Happy National Honey Month

Imagine my delight to learn that September is National Honey Month! 


You know we’re very fond of the golden elixir around our house, and we’re so proud that our honeybees have been happy and healthy enough to produce lots of it.

Honey and beeswax candle

Here are some honey highlights. First, worker bees (all female) visit flowers and plants to gather nectar.

Honeybee on flowerThey bring the nectar back to the beehive, transform it into honey, and pack it into the wax honeycomb that they built.

Honeycomb with bees

We leave most of the honey for the bees’ own use, but in good years there’s extra, and we take a bit. Recently we got a hand-crank extractor, which makes getting the honey out of the comb much easier than our old “crush” method.

Extracting honey

It also leaves the honeycomb intact, so we put it back into the hives for the bees to use again. In the photo George and our friend Joan are “scoring” the capped honey so it will spin out of the comb easily when we put it into the extractor.

Did you know that many people eat local honey to control allergies? The theory is that trace amounts of pollen from local plants to which people are allergic remain in the honey, and that eating it year-round can help the body cope with the allergens. Sweet medicine, for sure!

Early Summer Garden

Welcome to June-time in our garden. As the roses fade we have some other wonderful flowers blooming. The stream orchid (Epipactis gigantea) is a California native orchid. Here’s a closeup; the flowers are only about a half inch.

Epipactus gigantea

The flowers of the Soap Plant (Chlorogalum) are also extremely small. Bumble bees love these; I’m always amazed to watch the fat bees light on and weigh down the delicate flowers.

Soap plant flower

A trill from our guard-hen, Maureen, alerted us to a visit by Bambi. He was waiting in our neighbor’s yard for us to leave so he could graze on George’s delicious flowers and plants. Last week he ate nearly every leaf off our poor peach tree. Guess the fruit wasn’t ripe enough for him, he left us those.

Young deer

Anise swallowtail butterflies, probably the ones that we raised and released in the past few months, have returned to lay eggs on our fennel. We caught this one flitting about, and I managed to get a photo of her leaving some eggs.

Anise swallowtail butterfly

Finally, the hummingbirds are back, and happily visiting our flowers and feeders.


What’s growing in (and who’s visiting) your garden this summer?

The Cycle Begins

Over the last few weeks more than ten of the anise swallowtail butterfly chrysalises that we’ve been sheltering in our butterfly nursery have emerged. These three beauties emerged in one day. We waited for the weather to improve, and took them out to the deck to release them. You can also see two batches of chrysalises still waiting to emerge. For some reason, possibly protection, they sometimes make their chrysalises right next to or on top of one another.

DSC_3545b small flat

Anise swallowtails can remain in the chrysalis stage for years, and some of the ones that emerged have been gestating for more than two years. Every time we release a female I ask her to come back to our garden to lay eggs.

Anise swallowtail butterfly on George's hand

The native plant that anise swallowtails lay their eggs on is called yampah. George has some yampah in a pot, but it grows very slowly. A couple of years ago we were thrilled to find some eggs in our yampah. Here’s a picture I took. The egg is the tiny yellow dot near the center of the picture.  It’s about the size of the head of a pin.

Since yampah is very hard to find in the wild around us (not much wild left hereabouts  …), the anise swallowtails in our area have turned to the fennel plant to lay their eggs and as their larval food source. Fennel grows prolifically in vacant lots and along the highways. Many people cut it down as it gets rangy later in the summer, which is too bad, because they’re killing hundreds of swallowtail eggs and caterpillars. Anyway, to the point of this post .. drum roll please … I found three eggs on our fennel this morning! Here’s one.

Anise swallowtail butterfly egg on fennel

We released this female last Tuesday, maybe they are her eggs?

Anise swallowtail butterfly

Have you seen many butterflies in your garden yet? Do you plant milkweed for monarchs or other plants to attract and feed butterflies?

