If you look carefully, you can find a “black dot” in this picture that is a fat little black bumble bee of some sort. He’s about 1/3 in from the left and 2/5 up from the bottom. A few years ago, I planted a small sage plant, thinking I’d get a few leaves and have some seasonings. Little did I know it would grow to be 4 feet high and wide, and the center of life for at least 5 species in my garden. There is little I could have done to make things better and more interesting.
These are the dominant pollinator in my garden. ( I think it is properly some kind of ‘carpenter bee’). I also get a few regular European Honeybees and about 3 or 4 Big Fat Golden Bees. Occasionally, there is a larger black bee that comes to visit. The golden bees will argue over who gets the bush (but only with each other). The two kinds of black bees will sometimes seem to be suggesting the other size leave, but that’s a bit speculative. Nobody really notices the honeybees.
There are also hummingbirds that visit the same flowers. Those are Sage. A modestly long trumpet like flower that the Hummers just love. In late winter, early spring, it “tides them over” until I get the Scarlet Runner Beans up, with their big red flowers. The hummers and bees ignore each other as well.
The black bees will land on a flower; then, it looks like they cut an ‘access port’ to the pollen at the base of the flower petals from the outside. The golden bees make the most mad buzzy bee noise I’ve heard. Then again, given how large they are and now small their wings are, something has to be moving “way fast” to keep them in the air! They sound like a small “two stroke hummingbird”…
Usually in the morning or evening a bunny will be in the shade of the sage. They have trimmed off the lowest leaves. The “forest litter” that collects there cushions the stones and they seem to like that best. Various birds also come to “check out the litter” for bugs and the odd gizzard pebble.
This little fellow is one of a dozen or so who “worry the peas and beans” until enough other things are up that they don’t need to eat the leaves. They also tend to strip the Amaranth seeds just when they are most ripe, but not every year. They are not fond of Quinoa, so in my “disaster garden plan” I expect I’ll be planting more quinoa and less amaranth! Until doomsday, though, I like the red / green mixed colored amaranth that formed as a ‘backyard mule’ between Hopi Red and a random commercial seed from Whole Foods bin. It, and to a lesser extent the Hopi Red, have naturalized in some parts of the garden. (Those areas where the bunnies can not mow them down… bunnies love amaranth seedlings ;-) Quinoa has a ‘saponin’ on the seed that makes them taste bitter. We can wash them, birds can not. Amaranth leaves make a decent “pot herb”. Spinach and chard have nothing to fear from them, but if I was hungry, I’d eat them and not think twice.
Here is a bunny in the “too warm under the sage, head to the cool shade” spot.
Everyone needs a supervisor, and the bunnies are very good at keeping an eye on me to make sure I’m tending their garden properly. When I’m weeding, they will come over to check out what I’m pulling up. Their preference is that I pull the grasses and any stray small ‘thinnings’; especially cole family plants and bean leaves. All are to be placed neatly in a pile where they can be quality checked.
This bunny is in the “relaxed aware” posture that I think of as “bread loaf”. All the “landing gear” is tucked up underneath somewhere. Head up, eyes watching nearly a 360 view, and typically with 2 escape routes and some object at their back or on one side. The “fuzzy green things with pale small yellow flowers” are the Nicotiana Rustica that have naturalized outside the “bunny boxes”. You can see the “portable dog run” fencing behind the bird in the prior picture, and to the right side of this picture. Each encloses a 4 x 4 foot “square” of garden. Outside the squares things that grow must not taste good to a bunny! (Other than the lawn patch that they keep mowed as their pasture). The bunnies are assigned the job of keeping all ‘strays’ that wander out through the wire trimmed back for a neat and trimmed appearance. They take their job very seriously!
