Ending tomorrow! Give N.C. gifts for the holidays.

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Bee a Keeper


What’s on your bucket list?  Ever considered beekeeping?  What if there was a way to try it without buying all the equipment?  And where do you buy bees anyway?  Our new Bee A Keeper Workshops in Pittsboro, NC are the way to live the dream without the commitment.

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Bee a Keeper for a day

Beekeeping is a fascinating pursuit – the more you learn about bees, the more they draw you in.  People are concerned about the plight of honeybees and interested in learning more.  But getting started isn’t simple.  With some neighborhood HOAs, it’s just not an option for many people.  Other folks don’t want the commitment.  A bee hive isn’t a crockpot.  Despite some hive designs, you don’t just dump in bees and turn the tap to dispense honey.  It requires a commitment to learning and year round management.

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Beekeeping workshops for all ages

That’s why I’m offering a one day opportunity to experience the highlights – and skip the headaches.  My Bee A Keeper Workshop allows you to enjoy the beauty of beekeeping without the investment of time or equipment costs.  My small group approach (less than 6 participants) gives a personal experience to learn the amazing secrets of the bees.  Spend a half day with me and you’ll learn how bees communicate in a dark hive, what they look for in a food source, and how they cooperate to keep the colony humming.  Plus you’ll get the once in a lifetime, hands-on opportunity to don the gear and work a real honeybee colony!

Enter for a chance to win!

Or extend your learning with our full day option.  After a locally catered honey-themed lunch, you’ll learn about enjoying pollinators in your garden and learn to make your choice of beeswax candles or honey soap.  Finish the day with a pick-your-own bouquet from our cutting garden.  You’ll take home a handmade hive products to enjoy or gift from your day in the apiary.

Here’s a look at our plans for the 1/2 day and full day workshops:

            1/2 Day OR Full Day Morning                                       Full Day Afternoon

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To learn more, visit our Bee A Keeper Workshop page.  Our workshops are a great gift for the gardener, nature lover, or recent retiree!  We offer discounts for well-mannered youth and encourage family groups.  Event dates are by reservation and are limited to spring & fall with a maximum of 6 participants.  Visit our online shop to purchase or email me to discuss dates or questions.  Live the dream and Bee a Keeper for a day!

 

 

 

The Buzz in my Ear


I confess that I’m not a shopaholic.  But I love unique finds.  Things that speak to you. For me, it often involves bees.  And boy do they show up everywhere. I pin these – either instead of buying them, or to remind me to buy them.  Either way, it’s my curated collection of honeybee love.  Pinterest is always a great source for gift ideas.

I think my favorite are the bee earbuds.  Sadly they show as out of stock every time I’ve  clicked.  Bummer.  I think it would be great fun to stick the little buzzers in my ears to listen to a podcast or some music while prepping dinner.  And speaking of podcasts, these have become my new go-to when driving deliveries, kids, or errands.  Sometimes I  need something more than music but less than politics.  Go podcast.  It’s like an audio magazine for any niche you can dream up.  Cooking, shopping, fashion, sports, business, metal detecting, art, hunting, human interest and yes, there are even beekeeping podcasts.  I’ll spare you the nerdy details.

One of my favorites has to be Mike Rowe’s The Way I Heard It.  He tags it as “The podcast for the curious mind with the short attention span.”  Count me in.  He tells tales of human interest, generally well-known figures you will recognize, but from an obscure angle.  The blissfully brief show weaves a tales of humble beginnings, quirky side hustles, or scandalous news that you’ve probably never heard.  My two favorites are “The Merry Christmas” edition with the ominous red phone that never rings, and “A Potty Mouth with a Secret” about more than concealed recipes.  The stories are well told, interesting, and quick enough to fit between errand stops.  Great fodder for future cookouts and cocktail parties.

You Bet Your Garden with Ed McGrath (of former Organic Gardening fame) is another favorite.  This call-in style show is wildly entertaining for the garden-inclined.  McGrath has both the knowledge and witty sense of humor to answer backyard gardening questions from around the country.  There is always a question of the week which he delves into more detail.  Topics range from tree mulching, fig protection, and irrigation ideas.  Long form style but broken up with lots of question segments that make it easy to pause and pick up again later.

