Tag Archive | bees

What’s really happening to all of the Honeybees?

by Kevin Jarek, UWEX Crops, Soils, & Horticultural Agent and OCMGA Advisor

Note: this article appeared in the summer 2007 edition of our newsletter. Honeybees continue to be in the news as evidenced by links at the end of this article.

Well, unless you live under a rock, it would have been nearly impossible to avoid hearing some of the numerous theories (and I use this word strongly) as to why we are seeing a sharp decline in the honeybee population across the United States.

GettyImages-518638797-5730da445f9b58c34cad340cHowever, in the event that you are one of those individuals who have not found themselves in the right place at the right time when these stories have aired on T.V., appeared in the newspaper, or showed up on your favorite website or magazine, the long and short of it is quite simple. We have lost an alarming number of honeybees over the past year and it has fueled a great deal of speculation, much of which has ended up in print with little merit to follow. Those involved in the industry have been very vocal about a condition that has become known as Colony Collapse Disorder. If I ever had one piece of advice for every person who has already made their mind up that agriculture is to blame, or the cell phone industry is responsible, or that the 4 horsemen are about to pay a visit and that this is the foreshadowing of something larger than any of us are able to comprehend I would simply say slow down.

Since I do not consider myself an expert in this area of horticulture (or many others for that matter), I did some investigating and found some quite interesting info that any sleuth would be proud of. First, we have been seeing a decline in the honeybee population for the last 25 years, not just this year, so those who are saying this is an unusual trend, strike one. While no one in the industry is happy about it, the bottom line is that this trend exists and has existed for quite some time. Next, as some of you may remember a few years back, the Varroa mite hammered the honeybee population to the point of 80% loss in some parts of the country. While the mite would eventually be brought under control by a naturally occurring pathogen combined with help from the use of miticide inside the hives, this threat was never completely eliminated. From there, you don’t have to be a meteorologist to tell me what we have been on the brink of every summer since 2004, D-R- _- _G-H-T (do you need to buy a vowel?) These dry conditions have meant that the queens have quit producing the next generation of workers early each year, as conditions have been unbearably hot and dry across much of the U.S. At the same time that fewer young have been available to replace older bees, the older bees have had a much higher than average mortality between seasons, so the population drain has been exponentially higher.

Dadant, is a nationally recognized business that has been around for 140 years and has been supply- ing beekeepers with supplies from New York to California, and from Florida to Wisconsin (they have a branch store in Watertown) and I was fortunate enough to be able to speak with the senior editor of their professional publication and he basically said that what we have experienced is the perfect storm with many of the items I have previously mentioned. Phil Pellitteri [sidebar: Phil Pellitteri is an entomologist, a Distinguished Faculty Associate Emeritus and he recently retired as head of the UW-Madison Insect Diagnostic Lab] agreed with much of the information as well. What it comes down to is that we cannot change the weather; droughts are not a friend to the honeybee. The Varroa mites were in larger force the last few years and have been serving as a vector for the spread of disease from one bee to the next. Urbanization has reduced the amount of wild plants that bees benefit from – especially in our rural areas where land use has run amuck. In agriculture, in order to produce a cheap plentiful food supply, we have reduced the number of goldenrod, smartweeds, and other plants that bees prefer, but we control because they reduce crop yields.

A few large beekeepers lost larger than expected numbers and enlisted the help of the media to get the story out, but in the process those with their own agenda starting spinning stories about cell phones (which may be a factor, but all parties I talked to agreed it is not the reason why this has been happening). The miticides inside the hive to keep the mites out are like aspirin, 2 are great for a headache, but 20 will elicit a much less desirable response. Beekeepers have not done a good job of cleaning this product out from year to year and it has reached toxic levels in some hives. Last, but not least, it is the migratory bees that have experienced the biggest problems. The reason for this is that all parties agreed that these bees are being overworked and are being worked silly by being transplanted from an almond grove in California to citrus crops in Florida all in short periods of time with little time allowed for adjustment – do you suppose that could be a factor? There are several small growers who have been unaffected by all of the problems previously mentioned. For that reason, it would not be a complete stretch to think that like all of us with our e-mail, faxes, pagers, and cell phones that keep us “wired” these bees have been “wired” to the point that they have reached their limits. One must wonder, are we next?


