by Keith Riddick, Middletown Master Gardener Volunteer
With all the uncertainty in the world right now, many people have turned to gardening as a way of growing their own food as well as a way to cope with stress and anxiety. This isn’t the first time that people have turned to gardening during a time of societal upheaval. Most of us weren’t around, but many families started their own gardens during World War II. Back then, they were called Victory Gardens. Food and money were short during the war years, and fresh fruits and vegetables were sometimes hard to come by. Victory gardens gave people more control over their access to fresh produce and allowed more food to be sent to the troops that were keeping our country free.
Wait! Isn’t gardening a lot of work? It can be, but doesn’t have to be. If you are starting a garden from scratch, it will involve work to prepare the soil (removing sod, large rocks and testing the soil for fertility). However, if you want a garden bed already prepared for you, consider renting a garden bed at a local community garden. There are several community gardens located throughout the Orange County with raised beds full of soil and ready for planting. Chances are there is one not too far from where you live! There is a short list of community gardens at the end of this article, but there are many more located throughout the county.
During this time, community gardens are taking precautions that allow members to safely grow food. Although community gardens usually have communal garden tools, at the moment, you should bring your own tools. Other considerations include limiting the number of people in the garden at one time and finding safe ways to water your garden plot with the communal water source. When you join a community garden, make sure you are aware of and follow all the rules set in place to keep you and your fellow gardeners safe.
Another perk of community gardens are community plots, like an herb garden, for all to share. Many also have compost bins for recycling organic material like vines, stems and leaves leftover after you have harvested the edible part of a plant. This debris decomposes and is then returned to the garden beds as a type of fertilizer.
Maybe a community garden isn’t right for you at this time and you don’t have any space in your yard either. In that case, you can grow vegetables in containers. Whether you put them on your patio, your deck, or even your balcony, as long as the plants get enough sun and water you should have a bountiful harvest. You just can’t beat the terrific taste of fresh produce picked straight from the garden, so grow a garden this summer!
Hemp may not be a familiar crop to you, but it has had a long history in this country and is poised to make a comeback in the Hudson Valley and throughout New York State. In the last five years, changes to federal and state laws have allowed for the growing of hemp. As a result, hemp has the potential to create an incredible economic boom for our region.
As demand for dairy and other traditional crops has declined, farmers are looking for alternative crops to provide a long-term base for staying in agriculture. Hemp may also be a means to keep younger farmers interested and involved in family farms. Some estimates for the return on investment in growing hemp for cannabidiol (CBD) are as high as 40%. This high return on investment is unheard of in agriculture, but as we are still in the earlier days of growing hemp in our region, it could turn out to be much less. Research is ongoing and there are many facets of hemp where little is known or where conflicting information exists.
Hemp can be grown for use as fiber, grain, oil and CBD. In the Hudson Valley most hemp in 2019 is being grown for CBD not for fiber, grain, or oil. CBD is a compound that is extracted from the female hemp flower and can be used for medicinal purposes. Unlike its cousin marijuana, CBD do not produce a “high” when ingested. There is a lot to learn about hemp and its potential impact on the agricultural economy of our region, but before we explore all the options lets answer some basic questions and introduce the crop.
What is hemp?
Both hemp and marijuana are varieties of Canabis sativa. Each is produced through selective breeding. Hemp is bred to produce fiber, grain, oil and/or CBD, while marijuana is bred to produce delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is a psychoactive compound.
Genetically the two plants are very similar. Research shows that even though different genes produce CBD and THC, these genes are linked. This link between the genes creates a ratio of CBD to THC that influences the total amount of each compound in a particular plant.
Hemp can be useful in many ways that may surprise you. Historically hemp was grown to produce fiber for use in rope and textiles. Today hemp fiber is used for insulation, animal bedding, particle board, hempcrete (a mixture of hemp and lime used in construction), and some plastics. When synthetic fibers became more common in the mid-twentieth century, hemp and other natural fibers fell out of favor. Now as we look at the impact of plastic products in all forms, a renewed interest in natural fiber production, including hemp, has taken hold.
Hemp seeds are a good source of protein and can used like other seed to enhance a large variety of foods. They can also be pressed to produce a food grade oil that is high in omegas, vitamins, and minerals. As hemp oil has a low smoking temperature, the oil is best used for low temperature cooking. Hemp oil can also be used in cosmetics.
The medical side of hemp comes from using CBD extracts from the female flowers. (More about this will be in another article.)
Is it legal to grow hemp?
Yes, with the proper approval from the state it is now legal to grow hemp. Following the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, which legitimized industrial hemp research, New York State created an Industrial Hemp Agricultural Research Project Pilot Program to encourage hemp research. In 2017, the state expanded the program from a few educational institutions to farmers and businesses. The 2018 Farm Bill went as far as removing industrial hemp from the controlled substances list. Today hemp growers in New York are partners with the Industrial Hemp Pilot Program and supervised by the Department of Agriculture and Markets.
Is all hemp the same?
The simple answer is no. There is still much to be learned about the genetics of hemp plants and what is important for developing plants that will thrive in our soil and climate. Plant researchers are looking at both modern hemp plants as well as feral plants they find growing along ditches and hidden in fields. Some of these feral plants date back to the colonial period of cultivation. Others are from the pre-WWII era when hemp was a huge source of fiber. These plants may well hold the key to developing modern cultivars which are well adapted to the soil and temperature in New York State and still produce a high rate of CBD and a low rate of THC.
Do the plants all look the same?
All the hemp plants currently grown have similar looking leaves, but there is quite a variety of height, width, and flower development. And even though the leaf shape is similar, it too can vary in size. Plant breeders continue to select for plants that are both easy to cultivate and easy to harvest, but still produce good quality fiber, grain, oil, or CBD depending on the desired end product.
