Me and My Mason Bees

I am very suggestible when it comes to gardening. When my West Coast Seeds catalogue arrives each spring I have a very hard time narrowing my order down. I want to buy all the seeds, and all the supplies. I am very much a bandwagon jumper. Sometimes this pays off, like when I discovered my fabulous potato planter bags that make potato harvesting a breeze and free up garden space. Sometimes this doesn’t pay off, when I bite off more than I can chew and my crops fail.

This year I’ve undertaken an experiment, prompted by my catalogue, that may or may not pay off. I’m keeping Mason bees. They are native pollinators, and reputed to be very gentle. In fact, apparently the males don’t even have a stinger. I ordered a mason bee starter kit that included a mason bee house, nesting tubes and a little cardboard box filled with Mason bee cocoons. When the cocoons arrived I put them in my fridge, as instructed.

Keeping Mason bees sounds very easy. You put the house up, take the little box of cocoons out of your fridge, open one end and place the box inside the house. Within about half an hour the males emerge. The females slowly make their way out a few days or weeks later. The females then return to the house to lay their eggs, and by the fall those eggs have hatched, pupated and built cocoons, which go into your fridge for next year.

This past weekend I put up my Mason bee house and placed my little box of cocoons inside. When I opened the box I was surprised to see a bee staring back at me. I’m thinking that maybe it somehow got a little warmer than it was supposed to, and I was scared, but the bee emerged in a few minutes looking none the worse for wear. It flew off pretty quickly thereafter. Only a few minutes later my daughter and I could hear another bee working its way free. He slowly climbed out, then made his way to the top of the house to warm up in the sun before flying away. My daughter took his empty cocoon and put it in her box of treasures.

So far, I haven’t seen any females making their way out, but it’s been a little bit rainy. I’m just trying to leave the bees to their own devices, and trust that they know what they’re doing. It’s not like I can control them in any way in any case, so this seems like the best course of action. I’ll keep you updated on any more bee-related action that I see. In the meantime, here are a few photos of my Mason bee adventures.

mason bee house
Mason bee house

mason bees
Another angle of the house

first mason bee out
The first mason bee to emerge

looking for the sun
The second mason bee to emerge, crawling into the sun

mason bee cocoon
An empty mason bee cocoon

One Green Thing: Winter Gardening

One Green Thing Strocel.comToday I’m tackling my One Green Thing for August. This month it’s all about planning my winter garden. But first, I’ll talk about my commitment to local eating last month.

At the beginning of July, I said that I would eat 10 local meals over the course of the month. Partway in, however, I decided to switch things up. I realized in pretty short order that I was eating a lot of local food, but not necessarily all at once. For example, I’d have some fresh blueberries with breakfast, some cucumber and cheese at lunch, a snack of a fresh peach, and potatoes and a salad at dinner. None of those constitute an entire meal, however, that’s nothing to sneeze at local food-wise. So, instead, I decided I would eat at least three servings of local food every day. I found this more manageable, and on many days I got as high as five or six servings, or even more. I call this a success, because I did increase the amount of local food I ate over the course of this month.

plant tunnel winter gardening

The view inside my plant tunnel

Now it’s August, which is the height of summer. Talking about my winter garden feels a little premature, on the surface of it. However, just as I plan my summer garden in the depths of winter, the dog days of the summer are the best time to think about what I may still be able to grow in the colder months. I’m going to give a shout-out to the fabulous Christy of Eco Journey in the Burbs for the inspiration she gave me in a post over on the Green Phone Booth.

To help me get started, I recently placed an order with West Coast Seeds, both for some plants that will likely grow well during the cooler months (lettuce, beets, carrots) and some over-wintering varieties that I will plant now and harvest in the spring (broccoli, cauliflower, onions). I already have a small plant tunnel, so that I can shelter my sensitive plants from the harshest weather. This year I decided to buy some rye as a cover crop, as well. In past years I’ve collected and laid down leaves, but I’ve had mixed results so this year I’ll try this instead.

I’m lucky to live in a part of Canada that has very mild winters, so year-round gardening is possible. My hope is that by growing food in every season, I’ll be able to further reduce my food miles at a time of year when I otherwise might be eating a lot of imported fruit and veggies.

