Tag Archives: flowers

Urban beekeeping can be a sweet hobby

In the back corner of her yard, hidden behind a new fence, Susan Kennedy Spain recently extracted proof that her latest experiment in sustainable living is working: honey and honeycomb.

Both came from one of two beehives she installed earlier this year, her first attempt at raising bees.

“(My husband) John and I wanted to create an edible landscape,” she said. “We’ve had a vegetable garden. This seemed like a natural next step.”

The Spains, who live in Richmond, Virginia, are part of a growing but hard-to-define national movement to keep bees in urban areas, and they’re also participating in a honeybee revival movement so important to the nation’s food supply, President Barack Obama seated a task force to find ways to spur it on.

The White House installed hives in 2009, bringing national attention to the idea of being intentional in providing man-made homes for some of nature’s best, if occasionally misunderstood, pollinators. The hives there went in near first lady Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden.

The federal government’s Pollinator Health Task Force in May released its National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. It focuses on improving the health of honeybees and Monarch butterflies and includes a pledge to restore or enhance 7 million acres of habitat across the country.

“The strategy also advances ambitious federal commitments to increase and improve habitat for pollinators, both directly through the large variety of facilities and acreages of land managed by the federal government, and indirectly through the leadership role that federal agencies can play in interactions with states, localities, the private sector and citizens,” it said in a statement signed by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Gina McCarthy, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

“These actions range from planting pollinator gardens and improving land management practices at federal facilities, to advancing the availability and use of pollinator-friendly seed mixes in land management, restoration and rehabilitation actions nationwide.”

Locally, there are half a dozen or more beekeeping clubs and associations. But figuring out how many people participate is difficult, especially since keeping hives is prohibited in many areas.

“The current ordinance is restrictive,” said Tammy Hawley, press secretary for Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones.

The most recent wording on the ordinance, she said, labels bees as a nuisance and has them lumped in with rats, mice and roaches.

But that could change, she said. Jones has advocated for other environmentally friendly ideas, such as community gardens, green building and bicycle lanes, and Hawley said it might be time to add beekeeping to the list.

“This could be a good example of how usage should be redefined,” she said.

Jones would find plenty of support in the local beekeeping community.

David Stover, a commercial photographer, has become one of the leading local experts in the nine years since he started his first hive and, like many experienced beekeepers, he loves talking about it.

“I’ve always thought it important to share what I know,” he said. “I don’t try to talk anyone into doing this. Beekeeping is a real commitment. It’s like having a pet.”

He keeps 20 or so hives at 10 or more locations in the area.

“I have changed so much in how I view the world,” he said. “I love to garden but, since I started keeping bees, that has changed.”

It used to be, he said, he’d coat his garden with whatever chemicals were necessary to make everything look pretty.

Once the bees came in, the chemicals went out.

“I learned how bad that was,” he said. “I also learned that I didn’t need that to make my yard look good.”

The popularity of beekeeping has been on an upward swing in the past decade, said RD Radford, a 40-year veteran of beekeeping and the president of the Richmond Beekeepers Association.

He credited the growth to attention that came after news reports of colony collapse disorder, which struck particularly hard in 2006-07.

At the time, beekeepers nationwide reported losses of their hives as high as 90 percent from CCD, a phenomena in which worker bees abandon their queens. The hives survive temporarily, because they have honey and baby bees, but they ultimately fail because there’s no one left to do the work.

The EPA reported 60 percent hive loss as recently as 2008, but that dropped to about 31 percent in 2013, the most recent year for which national data are available.

With the new national strategy, the EPA wants to reduce loss to about 15 percent within 10 years.

More bees is a good thing, Radford said.

“They’re just fun to watch,” he said. “I just like playing with them. I can go out there all day.”

But more bees is nothing to fear, he said.

“Unless you mess with their hive, they won’t mess with you,” he said. “When you see them on flowers, they’re just working.”

Even a swarm, he said, was harmless, at least from a distance.

“You might see one on a bridge, but it’s usually gone in an hour,” he said. “They send out scouts to find a new home.”

Spain discovered that.

She was called in to her son’s school about a swarm.

“They were going to call an exterminator, but I said no, no,” she said. “But by the time I got there, it was gone.”

She’s plenty busy anyway with the hives she has.