Do all plants produce the same products?
There are many of different hemp cultivars, each bred to produce either good quality fiber, grain, oil or CBD. Growers choose the specific cultivar that matches the intended use. Most growers in our region are growing for CBD production, not for fiber, grain or oil production. In the future plants may be developed to allow for multiple products to be economically processed from the same plant.
We live in a colorful world filled with plants, animals, and objects that are brightly colored or, in some cases, patterned, or even singular in color. As humans we often think that the rest of the world sees itself and its surroundings in the same way that we do. But nothing could be further than the truth.
As a teenager I had a wonderful friend, John, who was the first person I knew who was colorblind. Not just color insensitive, as many are, but truly and completely unable to perceive any color at all. His experience of the world was totally opposite to mine, as I am one of the lucky or in some ways unlucky people who perceive way more color than most people do. His daily view of things was more like that of a rabbit, who see in shades of darkness and light and contrast.
Learning more about how he saw the world and experienced paintings, gardens and simple things like traffic lights began my interest in color and how we can manipulate our surroundings based on adding or subtracting colors from a situation.
The animals who live among us and in our gardens perceive color in many different ways, and they interact with the plants we grow depending on what they see and how they see and interpret light.
All eyes use reflected light to create images that are the basis of sight. As humans, we have sight that can determine the shape, size and special relationship of objects, and we have sight that is color-based.
The same is true for animals. Birds have keen color sight that helps them with foraging for food, identifying prey and recognizing others of their species. Many scientists have been astonished to discover that some birds may not be able to see all the colors of their own plumage, while other birds can see more than enough colors to find and attract a mate.
Birds see more colors than humans as they are able to use ultraviolet (UV) light due to having four types of cones in their retinas – in contrast to humans who have three types of cones. Different species of birds have more or fewer cone cells in their retinas and thus different ability to see colors. The ability to determine subtle differences in shades of colors is an evolving ability in birds and thought to be something that aids in adapting to change in environment and availability of food sources.
Marine mammals, owl monkey, Australian sea lion, achromat primates
Most terrestrial non-primate mammals, color blind primates
Most primates, especially great apes (such as humans), marsupials, some insects (such as honeybees)
Most reptiles, amphibians, birds and insects, rarely humans
Some insects (specific species of butterflies), some birds (pigeons for instance)
The UV reflection from the waxy surface of fruits and berries makes them stand out from the green of foliage – and birds are better able to find them. Red berries are seen best and will be eaten first, so also growing some plants that produce orange or yellow fruit will extend the feeding season.
Many insects also reflect UV light, making them more attractive to birds as a food source. Certain bird eggs reflect UV light and help birds to identify their own eggs and reject those put in the nest by other birds. Many flowers have nectar guides that reflect UV light. These marking are visible to bees and butterflies allowing them to easily find the nectar at the center of the flower.
Deer have poor color vision limited to short (blue) and middle (green) wave lengths of color. They may have some UV sensitivity but not much compared to birds. Foxes do not see green and have little ability to see blue, red or yellow. So, these animals are not using color in the garden to find or choose what they eat!
Understanding which animals use color to find and choose food can help us in identifying plants to put into our gardens, and plants to leave out. It also can put to rest myths like deer choosing red tulips over yellow daffodils -because they are making a choice based on taste and smell, not sight.
This article profiles an urban lot that was transformed into an oasis for body, mind and soul as well as for wildlife. This lot belongs to a local Master Gardener and illustrates how much privacy, beauty and biodiversity can be created with thoughtful design and considered plant choices. We’ll review the design principles employed in this yard and then take a look at the ecological needs fulfilled through the design and its implementation.
First and foremost, this design provides privacy and the sense that the space is an outdoor room. The lot is 50′ wide and faces southeast. The edges of the property are bordered by deciduous and evergreen trees. The tall Norway Spruce provides a strong anchor for the southern border and creates a shade garden for almost half of the yard, while the mature deciduous trees provide both frame and boundary for the property. Given that this garden is in shade much of the time, plant textures are emphasized in throughout the space. Since the plants are in groups instead of individual plants, the various textures become harmonious and interesting rather than chaotic to the eye. The repetition of plants by massing gives the design a simplicity that helps quiet the mind and gives one an opportunity to linger in areas and simply enjoy the beauty of a plant’s texture and color.
The central planter provides the main focal point of the yard and is the only place where we find a traditional lawn. The repetition of red in the plants helps to unify the yard and gives the focal point additional structure. The use of evergreen boxwoods around the base of the container ensures that the focal point will be held even in winter when the planter is moved indoors and allowed to go dormant.
The lawn around the focal point draws the eye to the back of the circle where a stone path peeks between the low shrubs and groundcovers. The curving shape of the path gives the landscape a sense of movement and entices one into the farther spaces. The copper birdbath provides another focal point that draws the viewer’s eye and invites the viewer to another part of the garden that is more private. The red pole, which supports an unseen, yet occupied birdhouse, gives us a hint that there is more to that part of the garden than we can see and provides a touch of mystery.
The yard evokes a feeling of balance with the shrubs softening the borders of the property and the understory trees filling the gaps between the shrub layer and the canopy of the deciduous trees. The varying heights of the plants provide visual interest and contribute to the feeling of privacy that is created in such a small space. The repetition of color throughout the garden contributes to the sense of balance, with the yellow-greens contrasting with the darker greens, yet not competing with them.
Seasonal interest was also a major consideration in the design of this space. There is year-round interest provided by many elements of the garden. The plants were chosen not only for their texture, but for their bloom times and flower colors as well. There is a continuous supply of flowers in the garden throughout the spring and summer and into fall. The changing color of the leaves of the trees and shrubs during the autumn supplies the visual interest that flowers provided the rest of the season. In the winter, the evergreens take center stage, furnishing a stark contrast to the more delicate structures of the deciduous plants.
