98 – Bob Falconer – Backyard Pollinator Strips Made Easy (in English)

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Andony Melathopoulos: [00:00:00] From the Oregon State University Extension Service, this is PolliNation, a podcast that tells the stories of researchers, land managers, and concerned citizens making bold strides to improve the health of pollinators. I'm your host, Dr. Andony Melathopoulos, Assistant Professor in Pollinator Health in the Department of Horticulture.

The Holy Grail of pollinator restoration is the pollinator meadow. And as we've heard from previous episodes with Jessa Kay Cruz, for example, from the Xerces Society, they're very hard to establish because of weed pressure. Well, this week I found somebody who's cracked this nut. I was driving around Hillsboro and I dropped in on Bob Falconer who's a Master Gardener and Master Beekeeper in Washington County, and he has something going on there that I think you all should know about. 

We walked around his backyard and saw some really wonderful, large pollinator plantings of Phacelia and Crimson Clover that seemed really easy to establish. So in this episode, you're going to hear how he did it.

It's also important to note that Hillsboro is about to become one of Oregon's newest Bee City USA, and they're going to be celebrating this on June 22nd at the Jackson Bottom Wetlands Park: Pollinator Palooza. It's going to be an amazing event. You've seen people like Ron Spendal on Oregon Field Guide; he's going to be there.

I think there's going to be a lot of different organizations. Put it on your calendar: Saturday, June 22nd, starting at 11:00 AM at Jackson Bottom Wetlands. Also want to remind you, this is the last chance; we're coming up on our hundredth episode. If you have a pollinator question, this is an opportunity to ask the dream team of pollinator people here at Oregon State University.

Call my voicemail (541) 737-3139, leave a message with your question and we will answer it at our 100th episode.

Okay. So welcome to pollination, Bob Falconer. 

Bob Falconer: [00:02:12] Well, thanks, I think. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:02:13] We're in Bob's backyard and I think it was one of the very first places I visited when I got hired here, is I came with you and Ron Spendal and we... 

Bob Falconer: [00:02:23] That's right. I think we've been in your face for quite a while. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:02:30] But you're here in Washington County and what I'm really remarking, the reason I pulled the microphone out is that you've got some great pollinator plantings going. You've got a couple of honeybee colonies, and you got some Mason bees that are just finishing off. Walk us through... well, we see one right in front of us; we see some Crimson Clover. 

Bob Falconer: [00:02:48] Yeah. Crimson is a real popular crop here, you know, and it's one of the few that honeybees can really have a good chance. Red Clover, the florets are a little long for their tongue, but they work the, the Crimson pretty well. As well as the bumblebees, you know, bumblebees pretty much own the clover family around here. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:03:11] So let me just stop you there for just one second. So the floret length. What do you mean? 

Bob Falconer: [00:03:16] The depth of the flower or the distance between the access point and the nectary of the flower that's that secretes the nectar. If your tongue is not long enough, you just can't get there. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:03:29] So for red clover, it's too long, but this Crimson Clover here? 

Bob Falconer: [00:03:33] This Crimson Clover seems to be workable by it. And you can tell the pollination of this thing; it's fairly obvious  . These have been pollinated, these florets.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:03:43] Oh right, I see the spikes on the bottom there. 

Bob Falconer: [00:03:45] Yeah. So the plant is not going to waste anymore energy on the pedals and the sepals of the flower, so it's pollinated. And you can tell when the flower is fully pollinated because all of them look like these dried out ones here on the bottom. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:04:04] Now it's a really long inflorescence compared to like a red Clover. That's almost three inches long. 

Bob Falconer: [00:04:10] Yeah. It's probably twice as long, comparing them. There's a...

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:04:18] Oh, see, we think it looks like a yellow headed bumblebee there, one of the workers. And you've got honeybees as well. So you've got Bumble bees and honey bees. And there's one right there. Oh, a little, it looks like a black belted Melanopygus bumblebee. So you've got multiple species of bumblebees. This is a fairly large patch; tells how you set it up. How do you get a patch of Crimson Clover growing? 