One has nearly tripled in size and is still growing. It’s the one with the early yield of honey.

She’s expecting more.

A friend in her neighborhood got 250 pounds of honey from his six hives last year.

Spain’s not sure how much she’ll get, but she knows what’s going to happen if the output exceeds what her family can consume.

“My friends and family are going to be very happy,” she said.

Published via the AP Member Exchange.

Buy American Blooms: | ‘Slow Flowers’ movement pushes local grown, U.S. cut flowers

Come February, the owners of Farmstead Flowers begin nurturing seedlings and preparing three acres for their cash crop reaped from April through October — cut flowers.

Megan Hird and her husband founded their rural southeast Nebraska business in 2012 and are among the growing number of “farmer florists” intent on providing consumers the option to buy local — much as the slow food movement has sought to increase the use of locally grown, sustainable food.

About 80 percent of the cut flowers used in florists’ bouquets are imported, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says. But flower industry experts anticipate that heading into Valentine’s Day, more people will eschew bouquets of imports for American blooms.

There’s been a recent — if small — rebound in the number of cut-flower growers in the U.S., from 5,085 in 2007 to 5,903 in 2012. The Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers recently reported an all-time high of 700 members, the majority of which are based in the U.S.

The shift is two-fold, according to Debra Prinzing, a Seattle-based outdoor living expert who operates Slow Flowers, an online directory of florists, wedding and event planners and growers who use stateside flowers.

“I think a lot of it is just this rejection of the more structural bouquets — the flowers that are the Dirty Dozen, the same-old, same-old,” Prinzing said. “The romance of a meadow or a cottage-garden flower or an heirloom flower is really penetrating the consciousness of floral designers.”

There’s also a rising consciousness about the carbon footprint caused by the distance from which flowers are shipped, “just the same as it is with food,” she said. Critics of the flowers grown in South America and other places say those countries often don’t employ fair labor practices and that the flowers are often coated with chemicals to preserve them for a long journey.

A spokeswoman for the Association of Floral Importers of Florida — based in Miami, where more than 90 percent of imported flowers enter the country — said they’re using outdated information. While Colombia’s and Ecuador’s industries used questionable labor practices and pesticides years ago, they are now heavily regulated and have minimum wage requirements and bans on certain chemicals, Christine Boldt said.

South America is the most hospitable environment for flowers to grow year-round, Boldt said, which also makes them cheaper. But American-based growers counter that you get what you pay for.

“The florists I supply simply like how much fresher my flowers are … They’re not having to pick through my supply to pull out wilted or dead petals and leaves,” Hird said.

She offers local florists and grocery stores — even truckers who pass by Farmstead Flowers’ roadside stand — bouquets of locally grown snapdragons, foxglove, peonies, sunflowers and nearly 40 other varieties. But as with many who grow outside of California and Florida, Hird can only offer flowers during a six-month window. For Valentine’s Day, she’s selling gift certificates that can be redeemed for a 25-stem bouquet when her flowers are in bloom.

Next week is also the first Valentine’s Day for which consumers can be assured their flowers sprouted on American soil.

Kasey Cronquist is the administrator for the Certified American Grown program that launched in July with 36 members, most in California. All of them went through a supply-chain audit to guarantee the flowers’ origin before being approved to use the American Grown logo on their products.

Cronquist predicted that American-grown flowers will take a bigger share of the cut-flower industry in 2015.

“We have examples of where florists are starting to segregate their coolers, so that when they get the calls from their communities saying, ‘I’d like to buy locally-grown bouquets,’ people can go in and grab from the right side of the cooler so they’re not mixing the imported product with the desire of the customer,” he said.

That hasn’t been Rhonda Bullington’s experience.

The owner of Loess Hills Floral Studio in Council Bluffs, Iowa, said rustic wedding themes with cottage and meadow flowers were big trends in 2012 and 2013, but this year, “brides are wanting big, over-the-top pieces.”

She uses a local Nebraska grower for some arrangements and tries to buy U.S. flowers when she can, “but they tend to be a little more expensive.” As long as her customers demand lower prices over local sourcing, that’s what she’ll provide to stay in business.

And Bullington sees a big difference in the slow food movement and the push for local flowers: “You don’t need flowers; you want flowers.”

