At last! Spring is officially here and more plants are starting to bloom, providing much needed pollen and nectar for bees.  You should be seeing honeybees and queen bumblebees feeding on dandelions, the ubiquitous and pretty weed Redstem Filaree (Erodium cicutarium), the fantastic, long-blooming Golden Storksbill (Erodium chrysanthum) – not a weed!, Creeping Phlox, Maple trees, tulips, crocus, Crown Imperial Fritillaria, and other spring-blooming bulbs.  Soon the willows that grow along our creeks and ravines will have their inconspicuous bloom which provides pollen, and there have even been a few flowering crabapples starting to bud and leaf out. The time of abundance is near as apples and other fruit trees unfurl.  Native bees will begin emerging from their winter nests and will be flocking to these plants as well.

Engrid says “Our family first moved to a large old piece of property thirteen years ago with a couple of huge crabapples. I could stand under the trees and hear them “hum” with the sound of pollinators.  Alas, that hasn’t happened for at least five years even though the trees bloom just as prolifically. There are still bees in the blossoms, but not like before.  An experienced local beekeeper told us in beekeeping class that it is up to the hobby beekeepers to sustain the populations of bees as the number of professional beekeepers has declined.  He also said that the bees are on “life support”. We are so fortunate in this area to have a large and growing population of these hobbyists who tend to hives in their backyards or on property owned by others.”

There is a sense of urgency for both new and experienced beekeepers to prepare their equipment for the new season.  New beekeepers must either purchase and assemble their hives and frames, or buy pre-assembled hive equipment (and Harlequin’s Gardens new Bee Barn is well-stocked with hive boxes, frames and all the other equipment you’ll need). It’s also a good time to practice lighting (and keeping lit) those pesky smokers which can be quirky and challenging.  Smoke helps to keep the bees calm when opening the hive to check on them, which must be done frequently. There are a wide variety of options for smoker fuel including untreated burlap, straw or dried grass, herb cuttings such as lavender or thyme and the seed heads of Rhus (Sumac) collected in the Fall which are purported to help control varroa mite.  Some beekeepers swear that the corky, dark wood from the cottonwoods along local creeks are the best fuel.   There are also beekeepers who prefer to use a water-based spray with a bit of lavender oil or sugar for keeping the bees calm.  Calm bees are easier on the beekeeper. There are times when neither smoke nor spray will work.  Bees are sensitive to temperature and weather and should be “worked” on calm days when it is not too hot or windy, or when there is an approaching storm.

These fascinating and important creatures need the help of local beekeepers and organic gardeners to survive and thrive.

Mikl wrote the following article as a contribution to the Audobon Society’s Habitat Heroes Program blog, and it also appears on the Friends of the Earth website.


Toxic pesticides were never a good idea. They were designed to make money for the petroleum industry, not to benefit the public good. Pesticides, fungicides and herbicides are poisons that were developed to kill life. Not only has this approach poisoned our earth and ourselves, it has failed to control Nature. Our soils are less productive, and weeds and pests have adapted by becoming resistant. Stronger poisons are not the answer.

In the last 20 years, the new “nicotine” pesticides (neonicotinoids) have become the industry standards because they are less toxic to people and animals than the old organophosphate pesticides, and that is good. But the neonicotinoids (neonics) are even more toxic to insects; these nerve toxins remain active in plant tissue for 3 months to 5 years; all parts of the plants are poison, and the poison goes into our soil and water.

It has become difficult to buy landscaping plants that do not contain neonics. From the root hairs to the pollen, this systemic poison kills or undermines the health of honeybees, wild bees, butterflies, beneficial insects, ladybugs, earthworms, soil insects and insect-eating birds. We are heading into a dead end.

Insects are not enemies of plants; they have co-evolved together. They coexist where there is balance and where nutritious soils grow strong and healthy plants. This is not romantic thinking; it is the basis of the organic way that has proven effective all over the world.

At our nursery, Harlequin’s Gardens, we have been growing plants to sell for 23 years without using any toxic pesticides or chemical fertilizers. The plants we grow are neonic-free. Like most sustainable or renewable energy systems, the costs are higher in the beginning and lower as time goes on. We pay extra for nutritious soil ingredients, but we spend little time and money on pest management.

This year the plants we buy from other growers will be 100% neonic-free. We have hired a custom propagator to grow pesticide-free plants for us. And we just purchased the one acre property next-door to us to build an energy-efficient commercial greenhouse to grow even more pesticide-free plants. We don’t need any more proof that neonics are killing our bees and undermining the vitality of our environment.

This year we will also be carrying beekeeping supplies to support honeybees and beekeepers. We will be teaching classes on beekeeping and organic gardening, and as always, we will be carrying soil-building supplies and non-toxic pest management supplies.

Science and history will prove that supporting Life is a more sustainable, economical and successful method than poisoning life. This is the 21st Century direction that will replace petroleum-thinking.

Mikl Brawner

Harlequin’s Gardens


“We cannot command Nature except by obeying her.”  Francis Bacon

Please check out our Class Schedule at http://www.harlequinsgardens.com/classes/ for classes on gardening without toxins, gardening for pollinators and wildlife, beekeeping (both Langstroth and Top-Bar), native wild bees, and much more!

Happy Spring! We look forward to seeing you soon!