2019 Master Gardener Regional Convention—Rexburg, ID, June 28th

This was the second year that Sharon, Brian and Amy took on the Rexburg convention. And as before, the educational opportunities were exceptional and the campus gorgeous.

Out of the 14 educational offerings, 6 could be selected for the day’s classes. From these Amy chose: Backpacking for Wildflowers; Herbs in Your Landscape;; Nature, A Prescription You Cannot Fill in a Pharmacy; Spiders got you Spooked; Want to Have Your Own Nursery?; and From Root Cellars to Walipinis

Here are the highlight of the things learned from these sessions:

-Instead of baggies of wet paper towels, in “Backpacking for Wildflowers” we learned how to make our own Tissue Culture Media. This simplifies plant collecting enormously. With these light weight, plastic test tubes, filled with about an inch of media, you can now take much smaller cuttings of plant starts, and easily preserve them, for days if needed. Here’s the recipe:

Add 4 cups of distilled water to a saucepan26 Regional 2
Dissolve 1 tsp. MiracleGro into solution
Dissolve ¼ cup cane sugar into solution
Add 1 tsp. Dip-N-Grow liquid rooting hormone to solution
Add 1 Tab. Agar
Heat until it boils, stir.
Remove from heat and dispense 15-20 mL into plastic, lidded tubes

-In “Herbs in Your Landscape,” it was most impressive to see how many herbs are really quite beautiful as ornamentals…and why not use them as features in our landscapes. Some that were impressive were using certain lavender varieties (Twickel Purple & Phenomenal) for short hedging; lime mint was not only a lovely variety, but what a wonderful addition to those summer-time Mojito’s; the oregano variety Dittany of Crete has a fuzzy leaf and is a most beautiful plant; pineapple sage actually has some lovely ornamental red flowers.

-We learned in “Nature, A Prescription You Cannot Fill in a Pharmacy,” that in today’s world, nature is literally a prescription to improve health. Dr. Robert Zarr, in 2017, founded Park Rx America, so that health professionals could write park prescriptions for patients of all ages suffering with obesity, mental health issues, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes. It turns out humans need green space for stress relief, to lessen depression and anxiety, for lowering blood pressure, and on and on. Biophilia, also called BET, suggests that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life…we need it. This is something we probably all know, but this somehow really drove the point home.

-“Spiders got you Spooked” was just plain fun and interesting. The big message was that the Aggressive House Spider (Hobo) is no longer on the venomous bite list. It was a spider whose identity had been grossly misrepresented.

-Inspiration was given through “Want to Have Your Own Nursery,” to take our Metra greenhouse and put it to work, even though it would only be for those months that wouldn’t require heating…May to Oct. An opportunity for vertical garden growing and blessing our communities food services with vegetables such as pole beans, winter squash and tomatoes, as well as demonstrate to the public the value of vertical growing in small spaces.

-Then finally Walipini Construction. First off, besides being fun to say, what’s that all 27 Regional 3about? For curiosity’s sake a closer look had to be invoked. Turns out this is a wonderful green-house structure that takes on much of the same dynamics as an earth house. The greenhouse floor is dug into the ground and walls are bermed with soil to create an underground green-house. A bit of work for sure, but what benefits to have the consistency of soil warmth through winter, and only a roof to maintain.

And for a bonus, we were taught28 Regional 4 how to make a Linnaeus seed packet…yes we are talking Carolus (Carl) Linnaeus here. Was so awesome to have in our hands the very packet he used when collecting seeds.

As Master Gardeners, you all can take in this most awesome resource for advancing your horticulture education. Do consider coming along in 2020.

~Submitted by Amy Grandpre

Leafcutter Bee (Megachile rotundata) Tour

July 19, 2019 — Hosted by John Wold, Ashlawn Farms, Laurel, MT

Attendees: Sheri Fredericksen, Gordon Clark, Mary Davis, Kyle and Pat Neary, Nan Grant, Carolyn Jones, Sue and Marvin Carter

Ashlawn Farms was established in 1909 and homesteaded by John Wold’s grandfather who moved west from Northwestern Minnesota. The name of the farm comes from the many ash trees located on the property. The family farms several crops, including some on dryland acres located south of Laurel. Leafcutter Bees (Bees) play an important role in the family’s alfalfa seed business which started in 1986.

In early years, a harrow was used to try and open the alfalfa flowers to allow pollination to occur, however, it was a practice that was destructive to the plant. During the 1970’s, farmers realized that bees worked extremely well to pollinate the alfalfa.

