I got up very early yesterday morning and I saw what I thought was aircraft lights low in the sky. I thought it must be an aircraft, because this light was bigger than Venus, which is usually one of the brightest objects in my sky, early morning, early evening.
It wasn't.It was Jupiter. After I had my first swig of caffeine, the gears in my brain started to warm up and I remembered, that a radio show announced recently that Jupiter would be passing close to the Earth in March of this year. That it would be particularly close on the 4th of March.
This morning I got up and got my binoculars. I could almost make out the moons. My eyes are going, so I am not sure. But it still looked very bright, and beautiful. Maybe when I get the kids up on the 4th, the planet will have passed that much closer.
I love that song--Drops of Jupiter by Train. That was the 2nd thing I thought of when I saw Jupiter through my binoculars.
The sky is very clear right now, which is great for star gazing. But that also means that extremely cold air has settled in this region. Which is not so great news for my bees. The first blooms of spring have popped, which are maple trees . These are often important pollen sources for emerging bees on warmer days, but as many of you know, we are about 30 degrees below normal. Yesterday we got up in the 40s, so perhaps it wasn't a total wash, though most bees prefer to fly when the air temperature is at least in the 50s.
When the weather goes back and forth between extreme cold and warm, it really confuses them and a lot of other critters.
A couple of weeks ago, I saw turtles out in some local ponds. It's way too early for them, but we had so many days where it was in the 70s and nights that stayed in the 50s, that the trees and turtles became confused. For 2 months now, I have heard birds doing their spring songs. Still, just too early. Usually they would start about now.
Seeing Carolina wasps active in January and February--unheard of in these parts. We usually don't see them til late March when the days begin to stay warm in the 70s and the nights in the 50s. (notice a pattern yet?). Today it will be in the high 40s, but we are expecting frigid temps and ice and sleet by Sunday. Up and down, back and forth, it just makes Ma-Nature seasick. She don't know if she's coming or going.
Hopefully when the Sand Plums and the Red Buds bloom, the air will be warm enough for the bees to access those sources of pollen and nectar. You see flowers- like milk, have an expiration date. They are only good as a food source for a certain period of time. If the air is too cold, one of two things happens: Either the flower is frost-killed and becomes infertile and dies (meaning no food for the pollinators) OR the air is just cold enough that the insects like bees are still torpid and the flower spoils and dies before the bees can visit it for pollen and nectar (meaning no food for pollinators).
This past month, in addition to turtles and wasps, I also saw some butterflies out. Mostly the kind that feed on poop or fungus. I remember not too long ago, during the drought, when it was like Houston in the Spring in these parts, I had butterflies in December and January visiting my bee feeders. So yes, I have seen this before, but still, it's not a good sign. We were warm when we should have been cold, and we got cold when we should be warming up. Hopefully the weather will get straightened out soon. This kind of back and forth is so hard on honey bee hives, that this is the time when we can lose them easily. If it stays warm too early and they have adequate food, they build up their brood. Then when a cold snap hits, they starve because of too many mouths to feed, and they cannot keep warm enough, because the cluster is no longer organized. Nosema can also be a big problem this time of the year. This is the bee version of the Norovirus.
As for the rest, my seedlings are getting tall. I bought some new grow caps for my trays. These are quite tall and allow my grow lights to rest directly on the cap. Making my seed starting operation more portable, and easier to disassemble and store. Usually when you buy the seed trays at box stores, they have the little 2 inch clear plastic lids. Those are fine in the very beginning. But soon your seedlings pop up and are bent over, too tall for that confining space.
Compare to this bigger, deeper dome.
So then what? We uncover the seedlings so they can stand up straight, and then it's contest between you and the water. If you water too much they dampen off and die, and not enough--and they get dehydrated and die. Finding that happy middle ground inside a nice dry house, under grow lights can be a real pain in the ass.
With these tall plastic caps, you can regulate the moisture just like before, but with several inches of growing height for your green babies. It's pretty awesome. This also allows you to let your seedlings get bigger. Many times I would be transferring these teeny tiny seedlings into individual pots, because they needed more room than the 2 inch dome could give them. Being able to switch out with the big dome has fixed that problem. Some of my tomatoes already have true leaves on them, but they are still small enough to fit under that bigger dome. Meaning better moisture control, and the plants will be a bit more ready for handling when it comes time to transplant.
All of our onions and potatoes are in the ground outside. I need to grab some shallots too. Shallots are tasty. Inside, I have started some other onions from seed and some chives as well.
None of my Comfrey seeds have germinated. I learned that I may have to dig them out of the start pots and put them back in the fridge, otherwise it could take up to 2 years (yes you read that right) to germinate. None of my milkweed have germinated either. I have planted Spider Milkweed and Blue Vine, but so far, nothing has happened. I have big plans for the Comfrey and the Milkweed, so I am hoping it germinates sometime this year, preferably sooner rather than later.
I have tinyLead plants peaking out of the soil and New England Asters, and some Alkanet, which is a relative of Borage. Many of these are my pollinator plants, just for the bees and butterflies. Which brings us to the topic of cover crops. The USDA has started a program to pay farmers, like Dairy Farmers to have cover crops for the bees.
Dairy farmers and ranchers in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas can qualify for about $3 million to reseed pastures with alfalfa, clover and other plants appealing to both bees and livestock. Farmers also can get help building fences, installing water tanks and making other changes that better enable them to move their animals from pasture to pasture so the vegetation doesn't become worn down. The goal is to provide higher quality food for insects and animals.This is extraordinarily good news. Cover crops like clover, alfalfa, and buckwheat produce excellent honey, and can be tilled right back into the ground to enrich the soil, or in some cases, mowed for fodder. If any of you wonder why Buckwheat honey is so hard to find these days, it's because farmers stopped growing it in many places. Farmers stopped growing cover crops in general. This practice will increase the forage for wild and domestic pollinators alike, and increase our production of honey, nationwide.
This is one major issue that all pollinators face--a lack of forage. Now if we could end the use of Neonicotinoids on plants, that would be a significant factor as well. The problem I see with corn and soy farmers, is that well--any farmer that uses Neonicotinoids on their fields will simply poison the bees with their cover crops if grown in contaminated soil. Because systemics stay in the soil and spread to non-treated plants, which is then expressed through the pollen, nectar and guttation just like treated plants. This suppresses the bee's immune system, damages their nervous system and navigation skills, and it causes an imbalance in the soil fauna, creating an environment that is conducive to infectious soil pathogens like Nosema ceranae.
Pesticides are not good for bees in general, but NeoNicotinoids appear to to be the worst for now. Everything we can do to give them some room to breathe is good for them and good for us.