Overall this garden creation has a feeling of unity, where all of the parts work together to create a coherent whole. The massing provides a rhythm that is relaxing and the multiple textures provide interest within that rhythm. The reiteration of certain colors also unifies the space by visually connecting different areas of the property.
Looking at the yard from an ecological point of view, the property provides all the layers of a forest garden: tall tree layer, low tree layer, shrub layer, herbaceous layer, ground cover layer and, of course, the root layer. The tall tree layer consists of both deciduous and evergreen trees. These trees provide food in the form of seeds and shelter within their branches to birds and squirrels. The leaves of the deciduous trees also supply an important habitat for insects, including butterflies and moths, providing spaces to lay eggs and food for growing larvae.
Since the garden was designed to be in continuous bloom for more than half the year, it can be considered an insectary. There are various flower shapes throughout the garden, providing food for many different types of insects. Some insects prefer umbelliferous flowers, while others prefer flowers with central florets like asters. The diversity of flower shapes and bloom times helps ensure that beneficial insects will have a continuous food supply and will help keep invasive and/or problem insects at manageable populations.
As we have spent much of this issue discussing soil and the soil food web, we need to look at our garden through that lens. In addition to providing mulch and habitat for overwintering insects, fallen leaves contribute to the soil structure and organic matter content in the soil. These photos were taken in spring and we can see how full and lush the vegetation is early in the season. This verdure is due not only to the care of the gardener, but more so to the health of the soil where these plants are growing. The soil food web is very dynamic in an environment like this and the result is the beauty that we see in these photos. May you be inspired to use these design principles and nourish your ecosystem to build a beautiful garden of your own.
Insects can cause a lot of damage to your plants. Determining what insect is causing damage to your plant is key to developing an effective management strategy. The first step is to examine the damage.
Biting/chewing insects create holes in plant leaves. The size and shape of these holes varies by insect. The three most common types of insects with biting/chewing mouthparts you may find in your garden are: grasshoppers, butterfly/moth larvae, and beetles (adults and larvae).
Grasshoppers are a sporadic pest and rarely cause substantial damage to garden plants. During dry years when other plants dry out, grasshoppers may seek refuge and food in your lush green garden. Unfortunately, because grasshoppers are highly mobile they are difficult to manage. If you have an ongoing problem with grasshoppers, you can reduce populations, by fall tillage as grasshoppers overwinter as eggs laid in the soil.
Imported Cabbageworm (Pieris rapae)
Those beautiful white butterflies you see fluttering around your garden, may seem innocuous, but their larvae, the imported cabbageworm, can cause extensive damage to plants in the brassica family also known as cole crops. These plants include broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, collards, kale, radishes, and turnips. The caterpillar is bright green with a yellow stripe down the center of its back. They start out chewing little holes in the leaves of the plants, but eventually consume the entire leaf leaving only the midrib behind.
To monitor for these pests, look for dark green frass or poop near feeding areas. Once you discover a population of imported cabbageworm, depending on how numerous they are you can hand pick them off your plant. The use of Bt (Bacillus thuringensis), a microbial insecticide is also highly effective on younger caterpillars. This particular pest spends the winter in the pupal stage, so to prevent future infestations you can eliminate overwintering sites in your garden by removing plant debris.
Stripped and Spotted CucumberBeetles (Acalymma vittatum and Diabrotica undecimpunctata howardi)
Although they are called cucumber beetles, these insects feed on much more than cucumbers. The stripped cucumber beetle prefers plants in the cucurbit family (squash, pumpkins, melons, etc.) feeding on leaves, flowers, stems and fruits. They can be especially detrimental to young seedlings.
The spotted cucumber beetle is more of a generalist and feeds on cucurbits as well as beans, tomatoes, and ornamentals. The larvae of this beetle can do substantial damage on the roots of corn plants hence its other name, the southern corn rootworm.
Cucumber beetles vector or transmit bacterial wilt (Erwinia tracheiphila), a common disease in cucurbits in which bacteria clog up the vascular system of the plant preventing the flow of water and causing the plant to wilt and eventually die.
One way to protect your plants from cucumber beetles is by using row cover. This can be put on at planting and kept on until female flowers appear, then it must be removed to allow for pollination.
Sucking/piercing insects can cause of variety of symptoms including leaf malformation and leaf discoloration. The most common types of insects with sucking/piercing mouthparts are from the Order Hemiptera, also known as the “true bugs”. This order of insects contains, stink bugs, squash bugs, cicadas, leaf hoppers, scale, aphids and many more.
Brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys)
Many people are familiar with this invasive species because the adults invade their home every fall looking for a nice warm place to spend the winter. Although it can be an unwelcome house guest it also can cause major damage on fruits and vegetables. Some of the brown marmorated stink bug’s favorite snacks include apples, peppers, beans, tomatoes, and sweet corn.
Controlling the brown marmorated stink bug can be quite difficult because they are highly mobile, feed on a large variety of plants, and adults are highly resistant to insecticides. Monitoring for these pests is the best way to start. Bunches of about 28 eggs are laid on the underside of leaves and should be removed and destroyed if found. When the eggs hatch the 1st instar nymphs cluster around the egg mass making them an easy target for removal. The bugs usually drop down when startled, so for hand removal, you can knock them into a container of soapy water.
