Rainy days and Sundays always get me down when I can not garden!

Monday, October 16, 2017


Flowers are a special way to remember the life of someone who is no longer with us. At the Schoolhouse Senior Center in Folsom, friends and loved ones purchased plants to memorialize members who have passed away. The garden club members wrapped each plant in gold foil and tied them with a ribbon for presentation at a Memorial Service on September 20. As each name was called, stories, eulogies and special thoughts were shared by attendees. After the memorial service the flowers were planted in the gardens surrounding the Schoolhouse property. The garden club planted a combination of chrysanthemums (mums) and native perennials, placing identification markers next to each plant.

Chrysanthemums are the largest commercially produced flowers in the US with their roots dating back to 1884. Mums are short day plants (long night) requiring less then 12 hours of light to form flowers. The official “Queen” of fall flowers they represent the end of summer and the start to fall. They liven up the garden, bringing joy and beauty when other plants have faded away. Using mums at a funeral or memorial service symbolizes sympathy, honor and respect.

To help achieve the goal of having the gardens certified pollinator friendly, native plants were purchased from Redbud nursery in Media, PA. One shrub (or tree) and fifteen perennials where needed to complete the application process. (For information on getting your garden certified “Pollinator Friendly” go to ento.psu.edu). The plants purchased should help the Schoolhouse meet the requirements for certification!

Senior Community Services Mission is to “provide independent and meaningful living for older adults through direct services and programs in the home and community”. Master Gardeners (of Delaware County, PA) work with garden club volunteers to maintain and enhance the gardens. We meet April through October (weather permitting) on Monday mornings from 9-11 am. If interested in helping out in 2018, please feel free to contact me.

If you would be happy for a lifetime, grow Chrysanthemums.” (a Chinese philosopher)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017


Fall, cooler temperatures, less bugs, shorter days and "achoo"!. Often referred to as hay fever (with neither hay or fever being a factor), the proper term is allergic rhinitis.  Effecting 40-60 million Americans annually, symptoms include runny or stuffy nose, itchy eyes, scratchy throat, fatigue and of course sneezing.  Unfortunately, what is often blamed for the cause of your misery is a case of mistaken identity.

Like fraternal twins both ragweed and goldenrod are part of the Asteraceae or Compositae family.  This group also includes aster, daisy, marigold, zinnia, dandelion, sunflower and many others. However no on ever says, "geez, those sunflowers are really bothering my allergies!"  So why is there so much confusion?  They are both native, could that be the reason?  Probably not.  It's more likely because they are both blooming around the same time of year.  Beyond that there are really no similarities.  Goldenrod with its bright yellow flowers outshines ragweed's unexceptional pale, greenish flowers.

Belonging to the Genus, Ambosia ("food of the Gods"),  Ragweed is either an annual, perennial or a shrub and spreads by seeds, rhizomes or has a taproot.  It's a food source for quail and other birds and a host plant for some moths and butterfly's.  Native Americans used fibers from the stems to make thread, crushed leaves to place on insect bites, made a salve for skin sores and teas for medical uses.  Ragweed pollen is lite making it easy to move about in the wind.  It begins its assault on our sinus's  in August and continues into November, not stopping until after the first frost.   A single plant can produce about a billion grains of pollen per season, peaking around labor day.  One indicator of climate change is the increase length in the ragweed season.

Goldenrod is ranked as a top herbaceous plant by Doug Tallamy, author of "Bringing Nature Home".  Probably one of the most important late season sources for pollen and nectar Solidago, the Latin word for goldenrod means "to make whole" due to its wound healing properties. Native Americans chewed on the leaves to soothe sore throats and the roots for toothaches. In herbal medicine it is brewed into a tea and used as a  tonic for kidney and urinary track infections.  Goldenrod is heavy and sticky making it difficult to be wind pollinated.  Instead, the pollen hitches a ride on the insects that feed on it's nectar and is carried from one plant to the next.  Roughly 115 species of moths and butterflies and 11 species of native bees, as well as honeybees, solitary wasp and fire flies rely on goldenrod for food.  In the fall goldenrod is a critical food source for monarch butterflies during the "Great Monarch Migration" as they return to their overwintering sites in California and New Mexico.  Left in the garden, goldenrod offers winter interest as well as seeds for birds.


