pollinators

Another Beneficial Insect Spotted at Robbins Farm Garden!

Locust Borer BeetleOn Saturday, September 8, 2012, I spotted this unusual insect gathering nectar from our garlic chive blossoms.   At first glance I thought it was some kind of wasp, but upon closer inspection, I decided that it was some kind of beetle.  (This type of visual imitation, by the way, is called biomimicry.  In this specific case, this beetle evolved to resemble a wasp as a deterrent to possible predators.)  After some online research, I discovered that what we had here is a Megacyllene robiniae  --aka a Locust Borer Beetle.  [Photo credit – Alan Jones].

This convincingly camouflaged beetle shouldn't be a problem in our garden, as this native insect only lays its eggs on, and then subsequently damages, black locust trees.  It was on the chive blossoms simply to feed, and, coincidentally, to pollinate.  So, as far as we are concerned, this is another beneficial insect helping to tend our garden!

For more info on this insect, see http://www.cirrusimage.com/beetles_locust_borer.htm

 

Stars for the Bees

A newcomer this year to our herb garden is unexpectedly boisterous and intriguing: The herb borage joined one of our two herb beds at the end of April, when we redug and redesigned them. It's already a hearty bush, about three feet tall and right now in heavy bloom. Known also as "starflower", its blooms appear on the plant in both blue and pink versions--apparently younger and older flowers. The honey bees are enjoying the plant immensely; the plant is known for producing good honey, and we're always happy to see pollinators in the garden. We're just learning about borage, since it isn't commonly found in North American herb gardens. It's a probable native of North Africa that has spread across Europe, Asia Minor, the Mediterranean, and South America. Borage is apparently easy to grow from seed, but we acquired our plant from Mahoney's; it's an annual that is said to reseed itself easily, so we won't need to shop for it next year.

We might have made more of the plant's role in companion planting, had we known: it repels tomato hornworms if planted with tomatoes--and cabbage worms when planted with brassicas (hurray!). The plant debris is also a helpful mulch; it contains high levels of calcium and potassium which help the setting of fruit for all fruits and vegetables.

The whole plant is edible, the leaves having a cucumber flavor (I can vouch for that, though the fuzziness of the leaves is a little odd on the tongue), the blooms somewhat honey-sweet; the flower is often used to decorate desserts as it is one of very few truly blue-colored edible substances. It can be used both as a fresh vegetable (in salads and soups) and as a dried herb (in tea).

Beyond its kitchen garden uses, the plant's seed oil is a rich source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an omega-6 fatty acid found chiefly in vegetable oils. This fatty acid is found as a dietary supplement said to treat inflammation and auto-immune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. Finally, borage is a traditional garnish in the Pimms Cup cocktail, the expected beverage at your neighborhood polo match or Wimbledon.

A quality we will not test, though it would have been timely on the 4th, is due to the plant containing nitrate of potash; when burned, the plant throws sparks with a tiny explosive sound.

Sources:

Grieve, M. (Maud) (1931). Borage. In A Modern Herbal. Retrieved from http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/b/borage66.html

Klein, Carol (2009, January 23). Star Turn. Retrieved July 9, 2012, from http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/jan/24/carol-klein-borage

Borage. (2012, June 28). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved23:31, July 9, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Borage&oldid=499739160

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