Bob Falconer: [00:04:43] Well, you know, the Clover does really well here. If you planted in the fall ;  plant it when the dry weather's still here, go ahead and seed it. I just broadcast this. And then as soon as the rain starts, the Clover will germinate. Usually within a couple of days, and then it just kind of hunkers down through the winter. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:05:04] So tillage or nothing, you're just kinda like mowing it down. 

Bob Falconer: [00:05:07] Yeah.  You don't have to do tillage. You don't have to beat up your soil.

Unless you want to grow something else. Now I'm going to take, and rototill this in, because right now these legumes are producing a lot of nitrogen per square foot. So I want to capture that and then I'll plant maybe some corn here, which is not really a pollinator plant, although the bees can use corn pollen.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:05:35] Just a dumb question: how are you going to get, this is a lot of material to work in. How are you going to get this down? 

Bob Falconer: [00:05:41] Well, in the past what I did was: I would go over it with the mower, several times. And I've, I've replaced the transmission on my mower.

So, you know, you can do anything in American agriculture, if you have enough horsepower. So. That accounts for my t-shirt.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:06:03] Yeah. John Deere is supplying you with a good one. So you get it down, then you're going to turn it in and then you're going to plant some corn. And then next year again, you might do something similar, kind of like take it down, mow it down, then broadcast your seed before, while it's dry. And then when it's wet, it'll establish. 

Bob Falconer: [00:06:22] Yeah. It's really that easy. And I tell people... they're always asking, you know, what could I do to help the bees? And I say, even if you plant a flower pot of something like this, the bees... if you grow it, they will come. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:06:41] It's so pretty; Crimson clover is such a gorgeous plant. 

Bob Falconer: [00:06:44] It is. It's an iconic crop here in the Tualatin Valley. I mean, people look out and they notice it even more so than red Clover, which I don't think really looks red. It looks more pastel. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:06:56] Yeah. It's a little, it's a little pale.

Okay. So you've got this planted and so it's going to be finishing off here. You'll get it down, and I guess the one thing I wonder about is the seeding rate. Do you remember how much seed? This looks pretty thick. 

Bob Falconer: [00:07:12] Yeah, it looks pretty thick. The plant itself will grow, you know, 28 to 30 inches, maybe a little more. And it'll fill in, and basically a lot of the weeds get over shadowed. Although you can certainly see there's weeds here, but for the most part, the Crimson will get up in the spring before the weeds will and basically shade them out. I think that it's a competition obviously, between plants, as to who gets access, not only to the sunlight, but to the pollinators. You know, if you're stuck underneath your neighbor, it's hard to get their attention, you know? 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:07:54] Okay. Well, let's take a quick break and let's move over to another wonderful bed by your honeybee colonies there with some Phacelia. 

Okay. We are back. Oh, we've got two things here. So what's, what are we looking at? We're looking at some very small plants. 

Bob Falconer: [00:08:18] Yeah. This is an area that I had to make a decision as to, I could either keep mowing the grass or I could chew it up and plant something for the bees. And so that's what we did.

And this was very young Phacelia planted this spring. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:08:32] What does that mean? That means, March? 

Bob Falconer: [00:08:34] Well, Phacelia Tanacetifolia is an annual it'll go seed to seed in a year. So these plants, our hopes are that these will bloom later in the summer and provide us with a bridge, you know, for the bees to browse in the late summer. I mean, that's when the forage for the bees is actually at its lowest point. And we could actually go through, you know, a dearth where we don't have anything for him to eat, and we have to feed them. So the goal here is to try to smooth that out and to have resources for them year around.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:09:16] Okay. So we had, we had the Crimson Clover there blooming, right? Your bees are really going on it now, but later this is going to catch them when that turns into a corn patch.

Bob Falconer: [00:09:23] I hope so. I hope so. Yeah. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:09:25] Okay. So just how early was this seeded? 

Bob Falconer: [00:09:28] This was seeded in February, late February, early March.

And you know, if you remember this year, we had a dry spell during that time we also had some 90 degree days. So I actually, I had to come out and water this three times to get the  germination that you see. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:09:48] And right now the plants look like they're a couple inches above the ground. Those leaves are really well out there; they're out to the races. 