Thousands of honey bees killed in Sioux City vandalism

Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Destruction May Have Doomed the World’s …

Study examines insecticide’s effects on honey bees


Drought Tolerant Plants for Wisconsin Summers

As I write this, we just had two major rain storms pass through the area — one of them bringing high winds and doing a lot of damage. However, having lived through Wisconsin summers, I know there is a high likelihood that we may see little or no rain through July and August. If that’s the case, you’ll want to have these plants in your garden because, being native Wisconsinites, they’re used to living through droughts!


Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) prefers well-drained sites in light to medium shade. Hummingbirds love this flower.

If native plants are chosen to match your conditions, they will thrive with minimal watering where others fail. To gain the full environmental benefit of lower water usage, it’s absolutely necessary to choose the plants that thrive in the conditions at your location. All native plants are “water-wise” to some extent, but to maximize their full potential, choose those naturally adapted to your specific conditions — soil, sunlight, and moisture.

Native plants create a naturally balanced ecosystem. When you plant natives in the landscape, birds, hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators will soon follow. Because these plants and animals evolved together over thousands of years, they have developed interdependent relationships. Monarch butterfly caterpillars safely consume the toxic sap of the milkweeds. Karner blue butterfly larvae rely solely on leaves of wild lupine. Fritillary butterflies need violets for their larval food source. These are only a few of the necessary relationships between our native flora and fauna. The variety of species that even a small-scale native garden attracts is often amazing!


Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.) is tough and beautiful! As other plants die off during a drought, Rudbeckia retains its beautiful colors.


Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) grows 3 to 4 feet in sand, loam, or clay. Full to part-sun.










Some additional species to try in your garden:

  • 0_Baptisia_australis_(Y)

    Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis) grows 3 to 5 feet in sand, loam, or clay. Full to part-sun.

    Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)

  • Sky Blue Aster (Aster azureus)
  • Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata)
  • Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea)
  • Smooth Penstemon (Penstemon digitalis)
  • Royal Catchfly (Silene regia)
  • Prairie Blazingstar (Liatris pycnostachya)


Fragrant Night Bloomers

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

Perfume that doesn’t attract insects would be a horticultural oxymoron: putting out the come-hither for pollinators is a flower’s sole purpose, and perfume is a large part of the mating dance. However, not everyone wants to sit in a garden when the bees and other pollinators are moving around, and you can have a fragrant garden that’s low on bees by using night-blooming plants.




Choices range from the small, inconspicuous, but mightily perfumed annual known as night-blooming stock (Matthiola bicornis) to the many cultivated varieties of Brugmansia, a tropical tree that can grow to 10 feet or more and has been showing up in nurseries under the name angels’ trumpets. All parts of the brugmansia are highly poisonous, but there’s no denying the plant’s appeal. It’s huge flowers blare tropical sweetness from dusk until almost sunup. White is the most common color and usually the most fragrant, but brugmansia also comes in yellow, orange, peach, and pink. Like Chinese hybiscus, mandevilla, and the many other tropicals sold by nurseries in temperate climates, brugmansias are not frost hardy and must be overwintered indoors.


Nicotiana Sylvestris


If you want to stick to annuals, there are plenty to choose from — nicotiana, for example. You’d never know it from the modern cultivars, which lost fragrance when they were bred to stay open during the day, but old-fashioned flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata) has a very strong night perfume, and so does its much taller, architecturally splendid cousin N. sylvestris.

Other candidates include moonflower vines, night-blooming jasmine, evening primrose, and oddball day lilies like ‘Pardon Me,’ which don’t get going until the sun goes down.

