The title this week is a bit of a misnomer because, honestly, I am struggling to find topics of interest now that cooler weather has led to less frequent hive inspections. I still want to research mites a bit more before I’m ready to post about the problems they cause. I’ve finally purchased the mesh I need to make my shaker jar to test the mite numbers, though I may have missed the best time to test for this and opening the hive when it is chillier is a tricky business.

The bees maintain the core temperature in the hive around 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Opening the hive and exposing it in cold weather means they need to expend a lot of extra energy to heat it again, and they tend to get a little cranky about it. That’s understandable. I’d get grumpy too if someone kept opening my front door to the inclement weather just when I’d gotten it nice and toasty inside. Knowing this, I need to time my activities for warmer days and the warmest hours so as to minimize the chances of being stung or causing unnecessary stress to the bees.

In addition to the chilly weather, I have also found myself wanting to spend time planting our backyard. To save some money, we opted to do most of the planting labor ourselves. Plus, there’s an appealing mix of creativity and reverence in digging the holes, carefully placing the plants, then backfilling and watering them myself. Since I dig the holes and fill each twice with water to check the drainage before placing the plant, I have a good idea of the particularities of the soil in that area later if issues arise.

The soil along this line of manzanitas is more clayey the closer one moves toward the house (foreground). Anything more than a half hour to drain a gallon of water is considered a clay soil. The worst of the holes took more than four hours to drain, although those holes are larger than a gallon. I added a small amount of soil amendment to the holes with particularly poor drainage to lighten the clay a bit, but these plants will also tolerate heavy California clay.

A bunch of plants arrived Thursday and I am like a kid in a candy store excited, oohing and ahhing over each one. They are the fulfillment of a vision that started when we moved here over four years ago, and on which we put the first wheels into motion a little more than a year ago in having a landscaping plan designed by Ecology Artisans. Once Blue Diamond Concrete finished the second phase of hardscape in June, I have been eagerly awaiting autumn, which is the best time to establish new plants since the heat of summer is past and the rain is, hopefully, coming soon.

Many-flower mallows in a rock garden to replace a rotting fence and shore up the slope.

The plants will provide blossoms aplenty for the bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators that stop by our little patch of Earth. I like to think the bees are quite interested in and pleased with the goings on in our yard. I’m completely anthropomorphizing here, and likely not even accurate in my observations, but there were random bees consistently buzzing around me while I planted. The most likely explanation, at least to me, is that they are checking for flowers on the new plants or are disturbed by the vibrations I’m causing as I dig soil from near their hive, but I like the idea of their interest in the process.

The plants selected are native to southern California and the variety of species will provide blooms nearly year-round. There are different varieties of sage, lilac, and manzanita. I tweaked the original plan to add a few flat-topped buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) and I might add some more, since they are a pollinator magnet. They bloom nearly year-round with beautiful puffballs filled with multiple individual blossoms that start out white or pale pink and fade to a chocolate brown. When I’ve seen them in the wild, they are always covered in bees.

Since local species are accustomed to our arid climate, the plants will require, at most, water only once every couple weeks once established. Native plants usually spend the first year establishing a deep root system so it’s important to provide occasional deep waterings to encourage roots going deep into the soil, which is how they later survive with little surface moisture. I’ll water every week or so, and will check the moisture before doing so. More frequent watering results in a shallow root system that won’t survive the dry, hot summer. Since they’re building root systems, it can take some time before above-ground growth is really noticeable. It will take a bit before everything grows in, and I am excited to see how it all turns out.

So that’s what I’ll be up to for the next several weekends. I’ll post about the bees as something occurs or as I have time to research new questions. However, it may be a little quiet as we move into winter. Don’t worry! Spring will be here in no time, and perhaps this year, there will be honey to harvest, honey made from some of the wonderful blossoms in our own yard.