BY THOMAS EBERT
Valley Voice Contributor
Bees are some of the most important pollinators of flowering plants Worldwide. In Oregon, there are likely around 630 species, but the landscape of Oregon is so diverse that researchers have yet to determine the actual number. In the Alsea Valley there are likely a few hundred species. Honey bees, the most widely recognized species of bee are not native to North America. They are important pollinators of many plants; however, pollination of many other flowering plant species requires native bees.
The majority of our native bees are solitary where individual females have nests, lay eggs, and provide pollen and nectar for developing larvae rather than living in a hive with a single queen. Most solitary bees nest in the ground and construct tunnels, which sometimes quite complex. Other species nest in holes in wood or plant stems, like dead elderberry branches. Bumble bees, one of the few groups of bees in Oregon that are social, often nest in the ground sometimes using abandoned rodent holes. Their social structure is similar to that of honey bees with queens, but unlike honey bees, queens and the colony live just a single season. Bumble bees are easy to recognize in a garden by the sound they make on tomato flowers. They vibrate their wing muscles to release pollen and this produces a high-pitched buzz.
Our native bees are annual with larvae that develop and overwinter as pupae with new females, queens, emerging in spring. In addition to bees that build nests we have some bee species that lay eggs in the nests of other bees. These so called "cuckoo bees" can be seen searching close to the ground such as in and around gardens where there are bare areas that have not been weeded very well (like my garden). There is a project at Oregon State University documenting the number and distribution of bee species in Oregon. The purpose of the Oregon Bee Atlas is to create a publicly accessible inventory and on-going survey in order to assess the health of bee populations. The Bee Atlas project encourages the involvement of citizens in the project and information can be found at extension.oregonstate.edu/bee-atlas.
The Yellow-faced bumble bee is very common in the Alsea Valley (photo by T. Ebert)
BY ALLISON BLOUNT
Valley Voice Contributor
I wonder how many of us gardeners went out recently to one of those far-back patches of zucchini or crooknecks to the jaw-dropping reality of black death! The first frost has claimed its early casualties. Harvest fever is on last call, at least, in all the unprotected zones of our gardens. Food preservation is in the homestretch and the cider is flowing!
Meanwhile, back at the Farmer's Markets the pros with colossal greenhouses have whatever you need and then some! There are quite a few in Benton county as well as in our surrounding areas. Today I visited the Corvallis Saturday Farmer's Market and picked up a couple of pints of my new favorite snack or “tapas” originating in Spain (shishito peppers—dry roast, sprinkle with salt and olive oil, repeat!) and possibly the largest celery bunch I've ever seen from Goodfoot Farm. My friend and I got pupusas at a vendor that also sells tamales and had a crescent shaped crowd of nearly forty people waiting for their food. We waited quite awhile but were safe to leave and return, they kept an organized list of our orders! The sheer volume of hungry and watchful customers was all anyone needs to insure that the food in the last booth at the corner of 2nd and Monroe is worth the wait. Yum!
Having vended various farm products over the last 25 years at the Corvallis Wednesday and Saturday Farmer's Markets, including cut flowers, blueberries, vegetable starts and hand-painted signs I know how hardcore those mornings can be as the holidays come nearer in October and, gak, November! Yup, most of our tenacious local farmers show up before the roosters wake, often in waterproof or padded gear—be it in wicked cold or blazing heat! Rain, sleet (memories of one particular Spring come to mind) or shine these commendable growers provide their lucky customers with both the freshest and the most beautiful of the fruits of their labor, the meats of their happy pastured livestock, the tasty goodness off their grills...just for us. We feel the love! From mid-April clear through Thanksgiving our farms provide whatever is seasonal at the Corvallis and Albany Farmer's Markets. Throughout our humble hills and valleys the farmers give generously and at reasonable rates...so, lets not hesitate in raising our glasses to our little Tuscany!
BY KATHY ADAIR
Valley Voice Contributor
I don’t know about you, but this dry, hot weather is playing havoc with our plants. Not just the flowers and vegetables, but also our shrubs and trees. Keeping everything watered and fed when it evaporates as soon as it hits the hot ground can be daunting, but keep at it.
Kerry is constantly outside moving the sprinkler. He also waters the lawn around the house to just keep a green zone as a buffer.
On a positive side, we are reaping the rewards of that constant nurturing. We are finally getting a good crop of corn and the squash and tomatoes have been giving us good stuff for a while now. Friends, family and neighbors are also getting some of this bounty, since there is only so much Kerry and I can eat!
However, we are seeing a future of being overwhelmed by the number of tomatoes that Kerry planted. Yes, he planted at least one or two of every variety we seeded up and in some cases many more. For those of you who stopped by our plant sale this last spring, you know there were a lot of varieties.
So, what are we going to do with all of those tomatoes? Well, this year, I am going to dry a lot of them since we love to cook with “sundried tomatoes”.
I’m not up to the issues and bugs that come with actual sun drying, so I plan on using my food dehydrator instead, then place a lot of them in good olive oil and some herbs. The rest we will either freeze whole or can into salsas or sauces.
Our pear and apple trees are also heavy with fruit this year. It looks like we will be making sauces, canning, freezing and dehydrating those, too. In other words, the end of summer and start of fall look to be busy processing. But isn’t that what growing is all about? If you are unsure about how to process your excess fruits and vegetables, the internet is a wonderful resource of great ideas.
If you are still struggling to get your plants and trees to produce, check to see if your soil is fertile and your pH levels are correct for your garden. Your soil should measure about 7, which is neutral. 6 is too acidic and 7.5 and above is too alkaline. If your soil is surrounded by evergreen or deciduous trees, it could be that your soil is acidic.
The leaves and needles from the trees make the surrounding soil acidic as they decompose and pull necessary nutrients out. In that case, you may need to add garden lime to your soil to adjust the pH level, unless you would like to grow blueberries, which love acidic soil. Or, you might consider building a raised bed and fill it with good growing soil.
For current vegetables, it’s okay and actually beneficial to remove excess leaves and runners that are not contributing to putting energy into the fruit. For instance, squash plants will produce many runners. Some of those runners don’t produce flowers. Those are perfect to just cut off so that the plant can instead give that energy into the squash.
Tomatoes also have lots of branches and leaves that can be thinned to not just help grow the fruit, but also make it easier to pick.
Learning a few tricks, can really help boost your garden’s output. I hope to share as many as I can, but feel free to message me with any questions. In the meantime, keep up the good work and keep watering!