Not all Coneflowers are Purple!

The purple coneflower (echinacea purpurea), which is native to Wisconsin, is one of the most reliable and hardy perennial plants in any flower garden. Easily surviving our Wisconsin winters, it thrives, spreads, and forms a beautiful mass of flowers that attract birds, bees, and butterflies, and self-sows to keep the garden full. However, did you know that the simple purple coneflower is only one of many, many cultivars available to us in Wisconsin. Try some of these, or any of the newer cultivars introduced each Spring.

Rocky Top Hybrid

Rocky Top Hybrid

‘Rocky Top Hybrids’ have spidery petals and narrow leaves, marking this plant as a probably cross between a native wildflower and a standard garden coneflower. These flowers, on their thin, wiry 24-inch stems, tend to follow the sun during the day as sunflowers do, so all the blooms face the same direction.



‘Sunrise’ contains butter-yellow petals surrounding a cone that starts out green and turns gold as the flower matures. A light, sweet fragrance is a nice touch. Most are in shades of orange and yellow, and are 30-36 inches tall.

‘Sparkler’, at first glance, may look like a typical coneflower. But the leaves have splashes of cream and white that may turn more green in



the heat of summer. These plants are a little slower to take off than coneflowers with all-green leaves, but they’re definitely worth the wait. 28 to 36 inches tall.



‘Jade’ starts with white petals around the green center cone when the flowers open. As the flowers age, the center cone turns more orange and the petals droop a bit, showing their green-tinged undersides. 24 to 32 inches tall.

‘Razzmatazz’ has been particularly popular over the past couple of years due to it’s “fuzzy” appearance. Instead of a red-orange cone, the centers of these flowers are covered with tiny pink petals. Those fluffy heads are big and heavy, so plant ‘Razzmatazz’ in full sun — plenty of light will keep these 30-36 inch tall stems strong.





‘Doppelganger’ might be one of the most unusual coneflowers ever created. This coneflower, also sold as “Doubledecker”, has two tiers of petals. The first year or two, most or even all of the flowers mays be ordinary, single coneflowers, but one the plant is established, it’ll be covered with crazy 40-inch tall blooms.

Vintage Wine

Vintage Wine

‘Vintage Wine’ have blooms of a rich, bright pink, sometimes almost red. Besides the great color, the petals point out, instead of hanging down, and the foliage on this coneflower is some of the healthiest we’ve ever seen. 30 to 36 inches tall.


Honey Bees

bee-hive1Honey bees are not native to the Americas; they were introduced from Europe in the early 1600’s for honey production. Honey bees are thought to have originated in Asia and expanded to North Africa and Europe. There are two species that are considered to be suitable for apiculture. In recent year there has been concern over “colony collapse” and the risk of not having enough pollinators for our agricultural industry. A hedge against this possibility is to encourage proliferation of native bees. The DNR has published a very good article on what an individual can do http://dnr.wi.gov/wnrmag/2009/06/bees.htm#2 . This year the Outagamie County Master Gardeners will be installing various types of bee houses on the grounds of the Outagamie County Agricultural Extension.

Tom Wentzel

OCMGA chair of The Learning Garden

The Humble, but Reliable Coneflower

Do you have a nice, sunny spot in your garden that is calling for color? Coneflowers look gorgeous in nearly any style of garden. For a relaxed, meadow-inspired look, combine coneflowers with grasses, spike blazing star and goldenrod. Wis108567.002py grasses create a contrasting backdrop for bold coneflowers. They’re also surprisingly adaptable in containers, but they’re usually won’t get as big as they do in the ground. Tucking a few coneflowers into containers is a great way to entice butterflies near a deck or patio.

When it comes to the old-fashioned pink-purple or white coneflower, there isn’t an easier plant to grow. As long as you put the plant in the ground the right side up, it should be fine! Coneflowers like plenty of sun and average, well-drained soil. Like any perennial, you’ll want to water new plants the first summer, to get them safely established. After that, they’ll be virtually carefree!

