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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

While we are on the subject of bees, this is a good time to write this post as a follow-up to the last one.

Lest readers think that it is all strawberries 'n cream, and wine 'n roses at Crocker Croft, I have decided to show the seamy side. First there are two photographs of Epimedium that show how the leaves have been eaten. For a few years, I have wondered what did that. I really didn't mind, because I thought it looked so cute and interesting. Besides, the plants showed no suffering at all. It just looked frilly.

Now, thanks to recent chit-chat among the gardeners who blog, the mystery has been solved. It is the work of a native wild bee, a solitary bee, called the Leaf Cutter Bee. I read about it on the blogs of Kylee's and Robin's. The most complete information I found about them is here at the Colorado State University Extension's web site.

There are many species of leafcutter bees alone. Overall, it is estimated that in North America there are about 4,000 species of native wild bees. The disease carrying mites that are killing the hives of honeybees does little to the wild bees because many are solitary and do not live in a group or form large colonies. But, the use of pesticides and loss of habitat is just as devastating.

Wild bees are rarely kept in hives, although there are some people who do practice wild bee culture and management. These bees do not make surplus honey so they are kept for the purpose of pollination only. The information I read about keeping and managing wild bees left me believing it was extremely complicated and tricky.

The needs of wild bees can be met by land owners including gardeners of large gardens. The bees nest in thick grass, wood, and soil (70% nest in the ground). By making nesting sites available it is not too difficult to help them increase their populations. They also need natural habitats for foraging. That can be anywhere that can be left to grow wild. We have a small woodlot that is pretty wild. Not far from us is a stream where the Giant Blue Lobelia blooms among the weeds and grasses. I remember years ago farm fencerows were allowed to grow wild, but not any more. All of those are conducive to wild bee survival and reproduction.

In California it has been found that, where farms are surrounded by wild vegetation, the native bees and feral honeybees can do most of the work. But most of California farms are huge and grow only one kind of crop with clean verges; in that kind of environment, with no natural habitat, the wild bees can not live and will never fulfill the pollination needs of those farmers' crops.

Our honeybees are not native to North America. They are native to Europe and were introduced here to help the farmers' production. Their pollination work is a critical part of our agriculture. I have read that they pollinate more than 130 kinds of crops in the U.S.A. That means an estimated annual value of $15 billion in crops.

News out of Cornell University is that the mite diseases and Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) have killed 95 to 98 % of our feral European honeybee colonies and more than half of hobby beekeepers have lost all or most of their hives.

Commercial beekeepers are suffering, but are still managing. The government has a research action plan. The research on bee diseases has made it possible for the commercial keepers to furnish the 1.2 million colonies that are needed to pollinate the fields to provide the food we eat. So far, so good, but I wonder if this might be too little, too late. So far there is only one registered chemical (Apistan) available to beekeepers to control the Varroa mites, and in Europe the mites have already become resistant to it; the same thing is expected to happen in the U.S.

Ever read in the newspaper that a truckload of bees turned over? I have, more than once. One just a few weeks ago. How would you like to have that job to clean up! Local beekeepers (apiarists) were called in to help. Bees are hauled around as the seasons change. Crop pollination is a migratory business. The keepers follow seasonal crops as the trees and crops bloom. Many keepers take their bees to Florida for the winter and then haul them about on trucks that can hold up to 500 colonies and 10 million to 15 million bees.

The apiarists charge growers a fee for pollination services. They place their colonies near the crops that need pollinating. Those fees are their main source of income with a little on the side for the honey and beeswax they sell.

One almond grower in California said they are importing honeybees from Australia and if they couldn't get those, there would be no almonds. And, as we have read, CCD is already in New Zealand, will Australia be next? And what will that mean to our dinner menu?

So, yes, the evidence that those little leafcutter bees are living here and cutting Epimedium leaves to roll up to line their tunnels and nests, oh, yes, that is Good!

Next comes The Bad.
My hollyhock foliage starts out looking like this:

Before long, it looks like lace.

Really bad!

There are tiny little caterpillars with white fuzz eating them up. I do not know what the adults are. So far I have not used any remedy, I'm just waiting for the natural cycle to kick in, I guess; I wish it would hurry up. In the meanwhile the hollyhocks bloom away. Has anyone had this problem?

I did find some information about little caterpillars eating hollyhock, but I am not sure it is the same critter, mine are fuzzy, theirs are smooth. The result is the same, however. If anyone else is having the problem here is the link that I found: Wuv'n Acres

Now for The Ugly.

I have shown many photos of Dame's Rocket, blooming en mass, usually. It is a short-lived perennial, which, in order to keep it going, I let go to seed in some areas. Birds love the seeds, but enough escape to make the garden pretty in springtime.

The first problem is: When it goes seedy, it is really seedy looking... even weedy looking. Some areas we cut the bloom stalk back to the low plant near the ground. Here it has gone seedy and weedy looking. These will be cut back.

