Bumblebee Magic

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although it is pouring rain out today, these tough little fuzz balls are out foraging for pollen. They aren’t so tough against insecticides and vanishing habitat.

Bumblebee magic helped Mike and I through another weekend of waiting for conflicting medical information, but the humble bumblebee needs our help, everyone’s help, so it can survive and continue to do its pollination work…..read on…. 

Friday morning I woke up wanting to write about magic and miracles.  I can’t remember why, was it due to a dream? I think it was just my muse knocking on my psychic door, and both subjects have been dancing in my head lately.

An unexpected and disturbing phone call from Mike’s doctor’s office put a tailspin on my thoughts and writing attempts.  My muse was drowned out by frustration, questions and more phone calls. Why was his doctor recommending chemotherapy? Did the second pathology report have differing information? We will find out tomorrow…and we will be getting a second opinion next week.

Definitely put a damper on our weekend. Mike distracted himself by going to see Star Trek. I fumed awhile longer.  But magic came last night as I watched my husband, crouched down, guidebook in hand, get up close and personal with a hundred or so bumblebees in the huge evergreen huckleberry that engulfs our front porch.

Mike recently has taken an interest in bumblebees, they are everywhere in our yard, more than any other year, and we have always had a lot.  After dinner I read to him from my favorite bumblebee book Humblebee Bumblebee by Brian L. Griffin.  For the record, I love bumblebees. I want to pet them. I spend a lot of time trying to photograph them, a challenge as they are always moving and vibrating, and being so furry, they usually end up a blur or simply not there in most photographs. One summer bumblebees stung me twice – because they simple flew into me while I was walking on our sidewalk, a fly way for everything.  I work around them all the time in the yard and have never been stung since. I’ve had bumblebees land on my jeans and just hang out to rest for what seemed like a long time. I think of them as the teddy bears in the world of pollinators.

Last month, while staying at an Ayurvedic health clinic for a week, I intended to stay off the Internet, yet went on-line briefly each day to cast my vote for the bumblebee to appear on a new Endangered Species Chocolate bar. It was a close race and every vote counted!  The bumblebee was a winner! The Xerces Society will receive 10 percent of ESC net profits, a guaranteed contribution of $10,000 annually. This is huge for a small organization.  As a supporter of the Xerces Society, I know how difficult it is to get people to take seriously the importance of protecting insects, especially pollinators.

from the Xerces Society facebook page, the new bumblebee chocolate bar, available in 2014.
from the Xerces Society facebook page, the new bumblebee chocolate bar, available in 2014.

Back to Mike and his furry friends. Bumblebees stay out later than honey bees, perhaps their warm coats enable them to do so, but more likely it is because they can thermal regulate, meaning they can adjust their body temperature to the conditions. The light was dim as Mike ‘stocked’ the busy bees.  Although I know from my experience the difficulties in identifying different species, I did not want to discourage Mike as he intently watched the buzzing bush.  Once you get past the basic differences of black with yellow stripes, or yellow with black stripes, or yellow and black with an orange stripe, the subtleties are too detailed to determine which species you are looking at on a constantly moving specimen! Griffin lists 50 different species in his guidebook.

SO…where is the magic you might ask? The magic is the amazing bumblebee.  One singular mama bee, full of sperm from her pre-hibernation courtships, crawls into a hole, covers herself up, and sleeps away the fall and winter.  She emerges in spring to begin life anew, finds a cozy nest, tenderly cares for her first 8 or so eggs as they become larvae, then pupae, then emerge as her first little brood of daughters, who will help raise more and more daughters, filing the nest hole with a waxen castle of pollen chambers, honey stashes, and new nurseries for new eggs, larva and pupae. (Males come later in the season, their only purpose being for reproduction.)

And how does mama bee feed herself when all alone, starting out? It is critical she keep her young, especially in the larva and pupae stage, warm on cold, early spring days and nights. What if rainy, even snowy, weather prevents her from foraging for pollen?  She creates a tiny little honey pot, placing it between herself and the door of the nest chamber, close enough she can drink from it while on her nest…and she fills it with nectar.  I find this enchanting!

