New York State IPM Program

December 8, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Wasps in winter? the IPM do-nothing approach

Wasps in winter? the IPM do-nothing approach

You might live in a row house, an apartment house, a single-family dwelling. You might have a carport or outbuildings. You might be buttoning up a concession stand for the winter and moving the picnic benches under cover for the winter.

And then … you see it. Feel it. A wasp or hornet nest, up in the corner of a window jamb or down under a bench. It might even be in a porch light fixture or a parking meter. It might feel like dried mud. Vaguely resemble a chunk of honeycomb, minus the honey. Look like a football (more or less), built of layer upon layer of flaky gray papery stuff.

At least that gray papery stuff didn’t effect reading the meter. Photo Way Out In The Margi

You don’t see any wasps flying in or out. But just to be sure, you get the wasp spray and douse that nest but good. And hope you killed them all, because the last thing you want is wasps knocking at the door this year or next.

But… nobody’s home. It’s not summer anymore. The old queen has died. A newly fertilized queen, replete with eggs, is doing the insect equivalent of hibernation and taken refuge beneath a piece of bark somewhere.

And the rest of the hive? Each member has died a solitary death. Not one is holed up in the nest, waiting to help the new queen clean house, make necessary repairs, and set up shop come spring. Even knowing this, maybe you’re inspired to knock down the hive and stomp on it, just to be sure. Besides, you don’t want wasps nesting under the picnic benches ever again.

Knocking the nest down is all well and good, but it’s rare that a queen would repopulate it anyway. She wants a fresh start. If come spring you see the occasional wasp hanging out on an old hive, know that it’s gathering material for new digs somewhere else. If you’re a paper wasp, for instance, it’s easier to chew that old nest into a mushy pulp for brand new paper than to strip wood from a twig and start from scratch.

A summer home made of mud, off to a good start. Photo Harper College.

Yes, it’s lucky no one handled that nest under the picnic bench or fire-escape railing or any of a hundred other places that nest might have been.

But should you see some wasps next spring and suddenly this story comes to mind, take a look around you. See any signs of tiny new nests taking shape? Are they high under an eave and far from anyplace you could get to with ease? Or is one right next to the entryway to your home? We’ll have a brand-new post for you with brand-new info on wasps, their nests, and what to do about them.

Can’t wait? Go here.

December 2, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on How to choose a healthy, happy Christmas tree

How to choose a healthy, happy Christmas tree

First things first, should you have heard the sudden flurry of news about thousands of bugs infesting your Christmas tree. Not true, not true at all. Stories like this are way overblown.

Here in New York, Christmas tree growers use solid IPM practices to deal with pests — and “most insects aren’t hanging around this time of year anyway,” says Elizabeth Lamb, a Christmas tree expert with NYS IPM. Know also that most Christmas tree farms — whether cut-your-own or wholesale — have shakers, special machines that shake bugs to the ground before the trees are sold.

Whether it’s a cut your own or wholesale Christmas tree farm, growers focus on providing happy, healthy trees.

But now back to our story. Already some of us have begun the quest for the just-right Christmas tree. Are you one? Before you go tree-shopping, keep these seven simple steps in mind:

  1. Measure your space before you shop so your tree will fit nicely in your home. And don’t put it next to a radiator or furnace vent.
  2. Look for a tree with a solid green color — or for some kinds, blue-green. Do you see yellowing needles or slight brown speckles? Be forewarned — its needles might drop early.
  3. Choose a tree that fits your needs. Each kind offers its own shape, color, fragrance, and even branch stiffness — important for holding ornaments.
  4. Don’t be afraid to handle and bend the branches and shoots. The needles shouldn’t come off in your hands. The shoots should be flexible. If its shoots crack or snap with handling, this is not the tree for you.

    Do the needles stay on the tree? Are they flexible? Are they fragrant? All these point to a healthy tree.

