From one of our gals: Apis mellifera

We decided to try something new; we will occasionally invite guest bloggers to write on LaGuardia Corner Garden’s website. This is the first contribution by Apis mellifera.

I live with my sisters some brothers and a queen. We sisters are very busy because we must work for our queen. Our home is a box which some people call a hive. Our family is called a colony. We sisters do all of the work: We clean, we make wax and build new cells to raise our little sisters in, we forage for food, we fan our wings to heat our home when it is cold and cool it during the hot time. We also defend our colony when it gets attacked. There are some guys who don’t do much. They stay in the hive and are called drones.

Apis mellifera on the left. On the right a quince blossom.

There are two humans who look at us a lot. The humans covered our home to keep us warm during the cold time. The humans gave us sweet water in case our honey was not enough for us during the cold time. The humans have smoke that makes us relaxed and we don’t mind it. Sometimes it feels good to just relax. Sometimes the humans take the honey we make. The humans only take a little, so we have enough for ourselves. Near our house there are many flowers in the warm time. The flowers and nectar are what we use to make honey. Honey is our food when the flowers are gone. It has been very cold, and the flowers are not here, so we ate our honey. We have to make more for the next cold time.

The humans who covered the hive.

Warm time is coming. It is flower time. Soon there will be a lot of dancing. My sisters and I will be very occupied flying back and forth getting nectar to make honey. We also collect pollen. It is a mostly yellow grainy stuff we can gather or our furry bodies and in baskets on legs. We take it back the hive and then make it into bread to feed our young sisters and brothers.

A worker bee visits Scilla flowers. The entrance to the hive is busy. Workers bring back pollen from different flowers. Some of it is yellow, some is white.

Our area is getting warm and green. New flowers are growing. We can get nectar and pollen.  When we find nectar and pollen, we dance to tell our sisters where to find some. We know that soon so many different kinds of flowers will be here! We do not have to go far!  It really is exciting and our home is very active. I am dancing more these days and my sisters go out to find the place I dance about. They go and come back and dance, too because they found a place to tell us about. So far, I have danced about snowdrops, crocus, winter aconites, Scilla and quince very close to our home. But now my sisters tell me that the pear trees in the streets have opened their white flowers and there is also a peach tree with many pink flowers not far away.

Peach and pear blossoms have a lot of nectar and pollen for hungry bees.

 

Grow Together

Yesterday was the 34th annual GreenThumb GrowTogether conference. Gardeners from all over New York meet here to learn, teach and connect. This conference is a fabulous event with talks, workshops and various entertainment for little and big gardeners. We even get breakfast and lunch. It is the perfect way to begin the gardening season.

This year’s conference was special because it also marked the 40th anniversary of  GreenThumb, the umbrella organization of all community gardens in New York City. The conference opened with greetings by the Director of GreenThumb Bill LoSassos, The NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver and the Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. The politicians pledged support for community gardens, something important considering the constant pressure by real estate development in this crowded city. We also got to see a performance of Brazilian martial arts by a the group Raízes do Brazil. The keynote address was by Karen Washington, a long-term community activist in the city. She reminded us of the history of community gardening in New York City, which began long before “urban agriculture” was a thing.

Commissioner Silver addresses the gardeners

Like every year, we got a T-shirt that was designed by a community gardener, here displayed by the GreenThumb staff.

The speeches were followed by three workshop sessions with themes ranging from food justice and community organizing to soap making and fermentation. Our own Eileen Ain gave a workshop about meditation in the garden.
Several members of LaGuardia Corner Gardens attended a workshop by the Butterfly Project NYC. During this workshop, gardeners were encouraged to track butterflies in their garden throughout the coming season. This citizen science project is designed to collect long-term data about the butterfly fauna in the city. We decided to participate, once it is time for butterflies.

Learning about butterflies

The day was actually almost too nice to spend entirely indoors. The garden beckoned with some flowers to look at and some work to do. It is still too cool for butterflies, but the early spring flowers are are now in full bloom and the daffodils are opening, too, just in time for Passover and Easter.

Hepathica (I think) and a Helleborus flower

The first daffodils and the last crocuses

 

Spring?