Monday, April 24, 2017


It is believed that the first window boxes hung from the terraces in the Gardens of Babylon (southern Iraq) making the plants look like they were suspended or floating in mid air. The story goes that King Nebuchadnezzar II, who ruled between 605-562 BC had the gardens built for his wife Queen Amytis of Medis who was homesick for the mountains of her homeland. In 290 BC the Babylonian Priest Berrossus writes about these gardens crediting the King with their creation. The exact location of these gardens have yet to be identified and no physical evidence have been found making some believe they are more mythical then physical. If the gardens were real then it's believed that they had been destroyed after the 1st century AD.

For the Romans the use of window boxes was purposeful and convenient. These terra cotta boxes were used for growing herbs for food, medicine and religious purposes. Overtime, these boxes took on a more decorative role with flowers replacing herbs. Wealthy Romans created gardens on balconies and rooftops with the use of window boxes. Roman writer, naturalist and philosopher Pliny the Elder mentions window boxes in his works, Naturalis Historia (encyclopedias). In it he writes:

The urban poor used to have window-boxes, which gave them a glimpse of the countryside every day, but now the countless violent burglaries have forced them to shutter their windows.”

The use of window boxes spread through Europe (as did the Romans) and eventually to the US. The French used wrought iron to create their boxes while the English utilized wire hay baskets for a “cottage style garden”. The arrival of the settlers to America gave rise to the traditional colonial style window box. One thought is that the poor utilized window boxes in Europe do to lack of land for traditional gardens. In historic cities like Charleston, South Carolina, homes extend all the way out to the sidewalks. This left no front yard garden space, thus the use of window boxes. Today, these boxes play a vital role in the cities appearance.

According to an article in the Independent (Oct. 13, 1995) window boxes were at their height of popularity by the 1870's. In 1955, Neosho Missouri embarked on a city wide, beautification project utilizing window-boxes. Since 1957 it has been known as “The Flower Box City” at least to the locals. In cities like Philadelphia, window box companies will design, install, plant and replant your window-boxes seasonally.

When designing your own window boxes think “Thriller, Filler, Spiller”. Thriller plants are the tallest, adding drama, movement and a focal point. Fillers, as the name implies adds mass, texture and color. And spillers are trailing plants that drape over the sides, creating softness and anchors the design.

Window boxes can add charm and beauty. They are miniature gardens that bring nature in and provide a colorful view looking out. They can also support our pollinators. In 2016 the USDA launched “Plant A Window Box for Pollinators” through the Peoples Garden Initiative Website (peoplesgarden.usda.gov). This tool helps you locate plants for pollinators based on your zip code. The Pollinator Partnership (pollinator.org/windowbox) has created an online web application in which you can create a window boxes for pollinators with an emphasis on native plants. Once created you can share your virtual window box with others through social media or create the real deal.

Thursday, February 23, 2017


"Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle … a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to the light, a bud straining to unfurl.  And the anticipation nurtures our dream.” –  Barbara Winkler

December 21 is the shortest day of the year (in the northern hemisphere) and the official start to winter! Known as the Winter Solstice it is also the start of “WINTER SOWING” (creator and Guru Trudi Davidoff).  This is a nifty method of outdoor seed germination using milk cartoons, 2 liter soda bottles, plastic kitty litter jugs or other similar types of containers. These mini-greenhouses are placed outdoors in a safe and sunny locations, protected from heavy winds but can still get water from rain or snow. Winter Sowing works with perennials, annuals, herbs and even garden veggies.

Winter sowing is not difficult but does have a few guidelines. For starters, the containers need to be “transparent”, deep enough to hold 3"-4” of potting soil along with adequate “head space” There also needs to be drainage holes on the bottom (so we don’t drown our seeds) as well as ventilation holes on the top (or remove the cap). Hardier seeds are started in January and the more tender seeds in February and March.

