Tag Archive | Outagamie County Master Gardeners

What was Buzzin’ in Your Backyard Last Summer?

By Janet Wissink

honey-beeAs a gardener, I understand the importance of having bees in my yard. But I didn’t always appreciate the buzzin’ around me, nor did I distinguish between bumble bees, honey bees, solitary bees, wasps and hornets. Now, I realize that bumble, honey and solitary bees are not aggressive towards me as I work in the garden among my flowers, vegetables and fruits. These bees are too busy working to worry about me. Instead of running away from the buzzin’, I stop to take a closer look at what kind of bee is diligently visiting blossom after blossom.

Bees play a key role in agricultural production and the beauty of our yards through pollination. The disruption of natural habitats, the widespread over-use of pesticides, and many bee diseases and parasites has brought bee numbers down precariously low, especially honey bees. The honey bee crisis is broadly termed Colony Collapse Disorder.

Almost 20,000 known species of bees populate the earth. 3,500 live in the United States and close to 400 in Wisconsin. Less than 2% of these are honey bees and bumble bees. The other 98% are mostly solitary bees. Solitary bees live on their own, not in colonies with a queen and workers like honey bees and bumble bees.

Bees are unique among all pollinators (hummingbirds, bats, butterflies, flies and some beetles). Not only do they sip nectar to fuel their own flight, bees are one of the few animals to actively gather large amounts of pollen which they inadvertently scatter widely between flowers. The pollen of many plant species serves as the primary food source for bee larvae because it is rich in protein.

Bee pollination is an ecological service valued at $20 billion a year in North America. More than one-third of the world’s crop species such as alfalfa, sunflower, fruits and vegetables are dependent on bee pollination. Honey bee numbers in North America have been de- clining since the 1950s while the amount of crop acreage requiring bee pollination is at an all time high.

WE CAN HELP BEES

1. Plant bee flowers everywhere! Flowers provide nectar and pollen for bees. Bees obtain all of their carbohydrates from floral nectar, and all of their protein from floral pollen. Honey bees convert nectar into honey and use the protein in pollen to f1-Honey-Bee-001eed their young. Provid- ing a diverse array of plants will help ensure that you support a diverse array of bee species.

2. 60-70% of bees dig burrows in the ground preferring dry, sandy soil bare of vegetation. You can attract ground-nesting bees to your property by leaving some spots of exposed, undisturbed soil. The other 30-40% are cavity-nesting bees. These bees use hollow plant stems or holes in wood left by wood-boring beetles. You can attract cavity-nesting bees by providing tunnels in a man-made structure.

Pesticides are designed to kill insects. Depending on the formula and concentration, they can be harmful or fatal to bees and other benefi- cial insects. Herbicides kill flowers that provide nectar and pollen for bees.

In June 2013, over 50,000 bumble bees were poisoned in Wilsonville, Oregon, after a insecticide was sprayed on linden trees to control aphids, which secrete a sticky residue while feeding, making them a nuisance to parked cars.

“The Oregon bee poisoning is a clear warning. We have to stop pesticide use in cases where human health or food security is not at risk,” stated Dr. Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota, a leading global authority on bee health. According to Spivak, neonicotinoids are now the most widely used insecticides. They are long-lasting in soil and readily move into water. Sadly, most neonicotinoid insecticides have no warning labels to alert consumers about the potential hazard to bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects.

To learn more about Wild Ones Fox Valley Area visit www.wildones.org.

Resources: University of Minnesota Bee Lab, http://beelab.umn.edu

The Xerces Society, http://www.xerces.org 

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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

Halloween Gardening

The infamous Venus Fly Trap

The infamous Venus Fly Trap

In anticipation of Halloween, I thought it would be fun to find as many plants as possible with names that you would associate with Halloween. As I started doing my research, I found that many others had had the same idea so, rather than repeat or plagiarize information that has already been posted on the web, I thought maybe a link to some of the more interesting articles would be better.