  5. Christmas trees should smell good. Not much fragrance when you flex the needles? The tree might have been cut too long ago.
  6. Resist if you can the impulse to bring your tree inside right away. Keeping it  outside (on a deck, porch, or even a balcony) in the chill air, its base in a bucket of water, will keep it happy and healthy until you and yours just can’t wait any longer. If you have a small bowsaw, make a fresh cut on the bottom to help it take up water.
  7. Trees get thirsty. They can drink  as much as a gallon a day. Once your tree is inside, always keep the water in the tree stand topped off.

At NYS IPM, we put prevention first by promoting healthy plants. But in this case preventing disappointment — your disappointment — is what we’re about.

November 22, 2017
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on Gray squirrels skittering around to keep up — their pantry or yours?

Gray squirrels skittering around to keep up — their pantry or yours?

PUBLISHED ON November 11, 2017 | Courtesy Paul Hetzler, CCE St. Lawrence County

“Squirrels have been criticized for hiding nuts in various places for future use and then forgetting the places. Well, squirrels do not bother with minor details like that. They have other things on their mind, such as hiding more nuts where they can’t find them.”

Although those that feed birds think squirrels are there strictly to torment them, squirrels are quite useful in maintaining hardwood forests.

Unfortunately, that succulent passage was penned in 1949 by W. Cuppy in his book “How To Attract A Wombat.” I say unfortunately because I wanted to write it first, but was unable to get born in time. The tradeoff, which is that I got to be quite a bit younger than he, probably worked out for the best anyway.

Before learning stuff like “facts” about squirrels, it made me feel smug to think that their attention span was even worse than mine. Popular wisdom used to hold that the fluffy-tailed rodents spent half their lives burying nuts, only to forget about most of them a few minutes later. I figured that was why they generally seemed frantic, always thinking they hadn’t stored any food yet.

The great thing about the whole affair is that tons of butternuts, oaks, hickories and walnuts get planted each fall, mostly in flower boxes, but some in actual forests where they can grow to maturity. As a kid I would see untold numbers of squirrels in parks, on college campuses and around dumpsters, but few in the woods. The latter, I assumed, were lost, or in transit to a day-old bakery outlet.

So it came as a surprise to learn gray squirrels are native to temperate hardwood forests, at home in large unbroken tracts of woods. In fact, squirrels are critical to the survival of many nut-bearing trees. Walnuts, acorns and hickory nuts, which do not tend to waft on the breeze so well, and which soon dry out and degrade on the ground, need someone to cart them off and plant them in the ground.

Gray squirrels can be so numerous in the human domain that they become pests. Photo credit: get down flickr

The irony is that while gray squirrels can be so numerous in the human domain that they become pests, they are disappearing from the forests that depend on them for regeneration. The reason is that most woodlands today are patchwork. In a shocking failure of the free market, it seems no one is making large contiguous tracts of forested land any more, even though they’re increasingly rare.

It’s hard to criticize agriculture, especially if you eat on a regular basis, but clearing land to grow food has fragmented our woods. One problem with breaking up forest land is that animals may need more than just a piece of it at a time.

Gray squirrels have large, shared territories with no real borders. Although they are great at things like tree planting and eating the faces off Halloween pumpkins, they’re not so good at running across fields to the next patch of trees. Well the running works OK, but not the looking out for predators. Gray squirrels evolved in a world where hiding places grew on trees. As a result, predation was low. But since the time they have been forced to hike out in the open, hawks, coyotes and foxes have taken a bite out of wild squirrel populations.

Red squirrels, however, are moving into habitats once occupied by gray squirrels. It seems logical to think that an army of red, fluffy nut-planters would be just as good as propagating an oak-hickory forest as the gray, fluffy sort were. Not so. The reds, which evolved among conifers, are accustomed to stashing pine, spruce and fir cones in hollow trees or right out in the open. When they encountered acorns and nuts, they carried on with this tradition. In the open-air caches of the red squirrels, tree nuts desiccate and become non-viable. Nothing gets planted. Also, red squirrels have smaller, discrete territories they do not share, so they’re not as apt as the grays to gallivant over to a nearby block of trees, and thus they avoid those pesky carnivores. In this way they’re better adapted to a fragmented forest than the grays are.