The bamboo along the left side is the top / end layer of a ‘pile’ that the bunnies tunnel under. Any “critter” chasing them (especially in the dark) gets to try and dodge the sharp ends of bamboo poles as a high speed bunny dives into a small pre-planned hole in the pile. It is fascinating to watch them plan, and engineer, an escape path and tunnel in such a pile of hazards. Even more amazing to see them pace it off from marker to marker and then when startled, run at it full tilt, zig at the last minute, and dive under it. Just like in countless movies from The Hunt For Red October to Independence Day; the predator has no hope of avoiding a nasty surprise when the “target” shifts directions at the last possible moment and a larger, heavier, predator can not make that sharp a turn. “SPLAT! Ow ow ow…”
So, now you know why my garden has “litter” on the stones, and “brush” around the edges. Because it is 1/2 garden, but 1/2 “habitat”, and all the various “critters” that live here like it best a bit “wild” on the edges. I’ve not found where the bees live, nor the wasps that come out a week or two into the bug season (and clean up all the aphids and any other odd pest that might have started to bother me), nor where the ‘Possum spends the day. (She cleans up any slugs or snails that are out at night… also any stray cat food ;-) Yes, Ms. ‘Possum will also eat the occasional plant parts if that’s all there is (they are omnivores) but that’s only really in winter. A small dish of cat food will prevent it. For a while, there was a litter of “little ones” under a tool shed, but they’ve “all gone off somewhere” and it’s not clear where they are staying now. The occasional “scat” behind a particular bamboo pile informs me they are still around. That, and no snail problem…
About a month from now I ought to get the Lady Bugs showing up. One year I almost made the mistake of spraying for aphids. They were on a parsnip that was “running to seed”. The parsnip didn’t seem to mind, but I didn’t want them ‘wandering off’ to other parts of the garden. Reluctantly, after about 2 weeks of watching the population grow, I bought some Massive Bug Death In A Bottle… A few days later I was going to spray, but checked one last time on “where” so I’d know “how much”. Found a few adult lady bugs and a bunch of the larval form that look like tiny dragons “working over the bush”. I put the “toxic bug death” away, had a wine cooler, and watched my army of Lady Bugs clean up the aphid problem…
Most summers I can sit, sipping, and watch one wasp or sometimes two, per square, working over all the plants, looking for stray bugs. How they work out the schedule with the Lady Bugs I’ll never know ;-)
Speaking of Supervisors… Even the bunnies need a supervisor, so the Doves have taken on that role. I have a ‘nest shelf’ under an awning for them. We’ve had the first batch of two fledge just last week. They are now hanging around the garden as Mom and Dad start Batch Two… I think this is Dad sitting on the back fence watching that the bunnies and I don’t bother the “kids” at the water bowl and seed line. (I put a few little piles of birdseed out from time to time for the Doves… they reward me with plenty of soft cooing…)
The “nest shelf” is about 2 feet to the side of where I have a nice recliner chair under the awning. Just where the doves don’t see me and don’t need to worry. The start of the season, if it’s a batch born there, returned, they are used to me within a day or two. If a newcomer has “married in”, they will “flush” the first few times I come out and sit. After about a week they don’t bother. I “coo” a bit as I exit the back door. They “look me over”, and I slowly walk to my “easy chair” and settle in. I have to pay attention to the schedule, though. There is a “shift change” in the afternoon, so I need to leave the area for a while then so Mom and Dad can shift who’s on the nest… If I look up and see a dove peering down at me impatiently, I know I’m running a bit late ;-) and head off to “freshen” the beverage…
I think this is the Dad in this picture. He’s got his neck feathers ruffled up in this picture. He’d just finished some preening and was ‘resettling’ the feathers.
Some years we’ll get 6 or even 8 baby doves fledged in a season. It’s kind of special when walking around the block to hear doves in the neighborhood and realize they are likely all “our doves” ;-)
Sometimes the bunnies and doves and all will duck for cover. On rare occasion, we’ve had a raptor sidling along the fence looking for lunch. Another reason for having a lot of “overhead clutter” with trees, bamboo, trellises, et. al. The layout is such that a raptor cannot “dive” on the garden without high risk of whacking into something. So they land on the fence or the wires and “check it out”. Realize that it smells like a lunch counter, but the service is lousy, and leave. Occasionally with me hollering, making “big cat” noises, and / or chucking dirt at them…
More often, it’s just a big crow looking for something smaller to eat. The bunnies still hide. They are very non-fond of big birds. This fellow came to look. I “caw cawed” at him that this was taken, and he decided to leave…
My spouse thinks me a bit mad, but in a cute sort of way, for “talking to the crows”… but “crow” isn’t a very hard language to learn. And the “MINE MINE MINE MINE MINE” caw caw caw caw CAHW isn’t very hard at all… They look around for where is this big bird claiming this space, and decide it’s better not to know!
