These are a few postings about the Austin Community Landfill Garden that Texas Bee Watchers, Kim Bacon and Vernon Berger, designed, planted, and maintained for several years at the Austin Community Landfill in Austin, Texas. The Garden is now maintained by Waste Management. We learned a lot about building and maintaining large gardens doing this project. We also had a lot of fun.
School groups are already visiting the Pollinator Garden! The spring and summer plants are blooming and the native bees as well as the school children have been visiting. It’s one of our objectives - - - to increase awareness of native bees. We love those kids and teachers who visit the Bee Garden. This fall we will add labels to the plants in the garden making it easier to identify the plants. Bee identification is coming soon as well!
Originally published July 2009
Expanding a Texas Bee Garden: Last year, when James Smith, the District Manager of the Austin Community Landfill, asked if I could build a Bee-Friendly Garden at the Landfill, I said "Sure." I knew it would be a big challenge, but I really didn't know how big. It was more work than I imagined, but with a lot of help from another Texas Bee Watcher, Vernon Berger, we managed to plant a large area and watch some bees.
But when Mr. Smith asked us if we could expand the garden, I was a bit less sure. However, with Vernon providing a lot of positive energy, encouragement, and manpower, we started doubling the size of the garden yesterday. Today, with more help from the Waste Management employees at the Landfill and some rather large landfill equipment, we got the garden beds formed. Vernon moved mulch into about half of the paths to provide a weed-free (we hope) path for people visiting the garden. We have left plenty of bare ground for ground-nesting solitary bees.
Vernon documented the day with photos, including this photo proving that we actually had a plan on paper for how we would set up the garden.
Next comes moving transplants from the old garden areas to the new garden beds. We've learned a bit more about garden design after last year and we hope to move plants to better locations. We also need to redesign our watering system to help the new plants make it through the Texas summer this year.
The garden will serve as an experimental garden to test the bee-attractiveness of both native and non-native flowers. School groups are also invited to come and wander through the garden to learn about pollination and bees.
We certainly plan to get the Austin Community Landfill Garden Officially Certified as one of the 52 Bee-Friendly Gardens this year. Maybe we'll be one of the first 10 gardens? Though this garden is going to end up being about 1500 square feet once completed, your garden doesn't have to be that large to become an Official Certified Bee Garden.
So, get your new Bee Garden planted, modify your existing garden to better accommodate native bees, or just inventory your existing Bee Garden and let Texas Bee Watchers know about it.
Originally published 3/31/10
BUMBLEBEES!: Vernon and I were out at the Austin Community Landfill Bee Garden on Wednesday. Vernon says to me, "Kim, is that a bumblebee?"
And, yes sireeee! it was.
That is the first bumblebee we have seen at the garden. We were so excited, we didn't even notice what flower it was on. Later we saw another bumblebee on some Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata).
In my continuing quest to be the world's worst bee photographer, I was unable to get a recognizable photo of the bee, but it looked more like a Bombus pennsylvanicus than anything else. Dr. Jack Neff listed three Bumblebees for parts of Travis County back in 1990 (Bombus pennsylvanicus, Bombus fraternus, and Bombus sonorus). Click on North American Bumble Bees to go to a link with diagrams to help tell the difference between two of the species in Texas.
I've seen Bumblebees at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on Partridge Pea in the last two years. And I have a friend who lives in South Austin who had a healthy population of Bumblebees in his yard in 2007. But, in general, bumblebees seem to be hard to find and possibly in decline around Austin.
Welcome to the garden, bumblebees.
After the Freeze: Vernon has checked the garden most weeks during December and January, but this is the first time I've been out here since mid-November.
The seeds have all disappeared–either eaten or blown away– and the old stalks and stems stick up from the ground and look pretty miserable. But, between the drab stalks and the cold dirt, green masses of leaves are beginning to spread out. The new Chimney Swift house rises up tall and substantial in the field and the Purple Martin House looks ready for spring residents. The Welcome sign will soon be out for native pollinators.
Depending on the weather–as always–the garden work will increase from here on out. Vernon is anxious to plant more Blackland Prairie plants, I'm anxious to finish the fence, we are both anxious to get the expansion to the garden laid out and ready to plant, and then–as always–we want to get a head start on the weeds.
