year that they are hived as they are just starting out building a new home, but will produce extra in subsequent years. In the fall, I spend time taking off the supers (honey storage boxes), extracting the honey and feeding and weather proofing them to get through the winter. I set aside one entire day to remove and extract my honey sometime in August or September. Throughout the winter, I clean and renovate my old hive bodies which become gummed up with propolis that the bees deposit on the boxes to seal them tight.
Will they sting?
I have noticed a greater presence of honey bees in my flower and vegetable gardens and generally around my property. The bees use a nearby pond next to my patio for their water source, so the honeybees are very close to where people frequent. The hives are set about 100 feet from my house.
I have been stung many times as I manipulate the hives or extract the honey because the bees are protecting their territory and that is a natural response. But if I am working in the garden or just sitting on my patio near the pond they never bother me. Guests have never been stung either. Honeybees are non-aggressive unlike yellow jackets and wasps, and on their daily trips to collect pollen, nectar, or water, they will ignore you and go about their business. I have noticed improved production of my veggie garden and love that aspect of beekeeping.
How about my neighbors?
Neighbors are definitely a consideration when you start your own hives. The best way to approach this is to let them know of your intent and to educate them about bees, i. e. – they rarely sting and will not cause problems with their family. I also screen my hives with some spruce trees so that they are not out front and center of my property and there is a buffer between my bees and the neighbors. It also helps if you present your neighbors with a gift of honey!
Most people are fascinated with beekeeping and are quite curious about what you are doing.
Do you get honey?
I have 3 hives now on 2 acres of property. I normally will harvest about 150 pounds of honey from my hives each season and sell it to friends and give it as gifts. It is a fascinating hobby that you can practice on smaller pieces of property, even in a city.
By producing your own honey, you are getting a natural, unadulterated product that has no additives. Read my post about buying honey. Your own honey contains nectar from local wildflower sources that is supposed to help people with allergies to pollen. I use my honey and beeswax not only as a sweetener, but for healing and cosmetic purposes.
Managing your own hives also makes good garden sense as it increases the pollination of your garden and will improve the yield of your vegetable garden. Find out which plants to plant to attract bees at Planting these For Bees. Beekeeping is a big investment in time and money. Hopefully, reading this will help push you to the tipping point in deciding if this hobby is for you.
Remember, that the honey bee is not native. Honey bees were brought over with the early colonists across the ocean to join the native American bees. But the European honeybee is the only one that produces honey.
If you have dogs, especially black dogs, bees seem to target them. My previous border collie Gypsy, was so terrified of bees that as soon as I got my bee hood out of the shed, she fled! My current Border, Tori is totally unconcerned when I look at the bees but I have seen the bees go right for her and burrow into her fur and drive her crazy. So, now I just put Tori in the house when I open the bees up so that she is not tormented.
If you live in areas where bears are common, beware! Winnie the Pooh’s favorite food was “Hunney” and bears are drawn to honey like kids to candy. I have relatives in Vermont who are always battling black bears.
All the bad stuff
Yes, there are lots of drawbacks. Your bees will get diseases and mites. Mites are like little ticks that suck their blood and weaken the bees. As for disease, I couldn’t believe the number of maladies that bees can contract and pests that they attract! There is foulbrood, chalkbrood, colony collapse, wax moths, small hive beetles, deformed wing disorder, and numerous others. The list goes on and on and every year, it seems that a new malady is added! There are various chemical remedies and some organic ones also. But it seems you are always trying to stay ahead of the latest disease. You deal with these problems as it happens.
If that isn’t enough, queens are notoriously fickle and hard to find in your hive. The overall health of your hive depends on the state of your queen. She must be young and fertile to lay those thousands of eggs a day!
To be a good beekeeper, you should not have a fear of being stung and you should also be strong. The hive bodies when full of honey can easily weigh more than 50-80 pounds. You have to be able to lift them up and move those heavy boxes around by yourself.
But beekeeping is such a rewarding and fascinating hobby, I continue to do it. I have been a beekeeper for over 20 years and feel that I have only scratched the surface in learning about this hobby. Maybe in another 10 years, I will feel that I know more about what makes bees tick, but I doubt it. It is always an adventure!
Artfully arranged containers using texture, contrasting colors, and different and unusual plants is my mantra and designing outside of the box. A container for every season is the way I garden in pots. Everyone can have their own personal creative planter on their deck, patio, or even inside. Having over 100,000 views over the years, I find the pictures of my containers all over Pinterest.
My most surprising top post is Luscious Honey Scented Body Butter. Consistently garnering views from all over the world, there must be thousands of people with this body butter in their bathroom. Lots of comments on this post mean that many people have used the recipe and enjoyed it.
Shade gardening is always popular. From the Ground Up-Choosing the Right Ground Cover For Shade has helped many people choose the perfect ground cover for difficult situations. The cliff notes on this post is to plant a lot of Lenten Roses, or Hellebores. A no-brainer, deer proof, evergreen, and beautiful plant, this under-used is probably my top plant in my garden.
Swarming bees in Swarming of the Bees, always fascinates people and I have seen many of these phenomenas over the years as a beekeeper. No matter how many times I have seen it, the process of swarming is awesome.
Decorating the White House for Christmas has been my job for 3 seasons and many people are interested in seeing behind the scenes on how the process is done. My last visit to the White House was documented in Decorating the White House in 2017. I hope to do it again!
After posting about Pesticide-Free Nurseries and Seed Companies, I was overwhelmed with the response. Many people are trying to do the right thing and not use pesticides, I was really happy to find. This post really struck a chord for many readers.
A Succulent Christmas post was fun to do because I started working on my succulent tree during the summer and it was interesting to see it grow all summer into the Christmas season to make a beautiful and unusual Christmas tree. Unusual and different!
Another top post was Miniature Gardens-Whimsical Creations. Miniature gardening is still popular, especially for people who don’t have access to a garden or don’t have the time or money to spend in a garden. Everyone has room on a kitchen counter or windowsill for a mini garden.