Tag Archives: insects

I find the oomph in flowers and prose.

My first sewing teacher used to tell me that she found sewing relaxing. I have never become skilled enough that I ever found that to be true for me. Even when I generally derived great satisfaction from sewing darling doll clothes, my neck would get stiff doing the tiny hand stitches at the end. It would never occur to me to pick up a needle and thread for fun or sustenance, during the days of preparation for a big expedition.

My usual way is to endanger my overall health by snacking and forgoing exercise as I become more anxious about setting off, so I was surprised at myself for taking several walks this week. This morning I even walked the whole two miles of what was formerly my daily routine. I saw a family of quail, and some old favorite plants, but it was too early for the bees.

And now here I am working on yet another blog post, after reading and thinking and perusing this and that… one might think it a pretty inefficient use of my limited time, because I am up against looming deadlines. But, I am finding that these activities are as necessary to my overall well-being as the walking is to my legs and back — sometimes I think they are more so.

Evidently there is something about engaging in creative activity that is calming, and clears the mind. The preparations for a big social event also constitute a creative work, but that one is not my favorite, and requires a lot of extra oomph, plus a type of thinking that is a stretch for me. So I sustain myself with words and flowers. 

My first Love-in-a-Mist flower bloomed today! This was a Big Event, a project that started off with my longstanding admiration for these flowers, and a desire to grow them myself. It took years, and the donation of seeds from two friends, and then a couple more years, before I got them planted in the greenhouse in the spring. I put them in three different places in the garden, and hope that they will self-sow at least a little and keep themselves going from now on.

All the white echinacea are standing up tall and elegant, not losing their gracefulness even when the overeager asparagus fronds drape themselves on them.

When the sunflower that the bee sleepers were using began to fade, they rearranged themselves on others. The three above were seen yesterday morning, but last night and today, no bees at all were bedded down in the open — only this small creature was nestled in a sunflower bud:

I am traveling next week, driving nearly to the bottom of the state, which I’ve never done before. My trip will involve lots of visiting with friends and family, a wedding, and a mountain cabin. I hope to tell you about some of the bloggy details as they emerge, but once I’ve torn myself away from my desktop and my garden, there’s no telling what might happen!

A Friday in May, for May.

It’s the feast of Saints Constantine and Helen, and I was blessed to attend Liturgy, and afterward to meet a new friend there. Then a young altar server needed a ride home, and on the way I encouraged him to talk about his reading. He said that he’d read 40-odd Hardy Boys books but after about 30 realized that they were mostly the same, and getting boring. To make completely sure,  he read a few more. He is about to move up to The Hobbit.

We also talked about the fruit trees that his family has growing in their back yard. Which reminds me of my plum trees: I can report that at last sighting there were at least ten plums on my two Elephant Heart plum trees. They aren’t quite walnut sized yet.

After a warm spell, then a cold and foggy spell, then a high windy spell, the elements seem to be settling down to warm springiness. In the family of bees, this year I mostly have Yellow-Faced Bumblebees everywhere. They are, as last year, hard to photograph not only because of their buzziness, but because they are so heavy that when they light on a flower, it starts rocking and waving erratically from the weight. I did get one photo that is an improvement from last year.

Only a week after I yanked out the old snow-pea vines from October, I  picked a couple of pods from the new batch planted the last day of February. They are the same Green Beauty variety. I might rename them Giant Sweet Green Beauty, from their being substantial in every category.

The Cinderella (Rouge V’if D’Etampes) pumpkins I started in the greenhouse already have little fruits on them! As do the summer squashes.

Also from the greenhouse is the most spindly chamomile, and ground (hugging) cherries:

The Jerusalem Sage flowers don’t give up their nectar without a great effort from the bees, who burrow down inside and make the whole flower vibrate for a long minute or two while they finish their work and are backing out again.

The peskiest “weed” I have is Showy Milkweed, which has grown a whole forest of progeny under the fig tree. A few of the starts have willingly taken to be transplanted to this pot, but most break off when I try to move them, and I have temporarily given up trying.

The Showy Milkweed is aptly named. If any of you lives close to me and wants the pot of starts, here’s a picture of it in bloom:

My friend May has been teaching me about plants and sharing her love for gardening with me for about 40 years now. I remember the first time she noticed that I didn’t know what to do with my basil plants, and she offered to snip the leaves (and use them) to keep them growing. Today she celebrates her name day. So I dedicate this post and the beauty of my garden world to YOU, May! God bless you, and may the prayers of St. Helen help to prosper us in our gardening.

How many burning bushes today?

I stepped just beyond my front door only to put a letter out for the mailman, but I immediately forgot myself and stepped farther, to gaze upon that small part of my kingdom…

Carpenter bees were working at the white salvia that has filled out so well and become a definite feature of the landscape. Only carpenter bees were there. What about the other flowers? On the wallflower, grown to a prominent bulwark of purple in that area that is squeezed between the street and the driveway, buzzed a half dozen different sorts of pollinators, among them honeybees (I hope), stripey little bumblebees, and a species new to me, with bright yellow abdomens underneath.

