The Garden Digs

Busy Like a Bee

As the summer is approaching an imminent end at Harris Seeds, it is time to reflect on the trials conducted on our grounds as well as all the travel spent around the country to view collaborative trials with universities and professional growers. Despite our outdoor trials slowing down, the midnight oil has begun to burn as we spend the beginning of fall inside writing our catalogs for next year. In honor of our successful trials this year, it is important to recognize some of our hardest, most exceptional workers, the honey bees.

It is said that the honey bee is responsible for every one in three bites of food. They not only pollinate plant flowers, creating higher yields of fruits and vegetables, they also create a forever food, honey, from the nectar they harvest. Honey is considered a forever food because it is a hypertonic solution, which means it’s almost all sugar and lacks water. This doesn’t allow microorganisms to live in honey and contaminate it. Honey bees evolved from a species that originated in Asia. There are about 7 to 11 commonly known honey bees, but there are 20,000 different types of bees worldwide. Humans have been domesticating bees for around 4,500 years, which is known based on Egyptian art depicting bee keeping.

Bees at Harris Seeds
At Harris Seeds, we instituted bee keeping practices last year. We have a team of volunteers, including myself, who work with the hives to ensure their future. Our first year was a tough learning year. With a history of previously harsh winters, many local bee keepers struggled as well. Nearly 44% of hives were lost in 2015-2016 and 33% were lost in the 2016-2017 season. The decline in populations could be due to numerous factors such as fluctuating temperatures and the long cold snaps that took place. Unfortunately, we lost both of our hives the first year. However, we did not let that stop us from trying again! With help from our partners at Brushy Mountain Bee Farm, we acquired new queens and colonies.

Bees at Harris Seeds

This year we focused on making sure the honey bees were able to thrive. We relocated our hives to a new spot closer to our trial grounds and near a wind block. Close by is our compost pile, where numerous volunteer plants sprouted, and we deliberately planted the Wildflower Eastern Pollinator Mix next to the hives. Along with our trial gardens of flowers and vegetables, the bees had a bountiful buffet to feast on.

We made sure to check for pests diligently as well. Hive beetles and Varroa mites are two common problems for apiarists. We are currently practicing chemical free treatments to combat these problems. Installing vegetable oil traps for the hive beetles helps the bees push them up and into the trap, which drowns the nuisances. Tapping powdered sugar over the hives and onto the bees is like making it rain candy. Not only do they love the taste, but it makes the bees clean themselves. We are then able to catch the mites on a mite board and perform a 24 hour check to evaluate the severity of the infestation. Luckily, we have had minimal pest issues and have stayed well ahead of the problems to remain chemical free!

Bees at Harris Seeds

The populations of the bees have been in decline since middle of the 20th century with many possible contributing factors, including: the presence of Varroa mites, the diseases spread by Varroa mites, forage and habitat degradation, and pesticide exposure.  We all need to “bee” conscious when it comes to sustaining honey bee populations. Everyone can do their part, whether purchasing from local farms who implement sustainable practices, purchasing organic produce, or perhaps becoming an amateur beekeeper yourself.  As a consumer, you have the purchasing power to promote and grow bee-safe practices. The more efforts made toward supporting sustainable growers and practices, the more we will be able to help ensure the survival of our most valued, natural worker. The work of the honey bee is never finished and neither should our commitment to ensuring their future existence. 

Daniel Eggert is the Organic Brand Manager at Harris Seeds. He oversees the organic division which includes expanding the product line, contacting growers to ensure their success, helping with trial varieties, and expanding the brand presence within the organic community. Daniel is passionate about sustainability, becoming self-sufficient, and studying permaculture/biodynamic practices. He loves working at Harris Seeds and helping growers achieve success.

Giant White Moonflowers Create a Dreamy Ambiance on the Patio

by Laura Rivera

Last summer I bought a beautiful pergola for my back patio. I easily envisioned this space to be my summer backyard retreat. I knew the only way that it could look remotely close to those beautiful home and garden magazine photos was to plaster it with flowers and integrate some great lighting to create that classical dreamy ambiance.  I wanted vertical growth with large exotic flowers. The Giant White Moonflower was the way to go, reaching a robust 20’ tall with fragrant 5” flowers that would bloom in the evening. These attributes were ideal to obtain this mystical look.

Giant White Moonflowers from Seeds
This plant does not transplant well, so I started by planting my seeds directly into 14” pots indoors. In less than a week I had sweet little seedlings, which would soon become the focal point for my patio space. Once they were ready to leave an isolated indoor environment, I moved the pots outdoors. Giant White Moonflowers are climbers and need lots of support as the large vines get very heavy. I strung three strands of black nylon rope from the base of the plant to the top of the pergola to train them to climb along the posts.

