Bees, Birds & Planting Everything

Once again we find ourselves in the season of preparation, a mild winter and time for reflection almost over as our attention is drawn once more to our gardens. How do we prepare for the busier season ahead, including periods of contentment and connection? Taking a deep breath feels differently than it did in February 2020, cool air reaching into my lower lobes before a warmer version is expelled ever-so-slowly. “My body is strong”, I tell myself, when in reality it’s my mind and spirit that’s trained over the past few years. Gratitude hits different. It often draws my hand to my chest and makes me pause to relish a detail, a feeling. These usually aren’t special social media moments, but temporarily meaningful, like the taste of fresh cilantro, a sweet message from a friend, or salmon-colored sunrises and sunsets.

Spiraling into our next cycle of evolving seasons is both exciting and worrisome, feelings I hem in with meditation and intentional action. Intention points the way, gives me a start. Before I made my list first, now I dial in to what I am aiming for first. Many gardeners do not need university studies to tell us bee populations have declined; observation comes naturally, as does learning the soil, plant needs and the seasons. My plants thrive for different reasons, each it’s own entity with distinct needs, but leaning on one another or hugging at the base, roots mingling mycelium, yet unified in their need for sunshine, water and pollination. Gardening wisdom from other gardeners is most valuable. A positive memory from my often frightening childhood is a flower garden with brightly-colored zinnias bordered by gold marigolds my mother planted, a seeding of her peaceful gardening life to be realized a few years later. Now she is a Master Gardener, both her knowledge and gardens multiplied many times over.

New plants aren’t as exciting to me as they once were. Anything I plant now is resourceful for the birds, bees, and/or my table. Robins, finches, and wrens all make nests in our yard from natural plant materials I left for them last season, pampas grass stalks and tufts blowing across the lawn along with spent seed pods. They find plenty of bugs and worms to eat in our soil buffet. Every year there are more birds, to my delight, especially when I am simply rocking and watching. Bees first food is typically tree pollen, not the later blooming dandelion, which lacks an essential amino acid, but is like junk food-better than nothing. Fortunately, our village was awarded a grant for free trees to diversify the local tree canopy. I’ve noticed how development frequently leaves few trees behind, maybe planting a sapling here and there in a poor trade. Saplings and new trees need care, and often protection or correction in order to grow into healthy self-sufficiency. Humans have a lot in common with them. We, too, grow stronger and more resilient to storms, when we are fed by diverse roots/experiences and people. What an interesting and grand garden it is, at times.

In mid-spring, violas, lily of the valley and dandelions lure floating bumblebees into my domain, while other bees stay high in maples and other trees around the neighborhood. Taming the spread of the violets, dandelions and lily of the valley in our yard the old-fashioned way feels futile at times, but it’s taught me to appreciate imperfect beauty and the futility of complete control. Those three “weeds” take the place of a personal trainer for me (so many squats) and remind me I’m just a guest here. I only pull clover from the garden beds, not from the lawn as it blooms all season and attracts pollinators. In our local orchards honeybee hives are sometimes brought in for pollination season, then removed as soon as petals begin to drop.

Quality of seeds and my choices seems to carry more weight each passing season. Last year I felt the tug to try new things. As a novice food grower, I planted a “tried & true” pole bean variety that’s been around for decades, which produced many flat and fibrous beans along with some good ones. This year I’ll plant a newer organic pole bean seed. Two years ago I spent about $50 to grow 3 lbs of potatoes in tubs. I dumped the potato dirt in a heap that fall. Last year I had a single healthy potato plant among the beans. I also experimented with sunflowers two years ago and found seeds planted directly in the soil rather than started in pots indoors, grew four to five feet higher. Last spring I planted lettuce indoors that only resulted in “micro-greens”. My take-away is that I can spend as much effort and resources as I want, or I can slow down, take note and learn what thrives by what means. I can also rely more on Mother Nature. Presenting a hypothesis that in lower Michigan we have a microzone 7 currently-mild winters with temps mostly above 0, very wet springs and long dry summers. This year, rather than heed the warning about how hard giant blue hosta seeds are to germinate, I’ll scatter them in a bed and let nature decide.

What are you planting this spring and summer?