Pleasant under glass | Botanical gardens offer respite from the winter

Exotic insects chirrup and buzz as they flit among the palms, ferns, figs and tropical flowers. They patrol the jungle for other pests, provide food for the various species of birds breeding in the canopy and occasionally land in the hungry clutches of pitcher plants, Venus flytraps and other floral carnivores.

Meanwhile, just beyond the thermal glass that encloses the jungle, snow swirls across the icy Wisconsin landscape.

Bolz Conservatory, a part of Madison’s Olbrich Botanical Gardens, is known locally as the “glass pyramid.” It’s one of a number of area conservatories offering plant and animal life from around the world. As temperatures drop and snow blankets the landscape, you can still experience the tropics, arid desert landscapes or spring gardens without purchasing a plane ticket.

What better way to shake the snow from your soul?

Inside the Glass Pyramid

Olbrich’s Bolz Conservatory offers 10,000 square feet of mixed tropical flora and fauna. The pyramid rises 50 feet at the center — high enough to house its 20-foot waterfall and the towering royal palms that take center stage among 650 plants, which include about 80 plant families and more than 475 species and cultivars from a variety of equatorial zones.

Operated jointly by the City of Madison Parks Division and the Olbrich Botanical Society, the conservatory’s environment is controlled by an external weather station that measures the impact of the sunlight and temperatures outdoors to create an indoor environment suitable for its tropical inhabitants. Exterior shades and misting nozzles help maintain an indoor humidity level of 60 percent and temperatures that range between 65 and 80 degrees year- round.

The conservatory, which opened in November 1991, anchors Olbrich Gardens’ 16 acres. The gardens begin to stir in early March, when outdoor beds devoted to roses, dahlias, perennials, annuals and irises begin showing signs of life. 

At the park’s far reaches, shimmering golden in the sun, stands the Thai Pavilion & Garden. The pavilion was a gift to the University of Wisconsin-Madison from the Thai government and the Thai chapter of the Wisconsin Alumni Association. UW-Madison has one of the largest Thai student populations of any U.S. college or university.

Under the Domes

Milwaukee’s Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory invites visitors into three landmark, LED-illuminated domes, each housing a distinct environment.

The tropical dome houses jungle flora from five continents. On any given day, as many as 50 different species might be blooming there. A rushing waterfall, tropical birds and 500 varieties of orchids add to the ambience.

The arid dome is home to one of the Midwest’s finest collections of cacti and succulents, as well as an oasis of pampas grass and desert palms. Visitors can stroll through environments replicating arid regions of Africa, South America and North America.

The third environment, nicknamed the “show dome,” offers five seasonal displays annually. From poinsettias and holiday lights at Christmas to hundreds of lilies at Easter, the displays offer brilliant colors and fragrant aromas to help combat the winter blues.

The domes were built over a period of eight years, from 1959 to 1967, based on a design submitted by local architect Donald Grieb. Each dome offers 1 acre under glass and 750,000 cubic feet of space, rising 85 feet — that’s seven stories — from the lobby level. A team of four full-time horticulturalists tend the plants daily.

In addition to being located in Milwaukee’s first permanently named city park, the domes are the world’s only conoidal (beehive-shaped, as opposed to geodesic) glass houses, according to park officials. Grieb’s unique design offers a superior angle for solar heating and more interior height for tree growth.

More visibly, they also provide a glittering addition to the Milwaukee skyline. Each dome was outfitted with LED lights in the late ‘00s, bringing the Domes into the 21st century and re-attracting visitors to the Milwaukee landmark.

This time of year, the Mitchell Park Domes and Olbrich Botanical Gardens give visitors the opportunities to shake off the winter doldrums with a dose of tropical air, desert foliage and enough plant life to know that spring is just around the corner. 

At the very least, the weather is much more pleasant under glass, and the verdant growth offers a tangible tonic for the frostbitten heart.

In bloom

Olbrich Botanical Gardens are located at 3330 Atwood Ave. on Madison’s East Side. For hours and other information, call 608-246-4550 or go to olbrich.org.

Mitchell Park Conservatory (The Domes) is located at 524 S. Layton Blvd. on Milwaukee’s South Side. Phone 414-257-5611 or visit milwaukeedomes.org.