General Pasture

New favorite plant to observe diverse bugs: Goldenrod

Being honest, I am a disappointed in the lack of goldenrod (genus Solidago) in my pasture while the neighbor’s field across the fence has solid patches of yellow. It is the last significant nectar bearing flower for bees to build up winter stores. However watching my few sparse patches of the wildflower have yielded some cool critters. It seems they have migrated from my buckwheat plantings to the wild goldenrod. (Past posts on pollinators in my buckwheat: 1, 2, 3)

I’ve seen my honeybees in the patches, but have not bee able to capture any images.

Previously in buckwheat, I’ve seen Great Golden Digger Wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus) but this time around I learned they hunt many other undesirable bugs like crickets and are very docile to humans. Here is one sharing a flower with a pair of young carpenter bees:

IMG_20150930_140251

Next are the reason every black locust tree on my farm looks pitiful. They are a longhorn beetle that mimic the coloration of hornets to deter predators. Megacyllene robiniae or as the common name suggests, locust borer, feed on the bark and wood of locust trees as larvae.

IMG_20150930_140530

 

Advertisements
Standard
Bees, GIS Planning, Silvopasture and Agroforestry

Trees for Bees 6: GIS Map and honorable mention

Other posts in this series:

Trees for Bees introduction

Trees for Bees 2: Planning

Trees for Bees 3: Sumac

Trees for Bees 4: Sourwood

Trees for Bees 5 : Basswood

 

You may notice one species mentioned in the first post is absent: Liriodendron tulipifera aka Tulip Poplar.

“Liriodendron tulipifera tulip close” by Dcrjsr – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Liriodendron_tulipifera_tulip_close.jpg#/media/File:Liriodendron_tulipifera_tulip_close.jpg

This species is an abundant nectar producer early in the season helping colonies build up food stores and population numbers. While other bee gardeners are full encouraged to consider this tree, it will not be planted on the farm for a few reasons. Tulip poplars require loose, fertile soils as their roots systems are small, fleshy, soft and to put it succinctly: weak. It is also susceptible to numerous pests and diseases. Combining these attributes with its huge form and full sun requirements, the decision was made to plant the more valuable (regarding bees) Basswood in the vacant locations despite the beautiful blooms that resemble tulips, thus the common name.

Final Plans and Map

Putting everything together, there will be sumacs planted on the hill that raises the farm entrance from the pasture as well as below the powerlines. Sourwoods will be planted between the farm entrance track and the main road as well as along the fenceline in the pasture. Lastly, Basswoods will occupy the areas where they have room to spread.

Note: I apologize for the low res imagery. It is used for faster processing as well as the only aerial image saved offline for when I work on maps at the farm where my cellular data is the only access to internet!

That concludes this series…I hope you aren’t sick of bee talk!

Standard
Bees, Silvopasture and Agroforestry

Trees for Bees 5: Tilia americana aka Basswood aka American Linden

 

Other posts in this series:

Trees for Bees introduction

Trees for Bees 2: Planning

Trees for Bees 3: Sumac

Trees for Bees 4: Sourwood

Trees for Bees 6: Final notes, GIS map and honorable mention (will be published in future)

 

 

Where sourwoods produce top notch honey that beats out even clover, there may not be a more prolific nectar producing plant in the eastern United States than Tilia americana as far as volume in concerned. With the limestone parents yielding alkaline soils, it is quite a relief to learn that basswoods prefer neutral to slightly alkaline soils. A major consideration is that these trees need space, and lots of it. Heights of 60-120 feet are commonly achieved while Tilia trees spreads out 50 feet. The bloom is only 2 weeks long between May and July but produces an incredible amount of nectar; the most of any plant native to the eastern US and likely the most heavy producer in all of the United States, though I have found no statistics to confirm this. Furthermore, the flower’s structure protects nectar from being washed away by rain! The last of its attributes to note is how it grows twice as fast as most native hardwoods including beech, oak, and hickory to name the geniuses that make up the most of our native forests here. Unsurprisingly, this also means that it blooms quickly!

With its huge spreading form, basswoods will be planted on either side of the road to the west of the powerline that ends to run underground. Aesthetically speaking, an “Elm Effect” is hoped to be achieved where the trees spread to meet in an arch over the road. Side note, but did you ever wonder why almost every town in the United States has an Elm Street? That arching canopy effect over streets is exactly why but sadly Dutch Elm Disease has killed almost ever American Elm in the US. Not many of these trees will fit on the farm and its ladscape, but if the scarce figures found in literature are true, a few trees should supply a huge surplus!

Standard
Bees, Silvopasture and Agroforestry

Trees for Bees 4: Oxydendrum arboreum aka Sourwood aka Lilies of the Valley tree

Other posts in this series:

Trees for Bees introduction

Trees for Bees 2: Planning

Trees for Bees 3: Sumac

Trees for Bees 5 : Basswood (will be published in future)

Trees for Bees 6: Final notes, GIS map and honorable mention (will be published in future)

 

From Oregon State University

Sourwood nectar yields one of the most prized honeys on the east coast. Oxydendrum arboreum tolerates shade well but requires acidic soils. It typically forms a cone shaped canopy that is between 25-40 feet tall with a width of 25 feet.  An important note is that these trees are notoriously hard to transplant successfully. If transplanting is successful, sourwoods grow (relatively) very slow so careful consideration of planting sites is prudent. In fact, an arborist I called to the farm for professional advice on an unrelated matter basically told me I was wasting money by trying to grow sourwoods. He was friendly and incredibly knowledgable. Regardless, challenge accepted!

