Zone 4a goes to sleep

Good Night Prickly Pear Cactus – See you in the spring!

Living between two zones has taught me a lot about timing. I wait anxiously each spring for the first trees to swell their buds…and then open their leaves.spring for the first trees to swell their buds…and then open their leaves.

We currently live in zone 4B, in a suburban road/concrete surrounded microclimate, but our research farm is in zone 4A – with no tar roads or concrete. It consistently warms up slower and goes to sleep faster each year.

In some ways, this is really nice as I get to enjoy the burst of spring and the leaf coloring twice. But it also makes our planting/harvesting/providing for livestock more challenging. 4A has at least a few weeks less in the growing season, and it gets appreciably colder.

This effects which plants can/will survive. It also significantly impacts the honey bees. While our 4B urban area still had plenty of pollen caked goldenrod growing into October, I noticed our 4A goldenrod were empty in September and the phlox went dormant too.

Oh no! We planted 48 varieties of plants in our prairie (at least 2 phlox and 3 goldenrod) so I am very hopeful that some of those will stand up into October to feed the bees before they head into winter.

Our research is consistently pointing to bee fat content (the more the better) as a key issue regarding winter survival, varroa mite, tolerance, infection susceptibility, and individual bee longevity. Bee fat develops as a result of adequate pollen. They need nectar – sure enough – but they REALLY need pollen. Trees can be good spring/summer sources – but fall is tough, and 4A winters are long and hard.

Have any suggestions for fall pollen sources – hardy trees, perennials, and even annuals – that can survive in 4A sandy loam – please leave your comments below!

Each winter, we also go dormant! We work hard trying to make food while we work – using a solar cooker and other off grid supplies. But once winter hints, it’s time to go a little easier. We make heavier, more hearty meals, even making lasagna without boiling noodles.

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