Giant White Moonflower from Seeds - Climbing

My six year old discovered that you could hold a pencil to the vine and could actually watch the vine slowly wrap around it. What an incredibly cool discovery! My backyard is super sunny and so they drank a lot of water to keep hydrated. During the day the moonflowers were extremely green and lush. At dusk, the flowers would slowly open to large illuminous white flowers.

Giant White Moonflower Pergola
Every evening my husband, son, and I would go and sit on the patio just to watch the flowers bloom. Friends and family that came over thought they were amazing and wondered how we were able to create such a unique look and yet they were really so easy to grow and were very entertaining to watch. The Giant White Moonflower is truly a magical flower that lives up to its name in every way. 

Giant White Moonflower on Pergola

Laura Rivera Growing up on 77 acres of land with a family of five girls, Laura spent much of her childhood working hard and spending family time planting, weeding, and canning in the fall. After spending many years working seasonally on farms, Laura attended college and began a career outside of the agriculture industry. She eventually joined the Harris Seeds team as an Outbound Sales Rep and later took on the role of Customer Care Manager. Returning to her roots and her love for growing has been a rewarding experience. She loves helping customers find solutions and helping them with their growing needs.

How to Build a Raised Spiral Herb Garden

by Kristen Andersen

This summer, the Harris Seeds and GardenTrends trial grounds have expanded and now include a home garden trial area where we can test new gardening trends, techniques, and supplies. Members of the GardenTrends team suggested we include a design that has become quite popular among home gardeners: a raised spiral herb garden!

Home Garden Display

The trials team was excited to add this unique raised bed to the garden layout, and now that it’s finished we are even more excited to watch our herbs grow. A raised spiral garden can be constructed in any desired size and with a variety of materials, making it a great way to add an architectural element to small or large garden spaces.

We chose to construct our raised spiral garden with flagstone retaining wall blocks, although other gardeners have used wood, brick, field stones, or gabions. There are a few different ways to approach the construction of a raised spiral bed. The method that we used could help you to build your own raised spiral herb garden.

1. Level the soil where you plan to construct the spiral bed. If the area is grassy or weedy, you may want to remove the vegetation or cover it with weed cloth, cardboard, or another weed-blocking material prior to laying the stones.

2. Using a measuring tape, string, or other method, draw out the shape of the spiral. Be sure to consider the size of the stones and allow enough space for planting between the walls of the spiral. Place the bottom of the spiral toward the North side of the garden area (if you are in the Northern Hemisphere) where it will receive less sun. Another option is to add a small pond at the bottom of the spiral.

 Outline of Spiral Herb Bed

3. When placing the first layer of stones, use a hoe to lower the soil level where the stones will sit so that they rest a few inches below the soil. This will help to keep the foundation stones in place. While doing this, be sure to keep your soil level! Place the first layer of stones around the shape of the spiral and adjust their positions if needed.
Lower Soil Level for Spiral Herb Garden
Spiral Herb Garden Foundation

4. Continue to add layers of stone in the shape of the spiral. For improved stability, overlap the stones with each new layer. We found that adding some soil to the spiral during construction helped to hold the stones in place. To make the spiral shape more visible, we chose to reduce the number of stones used in each new layer.

Building Spiral Herb Garden
Building Raised Spiral Herb Garden

5. Once you’ve built the spiral to your desired height, fill the bed and any gaps between the stones with soil. Choose a good quality soil with plenty of organic matter. Water the bed to help the soil settle into the space.
Building Raised Spiral Herb Garden

6. When choosing the plants for your raised spiral garden, consider the different growing conditions that exist within each section of the spiral. The plants at the top will receive the most sun and have the most soil drainage, while those at the bottom will have the most shade and moisture. Our raised spiral garden is now home to a variety of herbs: dill, basil, lavender, parsley, and mint.
Building Raised Spiral Herb Garden

The raised spiral garden in the Harris Seeds and GardenTrends Home Garden Trial Bed took only 45 minutes to construct, and is a beautiful addition to our gardens. The possibilities are endless for creating a unique design of your own!

Kristen Andersen Kristen Andersen is the Trials Manager at Harris Seeds and GardenTrends. She has a Master’s Degree in Plant Breeding and Horticulture from Michigan State University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Plant Science from SUNY Cobleskill. Kristen comes from a multi-generational farm where she developed a passion for agriculture and gardening. She arranges all Harris Seeds trials at our location in Rochester, NY, as well as with grower cooperators located around the country, to ensure that we offer varieties and products of the best quality that will make our customers more successful.