And what a quietly “burning” bush — to follow the metaphor of the poem below — this creature is. I’m amazed that I saw him at all:

I spent a half hour studying them and collecting blurry pictures to help me see them better. I pulled out the orange California poppies that I am trying to keep from taking over my pale yellow plantation of them. After peering into the asparagus beds that are becoming a forest, I spied a few spears that could be cut, and managed to remember them long enough to bring out a knife with which to do that.

The rest of today promises to hold encounters with several bright and human epiphanies. My world is illuminated and shining full of these transitory and eternal treasures. Christ is risen!

THE BRIGHT FIELD

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the burning bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

~ R. S. Thomas (1913-2000), Welsh poet

The Bombini are not the robbers.

bee in the neighborhood

This is a post about bees. If you find them icky or boring and don’t care which bee is a robber, I understand! I put a pretty flower at the bottom for you to look at before you leave.

One morning this week I went back and forth along the front walk, for fifteen minutes or so, stooping over the germander hedges to watch a bumblebee. It caught my eye because of its yellow markings that were not what I’m used to seeing, and also because  of its nectar-gathering style.

Was it because of its size and weight, that it couldn’t manage the flowers near the tops of the germander stems? It seemed to get lost in the understory of that purple forest, but would eventually resurface, tempting me to try again and again with my camera to fix his image (I can’t help switching male pronouns so I will just give in to my inclinations and be unscientific, because of course I have no idea of “his” sex.) so as to be able to see his markings better.

Here are the best pictures I got. Bees are buzzy and usually vibrating!

My Yellow-Faced Bumblebee is funny-looking! In that middle picture sprawled on his back like a suckling child, his yellow face is more like a yellow toupee. Here is a clearer, more classic image of the bee:

yellow faced bumblebee seek

It is from the page Bumblebees of California, which is where I realized that what I thought for years was the primary bumblebee enjoying my pollinator garden is not a bumblebee at all.

It wasn’t until that same evening that I was set straight. As the sun was about to go down, I was snipping spent penstemon blooms in the back garden when I saw one of these “bumblebees” visiting the non-spent ones. He was not trying to go in at the door, so to speak, but was busy at the top. Did he have a short cut to the nectar? Was he making a short cut?

Back inside, when it began to dawn on me that he was not a bumblebee, I searched for “black bees that  look like bumblebees,” and soon realized that he is a carpenter bee. And on the first site I found they described what I had seen a few minutes before: “On flowers such as salvias, penstemons, and other long, tubular flowers the carpenter bee, due to its large size, is unable to enter the flower opening. Instead they become nectar robbers. Using their mouthparts they cut a slit at the base of corolla and steal away with the nectar without having pollinated the flower.”

I learned that there are 500 species of carpenter bees! Most of them are all black and hard to tell one from another. The easiest way to tell them apart from bumblebees is by their abdomens: The bumblebees’ abdomens are covered with dense hair, while the carpenters’ are shiny. This last fact I was well aware of, because it has been the biggest hindrance to me getting a picture of these bees that usually show up as shiny black blobs. But now that I  have identified two bees in one day, and have blurry pictures to refer to when I forget, I will relax and move on.

But — early this morning I went out looking for Yellow Face. I didn’t see him, but I did see the carpenter bees, and what were they doing? Stealing nectar from the tubular white salvia flowers!

I wasn’t shocked, but pleased. And I don’t see why this should be called “stealing.” Is there a law of nature that says a bee has a right to nectar only if he pollinates the flower at the same time? Have the tubular flowers filed a complaint about the theft?

Last year I was trying to identify a strange-looking wasp, and I browsed entomology sites to no avail. Entomologists can’t even keep the thousands of species straight, and we common people who deal with insects our whole lives have strong and conflicting beliefs about their names and identities. I realized back then that wasps were a low priority for me; I’m sorry to say that I even hate some of them. But I feel otherwise about bees. Here is a photo from the U.S. Forest Service showing the smallest bee with the largest bee:

It is the Perdita minima on the head of a female carpenter bee. Wasps and bees, along with ants, are among the members of the Order Hymenoptera, but wasps are not bees any more than ants are bees. The first very readable paragraphs on this site I found helpful in refreshing my own memory on these creatures: Bees, Wasps, and Ants.

The tribe to which the 250 species of bumblebees belong is called Bombini. Isn’t that cute?

Okay, enough entomology for today. Here is that flower I promised you. It is my Belle of India jasmine that Soldier and Joy gave me for Christmas one year. It’s taken me a while to figure out how to make it happy, but now it is healthy and blooming and so sweet! I wonder if any Bombini will come by for a taste?