Lots of research is being done to develop effective management strategies for brown marmorated stink bug. One of the most promising avenues of research is on biological control. A stingerless wasp known as the Samurai Wasp (Trissolcus japonicas) destroys 60-90% of brown marmorated stink bug egg masses in its native range in Asia. This tiny wasp has found its way to the United States and as of 2018 has been found in twelve states, including New York. Research is now being done to determine the effectiveness of rearing and releasing this tiny parasitoid. Check out this video about brown marmorated stink bug and the samurai wasp.
Potato Leafhopper (Empoasca fabae)
Despite their name, potato leaf hoppers feed on over 200 hundred different kinds of plants including potatoes, snap beans, cucumbers, pumpkins, egg plants, rhubarb, squash and sweet potatoes. The nymphs are neon green and are usually found crawling around on the underside of leaves. The adults only reach ⅛ inch in length. They are pale green and wedge shaped and fly away when disturbed.
These little pests do not overwinter in our area, but instead overwinter down south and the adults are brought up each year by the winds arriving in late-May / early-June. Although small, a few individuals can cause hopper burn on your plants. Hopper burn reduces yield and is characterized by chlorosis, or yellowing, of the leaf edges. Eventually these leaves begin to curl and turn brown.
It is easiest to combat these pest as flightless nymphs using insecticidal soaps or horticultural oils on the undersides of leaves. Dusting plants with diatomaceous earth can also help deter these pesky bugs.
Squash Bug (Anasa tristis)
Squash bugs are pests of all cucurbits, but prefer squash (summer and winter varieties) and pumpkins. Adults are a little over a ½ inch long and are dark brownish while nymphs are black, pale green or gray with black legs. These insects feed mainly on the leaves and the stems of squash plants, but can also feed on the fruits. Initially they cause a stippling on the leaves, but after heavy feeding the leaves begin to look tattered.
Squash bugs overwinter as adults, so at the end of the season cleaning up plant debris and mulch will remove overwintering sites. Eggs are bronze colored and usually laid in clumps on the underside of leaves. Removing and destroying egg masses can help keep squash bug numbers down. Adults and nymphs are known to hide in mulch around the base of the plants, laying down a board or piece of cardboard will provide a hiding place for these bugs. You can then remove the shelter and destroy all the bugs underneath it. There are also some cultivars of both summer and winter squash that are resistant to squash bugs.
Of course there are lots of non-insect pests that can wreak havoc on your garden as well and whose damage can sometimes be confused with insect damage. Snails and slugs have rasping mouth parts that create holes in plant leaves much like insects that have biting/chewing mouth parts. Spider mites having piercing/sucking mouth parts that cause stippling on plant leaves like the “true bugs”.
So as you try to determine what is causing damage to your plants keep in mind that different kinds of insects cause different kinds of damage and that determining the cause is essential to developing a solution.
Note: Pesticide recommendations are not a substitute for pesticide labeling. Remember to read the label before applying any pesticide. The label is the law!
By Joe Gregoire, Orange County Master Gardener, Cornell Cooperative Extension Orange County
I’ve heard that adding carbon to the soil by mixing in charcoal is good for plants. Is this correct? Jessica from Monroe
Great question, Jessica. And as I’ve just recently cleaned out my fireplace from the winter and wondered if I could use the ash in my garden, I’ve done a little research on the topic that I’ll share with you here.
There is a long history to the practice of adding ash and charcoal to soil and is a proven method of soil improvement. The pre-Columbian Amazonian peoples developed an understanding of the importance of soil carbon as they worked to meet their agricultural needs in their hot and humid rain forest environment. Their warm, wet climate created conditions in which soil organisms quickly decomposed organic material – that was then absorbed into the rapidly growing rainforest flora. When rainforests are cleared and plowed, this soil is quickly depleted of soil carbon and susceptible to erosion, making food production difficult to sustain on the same land for more than a few years. However, archeologists have found that ancient Amazonian cropland contains large deposits of dark, rich soil called Terra Preta that was made by these ancient farmers between 2,500 to 4,000 years ago. This Terra Preta contains high amounts of charcoal created through the process of pyrolysis (burning organic material in high heat and low oxygen) which preserves up to 50% of the carbon vs. converting it into CO2 gas through complete combustion. Pyrolysis produces a very porous and stable form of organic matter through physically and chemically altering the composition of the biomass being burned.
University studies have shown that adding charcoal (also called Biochar) to soil increases the soil’s water-holding capacity, reduces soil density, improves soil structure, and has been proven to reduce soil nutrient leaching and increase crop growth. Pre-packaged biochar can be purchased from retailers today or can be made at home by buying or building a biochar kiln for home use. Many low-cost designs can be found online and enable the conversion of biomass (wood) into charcoal to amend the soil. Biochar can be produced from a variety of materials – trimmings from woodland and yard maintenance, agricultural waste like corn stalks, and purpose grown biomass such as bamboo. The pH and composition of the biochar that is produced is directly linked to the material used to produce the biochar, so if making your own, be sure to avoid contaminants such as treated or painted lumber.
Biochar has many properties that have potential to enhance soil fertility and is a highly stable form of organic matter, as the 4,000 year-old Terra Preta demonstrates. Organic matter in soil is important for retaining moisture and building soil structure through aggregation, which also provides pore space for drainage. Soil organisms depend on this balance of air and water in soil to survive and thrive. With increased soil life comes increased soil nutrients to feed your plants.
If you have access to fireplace ash, this can be another ready source of charcoal and other beneficial soil amendments. Wood ash is a good source of potassium, lime, and micronutrients (which are taken up from the deep roots of hardwood trees used for firewood, such as oak and maple). It is best to add ash to the compost pile rather than directly to the garden, as the high concentration of lime can alter soil pH and may burn sensitive plants. The alkaline nature of wood ash can also have a neutralizing effect on compost, as the decomposing materials in a compost pile can become somewhat acidic. Do not use ash from a charcoal grill, as this ash may contain chemical residue from lighter fluid.