Getting back to forgetfulness, science has polished up the reputation of gray squirrels by observing them. Evidently no one thought of doing this novel procedure until 1990. That’s when Lucia F. Jacobs and Emily R. Lyman of Princeton University’s Biology Department set up a series of nut-caching experiments with gray squirrels. And hopefully a few interns as well. Their impressive article was published in the Journal of Animal Behavior in 1991, and is readily available online in case anyone has an attention span longer than mine.

I should mention that gray squirrels are considered “scatter hoarders,” stashing nuts and acorns all over the place. They tend to dig them up and rebury them as many as five times prior to winter, possibly to confound greedy neighbors or pilfering jays. Each successive re-cache takes them farther and farther from the parent tree, which is good in terms of forest ecology.

Jacob and Lyons concluded that even after waiting 12 days, gray squirrels quickly located about 2/3 of the nuts they buried, but that they also exhumed a few that weren’t theirs. However, each squirrel managed to end with at least 90% of the original number provided by researchers. This shows that memory is the primary means of locating cached tree nuts. And that while they don’t plant as many trees as we once thought, they make up for it by planting each one many times.

The search continues for a squirrel-proof bird feeder. Photo credit: Ken flickr

Many thanks to Paul for letting us share his piece! For more information on what to do to prevent squirrels from planting trees in your flower boxes or, worse yet, nesting in your attic, visit the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program’s What’s Bugging You – Wayward Wanderers webpage. When it comes to keeping them out of bird feeders, you are on your own.

Paul Hetzler is a forester and a horticulture and natural resources educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County

November 7, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Pollinators, awards — and IPM

Pollinators, awards — and IPM

Just one short week ago, we celebrated the College of Agriculture and Life Science at Cornell University’s Outstanding Accomplishments in Extension and Outreach Award. This award honors a team effort that benefits an important segment of the population or area of the state.

It takes teamwork — whether you’re a bee or a researcher. (Photo Sasha Israel)

New York, like the rest of the world, is highly dependent on the hundreds of species of crop pollinators that collectively contribute roughly $170 billion a year to the global economy. Many are in decline and under threat in New York and elsewhere.

That’s why Dean Kathryn J. Boor ’80 recognized the Cornell Pollinator Health Team for their outstanding outreach accomplishments in a ceremony that celebrated research, extension and staff excellence.

The seven-member team includes entomologists, extension  outreach specialists and pest management experts  — one being NYS IPM‘s director  Jennifer Grant.

The team provides critical extension and outreach on pollinator declines, including information on

  • optimal habitats for honey bees, native bees, and other pollinators
  • diseases that afflict bees
  • how pesticides affect bees — other pollinators too
  • what to do when your honey bees are in decline

Hi. I’m a hover fly and I pollinate lots of plants too. Plus my larvae eat aphids for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And no, I won’t sting you. (Photo credit Susan Ellis.)

With its focus on extension and outreach, the team has given more than 70 extension talks over the past three years in New York and elsewhere on pollinator health, bee diversity, integrated pest management practices and pesticide recommendations that minimize risks to bees — to all pollinators, in fact. Their audiences have included beekeepers, farmers, and lawmakers — as well as state and national organizations such as the New York Farm Bureau, the Audubon Society and Future Farmers of America.

“In three short years, the work of this team has made a notable impact both in scope and relevance to beekeepers,” Boor said at the ceremony. “The pollinator health team represents a model for how collaboration among different units at Cornell can lead to highly integrative and creative extension and outreach.”

November 1, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on It’s (still) tick season — and will be evermore

It’s (still) tick season — and will be evermore

Sorry to bring up a sore subject, but it’s still tick season. And will be all year round. What … during winter? Really? Yes. But for starters here’s your pop quiz:

A tick’s lifespan is

  • three months
  • ten months
  • twenty-four months (that is, about two years)

The best way to remove a tick is to

  • swab it with nail polish
  • hold a hot match to its behind
  • pull it straight up with fine-point tweezers

Even 15 million years ago, it was tick season. Trapped in amber, this tick carries Lyme-causing bacteria. (Photo credit Oregon State University.)

