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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Swarming Honey Bees.

I realize that honeybees are not technically native, but they along with the rest of the native pollinators still provide an important service to our food industry known as the magic of pollination. While the jury is still out on the impact of honeybees on native pollinators, apiarists have become quite common around the area. As bee swarming season is about to get underway (tomorrow!!), I thought it would be pertinent to pass along some information about swarming from the Chester County Beekeepers Association. 

A honeybee cannot live alone but depends on the colony for survival. To propagate the species, a swarm (about half the colony and the queen) moves to a new home. The other half of the colony remains in the hive and raises a new queen. In Southeastern Pennsylvania, most swarms emerge in April, May and June.  After exiting their former hive, the swarm may settle on a tree branch, a bush or the side of a building. The swarm normally forms a football-shaped cluster of bees that may be up to three feet long. Scout bees fly from the swarm to look for a new home in a hollow tree or in the eaves of a building. When a suitable spot is found, the scout bees direct the swarm to it. The bees then construct a new honeycomb nest with wax they produce themselves begin to gather nectar and pollen for food and to raise young.
If you find a swarm of honeybees on your turf and don’t want it there, members of the Chester County Beekeepers Association (CCBA) listed at the end of this article are willing to remove the swarm. Time is of the essence. Once the swarm has entered its new home, removal of the honeybees is much more difficult and may involve opening the wall of a house to get to the bee colony. This is generally beyond the capability of most beekeepers, so contact one of them while the bees are still clustered in a swarm.

Honeybees are a valuable part of nature because they pollinate crops, produce honey, beeswax, pollen and their stings are widely accepted as an aid in the treatment of arthritis. So, as you observe them swarming, contemplate this marvelous phenomenon and call a beekeeper to remove the swarm and put it to beneficial use. The listed members of CCBA will remove honeybee swarms, usually at no cost.The Chester County Beekeepers Association takes no responsibility for the services provided by its members. This information is provided only as a public service.

For more information, contact: Cindy Faulkner, CCBA President 610- 235-7869

Friday, March 30, 2012

Shrubs and potatoes...

It is supposed to start raining this weekend, so tonight would be a great time to get your potatoes in the ground (and shortly it will be time to harvest your garlic if you planted it last fall.)  We planted potatoes at our house two nights ago.  I use the term "we" quite loosely, I was not actually involved in the potato planting, I was trying to encourage my Bee Balm to grown in different places from where it was sprouting, and I finally cut down all of the seed heads on the plants from last winter.  I figure that the birds have quite enough food sources now!!

I do not know if you have noticed but the mild and early spring has done wonders for the blooming shrubs.  One of the native gems of our woodlands, Lindera benzoin (Spicebush) really has had a banner year in the bloom department.  I can not recall the last time that spicebush was so noticeable.  I call it a gem because it  is practically deer resistant, fairly hardy, and is a great staple of our woodland understory.  It was also one of the first shrubs I was able to identify with confidence. It has a few tell tale markings that make it easy to identify in all seasons.  The bark is greyish with pale lenticels (or dots in technical terms), the leaves are elliptical shape, and the leaves are very aromatic when crushed.  You will also smell the "spice" when you break  branch.  The photo above is a great snapshot of the wonderful spring bloom, and if you look closely you can see the lenticels on the bark.

I caught a glimpse of a great shrub blooming while I was driving down the road.  If traffic conditions allow, I'll have some photographs to share of a great shrub with great historical significance in the very near future.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Now is the time to get out your feeders

Would you like to encourage hummingbirds to your backyard?   I would recommend planting plants that will attract hummingbirds, and yes, even hanging some hummingbird feeders.  

My neighbor and I had a competition to see who would get more hummingbirds, she had feeders, and I had the plants.  Turns out, we got hummingbirds at both places.  Typically they would hang out at my flowers throughout the day, and spend the morning and evening at her feeders.  As the plants are currently not blooming, it is a great time to get your hummingbird feeders out for the early arrivals.  I have had success using the sugar water mix that can be found at and is the recipe that I have posted below.  Check out their website for great information about hummingbirds. They have done some really exciting work in the banding of hummingbirds and finally figuring out some of the awe-inspiring migration patterns of these small birds.

