Monday, March 12, 2012

Two native plant gardening events this week

One week- two native plant gardening events!

Tuesday, March 13, Helena at the Lewis and Clark Library, 7 pm

Join me as I present a program to the Native Plant Society titled: "Conservation Gardening with Montana Native Plants for Montana Native Wildlife." 

Learn how to have a sustainable, less resource intensive native plant garden that is comfortable for people and inviting to a variety of wildlife. David will discuss plants, insects, birds and garden design that is fun, easy, and inexpensive. Gardening with Montana native plants is rewarding and within everyone's reach. David will present examples from his home garden that is in a small city lot in the middle of Missoula, receives no irrigation, contains over 100 species of native plants and has attracted over 60 species of birds, and countless insects.
Admission:  Free and open to the public.

Thursday, March 15, Missoula, Fort Missoula, 5:30- 7:30 pm
"Starting your native plants from seed"
Join my favorite botanist, Marilyn Marler, at the the Fort Missoula Native Plant Gardens, near the big silver water tower, for an evenng of native plant seed startng

Here is a description:
Establish your native plant garden by starting seeds early in the season. Marilyn Marler will provide all the tricks and tips you need to get your garden up and running as soon as the weather permits. This workshop will feature information, hands-on practice and tour of the garden to assist with your landscaping questions and spark ideas for your own garden.

Admission:  Suggested donation is $5, but MNHC members get in free (so why not just go ahead and become a member!)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

My Garden Rant Guest Rant: Honey bees suck

No honey bees here...
This post was originally published on Garden Rant (click here for the original post), if you haven't been to Garden Rant, check it out- it is one of the best garden blogs on earth (a little pun there for you).  Thanks to Susan Harris and the writers at Garden Rant for the opportunity to vent a little.

That’s right, they suck.  Someone had to say it.
If you want honey bees (Apis mellifera) for say, I don’t know, honey- that is great.  No problem.  If you have converted a heterogeneous, beautiful landscape of native plants and wildlife into a monoculture for crop production, and every plant requires pollination in the same, narrow, discrete window, honey bees are for you.
However, if you are interested in any of the following:  biodiversity, bee conservation, pollinator conservation and diversity, wildlife gardening, native plant landscaping, getting your native plant garden pollinated, or just plan learning about the really cool insects in your garden, than yes, honey bees suck.
Somewhere along the way of promoting awareness of pollinators and their role in plant, wildlife and bee conservation, people wove in honey bees.  This is really unfortunate, so I am trying to set the record straight. 
In our garden I have collected over 150 species of bees and “pollinators” and one of those species is honey bee.  In fact, honey bees in our garden are pretty uncommon, especially outside a narrow time of day and time of year.  The diverse species of native pollinators provide so much more than pollination to our garden.  Just as a small example, the larvae of the flower fly (Spilomaya spp.), a yellow jacket mimic, pictured below, are effective predators of aphids in the garden (including our vegetable garden).
Not a bee, but a fly (whose larvae eat aphids), trying to look like a yellowjacket!
I venture that honey bees are pretty ineffectual pollinators of most things- especially native species.  As far as colony collapse disorder, although academically interesting, don’t be fooled: it is not a conservation issue.
Honey bees are native to Eurasia (where most of our noxious weeds are coincidentally from), and share no evolutionary history with plants in the US, and in particular with plants of the intermountain west of Montana.  Consequently, they are not good nor effective pollinators of the diverse native plants we have here. They only will pollinate over a narrow range of dates and temperatures, and can only exploit certain sizes and shapes of plants.  Again, too narrow of a range to be effective. 
Too cold for honey bees
For example, in the Missoula valley, and in my garden, spring arrives with sagebrush buttercups (Ranunculus glaberrimus), that flower in late February or early March.  They often arrive when snow still covers the ground, most of days are barely above freezing, and the blooms can be rapid.  This time of the year, nary a honey bee is in sight or even able to survive- these blooms predate the hives trucked in from the south.  Native flowers come and go; blooming across different days (and some only at night) from snowy spring until late October, long after the honey bees head back down south or hunker down trying to survive.
No honeybees at night, either
Even as temperatures become more appealing to honey bees, morning and evening can be too cool for them to do much of anything beyond surviving.  Sure, on a warm July afternoon, honey bees will be out in force pollinating some things, but they don’t do much.   
Leave the milkweeds for the big fellas to pollinate

Our native pollinators, including moths, butterflies, bees, flies, beetles, ants, and others are so diverse in terms of habitats they occupy, body sizes and morphology, that than can pollinate and exploit a diversity of native plants that no truck load of honey bee hives consisting of identically sized and shaped honey bees could even imagine.
Don't count on a honey bee to pollinate this shooting star!
So, yes, honey bees are great for producing honey.  They are great for pollinating commercial crops (though their value is probably grossly overstated), but they have little place in conservation and little room in my garden.
Just another moth doing some pollinating in our garden, while imitating a yellowjacket!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Birdhouse Workshop, March 11

Birds are actively investigating nest sites now and if you want to learn how to get birds to nest in your garden this year, come to our birdhouse workshop this Sunday, March 11

When?  3-5pm

Location: Our backyard

What to bring:  Dress for the weather, camera, note taking stuff

What we'll do:  Go over different types of nest boxes and nesting platforms, talk about which bird species you can attract, explain how to install and maintain your nest boxes. We'll cover pests and how to avoid them, and handle examples of different species' nests and nesting materials

Reserve a spot!: Cost is only $15 but space is limited.  Please RSVP to Marilyn at 544-7189 or email us at

We hope to see you then!