Theresa Loe hosts Living Homegrown, a podcast about “living farm fresh without the farm”.  Since we have the farm, I thought I’d have graduated from this one.  But Theresa covers a variety of topics on critter keeping, cooking, gardening, and preserving.  I loved her recent show on making true pickles (fermented pickles – not those bootleg quick pickles I’ve been making all these years).  Just when I think I could host the show, she brings on a new topic in bread baking or making hard cider at home.  and I love her forgiving approach that any small step is progress.  Great for the DIY’er with limited or abundant space.

Special Sauce by Serious Eats creator Ed Levine is a solid choice for any foodie.  Although I’m not in the know enough to catch all of the chef name dropping that goes on, I still enjoy the topics.  His recent interview with Rodney Scott about his childhood work ethic and roots in pit barbecue was real and refreshing.  I listened to this one as we were extracting sourwood honey last week.  (Extracting can be a repetitive and arduous task – but rewards the laborer with drippy honeycomb to chew on while working/listening.)  Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ is now on my bucket list.

Hunt, Gather, Talk is a niche podcast for the outdoorsmen in your life.  Author Hank Shaw talks edible foraging, fishing, wild food prep, and outdoor skills.  all neatly sown together and presented on a rustic audio table.  A must for the hunter or chef of the hunter.

My newest indulgence is Potluck.   A duo of Will & Chris discussing all sorts of southern culture.  Most recently was a dive into the regional sodas made in the south.  The NC ones I knew (Cheerwine floats from Cookout are well loved round here).  But there were all sorts of others that I’d never heard of – like Cannonborough Blueberry Vanilla and Buffalo Rock Ginger Ale.  Plus some great reminders of Barq’s, Nehi, and Sundrop.  Glass bottles rule.  Long-form conversational podcast on a variety of interesting stuff – especially if you are into bourbon.

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Iphone podcast icon

If podcasts are new to you, click the purple podcast icon on your iPhone to get started.  Then check out the iTunes Store or Stitcher for podcasts.  Search and ye shall find.  If you are already a podcast addict, share your favorites in the comments below.  I’d love to add to my library que!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Your Mosquito Treatment isn’t Working


Some buzzes are better than others.  Gardeners know this.  The hum of the visiting bumblebee – good.  The high pitched whine of the blood seeking mosquito – bad.  Bugs in the garden are a good thing, unless they are after my skin which is why mosquitos and fire ants are my swore enemies.  But in spring, I start seeing the biggest scare tactic landscape scam pulled on homeowners.  It looks something like this…

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Enjoy your yard again!

I think the pitch would be less appealing to homeowners if branded like this …

nobutterfliesno ladybugs

You’ll have fewer butterflies, birds, frogs, lizards, and maybe mosquitos!…

But that would be a different marketing approach, and probably a failed one.  People want to believe in the “smart weapon” approach.  “I hate mosquitos.  This bottle/company/sales rep tells me they will eliminate mosquitos.  I’ll take it!”  But what they aren’t leading with, is that these chemicals are general insecticides.  They kill insects.  All of them.  Just because the bottle shows a mosquito, doesn’t mean the butterflies, dragonflies, bees, and ladybugs got a memo saying “not intended to kill you.”  This process is the equivalent of controlling crabgrass in your yard by spraying Roundup on the entire thing.  Many of these companies leave warnings to wait before using treated areas, cover pet food/water dishes, shut windows, and cover children’s toys.  Why?  To reduce exposure.  You got the memo, but the bugs didn’t.

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The active ingredient in these landscape pesticides is usually from the pyrethrin family, basically a nerve agent for bugs.  To boot, most are organically derived!  So it must be good.  (Then again, arsenic is organic too.)  These chemicals are USDA approved and are perfectly legal to buy and use.  (It’s worth noting here that as a beekeeper, I need a vet to visit my hives and write a prescription for disease treatments.  But insect killer is readily available at any big box store.  Go figure.).   Pyrethroids – synthetic pyrethrins – are highly toxic to fish and cats.  Even dogs can show pyrethrin poisoning.  That’s why you are warned to cover bowls and keep animals off treated areas until dry.

