Sunday, August 23, 2020

White House Rose Garden

This is such a non-issue, I'm sorry to even be writing about it. I'm only doing so because I feel like no one reporting on it is a gardener.

I've been seeing articles saying things like "Melania Trump RIPS OUT historic trees," and now the White House Rose Garden looks like a graveyard symbolizing how her husband had killed America. 

I don't mean for this to be a political post so I'm focusing on what was done to the garden aspect here. 

First off I will say, given her choice of shoes, Melania probably doesn't garden regularly. (Added: There are images of her wearing sneakers while gardening but she does not look natural in them. So I'm still thinking she doesn't do a whole lot of gardening.) I question how much of the changes can really be attributed to her and not the White House Landscapers and members of the Historical Society who would be taking care of anything worth protecting. 

The main cause of the controversy is how 10 Crab Apple trees were moved. These trees were originally planted by Jackie Kennedy so there is some historic value to be had. But lots of news outlets are saying they were "Ripped Out" or "Cut Down," and sometimes both; ripped out first and cut down later just to spite them. They have, in fact, been taken to an off site location and will be replanted elsewhere on the White House grounds. 

Lots of people are reporting with pictures of the trees in Spring, when they're flowering and looking pretty. There are also lots of colorful varieties of tulips adding to their glamour. So it's not fair to compare that to how the garden looks in Summer.  

Crab Apples, when not in flower don't always look pretty, especially when they're 50 years old and have been pruned to hell over the years. Part of the reason they were removed was to allow additional space for cameras to be for member of the press to do their job. Holding press meetings outside, where there's better air flow, and sunshine, reduces the risk of Covid transferring from person to person.

Along with the red/pink, white, and blue, flowers the only addition was a much needed side walk to make the gardens more handicap accessible and enjoyable from both sides. The Trump administration is far from being environmentally friendly but the reduction in the lawn is at least beneficial, as is the addition of Anise Hyssop, a native plant acting as the blue in the gardens here. (Though it could be one of the Asian hybrid cultivars.) In a C-SPAN video of the gardens some of the White Roses actually look like they're more of a light cream or faint yellow color. 

People are now saying the garden looks like a cemetery... Personally I blame that mausoleum-like white house in the background. That's just my opinion.


Tuesday, August 18, 2020

BUGSHOT 2019 Anza-Borrego


Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Ant Chat: Stealing Nectar from Milkweed


I realized I haven't posted in a while and I have some new editing software that I wanted to test out, so I made a video.

Asclepias sullivantii or Prairie Milkweed or Sullivan's Milkweed as it's known. This species is so timid compared to Common Milkweed, A. syriaca.

Common Milkweed form a lead tap root that every few inches sends out diagonally upward pointing roots that upon reaching the surface produces a new stem away from the main stem. This process repeats though for every new stem produced and the starting stem keeps on making them every few inches. So you can have a 6' deep root with dozens of these upward stems going back to the surface in all directions. And, especially in full sun settings, this can create a patch of Common Milkweed that's really not appropriate for most garden settings.

Sullivan's Milkweed doesn't do that. So you get a plant that looks fairly similar but isn't anywhere near as aggressive in a garden setting. My one complaint with it might be that it's too slow growing. Last year I only got one flower, one single flower, on the whole plant all because Monarchs had laid eggs on it and it the caterpillars ate them.

Asclepias incarnata, Swamp Milkweed, aka Fragrant Milkweed. Really most Milkweeds are fragrant but only at certain times of the day. This one though, right when the afternoon shade hits it, it smells like warm cupcakes right out of the oven, covered in honey. It's great. It's commonly sold at nurseries and has a number of cultivars. Sadly it's a short lived perennial lasting about 5 years, but it's pretty easy to grow from seed outdoors.

Asclepias purpurascens, Purple Milkweed. This species is not for everyone but by all means if you know a grower and have other species to fall back on give it a try. Basically this species likes some drainage in the soil, hates having its roots exposed, and might just randomly die if it's put in the wrong place. They're a little finicky. I've planted this all over my yard and most of them don't last long, but a few hold outs tell me the plant likely doesn't have a tap root. I don't think they're as drought tolerant as other milkweeds either. But the flowers are some of the prettiest in the genus. 

Asclepias tuberosa, Butterfly Weed. This is the most garden friendly of the bunch. It's one of the first native plants to really show the industry what native plants can do. There was a drought in the midwest and people noticed their gardens looked pretty dead but then looked out in the fields and roadside ditches and saw this plant still green and covered in bright orange flowers. While it's true this and many native plants are drought tolerant they also benefit from some watering in a garden setting. 

