The EasyBloom Blog

Journey to Kingdom Plantae

One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure!

July 19th, 2011 - Planted by Ian Hall

We are not to throw away those things which can benefit our neighbor.  Goods are called good because they can be used for good:  they are instruments for good, in the hands of those who use them properly.

- Clement of Alexandria

In the years I have been a landscape designer, one of the coolest perks that I usually get is first dibs on whatever my clients are removing from their yard.  In the last five years there has been a glut of designs that I have done in yards that are removing their old decks to replace them with new faux wood products such as Trex or TimberTech.  Now although these older decks that are being removed can be pretty rough stuff, and usually full of nails or screws, I find the majority of the material quite useful for my needs at the old homestead!

Old Deck and Arbor Getting Torn Out for a Backyard Overhaul

One thing about this type of wood is that it is pretty useless going to the dump or landfill, as it cannot be utilized in the composting and recycling programs of most US cities, being that the material is full of nails and other metal debris that cannot be chipped or broken down with the rest of the green waste.   So seeing how my local waste facility ships all of its landfill by train to Utah I can feel pretty good about claiming and reusing this perfectly great material for my own needs!

Old Deck is Now a New Raised Bed!

Now my needs may definitely out weigh the needs of the vast majority of people out there, but I can assure you the savings I have made are in the several thousands of dollars at this point!  So if you have kept up with me and my blogs you will know that I run a market farm in Napa for the local Farmers Market.  My bounty of recycled wood (especially redwood!) from old decks and arbors have found a new life as raised planter beds, trellises and supports (for squash, beans, and tomatoes), and even chicken coops!

Squash are excited that this old patio arbor has found new life!

We got about 15 of these 16' long tomato supports from one patio cover! So that would be about 120 tomato cages!!

You do need to be a little careful about what types of wood you would use in your garden, especially wood that is in direct contact with the vegetables you are growing.  For instance you would not want to use pressure treated wood or deck wood that has been waterproofed with chemicals in a raised planted as these chemicals will be directly in contact with your plants roots and could be metabolized by the plant and passed on through the food chain.   A plastic liner also may be used inside the bed to deal with this issue … and may be quite useful in preserving the wood you are using for your raised bed as any contact to soil will expedite the rotting process of wood.   Also be on the lookout for wood that has already started to decay or have dry rot… as there is probably a reason why the deck was removed in the first place!

New job for this old deck is now the nesting boxes for the new chicken coop currently being built, all from recycled wood!  Very nice for the instant ‘rustic’ look.

So how about you?  What garden delights have you saved off the scrap heap?  This certainly isn’t restricted to decks and arbors as I have seen many things salvaged and made into wonderful points of interest and useable features in the landscape…..A wine bottle pathway for instance, or one of my favorite ideas… the bicycle garden is a unique treat on the eyes!   I truly feel it is our obligation to do what we can to recycle and reuse things in our lives.  Perhaps this is due to my guilt of filling the landfills for the last five years with diapers and pullups from my prodigy and this is my way of compensating my hit to the ecosystem.  Or  maybe I’m just overly frugal (ok cheap or poor from all those diapers is more like it!)  and see each deck demo as a new treasure trove!  I’m assuming its the later just due to my giddiness I feel when I come into a back yard and see the dilapidated state of a current deck or arbor and know that the client is looking to revamp those structures with new materials and designs.

So even if you are the person getting rid of such a structure or material… before hauling it away to the dump, perhaps post it on Craig’s list instead and more than likely you will make some salvager very happy and create less of an impact to our ecosystem, and your wallet!

Pour Some Honey on Me ~ The Need and Peril of the Honey Bee Part 3

June 8th, 2011 - Planted by Ian Hall

Pour Some Honey on Me ~ part 1

Pour Some Honey on Me ~ part 2

Part 3 ~ What can YOU do?