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What makes these insecticides worse is the way they are applied.  It usually involves the ‘more dead bugs is better’ approach.  Backpack mounted sprayers are the weapon of choice for the residential service companies.  They blast a fine mist of pyrethrins on to plants (flowering & not) in the middle of the day when beneficial insects are most active and the mosquitos are at rest.  Homeowners contract these services to provide insect control inside their tidy property lines.  Never mind that next door mosquitos could be breeding like rabbits (or mosquitos) only to drift back over come dusk.  Every 3 weeks this scenario plays out as the company returns to terminate the offending bugs.  And resistance builds.  During the 2016 Zika virus breakout, the EPA acknowledged that mosquito control was less effective than hoped because of mosquito resistance to insecticides.

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Full disclosure – I’m not a hater.  I prefer natural measures but I do use pest control when needed.  But the key to effective treatment is identification.  Do I really have a problem and do I know what it is?  Knowing your enemy allows you to choose the most direct and effective approach for control with the least unintended consequences.  I realize alternatives may be less convenient than stroking a check for yard treatment, but they are often cheaper, more responsible, and more effective.

We generally overlook the natural (and FREE) lethal garden security forces already in our yards – beneficial insects.  These are the real tactical threat to landscape pests.  A strong force of frogs, toads, birds, birds, bats, spiders, predatory wasps, ladybugs and praying mantis is a hearty check on any runaway insect population.  These guys are voracious feeders on just the pests we want to be rid of.  Consider purchasing some of these beneficials to release in your yard.  It’s great fun to release lady bugs whose cheery spots bely their hungry aphid appetites.  Go get ’em girls.

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Assassin bugs are the hit men of the insect world.  Get them working for you.

Next level?  Mosquito birth control.  There are obvious ideas like eliminating standing water areas (birdbaths, empty pots, overturned toys,etc.). But you can go a step further and interrupt the population.  It starts with those donut-shaped mosquito dunks in your local garden center.  They are made with BTI, a bacteria larvicide toxic only to mosquitos – not humans, fish or wildlife.  Early spring is the best time to start.  Put out some small area of shallow water (empty cans, old tupperware, etc.) with a dunk in each.  Female mosquitos will be lured in to lay their eggs, which will never develop into adults.  This halts the breeding cycle.  Leaving no one left to bite.

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Mosquito birth control!

If you missed the boat there, consider the great advances in repellents.  Our family has used Thermacell units with great success in buggy times.  The newer models cover even greater distances.  Permethrin clothing sprays are handy to apply to outdoor gear.  (You can even buy clothes with it built in).  This holds up for several washes and repels all sorts of biting things (chiggers and ticks most notably).  Permethrin is made from the pyrethrin family but since it is in your fabric, not being broadcast across the flower bed, it’s activity is highly targeted.  Then there is the standard issue citronella and spray-on repellents.  Your mileage may vary.

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Thermacell repellents

Next time you see a ladybug scampering up a stem or a wren nabbing a beetle you can admire your volunteer pest control force.  By combining several of these measures, you can work towards a landscape that is enjoyable for you and the insects we have working on our side.  Thanks for thinking it through.

 

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Native Carpenters, Not Boring Bees


What’s eating my deck??  A neighbor of mine recently started this conversation.  So I thought it might be fitting to make an introduction – meet the Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica.  It’s name actually means ‘wood worker’ in Greek.)  These are the shiny black, thumb-sized buzzers investigating everyone’s deck and house this time of year.  They hover around the house at eye level challenging you to elementary school style staring contests.  What’s up with these guys?

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Image by Philly Honeyfest

Carpenter bees are one of our native superstar pollinators.  These guys are often confused with bumblebees – due to similar size and color.   An easy difference to distinguish is the fuzz.  Bumbles are furry, Carpenters are mostly shiny.   They are most active in spring and fall as they emerge, mate, and prepare nest cavities.  If you like blueberries, tomatoes, melons or peppers these are some of the hardest working bees we have.  Tomatoes in particular are known to set heavier fruit when pollinated by Carpenter bees.  (Greenhouse growers raise these bees specifically for this purpose).

