August 13, 2018

Thank You Bees

Bees working kabocha squash flowers in my early morning sun-drenched garden.
Bees have not been doing well over the past few years (along with many other insects and pollinators). Declines in wild pollinators may be a result of habitat loss and degradation, while decline in managed bees is linked to disease (introduced parasites and pathogens). Pesticides are also a problem.

We should all thank bees for the enormous ecological services they provide (they are also amazing creatures in their own right, regardless of what they can do for us). 

There are many, many important foods and crops that bees help pollinate. Winter  squash are one such food. Others include blueberries, almonds, chocolate and coffee. 

Thankfully, every morning I go out to my garden I hear the busy buzz of bees as they pollinate freshly opened buttercup/kabocha and butternut squash flowers. It is a happy sound that makes my stomach growl.

Bees are perfect for the job of flitting from flower to flower, and if they disappear it will impact our food sources significantly. Now might be a good time to learn how to hand pollinate garden vegetables. 

Gardeners in some parts of the world that have low bee numbers are finding that they need to pollinate plants like squash by hand. 

If we continue to lose bees, we risk losing many of the foods we eat. Or we will need to hand pollinate every flower by hand ourselves. 

Watch for the up and coming career of the future: Pollinator Technician. Steady hand, keen eyesight and attention to detail needed. Work starts at sunrise. Helps if you are really small and can fly. And work for free.

Thank you bees.

August 10, 2018

Garden Mojo: Beans, Corn, and Squash

Only if every silk is pollinated will the cob have a full compliment of kernels.

This year we are growing corn for the first time in a long while. I am glad we did because I have discovered some new garden mojo. 

While working in the garden, and as the corn grew taller, I tuned into the magical music of wind rustled corn leaves. It is a sound both soothing, and invigorating, like falling rain, or ocean waves pounding on a sandy beach.

I have never stood in the middle of a corn field on a windy day, but I imagine that it must sound like a million pairs of hands clapping. Corn leaves in a symphony of rustling, applauding the forces of nature that allow it to create life in a uniquely beautiful form.

Pole beans starting up the corn stalks.

I discovered recently that each golden silky hair that emerges out of the cob's tip is connected to an individual kernel inside. Any silk that does not get fertilized by pollen falling from the male parts above, will result in a underdeveloped or missing kernel. 

I guess that makes sense from a scientific perspective, but it seems like more garden mojo to me.

This year we teamed our rustling corn patch with winter squash and pole beans. These are the plants of Three Sisters fame, developed by various North American native groups over thousands of years.

Native Americans know garden mojo, and have long considered the Three Sisters to be sacred. For a good reason - corn, beans and squash make for magical gardening, and nutrition.

"The three crops benefit from each other. The maize provides a structure for the beans to climb, eliminating the need for poles. The beans provide the nitrogen to the soil that the other plants use, and the squash spreads along the ground, blocking the sunlight, helping prevent the establishment of weeds. 
The squash leaves also act as a "living mulch", creating a microclimate to retain moisture in the soil, and the prickly hairs of the vine deter pests. 
Corn, beans, and squash contain complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids and all eight essential amino acids, allowing most Native American tribes to thrive on a plant-based diet."
- from Wikipedia 

"Rustle, rustle, rustle." 

That is the sound of garden mojo at work.

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