“If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive.”
– Abraham Lincoln

So….What can we do?  Can our individual efforts truly pay off for the honey bee and help get them back on track?  What efforts can we concentrate on at this time, when we really don’t yet have an exact diagnosis for this world wide phenomenon of disappearing honey bees?  I vote yes!  We can help, and we can make a concerted effort that will result in a truly positive experience and be of a big benefit to the bee.  If all the previously mentioned contributing factors has chipped away at the overall vitality of the honey bee…what specific things can we do to help push back on the other side of the fulcrum point?  Let’s see what place you come in for the race to save the humble honey bee, and create local,  strong populations of this valuable insect!

Gold Medal Effort! ~ Get a Hive -With hives disappearing at a significant rate in some areas it is important that we keep the population strong by maintaining hives in several locations.  You can get a hive in a couple of different ways.

The first way of course is to outright buy a hive.  If you go this route…you have just taken on a big time obligation.  So do it right!  Take a class, get your bee suit, and pay lots of doting attention to the new little inhabitants of your property.  Like a first born to a family you can give your first hive an overabundance of care and attention…but they will thrive under this type of care and concern.  If you add additional hives later you will learn of the resiliency of bee colonies but you will definitely (like a parent) know what is still important to keep them at the peak of health!

Typical Residential Backyard Hive

The second way to acquire a hive is through a local honey producer.  With our little farmer market garden I have now been approached twice by different producers to see if we would be interested in letting them put some hives on our property.  The pay is fantastic pollination of all your vegetable and fruit crops and 6 lbs of delicious honey per hive per year!  And since they take care of everything else with your bees it is pretty much a bargain.   This will allow you to learn more as and see if you will eventually be ready to make the big jump and start care taking bees yourself.  With my kids now cured of any desire to grab a bee for a closer look I think this is the route I personally will be taking!

Silver Medal Effort! ~ Feed the Bees Needs! – Maybe you are a bit nervous about having a bee hive in your backyard.  Curious kids and dogs can make for a precarious situation!  Or you know your lifestyle isn’t exactly one that will see you in a bee keeper’s suit on the weekends taking care of your beeziness, collecting honey and such!  Ok so that is fairly understandable.  But the next best thing you can do is to make sure if some worker bees show up in your yard that you have some good things for them to take back to the hive with them.  That would include a water source.  As some areas have fairly limited levels of water and bees need this precious resource to keep life processes in order.  I have seen in late August a virtual highway of bees about 12’ up in the air, traveling all together to a single water source (in this case a landscape pond at my uncles residence,  in the arid foothills of the Sierra Mountains).  Obviously the only water source around for miles as this steadily humming line of bees flying back and forth without break, was a complete foreign sight to me.  I had only seen this kind of organized mass movement of insects when it has come to ants…especially leaf cutter ants in Costa Rica to be exact!  Quite wild!  So a water feature is nice but you can certainly get away with having a bird bath or other similar water feature… just remember our little friend will need a good landing spot that they can access the water from.
What else do our little pollinators need?  Well obviously something to pollinate!  Pollinate and to gather pollen & nectar from.  In the best of worlds if you could direct your plantings of offer a food source for our bees for the entire year!  Now of course this can be impossible in areas that freeze and get snow bound.  I’ve yet to see a bee in a snow storm…or even an area with snow on the ground.  They are responsive to heat and when it warmsnn to a certain level they will pop out of the hive and busily get to work seeking out flowers.  In Colorado this may only start in late April…but in the bay area of Northern California those kinds of days can fall right in nnJanuary and February… not all of these days but enough that it is worth having something for the bee to feed on.

Busy Bee Collecting Pollen from Hawthorne Tree

Here is a link to a list of plants that are significant food sources for the honey bee here in my local geographic location ~ .   A lot of these plants can be used in different locations nationally.  You can get a list from your local beekeeper, bee club, or producers of local honey if you want to really want to have a comprehensive list of plants to work with.   In about two months after publication of this blog you will be able to use your PlantSmart sensor to filter your recommended plant choices into a new category… ‘Attracts Bees’…yay!  The inside scoop is that there are going to be 732 plants that will tagged as bee attractors….so be on the alert for when we do our next upgrade release.  At that point it will be quite easy to pick your plants for feeding bees…it will be a direct filter for you in the selecting of plants.