Even if you just like bird or wildlife in your yard, it is these pollinators who are doing the heavy lifting converting flowers into food for the other locals.  The fact that they are natives makes them highly valuable.  They willingly and happily live right in our yards to do their critical pollinating work, requiring nothing of us.  Except maybe patience.

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Image by Kansas State Extension

These are solitary bees who lay eggs in wooden tunnels, and stuff them with food for the future larvae.  The females lay eggs in the wood cavities (also known as ‘galleries’ – sounds fancy, right?) and hang around to meet and defend their offspring who grow throughout the summer and emerge in the fall to feed before clustering for the winter. This time of year wooden decks, swing sets, fences and houses make attractive structures for them to investigate.  Often the males will hover around existing nest sites, defending the area to other bees (and hummingbirds, humans, etc.) who might be moving in on their turf.
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I get it.  The wood boring part is annoying, especially when it is in something we value.  Technically they are chewing – not eating or boring.  They toss the resulting shavings outside or pack them like particle board along the cavity walls.  My husband has a love/hate with these insects. So what to do?  Offer alternatives.  Carpenter bees greatly prefer soft, unfinished wood for their galleries.  Where none exists, they will choose stained or treated wood but generally don’t recognize painted wood.  They are looking for raw wood – so let’s give them some!  Here are a few ideas:
  • All natural – Leave a small pile of brush, wood pile in your yard.  Don’t spray any chemicals or insecticides and see if they go the natural route.  In reality this is what they are looking for.
  •  Make a condo – A simple unfinished block of wood with a bunch of holes drilled in it offers them an easier nest site than your deck. But size matters. Hole size should be 1/2” diameter and about 3-4” deep.   If possible mount the block 3+ feet off the ground. Offer multiple size holes 1/8″ – 1/2″ to attract a range of different natives.  Drill on the end grain to make it even more appealing.
  • Give them their own house – Many local garden centers sell solitary bee houses that are quite attractive.  Hang these early in the spring to give the Carpenters an easy choice.
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Store-bought – Image by amazon

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DIY condo – Image by Bugblog

What if they have already moved in to your deck?  Carpenter bees are attracted to existing holes.  These can and should be plugged with cork or dowels and sanded to match.  Do this after the holes have been vacated!  Otherwise, they will chew through your fix.  When a neighbor asks what you are doing, you can casually respond “Oh, I’m just filling my galleries.”  Carpenter bee traps exist but obviously kill the insects and reduce our native bee population.  Use them as a last resort.
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The promise

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Unintended result

Insecticides are a terrible option. They kill all insects (butterflies, ladybugs, bees etc.) and the wildlife which feed on them (birds, toads, salamanders, etc).  I realize many insecticides show the big NO mosquitos logo.  But they fail to disclose that pyrethrins (the common and even organic sprays) are general purpose killers.  These are nerve agents that kill all bugs dead – on contact.  Spraying for insects in our landscapes destroys the food chain of wildlife, including us – especially if you garden, bird watch, or keep chickens.
I’m working on a separate post on mosquitos, as this is the time of year those neighborhood signs start popping up promising a bug-free outdoors.  It might be a chance to save you some money and defend our superheroes.   Keep an eye out for that and this spring, try offering our native bees the natural home they seek and they may just pollinate your garden and skip your deck.

The Buzz in Your Lawn


How many types of bees can you name?  Honeybees, bumblebees, carpenter bees… All correct but you are 498 short of naming all the native bees that live in NC.  (Honeybees aren’t technically native, but they have ancestors who were, thus the southern buzz).   Yep, over 500 species of bees call NC home and do the important task of pollinating in our landscapes.

It’s this time of year with nature in full bloom that our native bees are on parade.  And they live very different lives than their honeybee cousins.  Most natives are solitary bees who nest in the ground (about 80% are ground dwellers).  They are NOT the same as yellow jackets – who belong to the wasp family.  Here is the difference:

Yellow jackets = wasps = large colony in the ground = hit it with lawnmower = pain

Miners = bees = single bee in the ground = pollinate your plants = food/berries

      Wasp                     Ground Bee

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I realize it is a bit hard to tell in the heat of the moment.  But these little ‘miner’ bees are one of our hometown heroes of pollination.  They need your undisturbed natural areas & understanding to turn flowers into fruit for us and the local wildlife.