The Black Bees
Here you can see one walking up the outside of the flower to get a nibble at the base.
And a very nice “top view” in mid lunch!
The Golden Bee
These are four images of The Giant Golden Bee. I don’t know what their proper name is, but they are just magnificent. I sit in my “garden lawn chair” and (with bunny supervisor to my left) look at the Sage Bush and watch these lumps of gold glitter and flit in the sun, hummming all the way. They are about the size of the first segment of my little finger, and I have big hands. Maybe 1.5 x 3 cm for the bigger ones, 1.25 x 2.5 for the smaller. If you offered me gold nuggets of their size in exchange for removing them, I’d ask you politely to leave.
Just look at how small those wings are! And they HOVER!
I just love this picture. In the garden they move so fast you can’t really get a good look at their face, not for very long. Just a moment when they hover, then head off somewhere else. This lets you study them a while. While all the other pictures are reduced to 50%, I’ve left this one full sized. Click on it for a very large view.
I may try to get some sharper pictures of these guys. But between them being small and very fast, the telephoto being slow to focus and slow of speed, and me being none too fast either, it took a while just to get this quality. It’s not easy using a 200 mm telephoto on macro with a high speed moving subject hand held! Then again, I’ll have all summer ;-)
So now you know why I long for spring and my garden so much. Why some days, like today, there will be a long gap of silence from me. It is because I am with “other friends”. Those who need me to plant some forage, or tell a hawk that “this place is not for you”, or just want someone to watch the “kids” while they take a bath in the sprinkler ;-)
Each year there are some newcomers who take a while to learn about this special place, and this strange person who does not chase them. And there is an ever growing group of “old friends well met” who meet to share some time in the sun, a munch of some sage (leaves for me and the Bunnies, flowers for the Hummers and Bees) or have a bit of brown rice and pigeon mix… To visit the watering hole or bathe in the sprinkler that oddly knows to turn itself down to Just Right when you land and eye it for a minute or two ;-)
One year we had a Very Special Crow. He visited us out front when my son was washing a car. A wild crow, it wanted to look us over closely. It liked my keys, and when I’d toss a coin, it would pick it up and toss it too. We gathered 4 of us around this crow. I was allowed to reach out and gently stroke it’s back feathers (when distracted by my keys…). After about 10 minutes of this, his “field research on humans” done, he flew away. For a few weeks we would see a crow that was more “adventuresome” that the others around the neighborhood. Then migration time came. I’ve never seen him again.
I have doves that, by the end of the season, don’t bother to fly from the ‘garden litter’ area where they are looking for bugs and gizzard pebbles. I can walk about 10 feet away and they look me over, thinking “Oh, yeah, the giant from the easy chair. Does he have any brown rice today?” (My ‘under the awning’ chair is a recliner that was headed for the recycle pile. I convinced the spouse that “stained” was OK for a patio chair… When “fledging time” comes, I’ll leave the “foot rest” extended under the nest “launch site”. Occasionally a “slow learner” will flop onto the cushion rather than concrete. I think they appreciate it ;-)
Often I’ll sit in the easy chair or the garden chair and ‘work over my seeds’. In spring, preparing and selecting what to plant (with a “potting table” of brickwork just out from under the awning). In the fall, winnowing and threshing. Marking envelopes and drying seeds “for next spring”. Mid summer? Sipping something cool and talking to the rabbits and doves and crows… (The ‘Possums don’t say much… and the bees never listen..)
Such is life in Smith’s Garden…