Because of the alkaline nature of wood ash, avoid using it around acid-loving plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons, and blueberries. Wood ash can also be used as a natural repellent for pests such as snails and slugs who will resist crossing a line of wood ash laid around their favorite plants (the salts in wood ash are an irritant to these soft-bodied pests). The wood ash needs to be reapplied after a rain or watering to remain effective.
Carbon in the soil is the key to soil life. Growing plants exude carbon into the soil through their roots in the form of sugars produced through photosynthesis. These exudates attract and feed beneficial bacterial, fungi and other microorganisms that live and die in the area surrounding plant roots, providing plants with nutrients they need to be healthy. Our addition of carbon to the soil, in the form of charcoal, can provide additional material for this symbiotic relationship to play out in our garden soil. And in doing so, we can play an important role in removing carbon from the air and returning it to the soil through our everyday love of gardening.
Click on the graphic below to learn more about soil health!
To learn more about the benefits of biochar and current research on biochar visit:
Even though there are almost 400 species of native bees in New York, these bees usually zoom right under our radar. They work and nest on our property yet are often unrecognized and unnoticed (let alone understood) as the crucial pollinators of our flowers and food crops. Most natives are not aggressive and sting only if provoked. Unfortunately, they often get mistaken for bellicose wasps or hornets and, sadly, are obliterated.
Bees evolved from insect-devouring wasps 100 million years ago. Bees are wasps that went vegetarian. They evolved away from hunting insects to bee species adapted for efficiently gathering more nutritious pollen to feed their larvae.
Three-fourths of our native Orange County bees are ground-nesters that dig tunnels or take over beetle or mouse burrows. The rest nest above ground in straw-like stems, twigs, stonewalls, or in hollowed-out deadwood. Most of them are solitary – meaning the queens build, gather, provision, and care for their nests all alone. Males often look like a smaller version of their queens.
Bumblebees – Bombus
Closely related to foreign honeybees, these charismatic bees have an iconic stocky, round shape and small wings that defy the aerodynamics of lift and drag. The distinctive flat shiny spot on female’s back legs is surrounded by hairs to form a pollen basket. They use this basket to transport pollen wetted with nectar, but, unlike the honeybee, they never stockpile it. Bumblebees live in ground dwellings, not hives, and are distinguishable by their waist-less anatomy covered in black and yellow hair, especially on the abdomen. Queens make their nests in animal tunnels or tussock grasses. A queen will travel up to a mile for pollen to feed her young, usually referred to as her brood. The more flowers available for pollen, the larger her brood. Colonies last only one season – compelling swift, and prodigious pollen collection, 15 times that of the honey bee. Males leave the nest and do not normally return, spending their time feeding on nectar and trying to mate.
Bumblebees are flower generalists and are the preeminent pollinators of tomatoes. To do this, they clutch the tomato flower and vibrate their abdomen to shake out the pollen found inside.
These strong bees dig deep ground-nests leaving volcano-shaped mounds in sand, clay, grass or under fallen leaves. Often their nests are aggregated and are easily spotted when females are orientating themselves to the “door” of their nest by flying in larger and larger figure eights around it. Males can also be seen swarming around the complex, but instead of orientating themselves, they are looking for an opportunity to mate. Although one hole leads to many underground “apartments”, each queen lives separately with her brood. The communities’ females exhibit an orderly morning exodus one at a time.
Our most numerous native bees, miner bees fly only from late April to July. They emerge to the surface at around 40 – 50 °F to absorb the sun’s warming rays, and take of flying when temperatures reach 50 – 60 °F. They fly fast and are valued for pollinating early morning flowers that bloom before honey bees wake up.
Carpenter Bees – Xylocopa virginica
Common in Orange County, carpenter bees are the largest of our native bees. Females resemble bumblebees – only they are larger and have a hairless shiny black abdomen. Males’ faces are yellow while females’ faces are black. They are named “carpenter bees” because they cut precise round galleries for nests inside sound, undecayed soft wood. They avoid wood covered with paint or bark and have been known to cut their galleries in fence posts, wooden benches and houses leaving what some would consider unsightly holes and stains. Males are attracted to sudden movements and conspicuously hover closely to people or in front of nests. They also engage in aggressive territorial battles for mating opportunities, but fortunately for us males cannot sting. Females can sting, but only do so when molested. Adults emerge during the summer and fall and can live for up to three years. Females will sometimes cohabitate with their daughters and, unlike most native bees, carpenter bees will reuse old nests. Carpenter bees are beneficial and important pollinators, especially of open-faced flowers.
New York’s several species of Mason bees choose above ground nesting sites in preexisting cavities such as twigs, hollow stems, and beetle burrows. Child and pet-friendly Mason bees are far too busy to be aggressive. They only sting as a last resort, and the venom they release is very mild. If you’re allergic to honeybees, this solitary, docile pollinating rock star is easy to keep and a great alternative. They cross-pollinate a wide variety of trees and plants instead of focusing on stripping pollen and nectar from one location. You can help protect them in winter by leaving standing hollow-stemmed plants.
Leaf Cutter Bees
The female leaf cutter bee makes small circular cuts in living or dried leaves or petals. She curls them up to carry back and line her nest. Attracting these gentle yet vigorous pollinators requires growing plants with thin-walled leaves, such as roses, hostas, peas, and lilacs. Because they build their nests near one another and are 15 times more valuable as pollinators than honey bees, they aid farms and gardens where lots of bees are needed. Unlike carpenter bees, solitary leaf cutter bees cause no damage to structures, because they lay their eggs in existing holes.
