Pollinators


After two summers of drought conditions it is great to see how well the vegetable garden is doing this year. The lack rain and the elevated temperatures of last summer meant that I was lugging the watering cans from the rain barrel to the garden every other day. This year, it has been less than once a week as Mother Nature has provided precipitation in abundance. The zucchini, summer squash, tomatoes, peppers, kale, Swiss chard, green beans, carrots, and beets are all living large.

IMG_20170813_110722472_HDR

The first batch of ratatouille has already been enjoyed, a delicious blend of tomatoes, zucchini, summer squash and eggplant that is diced, tossed with olive oil and a pinch of salt, and roasted to perfection in the oven. The vegetables that provide the greatest depth of flavor in this recipe are the tomatoes and eggplant. These vegetables are found in the umami taste category (along with sweet, salty, sour, and bitter). Umami, by definition, is a Japanese word that means ‘pleasant, savory taste’. It is also known as glutamate and has been a part of the vernacular since 1985 which explains why it was not on any of the sense of taste diagrams that I saw in science class in the 70s.

IMG_20170813_195216822

Foods that contain umami such as tomatoes, eggplant, spinach, celery, and mushrooms will all have their flavor improved by just a touch of salt (or fish sauce, which is also high in glutamate) making them great choices for anyone trying to reduce their sodium intake. I recently had a Thai dinner of a spicy eggplant dish that had such an incredibly savory taste due to the combination of the eggplant and the fish sauce that I ordered it twice that week.

In fact, eggplant is one of my favorite vegetables. It is used in so many cuisines around the world. I believe that my first exposure to eggplant was through my Italian heritage in the form of Eggplant Parmigiana, a staple of every holiday meal and a prime choice when ordering from Franklin Giant Grinder on Franklin Avenue in Hartford. Those breaded sliced rounds, fried in olive oil, baked in a tomato sauce, and covered in mozzarella cheese were umami with a capital U!

Fast forward to the 1990s and the exposure to so many more dishes that use eggplant, including vegan and vegetarian recipes where it is a good substitute for meat. In the Mid-east, baba ghanoush is eggplant that is roasted whole, scooped out when cool and mixed with tahini, garlic, and a little olive oil and eaten as a dip with vegetables or pita bread. The already mentioned ratatouille is a stewed dish that comes to us originally from Nice, France, where eggplant is known as aubergine. Eggplant can be pickled or made into chutneys in India or stuffed with rice, meat, or other fillings in the Caucasus.

One thing about eggplant that separates it from most other vegetables is that it is basically inedible when raw, having a very bitter taste and an astringent quality. Early cultivars required the slices to be salted, pressed, rinsed, and drained before they could be used in a recipe but modern cultivars such as the large purple variety have less bitterness.

The three varieties that I am trying this year are the classic plump purple ‘Black Beauty’, the green skin ‘Thai Long Green’, and the white skin ‘Caspar’. It would appear that we are not the only ones finding the eggplant interesting this year.

The first pests that I noticed in July were the eggs and larvae of the False potato beetle (Leptinotarsa juncta), often confused with its cousin the Colorado potato beetle, (Leptinotarsa decemlineata). The bright orange eggs which are found standing upright on the underside of the leaf are not as tightly packed together as the eggs of the squash bug generally are. It wasn’t until I looked at an enlarged view of the below image that I noticed that I had actually captured a larva emerging from an egg!

InkedIMG_20170715_194007276_BURST000_COVER_TOP_LI

The pale larvae will feed on the foliage of most Solanaceous plants for 21 days as they go through 4 instar stages and then drop to the soil to pupate.

After 10 to 15 days the adult beetle will emerge and lay eggs. There are usually two generations a summer in Connecticut.

Then there were the larvae of the Clavate tortoise beetle (Plagiometriona clavate), awesome masters of disguise, who use their own frass (poop) as a camouflage. The rear abdominal segment of the larva has a special fecal fork that allows the attachment of the dried fecal matter and holds it over the larva, hiding it effectively. Even if the frass is pulled back it will pull it over again.

These small, green larvae with their flattened bodies and fringe of white spikes did a bit of damage to the eggplant leaves, leaving them quite pockmarked.

A few more visitors are not as Solanaceous host-specific as the False potato beetle and the Clavate tortoise beetle. The 14-spotted lady beetle (Propyleae quatuordecimpuctata) has been in North America since it came to Ontario by way of Europe in the 60s. It can out-consume the native North American lady beetle species, eating insect pests such as aphids, mites, and scale, landing it on the Invasive Species Compendium list.  Every garden needs pollinators and the bees love the big purple blooms of the eggplant.

This grasshopper nymph posed on an eggplant leaf, casting a very artful shadow. Grasshoppers are not picky eaters and can be found on every plant in the garden although squash and tomatoes are their least favorite. This one may have just been taking advantage of a bit of August sunshine. Can’t say that I blame it!