    • pour four cups of hot tap water into a large pot or pan (glass, enamel, or stainless steel, if possible; try not to use aluminum).
    • Add one cup of table sugar (DO NOT use honey, artificial sweeteners, or other sugar substitutes).
    • Stir until all sugar has dissolved.
    • Cover the pan, place on a hot burner, and bring the mix to a rolling boil for 1-2 minutes; be careful not to let water evaporate (if you do, the mix can become too concentrated).
    • Let mix cool and pour into in well-cleaned feeders.
    • Boiling, which retards mold growth, is NOT necessary if your hummingbirds are draining the feeders within three days.
    • Red food coloring is unnecessary, especially after birds have found the feeders; besides, modern hummingbird feeders all have red plastic bases and/or yellow flowers the birds can easily see. NOTE: There is no evidence that food coloring currently available in grocery stores or in commercial hummingbird nectar mixes is harmful to humans or to hummingbirds, but it IS an additive.
    • Store excess mix in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks (check for fermentation or mold; if the mix is cloudy, discard it). Some people freeze their mix and safely store it for much longer periods. In any case, let mix warm to room temperature before filling feeders.
    • The water:sugar ratio of 4:1 is typical of the sugar concentration found in many flowers used by hummingbirds. There is no concrete evidence stronger sugar concentrations will hurt hummingbirds, but even a 3:1 mix spoils much faster than 4:1, and 2:1 is too syrupy and a real waste of sugar. In hot weather when energy demands are not as high for hummingbirds, you can even cut the mix back to 5:1 or 6:1 and save even more money on sugar.
Now, my favorite part, the plants that will attract hummingbirds.  Start to scan the local listings as many organizations are prepping for their spring plant sales.  With the warm spring, you should realize that some plants that typically are still blooming at the plant sales will be past their prime by the dates of the sales.  Here are some of my favorite plant recommendations for hummingbirds:

Native Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) I would recommend purchasing this plant from a native plant sale, or a native plant nursery.  If you try to purchase this from a local hardware store, or a non-native nursery, they may be trying to sell the Japanese version of the plant as the native version! The Japanese version will spread, and it is very invasive.  Make sure that you are purchasing the correct plant.

Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) This is a hardy plant that does well in shade conditions, but will also handle the sun.  This is a hit with hummingbirds and native pollinators.

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) This plant has fantastic color, and it attracts hummingbirds.  This is a win-win for your garden.
Aquilega canadensis

Beardtoungue (Penstemon digitalis) This is one of my favorite native plants.  It will tend to disperse itself nicely throughout a garden and will attract hummingbirds.  It is an upright white flower.

Columbine (Aquilega canadensis) This is one of the earliest blooming plants that hummingbirds enjoy.  Planting this with a feeder will ensure that the early migrants will have an adequate food source.  One note about this plant is that it does not like competition.  The best way to keep it growing in your garden is to disturb the soil occasionally in early spring (late Feb/early March) so that the seeds will take hold.  I find that my columbine has a tendency to grow in between the rocks bordering my garden where nothing else appears.  This is not where it was initially planted!  

Water: Hummingbirds love baths so make sure to incorporate some type of water feature in your garden.  

Nesting: Hummingbirds like to nest in places where they won't be discovered easily.  They like dense shrubs, so if you plant some dense shrubs around your yard you may be rewarded with a hummingbird nest!

Enjoy the spring, and the ruby throats as they come to visit your yard!  

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

And the plant is...

The plant is Cutleaf Toothwort or Dentaria laciniata.  This spring ephemeral grows to be 4" to 8" tall and is a great spring wildflower.  It is currently blooming a little on the early side, but most things are this year!  If you have a woods that has a garlic mustard infestation, this will be one of the first plants to disappear with the infestation.
Speaking of garlic mustard, this is another plant that is blooming almost a month early this year, so make sure that you plan accordingly and pull it before it sets seed! 

Lyme Disease in 2012.  I have heard some not so good news recently about Lyme Disease in the Northeastern U.S.  I think the important point to make is that first and foremost, the predicted surge in lyme disease is not related to the very mild winter and spring.   We can blame fluctuations in acorns and mouse populations, not the mild winter.   Information about the predicted Lyme Disease increase was courtesy of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.  If you are interested in reading the full article, the link will be posted below, but otherwise, this is an excerpt of the article.  

Acorn crops vary from year-to-year which influences the survival and breeding fitness of the white-footed mice.  White-footed mice are the preferred hosts for black-legged ticks and are very effective at transmitting the bacterium that causes lyme disease.  The recent cycle showed a boom in the acorn crop followed by a boom in the mouse population. The acorn crop has crashed this past year, followed by a serious decline in the mouse population.  This leaves hungry ticks looking for a blood meal.  The most dangerous (and effective at transmitting disease) is the nymphal stage of a black-legged tick.  The bad news for us is that due to the high population the larval stage of the tick did really well, and the ticks will be back in their nymphal stage looking for someone to replace their favorite meal.  For the full article please visit: 

I do not want to be an alarmist, and I do not want to discourage you from going outdoors.  However, it is important to be prepared.  Always check yourself very carefully for ticks, and wear light clothing to be able to view the ticks more easily.  If you do find a tick that has been embedded in your skin, carefully remove, and pay close attention to any flu-like symptoms that may develop over the next few days.    Early detection can result in curing the disease, typically the undiagnosed cases are the ones that have the most issues.  If you have a tick bite, and you do not feel yourself within the next week, it is important to go to your doctor and get your blood drawn to test for the presence of the bacterium.  Enjoy the outdoors, but always remember to check yourself, your pets, and children when  you return home!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Spring Ephemeral of the week.