They are more round, cigar- or submarine-shaped than other bees and carry collected pollen on their abdomen. Distinguishable from honeybees, they have no brown/yellow stripes on their abdomen.
Sweat bees make up for their minute size with their incredible numbers and are among the most abundant and commonly seen bees in North America. They are attracted to the proteins, moisture and salt on sweaty arms, legs, and necks. Don’t swat! Females will sting if brushed against or agitated, and they will release pheromones attracting more bees.
Up to twenty-four solitary females dig deep burrows in banks or on flat or sloping soil – they then share the entrance into the nest. They are most active in late spring and summer. Sweat bees have short tongues which makes it difficult for them to extract nectar from deep flowers. For this reason, they are attracted to open-face flowers.
FYI – Wasps
Although wasps are usually considered pests, adult wasps are considered beneficial since they capture insects for their developing larvae. They also feed on sweet nectar (and can annoy picnics in late summer by scavenging on human food).
Some of the more common wasps found in our area are yellow jackets, bald-faced hornets, and paper wasps. Yellow jackets usually build their nests in the ground or in voids found in buildings. Their colonies last only one season and nests are not reused. Bald-faced hornets are actually not true wasps, but a type of yellow jacket. They are large black and white wasps that make the grayish papery, pear-shaped hives (mistakenly illustrated as Winnie the Pooh’s “honey bee hive”) found hanging from trees or shrubs. Bald-face hornets also do not reuse their nests. Like the bald-faced hornets, paper wasps also make papery nests, but their nests have open combs.
Just remember that wasps are considered beneficial, so unless their nests are in an undesirable place, they should be left alone. One way to dissuade wasps from nesting near your home is to use an imitation wasp nest. (These can be crocheted or purchased.) As visual creatures, when they see another “wasp” nest in the area they assume it’s another competitor and do not build there.
It’s clear that bees are good for our gardens and as long as our gardens provide reliable pollen and nectar sources, our gardens are good for the bees. Unfortunately our native bees are in decline due to loss of habitat, residual pesticides in their food sources, pathogens, mites and diseases. Our first step in helping them is understanding them and their ways. Protect their livelihood by proliferating their only food source – flowers – which renew and sustain them year-after year. Here are a few other things that you can do to help protect the bees:
plant flowers in swaths
remember that although modified, doubled-petaled cultivars are ascetically pleasing to the eye, they have less nectar than native cultivars of the same flower
choose diverse flowers, preferably natives species
intersperse decorative flowers among vegetables
allow some of your herbs bolt, producing flowers
minimize your use of neonicotinoid pesticides which move systemically through the plant into plant pollen and nectar and can weaken bees’ immune systems.
More flowers = Higher bee numbers!
In the bargain, humans get free pollinating labor assuring healthy vegetation and reliable fresh foods – and we get to revel in Nature’s door-prize of life – the magnificent, ravishing, inestimable flower.
Explore the Alpine Garden and its varieties of succulents, spruces, perennials and grasses, surrounded by rock formations and waterways. If you take time to look around at all the different colors and textures, you will notice a very delicate plant known as the crown anemone or Spanish marigold (Anemone coronaria).
The crown anemone’s dark-centered flowers can be found in an array of colors from purple-blue, red, pink or white. They are a perfect addition to rock gardens, flower bed, and containers. They do well in full sun, but will tolerate light shade in very hot areas. Soil preference is sandy loam. Crown anemones are propagated by underground storage structures called corms, which are similar to a bulbs and tubers. Corms can be planted after the danger of frost, which is usually early May here in Orange County New York. For continuous bloom throughout the summer, they should be planted every two or three weeks. (Note: The small corms should be soaked for several hours before planting). For those people who garden in containers, you can create a stunning display by combining crown anemones with tulips and grape hyacinths.
The Asian Maple Garden
One of the numerous attractions in the Asian Maple Garden is the intersectional Itoh Peony ‘Morning Lilac’. This stunning flower was created by crossing a tree peony with the more common herbaceous peony. Intersectional peonies have strong, short woody stems and large flowers like a tree peony, but die down to the ground in winter like an herbaceous peony. These plants prefers a neutral to alkaline soil pH, and need good drainage. Autumn is the best time for planting peonies.
The Nellie Mazur Perennial Garden
The Nellie Mazur Perennial Garden is a lovely mix of shrubs and herbaceous perennials. Recently added is to this garden is a magnificent piece of Agrisculpture made by collaging (welding) found vintage and antique metal with new steel to create an entirely new form. The piece is entitled “REMEMBER Agrisculpture: Seed Plates – Lovingly Rethought” is a 40 square-foot steel piece made from antique seed planter plates and gears. It was commissioned by the arboretum to honor the late Farmer Mazur and his passion for seed distribution.
The Remembrance Walkway and Garden
The Remembrance Walkway and Garden “honor[s] those who lost their lives and those whose lives have been altered by the tragic events of the September 11 attack on America”. The September 11th Memorial features a stunning rotating granite sculpture of the earth surrounded by bronze plaques with the names of the 44 Orange County residents who perished that day. A ceremony is held every year on September 11 to honor those that we lost.
The Raised Garden Beds
The Raised Garden Beds developed in 2002 are situated throughout the Arboretum and are home to a spectacular seasonal display of annual and perennial companion plantings. Every year visitors anticipate the arrival of the colorful spring display of numerous tulip varieties found throughout the grounds. The plants for the raised beds are grown in the arboretum’s Kosuga Greenhouse. This greenhouse houses 28,000 plants which includes plants for the raised beds as well as plants for the Arboretum’s annual plant sale. The purchase of new plants is made possible through the generosity of the Friends of the Arboretum and the patrons of the arboretum’s annual events.