An Orchid Day in the Garden

Lots of George’s orchids are blooming madly right now. Here are three of my favorite wonders in the garden. First up, Mormodes tuxtlensis x sib. The saturated yellow glows in the morning and evening sunlight and it has a pleasant light scent.

Mormodes tuxtlensis x sib

Just beginning to open, several spikes of the Spiranthe Cernua orchid, also known as Nodding ladies’ tresses. George won a trophy for Best Species Orchid Flower a few years ago for the parent of this plant.

Spiranthes orchid

And finally, another yellow treasure: Oncidium Gower Ransey. This orchid has multiple flowers along the spike, and as they gracefully bob in the air it’s obvious why it’s known as the Dancing Lady Orchid. For this photo I focused on a single bloom.

Oncidium Gower RanseyWhat’s blooming in your garden?

Glorious pipevine flower

Have you ever seen a Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly (Battus philenor)? You might not have known what it was called, but I bet you never forgot the incredible sight of a black-winged butterfly.

Pipevine swallowtail butterfly

Their underwings are black with spots of orange, cream, and blue.

Pipevine swallowtail butterflyEarlier this year in my Pipevine Dreams post I wrote about the dramatic butterfly and its host plant, the Pipevine (Aristolochia), also known as Dutchman’s Pipe.

Well, George discovered an amazing development in the garden this morning. A hybrid pipevine which he planted along our side fence just bloomed. And we’re not talking slightly different pipes, we’re talking dramatic, four- to five-inch flowers! Taa-daa– a flowering Aristolochia durior x A. elegans.

Pipevine flower

The colors are stunning ,with the broad flowers a deep maroon speckled with white, and the throats gleaming intense yellow tinged with orange-red. Here you can see the large pipe behind the flower.

Pipevine flower

This shot shows you how large the flowers are.

Pipevine flower

George got the starter vine at the University of California Botanical Garden. They’re having their Fall Plant sale on September 30th, and although I don’t know whether they have any of these right now, they always have amazing plants for sale.

What’s special in your garden this week? Any bird, butterflies, or blooms?

Tale of Two Lilies

What’s blooming in your garden this week? It’s a lily extravaganza in ours. Just opened: this stargazer lily.  Stargazers, along with their stunning beauty and impressive size, also smell heavenly.

Stargazer lily

And just feet away in the garden, the glowing orange and brown-freckled Tiger lily (Lilium tigrinum), smaller than the Stargazer but just as gorgeous, opened this morning. George grew this one from a bulb.

Humboldt's lily


Dragonfly rapture

George says I’ve been taking too many photos of hummingbirds (is such a thing possible?) so I was happy to get some shots of this Cardinal Meadowhawk Dragonfly resting on a stick in our pond.

Cardinal meadowhawk dragonfly at our pond

Dragonflies are much easier to photograph than hummingbirds or butterflies in the wild, because they rest often, rather than fluttering from flower to flower and flying away. I’ve noticed that when dragonflies visit our pond they find a surface to light on, and although they zip away, they quickly return over and over to the same spot.

Cardinal Meadowhawk Dragonfly

This is one of my closeup photos of a Cardinal Meadowhawk.


I took this photo of an amazing Blue-eyed Darner dragonfly (Aeshna multicolor) during the Pinole Artisan Plein Air paintout last month. This is my blog post about the paintout and the photo collage that I made using another of my photos of the dragonfly.

Darning needle on wisteria

Other than the Cardinal Meadowhawks, we get tons of these Damselflies in our garden at this time of year. Damselflies are much smaller than most dragonflies, and this one perched easily on a tiny wisteria flower bud.

Brian’s Bees

Is there anything more special than friends who share a passionate interest? George’s friend Brian is a twofer – they first met and bonded over their common love of orchids, spiced with a shared cynical smart sense of humor. More lately, Brian discovered that he wanted to keep bees. He had a beautiful hive all ready and waiting for some honeybees to move in, so when George and our friend Alan rescued a swarm, there was no question that they were meant to be Brian’s bees. The swarm settled on a tree limb just above a garden shed.