As the days start to warm but the nights are still cold seedlings will began to emerge. As the seedlings grow keep an eye on moisture levels and water as needed. Open up the containers on nicer days but close them up at night if cold or a chance of frost. Winter-sown seedlings are naturally “harden off” allowing direct transplanting into the garden come the Vernal (Spring) equinox!


Monday, January 2, 2017


What's all the buzz about gardens for pollinators? For starters, 85% of all flowering plants rely on pollinators! Without them you would not have many of the fruits and vegetables that you enjoy eating. Examples of common foods dependent upon or benefit from pollinators are apples, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cucumbers, pumpkins, almonds, melons, squash, peppers, tomatoes, spices, cocoa, coffee and figs just to name a few! As the saying goes, “1 in 3 bites” of our food relies on pollinators. So the next time you are at the supermarket look around at the produce section. Now look again but imagine 33% of the shelves are bare. Without pollinators, that could be a reality.

If your vegetable garden is not doing well or your fruit trees are failing to produce, chances are that you are not attracting enough pollinators into your yard. Our pollinators travel about without regard to property lines or fences. Creating a pollinator friendly garden is simple no matter how big or small. By planting a garden focused on welcoming these insects, you can increase the number of pollinators in your area. Select plants that provide adequate food sources for bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, hummingbirds and other pollinators. You will need both pollen and nectar producing plants with bright colors and a variety of shapes and sizes to attract many different pollinators. Stick with plants specific or native to your area (avoiding non-native and exotics) which better support pollinators. Have a combination of spring, summer and fall blooming flowers and whenever possible, plant in groups of 3 or more to better “grab” the pollinators attention. When planting annuals go with old fashion heirlooms (avoiding hybrids) and intersperse them among the vegetable plants in your garden. You can also designate a section of your yard strictly for a pollination garden and reduce grassy areas by planting more pollinator friendly trees, shrubs and plants. No matter if you are planting in flower pots, window boxes or garden beds you can make a positive impact one plant at a time. One yard is great, but a string of yards is even better!

In 2007 the U.S. Senate unanimously designated one week each June as National Pollinator Week. Several years later( 2011) Penn State Master Gardeners began certifying Pollinator Friendly Gardens. Pollinators need our help. Their numbers are in decline due to habitat loss, disease and contact with pesticides. Penn State Extension Master Gardeners are taking action to protect pollinators by planting pollinator friendly gardens and providing education for the gardening public. Won't you make an effort by gardening with a purpose, selecting plants that provide food, shelter and nesting sites and limiting the use of pesticide? Pollinators will, in turn, provide the pollination needed to protect our plant diversity and food sources. Certifying your property as “Pollinator Friendly” will help support a healthy ecosystem for our community and the future. Plus, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you are making a difference!

Sunday, November 13, 2016


Falling temperatures, shorter days and longer nights tells us that the current year is coming to an end. Nectar and pollen are becoming more and more scarce and the activity in the hive slows. The queen reduces or stops laying eggs, old bees die off, and drones are kicked out of the hive. “Winter bees” hunker down with one goal “survival”.  Winter may designate the end of the growing season but it actually marks the beginning of the New Year in beekeeping. And the condition of the colony going into winter will help determine the outcome/success the fallowing spring. A healthy hive free of disease with plenty of food stores, and a strong Queen helps with survival. As beekeepers we can also help the bees prepare for winter by reducing the size of the hives themselves.  During the spring and summer the hive grows quickly and so does the need for space. Boxes holding frames are added to accommodate this growth. Some of the frames/boxes are used for brood while others are used for the storage of honey (supers). But as October roles around and the bee population starts to decline, multiple boxes stacked on top of each other is not ideal. Especially if those boxes contain empty waxed frames or unused comb. The threat of swarming has passed (hopefully) so more bees can cover less frames in a smaller space. Condensing or “tightening up” the hive by removing unused frames and boxes makes it easier for the bees to maintain the temperature of their cluster (around 92 degrees), conserving the bees energy and food consumption. How much to compact the hive is a judgment call by the beekeeper.  Once the bees are tucked away for winter and snow starts to fall we can only hope we did our best. Come spring the days will be getting longer, the temperatures start to climb and hopefully our bees will emerge from their hives!