Two of the plants that are highlighted in the raised garden bed for their uniqueness are cardoon and cotton. Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus), also known as the artichoke thistle or globe artichoke, is an herbaceous perennial in the aster family and is hardy in zones 7-10. Unfortunately, Orange County New York is found in zones 5 and 6, so here it usually can only be grown as an annual. This plant requires full sun in a sheltered location with fertile, well-drained soil. The plant reaches 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide and is an architectural splendor. Its large, thistle-like flowers are quite ornamental. The violet-purple flowers are produced in a heavily spined capitulum (head). Choose companion plants that contrast with the blue to silver color of the foliage such as annuals with blue, purple or burgundy flowers.
The second plant highlighted in the raised garden beds is the cotton plant (Gossypiumhirsutum). The hibisicus-like bloom is initially white in color and later turns pink. The flowers stay on the plant for a few weeks, before they wither and fall leaving behind seedpods known as bolls. Fibers inside the boll continue to develop until the boll bursts open exposing white fluffy cotton. This annual grows three to five feet tall and prefers full sun and moist soil.
During the warmer months, a bronze statue of Pan, the god of woods, fields and flocks is surrounded by running water. The Rill was a developed by John and Connie Vanderberg in 2005 and the Pan sculpture was donated by Ruth Ottaway.
The Al Durland Memorial Pond
Surrounded by grass and woodlands, the Al Durland Memorial Pond, is a peaceful aquatic sanctuary. One can enjoy its beauty and serenity on the large deck that runs along one of its sides.
The Apiary is buzzing with bee activity this time of year. Our new beekeeper is starting classes for beginner beekeepers.
The Apiary is also a favorite site for the elementary school students visiting the arboretum with their classes to participate in the Garden Exploration with Master Garden (GEM) program. During the bee portion of this program, the students learn about the three different types of bees found within a hive – queen, worker and drone bees. They also learn all about honey production and the important role bees play in our environment. The arboretum sells its honey at their Holiday Boutique that is open from the end of November until the end of December.
The Veteran’s Garden
The Veteran’s Garden at the Arboretum is dedicated to our Veterans of the past, present and future and hosts a yearly ceremony to honor our Veterans.
The Ceremony Garden
The Ceremony Garden is a large open field surrounded by a beautiful rose garden, raised garden beds, and towering trees. This popular venue is available for rental through the Orange County Parks Department.
The Children’s Garden
The Children’s Garden was designed to get children outside and give them an opportunity to connect with nature. The Children’s Garden is both beautiful and educational. It hosts a myriad of children’s events throughout the year from backyard bird feeding to a its annual Fairy Festival.
By Joe Gregoire, Orange County Master Gardener, Cornell Cooperative Extension Orange County
I love mushrooms and heard that Shiitake mushrooms can be grown on logs in my backyard. Do you know anything about that? – Phil from Campbell Hall
Happy Spring, Phil. Yes, I do know something about growing mushrooms on logs. In fact, Cornell offers a weekend course they call “Camp Mushroom” that is a great way to learn a lot on this subject. I attended the course a few years ago and have been enjoying fresh picked shiitake mushrooms ever since. A warning to you though, this is something that requires a lot of patience, so if you don’t mind developing something over a 12-month period, then read on.
Shiitake mushrooms gathered off fallen logs have been the most popular mushroom in Asia for centuries. The origins of shiitake cultivation have been traced back thousands of years to China and Japan. People often found these mushrooms growing on downed “shii” trees (this is where the mushroom got its name). They would take the mushroom-clad logs, place them next to logs without mushrooms and simply wait for the wind to disperse the spores. Thankfully, since then, a lot of research in Japan and China has gone into shiitake-growing techniques, and we don’t have to wait for the wind anymore. Shiitake is the second most produced mushroom in the world, following the common button mushroom and contribute about 25% of total yearly production of mushrooms. Commercially, shiitake mushrooms are typically grown in conditions like their natural environment on either artificial substrate or hardwood logs, such as oak.
There are several steps to growing shiitake mushrooms on logs. The first step is purchasing an inoculum which contains the mushroom cells (called mycelium) that will produce the mushrooms. It most commonly comes in 2 forms – inoculated sawdust, and small wooden dowels that have been inoculated with mycelium.
The next step is obtaining logs for inoculation. There are many ways to obtain logs. You can cut your own as you maintain your forest and landscape by thinning trees or pruning large branches. Or you can contact a local arborist or tree service to see if they can sell you some logs instead of feeding them into a chipper. Existing commercial shiitake growers in the area may also be able to sell you logs from their own supply.
Shiitake grow best in Oak or Maple trees. White Oak and Sugar Maple are the proven best producers, with Red Oak a close second. Red Maple is also considered good. These dense hardwoods provide the shiitake mycelium a long-lasting food source, which can enable the log to continue fruiting for 3-4 years. Also, the thick bark layer and durability of the bark on Oak and Maple helps maintain moisture levels in the log and the health of the mycelium.
Logs are best harvested while dormant. The bark is tightest during this time of year and timing allows for colonization to be complete in time for the earliest fruiting 12 months later. Avoid harvesting during spring bud break as bark can slip off during this growth phase of the year. Select logs that are 4 to 6 inches in diameter about 3 feet long. Thinner than this will have a shorter useful lifespan and larger than this will be very heavy. Use only healthy living trees. This is important in order to ensure that your shiitake spawn is the only species growing in the log. Let logs season for about 2 weeks after harvest. It’s conventional wisdom that this seasoning time allows the natural fungal inhibitors in the living tree to dissipate. Complete the inoculation process within 2 months to ensure logs don’t over dry – 35% moisture content is the ideal – and to avoid competing fungi colonization.
A quick word on safety.