Do you plant a winter garden? I’d love to hear about your experiences! Also, if you’d like to get in on the act and take on One Green Thing of your own, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to grab the button from this post if you’re blogging about it, and spread the enviro-love.

One Green Thing: Eating Local

One Green Thing Strocel.comToday I’m tackling my One Green Thing for July. This month it’s all about eating local. But first, I’ll talk about my adventures in hang-drying laundry last month.

At the beginning of June I committed to hang-drying six loads over the course of the month. I made it – just barely. We had a really hot snap at the end of the month, which helped considerably. I will admit I found parts of it challenging. My husband and I have gotten into the routine of doing all of our laundry on Sunday. With limited space on my drying racks, I found I was only to hang a couple of loads to dry at a time. If I started first thing in the morning on a hot day, I can dry maybe three loads of laundry before sunset. In cooler, wetter weather, it might take a couple of days for clothes to dry. If I really want to line dry my clothes, I’d need to change my laundry patterns, and wash clothes throughout the week.

local eating local food one green thing enviro-mama cauliflower

This cauliflower is growing in my garden right now!

This month, I’m going local in the kitchen. I’m harvesting the first new potatoes from my garden, and my raspberries are currently at peak ripeness. My local farmers’ market is resplendent with all kinds of local produce. To celebrate all this bounty, I’d like to make a point of eating more local food during the month of July. To that end, I’m committing to 10 local meals this month. I already had one last night, with potatoes from my garden and steak and salad greens from the farmers’ market.

I did the same thing last July, and once again I’m giving myself some local eating latitude. I’m not counting condiments, spices and the like as part of the meal. Last night, for instance, I had non-local salad dressing, and I cooked my potatoes in imported olive oil. I’m not sweating those parts. I’m also not defining ‘local’ with a strict 100 mile (or similar) limit. I’m saying any food that I grow myself or buy at a farmstand or the farmers’ market counts, with the exception of prepared foods made primarily of non-local ingredients. Baked goods made from flour of unspecified origins wouldn’t count as local, but the beef that a rancher drove five hours to the market would.

While I do try to eat local, the truth is there are many imported foods my family loves. Bananas and mangoes just don’t grow in the Pacific Northwest, and some foods like broccoli don’t grow here year-round. At this time of year, however, eating local is at its easiest, and fresh produce is at its tastiest. I’m taking advantage of that and doing my best to prepare meals that come from my own back yard. I’ll let you know how I make out.

Do you eat local? What are your favourite sources of local food? Also, if you’d like to get in on the act and take on One Green Thing of your own, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to grab the button from this post if you’re blogging about it, and spread the enviro-love.

Creating Routines: Digging in the Dirt

Crafting my Life Creating RoutinesFor some time now, I’ve been running a monthly series on that’s all about creating positive routines. Each month I set one goal with the aim creating a more purpose-filled life. If you’d like to join in and take some steps to create better rhythms and routines in your own life, I’d love to hear how you’re doing it.

Last Month’s Recap

In May, I committed to daily journaling, listing what I did that day that fulfilled me, and what I’d like to do differently tomorrow. The point was to stop spending so much time focusing on what others think about me (or may think about me), and more time focusing on how my life is working for me. I did it exactly twice. It felt good, but I fell off the wagon pretty much right away. However, I also took on some other things this month. One was spending more time cleaning, and creating more order in my space, which was very positive. Another was setting aside some time to play games with my son that he enjoys on the days that he’s at home and his sister is at school. That was also very positive. Finally, I cut myself some slack with my blogging schedule. So, there were good routine changes – just not the one I’d planned at the outset.

creating routines crafting my life

Creating a Routine for June

This month my garden is starting to produce. There’s spinach, strawberries, and the first little baby carrots. My corn is popping up, my potato plants are large and leafy, and I am dreaming of an abundant harvest. Every time I head outside, I see something new. I also feel more grounded and centered after doing some digging in the dirt. But I don’t spend as much time in my garden as I would like. I have the time – I just don’t always do it. To that end, here’s my goal for June:

  • Spend at least five minutes in my garden every day, unless it’s pouring rain.

