Saturday, February 4, 2012

sweet and sour flower powers

Earlier this week I deadheaded our dogbane (plectranthus neochilus) for the first time ever, and then looked around for other plants that needed this treatment. Lavender seemed most in need, but the six-foot plant was filled with bees. They don't exactly get angry when I invade their territory, but I feel guilty about scaring them away, and so I resolved to deadhead the lavender on a cloudy day.

I've seen lavender honey in the stores, and was wondering where the bees take the nectar and pollen from our lavender. This reminded me that bees are currently doing better in urban areas than in farm country.  I learned this tidbit of trivia from an L.A.-based blog (which had gleaned it from a Seattle-based environmental website). Ironically, however, beekeeping is illegal in most of the Los Angeles area, as I learned at a community festival last fall, thanks to an organization called Backwards Beekeepers or 'BBK' as they call themselves.*

The political issue of beekeeping in urban areas will no doubt be resolved city by city. Trendsetting Santa Monica has recently legalized beekeeping, but the issue would be moot if honeybees were replaced by mason bees. Mason bees are excellent pollinators, but they live independently with their nuclear families -- building single-cell homes where they nurture their young without the oversight of a queen or the slavery of drones. In other words, mason bees 'keep' themselves. Gardeners may encourage them by providing condo-like housing, but there would be no way to harvest the honey.

Why does dogbane not attract bees? Its purple petals are larger and brighter than those of lavender. Could it be that the strong odor repels insects as well as canines? In fact it repels me, which may explain why I hadn't deadheaded the dogbane before. I can stand for hours deadheading lavender while enjoying a refreshing aromatherapy experience, but the dogbane requires me to get down on hands and knees and inhale a strong, disagreeable odor. I will admit to being more like a dog than a bee, but I balk at the idea that my tastes are dog-like.

It will be a long time before I deadhead the dogbane again. Meanwhile, the tall camellia must be topped. Otherwise it will turn into a tree and be impossible to deadhead regularly next year.

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*BBK puts on a wonderful promotion, with a display of working bees plus a cadre of little children dressed in cute bee costumes. They're scheduled to be at one of our local farmers' markets this Sunday, and I hope to be there.

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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License