Bob Falconer: [00:09:55] Yeah. And I think when the weather gets up into the seventies next week, that we're really seeing some rapid growth, because like I said, these annuals need to get done and what they need to get done.

In other words, set seed by the frost. So, I think that what we're doing is kind of pushing this plant to get it done in a few months, as opposed to the other bee pastures that have had it longer to grow. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:10:25] Okay. I can't do... I embarrassingly can't do imperial measurements yet. I still need a metric, but what size is this in feet here? 

Bob Falconer: [00:10:37] This, this particular one is probably, you know, maybe 60, 60 or 70 feet long and maybe 50 feet wide. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:10:46] Okay. And so how did you get the turf off? 

Bob Falconer: [00:10:49] Well, they make some wonderful herbicides out there and I'm not above using something like Roundup or glyphosate to do that.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:10:58] This was last spring? 

Bob Falconer: [00:11:00] Yeah. This has actually been a garden for several years. So, there's still some residual weeds in there. You can see some, some thistle here. I don't know if that's Canadian thistle...

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:11:11] I'm not responsible. Everything Canadian, the back bacon I brought. 

Bob Falconer: [00:11:15] Well, you know, the thing about raising pollinator gardens is you have to rethink what you view as a weed. The bees love thistles. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:11:24] They love thistles.

Bob Falconer: [00:11:26] Yeah. Oh, I keep trying to keep it down to a dull roar, you know, I mean, it's almost impossible to get rid of them once you've got them. But on the other hand, when they bloom out, the bees are all over them. So. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:11:40] So you would've thought you would kind of killed back the grass, in the spring you would have sort of applied it and then, tilled it? 

Bob Falconer: [00:11:48] Yeah, basically, that's it. You know, and with any herbicide, especially things like glyphosate. And of course, if you're trying to kill broadleaf weeds, you can use something. You know, 240, but it's all about timing. If you spray it on too early it won't have any effects, so you got to wait until that sugar flow in the plant is from leaf to root.

If you get too early, it's from root to leaf. So, you want to kill the roots and, and we haven't been totally successful here. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:12:19] But it's pretty good. It looks, it's coming in real thick and it's, even like the Clover patch we saw, there's some weeds in there, but you've got a lot of flowers.

Bob Falconer: [00:12:30] And I prefer now to look at it as not weeds, but as other pollinator opportunities. There's multiple species that depend on this. And although my primary interest is in honeybees, like I was saying before, I don't mind the fact that there are other pollinators species here. And I think, you know, we've seen a number of them. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:12:53] Well, let's take another break. We're going to go over to another bed. You've got lots of interesting beds here.

Okay. We are at another bed here. This is about the same size bed. And you've got something a little bit smaller growing here. What is this? 

Bob Falconer: [00:13:18] This is an experiment for the first time this year. I had done research on traditional honey plants that have been grown by beekeepers basically since the country's been here.

One of them I ran into last winter was a Clover. It's another annual Clover like Crimson, so it goes seed to seed in one year. But it produces a phenomenal amount of nectar according to the stuff I've read. So I'm experimenting, this Clover is called Hubram, or Huebaum, depending on what part of the country you're from. 

And, although it'll grow in all 50 States, they claim, it's primarily a Clover for say the Southeast part of the United States. So figure, hot summer. Hot humid summers, a lot of rainfall in the summertime. So we're going to have to look at it because traditionally we don't get any rain here in the summertime.

So I I'm prepared to water this just to see what it does. They made claims in some of the research I was reading that, you know, beekeepers were getting, north of 200 pounds of honey per hive. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:14:34] Wow. 

Bob Falconer: [00:14:34] Yeah. Which is a lot 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:14:36] What are you going to do with all that honey? Bottling machine. 

Bob Falconer: [00:14:43] Yeah. There doesn't seem to be any shortage of people with sweet tooths around here. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:14:50] Okay. So when it comes to honey, you've got how many colonies here? You've got 12 or so? 

Bob Falconer: [00:14:57] We've got eight this year; we lost all of our bees this last spring. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:15:01] As everybody did. 