But back to our intro. Here’s the scoop: an adult female that hasn’t yet managed to grab hold of a large animal (think deer — or person) to get that all-important blood meal (can’t lay eggs without it) doesn’t want to wait around till a sunshiny summer day next year, because by then its number is up. Besides, the mice, chipmunks or birds it fed on earlier in its life cycle have only so much blood to go around. So that tick stays just below the soil where tall meadow flowers or low shrubs grow. Waiting. Waiting for a thaw barely long enough for it to scramble up one of those stems.

Waiting for the cues that tell it a warm-blooded animal is at close range. An animal that might be you.

And now for a look at our quiz. A tick’s lifespan? Your answer is (drumroll) C: upward of two years. Here’s how it works: Ticks spend a lot of time in dormancy, aka diapause. Eggs are laid in spring, tucked away out of sight. If some critter doesn’t find and eat them, they’ll hatch during summer as larval ticks (seed ticks, they’re sometimes called). Larval ticks are not infected with Lyme when they hatch — indeed, they’re pure as the fallen snow.

Meanwhile if likely hosts — those mice, chipmunks or birds — wander by, the ticks latch on. And if a host is already infected with Lyme disease or any of its nasty co-infections, those larval ticks, pure no more, are infected too.

Look close and you’ll see that spring, summer, fall, winter … every season is tick season. (Image credit Florida Dept. Health)

Larvae that make it this far morph into nymphs, and it’s diapause season again as the nymphs wait it out till the following spring. Assuming these ticks are now carriers —and about 25% will be — spring is the worst time of year for us. Because these ticks are tiny enough (the infamous poppy-seed stage) that they’re easy to overlook. If you get bit, ipso facto — you get Lyme (and quite possibly a co-infection too).

Things slack off in late summer as surviving nymphs enter a diapause that lasts till the following spring. But you can’t let down your guard, since by mid-fall through winter you’ve got those adult ticks to consider. The good thing (if “good thing” there is)? While half of these sesame seed-sized ticks are infected, they’re also easier to spot and remove.

Our second  quiz item? If any of these strike you as valuable folk wisdom, strike the valuable part and know it ain’t so. Nail polish? Matches? Don’t even think of it. Those first two items are just likely to tick that tick off — and it’ll vomit its gut contents into you in its hurry to get out. That is, if it can get out quickly; if it’s really drilled in, it has downloaded a cement-like substance to anchor itself. It takes some doing to disengage, however persuasive the nail polish, burnt match, or myriad other folklore remedies. (Twisting it is another no-no that comes to mind, mainly because someone asked me about it mid-way through this post.)

Pointy tweezers, held right against your skin and gripping the mouthparts, are the way to go. (Image credit tickencounter.org)

If you value your health, get yourself some pointy tweezers, sold for needlepoint and other crafts, and carry them with you always in your bag, backpack, or whatever you haul around. Grasp that tick as close as you can get to your skin and pull steadily. Did its mouthparts remain glued within? Not to worry — the tick will feed no more. And before too many days go by, your exfoliating skin (that’s when the top layer of skin cells drift away) will exfoliate them in turn.

With ticks, prevention can include everything from doing routine tick checks to wearing repellent clothing when you’re outdoors — regardless the season. And you can’t do much better than this for advice about dressing right.

Meanwhile here’s your catchphrase: 32, ticks on you. “32” as in 32°F. Stay watchful — and stay safe.

October 18, 2017
by Matt Frye
Comments Off on Stink Bugs and Window Weeps

Stink Bugs and Window Weeps

This stink bug would appreciate a free pass into your home (or for that matter, your office). Learn how to keep it out.

After a few splendid years of low stink bug populations, we find ourselves in the midst of an epic invasion. In the past few weeks, I have captured dozens of brown marmorated stink bugs (aka BMSB), which fly from surrounding trees and perform a smack-landing onto my screen windows.

I do my best to capture the BMSB I see with a cup of soapy water. Simply place the cup under the bug and put your other hand over the bug. As a defensive mechanism, stink bugs will drop into the cup, requiring no physical contact on your part. Just toss them out the door or off your balcony. Or you could wrap it in a tissue and squish it; the tissue will keep stinky oils off your hands and out of the air. (As your final coup, you could drop the tissue in your compost bucket.) Both methods save a five-gallon flush down the toilet — really, you don’t ever have to flush stink bugs.