The yellow, red, and orange ones can be a little tougher to get to survive for several years. Why aren’t they as vigorous? The plant breeding that created those beautiful colors included a species that’s a little pickier about its growing conditions than purple coneflowers — and that means the offspring are a little picker, too. For the most success, try these tips from Dan Heims, president of Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc, a company that’s developed some of these bright new flowers:colors

  1. Pick a good site. While the old-fashioned purple coneflowers will grow almost anywhere, the yellow, red, and orange ones need full sun and rich, moist, well-drained soil. Adding some compost to the bed before you plant will make them happier, too.
  2. Buy the biggest plants you can find. This is no time to cut corners! Choose plants with multiple growing points, not just one cluster of leaves.
  3. Don’t let it bloom the first year. Heartbreaking, right? But the plant will establish healthier roots if it’s not putting energy into flowers the first year. Plants in quart- or gallon-size containers won’t need this if their root systems have had a chance to grow to fill the pot. But if you’re working with plants in small 4- or 6-in. wide pots, it’s best to either pinch the blooms off or cut the entire bloom stalk back.
  4. Be sure to mulch. If you garden where the ground repeatedly freezes and thaws during the winter, mulch over the plant with a 6-in. layer of chopped leaves to protect the crown.

At the end of the season, some gardeners like to leave the seedheads standing — they provide subtle winter interest, and birds, especially finches, eat the seeds. If you leave the seedheads standing, volunteer seedlings will come up. Either enjoy these free plants, or pull the seedlings to keep them in bounds. (Interestingly, the seedlings of all varieties eventually revert to pink-purple.)


Garden Clean-Up: How Much is Too Much?

Here in Wisconsin we’re having incredibly wonderful weather for so late in the year. As a result, you may be tempted to just continually clean away the plants in your garden thinking “it will save time in the spring.” The question is not whether or not you can clean away all of the debris from your garden in the fall, but should you.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser explains in her “Savvy Gardening” blog why you should consider leaving the debris in your garden over the winter:

“Twenty-some years ago, fresh out of college with a horticulture degree in-hand, I started teaching adult education classes at a local botanic garden. For many years, I taught a class called Preparing Your Garden for the Winter. I would show slides (remember those?) of how well-kept gardens should look in January. In the images, every plant was cut to the nub, except for the ornamental grasses and butterfly bushes, and the whole garden was snug under a thick layer of mushroom soil mulch. The roses were neatly trimmed to two feet and wrapped in a blanket of burlap, folded and stapled closed to keep them protected from freezing winds. There was nary a fallen leaf in sight; everything was raked up and hauled off.

You see, that’s how we gardeners used to roll in the early ’90s, before we knew better. We’d cut everything down and “clean up” the garden until there was no shred of nature left behind. We’d turn the place into a tidied, controlled, and only slightly dirtier version of our living room. Everything was tucked and trimmed and in its place. Most of us weren’t interested in supporting wildlife much beyond hanging up a bird feeder, and the phrase “wildlife habitat” was only used in places like zoos and national parks.

Unfortunately, many gardeners still think of this kind of hack-it-all-down and rake-it-all-up fall clean up as good gardening, but in case you haven’t already noticed, I’m here to tell you times have changed. Preparing Your Garden for the Winter is a completely different class these days. We now understand how our yards can become havens for creatures, large and small, depending on what we plant in them and how we tend to our cultivated spaces. Thanks to books like Doug Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home, we now know how important native plants are for insects, birds, amphibians, and even people. Our gardens play an important role in supporting wildlife and what we do in them every autumn can either enhance or inhibit that role.

To that end, I offer you these six very important reasons NOT to clean up your garden in the fall.