DSC08651My description is brief, I encourage you to read Griffin’s book, it is a short, yet delightful story of these amazing pollinators.  And why do you want to know about bumblebees?  Well, first of all, they are magical! You will enjoy understanding more about their life cycle.  Secondly, they’re survival is threatened, one species is endangered. Thirdly we are very dependent on them, even more so than honey bees.  By reading about them you can learn how easy it is to encourage, protect and provide for these gentle pollinators in your own yard.  At the very least, learn how not to harm them.

And why do we have so many in our yard? We are not very tidy gardeners, hard to do with health challenges and surrounded by an ever encroaching forest. We have areas where so-called ‘weeds’ go to flower, many loved by the bumblebees. A short list of what they like here includes: an early blooming Rhododendron, called “Christmas Rhody” is an early first food for bumblebees; the run amok comfrey in our garden an all-season favorite; holly was also a favorite, but we did cut it down. “True” geraniums, which have seeded all over the place, are covered with bumblebees, as are wild mustard, tenacious buttercup, dame’s rocket, raspberries, and of course the evergreen huckleberry (we’ve planted 9 more, they have some growing to do).  We have several native trees that bloom, I see bumblebees mostly in the cascara. Griffin’s book, and others, list plants you can grow to encourage bumblebees.  It is equally important to learn about their nesting habits. As with all native pollinators, and other friendly insects, a chemical-free, not-too-tidy yard provides diverse habitat.

And yes, I will have more to say about magic and miracles. Nature, and life, is full of both! :o)

Here is a list of articles and resources for learning more about the humble bumblebee: DSC04525_2

The Xerces Society offers a book entitled: Befriending Bumblebees as well as other books on pollinators, butterflies, and more. If you are on Facebook I encourage you to ‘Like’ the Xerces Society page to learn about how bumblebees and other endangered bugs are doing, and how you can help them: Xerces Society

Humblebee Bumblebee was self-published in 1997 by Knox Cellars Publishing Co., a small publishing company in Bellingham WA, started by Brian Griffin and now run by his daughter Lisa. You can buy the book directly from them. They also carry Griffin’s other delightful book on Mason Bees, other books about pollinators, as well as starter kits for raising Mason Bees, etc. They are all about supporting backyard, native pollinators and those wanting to encourage them. Here is their book link: Humblebee Bumblebee, and here is their main site: Knox Cellars. You can also find them on Facebook: Knox Cellars

You can also find the book on Amazon.

Here is one of many articles found in a search about the importance of bumblebees in pollinating crops, and why they are endangered: Bumblebee Loss Threatens Food Security

If you are serious about helping bumblebees and other pollinators you can learn more and sign the pollinator protection pledge on the Xerces Society web site: Pollinators Protection Pledge.

Plant Survivialist

Forget-me-nots surprise us each year, showing up in new places!

Forget-me-nots surprise us each year, showing up in new places as well as old!

This post is long with pictures, plant friends that have been around for years, most of them decades.  Enjoy their stories, perhaps on a day you want to sit, enjoy garden delights, and read about old friends! (Please do comment on your own long standing plant friends!)

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The history of gardening in our little spot in the woods is not a story of lush gardens overflowing with successive blooms,  beautiful four-season foliage, abundant vegetable beds, summer bouquets of fresh picked flowers, and perennials maturing into grand dames in a 32-year-old garden.  Nope, although there have been many little bouquets, and something blooming somewhere most the bloom season, it has been a story of survival.  My motto from the get go has been, if it survives, plant more of the same. I attribute the hodgepodge and weediness to clay soil and shade from the surrounding forest, which has been more successful in growing grand dames. Douglas Firs and Big Leaf Maples, tall thirty years ago, are still growing. While soil and shade are major factors, gardening ups and downs have also been parallel to my own health journeys, my own survival.

This year is not the first year gardening and yard work have taken a back seat for more pressing, time-consuming life events.  It is unique in that both Mike and I have been out of commission, he recovering from bladder cancer surgery, I, still adjusting to my own cancer experience and living with old chronic ‘issues’ that prevent me from doing heavier digging and lifting. Neither of us have had time to garden, except a little early season weeding. I hope it’s a one of a kind year, but there have been too many years when the body prevented the garden of my daydreams for me to hope any more for those lush beds of flowers and abundant veggies.