For the stink bugs I don’t catch, I try to keep them out of my house by making sure that my windows screens aren’t torn, there are no gaps around my windows and doors (they fit snugly into the frame), vents are screened or louvered, and window air conditioning units are removed before autumn — all key preventive tactics and core to good IPM. But I recently observed a new entry point on windows that I hadn’t considered before: the window weep hole.

Holes in screens are an invitation to stink bugs and other pests.

This window weep is missing its cover.

Weep holes are design features that allow water to escape from a structure, whether it’s a window, sliding door or a brick building. Weep holes must remain open for water to drain even as they exclude pests. For example, weep holes in brick can be covered with specifically designed screen materials or filled with pest exclusion products such as Xcluder Fill Fabric*. Newer windows have weep hole covers that function like one-way-doors: they open to drain water but are otherwise closed. Sometimes — as in the case of my windows — these break off, leaving an excellent entry point for pests such as BMSB. Once bugs enter the weep hole, they can climb up through gaps into the window track and into the space between the screen and the windowpane. When you open the window, well — you just gave them a free pass into your home.

Weep hole covers are available for purchase at a number of outlets, but you must buy the right cover to fit the dimensions of your window. Because of the variability in window weep hole sizes, pest professionals and maintenance personal who manage offices and apartment buildings might choose to use Xcluder Fill Fabric that can be cut to the proper size, providing both pest exclusion and water drainage.

*NOTE: Trade names used herein or products shown are for convenience only. No endorsement of products in intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products implied.

Resources:

October 10, 2017
by Matt Frye
Comments Off on Steer Clear of Ticks and the Diseases They Carry — the IPM Way

Steer Clear of Ticks and the Diseases They Carry — the IPM Way

These days if you live near anything green — a suburban development, however humble or high-class; a neighborhood park where shrubs and meadow flowers grow — best you’d read up on ticks, be they black-legged ticks (aka deer ticks) or lone-star ticks (so named for the silvery white dot on the female’s back). While you’re at it, read up on Lyme disease and its suite of co-infections, some nastier even than Lyme.

And know this: no magic spray or treatment will eliminate ticks.

Researchers are investigating area-wide tick management options (The Tick Project) and working to understand how habitat management (The Tick Management Handbook; Japanese Barberry Control Methods) and host management (mice, deer) affect tick populations. But it’s up to you to protect yourself — knowing that prevention is the best cure.

  1. Wear tick-killing clothing. Buy over-the-counter permethrin spray and spray it on your clothing and gear. Used according to the label, permethrin binds to the material and can kill ticks, mosquitoes and other pests following a lethal exposure. Do-it-yourself treatments can remain effective for up to seven washes. Also consider buying pretreated cloths or sending your outdoor socks, pants, and shirts for professional treatments. These can be protected for up to 70 washes.

    Follow label instructions for do-it-yourself clothing treatments.

  2. Use repellants. DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus and IR3535 all repel ticks. The percentage of active ingredient on the label indicates how long that product will be active in the field. For more on choosing the right repellant see our previous post, “Understanding over-the-counter sprays for mosquitoes and ticks” (June 2, 2015) and this guide from Consumers Reports.
  3. Ticks wait for a passing host on vegetation or in leaf litter. Staying on trails can reduce your exposure to ticks.

    Recognize and avoid tick habitat.Tick species differ in where they prefer to hang out. The blacklegged tick (transmits Lyme disease) is found at adult knee-height and below in wooded or brushy areas. When hiking, stay on the trail and away from these areas. If you’ll be in tick habitat, take precautions by wearing long pants tucked into your socks and a light-colored shirt tucked into pants. These steps make it more difficult for ticks to get to your skin. If you’ve treated your clothing with permethrin, this can also increase the exposure of the ticks to the acaracide — the tick-killing substance.

  4. Steer clear of hitchhikers. 

    Isolate exposed items in large, zippered plastic bags to avoid bringing ticks indoors.

