The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

January 18, 2018

Research on new organic insecticide

While it’s popular to bash seemingly frivolous tax payer funded scientific research, I think most people would agree that a vast majority of research is worth while.

There is some really interesting research happening over at the US Department of Agriculture that may have the potential to spill over into the organic gardening area. A naturally occurring chemical called methyl bromide may turn out to be a safe, effective, natural insecticide suitable for organic growing.

If methyl bromide sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because you’ve probably seen it on a list of food ingredients on the package of one of your favorite foods or beverages. It’s often listed under one of many different names such as methylbenzoate, benzoic acid, methyl ester and others.

Methyl benzoate is found naturally in the flower aromas of daffodils, tuberoses, kalachoe, snapdragons, petunias, and many others. These flowers produce methyl benzoate as part of their fragrance to attract bees and other insects. This substance contributes to the flavor of bananas, cherries, cloves, allspice, mustard, coffee, black tea, dill, kiwi and other plant foods. It’s used in the food industry for its nutty, cherry-like flavor and fruity, flowery scent.

As it turns out, this chemical, when isolated or as part of a formulation, can repel or even kill many insect pests. Plus it leaves no long term residue that can build up on food or in the environment. All of this is still in the early stage of research, but if it turns out that a methyl benzoate formulation is effective, it probably won’t take long for it to gain governmental approval.

Many insect pests are developing resistance to current pesticides this may help to fill the void left by insecticides that are no longer effective. Also, organic insecticides are not always good at killing certain types of pests. If it works, methyl benzoate  will be a valuable addition to the organic insecticide arsenal.

As a side note, methyl bromide is scent drug sniffing dogs are looking for. Methyl benzoate is produced when cocaine is exposed to the moisture in the air.

Bob

 

March 4, 2017

Accidental bee pollen substitute

Filed under: Bees — bob @ 1:16 pm

We’re back to near normal temperatures after that stretch of unseasonably warm days in late February.

Maybe you noticed last week all the honey bees that were out flying. They took advantage of the nice days to make their cleansing flights to defecate outside the hive. Bees avoid passing their digestive waste inside the hive whenever possible.

They also worked to remove the bodies of bees that had died during the winter as part of their natural housekeeping behavior.

One thing that surprised me was the number of bees out foraging for pollen. Of course in the middle of February there were very few, if any, flowers to visit. I noticed a few flowers blooming in micro-climates that are located in well-protected south facing areas. That wasn’t enough to really collect much pollen.

I keep a several dozen laying hens on my property. During the winter they’re fed a special recipe that I have specially made at our local grain mill. The bulk of the recipe is locally sourced corn and protein supplement along with some vitamins and minerals. All the ingredients are ground up and mixed together by the mill. The result is a dry, coarse mix that has a wide variation in particle side ranging from slightly cracked corn all the way down to fine grain dust. The dust component is so fine it can easily be blown about by the wind.

Last week I unintentionally left the top of my feed storage open for part of the day, usually I close it right away to keep the rain out. Late in the day when I when to give the hens their afternoon meal I was  startled to see dozens of honey bees flying in and out of my feed bin. They were carrying away tiny loads of very fine chicken feed on their legs where they normally carry pollen.

bees collecting grain dust

Flower pollen is highly variable in food value. Protein content ranges anywhere from just a few percent to 40 percent or more. Many factor determine the amount of protein present in pollen; plant species, growing conditions, and rainfall among others. Protein content may even change somewhat during the growing season.

My chicken feed recipe is about 18-20 percent protein which falls in the lower range of pollen. It’s not as high as real pollen but it also contains vitamins and minerals necessary for chicken as well as bee growth.

I guess the bees decided since there were no flowers, they’d do the next best thing and collect a pollen substitute to take back to the hive. Heck, they were out flying anyway so, why go back empty handed?

Inside the hive, the bees will pack the grain dust into honey comb cells where it will ferment, just like real pollen.  The process is sort of like what we do make pickles, cheese, sauerkraut or beer. The fermentation process breaks down the indigestible components into an edible form that young bee larvae can more easily digest.

Once the flowers start blooming, the bees will probably lose interest in the chicken feed. They’ll happily go back to collecting their preferred protein source, flower pollen.

Bob

April 28, 2016

Let the world know you care about pollinators

Filed under: Bees,Insects — bob @ 7:13 am

While you’re deciding on what plants to add to your garden and landscape this year, think about pollinator friendly plants. By now most gardeners are aware of the steady decline in the number of pollinators over the past several decades. Bees, butterflies, moths, beetles and other pollinators have all taken a hit.