It is never safe to pick and eat just any random mushroom you find. Some can make you sick and some can kill you. It is important to understand a few safety tips to ensure the mushrooms you grow and harvest are safe.
By inoculating only logs from healthy living trees, you give your shiitake spawn a big head start in colonizing the log. Shiitake are primary decomposers, so they only will grow in freshly cut wood, not already decomposing wood where other mushroom strains may have already colonized. If you’re not sure if a mushroom on your log is a shiitake, consult a mycologist or other specialist. Two good local sources are Mid-Hudson Mycological Association and Catskill Fungi.
So now you have your logs – time to inoculate them with shiitake spawn. Inoculation is a 3-step process:
Step 1 is drilling holes into the logs in a diamond pattern in 6” intervals in rows 2” apart. The drill bit you use needs to be sized to fit the dowel or the sawdust spawn inoculation tool you’ll be using. 5/16” for dowel and 7/16” for sawdust. For beginners, I recommend using dowels as only a hammer is needed to pound them into the holes and you avoid buying an expensive inoculation tool.
Step 2 is filling holes with spawn, which is simple with dowels that are pre-inoculated with shiitake mycelium and just need to be tapped into the holes.
Step 3 is to dab melted cheese wax over the filled holes. Cheese wax is best as it stays pliable for the several years you’ll be harvesting from the log. The wax replaces the bark and helps maintain moisture in the log. No need to apply wax to the end of the logs.
Once the logs are filled and waxed, its just a matter of letting the logs sit for 12 months in a shaded damp space to mature. The mycelium you placed in the logs will grow during that year and when the weather warms above 60 degrees next spring, shiitake mushrooms will begin to fruit from the log. And the great thing about shiitake is that you can force them to fruit by soaking the mature log in cold water for 24 hours, which will cause fruiting within about 5 days. With practice, one can average ¼ to ½ pound of fresh shiitake per log and, after a resting period of 7 weeks, that same log can be forced continue with the same log for 3-4 years until the mushroom has completed the primary decomposition of the log.
When looking forward and making plans for showcasing summer’s wild and lively colors, consider adding the versatile annual showstopper Celosia. A member of the Amaranthaceae family, the flower is reminiscent of its cousin, the Amaranth plant, and its more common ornamental variety, “Love Lies Bleeding.”
Celosia comes in assorted colors, shapes, and sizes. There are three common types: plume, cockscomb, and wheat. Their names well describe the shape of each flower.
The plume celosia’s flowers top off the plant with large poofs of color which resemble a flame. The name ‘celosia’ is actually derived from the Greek word ‘kelos,’ which means ‘burned.’ Like a flame, they come in reds, yellows, and oranges. You can plant a border garden in one favorite color, or add all the colors together in a mix guaranteed to make you smile. The plant will continue to flower from June through to the first frost, and simple deadheading will suffice to keep the rainbow aglow.
The cockscomb celosia has a dome shape with curving lines which, not surprisingly, look like the red crest on the head of a rooster. The traditional red-colored flower is used throughout Mexico with the Mexican marigold (Tagetes erecta) in Day of the Dead celebrations. Cockscomb celosias can also be bright yellow. As with the plume celosia, flowering can be extended for months by regular deadheading.
Wheat celosia is slightly more subdued in color than the other two types. The flower is shaped like a spike of wheat, and tends toward shades of pink or white, although there are now some varieties in darker red-purple shades. As an ornamental, its straight, erect height, between 3 and 5 feet tall, makes the wheat celosia a striking addition to any flower garden.
Here are a few more reasons to consider celosias for your summer 2019 garden:
They make good container flowers, especially in an alkaline soil mix. If you are looking for a new “thrill” for your containers’ “fill, thrill, and spill” mix, consider adding some celosias for color or height.
Celosias are an easy-care flower. For best results, plant them in full sun; they do like heat. As a tropical plant, they are known to tolerate drought, but keeping them moist (not wet) is best. Usually watering 3 or 4 times per week in well-drained soil is ideal.
All of the celosias will attract bees and other pollinators. Consider planting some near, or mixed in with, your vegetable garden or orchard to help with pollination.
The leaves, stems, and little flowers are all edible! In parts of Africa, Indonesia, and India, the leaves (especially the tender new leaves) are a green staple. They are a source of protein, Vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, and phosphorus. They are said to have a flavor much like spinach, and a texture like basil. Before the plant flowers, the tender leaves would be a healthy addition for any recipe that includes spinach as an ingredient. It is best to boil the leaves first and toss out the resulting blackish water, as it reportedly contains nitrates and oxalates; then you can use the still-green leaves in your scrambled eggs, soups, or stews. Most recipes add onions, garlic, hot peppers, or even peanut butter to perk up the flavor of the mild celosia leaves.
Since the celosia leaves are best used when tender before flowering, and most store-bought celosias already have flowers, you may want to start your own plants from seeds. If starting indoors, plant 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date. Cover the tiny seeds lightly (with only 1/8 inch of soil). Keep moist and warm. Germination takes 10 to 15 days. Transplant to your prepared garden bed when the soil is warm. When plants are 4 to 6 inches tall, thin them. You can throw the pulled plants into the cooking pot. Alternatively, you can plant seed directly into the garden when the garden soil is warm. Cover the newly planted seeds with straw to keep moist and prevent washing away in case of heavy rains. Remove the straw once plants emerge.
All types of celosia make beautiful cut flowers and colorful long-lasting dried flowers. To dry, cut flowers when at their peak, remove side leaves to prevent mildew, and hang the flowers upside down in a dark, dry place for several weeks.
Remember to place newspaper underneath the drying plants to catch the seeds that will fall from the flowers once they are dry. Save these seeds for your 2020 celosia garden and be sure to share with your friends!