My hope is that by spending at least a few minutes in my garden every day, I’ll feel better and my garden will benefit. I’d also like to model getting outside more for my kids. I think this could be a win all the way around it I manage to pull it off.

Start With Small Changes

One thing I’ve learned on my journey towards a more purpose-driven life is that change happens best in small, bite-sized pieces. That’s why I’m once again choosing something that should take me only a few minutes a day. I may be busy, but I can find a few minutes a day to build a better life. I invite you to take on some small changes as well. What could you do to improve your daily rhythm or overall mood? And, what’s holding you back from doing it? Create a new routine, and leave a comment so that we can cheer each other on!

2013 Victoria Day Garden Tour

It’s Victoria Day here in Canada, which is officially considered the kick-off to both summer and the high season of gardening. In honour of that, today I’m sharing my annual Victoria Day garden tour.

Up first, I have lettuce and potatoes in planters. The lettuce is there to protect it from pests until it’s big enough. The potatoes are there because I’m trying to cram more into my garden. If you’re curious, I bought the potato planters from West Coast Seeds, and they work really well. They’re not too heavy, either, so I can shift them around as needed. Plus, they fold down for storage when the potatoes are done. I’m happy with this purchase so far.

Romaine lettuce seedling

Potato patio planters

Up next, in the warmest spot in the garden I have herbs. In this photo you can really only see the sage, but there’s also rosemary, thyme, bergamot and oregano hiding in there. Also, my tomato plants are in the back, and they’re very happy so far. I had an excellent harvest when I planted them here a few years ago, and I’m hoping for something similar this year. With a fairly warm spring so far, things are looking good.

Herbs and hidden tomatoes

In the narrow, sunny bed in front of my sunroom window, I have peppermint and some beneficial flowers, as well as peppers, broccoli and cauliflower. Down at the very end you can see the strawberries. Last year my peppers and broccoli both failed, but this year they’re doing much better. Once again, I credit the warm spring.

Peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries

My raspberries, rose bush, and blueberries are ticking along as well.

Raspberry plants

Roses and blueberries

I’ve had mixed success with the garden bed that extends down the side of my house. The plants here seem to be especially prone to pests, as it’s not the sunniest spot, and it’s right up against the house where bugs like to hide. I’ve been using slug traps this year, with some success. It seems to have saved my basil, which didn’t survive in the past. My onions and bush beans are also pretty happy here. However, most of my amaranth seedlings have disappeared, and so I’m considering starting them in a planter like the lettuce.

Basil

Onions and bush beans

In the final garden bed alongside the house, in addition to the weeds you can see some volunteer potato plants, spinach and kale. I’ll be transplanting my lettuce here once it’s big enough as well.

Potatoes, kale and spinach

My raised bed is currently home to some beneficial flowers, carrots, melons, tomatillos, eggplant, the first of my corn seedlings, and pumpkins. The pumpkins seem to have been confused by the early good weather, putting out flowers long before they ought to have. I planted some extra pumpkin seeds when I put the plants out, in the hopes that if these ones fail then the younger ones will succeed. This is the third year I’m trying melons, and they haven’t succeeded yet, but with the good weather the plants are doing pretty well so far, so I’m hopeful that this year will be different.

Melons, tomatillos, eggplant, carrots, pumpkins and more

If you were to visit my garden today, though, what you would most likely really notice are all the bumblebees. They’re buzzing around the strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and sage flowers, doing their pollinating. I’m glad to see them, and I hope that they bode well for a good summer ahead.

Pollinating sage flowers

Bee on sage flowers

What does your garden look like right now?

One Green Thing: Starting Seeds

One Green Thing Strocel.comIt’s the first Thursday of the month, so today I’m tackling my One Green Thing for March. This month it’s all about gardening – I’m hoping it goes better than my pledge to do more gardening research back in January. But first, I’ll talk about my adventures in DIY deodorant last month.