A large percentage of the foods we eat, over thirty percent, depends on pollinators. Plus, add to that, all of the different wild plants that depend on pollinators and you can see why it is such a problem. Even the federal government has acknowledged it be a matter of national security.

Planting even a few pollinator friendly plants in a garden will help, however more is better in this case.

Even though the situation is serious for pollinators, helping them doesn’t have to be a drag. The National Pollinator Garden Network has come up with a fun way to help us help pollinators. It’s called the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. The organization hopes to register one million gardens, both existing and new,  that are pollinator friendly.

They suggest six simple to understand guidelines to help you with your pollenator garden. And if you want to take it to the next step, their website has loads of information to guide you.

Our own Michigan State University has been scientifically studying the pollinator decline and has a wonderful website tailored to the three general ecosystems in our state: Southern Lower Peninsula; Northern Lower Peninsula; and Upper Peninsula.

When you register with the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, your garden site is pinned to a map of North America. It’s fascinating to see all of those pins on that map and where the gardens are.

Our area of southeastern Michigan looks under represented to me. I’m not sure if it’s because of a lack of gardens or if it’s because gardeners are unaware of the program.

Let’s make our gardens pollinator friendly this year, get pinned on the map and show the world how much our region cares about helping pollinators.

Bob

 

September 2, 2011

Fresh Water Helps Honeybees

Filed under: Bees — bob @ 12:46 pm

We know that planting flowering plants will go a long way to help our local honeybees.  They need more than pollen and nectar from flowers however.  Providing a source of clean water will help them thrive.

As I was potting up plants the other day, I was reminded how important water is to honeybees.  Bees were collecting water from a bucket I have sitting out near the potting bench.  I keep this bucket full just so bees have a place nearby to collect water – they’re also fun to watch.

Bees use water during the summer to cool their hives.  They spread the collected water around inside the hive.  Then bees inside use their wings to fan air over the water causing it to evaporate quickly which cools the hive.

They like to keep the inside of the hive at about 93 degrees F.  You can imagine how warm it can get inside of an enclosed beehive exposed to the summer sun.  Even during cooler days, the hive temperature can rise due to body heat generated by all of the activity of thousands of bees – sort of like when thousands of sports fans get together inside a basketball arena with no air conditioning.

My bucket is out of the way where no one can bother it.  Sometimes the bees are so intent on getting water that they will accidentally bump into people passing by.

I timed individual bees and found out that it takes just about one minute for a bee to land, fill up with water and head back to the hive.  On a nice day earlier this week, the bees were drawing down one or two inches of water a day.  I know that my bucket is just one source of water for this hive and that they were using much more water than that.

As the temperatures approach the upper 90′s F today, more honeybee workers are assigned to the task of collecting water.

Even though we have moved into late summer, it’s not too late to provide your neighborhood bees with fresh water.  Just be sure to change the water often to keep mosquitoes from breeding in it.

Bob

August 18, 2011

Bee Balm

Filed under: Bees,Flowers — bob @ 12:44 pm

While walking past a clump of Monarda the other day, I noticed the plants were humming with insects.  Even though the flowers were past peak blooming, all sorts of bees were buzzing around.

About half the blooms are left on this stand of Monarda and there are still plenty of bees visiting it.

I took a minute or so to look at the insects and counted at least a half dozen different species of the bee family. There were honeybees, paper wasps and some kind of bumblebee; those were easy to spot. Looking closer I could see other species of smaller bees that I was not able to identify.  It’s no wonder Monarda is called Bee Balm.  Butterflies and hummingbirds like Monarda too.

Bee Balm is a native plant that has found a place in the garden.  Normally, in the wild, it grows in damp areas.  In the garden, it grows fine in a flowerbed; you just need to give it a little extra water during dry spells. If you have a wet area that gives you problems, Monarda is a good solution.

Even though Monarda is a perennial, it is best to wait until spring before dividing and moving a clump to your garden. Fall planted Monarda will often winterkill.  I have grown it from seed; it is fairly easy to start and is a cheap way to get a lot of plants.

It grows to a height of three or four feet, has red, pink or purple flowers depending on the variety, and takes care of itself once it is established.

Monarda is also used as an herb.  In the herb garden, it is known by its other two names Bergamot and Oswego Tea.

Planting Monarda is an easy way to add color to your garden while helping our local honeybees and other pollinators.

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