The alfalfa seed business is extremely weather dependent. Once the alfalfa plants begin budding, the Leafcutter Bee larvae, which have been stored in tubs during the winter, are placed into screened boxes. 19 Leafcutter 2The temperature in the incubation room is gradually increased to about 85 degrees for the larvae to mature into swarming Bees. Once the Bees begin swarming, they are hungry and ready to go to work. Ideally, if the weather can maintain about 80-85 degrees, the Bees are released to begin pollination of the alfalfa.20 Leafcutter 3

The Bees have no typical “queen;” however, the females do all of the work. The boxes containing the nesting holes are put into trailers and towed to locations where they are spaced out appropriately to pollinate the alfalfa. (The placement of the nesting boxes is 23 Leafcutter 6due to the Bees nesting range of 300 feet.) In total there are approximately 3,000 nesting holes per box. The trays of mature Bees are transported to the field by pickup (in the evening or morning) when the temperature is cool, and placed into the top of the trailers which can house 18, 24 or 28 nesting boxes. The screens are then removed. Once the temperature begins to rise, the Bees begin to swarm as they leave the boxes. The Bees are very weak and the first thing they do is learn to fly and begin to feed to gain strength. Once they build up strength, the females then choose a nesting hole.24 Leafcutter 7

Once a female Bee claims a nesting hole, it is hers and will not be used by another female while the eggs are being laid in the hole. The female Bee lines the hole with “cuts” of leaf material from nearby plants creating a sort of cocoon for depositing the pollen and nectar and laying the egg. The female Bee opens the alfalfa blooms and sucks the nectar and gathers the pollen from several 21 Leafcutter 4flowers on her belly and carries the pollen back to her nesting hole. (Since the females carry the pollen on their dry bellies, each flower they enter to gather more pollen is pollinated by the pollen that has been carried from the previous bloom.) The female Bee scrapes the pollen off inside the nesting hole, then spits the nectar into the pollen creating a paste-like food source for the larvae to feed on prior to diapause.1  When enough pollen and nectar has been collected, she then lays the egg and seals it with cuts of leaf material to protect the egg from predators. Female Bees literally wear their wings off flying into and out of the nesting holes and have a life span of about 5-6 weeks; the males live only about 2 weeks once they fertilize the females.

Approximately 6 gallons of Bees2 per acre are required to adequately pollinate the 22 Leafcutter 5alfalfa blooms. Great care is taken to ensure the alfalfa is not over-pollinated as it can have a detrimental effect to the alfalfa seed yield.

Once pollination is complete, the boxes containing the larvae are retrieved from the field and placed into the incubation room (at a temperature of 50-55 degrees) for the following year.3 The alfalfa plant is sprayed with a chemical defoliator causing the plant to dehydrate so that it is ready to harvest. One pound of alfalfa seeds equals approximately 250,000 seeds. Depending on the amount of alfalfa acres, the family’s total yield can vary year to year.

Leafcutter Bees have a gentle nature and although they have a stinger, would only sting if threatened. A sting is comparable to a mosquito bite. The Bee is renowned for their superior capability with pollinating alfalfa.

I “bee-lieve” a good time was had by all and the tour was very informative.

~ Submitted by Sheri Fredericksen

 

Footnotes

  1. Diapause is a predetermined period of dormancy, meaning it’s genetically programmed and involved adaptive physiological changes, i.e., from the time the larvae are placed into a cool temperature to the time the incubation room temperature is increased to make the larvae mature.
  2. Approximately 10,000 bees equals one pound.
  3. The larvae will remain in diapause until the incubation room temperature is increased the following summer to begin the metamorphosis cycle into mature Leafcutter Bees.

Helping Bees

Bees and other pollinators are in decline. In the summer 2019 issue of “Permaculture” magazine, there is an article entitled “Bee Roadzz” by Milly Carmichael that offers some hope. The following is a synopsis of that article.