From the London Telegraph, we get some of the weirdest and creepiest plants I’ve ever seen, many of which are deadly as well as just plain ugly. I may get nightmares just from seeing some of these plants, which include the Venus Fly Trap, the Corpse Plant, and the Black Bat Flower (totally creepy):  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/how-to-grow/the-worlds-spookiest-plants/

Then, we have a list from Earth Rangers compiling plants with names or shapes that make you think of Halloween. For instance, Wolf’s Bane, Witch Hazel, and Devil’s Claw. The Dracula Orchid is the one that makes me say “Ewwwww”.  Check out this fun list compiled on a website aimed at getting children interested in the outdoors and the environment: http://www.earthrangers.com/wildwire/top-10/top-ten-spooky-plants/

Devil's Tooth

Devil’s Tooth

Another creepy-looking plant is actually a fungus:  Devil’s Tooth (Hydnellum peckii). This gross little blob of a mushroom isn’t an edible plant — not that you’d want to. But it’s a beneficial fungus that attaches itself to host tree roots and gives out minerals and amino acids in exchange for tasty carbon. It grows throughout North America. When moist and healthy, it bleeds droplets of bright red juice that inspired its other nickname, “strawberries and cream.”

Chinese Lantern

Chinese Lantern

I think maybe I’ll just stick with Chinese Lanterns — a beautiful and harmless addition to any Halloween or Autumn gathering!

Written and posted by Vicki

Storing Apples

Apple harvest, Autumn

Apple harvest, Autumn

The Outagamie County Master Gardener Association is proud and lucky to be affiliated with the University of Wisconsin Extension and the educational resources of The Learning Store. From one of the publications at The Learning Store (“Growing Apples in Wisconsin”) comes information on storing your precious fruit after harvest.

I remember being a child and going into the basement (or “cellar” as we called it then) to get fresh apples, each of which had been individually wrapped in newspaper in the fall to keep the skins from touching one another during storage. Not sure if the generations of today would even understand the concept of gathering and storing apples for the winter, but this publication offers the following advice:

“Fall- or winter-ripening applies, which ripen in September and October, will store well for 1-5 months. If you plan to store the apples, harvest them before the peak of maturity while they are still firm. Discard or use any blemished, diseased, or damaged fruit. Store only the best fruit. Overripe or bruised apples will not only store poorly, but the ethylene gas they produce will shorten the life of sound fruit.

Cool apples promptly and keep them constantly cold. For short-term storage, refrigerate at temperatures below 40ºF. For longer storage, temperatures of 32º-34ºF and high humidity are required. Don’t allow fruit to freeze. Keeping fruit in plastic bags with small holes in the bags will help avoid water loss and shriveling. Check the fruit occasionally and remove soft or damaged fruit.”

The 24-page booklet covers information about growing apples such as site selection, planting, weed management, pruning, insect pests, and diseases, as well as much more information. The publication can be purchased as a pamphlet for $4.00 from The Learning Store, or you can simply download the entire publication as a .pdf file to your computer by clicking here. Take advantage of university-based research and education by utilizing the many publications available through The Learning Store by following this link: http://learningstore.uwex.edu/.

Written by Vicki

Cut down on that raking!

Such a beautiful time of year with the colorful leaves huddled together in the trees. Unfortunately, they don’t stay on the trees, leaving us with the chore of how to dispose of the leaves. Some people choose to leave them on the ground until spring, which is a wonderful idea for your gardens but can kill the grass on your lawn. Here are some ideas for using the leaves:

  1. When they’re completely dry, rake them into a big pile and have your kids or grandkids P1050466-500x375run and jump into the pile. Remember how much you enjoyed that when you were a kid?! I grew up in the country and we could also burn leaves; I still miss that smell of burning leaves and branches.
  2. Using your lawn mower, mulch the leaves onto your lawn thereby providing a wonderful source of nutrients as the leaves decompose over the winter and spring. Better than buying expensive fertilizer each year!
  3. Gather and mulch the leaves to use in your compost bin or compost pile. You can use whole leaves, but shredded leaves will break down more quickly to provide that ‘black gold’ compost to use in the spring. Note: continue to add your vegetable scraps and egg shells to your compost heap through the winter. You may not be able to turn the pile as often in the winter, but the nutrients will be there as the snow melts into the pile. Never add meat by-products, fats, animal waste, or leaves or stalks from diseased plants.
  4. Remove the leaves from the lawn and put them around your shrubs and perennials in the garden. They’ll help conserve moisture around the plants, and also stabilize the soil temperature to reduce the fluctuations of freeze and thaw that tear plant roots and heave them from the ground. A 2- or 3-inch mulch of autumn leaves will at least partially decay over the winter, releasing vital nutrients and improving soil structure, but be sure to rake away any leftovers in the very early spring before the perennials and bulbs start peeking up. Large piles of whole leaves will provide great insulation, but they can also turn into soggy mats that smother emerging plants.
  5. Finally, if you must, rake the leaves into the street for the municipal removal teams. Note: the city knows what to do with all of that garden and lawn waste they pick up around the city:  they turn it into compost and mulch!

randy_bish_rake_the_leaves_2

Written and posted by Vicki

“Growing People” — the book

GrowingPeopleCoverEvery organization needs good members and volunteers, but also needs really good friends. Friends who support and help the organization — offering assistance and advice whenever requested. One of our really good friends is Jim Beard who, together with his cowriter Christopher Jossart, has written a book that encapsulates Jim’s experiences and philosophy on growing people as well as gardens. As noted horticulturist and author Melinda Myers says: “Jim Beard not only grows landscapes, but people as well. He creates places where memories are made, emotions are tamed, moods are lifted, and inspiration occurs.”

If you’re looking for a gift for that gardener in your life, you need look no further than this unique and inspiring book that provides stories and do-it-yourself advice from one of our closest friends.

Visit the website at:  http://www.growingpeoplethebook.com/

Jim with one of the many thriving tomato plants growing from straw bales

Jim with one of the many thriving tomato plants growing from straw bales

Posted by Vicki

Conservation Field Days

1000 5th and 6th graders attended the 3-day event.

1000 5th and 6th graders attended the 3-day event.

Over 300 5th & 6th graders attended each day of the 51st Conservation Field Days.  That is 1,000 kids during the 3 days of the event which was held on September 22nd through September 24 at Koehnke’s Farm out past the Outagamie County Airport. There were also 5 Master Gardeners who volunteered as Tour Guides for the first year of this Sanctioned Project for us.

Animal skins at the wildlife station

Animal skins at the wildlife station

There were 9 course stations and 9 tour groups.  Teachers and parents also went along with each group to help. The 9 learning stations were Water, Quarry, Conservation Jeopardy, Gardens & Compost, Recycling, Forest Management, Pond & Wildlife, Food Production, and Soils. Everyone seemed to be having fun learning.  Each station was taught by 2 volunteers from County, State & Federal groups including UW Cooperative Extension Service, WI Department of Natural Resources, USDA Natural Resource Conservation, and Goodwill Community Gardens. Each course station included some interactive things which helped to keep all those kids involved and interested.

Pond/Wildlife Station

Pond/Wildlife Station

Outagamie County Master Gardeners were listed in the thank yous along with those other groups. The event is sponsored and organized by Outagamie County Land Conservation Department based right next door to our County Extension. Each day ran from 9:30am to 2:30pm, and was very fun and educational for all.  The weather was beautiful. All of us volunteers were provided a delicious and much appreciated meal for the lunch break and then back to guiding, teaching, etc.

OCMGA Volunteers Jill Botvinik and Sue Mings

OCMGA Volunteers Jill Botvinik and Sue Mings

TV Channel 5 was there on Tuesday and did a broadcast on their 5pm news program that day. I will admit that I went home, sat down on the couch and promptly fell asleep. Fresh air in the country, walking outside in the beautiful fall weather, helping kids learn, and a free lunch! I plan to be there next September.  Hope to see you too!

Written by Jill Botvinik

Posted by Vicki