Leaving Leaves

Yesterday I finally got around to the yard leaf cleanup. I’d been putting it off until the majority of leaves had fallen. Having oak trees around means that’s comparatively late and with a vernal witchhazel that holds its leaves all winter it also means I’m not going to get everything. But no worries! The leaves aren’t really  going anywhere anyway.

Photo Nov 18, 10 17 03 AM

Years ago it occurred to me that I was wasting a LOT of time raking leaves and either putting them on the curb for the city to pick up or shredding them into the compost bins. For the free organic matter I wasn’t sending away I was putting time and effort into speeding up a process that would happen eventually on its own. So I stopped. I only clear them off the paved surfaces and the very small lawn in the back yard. There is no lawn in front. Over winter some of this free, natural, organic mulch tends to shift around and leave bare spots so I like to pack one of the compost bins with dry oak leaves to replenish those areas in spring.

Photo Nov 18, 10 16 56 AM

Because my gardens are all in varying degrees of shade I’ve relied quite a bit on hostas to fill up space. Until I stopped raking I had problems with slugs chewing on the leaves. Conventional wisdom is that getting rid of that organic matter discourages slugs. When I started leaving the leaves the slug damage stopped. I can’t be certain why, but I suspect it’s either that they had more to eat at safe, moist, ground level and left the hostas alone or that this healthier habitat for invertebrates encouraged slug predators that are keeping them in check. In any case, my hostas look great all season.

Habitat Signs

Not only are my plants healthier now, this lazy approach to gardening has helped make it possible to certify the yard as a wildlife habitat and to provide resources for pollinators as well.

Recently I’ve been coming across articles encouraging leaving fallen leaves for wildlife like these from The Xerces Society, The National Wildlife Federation and Habitat Network. How do you handle your autumn leaves? I encourage you to do some reading and, if you’re able, consider leaving them in place. Wildlife and your back will thank you.

New Resident

This morning I went to the garden, did a little maintenance, harvested some salad greens and spinach, and snapped some images with the intention of doing a little garden post here. Then we went on a long afternoon of hiking at the county’s newest forest. I’ve got a gazillion images from that hike to process and I’m too pooped to write much anyway, so here’s a short video of a bee moving into a hole in the log I drilled and put out only yesterday. I’ll take a shot at ID once I’ve worked a little more through my backlog.

 

Fascinating But Annoying

I was just outside on the deck and noticed something flying around the mason bee hotel. Since the tubes are almost all occupied I was curious who might be looking for a place to live. As I watched I saw a small wasp climbing around on the outside of the bamboo carefully inspecting them with her antennae. Then she assumed a rather arched posture and I assumed the worst.

Ovipositing

Yup, somebody’s laying eggs! If you look closely you can count her six tan feet versus one black, evil (if you’re the poor, parasitized pupa inside) ovipositor.

Bamboo Crack

When I looked around the other side I could clearly see the crack she had discovered and was exploiting. It’s a flaw in the fortress that will probably cost more than one mason be his or her life. Bummer. Yet it’s fascinating. This makes me think I should be changing out the bamboo each year. Replacing it will not only lessen the occurrence of vulnerable cracks, but also reduce the buildup of parasitic mites.

Seems there’s always something going on.

I See Your Butt!

I really should be more careful when I’m out in the garden talking to some insect, rabbit, chipmunk, plant or even myself. The yards are small and the houses are close together. I can only imagine what the neighbors thought yesterday when they heard me exclaim "I see your butt!" as the camera clicked away. Cut me some slack. I was excited. Here was the first real confirmation that at least one solitary bee was interested in the nesting tubes I put out for them.

Butt Shot

On a few previous occasions I’ve seen a couple different kinds of bees, guessing from their different sizes, fly quickly into the tubes or between them and not coming out for as long as I was willing at the moment to stand there waiting for them. This time, however, I was able to watch a bee working inside the bamboo tube. And it was only after I looked at the image I captured that I noticed the material inside the adjacent tube. Pollen? Maybe.

 

Sealed Tube

Fast forward to this evening, and 24 hours later I see that not only is the tube that was being worked the previous day all sealed up with mud, another smaller one an inch to the left is as well. What’s just as cool is that the tiny openings of a couple of the Turtlehead stems I hung below the bamboo tubes have been sealed up, too. Getting a picture proved to be beyond my capabilities, though. Still, it was enough to make me shout, “Wow! Would you look at that!”

Houses don’t turn over too quickly here. It must be a really good school district.

On a May Day Day

I don’t need to tell you that this past winter felt interminable. It started early. It went deep. And when it should have ended, by my estimation, it lingered. I can almost count the number of good spring days we’ve had so far on one hand. I’m willing to try anything at this point to make the wet, gray weather stop.

Fortunately, some good folks took on the tasks that will ensure that winter is truly over and we can move into what may be left of spring and on t0 summer.

Morris

Bells were jingled, sticks struck together, handkerchiefs waved and the Betty gave me a poppyseed cookie.

May Pole

The May Pole was erected (this is all about fertility, after all) and the revelers manned the ribbons.

Green Man

The Green Man, who I think might have been quite handsome under all that foliage, watched over all.

Winter Witch

And the Winter Witch was dealt with properly…

Witch Burning

…by fire.

Plait

Let’s hope that everything was done properly and the bad mojo of winter is bound up for good. Now it’s the Maiden’s turn.

Cherry 2012

I’m taking this as evidence that it’s already starting to work. The cherry tree began blooming the very next day, the latest it ever has. The bees and I are very pleased.

(These cherry blossoms are actually from two year’s ago. Today’s flowers are a sadly meager display)

Another Accommodation and Another Native Bee

In case you were wondering, I did put a new roof on the birdhouse I found with the bumblebee nest remnants inside. I used some of the abundant pieces of cedar left over from last summer’s deck renovation. I cleaned out the old mouse and bee nest material  installed the new roof similarly to the original, though this is thicker wood. Inside I made a sort of hollow nest using some wool.

Bumblehouse1

Stalking around the garden the best place I could find where I could easily keep an eye on it turned out to be a bed in the angle of the house and deck. I nestled it onto the ground and heaped up some leaves around it leaving the opening visible and inviting. Here I can check it as I come and go and, with any luck, notice if a bee goes in or out.

Bumblehouse2

When I placed it, which was actually a few weeks ago I had hoped that the nearby crocus would help entice a bumblebee to move in. It was only this weekend, however, when I spotted my first queen bumblebee of the season. She was visiting the Scilla that blanket the garden and that so many bees are going ga-ga over.

Native Bee

Speaking of which, I managed to snap a picture of another native bee resting on the back of a Helleborus bloom.  So many bees! Spring is truly, finally here.