    Ticks can be carried on clothing or gear that you used outdoors — gear that you haven’t used permethrin or a repellent on. True, ticks don’t survive long in most homes because of low humidity, but still — you’re safest if you change your clothes and place exposed items in a large, zippered plastic bag in an entryway. Put them in a clothes dryer and run on high heat for 20 minutes. The tumbling action of the dryer and the high heat kill ticks and similar critters. [Note: don’t wash clothes first. Even the hottest cycle might not kill ticks, and it increases the drying time needed.]

  5. Check for ticks. Taking all these steps doesn’t mean you will avoid ticks 100% of the time. Perform daily tick checks even if you haven’t been outdoors in a day or so. Get to know the marks on your skin and recognize new ones. New marks that, if you touch them, just happen to have legs.
  6. Remove ticks safely. Only one method has been officially evaluated for its ability to safely remove ticks — using sharp tweezers, grab a tick as close to the skin as possible and gently pull up. Other methods could increase the risk of acquiring a tick-borne disease. To learn more, see our post “It’s tick season. Put away the matches.
  7. Protect your pets.

    Grooming after outdoor activity with a fine-toothed brush can remove ticks in pet fur.

    Just like people, pets can encounter ticks and acquire tick-borne disease. If your pet goes outdoors, it should have some protection against ticks. TickEncounter describes some of the options available for your pets, including oral and spot-on medications as well as collars. Speak to your veterinarian about the best option for protecting your pet against tick bites. Regular grooming with a fine-tooth comb after being outdoors can help to remove ticks that have not attached to your pet’s skin.

Additional Resources:
What’s Bugging You? tick page
Other tick-related posts

October 5, 2017
by Matt Frye
Comments Off on Lyme Disease by the Numbers

Lyme Disease by the Numbers

By now, you’ve heard of Lyme disease. If you’re reading this in the Northeast, chances are you’ve had Lyme disease or know someone that does. And perhaps you know that Lyme disease is a topic entrenched in scientific and political controversy in terms of accurate diagnosis, effective treatment, and access to insurance. Putting these larger issues aside for the moment, the intent of this post is to present data on Lyme disease and help people to better understand the risks.

What: Lyme disease is a series of symptoms that occur when our body is infected with a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi. In the Northeast, the only way that people and animals become infected with Lyme is when they are bitten by a blacklegged tick – sometimes called the deer tick. The complex lifecycle of the tick and how they obtain and transmit pathogens is described by TickEncounter.

Boys aged 5-9 years old have the highest confirmed number of Lyme Disease cases (Source: CDC)

Who: Each year, approximately 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to the CDC, making it the most commonly reported vector-borne disease in the US [a vector-borne disease is one transmitted through the bite of an organism such as a tick, mosquito, flea, etc.]. However, studies suggest that this number is only a fraction (about 10%) of the actual cases of Lyme disease in the US, putting the estimated number of cases between 300,000 and 400,000 each year. Based on this value, Lyme disease is the second most common infectious disease in the US, falling between two sexually transmitted diseases: Chlamydia (#1) and Gonorrhea (#3). Who is at the greatest risk of Lyme disease? Children! Especially boys aged 5 to 9 years old. Parents – check your children daily for ticks!!

Most cases of Lyme disease occur in the summer after being bitten by a spring-time nymph tick (Source: CDC)

When: Ticks can be active any day of the year when temperatures are above freezing. However, based on their lifecycle, the greatest risk of acquiring Lyme disease occurs during the spring months when nymph ticks are present, resulting in summer-time symptoms and doctor visits. Nymph ticks are about the size of a poppy seed, which makes them difficult to see. Check yourself daily for ticks, using your fingers to feel raised bumps and your eyes to notice new black marks. 

Where: While Lyme disease is regarded as the second most common infectious disease in the entire US, over 96% of all cases come from only 14 states.

Fortunately, there are steps that individuals can take to reduce their risk of encountering ticks and acquiring tick-borne disease. These topics will be covered in a subsequent post.