In 2014 in England the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) wrote the 10-year National Pollinator Strategy to improve the state of bees and other pollinating insects and to monitor progress. Yet despite this focus on the pollinators’ plight, bees are in trouble still. The reasons for the decline in population of honeybees and other bees are manifold and complex and include loss of habitat. “…in the UK, in the last 60-70 years we have lost 97% of wildflower meadows, 300,000 km. of established hedgerows and 80% of flower-rich chalk downland.”16 Helping Bees 2

A group of people in the village of Marlborough decided to tackle this problem from a local perspective. Knowing that honeybees can travel up to 4 miles to find food and that their nearest village was 7 miles away, the people of Marlborough met with their neighboring village and set up a “bee road” between the 2 villages. They met with many different people in the town as well as farmers in the adjacent area. The first step was to work with existing resources, then re-assess and take the project further if successful. “Whatever can be done is encouraged, whether it is: reviewing garden plans and choosing more bee-friendly ones; sharing those plans with friends and neighbors; taking part in national monitoring schemes; reducing pesticide use; creating hibernation and nesting habitat for solitary bees; landowners surveying field margins for wildflowers and seeding the less rich areas…planting dozens of honeysuckle cuttings in the hedgerows; or letting a corner of a churchyard grow wilder.” Farmers were encouraged to increase wildflowers in edges of fields as well as in meadows, re-introduce hedgerows, and plant flowering trees.

In addition to increasing food sources in the farmland between the towns, creating bee habitats in yards and gardens was encouraged. “There is growing evidence that allotments, domestic gardens and community green spaces in urban environments offer enormous potential for increasing pollinator populations and protecting genetic diversity.”

17 Helping Bees 3

Now more villages are becoming involved in creating bee roads. The Marlborough group’s goal is to cover the country with “Bee Roadzz” so bees have habitat and food sources continuously available instead of islands of food and shelter surrounded by deserts without these resources.

In Montana our towns are many miles apart, so creating bee roads like these would be hard. But in urban areas we could work to make our yards and gardens more bee-friendly and also work with farmers and ranchers to increase food sources and habitats for bees similar to the English project.

~Submitted by Ann Guthals

Potatoes 2019

Half of my potatoes did not flower this year. I wondered if this would affect the production of potatoes in the ground, so I dug up one plant. There were plenty of potatoes, so having no flowers did not stop the plant making new potatoes.

The flowering potato plants produced clusters of “fruit” that resembled small green tomatoes. These are not edible and in fact are poisonous. Wikipedia states that these fruits form in years that are cooler and wetter than normal as the flowers have time to be pollinated and create the fruit. This was the first year I had seen these tomato-looking clusters on my potato plants.

~Submitted by Ann Guthals

Recipe – PICKLED CARROTS

1 lb. carrots, peeled and sliced on the diagonal 1/8 thick
1 cup apple cider vinegar ¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt 1 tablespoon peppercorns
1 tablespoon mustard seeds ½ cup water

Place the prepared carrots in a clean resealable jar. Combine the vinegar, sugar, salt, peppercorns, mustard seed and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour immediately over the carrots. Clean the rim and jar and screw on lid and ring. Let cool to room temperature then refrigerate 2 hours (better after at least 24 hours) before serving. They can be stored up to 3 weeks (they won’t last that long).

These are so good with many dishes or as a snack. My next batches I doubled and tripled.

~Submitted by Sheri Kisch

Book Review – The Weather Detective: Rediscovering Nature’s Secret Signs

The Weather Detective: Rediscovering Nature’s Secret Signs
By Peter Wohlleben

This fascinating little book does indeed have much information on using nature’s signs to predict the weather, a useful skill for home gardeners. Among the indicators explored are wind patterns, clouds, flowers that close prior to storms, and bird songs. Then the book goes on to be a wealth of more information on many aspects of reading nature to help us garden. Even though the author is German, generally his information and advice translates well to our latitude and longitude.

The topics covered vary widely from basics to interesting unusual tidbits such as what elaiosomes are (a small fatty, sugary morsel attached to seeds to entice ants to carry both home, thus spreading seeds far and wide) or synanthropes (animals born wild but who thrive in close association to cultivated human environments like the Eurasian collared dove that showed up in our yard last year and stayed). One of my favorite stories is about the flower clock created by the eighteenth century Swedish natural scientist, Carl Linnaeus. He discovered that different flowers open their blooms at different times of the day, enabling him to create a flower “clock” with different types of flowers for each hour. Equally interesting was learning that birds often sing at specific times of the day, so that after one learns their calls, one could roughly know the time when a certain bird sings.

There are several chapters with decidedly practical advice and applications for gardeners: how to work in cooperation with rather than at war with nature, increasing soil health to increase garden health, adapting to climate change, in addition to accurately predicting the weather.

There are also chapters that increase our enjoyment of the natural world: using all of our senses not just the visual, and discovering new and interesting information about many aspects of nature.

As in his other books, Mr. Wohlleben writes in a flowing, readable manner that effectively translates up-to-date scientific information into layman’s terms. I hope you will soon read and enjoy The Weather Detective, so much more than a guide to predicting the weather.

~Review by Ann Guthals