Tuesday, October 4, 2016


Through-out the year, the activity changes within the beehive and the number of bees fluctuates according to these changes. Heading into winter a hive contains about 30,000 to 40,000 bees. By February/March that number has dropped down to around 20,000 provided the hive has survived winters icy grip. As April approaches and the days are getting warmer the Queen is in full laying mode and over the next few months the hive expands rapidly. Birthrates exceed death rates, and by June/July there are roughly 60,000+ bees in the hive. With this rapid growth, the hive becomes overcrowded, space is limited, and the queen may start to run out of brood space to lay her eggs. With more bees in the hive, the queen’s pheromones may not “get around” to all the workers. All of these factors can contribute to the hive deciding to swarm. In nature, swarming is instinctual, and results in creating a new hive from an existing (strong) colony. In other words, it’s a method of reproduction. Most swarms take place in the spring and early summer, however, bees can swarm at any time. The later in the season a hive swarms after July, the less chance it has for survival through the winter months.  
Once a hive has decided to swarm they put their game plan into motion. First, they select several eggs that will be developed into the hives new queen(s). These peanut-shaped swarm cells are usually found along the bottom of the frames. As these queens are developing, the old queen slows down her egg laying and “slims down” in preparation of flying off with the swarm. The hive does not wait around for the new queen(s) to emerge. Shortly before swarming, the worker bees gorge themselves on a 3-day supply of honey and nectar. Once they are ready the hives original queen along with 50%-60% of worker bees take flight (truly a sight to be seen). As the virgin daughter queens hatch out, they fight each other to the death until there is just one. This new queen will go on her mating flight and then resume the role left to her by her mother.

Bees swarm without having a new location in mind to move into. At first they will stop and cluster not far from their original hive, keeping the queen in the center of the swarm. The queen is not great at flying and needs to stop and rest. While resting, scout bees go out in search of a new home. They return to share their findings with the others. Collectively, the hive must agree before moving into their new location. When swarming the bees are focused on finding a new home. They are not protecting brood so they tend not to be aggressive. (Bees attack when they are protecting their hive or feel threatened). If you see a swarm of bees, keep your distance. Typically, they will not remain at that location for very long. You can also contact a beekeeper, who would be happy to come and “rescue” a swarm. Catching a swarm is the equivalent to free bees. (A package of bees cost roughly $95)

Swarming reduces the original hives numbers by disrupting the brood cycle, slowing down the hives growth and honey production. Sometimes, once a hive has swarmed, it is followed by after swarms. After swarm are smaller swarms that fallow the original or first swarm but usually with a virgin queen. This can result in the depletion of the hive. Since a hive swarms before new queen emerges there is always the risk of losing the new queen resulting in a queen less hive. This happened to us last year while inspecting a hive that had swarmed. Lifting off one of the brood boxes, we damaged the swarm cell killing the larva inside. There were no other swarm cells, nor were there any eggs to create an emergency queen. This left us scrambling to locate a queen for sale and to re queen the hive.

Beekeepers hate swarming and employ various methods to prevent it. They may clip one of the queen’s wings to keep her from flying or try to trick the bees into thinking they have already swarmed by doing what are called “splits”. They will continue to add supers, manipulate the brood boxes or even destroy swarm cells. All of these methods may post pone swarming, but it may not stop the inevitable.

This past summer we caught our first swarm of bees! Yea, free bees! It was easy since they were wrapped around one of the legs of our hive stand. Could it had been a swarm from one of our hives? Who knows? Either way we were able to scoop them up along with the queen and place them into a nuc box. (When catching swarms, you must catch the queen or the hive will not stay.)

As we enter into fall foraging/ nectar sources are becoming more scarce and swarming should be behind us, hopefully. Of course there is always absconding, when ALL bees in a hive leave in search of a new home.