Today is the first day of spring. That is what the calendar tells us. But it is still cold and tomorrow, we are expecting yet another snow storm – really! There were 4 of them over the last 3 weeks. New York City was mostly spared, it rained and sleeted here more than it snowed.

Flowers, gardeners and bees were not deterred. We did some spring cleaning, pruned most of the roses and took care of the bees. The bees resumed their house cleaning and began to collect fresh pollen for the next generation.

Helleborus flower in several colors from green over white to dark purple. Here a cream-colored and pink specimen

Now, the bees find pollen and nectar on winter aconites and crocus flowers

A few weeks ago, Sara took a look into the hive. She was happy to see that the bees are doing well and the colony is strong.

Iris reticulata

We will see what tomorrow brings. There is no question, winter will be over at some point.

Update:

This time, we did get snow and quite a bit, too. However, it all melted away in the course of the next day.

The garden in the evening of March 21. But better snow than deep frost like last year.

 

The Helleborus did not mind the snow.

Attending a workshop

Last Saturday, some members of our garden went to the first outdoor GreenThumb workshop of the year. We went to the “Know Waste Lands” garden in Brooklyn for a lesson in espalier fruit tree pruning. The site of this workshop was interesting: it is garden and a local composting facility that operates through a youth employment program. It also has a number of fruit trees that should grow as espalier trees along the fence. On one side are three plum trees that had not been pruned for a couple of years. One of them was the subject of the workshop.

The plum tree to be pruned

Espalier trees are trained to grow only in two dimensions, often on a structure, in our case the fence. The technique is ancient and is used since the Middle Ages to grow fruit inside of small courtyards without blocking too much light. This feature makes them attractive for gardeners like us, who have also only limited space.

Well-trained espalier trees can look very pretty. A beautiful example of an espalier plum tree is found on this website from a gardener in England.

The workshop was led by Greenthumb outreach coordinator Eric Thomann. He first showed us which tools to use and how to sharpen them. He also gave good advice for pruning trees: have a partner who can step back and look from a distance and who can curb runaway enthusiasm. Don’t do it at all when you are in a bad mood.

Felco shears are the best!

There are several ways to train trees as espalier. The main branches can be arranged horizontally, as a candelabra or fan-shaped, even in circles. Eric showed us several options. We decided to go for the fan-shape with the plum tree at hand.

Listen up!

One pruning rule is to not cut a tree by more than 1/3 total. This will encourage growth and doesn’t stress the tree too much. That rule was impossible to follow with our tree, which was already very tall and needed to be shortened to the height of the fence.  There were also several branches that were growing into the fence and towards the garden. Since this tree was going to be two-dimensional, these had to go. Even the branches that we kept had to be shortened, and small side-branches trimmed off. It is unlikely that there will be any plums this year. Training an espalier tree requires patience.

To achieve the fan-shape that we chose for our tree, the branches must be coaxed a bit. This happens by bending them and tying them to bamboo stakes and to the fence.

Eric attaches a bamboo pole

Eric started with the branches on the lower left of the tree, then moved on to the taller branches, which he cut with a pruning saw. He then trimmed off side-branches with his Felcos.

A ladder was needed to get to the taller branches

The official time for the workshop was up before the tree was even halfway pruned. We’ll have to come back to see the final result.

Before we left, GreenThumb raffled off books and tools. We were lucky: LaGuardia Corner Gardens won a pair of nice pruning shears (thanks GreenThumb!). We don’t have an espalier tree, but we can use the new shears to prune roses, too. February is a good month to do this.

Snowdrops and bees

It is mid February. We have had some cold days, some quite warm days, some rain and a little snow.

Snowdrops in the morning sun

When it is warm and sunny, our bees are coming out of their hive and clean house. They drag various detritus, including dead colony members out and drop it on the ground in front of the hive. This is important to keep the colony healthy. Sara took a little video last week.

Today, I saw some workers that were busy collecting pollen. They visit snow drops, the only flowers that they can find at this time in our garden. I have seen flowering witch hazel nearby, but these plants are pollinated by moths. Winter aconites are still small buds. But in a few days, they should open up, adding variety to the bee’s buffet.

This bee has collected bright yellow pollen into the basket on her leg.

We are very glad that the bees have survived the truly arctic weeks in late December and early January and seem happy and healthy. Perhaps, we will get spring honey this year!