Sunday, November 22, 2015


Honeybee hive, guarded by watchful eyes
It's been wet and cold, and I am becoming aware of the actuality that we will be in this for months. Temperatures in the day have been in the fifties (F) at most, and the angle of the sun is such that our house only receives a few hours of direct sunlight, which is otherwise blocked by the trees. Most nights bring with them some frost, and even ice in a few parts of the yard. Some areas will not get any sunlight until Spring. Bees are no longer active, too wet and cold for them now. In days where the temperatures will rise above something like fifty-five degrees (F) they will come out to relieve themselves (they are in fact quite sanitary when possible), and even to drink water. Hopefully they have collected enough resources to get them through the Winter. I had split the hive into two earlier this year, which led to the discovery of chalkbrood (Ascosphaera apis, a fungal infestation with no known treatment) in the hive. I didn't take any honey from the affected hive, hopefully they will get through just fine and come out stronger next year. I may give both hives some dry sugar just to make sure.

Mornings here (and during the entire day that this entry was posted) have been looking like this. I had literally just opened the back door and took these pictures (it was 7:00AM Pacific Time). I love this, being a fan of sci-fi horror, as it reminds me of The Mist (the 2007 movie based on the book by Stephen King). I expect to see a giant monstrous behemoth (like this) emerge from the trees, omnipotent and invulnerable to our desperation, only to disappear once again into the invisible horizon.

A few things remain in flower, though I'm not certain that they are of use to bees in the state of the weather as it stands. If the bees can make it outside, they will have a few things to forage, however meager, if they so choose.

Raphanus sativus
The common radish is excellent to keep around, even better if it is allowed to seed around. I would keep a watchful eye on it in coastal or otherwise mild/damp climates as it is invasive where it escapes the garden. In Bandon, on the coast of Oregon, (and surely countless other places) it grows in large drifts on the coastal buffs, stealing valuable terrain for what could be rare or uncommon beach natives. Radishes were domesticated thousands of years ago, so it is only likely (but not for certain) that they came from Southeast Asia. Letting them flower is not good for the root, which becomes woody at this point, but the crispy seed pods are delicious and mildly spicy. Good on a vegetable platter!

Verbascum thapsus
The infamous common mullein (known by some unfortunate people as cowboy toilet paper!) is one of my favorite pests. They are quite prominent figures in the garden, having attractive and gigantic (occasionally up to three feet wide) rosettes the first year or two, then flowering to a towering eight feet or taller before setting a billion long lived seeds and dying. I have seen honeybees work the small random flowers in the mornings in past years, but none this year (though I was busy, I just didn't have the time). This individual was feeling ignored so leaned out to say, "Hey dude, look at me!"

Verbascum thapsus
Borago in strawberry bed
I was surprised to find all this borage still in bloom in the strawberry bed in our vegetable garden. This would no doubt be an excellent resource for any bees willing to venture out. This annual is not frost tender, but it will die in the first hard freeze and will certainly not survive prolonged ice or snow. There will be a ton of seeds and next year I'll probably have a bunch of plants in the path (which is just fine).

Borago officinalis
The flowers are sweet and cucumber like when eaten. I have repeatedly offered them to my daughter, but the response is "that's yucky."

Rosmarinus officinalis 'Prostratus'
The first year I have seen blooms on the rosemary, it continues to flower although I am sure the flowers are not durable enough to endure a freeze. Honeybees do work it, but it gets so little direct sunlight right now that it is not of any value to honeybees (who prefer flowers in the sunlight, understandable in cold weather).

Aside from flowers, a lot of other interesting things are going on with the increase in moisture. Fungi are a sign of a biologically active soil. Rot is an essential part of life. When plants and animals (including microfauna, insects, et cetera) grow they absorb, , use, and create a wide range of stuff that is mostly carried around until they cease to be alive. Fungi, as well as millions of microscopic arthropods, bacteria, protozoa, and a range of other organisms are the greatest and often some of the very least appreciated of the world's recyclers, feeding on the dead and decaying organic matter left behind. There is a constant seething mass of life in a handful of healthy soil, everything trying to eat something else whilst simultaneously trying to defend itself from the imminent death machines which are their neighbors. This is probably where many of the worlds antibiotics come from as antibiotics are naturally produced by fungi (penicillin et al) and soil bacteria (tetracycline et al) as a defense against fungi and bacteria that would otherwise eat them.