This week's spring ephemeral has a very distinguishable leaf.  As many spring flowers are already blooming, pay close attention to what is growing in the woods around you.

Tomorrow, I'll be sure to post the pictures of the plant in bloom to see if you can identify the species.

I also promised you some photographs of the bald eagle that had driven by on the first day of spring.  I have finally gotten organized enough to have the correct camera and cord ready for action.  The photos aren't spectacular, but look closely and tell me what you think he may be eating!

I saw a great horned owl perched in a tree on the side of Rt 322 west of Harrisburg this weekend.  I was not the driver, so I was not able to stop to get photographic evidence of the bird, but I know what I saw.   If you put any "exotic" potted plants outside, I'd recommend bringing them in tonight, at least in our corner of Chester County it is supposed to get down below freezing tonight.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spotted at Vincenti Preserve

Shocking to some, but it seems that I am not the only one who gets distracted by birds!!

TLC wants to say a big THANK YOU to Christina Gorman for emailing the fabulous photographs of the bald eagle that she took at the Vincenti Preserve.  Her son apparently noticed the eagle on the school bus and told his mom when he got dropped off at home.  They managed to spot the eagle and took these wonderful photographs.   If you aren't familiar with the Vincenti Preserve, you should be for the fabulous demonstration opportunities available to you and your family!!

    Donated to The Land Conservancy by the Vincenti Family in 2003, TLC’s Vincenti Preserve is an 11-acre public preserve located in south-central Kennett Township in Chester County, PA at the corners of Hillendale and Rosedale Road.  The preserve currently features a 2-acre mesic woodland restoration serving as a riparian buffer zone for the Burrows Run tributary of the Red Clay Creek, Delaware River Basin, surrounded by lowland and mesic woodlands.  The remaining majority of the property is planted to cool-season grasses, currently in hay production for our region’s mushroom farms. 

    TLC’s New Leaf EcoCenter at the Vincenti Preserve is a budding community ecology education and resource center.  The aim of TLC’s New Leaf EcoCenter is to serve our community by way of example and education as to the possibilities of a sustainable culture, wherein the well-being of the people, land and natural resources are met and sustained for future generations.  Made up of a collection of educational installations, including a composting demonstration garden and a 3-hive working apiary, our EcoCenter offers real-life examples and hands-on learning about sustainable alternatives to satisfy our needs while benefitting our environment, rather than taxing it. 

Thanks again to Christina for sending these along.  Please feel free to send us great photographs anytime you take them!!!! 


Friday, March 9, 2012

Plant Revealed...

First Year Leaf
So, if you haven't yet guessed, or did not already know the name of the plant mentioned yesterday it is:  Alliaria petolia: GARLIC MUSTARD.  This allelopathic (releases chemicals into the soil that inhibits the growth of other plants) non-native, invasive biennial plant should most definitely be a target of your current invasive removal work.  Can you tell I don't really like this plant?? Control methods are fairly simple as you will see below.  But before you can control a plant, you must be able to properly identify it, so here we go...

ID TIPS and pictures: 
Second Year Flower

: Stem leaves are alternate and triangular in shape, have large teeth, and can be 2 to 3 inches across in fruiting plants.
Leaves: First year plants consist of a cluster of 3 or 4 round, scallop edged leaves rising 2 to 4 inches in a rosette.
Flowers: Second-year plants generally produce one or two flowering stems with numerous white flowers that have four separate petals.
Odor: Leaves and stems of plant have strong, garlic odor when crushed

Fruit: Fruits are slender capsules 1 to 2.5 inches long that produce a single row oblong black seeds with ridged seed coats.

  Look Alikes
Asarum canadense
***A very similar early spring woodland native plant is Asarum canadense or wild ginger. This plant has low growing leaves that are smooth as opposed to scalloped and very prominently heart shaped.  They will never grow to the height of the second year garlic mustard plant, and they have a small brown flower which is pollinated by ants.

The most effective control method for garlic mustard is hand pulling.  It is very easy to pull and is a fun activity for a group of kids or a volunteer group.  You can be most effective when you pull out the first year leaves, though the second year plants tend to be easier to identify.  If you keep it from setting seed, year after year by pulling, you will eventually win the battle.  You must always use caution when hand pulling as you will create a certain amount of soil disturbance.

You can also spray garlic mustard in very late winter/early spring on a day that rises about 40 Degrees F with a glyphosate solution.  It is important to know your plant ID to make sure that you are not harming other native spring ephemerals when spraying the garlic mustard.  This is best to use in a very large infestation and before anything else has started to grow.   It is amazing to see the effect that the removal of this plant has on your landscape, and on the natives in the seed bank beginning to flourish. 

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