Bob Falconer: [00:15:02] Well. As a lot of people did, unfortunately, you know, February, March was a mixed blessing. We had live bees in February, and then we had those two or three weeks of 20 degree weather with winds, and it just caught the bees at their weakest point, all winter long. And they just couldn't stand up to that. That's my theory anyway. I broke down the hives, and each one of them still had honey stored. T he clusters of honey bees were smaller than usual and, a little bit of extra research... talking to Remesh at OSU ... he said that the mites, the Varroa mites peaked last year and he thought in July and we did a mite treatment in August so we probably had compromised colonies in August. There were fewer bees than there should have been. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:15:57] But, okay. So I think the bee colonies themselves are one thing, but I imagine, these plants... how do you figure out, like, let's say you're bringing a new plant like this, how do you say this Clover? 

Bob Falconer: [00:16:09] Well, that's, that's my question. You know, so many out there probably knows either, either Hubram Clover or Heubaum Clover, depending on where you're from I imagine.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:16:23] Since this is probably the only planting of this in Washington County, I think you can call it whatever you want and say, this is the Washington County pronunciation. 

Bob Falconer: [00:16:31] Well, at this point, maybe so.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:16:33] So how do you, when you do plant these things, how do you know if they're good for your bees?

Like, what are you looking for? How are you going to judge this plant? 

Bob Falconer: [00:16:40] Well, that's a good question. I think my criteria are pretty simple. I want a plant where the bees find an abundance of nectar for a period of time. In other words more than just say a week, and the Phacelia we grow, as you know, will bloom out for several weeks, two or three weeks before it's actually done. So I'm, I'm hoping that this Clover also produces a lot of nectar over a period of time. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:17:12] Okay. So you're looking for nice long bloom, lots of bees covering it. And then this must be a winter. 

Bob Falconer: [00:17:17] Yeah, because you got to time the availability of what the bees have to feed on, with the size of the colony. And a colony is usually at its smallest early in the spring, and it's in its biggest in the summer. 

Well, there are plants that bloom all summer long, but most of them bloom in the early spring: the fruit trees, flowers and things like that. There's a lot fewer plants on the palette, so to speak, late in the summer. Some plant families are famous for that, you know, the chrysanthemum family and things like that, will bloom late in the summer, but they're not a high nectar producing... you know, they don't feed a crowd. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:18:00] Yeah. Okay. Let's, let's hope for the best here. And let's take one last break and let's head over to, what I think is the most stunning thing that you've got going on here: your Phacelia/Crimson Clover combo, 

Bob Falconer: [00:18:12] And there's some California poppies in there too.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:18:15] Cool. All right. Let's head over.

Okay. We are back after a stunning conversation about bees and swarms. And this is one way to get your bees revved up; I'm looking at this combination: this is Phacelia, but it is four feet tall. So this was... under seeded, or in there you've got Crimson Clover growing. 

Bob Falconer: [00:18:49] Yeah. Again, this was an attempt to try to get a nectar crop early and the Crimson gives a good opportunity to do that.

You know, when the bees are building up in the spring time, they need resources in order to make more bees. The Crimson is really an attempt to try to do that. The Phacelia is an attempt to try to... and, and by the way, that's Phacelia ,the common name is scorpion weed, but it's scientific name is Phacelia Tanacetifolia.

Which means Tansy-like foliage, now it's not a Tansy. Tansy is in the senecio family. But the foliage is like a Tansy, so don't get wrapped around the axle about that. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:19:34] Oh, and we did have, Gail. Gail has been on the show as has Aaron Anderson. And I guess when people have looked at this plant, they rank it as the ugliest plant of the... but this does not look ugly, folks. I want to just tell you, I'm looking at purple delight. 

Bob Falconer: [00:19:52] Yeah, this is a really good stand. And this came about, I grew it last year and this patch is probably a hundred feet long by 80, 50, 60 feet wide came to the conclusion that I'd have to mow the grass, or we could do something for the bees.

So we rototilled up the ground and then, I broadcast the seed and everything that we see in front of us, with the exception of the Crimson Clover was all re-seed where the plants have reseeded themselves. And that's one of the advantages of Phacelia, is it will reseed. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:20:26] And reseed thick. Like this is very even, very nice. 

