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.
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
Raccoons are pretty cute, but you really don’t want them pooping on the property. Photo: Nell McIntosh
We don’t have to go to wild places to find wildlife. A surprisingly wide range of species can be found in our sities and towns, from familiar animals like the raccoon to more exotic ones like the mountain lion. – Roger Tory Peterson
When I was younger, raccoons were my favorite animal. It was hard to resist their clever little hands and cute bandit masks. My stuffed raccoon was named Rickie. Even when I was old enough to learn about rabies, my love didn’t wane. But then, when taking a wildlife rehabilitation workshop, I learned about Baylisascaris procyonis (raccoon roundworm), an intestinal parasite passed in raccoon poo.
The speakers at that workshop recommended using a blowtorch to kill the eggs of this intestinal parasite which, terrifyingly, can enter our eyes and nervous systems. The cuddly raccoon lost its place in my heart.
My love-hate relationship with raccoons came to mind when I saw the CDC has released a fact sheet on raccoon latrines and Baylisascaris procyonis. I do work quite a bit with school and child care facilities with their obligatory playgrounds. The CDC notes that “young children or developmentally disabled persons are at highest risk for infection, as they may be more likely to put contaminated fingers, soil, or objects into their mouths.” But they fail to point out that sandboxes can serve as a raccoon latrine. (It’s listed as a possibility here.) Of course, cats, which carry their own suite of parasites, are more likely to use sandboxes as their own personal litter box. It’s good IPM to prevent all types of animals from accessing your sandboxes.
The idea is good, but the implementation is lacking. Without securing the tarp, animals can easily slip under it. Photo: Joellen Lampman
No need to rid your property of sandboxes — indeed, there are sensory and group play opportunities with sandboxes (just Google “sand play activities”). But you must prevent animals from gaining access. Here’s how:
Keep sanitation a priority to avoid attracting wildlife – ensure that trash is cleaned up and put in a sealed container at the end of each day. (This will also help with other pests such as rats and yellow jackets.)
Have a “no food in the sandbox” rule – there is no need to provide an enticement for local animals to check out the box.
Have a solid box bottom — not only will this help prevent sand loss, but it keeps critters from burrowing in from underneath.
Have a durable cover on your box and make sure it is only uncovered during playtime.
Pest proof your buildings (including outbuildings) to reduce den sites. Raccoons will gladly set up facilities in your attic or garden shed.
Sandbox with cover rolled back. Photo: Gil Garcia
Tarp ties on the sandbox hold the tarp securely in place. Photo: Gil Garcia
If you find a latrine, check out the CDC fact sheet that includes information on cleaning it up while protecting your health. (Spoiler alert: they also recommend using a propane torch, since chemicals will not kill the eggs.)
Just a note that raccoon latrines can be found in other areas, including (yikes!) inside buildings. Be sure to pest proof your buildings to prevent raccoons (and squirrels and bats and birds) from making your building their new den. To keep wildlife out of your buildings and discourage them from your grounds, visit the NYS IPM Program web page: What’s Bugging You: Wayward Wanderers.
November 7, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on Pollinators, awards — and IPM
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.]
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.
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.”
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.
PUBLISHED ON SEPTEMBER 26, 2017 | Courtesy Paul Hetzler, CCE St. Lawrence County
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.
[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/]
September 5, 2017
by Bryan Brown Comments Off on Weed control specialist joins NYS IPM
Bryan Brown, Ph.D., is the new Integrated Weed Management Specialist
I’m Bryan Brown, the new Integrated Weed Management Specialist at NYS IPM. I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to work with growers and promote IPM solutions for weed management. I came here from the University of Maine, where I compared the economic and ecological effects of several weed management strategies and tested a new cultivation technology that uses several tools, sometimes in tandem, to target the in-row zone.
Integrated weed management
No single weed control tactic is completely effective. And relying on one single tactic is how weeds develop resistance. So what we need to do is integrate more tactics. Attack weeds in as many ways as possible. For conventional growers, a basic step is to use a range of herbicides with different modes of action. Other direct controls include cultivation, flaming, mowing, and biocontrol.
Less direct tactics can also make a huge difference in weed control effectiveness. For example, crop rotation allows for use of different herbicides, fertility, and tillage dates — all of which can be adjusted to combat certain weed species. Likewise, crop cultivar and plant spacing can be altered to maximize competitiveness with weeds, and cover-crop residues can lessen weed emergence. Growers can be even more successful with these practices if they are used to target the biology and life cycle of their most problematic weeds.
When many growers think about weeds, they think of big nasty plants. But I like to encourage growers to think about weed seeds. The number of weed seeds in the soil is very important to the success of weed control tactics. Even if you kill 99% of the weeds in your crop, if you start with 1,000 germinating weed seeds per square foot (yes, that’s common), ten of those weeds will survive and compete with your crop. So depleting the number of weed seeds in the soil is key to effective management. As is often the case in IPM, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
How do you reduce the number of weed seeds in the soil? Control weeds before they produce seed, mow crop boarders to prevent seeds from blowing in, and use seed-free fertilizers. You can also create a stale seedbed by encouraging weed seeds to germinate, then killing them before planting. With these techniques, some farmers have sharply reduced the number of weed seeds in their soil, improving their in-season weed control.
I’m especially interested in finding weed management solutions that have multiple benefits. For example, cultivation kills weeds but can also be used to increase nitrogen mineralization, improve water infiltration, and control soil-dwelling pests like cutworms. Cover-crop residue can suppress weeds but it can also increase soil organic matter, interfere with navigation of some insect pests, and reduce splashing of soil-borne pathogens. So perhaps weed management can be integrated with management of soils, pathogens, and insect pests?