Distribution of Lyme Disease cases in North America (Source: CDC)

Darker colors represent higher incidence of disease (Source: NYS Dept. of Health)

September 28, 2017
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on In praise of messiness

In praise of messiness

KEMPTVILLE, ONTARIO. — On my twice-monthly drive on Highway 416 between Prescott and Ottawa, I pass the sign for Kemptville, a town of about 3,500 which lies roughly 40 km north of the St. Lawrence. It has a rich history, and no doubt is a fine place to live, but one of these days I need to stop there to verify that Kemptville is in fact a village of surpassing tidiness. (It’s Exit 34 in case anyone wants to take some field notes and get back to me.)

Most of us would prefer not to live in totally unkempt surroundings, but Western culture may have taken sanitation a bit too far. Claims that cleanliness is next to godliness have yet to be proven by science, but research does indicate a neat, well-coiffed landscape is bad for bees and other pollinators.

Dandelions are an essential early-season flowers for our 416 species of wild bees in New York.

With all due respect to honeybees, they are seldom required to produce fruits and vegetables. Please don’t spread this around, as I do not want to tarnish their public image. But the fact is that wild bees, along with other insects and the odd vertebrate here and there, do a bang-up job pollinating our crops, provided there are enough types of wild plants (i.e., messiness) around to keep them happy for the rest of the season.

As landscapes become neater and less diverse, wild bees cannot find enough natural foods to keep them in the neighborhood for the few weeks of the year we’d like them to wallow around in our apple or cucumber flowers. In sterile, highly manipulated environments like almond groves and suburban tracts, honeybees are critical.

Dr. Scott McArt, a bee specialist at Cornell’s Dyce Laboratory for Bee Research, says there are an estimated 416 species of wild bees in New York State. When I estimate stuff, the numbers tend to be less exact, such as “more than three,” but I’ve met Dr. McArt, and I trust him on this count. Dr. McArt is quick to point out that wild critters take care of things just fine in most places. He has cataloged exactly 110 species of wild bees visiting apple blossoms in commercial orchards, and in the vast majority of NYS orchards studied, honeybees have no bearing on pollination rates. My object is not to malign honeybees, but to point out that if we learn to live with a bit more unkemptness, we will improve the health of wild bees, wildflowers, food crops, and ourselves in the process.

Dr. McArt has cataloged exactly 110 species of wild bees visiting apple blossoms in commercial orchards, and in the vast majority of NYS orchards studied, honeybees have no bearing on pollination rates. There was a presentation about it at the 2015 Pollinator Conference.

Messiness also takes pressure off managed honeybees, an increasingly fragile species, by providing them a rich source of wild, non-sprayed nectar and pollen. Orchardists do not spray insecticides when their crops are flowering because they know it will kill bees. But many fungicides, which are not intended to kill insects, are sprayed during bloom. One of the unexpected findings of research done through the Dyce Lab is that non-lethal sprays like fungicides are directly linked with the decline of both wild bees and honeybees. But banning a particular chemical is not a panacea—the situation is far more complex than that. What is needed to save bees of all stripes is a real change in mindset regarding landscape aesthetics.

This garden at Bethpage State Park Golf Course is an excellent example of entropy. Primarily established with native wildflowers, there are also a significant number of volunteers. NYS IPM staff found over 100 different species of insects, primarily bees and wasps, taking advantage of the bounty.

Increasing the entropy on one’s property is as easy as falling off a log (which of course is a literal example of increased entropy). Pollinators need plants which bloom at all different times, grow at various heights, and have a multitude of flower shapes and structures. For greater abundance and diversity of wild flowering plants, all you need to do is stop. Stop constantly mowing everything. Choose some places to mow once a year in the late fall, and others where you will mow every second third year. Stop using herbicides, both the broadleaf kind and the non-selective type.

Before you know it, elderberry and raspberry will spring up. Woody plants like dogwoods and viburnums will start to appear. Coltsfoot and dandelions, essential early-season flowers, will come back. Asters and goldenrod (which by the way do not cause allergies), highly important late-season sources of nectar and pollen, will likewise return.