Also featured in this episode was Rudbekia hirta, the Black-eyed Susan. It's not flowering yet but I see them covered in aphids right near the flowers. This has never hurt their population and in fact they seem to be doing better than a hybrid I bought that didn't get any aphids. That's not to say aphids are beneficial, though having ants crawling all over the plant might have stopped some of the damage insect herbivores were causing, but more likely the hybrid cultivar was just selected for it's beauty and not its resistance to any of its natural pests.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Bloopers in Beekeeping

So I haven't kept honeybees now for the past 4 years. It was a fun hobby that barely paid for itself and created a love hate relationship with my neighbors. My neighbors behind us would get buzzed now and then when mowing the lawn, which is an experience that's always scary when it happens to a non-beekeeper. The same neighbors though know I have a bee suit and whenever paper wasps or yellow jackets made a nest around their home, I'm usually the one they called.

Well this past spring a swarm of bees landed on the borough hall and the police who are still friends with my dad gave him a call. He went and caught it and surprised me one day, placing the hive in a spot that I've since planted a garden... so I told him it had to move. Also because I haven't kept bees for 4 years I've actually been trying to get rid of our beekeeping stuff, so we don't really have the basic tools anymore.

We scrounged together enough stuff to get the job done. There's a spot along the side of our house that will be better for a beehive. We wait for nightfall, load them on a cart and carefully haul the hive around the house. We have to take the long way because the spot is technically out front and there isn't a gate on that side of the house. It's dark as we move them down the driveway, along the front sidewalk because other gardens block a more immediate path across the front lawn. Moments later we make it around the house and put them in the new spot. 

The next day comes and I realize that somehow I completely forgot that you can't just move a beehive. Foraging bees only imprint where the hive is during the first orientation flight they take. This tells them where "home" is, and they will only do it if the hive is moved a few miles from the previous location and they don't recognize any landmarks in their flight. Basically we didn't' move them far enough from the old spot. So all of the bees that went out to forage that morning went back to the old location in the backyard where the hive was yesterday. Hundreds of bees were just flying around this one spot not quite sure where to land. Eventually they took up residence in an old hive box I was going to throw away.

So.... we just had to load the hive back onto the cart and take it for its nightly walk around the house hoping the neighbors don't realize what we're doing. They're back in the starting location now and we put the box all the foraging bees settled into on top so everyone should be happy now.

The hive still has to move though so the plan is to leave the hive on the cart and just move it a few feet each night until we make it to the fence. Then one night they'll just be on the other side of it and back to the new spot where I want them put. Fingers crossed it all goes to plan.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Murder Hornets!!! Old News Goes Viral

I guess everyone is so sick about hearing Covic-19 news that they forgot the Asian Murder Hornet thing HAPPENED LAST YEAR. In fact, as far as I know, as of the publishing of this article, no hives or individuals have been found in the U.S. or Canada in 2020. Now it's still early in the year, so that could easily change. But until it does every article going viral at the moment is just fear mongering or responding to fear mongering.  

So here's the issue, lots of these articles are titled something like Asian Murder Hornets Discovered In US For First Time. They are all published within the past week or so but also quote a few people who encountered them last year... So this is actually old news that no one really cared about ~8 months ago. Then they usually play up how just how dangerous these Asian MURDER Hornets are, OMG!!! And there's this implication that they're going to be everywhere by the end of the year.

What's lacking though is anything current. Their hives are annual, growing to a great size by the autumn months and dying out completely from lack of food. It's only through a new generation of queens that survive the winter that they species survives each year. So if they are in the U.S. and Canada still, their hives currently aren't that big. And even if surveys don't come up with anything this year, no one can really say with confidence that they're not here until about 5 years of no sightings. They might be establishing someplace outside of where the surveys are taking place, they might not be doing that great here, they might be able to make it out of the traps being setup, lots of issues could be going on.

Articles from colleges and scientific outlets are adding damage control to the theme. The U.S. and Canada already several native Hornets, Yellow Jackets, European Hornets (which are a problem in themselves), Cicada Killers, and even Bumblebees that the general public is more than likely going to assume are Asian Murder Hornets thanks to sensationalist articles.

Again this is all because a total of ~4 hives were found in 2 locations. I actually couldn't find a good source on this because one article included someone finding all of their honeybees dead and just assumed it was them. There was no information given as to what destroyed this hive or even what condition it was in. 

Assuming they are found and do establish, it will be quite a few years before they make it to the east coast. The new queens each year are only going to fly X amount of miles each year so their range is going to slowly expand unless they tuck themselves away in fire wood or something that's being transported, for example.

Some people have contacted me saying they're are worried about what they can do to help Beekeepers defend against them. Honestly we're not quite there yet. But their fear mostly comes from a clip from a National Geographic documentary that's often linked with these articles. It shows these hornets destroying a hive of Honeybees.

Well here's the thing with that; throughout Europe and Asia, there are Beekeepers. And there are hives of Honeybees that are bred to have a defense against these hornets. They actually ball up around the scout hornet marking their nest and cook it with heat generated from their wing muscles until it's dead. Alternatively a small strip of metal screen the hornets can't fit through stapled over the entrance also works. It's like a $5 fix. Somehow that didn't make it into the documentary though. 

As for the threat of a hornet nest (Asian, European, or Native) posing a threat to people... there is a whole industry of exterminators and several well stocked shelves of pesticides at your local hardware, garden center, and in most grocery stores that can take care of that.