Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Chicken-Proof Gardening And a Gardener/Beekeeper's Philosophical Rant

This weekend among the homestead projects was cleaning out half-barrels of spent brassica plants, reinvigorating the soil, and planting herbs in their place. The barrels are just off the deck, close to the kitchen, and a little handier than trucking  all the way out to the garden for a snippet or two of herbs.

Chicken-proof Herbs
After planting the barrels I took a break to sit on the deck and survey the results of our labor over the weekend when I looked down at the aspiring herb garden barrels to find that one of the Evil Stepsisters (translation: Wyandotte hen) was clawing contentedly away in the dirt at the location formerly occupied by two echinacea starts. Starts that took forever to germinate and grow to their current two inches high. Oh my! That will learn me to take a break before a job is complete. One echinacea was salvaged, the other was nowhere to be found, likely in the belly of the hen who will give it back to us in the form of an egg...a really nutritious egg.

It is interesting to note the change in gardening philosophy that keeping bees can bring. In my former gardening life, the spent brassicas wouldn't have been occupying precious barrel space. None-the-less there they were still, all gangly, twisting their long flowering stalks lazily atop the deck, effortlessly attracting entire tribes of aphids.  By all rights any self-respecting gardener would have yanked them up by their heads, tossed them to the compost, and made way for something new and more productive.

Enter the bee-minded gardener! Bees and brassicas apparently have coevolved. Bees need brassicas for the obvious nectar and pollen while brassicas need bees to assist in their pollination. They suffer from "self-incompatibility" (don't we all from time to time?): the pollen from one flower will only pollinate the flower of another brassica plant (no inbreeding here). This is a problem for them because their pollen is a bit on the sticky and heavy side and isn't readily windborne. Thus the bees and the brassicas enjoy a symbiotic relationship. Who am I to uproot half of a perfectly compatible partnership?

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