1. The Native Bees: Many of North America’s 3500-plus species of native bees need a place to spend the winter that’s protected from cold and predators. They may hunker down under a piece of peeling tree bark, or they may stay tucked away in the hollow stem of a bee balm plant or an ornamental grass. Some spend the winter as an egg or larvae in a burrow in the ground. All native bees are important pollinators, and when we remove every last overwintering site by cutting everything down, we’re doing ourselves no favor. We need these bees, and our gardens can provide them with much-needed winter habitat.

2. The Butterflies: While the monarch flies south to overwinter in Mexico, most other butterflies stay put and take shelter somewhere dry and safe until spring. Some butterflies, like the mourning cloak, comma, question mark, and Milbert’s tortoise shell, overwinter as adults. They nestle into rock fissures, under tree bark, or in leaf litter until the days grow longer again and spring arrives. Butterflies that overwinter in a chrysalis include the swallowtail family, the cabbage whites and the sulphurs. Many of these chrysalises can be found either hanging from dead plant stems or tucked into the soil or leaf litter. And still other butterfly species, such as the red-spotted purple, the viceroy, and the meadow fritillary, spend the winter as a caterpillar rolled into a fallen leaf or inside the seed pod of a host plant. If we cut down and clean up our gardens, we are quite possibly eliminating overwintering sites for many of these beautiful pollinators (and perhaps even eliminating the insects themselves!).

3. The Ladybugs: North America is home to over 400 different ladybug species, many of which are not red with black polka-dots. While the introduced Asian multicolored ladybug comes into our homes for the winter and becomes quite a nuisance, none of our native ladybug species have any interest in spending the winter inside of your house. Most of them enter the insect world’s version of hibernation soon after the temperatures drop and spend the colder months tucked under a pile of leaves, nestled at the base of a plant, or hidden under a rock. Most overwinter in groups of anywhere from a few individuals to thousands of adults. Ladybugs are notorious pest eaters, each one consuming dozens of soft-bodied pest insects and insect eggs every day. Leaving the garden intact for the winter means you’ll get a jump start on controlling pests in the spring.

4. The Birds: Insect-eating birds, like chickadees, wrens, titmice, nuthatches, pheobes, and bluebirds, are very welcome in the garden because they consume thousands of caterpillars and other pest insects as they raise their young every gardening season. Leaving the garden intact through the winter months means there will be more protein-rich insects available to them during the coldest part of the year. These birds are quite good at gleaning “hibernating” insects off of dead plant stems and branches, and out of leaf litter. The more insect-nurturing habitat you have, the greater the bird population will be. Your feathered friends will also appreciate feasting on the seeds and berries they can collect from intact perennial, annual, and shrub stems.

5. The Predatory Insects: Ladybugs aren’t the only predatory insects who spend the winter in an intact garden. Assassin bugs, lacewings, big-eyed bugs, minute pirate bugs, damsel bugs, ground beetles, and scores of other pest-munching predatory insects spend the winter “sleeping” in your garden as either adults, eggs, or pupae. To have a balanced population of these predatory insects, you have to have winter habitat; when spring arrives, they’ll be better able to keep early-emerging pests in check if they’ve spent the winter on-site, instead of over in the neighbor’s yard.

6. The People: If the previous five reasons aren’t enough to inspire you to hold off on cleaning up the garden, I’ll add one final reason to the list: You. There is so much beauty to be found in a winter garden. Snow resting on dried seed pods, berries clinging to bare branches, goldfinches flitting around spent sunflowers, juncos hopping beneath old goldenrod fronds, frost kissing the autumn leaves collected at the base of a plant, and ice collected on blades of ornamental grasses. Winter is a lovely time in the garden, if you let it be so.

Delaying your garden’s clean up until the spring is a boon for all the creatures living there. Instead of heading out to the garden with a pair of pruning shears and a rake this fall, wait until next April. By then, all the critters living there will be emerging from their long winter nap. And even if they haven’t managed to get out of bed by the time you head out to the garden, most of them will still manage to find their way out of a loosely layered compost pile before it begins to decompose.”

Posted by Vicki