Next is an example of another problem. Barely visible are small white spots where powdery mildew is getting started on these slender bean-like seedpods. All of it will be cut down, bagged, and sent to the landfill. Our climate is so humid, mildews are an ongoing problem.

The next photograph shows what happens if left unchecked, and this is The Ugly! I wonder if what we call Powdery Mildew is the same one the British call American Mildew? This poor plant is way overdue to be banished, bagged, and carted away with the garbage.

I hate to leave you with this ugly image in your memory. I will try to find something more pleasant. Now, let me see…. What can I come up with?


I almost titled this post "Trouble in Paradise". Glad I didn't, because I since discovered that Mr. McGregor's Daughter had already titled one of hers that way. I still like the name, though. You can find hers here:
Mr. McGregor's Daughter Trouble in Paradise


patientgardener said...

Hi Barbee - there is something on my latest post for you. Please dont feel obliged to respond as I know you have been tagged alot recently.

Amy said...

What an interesting post, especially about the leaf cutter bees. I don't know if we have any of those here, but we certainly have wild areas in our yard :) You're very brave to show the good, AND the bad, AND the ugly :)

Greg said...

Barbee, what a fascinating post about the wild bees. I had focussed so much on honey and bumblebees in the past that I'd not really paid much mind to the others, so knew next to nothing about them when I "discovered" them making the rounds in this year's garden! I wonder if the leaf-cutter bee could be responsible for the chewing of my coneflower petals.

Also, on that note (about coneflowers), thanks for your visit to the Midnight Garden today, and for the garden basket of enlightenment you brought along with you!

Phil The Gardener said...

Barbee You have done your homework. I used to be a beekeeper and migrated from Eastern Washington to California for several years. I have helped clean up truck loads of over turned bees. It is unfortunate when a car stops or suddenly turns in front of a semi-truck. It has a tendency to ruin a beekeepers day.
The cool thing about a leaf-cutter bee is that he is a better alfalfa pollinator than a honeybee. He goes straight into the alfalfa bloom triggering the (what I call) pollen smack. Ifyou hold an alfalfa bloom in your hand and use a straw to activate it you will see what I mean about the bloom opening as it is triggered.

Cinj said...

We have many wild bees around here too. I don't mind it if they sample my plants as long as they're thriving. Come to think of it I haven't seen many bumble bees here this year either.

Meadowview Thymes said...

How interesting (about bees!) I am going to print your findings and put them in my garden folder.
For the Hollyhocks--first year for me to have them and some of the leaves started to look like yours. I used insecticide soap, and it helped a little bit. Some of the leaves were just gone, but I did have blooms. I never could see anything--I kept looking under the leaves thinking I would see the culprit--but never did.

Barbee' said...

Patientgardener: I will be over there to check it out, but it may be tomorrow before I get there. Thank you!!!

Amy: Thank you, I suspect most people have some wild area :) I had to work up the courage to show those yucky pics. Shudder!

Greg: Awww.. how nice of you. I didn't even know you noticed the basket I was carrying. My post just before this one was about honeybees and bumblebees.

Phil The Gardener: Wow, a real live beekeeper in our midst. I never expected that, but thanks for the positive feedback. I'd say that would ruin a beekeeper's day! Hmmm.. I grew up with alfalfa growing all around me from time to time, and I never once thought to tell one blossom to say 'Ah'.

Cinj: Where oh where have the bumblebees gone?! Give those wild ones space. Hope no one gets stung. I'll never forget the first time I stepped barefooted on a honeybee. Scared me to death. Hurt, too.

Meadowview Thymes: Hi there! Thank you! I'm glad you liked the post. As I wrote above: the post just before this one was about honeybees and bumblebees. I thought the wild bees should have their moment in the limelight. Wow! Sorry about your Hollyhocks; strange that you didn't find anything under there. We need to figure this out. Hollyhocks are just too delightful to not grow because of some little critters. Wish birds would eat them, but guess they can't if they are on the underside of leaves, give them credit for knowing how to play it safe.

Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

Great post. Love the bee information.


Robin's Nesting Place said...

Interesting info on the leaf cutter bee.

Sometimes we do need to be realistic about the garden uglies. We all probably have them but rarely show them.

Barbee' said...

Thanks Deb: I appreciate your coming by and thanks for the comment. I guess by now we all have learned more about bees than we really cared to know.

Niels Plougmann said...

Like you I actually can live with the decorative damage leaf cutter bees do. I love the scent of dames rockets in the evening - but I do something about the powdery mildew - usually I water the plants and I spray with neem oil - neem oil is also an organic insecticide - but even organic insecticide kill bees - so I am very careful and target the area I spray making sure not to hit any bees. When I was a boy my family had 35 beehives. 2 of them were my beehives and I took care of them. It was so fascinating and it was possible to harvest 40 pounds of honey from each hive - my favorite honey was the dark brown spicy honey from wild Erica flowers on moors - or strawberry honey!

Barbee' said...