Last spring, in response to my threat, and wish, to tear down the dilapidated 30-year-old fencing around our veggie/flower DSC08288garden, and mow everything down, Mike promised to focus on rehabilitating our garden.  He worked hard, tearing down and replacing fencing, building new raised beds, hauling in our annual pile of ‘good’ dirt and store-bought manure to tease plants into growing here in spite of hard clay soil.  He worked diligently, until firewood, mom care, and other projects demanded his precious time away from the workplace.  We planted the new beds, weeded old beds outside the fenced garden, moved old perennials into new soil, put down fresh sawdust around bushes…it looked good, not lush, but closer to thriving than it had in a few years.  There were still areas yet to be revived…they were to be this year’s projects.

Now, once again, as other years when health challenges intervened good intentions, what’s surviving is doing so with no help from us. Last year’s efforts are buried in grass and weeds.  Up through the weeds bulbs have bloomed, Primulas magically appeared, the ever-reseeding forget-me-nots paint areas in robin’s egg blue, and hardy columbines make for happy hummingbirds.  Oriental Poppies and Geum are starting to show the promise of flowers, in spite of not receiving their annual dose of fish fertilizer. Today, after digging a small bed to plant some vegetable seeds, I looked at the weeds and plants around me and the usual feelings of frustration and guilt started but gave way for a deep appreciation for these survivors. I love these stalwart plants, some have been with me longer than I’ve known Mike. They have survived neglect, massive weeds, cold springs, wet summers….and pulled me through difficult times. Let me introduce you to some of “the survivors”. Long as the list is, there are others.

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This hanging Fuchsia has been with me more years than I remember. Long before Mike came along, so at least 25 years. Other fuchsias come and go, some lasting several years, but through many 20 degree winters and dry spells of forgetful watering practices, this bright friend comes back each year. I look with trepidation each spring to see if  tiny leaves are forming on the bare, dead looking sticks. So far it has not disappointed me.

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Though there are now few left that bloom, these daffodils moved with me from the rented farm house I lived in before moving here when I was 29. That’s 32 years ago. Who knows how long they had lived there. I will miss them when they all give up. My Mom loved them and always wanted to pick some to take home when she would visit in the spring. I bought her some similar ones several years ago for her garden, but they weren’t quite the same, too hybrid for her tastes!

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This bleeding heart has been around about 20 years, it’s been moved several times and now lives in a raised bed, but it didn’t bloom much this year. I know it needs to be replaced, but it’s hard to part with an old friend.

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Another oldie from the farm house of 32 years ago, these old columbines, in shades of purples and pinks, both seed themselves and come back as hardy perennials.

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When Mike and I married 24 years ago we received a nursery gift certificate and bought this pale pink camellia which has never thrived, not enough sun, but faithfully blooms in abundance each year. It’s planted where a few car mishaps have bumped it. Winter of 2011 heavy snow partly snapped off half the plant, we propped it up through last season but alas, the branches eventually broke off. This year it still blooms, but not this pale pink, it has survived by reverting to the hardy dark pink of its ancestors (see below).

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If you have explored this blog, you know my love of Primulas, partially because they like shade and seem happy to live here. These tiny lavender ones grow in an old enamel tub and have come back every year for at least 10 years.

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These red cowslips, another Primula favorite, also grow in a tub, putting them ‘out’ resulted in losses. The traditional yellow ones, a little patch in the garden, are the brightest yellow flowers I’ve ever grown.

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IMG_0943 More Primulas, these double petaled ones, began as one plant each in pink and yellow and now form a large mass in the garden. After blooming each year they put up larger leaves and compete with weedy buttercups, Mike diligently weeds them most years, but buttercup is tenacious!

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Lilacs aren’t supposed to grow here, they like lots of sun and sandy soil. I brought a few wild starts home from eastern Washington years ago. They don’t thrive, but they survive! Some years there is only one bloom, some a dozen, certainly not most people’s experiences with lilac bushes, which are usually covered with blooms, but I’m proud of ‘my’ lilacs for surviving against the odds!

