Pollinator Week 2017

It is Pollinator Week 2017!  Since last year the rusty patched bumble bee has been put on the Endangered Species List and honey bee keepers in the United States reported hive losses of 33% over 2016-17.  How can the average Georgia gardener help our pollinators?  These steps are easy and will make a real difference to our pollinating insects:

Read Georgia’s Pollinator Protection Plan

University of Georgia entomologists collaborated with stakeholders across the state to develop Protecting Georgia’s Pollinators.  There is a role for every Georgia citizen whether you are a farmer, a landscaper, or a homeowner.

Plant Flowering Plants

Adding flowering plants to your food garden attracts pollinators and as a bonus can also attract other beneficial insects.  To attract butterflies, adding plants that sustain the caterpillar stage of the butterfly is important.   The University of Georgia has done research on pollinator plants and has suggestions for plants that do well in our climate.

There are many pollinator plants that thrive in our Georgia climate.

Plan for a Succession of Bloom

Strive to have plants flowering as much of the year as possible.  Even during the winter months if temperatures rise above 50 F, bumble bees and honey bees are flying and looking for nectar and pollen.

Winter Honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) is not a true honeysuckle and blooms in the winter months.

Create a Water Source

Adding pebbles or stones to your birdbath makes a wonderful water source for small insects with  delicate legs.  By cleaning the birdbath once a week you will avoid any mosquito problems.  If you don’t have a birdbath the drainage pans used to catch the water running out of potted plants can be used.

Wisely Use Any Pesticide

Examine your use of any pesticide.  Is the pesticide really necessary?  Your UGA Extension agent can assist you with any pest situation and guide you in deciding if a pesticide is the best answer.  Make sure you thoroughly read and follow any pesticide label.  The label is the law.

Have Your Garden Certified as a Georgia Pollinator Space

The Georgia Pollinator Spaces program is an initiative designed to recognize gardeners that consciously make an effort to improve pollinator health by creating pollinator habitat.   To get inspiration take a look at some of the gardens that are part of the program.

However you decide to celebrate Pollinator Week be sure to check our daily pollinator posts on the UGA Community and School Garden Facebook page.

Happy Pollinator Week!



Insect Scouting Hints

Insect scouting is an important part of integrated pest management, whether you are a large scale farmer or just “farm” a 4′ X 8′ raised bed.   Here are some hints to help you scout successfully so that you can manage garden insect pests:

Hint #1  Look under plant leaves

Damaging insects often stay on the underside of leaves or in leaf crevices and plant whorls.  Check those areas carefully.

Hint #2  Look for insect eggs

Insect eggs are small and by spotting and removing them you limit future damage.  Squash bug eggs are a good example.

Hint #3  Confirm insect identification

The majority of insects are not harmful to your plants.  Many are actually beneficial and can help you manage pests.   If you are unsure of an insect identification contact your local UGA Cooperative Extension office for confirmation.  Oftentimes you can send your agent a photo and that is all he/she needs to assist you.

This lady beetle larva looks menacing but is really helpful in the garden. Photo: bugguide.net

Hint #4  Scout at night

Some insects do their damage at night.  Grabbing a flashlight and scouting after dark could yield some interesting results.

Happy Scouting!

Earth Day 2017

Happy Earth Day week.  How will you celebrate?  Here, we are celebrating the bees – honey bees and native bees.

Photo by Joe Thompson

The decline in managed honey bee colonies in the United States is well documented.  The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports a decline from 6 million colonies in the 1940s to approximately 2.3 million in 2008.  In 2015, beekeepers reported hive loses of 40%.   This is a global problem with countries worldwide trying to understand bee loses.   There are even calls for a coordinated multi-country initiative.   Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a term used to describe a certain type of mysterious honey bee deaths.  No one can pinpoint the cause of CCD but scientists have proposed that many factors combine for a synergistic tragedy.  The factors considered include habitat loss, poor honey bee nutrition, varroa mites, and pesticide issues.  Several of the issues affecting honey bees also affect native bees.

Honey bees. Photo by Joe Thompson.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) is looking at a more proactive approach to protecting bees, especially honey bees.  In 2013 the agency proposed specific pollinator protection language for products containing imidacloprid, clothianidin, thiamethoxam, or dinotefuran – all neonicotinoid insecticides.  The agency has expanded this policy with the January 12, 2017, updated “U. S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Policy to Mitigate the Acute Risk to Bees from Pesticide Products”.  The 2017 document is the result of an earlier proposal that was amended following public comment.   This policy is designed to help managed honey bee colonies.  The thought is that the measures taken to protect honey bees will inadvertently protect native bees as well.   What can we as Georgia citizens and gardeners do to protect our bees?

Read the Georgia Pollinator Protection Plan

This plan, created by a collaboration of experts and stakeholders across Georgia.  There is a role for every Georgia citizen.

Limit insecticide use.