Ooops, Robin, you slipped in there while I was writing to Deb. I have to be honest, it is not perfect here, and sometimes readers help with a solution. Glad you enjoyed the info about the leaf cutter bee, your post on the subject enlightened me and I went from there. Thanks go to out to you!

Niels (Denmark): What a lovely and wonderful comment! It has added so much interest, and helpful, too. I never dreamed so much honey could come from one hive. Mmmm, I can just smell the honey and see the flowers. I once saw Erica on moors, so you bring mental pictures to mind. Thank You!

Philip Bewley said...

This was very informative on the bees. Your garden is so beautiful, but I guess there can still be trouble in paradise. We have the same problem with Hollyhocks.

Muddy Boot Dreams said...

Barbee, Great post!
I had leaf cutter bees go after my beloved Parottia, [ persian ironwood tree]. I guess I wasn't the only one who loved the green oval leaves. It got so bad that I had to throw a sheet over it during the day to discourage them, or there would be no leaves for me to see turn those amazing fall colors.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

Great post, you've really know a lot about bees! My old piano tuner was also a commercial apiarist who drove his bees all over the Midwest. He explained to me that he couldn't call his honey "organic" because he used that stuff to protect his bees from the mites. I thought that seemed a bit harsh, as his bees were used on organic farms. BTW, thanks for the link love.

Eve said...

I don't think I have seen a bee in my garden this year, good, bad or ugly. : ) A very informative post. Maybe the next time I get those lacey looking leaves, I will know what to look for.

Kathleen said...

Hi Barbee. Very informative post, I know very little about leaf cutter bees but I like all bees in general for what they do. It's scary to think what we would eat without them. I'll have to start noticing what kind of bees are visiting my garden. I have had some very large bumblebees this year, which is good.

Andrea said...

Oh the woes of the good bad and ugly! I give you props for posting this and I found the bit about the leaf cutter very interesting. I admit, when it comes to 'pests' I dont' know much about them, let alone how to get rid of them or save the plants. Sometimes I think its best not to always get rid of these guys but go with the flow. Unless they are a red beetle that falls off the leaf and onto his back everytime you try to pick him out of the garden. ;)

Lucy said...

I've just put up a post about pictures from other people's blogs which have especially stuck in my memory.

Amongst these, I've mentioned your one of your garden in spring which you had at the head of your blog for a while.

I can't work out how to make links to photos on blogs in situ so I'm wondering if you would mind if I copied it onto my blog - together with a link to yours.

I'd be grateful if you would let me know.

(I think you still have it on your web site?)


Barbee' said...

Philip (California, USA): Thank you for your kind words and for visiting and leaving a comment. Sorry about your Hollyhocks. I think for a cottage garden there is nothing that could quite take their place. I just need to get this problem figured out and take care of it.

Muddy Boot Dreams (British Columbia, Canada): Oh my, well, I am glad you were able to protect it. I was not familiar with Parrotia trees so I had to Google it. Found good information about it and its culture RIGHT HERE. I saw another lovely photo of one in its autumn colors. I see what you mean.

Mr. Mc's Daughter (Illinois, USA): Thank you for your interesting input. Re. the link: You are welcome :)

Kathleen (Colorado, USA): Thank you, Kathleen, and thank you for feeding the bumblebees :)

Andrea (Ontario, Canada): OK, Andrea, you are going over my head with this one (don't you wonder where those idioms come from!), did I miss one of your posts about red beetles?? Perhaps about Lily beetles? Or, are you trying to tell me that is what is wrong with the hollyhocks?! You got me with this one, but thanks for the kudos.

Andrea said...

Oh I was just mentioning that because I saw it in my inlaws garden and wasworried. The beetles were BREEDING.

Barbee' said...

Andrea: Whew! That's a relief! I have read that the red lily beetles (red beetles, not red lilies) are prolific breeders and can be caught and killed two at a time because of it. Wonder if that was what you saw.

Andrea said...

Weird!!! That was EXACTLY what I saw. They saw me and what they do is they fall off the leaves before you can grab them and onto their backs because they arn't easy to see with the soil around them. But because they were breeding, I nabbed the two and squished them. I felt back for doing so, especially when they were obviously in the middle of something very important. Im fairly sure if I was having sex, I wouldnt' appreciate being squished right in the middle of it. Of course, I wouldn't fall off a leaf and land on my back. haha OH-KAY, Halting all conversation there. :P


Barbee' said...

OK, Andrea has had it with this conversation, but if anyone else is reading this: the red beetles called lily beetles (or something like that) are attacking people's Asian lilies and perhaps other kinds of lilies. They multiply like fleas. Because they do drop off like that it is good to hold a container of soapy water, or water with oil on the surface, or some such stuff under the leaf and they will fall in. Similar to Japanese beetles' behavior. Better to Google it and read for yourself.

Barbee' said...

Lucy (England): What a great surprise, thank you! Yes, I will work with you and get that done.