Similarly, the range of the sourwood is shown below:

“Oxydendrum map” by U.S. Geological Survey – Digital representation of “Atlas of United States Trees” by Elbert L. Little, Jr. [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Oxydendrum_map.png#/media/File:Oxydendrum_map.png

Notice how the natural distribution swings around the Shenandoah Valley. “In the Garden: Sourwood” from the nearby Crozet Gazette notes that exact point and speculates that the soil is the limiting factor in this region of Virginia. I would agree, especially noting how the tree grows through the Roanoke and New River Valleys to the south. Geology is what I believe is the differing factor. Where the limestone parent material of the Shenandoah Valley yields alkaline soils, the two valleys to the south are sandstone/shale which produces acidic soils. Moral of the story: it will be a fun challenge as a passionate but amateur botanist and silvoculturalist!

It could be a candidate for under the power lines, but total removal would be needed if it encroaches. Have you ever seen trees under powerlines that commonly get butchered by an untrained “arborist”? It looks like this:

Those epicormic sprouts shooting for the space opened to sunlight by awful pruning practices lead to a never ending battle. Plus removal would waste its slow growth rate and difficult establishment! So for now, it will be planted between the farm entrance road and the fence along the main road where it’s form won’t reach out to disturb vehicles on either. It also could be planted beneath the huge and fast growing basswoods where its slow growth rate would keep them from competing vertically but the different soil requirements make this plan more work than it is worth. Instead, sourwoods will also be planted to form the border of the pasture along the fenceline so bees can maximize the June to July nectar flow.

After seeing the blooms of sourwood for the first time while researching some specifics of this post, I then noticed this specimen in my parents’ neighborhood located in Northern Virginia. I confirmed the identity by tasting the leaf!

IMG_20150908_165202

 

Standard
Bees

Trees for Bees 3: Rhus genus aka Sumac

Other posts in this series:

Trees for Bees introduction

Trees for Bees 2: Planning

Trees for Bees 4: Sourwood (will be published in future)

Trees for Bees 5 : Basswood (will be published in future)

Trees for Bees 6: Final notes, GIS map and honorable mention (will be published in future)

 

Sumac’s of the Rhus genus fit the bill perfectly and grow extremely fast. Two species are in contention and neither grows taller than 25 feet and are extremely drought resistant. Sumac’s spread via roots forming thick groves that can commonly be seen along side and in the medians of Virginia’s interstates. This rooting habit has given Rhus shrubs a weedy reputation for landscape gardeners when planted for its incredible red foliage in the fall. Yet it allows the gardener to rejuvenate the stand by mowing it down in the winter stimulating basal shoots that regrow an often thicker grove in the following spring. These shrubs/small trees like sunlight, but can tolerate some shade. Sumac honey is produced from May to August is is well regarded.

Rhus typhina can grow up to 25 feet and forms hairy branches that resemble velvet antlers yielding the common name Staghorn Sumac. Canadian researchers observed that 72% of honeybees worked male flowers for pollen in the morning while 78% gathered nectar in the afternoon. These will be planted on the slope where no overhead power lines exists. The lines on the eastern half of the entrance road limit plantings to shrubs so Rhus glabra will be planted. Smooth Sumac rarely tops out above 15 feet so they will not disturb the power line. If any specimens pose a threat, it can be mowed and the roots will replace it with new shoots.

And just to put any fears to rest, the related poison sumacs can only grow with wet feet meaning they are found in bogs, marshes and wetlands. Most people will never encounter poison sumac as their required habitat is inaccessible by most modes of transportation except a fan boat!

Standard
Bees, Silvopasture and Agroforestry

Trees for Bees 2: Planning

Preface: This series is 7 posts long. As this blog is pretty much my diverse diary of starting a sustainable farming business that attracts readers interested in many different subjects. Thus I will break them up over time so I don’t spend an entire week talking solely about bee trees.

Other posts in this series:

Trees for Bees introduction

Trees for Bees 3: Sumac (will be published in future)

Trees for Bees 4: Sourwood (will be published in future)

Trees for Bees 5 : Basswood (will be published in future)

Trees for Bees 6: Final notes, GIS map and honorable mention (will be published in future)

Having a successful farm enterprise on limited acreage depends on putting every nook and cranny to productive use. There are some areas where fruit trees cannot be grown or cannot be accessed for harvest. Spaces such as these can be put to use with nectar and/or pollen producing trees, both of which come from flowers so it is no surprise that the best producing trees are also quite beautiful. Thus either side of the entrance track is a prime location for planting the bee trees. A challenge is posed on the pasture side of the entrance track by the overhead power line. Fear not, this challenge just adds an extra fun layer into the planning.

That road was constructed on fill dirt that more gradually spans the grade from the lower-lying pasture to the road. The resulting hill on the pasture side of the road has exposed rock and is un-plantable with anything that requires harvesting. I’ve considered leaving it wild and utilizing the hill as a goat exercise pen, but the logistics of fencing such a rocky and steep drop off proved the idea unattainable. However the hostile terrain will not support many trees thus requiring a grove of pioneer species, if anything. There is one pioneer species that produces abundant nectar and pollen and will be the first plant discussed on the morrow.

 

 

 

 

Standard
Bees

Leonurus cardiac aka motherwort: Bee Sustenance

Last week I noticed this plant with a tall stock growing in the shady areas of the farm. The very numerous and tiny flowers that were developing made me think of the potential nectar sources for bees. Thus I posted on a plant ID forum and almost immediately had the genus and species: Leonurus cardiac, commonly known as motherwort. Currently, these stands of motherwort are crawling with bees, wasps, butterflies and some strange bugs I’ve never seen that look like a cross between wasps and mosquitos.

Native Carpenter Bee:

IMG_20150617_180556

 

 

One of my ladies excelling at her job duties (Honeybee):

IMG_20150617_180527

 

And these bugs are can be found everywhere that has drawn in the pollinators. Anyone know what it is?

IMG_20150617_180617

Standard