  1. Make sure you know for sure what insect pest you are battling. Confirm any pest identification with your UGA Extension Agent.  Have your agent help you devise a suitable integrated pest management plan for this pest.
  2. Spray only when other measures have failed.
  3. Thoroughly and carefully read the pesticide label and follow instructions.   Remember, the label is the law!
  4. Spray only when other measures have failed.
  5. Do NOT spray blooming plants.
  6. If you have weeds in your lawn that have blooming flowers, mow them down.  This eliminates the flowers that the bees would visit.
Solitary bee home in the ground.

Create bee habitat

In Cherokee County, Georgia, construction of new homes and apartments has exploded over the last twelve months.  This means that natural bee forage is being destroyed at about the same rate.  Cherokee County is a snapshot of what is going on all across the United States as we lose our wild spaces.

Add pollinator habitat to your garden.  You will find this helps bees and other beneficial insects as well.  Choose plants suitable to your climate and have include things that bloom throughout the year.   Visit the pollinator spaces webpage to get ideas.

Pollinator Garden at the Healthy Life Community Garden in Griffin, Georgia.

Support Your Local Beekeepers

Get to know your local beekeepers.  Their bees provide pollination to your food crops!  Do they sell their honey?

Learn what insect are in your garden

I ask each of you to spend some time this week in the garden just observing the insects that visit your space.  Take a chair out with some sweet tea and just watch!  Allow yourself to be fascinated by insect biology – what they look like, how they move, what flowers they visit, how they interact.  Send photos of what you find to me at beckygri@uga.edu.  I will repost photos on our UGA Community and School Gardens Facebook Page so we can all see what is flying in our gardens.

Happy Earth Day 2017 – Celebration of the Bees!


Blueberry Pollination in Your Community or School Garden

With the recent cold damage to the commercial blueberry crop in South Georgia, the blueberries in our community, school, or home gardens are all the more precious this year.   As a result, it seems like gardeners are paying more attention to their blueberry flowers.  I have gotten several emails asking about slits appearing in the sides of blueberry flowers.  This is not unusual and it probably happens every year, gardeners just don’t notice it.

The slits are made by carpenter bees who are “robbing” the flower.  They chew slits in the sides of the flowers and get the nectar without having to go into the flower.  A result of robbing is that the bees don’t leave or pick up any pollen.   Pretty sly bees, right?  Research shows that this action still results in some pollination, it is just not ideal.   Other bees may use these slits as well to retrieve whatever nectar is left.

Blueberry Pollen is Heavy

Blueberry pollen is heavy and sticky.  It does not move around easily and isn’t wind blown.  The blueberry flower shape does not lend itself to adequate self-pollination so pollinators are needed even with the self-pollinating types of blueberry plants.

Blueberry Pollination in Your Community or School Garden
Southeastern Blueberry Bee. Photo by Hannah Barrack of NC State.

Bee Pollination

Several native bee species pollinate blueberries including the Southeastern blueberry bee.  This bee also pollinates several flower types that bloom at the same time.  The male Southeastern blueberry bee has a yellow face.

The smaller native bees are shown to be superior pollinators in these plants.  You will also see bumble bees in the blueberry patch.  They vibrate their flight muscles inside the flower aiding in pollen exchange, flower sonication.  Also, honey bees are often brought into blueberries fields to aid in pollination.  To learn more about bees in the blueberry patch visit North Carolina State’s Blueberry Pollinators .

Blueberry Pollination in Your Community or School Garden
Honey bees on the fly! Photo by Joe Thompson.

I enjoy pulling up a chair near my blueberry plants to watch the pollinators at work.  Try it and you will be amazed at the different insects you see.

If you don’t have blueberries in your community or school garden, why not?  They are a fantastic addition to the garden.  Being perennial shrubs they add a nice permanent shape to the space.  School gardeners should look at later season varieties.

Happy Gardening and I wish you all a very large blueberry harvest this year!

Beat Weeds While Feeding the Bees – A Guest Post by Josh Fuder

We cannot learn enough about the usefulness of cover crops in your community or school garden.  This week we are fortunate to have UGA Cherokee County Extension Agent Josh Fuder as a guest writer. He is teaching us about using Buckwheat as a summer cover crop.  Josh writes:

Each year I start my garden with grand visions of endless bounty.  Something happens around the first part of July though.  I’ve gotten full of squash and cucumbers even had a few choice tomatoes; basically I get too full to keep up with the invading army of weeds and pests.  The spring veggies are petering out as well as some of those early squash and cucumbers.  Then there is the stifling heat and humidity that makes going out in the garden almost impossible before 7 p.m.

Well this year I have a plan keep those garden beds from turning into pasture.  No, it’s not mountains of mulch or more hours with the hoe and tiller.  Enter Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum), buckwheat is an unusually fast-growing plant grown for its grain like seeds in commercial agriculture.  In the home garden it is one of the best summer cover/green manure crops available.

Buckwheat Josh Fuder 3
The strip on the far left was outside of my garden prior to this year and was just grass, clover and weeds. It was tilled and seed was broadcast on April 17th, 2016.

