Category Archives: backyard biology

Seasonal Confusion Disorder

The holidays are officially over, so life should be getting back to “normal.”  But, what is normal?  (Has there ever been a normal? Or, do things just seem less normal right now?)  We finally used up the last of the fresh garden tomatoes, which we picked as late as November and wrapped in newspapers to ripen.  This is not normal, but it is pretty impressive.

The earlier portion of this week, it was frigid, in the low double digits with wind chill even lower.  Then, it zoomed to almost 70 degrees for a couple of days and we all peeled off our winter coats and frolicked.


There’s no snow, but I did find some snowdrops blooming in the Haupt garden behind the Smithsonian Castle.  These little beauties must be as confused as we are.

Perhaps confusion is the new normal.

Plants and Human Wellfare

The last couple of days, I have had encounters with giant plants.  First, in my own garden where the Giant Pumpkin Plant of 2016 (see image above) threatens to take over the whole side of our yard, and into our neighbor’s yard as well.  (Maybe due to the bees doing a great job of pollinating?)  I went out to check on why the heck the squash plants were not producing any squash yesterday morning, and I discovered the Giant Fuzzy Squash of 2016, pictured here in its 16″ glory.  Not sure it is still edible, we will find out soon.  I20160802_075318f so, it is all we will be eating for awhile I guess.  Send me some squash recipes just in case!

Then, last evening, some friends and I experienced the unfortunately named Corpse Plant of the U.S. Botanical Garden, which has just bloomed.  By now just about everyone in Washington, DC has heard of, and perhaps visited, this phenomenon.  At least it seemed like everyone in DC was there last night; it took us about 45 minutes to get inside.  This giant plant supposedly smells like some combination of rotting flesh and rotten vegetables, but we couldn’t get close enough to catch a whiff.  Maybe for the best.  I didn’t get a photo because my phone battery died (ironically considering the subject matter), but you can get the idea from this link of photos from CBS news.  Photo #9 is pretty much the way it was last night, huge crowd and all.

Plants are pretty amazing, in general.  Giant plants are even more amazing.  Giant squash…well, I would prefer smaller more tender specimens, but I guess I should see it as more to love, right?

 

 

Backyard Bee Movie

20160514_114145Last Saturday, we had a drama unfolding in our backyard with a cast of thousands.  Thousands of our neighbor’s honey bees, that is.  According to bee literature available online, when a hive with its own queen becomes too crowded, the queen and her entourage decide they need a new palace.  So, they swarm en masse into the air, and then alight, as a huge clump clinging to one another, in whatever temporary haven is convenient.  In this case, one of the trees in our backyard.  I have to say that I was terrified at the initial swarming – I was out in the garden doing some weeding, and all of a sudden the sky was full of bees circling in the air.   But once the bees are safely in their huddle, only a few scouts fly here and there, searching for a proper new home.  They then come back to transmit information to the rest of their hives mates, and they somehow all decide where to go next.

Needless to say, the beekeeper wants to entice them to come home to establish another hive in the backyard, not to find some dead tree in a nearby park or other cozy den.  So, he arrived in his full bee regalia to try to make that happen.  Having never done it before, he had a few false starts.

 The process involved cutting down the branch with the bees, and trying to head them into the empty hive.  (This is when watching from an upstairs window feels much safer than watching fr20160514_130903om outside, even from within the screened-in deck.)
Bees everywhere, some dutifully entering the empty hive box, but most regrouping into another tree clump in record time (seconds!).  If you don’t get the queen into the box, the other bees are not buying it.  Finally, our neighbor got the queen in and the other bees followed, and the drama came to an end.  But, while it lasted, it was a fascinating glimpse into the Secret Life of Bees (which you should read, by the way, because it is a great book).