I actually have two things to report on my quest for a good, green deodorant. The first is that, after so many of you said good things about the crystal, I realized I had actually never tried it. I’d heard very mixed reviews, so I’d discounted it out-of-hand, but that doesn’t really seem fair. I bought a crystal (bonus – they’re cheap!) and used it for two weeks. I found that it worked well. Who knew? I would have stopped there, actually, if I hadn’t committed to making my own deodorant. As I’ve already shared, I made my first batch of DIY deodorant last week. I have to say that I really like it. In fact, I prefer it to the crystal, mostly because I like the way it smells. One week in, it’s still working really well. I’ve tried applying it using both the tube and my fingers, and both have pros and cons. If I were to go with fingers I would likely omit the beeswax, while I would add a little more next time for the tube, because firmness is a good thing in that situation.

one green thing starting seeds gardening Moving on to this month, I’m happy to say that spring is in the air here in Vancouver. Sunday was a beautiful, sunny day, and I got outside and did some pruning. I planted my first seeds outside, as well – spinach. I also (finally) placed my seed order with Vancouver-area institution West Coast Seeds. In addition to lettuce, corn, carrot, cauliflower and other seeds, I ordered some seed-starting trays, a slug and snail trap, a wildflower blend that attracts beneficial insects, and diatomaceous earth. I don’t want to keep losing my crops to pests, so I’m trying to get serious about getting my little plants off to a good start in the first place, and doing what I can to discourage creepy-crawlies that want to make a snack of my wee little lettuce shoots.

This is the latest I’ve gotten seeds started, but I’m thinking that it may work out better. I have a tendency to be an over-eager gardener, jumping the gun on transplanting my seedlings. I think some part of my brain believes that I can hurry summer – and the harvest – along if I start things early. However, I’ve seen that the result is many of my seedlings just don’t do that well, languishing in the cool, rainy days of April. I’m hoping that holding off a few weeks will net better results.

At the end of the month I’ll let you know how it went. In the meantime, tell me about your gardening planning. I’d love to hear! Also, if you’d like to get in on the act and take on One Green Thing of your own, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to grab the button from this post if you’re blogging about it, and spread the enviro-love.

One Green Thing: Gardening Research

One Green Thing Strocel.comI’m going to be re-visiting Enviro-Mama Thursday here on Strocel.com. I won’t necessarily write on a green topic every week. However, I will still be doing my One Green Thing each month. Today I’m planning a trip to the library. It’s my One Green Thing for January. But first, I’ll talk about my quest to reduce, reuse and recycle packaging last month.

As it turns out, this Christmas featured some of the lowest levels of packaging coming into my home of any year I can remember. I meant to collect styrofoam for recycling, for instance, but we ended up with only one thin four by four inch square piece. After my son stepped on it and it fell apart, it ended up in the trash. Otherwise, most of my gifts came in cardboard, with some small amounts of non-recyclable plastic. As always, I kept the gift bags and boxes I received for reuse. However, there just really wasn’t a whole lot for me to do. I suppose that’s a good thing, really.

As you may recall, in November I focused on winterizing my garden. It was part of my ongoing quest to improve my garden’s performance. The next step is for me to plan my garden for next year. I’ve received my seed catalogue, and I’m planning my order. Along with seeds I’ll be buying some seed starting trays, a slug trap and some other things. I’d also like to buy some gardening books. However, I’m not sure which ones to get. These are the books that have caught my eye so far:

enviro-mama one green thing gardening books

  • Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening
  • The Polytunnel Handbook by Andy McKee and Mark Gatter
  • Mini Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre by Brett Markham
  • Backyard Bounty by Linda Gilkeson
  • The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman
  • Year-Around Harvest: Winter Gardening on the Coast by Linda Gilkeson

At between $17 and $30 a pop, these books could add up fast. I’m not averse to buying two, or maybe even three, but I’d like to check them out first. Luckily, my husband came up with an easy solution – head to the library. There, I can check out a number of books. If they don’t have all these titles, they should at least have some of them, as well as others. If I find a manual I can’t live without, then I can consider forking over the cash. In the process, I can also do a little bit of background research to help me plan my seed order. Will it pay off in a better harvest? I don’t know, but it’s worth a try.

I’d also like to hear from you. Are there any gardening books you can’t live without? Have you read any of the titles I’m considering? What did you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts and recommendations! Also, if you’d like to get in on the act and take on One Green Thing of your own, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to grab the button from this post if you’re blogging about it, and spread the enviro-love.

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