Bronze Medal Effort! ~ Buy local honey! Supporting your local honey producers will be huge in keeping up local populations of bees.  The more customers or local honey that is sold the more they will be encouraged to make.  A good honey producer will pamper and take diligent care of his or  her hives and help maintain a local, healthy population of bees.

Honorable Mention Effort! ~ At the very least plant a row of sunflowers!  These long lasting summer bloomers are a treasure trove of pollen, and will look great against any fence line or in your kitchen garden.  Just make sure it’s a pollen produce, like ‘Lemon Queen’… there are many hybrids out there that are now pollenless for use as  non messy cut flowers.

* photo credit to Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

So how did you do!?  Or what will you be inspired to do to enhance the future of our best little pollinator?  In all honesty if just some of us did the minimum effort the results would be exponential by the end of the day!  Hope you all are willing to play for a medal!

Pour Some Honey on Me ~ The Need and Peril of the Honey Bee Part 2

May 26th, 2011 - Planted by Ian Hall

Part 2 ~ Peril of the Honey Bee

Pour some honey on me ~ The Need and Peril of the Honeybee part 1

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.
” ~ Loosely attributed to Albert Einstein

Honey Bee on Cercis occidentalis

Now anyone who has gotten this far into this blog must certainly be aware that there are significant issues that the honey bee is dealing with these days.  These maladies include; Mites (Varroa and Tracheal), disease (fungus infestations, viral attacks, and bacterial infections), pests (like small hive beetle and wax moths), and us humans with our pesticides and genetically altered plants causing havoc in bee populations, and of course the insidious and mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder, where droves of worker bees fly out for their daily work…only to never return, leaving the hive barren of bees and food.  Each of these factors is devastating enough alone, but with the constant movement of bee hives over long distances and the lack of genetic diversity (The European honey bee is the main bee used worldwide) these issues are now prevalent in all areas and not just isolated to certain geographic locations.
Now there is a lot of confusion and anxiety (and rightfully so) about what is the main contributor to the bee die off that has been in recent years.  We as humans demand explanations that make sense, so we can then move on to how to solve the problem.  But the more that is put into the research of finding out exactly what the main perpetrator is, the more issues we seem to uncover!  So where do we concentrate our efforts?  Do we believe and pursue such claims that it is cell phone signals or radiation that suddenly takes down an entire hive?  Is it one particular chemical in general that has pushed the bee to the brink, such as Bayer’s Imidacloprid (a neurotoxic pesticide that may weaken the bee and leave it susceptible to other factors that would not normally kill it).  Do researchers already know the issue, but big money is controlling the flow of information?  Is it simply that urbanization has just taken away too much of the natural food sources for the bee?  The theories, both relevant and conspiracy driven are countless when it comes to our little pollinator!

Bee Hive at Quivira Winery for their Biodyamic Gardens

The suddenness and severity of the honey bee’s plight makes it hard to believe that this has slowly been creeping up on us for years.  But in this situation that very well may just be the case.  An unnoticed fungus maybe was first picked up in hives in Europe… then Varroa mites initially show up in India just to spread to all continents…then a virus shows up in the United States that works in cahoots with the fungus in the bee’s gut to deny them the nutrition they need.  Then a new pesticide comes on the market and it doesn’t kill the bees outright but weakens them just enough to make them more vulnerable to these other factors. With the worldwide spread of all these elements you can see how eventually the honey bee finally just had too much to deal with, and it may just have pushed them past the precipice.

So how about you?  Have you noticed a drop in your local bee population?  Have your planter beds of flowers seem a little less teaming with busy bees this spring?  Do you own a hive or know someone who has one that has been effected by any sort of setback or complete disappearance of bees?

Part 3 of this blog is coming soon!