Ground bees are NOT fire ants (who clearly prove Hell is real and who have a great appetite for my ankles).  The tiny, individual miner bee mounds cannot compare to the heaps of earth moved by a colony of fire ants.  But the bee mounds can be found in clusters which can be confusing.  Let’s investigate…

Fire ants = ants = large colony in a mound = goes ballistic when disturbed = pain

Miners = bees = single bees forming mounds = busy working in your yard = food/berries

   Fire Ants (aka demons)    vs.          Ground Bees

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I’ll be writing more articles in the future on our other native bees (like the shiny carpenter bee who keeps hovering at eye level when you go out on the deck).  In the meantime, learn more about our local bee friends in this timely article from the NC Cooperative Extension on the differences and importance of this species of native bees.

Pest Alert: Ground Bees Active but Do Not Threaten People or Yards

— Written By N.C. Cooperative ExtensionFrom: Steve Frank, Extension Entomologist

As I write this my front yard is abuzz with small bees. Many are flying around just above the ground while others fly back and forth to redbuds and camellias gathering pollen.

Although these bees do not generally sting I watch as mothers nervously cross the street with strollers. Neighbors pass by and comment “Watch out for all those fire ants” referring to the small mounds that dot my sparsely vegetated lawn. Others offer suggestions on how to rid myself of these dangerous beasts that are “tearing up your lawn.”

Bee emerging from its mound

The bees I am watching are ground nesting bees in the family Andrenidae. All the species in this family are solitary and nest in the ground. Solitary means they do not maintain vast hives with hundreds of workers like honeybees or yellow jackets. A single female bee builds the nest by burrowing into the ground. She prepares larval cells where eggs will be laid. Mothers provision each brood cell with a mixture of pollen and nectar called bee bread that serves as food for young larvae. After laying an egg she closes the brood cell and starts another. After completing several brood cells the mother will seal the entrance and leave the nest to begin a new nest. After a few weeks she will die leaving the next generation safe in the ground. In spring bees complete development and emerge as adults that dig their way out of the ground and forage for pollen and nectar to provision their own nests. The visual spectacle of these bees is produced largely by males who swarm over nests trying to mate with newly emerged females. The other noticeable aspect of these bees is the small mounds of dirt excavated for each nest.

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Hundreds of small mounds and swarms of bees often trigger calls to exterminators or landscape professionals. Homeowners fear that they will be attacked and stung as they bend over to pick up the paper and they believe that the bees are actively damaging their yard and want them gone. This is not the case.

An ovipositor is the organ female insects use to insert eggs into substrates such as leaves, wood, soil, other insects, or in our case brood cells. In social insects such as honeybees, most of the females are workers that do not mate or lay eggs and thus have no need for an ovipositor. However, they do need to protect the nest from invaders. Therefore, the ovipositor of these species has evolved into a stinger to ward off threats.

Bee on Finger

With this in mind it is easy to understand why the threat of being stung by the ground nesting bees in my yard is so small. First, the bees swarming around are mostly males. Males don’t lay eggs and thus do not have an ovipositor modified or otherwise. The female bees are responsible for all aspects of nest construction and provisioning and are busy digging and foraging. Since the ovipositor of ground nesting bees is necessary for laying eggs, it is not well developed as a stinger if at all. I won’t say that you will never be stung because this would encourage some fool to torment bees until they proved me wrong. However, I have handled these bees quite a bit and never been stung.

These bees prefer to nest in dry, sparsely vegetating areas. Therefore if you have bees nesting in your lawn it is because the grass is thin and soil dry. The bees don’t make it this way they just take advantage of the conditions. If anything the bees are providing a valuable service by aerating the lawn!

The behavior and habitat preference of these bees leads us to the most promising ways to reduce their abundance in a particular yard. First they like dry soil they can dig nests in. Therefore, irrigation over the 3-4 weeks bees are active will encourage them to find other nest sites and reduce their abundance the following year. In addition, they like thin lawns with plenty of bare spots. Thus, you can take measures to improve the density of your grass to make it less appealing to bees. Native bees are an important part of ecosystems and food production. We should take steps to protect these bees or at least use non-lethal means to encourage them to nest somewhere else.