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were some of the first American farmers to grow buckwheat as they recognized its benefit in a healthy crop rotation.  Native to Russia the flexibility and adaptability led it to be grown on more than a million acres in the U.S. in the late 1800’s.  The grain is ground into flour and used in a variety of foods from noodles in Japan to breakfast staples like cereal and pancakes in the U.S.  I even had pillows made from buckwheat hulls when I lived in the tropical Pacific.  The pillows are meant to be cooler on your head because of the increased space for air.  I never got over the crinkling noise each time I would move however.

Planting Buckwheat

Buckwheat is easy to grow by simply broadcasting seeds and lightly raking them in.  A pound of seed is recommended per 500 square feet of garden space or 3 ounces per 100 square feet. You can’t really put too much seed down and since you will usually have to buy it in bulk from a local feed store; better to err on the side of too much.  Buckwheat does not require highly fertile soils but will benefit from modest levels of nitrogen.  Its many fine roots are well adapted at finding lower levels of Phosphorous and when crop residues are returned to the soil it becomes more available for other plants.

Germination begins in about 3-4 days and within 10-14 days the ground should be fully covered with emerging leaves.  This quick leaf cover will protect your soil from erosion, retain moisture and shade out those dastardly weed seeds.  Now just sit back, drink some iced tea and wait for the best part which is the floral display that begins 3-4 weeks after planting.  A large dense planting will literally stop traffic; my neighbors and passersby in my neighborhood have told me they always slow down to admire the five by hundred foot strip that I have along the road.

Same view on May 18th, 2016. Note the road on the left side of photo where neighbors slow down to take in the view.
Same view on May 18th, 2016. Note the road on the left side of photo where neighbors slow down to take in the view.

Buckwheat Care

Resulting honey is dark colored and distinctly different in taste from clover or wildflower honey.  The timing of flowering is also very beneficial to bees because the mid-summer is usually when there is less native forage available for bees.

Just remember that those prolific flowers that the bees are pollinating each turn into a seed if allowed to develop and dry on the plant.  So if you do not want buckwheat carrying over into your next planting it is best to cut the plants or till them under 2-3 weeks after flowering.  Some growers will cut it and leave the plant residue on the surface as mulch providing a pre-mulched area for new transplants.

Thank you Josh, for the information and photographs of your garden.

Happy Gardening!

National Pollinator Week 2016

It is National Pollinator Week 2016.  Events are going on all across the nation to draw attention to pollinators and pollinator health.  What are you doing to celebrate?

We have been excited to see all of the pollinator gardens across Georgia that are being created as part of the Pollinator Spaces Project.

In Rockdale County, ANR agent Steve Pettis led a group in creating the Rockdale Community and Garden, including a pollinator space.  This garden will be a great asset to the Rockdale community.

National Pollinator Week 2016
Perennial shrubs are the bones of this pollinator space in Rockdale County.
Rockdale Community and Education Garden.
Rockdale Community and Education Garden.
National Pollinator Week 2016
A killdeer bird laid her eggs in the new garden. What a nice surprise!

Heading Southwest from Rockdale, in Coweta County Brooks Elementary School planted their school pollinator garden in late April.  Principal Amy Harrison headed up a group that planned and organized for months before they installed their new space.  Coweta County ANR agent Stephanie Butcher helped the group get off to a great start.  We look forward to seeing more photos as the garden matures.

National Pollinator Week 2016
Brooks Elementary School Pollinator Garden Installation
Brooks Elem 3
Parent and Teachers created Brooks Elementary School’s pollinator garden.

Traveling South from Coweta, the Riverquarium in Albany, Georgia, created a beautiful pollinator space.  Butterfly weed (Asclepius tuberosa), Meadow Blazingstar (Liatris ligulistylis), and Bergamot (Monarda fistulas) are just three examples of over twenty varieties of pollinator plants used in the creation of this garden.  This space will be a joy to Albany residents and visitors.  James Morgan, Doughtery County ANR agent, is an on-going resource for this group of gardeners.

National Pollinator Week 2016
Photos from the Riverquariam Pollinator Garden in Albany, Georgia
National Pollinator Week 2016
This beautiful space is full of perennials.

Creating a pollinator space of your own aids in pollinator conservation, can increase food production, and brings joy as you watch the pollinators at work.  For resources on creating your own space and to be included in Georgia pollinator history visit the Pollinator Spaces Project webpage.  Your local UGA Cooperative Extension agent can also assist you in planning your garden.

Happy Gardening!

Mosquitoes in Your Georgia Garden

Are you especially concerned about mosquitoes this summer as you work in your garden?  Do you wonder how to care for your bird baths so that your birds are happy but you are not creating a breeding pond for mosquitoes?  We had the opportunity to talk with University of Georgia’s mosquito specialist, Elmer Gray, and asked him for some research-based mosquito information.

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Earth Week 2016

Earth Week 2016

Happy Earth Week 2016.  How are you celebrating?

I am celebrating with the butterflies and bees!  As the force behind the Pollinator Spaces Project I decided I needed to step up the pollinator habitat in my own garden in time for Earth Week 2016.  In one part of the garden I added three baby sage (Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips’) plants.  I have always loved the bi-colored flowers and they really attract butterflies.

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