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Another immigrant, I found this bush rose as a little start in the grass just before I left the farm house 32 years ago, it must have been pulled out years earlier and mowed over, as I had not seen it in the years I lived there. Moved here, and it proceeded to take over the front yard with highly scented little red roses  every June. Though a large bush it is not invasive, I’ve only had a few starts over the years to pass on. (see close-up of blossom below)

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A beau from the past, 27 years ago, bought me a peace rose. It did not survive (obviously the relationship didn’t either!) but from the root-stock grew a gangly climbing rose with floppy scented roses. Anything that survives here stays, it lives in a brushy corner and gets absolutely no care. A true survivor!

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I had a hydrangea for ten years or more that died, I felt like I had lost a pet. Hydrangeas also don’t like the growing conditions offered here. On the road to Quinault Lodge on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula, a wet and shady place, there are hydrangeas that have gone ‘wild’. I picked a few, brought them home and stuck them in a pot, they rooted and became two hardy hydrangea bushes.

True geraniums have been a god send in the post early spring bloom season. This one grows huge and blooms nearly all summer, even putting out a second late bloom after it is cut back. It has been around for years and thrives, offering lush color along the path to our meditation building.

True geraniums have been a godsend in the late spring bloom season when bulbs, Primulas, and other spring flowers are through blooming. This one grows huge and blooms nearly all summer, even putting out a second late bloom after it is cut back. It has been around for years and thrives, offering lush color along the path to our meditation building.
Also from the farmhouse, I stuck some of these calla lillies in the ground near the house and forgot about them for several years. Not getting much water under the eaves, they just went dormant, but one year decided to wake up and grow. Was I surprised to see them! Another example of plant resilience!

Also from the farmhouse, I stuck some of these calla lilies in the ground near the house and forgot about them for several years. Not getting water under the eaves, they went dormant, but one year decided to wake up and grow. Was I surprised to see them! Another example of plant resiliency!

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I had red geums for several years, but they died and replacements of the same did not do well.  These orange ones, at least 10 years old, faltered slightly last year when divided and moved, but this year they are once again lush and just starting to bloom.

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IMG_6337 this little rhody got my thinking process going today about plants surviving. A gift from a dear friend many years ago, it has never grown big, but it has survived, been moved and a few years ago bloomed several blooms (top picture)!  A mishap broke a branch last summer and a few weeks ago a deer ate another. Down to one little stick of a branch, it boldly is putting out one bloom this year – determined! A miniature rhody, named Hummingbird, died this year after many years. I sadly pulled it out yesterday. So happy to see this one start to bloom today.

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Rhododendrons generally do well here, but about three years ago the buds of this one became the favorite spring food of a few squirrels. This year it managed to bloom before they remembered how tasty it was! A larger rhody had 50% of its branches removed by a mountain beaver a few months ago, it looks sad and weary, few buds remained to bloom, but it is putting up little shoots on each gnawed off branch! Might take a few years, but I believe the rhody will recuperate just fine.

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Not perennials, but these re-seeding poppies have also been with me since the farm house days 32 years ago. They come up where they want, some years in great abundance and I need to ‘weed’ them, some years they worry me by not showing in great numbers. Also in this picture is another long time plant friend, fever few.

Another hardy rose, this one from my parent's house on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, climbs all over our garden gate. Another Seattle transfer, an old peach tree they moved here 30 years ago, doesn't produce much in the way of fruit, but has lovely pink blooms.

Another hardy rose, this one, from my parent’s house on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, climbs all over our garden gate. Another Seattle transfer, an old peach tree moved here 30 years ago, doesn’t produce much in the way of fruit, but has lovely pink blooms.

Thank you for meeting my friends, the survivors who have taught me to persevere, to bloom in spite of the odds, to add what DSC01242beauty you can to the world, no matter the conditions, or mishaps life delivers.

DSC09064_2Happy Mother’s Day to the mother’s among my readers!  That includes those who nurture and ‘mother’ their plants and animals! Visiting my Mom Saturday, while the sun still shines, I will be spending Mother’s Day planting seeds into what promises to be wet soil and appreciating my long time friends as they soak up Mother Nature’s gift of water!