Honeybee swarm in a tree

George and Alan clambered onto the shed. I held the ladder and worried that they’d fall through the roof (they didn’t). When bees are swarming they’re very calm, so George easily brushed most of them into a box. The critical thing is to try to get the queen. If you do, the rest will follow her, because their main imperative is to protect her.

Catching the swarm

As you’d expect from an orchid and nature lover, Brian has an amazing garden. Here’s George delivering the bees to their new home.

Bee hive

The bees quickly realized they had arrived at nectar heaven. The workers happily began to forage, build comb and make honey, and the queen zealously performed her queenly duties and began laying brood. We went back to do a hive inspection, and this is what we found:

Worker and queen honeybees

That’s her majesty, surrounded and protected by workers. She’s much larger than the other bees, and is a gorgeous deep golden color. Here’s more of a closeup photograph.

Queen bee

Much of the white you can see filling the comb is larvae or brood. As George finished the inspection, I walked around the garden to see what the workers were up to. They favored a magnificent Spanish Lavender plant.

Honeybee on Spanish Lavender

The intoxicatingly fragrant orange tree was another favorite.

Honeybee on orange flower

We even got a bit of honey from some extra comb the bees had built on the lid of the hive, so Brian could taste his bees’ honey. Your own bees’ honey is always the sweetest. And here’s to honey and friendship, ever sweetly intertwined.

Wisteria hysteria

How many times in this blog have I told you that x, y, or z is my favorite flower or plant? Well, right now – my very favorite flower in the world is wisteria (that’s the ‘w’). And in our little town, the wisteria is bloomin’!


George and I drive around the city, imperiling ourselves and others when we see a dramatic wisteria vine cascading over a fence or adorning a front wall – we point and shout:”Wisteria! Over there!!” The south end of town must get more sunlight, because theirs are going great guns. The one over our front door isn’t blooming at all yet, but the picture above is of the one in our back garden. I took that photo last Monday. Here’s what it looked like on Friday:


This is a close-up of a few of the buds:


I made a blended collage using the image above, duplicated and altered digitally:

Wisteria blendAre you a wisteria hysteric, like me? Any blooming in your neck of the woods yet?

The Great Bee Count of 2011

Honeybee on lavender flower

Honeybee on lavender flower

The day has arrived – so go out to your yards and gardens and begin …. counting bees!  The Great Sunflower Project  was launched in 2008 to get information about urban, suburban and rural bee populations.  The Project also wanted to educate people about what was happening with the bees in their back yards, and to remind us of how important bees are — their motto is: “Bees: Responsible for Every Third Bite of Food.”   So they got people all over the world to observe their bees on Lemon Queen sunflowers, because sunflowers are relatively easy to grow and a great resource for bees. They expanded the list of plants, including bee balm, cosmos, rosemary, tickseed, goldenrod and purple coneflower.  But even if you don’t have any of those plants in your garden (yet — lots of time to prepare for next year!) you can still count.  The bees that come to our garden love the lavender, and I had a blast earlier this week taking photos of them.

Bumble bee on soap plant flower

Bumble bee on soap plant flower

The bumble bees also love the soap plant flowers (Chlorogalum pomeridianum), tiny, spiky flowers that bloom only in the evening. The flowers are only about an inch around, so watching the relatively large bumble bees (compared to honeybees) grab onto the delicate flowers, making them bounce and wave, is very entertaining.

The steps to participate in the Project are listed on their site, with links.  All you have to do:  sign up and plant your sunflower (or other plant); describe your garden; watch the plant for 15 minutes and enter the data online. With colony collapse disorder, pesticides, and other threats to the hardest-working pollinators, every little bit helps —

Even if you don’t have any of the listed plants yet, why not go outside and do the count anyway? It would be a good baseline to compare with the number you get next year, when you’ve filled your garden with plants to help the bees.  And let me know what you find!