And the bees will start arriving within the next few weeks. For a few weeks in January and February, it is hard to find a native bee in the garden. With the first spring blooms, however, I'll be on native-bee patrol. If you are a bee-watcher in the Austin area, let me know if you are interested in coming out on a ACLPG workday.
Originally published January 2010
Large Patches of Bee-Friendly PlantsBees are attracted to large groupings of flowering plants. Me, too. At the Austin Community Landfill Bee Garden, the spring bee flowers are blooming–en masse. The photo above doesn't do the Horsemint patch justice. It looks beautiful blowing in the wind.
The yellow patch of Coreopsis and Rubeckia is so inviting that I'm tempted to try a bit of nectar and pollen myself! Not!
Texas Palafoxia can become a bit weedy, but it is easy to control by pulling up the little seedlings and it produces these pretty delicate flowers. They are just beginning to bloom and attract bees.
Vernon and I transplanted a Dewberry which promptly died on us, but we keep watering it hoping it will emerge next spring ready to bloom again and attract bees. We have put mulch down in this area to prepare the soil for seed planting next fall. We made sure to leave plenty of bare soil for nesting solitary bees, however.
And another shot of the yellow patch! And keep an eye out for Megachilid bees. THey are starting to show up.
Originally published on 5/20/10
Lessons from a Bee-Friendly Garden: If you are just thinking about planting a bee-friendly garden, I want to clue you in on what happens if you disappear for a few months.
TBW started a Bee-Friendly Garden at the Austin Community Landfill 2 years ago. The photo below shows the garden in its first spring (May 2009)–after being planted in Fall 2008.
This spring, Vernon and I doubled the size of the garden and planted in the spring.
First Lesson: Plant in the fall. It's just so much easier on the plants.
Second lesson: Bigger is more work.
As luck would have it, I have been traveling out of the state more or less since April.
Third lesson: Being gone for long periods of time gives you some perspective on how large plants can grow.
For example, here's a photo of the garden in early May 2010. That's Vernon waving at you!
And here's a couple of photos from yesterday–about 3 months later.
That's about 3 feet of growth!
Let me stop here and acknowledge and thank Vernon who has visited and tended the garden all by himself for those months. He has kept the weeds down to a reasonable amount, watered, and pulled overgrowth. The garden would not exist without Vernon. He's a hero!
Lesson Four: Someone needs to be around to care for the garden a bit.
Neither Vernon nor I know much about landscape design. We occasionally disagree over whether the garden should look a bit wild or a bit more manicured. Or rather, we disagree about how wild it should look. I don't think either one of us is the manicured garden type. And the ACL garden is definitely on the wild side.
And there are LOTS of native bees at the ACL garden this year.
Lesson Five: Less manicuring is better for the native bees!
And just to prove it, on one of my trips over the last few months, I visited the Melissa Garden in Healdsburg, California with Dr. Gordon Frankie of Urban Bee Garden fame. There's a photo of this garden just below. I must say that I was speechless, awed, and overwhelmed by this garden. It has to be one of the loveliest gardens I've seen. And native bees? Billions of them. This garden was so alive, it almost brought tears to my eyes. And it was a pretty wild garden. It made me feel pretty good about the effort Vernon and I have put into the ACL Garden.
Lesson Six: A wild garden can be absolutely gorgeous and provide optimum habitat for tons of native bees.
We've also noticed that new native plants have started to appear in the ACL Garden. Ones we didn't plant.
Lesson Six: If you provide the habitat, they (native bees and native plants) will come.
The Melissa Garden
So, don't worry so much about everything being landscape designer quality. Get those bee-friendly plants established and let them grow for a year or two.
This fall Vernon and I will be moving some plants to make the garden look a bit less wild, we'll be pulling out a few plants we (or the native bees) don't like, and we'll continue to add a few new plants most likely.
And we will enjoy watching the bees.
Originally posted 9/1/10
Landfill Bee Garden Update: I went out to the Bee Garden at the Austin Community Landfill on Friday hoping to do a lot of work. Well, I didn't get to do much because the ground was just too wet. The weather next week is expected to be cold and rainy, so the garden will remain on hold for another week–although I think I'll get out there and do some cutting back.