Panaeolus sp.
Mycena strobilinoides (?)
Hericium erinaceus
Hericium is a genus of edible mushrooms called lion's mane or bearded tooth fungus. I've seen them before, always on dead or dying wood. They are reputed to taste like fish. No idea why I couldn't convince Anna to taste it.

Mold attack
Interestingly, this mushroom seems to be under attack by some type of blue/grey mold. Hopefully the beautiful icicle-like fungus can send out some fertile spores before it is devoured by the mold.

Rubus laciniatus
The cut-leaf blackberry, a Northern and Central European native (invasive here in America), is a less aggressive and more attractive of the handful of nonnative blackberries here. The berries, in my opinion, are sweeter and better tasting than the infamous Rubus armeniacus, anthough R. laciniatus grows smaller and produces fewer berries. The leaves of all the blackberries are attractive up close (and even from afar, but for some reason not in between) as they change from green straight to red. For those trying to rid themselves of these invaders, now is the time to apply herbicide if that is your way. I am normally opposed to such extreme measures but blackberry is surely the exception as the living plants are far more destructive in the long run.

Rosa eglanteria hips
A nonnative rose, Rosa eglanteria, has produced a lot of hips this year. It flowered well, too, partly because I did not mow it over when I mowed the field behind our house earlier in the year. It is far less aggressive than the blackberry, and I would not be upset to see a few more of these plants in the field. Currently, there is one. The flowers are an excellent pollen source. There is no definitive [published] evidence that roses produce nectar. Not to say that there aren't other floral secretions. The scent alone could be an attractant for pollinators, possibly a form of deception?

Diplolepis rosae
This rose is covered with galls. They are produced by a tiny gall wasp, Diplolepis rosae. Like the oak gall wasps seen here, these wasps live only to mate, produce eggs, and die. The tiny stingless wasps use an ovipositor, a bit like the one used by the alien queen in the movie Aliens (1986) and the facehuggers of the same series (I am a nerd), to inject the eggs into the immature leaf nodes of the rose. Some sort of chemical secretion distorts the growth of the leaf buds into this fuzzy mass which the dozens of small larvae live in until emerging some time later (weeks or months, I do not know). Not enough is known of the small wasps to know if they serve any role as a pollinator. They have been said to be the pollinators of some orchids (source).

Juniperus sp. male cones
A male specimen of some type of juniper, I am not familiar with the taxonomy of this genus (along with many trees, particularly gemnosperms) so I am unaware of the species, or if it is even native here. The tiny male cones produce pollen through Winter, and I have suspected honeybees may occasionally or rarely collect pollen from it. Pollen of conifers is relatively low in protein content compared to most angiosperms (which include the majority of insect/animal pollinated plants). Noting that conifers are predominantly wind/gravity pollinated, it makes sense that the plants that required pollination by an animal/insect would evolve more nutritious pollen to further entice the creatures they have become dependent on for survival. (See sources: A and B)

Juniperus sp. bark
Can anyone identify this juniper? This bark is of the same tree as the scales and male cones above.

Hypochaeris radicata
Last but certainly not least (especially with the billions of new seedlings appearing, yeesh!) is the infamous Hypochaeris. I hate it. But the bees love it, so I can just deal with the fact that I do not have the time to deal with it. Eventually, maybe in a thousand years, equilibrium will be achieved in nature and we'll have figured out how not to spread around invasive species. Or we'll be extinct. Yup.


  1. I love Hypochaeris radicata for it's hardiness, bright cheerful color and it's edible young leaves... any plant with these qualities gets 10 stars in my book. Thank you for your wonderful posts. christina

    1. True, but it is far too aggressive here to be tolerated in a garden bed.

  2. Another wonderful, fact and fun-filled newsletter. Here is my hunch about the "juniper" -- could it be Incense Cedar?
    I have lots of "blooming" cedar every year at this time, especially on my big trees. My trees are for sure Incense cedars. I live down the road on West Evans if you need to see them. I use the blooming branches in my "Au Naturel" Christmas wreaths. It is so beautiful, and the trees aren't harmed by removing just a few of these.

    1. I try to avoid common names, they could describe many species. It is most likely J. occidentalis, but I'll have to run it through a key in the Oregon Flora to be certain.


If leaving a comment as "Anonymous," please leave your name or contact information.