The Times of Our Lives

The muse has been whispering to me for some time to write. I have wanted to explore “daughter-energy” in my life, and the lives of others.  I, who am daughter-less, have felt the vibrant, enthusiastic healing energy of several young women who have come into my life as practitioners or friends, some both. I am grateful for their youthful wisdom and intuition, for stories of motherhood journeys, life transitions, and new passions.  Early adulthood, from an Ayurvedic perspective, is the Pitta time of life – the fire and water elements – it is the time of action, flow, dynamic energy, the time of ‘doing’.

Happy Photogapher!

Thank you Madelyn for grabbing my camera, taking this photo, and grabbing my glasses! Much gratitude to Orson’s parents, grandparents, and the aunt who passed him on to me, sharing the joy!

New grand babies in the lives of friends has made me notice, ponder, and want to write about how the role of grandma transforms, softens, fills hearts in new and wonderful ways.  I momentarily, and gratefully, fell under the spell myself when baby Orson (son of Signe Rose and Trevor, grandson of Paula and Greg), from of a distance of a few inches starred deep into my eyes, smiled, giggled, and for thirty minutes pulled me into his world of joy and wonderment, right after he pulled off my glasses! (Unfortunately for me, and others who fell under his spell, Orson lives on the east coast!).  In Ayurveda childhood is the time of the Kapha dosha, the elements of water and earth – a time of ‘groundedness’, nurturing.  This is what young children need, but it is also what they give.  (During this time, for their own balanced growth, they need the air and ether elements of stimulus, creativity, and movement.).

Unfortunately, the muse has been stifled once again by cancer.  I wrote previously that “spring trumps cancer”, but cancer can be tenacious and just when I felt it was becoming smaller, taking less space in our lives, it has became very large, leaving little room for much else. I have danced with cancer twice, had friends and family members who followed its jagged journey to the end – heroes whose bodies succumbed but whose spirits were victorious.  Others, with strength, grace, and tears, rerouted the journey and found the path to healing. This time it has invaded my husband’s body and life and it seems more surreal than my own crazy cancer dance.

“This isn’t supposed to happen, we’re already ‘dealing with’ cancer!”, “our plates are already full!”, “we are overwhelmed” – all the expected first thoughts. I move quickly to ‘information gathering’, my default.  But that mode has its limits of usefulness.  There is the waiting – for pathology reports, treatment plans, and doctors on vacations while your life hangs on thread of unknown strength.  There is the letting go of everything, then choosing what you need to pick up again. Quiet conversations, tears, laughter, peaceful moments, resolve, and resolutions occupy our days.

And there is watching one’s best friend, soul-mate, partner, beloved be in pain, turn inward, grasp for understanding, question what the future holds, find his own grace under fire. Though I have been, and I am, in that place myself, each person’s experience is uniquely their own. Where Mike goes I can not follow, any more than he can follow me.

IMG_6296Mike has always been ‘one step’ removed, carrying on with the routines of his life – work, chores, even while being supportive and concerned about my health dramas.  Though aging has brought the usual challenges, he was grounded in his ways.

We are in the Vata (dosha) period of life – dominated by the elements of air and either.  A time of creativity, but many diseases of aging are from too much Vata.  Groundedness, nurturing moisture, calm restfulness are all important to support good health as the body ages and the air and ether elements dominate.  In the natural course of many people’s lives, as they age, adult children bring Pitta energy of dynamism and action to help when energies falter, and grandchildren bring the nourishing elements of earth and water to off set the imbalances of air and either.  So where does this leave us, and many others of our generation who do not have extended families of balanced energetic dynamics?

Water and earth balance air and ether. Grateful for the lushness of Nature on a warm sunny day, we try to stay immersed in the green, the bird songs, feet planted in the ground, we find nourishment.  Marred somewhat by constant traffic noise and movement (Vata air energy), we sink into the woods and let our eyes feast on our yard.  Gone awry from neglect, it is still lush and offers blossoms from past efforts (along with the weeds!). Vibrantly colored Rhodies, blue and white wood hyacinths, forget-me-nots, wild bleeding hearts, flowering bitter cherry trees and old apple trees offer healing bouquets.  We accept them with gratitude.

P.S. We also accept baby ‘hits’ and young adults who want to re-vitalize momentarily stymied oldsters.

You can read my article about Ayurveda here: Mother of all Healing, which includes links to other resources.

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wild bleeding-hearts carpet the woods and spill into our yard this time of year.