Even though I couldn't work in the gardens, the plants are hard at work. I love watching the plants as they begin poking through the ground. In just a few weeks, the garden is going to blast into full growth. In the photo above, the Sunflowers (Helianthus) Vernon and I transplanted to our new fence line are popping up little green leaves. They are going to be looking good late in the summer.
The Fall Asters (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) are poking up, too. I really am late getting these trimmed back. These are spectacular fall bee-friendly flowers.
Vernon and I transplanted a bunch of Greg's Mistflower (Conoclinium greggii) last fall to make one large patch. It is just barely poking through the ground. Glad to see it made it through the freeze. It attracts various pollinators, including native bees, pretty much all summer and fall. I like this plant, but I think Betony-leaf Mistflower (C. betonicifolium) is my favorite. The bees like them both.
We are going to have a ton of Standing Cypress (Ipomopsis rubra) this year.
Of course, not only are the garden plants looking good, so are the "weeds." Many of them will be good early native bee plants, so I will try to leave them to flower and pull them before seed-set.
Originally posted 2/7/10
Visit the Bee Garden: This weekend, Waste Management is hosting an Open House at the Austin Community Landfill. This is a great opportunity to see the Bee Garden, tour a landfill (you'll be amazed!), tour the gas-to-energy plant at the Austin Community Landfill, get a tour of the Wildlife Area at the Landfill, and get a free hot dog and drink. The Open House is May 15, Saturday, from 11 am to 1 pm. The Austin Community Landfill is located at 9900 Giles Lane.
Vernon Berger and I have been busy all month working at the Bee Garden at the Austin Community Landfill. Bubba Smith, Waste Management District Manager, and Byron Turner, Austin Community Landfill Manager, have also helped by providing willing hands and mulch for paths.
Last Thursday, a huge pile of mulch from the landfill was loaded up and dumped at our Bee Garden site. We leave the actual gardens free of mulch to allow the ground-nesting solitary bees to dig their nests, but we do put the mulch down on the paths. With the help of Waste Management employees, we got all the paths mulched and a nice border mulched around the edges of the gardens. We also mulched between our fence demonstration area in preparation for planting in this area next fall.
We also rerouted the existing irrigation pipes to provide water throughout the Texas heat this summer.
The plants from last year thrived and put out many seeds–I think all of them sprouted–this spring. Vernon and I started weeding out a few of these sprouts this week to neaten up the garden a bit. Next year, we may have enough seedlings to give away some bee-friendly plants to landfill visitors! Vernon also managed to find a donated Bird/Bee Bath for the garden. In addition, Waste Management has added a Swift Tower and a Purple Martin House. It's getting to bee pretty cool out at the Landfill!
Our Bee Garden at the Austin Community Landfill now covers about 1500 square feet. And its its blooming! Unfortunately, it has been really windy at the Bee Garden all month. The native bees are not all that fond of windy days so the bee watching has not been easy.
But . . . as soon as we started spreading out mulch on the paths, a group of school kids showed up. Ashley and Linda led a great tour for the kids . . . which included walking around the Bee Garden on the newly-mulched paths! Whoopee!
When it rains: I'm glad to be back! The last few weeks have kept me off the blog, but I'm hoping to be back to a more regular schedule as of today. It's still a bit hectic, but I should be here at least twice a week for the next month and back to normal in a few more weeks.
I participated in the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) Conference in Washington, D.C. on October 20-22,2010. More on that in the following weeks.
The Austin Community Landfill Bee Garden is beginning to wind down for the winter season. There's still plenty of maintenance to complete, plants to transplant, and seeds to sow. Vernon and I have a long list of winter chores to complete. More on that to come as well.
Because of my crazy schedule this year, I am WAY behind on the 52 Bee Gardens Project. Look to see an added emphasis on that the rest of the year. I have a backlog of wonderful gardens to add. Some of you have expressed an interest, but worry that you are too late. No worries. Go ahead and submit your garden and I'll get to you as soon as possible this month.
Thanks for hanging in there with me. Now, let's get back to watching bees.