Bees, Flowers and Water (August 14, 2009)
From a micro-garden to the West's water rights.
Here are three photos: our little urban micro-garden, our peach tree and a cornucopia "harvest" of a few minutes work. I was inspired to post these photos (taken a few weeks ago) because I was thrilled (yes, thrilled) to see a number of honey bees flitting between the California poppies in our garden yesterday.
As many of you know, bees have suffered devastating declines in most regions of the nation due to mysterious causes--causes which appear to be negatively synergistic interactions of mites and environmental stresses.
In this urban micro-climate of the San Francisco Bay Area, honey bees and bumble bees, once common in our lush poppy plantings, essentially vanished for years. I was encouraged last year to note a few bumblebees had come back, but this year is the first time I've seen honey bees in a long time.
I make a concerted effort to keep flowers blooming all year (yes, I know those of you in snow zones cannot do this) and especially now, in late summer when most flowering plants have faded (at least here in the semi-arid West). I purposefully allow a new crop of poppies to sprout amidst the vegetables during summer, and I also let some vegetables go to seed to give the pollinators something to collect.
Right now our small garden has the following blossoms: poppies, onion, bok choi, alyssum, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes and mums. The bees, wasps, moths, aphids and the rest of the insect crew each favor certain flowers; the honey bees are keen on the bright-golden poppies, and it's endlessly amusing (OK, I'm a gardener, and thus easily amused) to watch a pollen-loaded bee nestle into a poppy flower, which bends under the heavy weight, only to spring lazily sunward once the bee lifts off.
The genetic programming of bees is visible in the way they cover every blossom in a seemingly random fashion; each takes some pollen but leaves some for later collectors.
Small insects I would not normally even notice are partial to the big round onion blossoms, while even tinier critters are grazing over the small alyssum flowers.
There are still a few hardy poppies around the rest of the yard, plus a variety of other late flowering ornamentals. Although I can't see in the infra-red part of the spectrum like insects, I reckon our little urban garden (the only one for blocks) must light up like a Christmas tree to a wandering pollinator.
Our peach tree and lemon tree are always loaded with fruit, and I ascribe this abundance partly to the pollinators which stop by our little oasis; every blossom gets visited by some little creature, be it night-time moth or daytime bee.
Plants need water, and in the semi-arid West that means irrigation, which means
water rights: a terribly thorny legal thicket.
Knowledgeable reader Nels W. responded to yesterday's report on irrigation
Grain, Drought and Systemic Risk)
with this eye-opening commentary on the West's convoluted water rights:
I am not currently residing there, but I am from Utah. I read with some interest today that Utah had irrigation on crops and therefore is "drought proof". NOT TRUE!!
Thank you, Nels, for an excellent explanation of how water rights work in the West. I had my own brief education while researching an article on agricultural ponds in Napa Valley a few years ago: Bel Paesaggio: California Vineyard Landscapes (May 2005) San Francisco Chronicle Magazine.
Here in California, if rainwater collects in a rivulet and flows on the surface it is a "seasonal stream" and you can't collect it. So you need to place your collection pond away from any rivulets or gulches.
I will cover rainwater collection at home in more depth tomorrow--readers submitted much practical advice which I will share.
These titles might be of some interest:
Just in Case Kathy Harrison
Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front
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