Bob Falconer: [00:20:30] Yeah. And the bees just can't leave it alone. And it's not just the honey bees ; there's, I'm looking at bumblebees, I'm looking at syrphid flies. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:20:39] Okay. So let me walk you through this. This is like the stand we just saw; it grew up, it set seed, and then what did you do? You, you mowed it down?

Bob Falconer: [00:20:48] Yeah, we've got a field mower and mowed it down because the plan is basically done for the year. So it's just organic matter at that point and seed heads. So by mowing it we basically threshed out all the seeds and they just spread out on their own .

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:21:10] So this would have been like in August or something?

Bob Falconer: [00:21:13] Yeah.  August late, late August, maybe September. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:21:17] Okay. So you mowed this down. The seeds got scattered, and it must've been a heck of a thing to mow down. 

Bob Falconer: [00:21:22] It wasn't bad. This, it's a fairly brittle plant and since it's an annual, it doesn't have time to get woody. So, that's a real advantage of those of these plants, like Crimson and Phacelia, is they don't get woody. They're not hard to deal with and not hard to reincorporate into the soil if you, if you choose to till it. And we did. And then after I tilled it, I overseeded the broadcast Crimson, and that would have been like September, October. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:21:54] And then they both just start to regrow, and here we are in mid-May with just a real blast of flowers. 

Bob Falconer: [00:22:03] Yeah. And hopefully it's more than that, you know, hopefully it's a blast of nectar for the bees. And, I did throw in some other things like, Oh, if you look carefully, there's some California poppies in here.

You know, not that there a really good pollinator plant, but they do provide some variety so it's not all the same thing for the bees. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:22:26] Well, this is fantastic. I have to admit this: if I was a bee, I would want to hang out here. It's so great. Thanks so much for taking time to share this with us.

And, we'll post some pictures on the show notes and people can... oh, I think it goes without saying you're also an Oregon Master Gardener and Master Beekeeper. 

Bob Falconer: [00:22:46] Well, yeah, this is an all-consuming hobby. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:22:51] It's a nice blend though, because you're one of these few people who can really do both sides of the ledger well. 

Bob Falconer: [00:22:56] Well, I appreciate that. To me it all kind of dovetails into the same thing where  you've got some space,  you want to do things for the pollinators. Maybe if you're a beekeeper you want to get some honey, you know, so it all kind of feeds into the same, the same, problem set.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:23:18] Fantastic. Well, thank you so much. Oh! We were just looking at something and I think that's some kind of, that's a syrphid fly or something. 

Bob Falconer: [00:23:26] Which was a beneficial.

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:23:28] Oh yeah, you're doing aphid control for the entire neighborhood here. Where's that? Oh, there it is... yeah, there is a syrphid fly. 

Okay, well, thank you so much for letting me drop in unannounced, and to interview you. 

Bob Falconer: [00:23:44] My pleasure. 

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:23:45] Good luck with the bees.

Thanks so much for listening. Show notes with information discussed in each episode can be found at pollinationpodcast.oregonstate.edu. We'd also love to hear from you, and there are several ways to connect. For one, you can visit our website to post an episode specific comment, suggest a future guest or topic, or ask a question that could be featured in a future episode.

You can also email us at [email protected]. Finally, you can tweet questions or comments, or join our Facebook or Instagram communities. Just look us up at OSU Pollinator Health. If you like the show, consider letting iTunes know by leaving us a review or rating. It makes us more visible, which helps others discover pollination.

See you next week. 


Bob Falconer joined the OSU Master Gardeners in 2009 but has been gardening since the 1970s. He’s been involved with horticulture since high school, with experience spanning 50 years. He was part of the team that developed and piloted OSU Extension’s Ask an Expert app, which received the OSU Vice Provost Award for Excellence. Falconer has served multiple terms as president of the Washington County Master Gardener Association. He also an Oregon Master Beekeeper. Bob knows how to grow stuff – he even has bananas growing in his yard. This week he shares his secrets on how to establish magnificent strips of Phacelia and clover.

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