Despite their unassuming flowers, Virginia creeper attracts a large number of pollinating bees and wasps. Photo: Joellen Lampman

Wild grape, virgin’s bower, Virginia creeper and wild cucumber will ramble around, without any help whatsoever. However, you may choose to help this process along by sowing perennial or self-seeding wildflowers like purple coneflower, foxglove, bee balm, mint, or lupine. Even dandelion is worth planting. You’ll not only get more wild pollinators, you’ll also see more birds. Redstarts, tanagers, orioles, hummingbirds, catbirds, waxwings and more will be attracted to such glorious neglect. No feeders required.

I strongly advocate for more chaos in the plant department, even if the local Chamber of Commerce or Tourism Board frowns upon it. Remember, just because you’re an unkempt community doesn’t mean you have to change the name of your town.

Many thanks to Paul for letting us share his piece! For more information on protecting pollinators and enhancing their habitat, visit the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program’s pollinators webpage.

September 21, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on It’s Hay Fever Season — and the Culprit Unmasked

It’s Hay Fever Season — and the Culprit Unmasked

[OK … so this isn’t strictly IPM. But it does shed light on a glorious native plant that gets a bad rap for making the allergy-prone among us miserable — and its weedy relative, found in city and country alike, that’s to blame. An IPM solution? Prevention, for one — education about weeding weedy city lots before ragweed flowers.]  

It’s late summer and we are awash in brilliant oceans of mustard-yellow goldenrod blooms. At the same time, hay fever symptoms are ramping up.

As goldenrod becomes the dominant wildflower on the scene, an increased pollen load in the air is making life miserable for those who suffer from allergies. Because of this correlation, it seems logical to blame goldenrod for your red itchy eyes, sinus congestion, sneezing, and general histamine-soaked misery.

Got hay fever? Don’t blame goldenrod. Photo Steve Burt, Creative Commons.

But there is an easy way to tell for sure if goldenrod is to blame — a one-question test: Have you noticed a lot of bees up your nose recently? If yes, then goldenrod might be guilty. If no, there is another culprit lurking about.

As one of the most abundant blooms of late summer and early autumn, this native wildflower is for many insects, including numerous bee species, a vital source of nectar as well as nutritious pollen.

Unfortunately, this latter item has given goldenrod a black eye among many allergy sufferers.

But consider this — goldenrod isn’t common in vacant city lots. And lots of hay fever suffers live in cities. Besides,  goldenrod can’t be guilty because its pollen is very heavy. That’s a relative term, I suppose, since it is light enough for bees to carry it around. Yet in the pollen realm it’s heavy—and is also very sticky—and can’t be blown far from the plant.

For goldenrod pollen to trigger an allergic response, someone or something would have to deposit its pollen directly into your schnozz. And in general, bees are not in the habit of doing so.

Will the real hay fever specialist please stand up? Photo Krzysztof Ziarnek Kenraiz, Creative Commons.

So who’s to blame for the spike in late summer allergies? Surprisingly, the culprit is goldenrod’s cousin, ragweed, although it doesn’t behave at all like its golden relative. Ragweed, another native plant, is also in the aster family, but unlike goldenrod it churns out loads of very light pollen.

Just how light? Ragweed pollen can remain airborne for several days, and significant quantities have been found as far as 400 miles out to sea. Ragweed easily colonizes vacant city lots, where a single ragweed plant can produce a billion pollen grains to fly on the breeze and make you sneeze.

Yep, this is the stuff that stuffs you up.

One reason we don’t suspect ragweed is that its blossoms are dull green and look nothing like a typical flower. It’s as if they’re trying not to attract attention. Because it’s wind-pollinated, it has no need to advertise with bright colors and sweet nectar to entice pollinators.

Turns out it’s way easier to attract wind than bees.

Most ragweed species—there are about 50 of them—are annual, but they come back year after year from the copious seeds they produce each fall. Ragweed will keep billowing allergens until the first hard frost, so let’s hope it’s not too much of an extended season this year. And let’s spread the word about goldenrod to spare it further false accusations.

[Our thanks to Paul Hetzler for his kind permission to use this story. Hetzler is a horticulture and natural resources educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County. Unedited original at https://blogs.northcountrypublicradio.org/allin/2017/09/10/dont-blame-goldenrod-for-your-bless-you-hay-fever-symptoms/]

 

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