Susan Pelton

 

Like many landscaped yards in Connecticut our property has boxwood adorning our front yard, planted more than 30 years ago. This shrub is usually a minimal maintenance woody ornamental plant. It requires a bit of shaping once a season even though its slow growth habit doesn’t send out the random foot-long shoots that its neighboring Japanese maple does. In fact, the amount that is trimmed off is more like a ‘shaving’ of its foliage and the easiest way to collect the clippings is to place a tarp beneath the shrub (the tiny pieces of leaf are almost impossible to rake it up). We tend to do the shaping of the shrubs in the landscape somewhere near the end of June and beginning of July. I remember one year (and I’m sure that my daughter will never forget) trimming them on a hot humid day where we ended up wearing bits of foliage that stuck to our damp skin!

Over Memorial Day weekend this year as I walked past the boxwood that borders our driveway I was surprised to see it covered in a white fuzz. I stopped in my tracks for a closer look. Up and down the stems and in the leaf axils was a fluffy white coating that dispersed like a powder into the breeze when I touched the shrub.

IMG_20170530_074456085

Using a macro lens, I took successively closer images until what looked like just white fuzz became individual clumps and then minute insects. These are the nymphs of the boxwood psyllid and the white fuzz was waxy strands of their crystallized honeydew secretions that is also called ‘lerp’. Yes, that is a real word. Boxwood psyllid (Psylla buxi) are in the family Homoptera, a suborder that also includes aphids, scale insects, cicadas, and leafhoppers.

The tiny orange eggs of the boxwood psyllid overwinter in the bud scales of the boxwood and will hatch when the temperature reaches 80 degree days, around the same time that the buds open. Degree days are an accumulative measurement that allow the prediction of insect appearances and plant blooming. For more info on degree days, visit the Cornell University site: Network for Environment and Weather Applications.

Enfield, CT reached 80 degree days on May 18th this year and between then and mid-June when we accumulate 300 degree days the psyllid nymphs will go through 5 instar (nymph) stages. They mature into winged adults as they finish their incomplete metamorphosis. It was a bit slower this year due to the cooler temperatures. The adults will mate and lay their eggs under the bud scales, there is only one generation a year.

Most of the damage from the boxwood psyllid is in the leaf cupping that happens as the larvae feed. They have sucking mouthparts and the leaves curl around the nymphs as they feed, a rather tell-tale sign of their presence. The psyllid doesn’t do any substantial damage.

IMG_20170530_074410382

Meanwhile, another pest also made its appearance. A beautiful Goldflame honeysuckle, Lonicera x heckrottii that adorns our deck was getting its yearly aphid visit.

IMG_20150609_114321860

As a relative of the boxwood psyllid the feeding damage of this aphid (Hyadaphis tataricae) is very similar. They love the flower buds and can feed inside the bud before you can even know that they are there. Aphid damage will stunt the growth of the flower buds and prevent the honeysuckle flowers from blooming.

And that would keep us from one of the pleasures of outdoor dining on a summer evening: watching the hummingbirds visit the showy pink and yellow tubular flowers as they search for nectar. The hummingbirds dart in and out so quickly but they occasionally stop for a brief respite, barely bending the vining stem as they weigh so little, often less than 1/10th of an ounce.

Bees and other pollinators such as the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) also spend lots of time going from flower to flower on the honeysuckle. It’s important to keep these visitors in mind when dealing with pests such as the aphids. A systemic insecticide should never be used during the period when a plant is flowering. These pesticides will target all insects that feed on the plant’s sap, drink the nectar, or gather the pollen regardless of whether they are beneficial or not.

2012-07-26_13-27-04_844

A strong spray of water may dislodge aphids and psyllids or an insecticidal soap may be used. An insecticidal soap works as a contact pesticide and as such there is no residual insecticidal activity once the solution has dried. It must sprayed directly on the soft-bodied insects that it effectively controls. It also degrades quickly and will wash off leaf surfaces so that it won’t affect non-target insects, especially pollinators, or the lady beetles that consume the aphids in large quantities.

IMG_20170530_062842848

If you see (or have seen) psyllids or aphids you may want to do as I do and make a note of it in your calendar or your garden journal so that you can keep an eye out for them next year. Knowing when the aphids may show up on the honeysuckle gives me a bit of an edge in controlling them and allows the most blooms to come to fruition much to the enjoyment of humans, animals, and insects alike!

Susan Pelton

(all images and videos ©Susan Pelton, UConn Home & Garden Education Center)

One of the joys of the return to warm weather is seeing the plethora of flowering plants that suddenly spring up. From early flowering shrubs such as forsythia and azalea to the daffodils, tulips, hyacinth, and crocus it seems that we are suddenly inundated with color. I love to fill my window boxes and planters with the happy pansies and petunias that are able to withstand some of the cool temperatures that we can expect at this time of year.

 

IMG_20170415_092919161_HDR

Pansies

 

These first selections of annuals are just the beginning of the possibilities that lay before us when it comes to choosing varieties for window boxes, planters and hanging baskets. Container plantings allow us select plants that may not be native to our location due to the severity of our winters, to try out new varieties and combinations, and to easily relocate colorful blooms from one spot to another in our yard.

It is not unusual for the window box planting to be delayed as we are compelled to allow nature to take its course. Female doves often set up their nests in our window boxes or empty hanging planters and what can you do other than wait it out?

 

Mourning dove

If you have containers that are family-free you can certainly get them ready for the season. Any planters that did not over-winter well, such as cracked or split pots, should be disposed of and replaced. Empty out any plant debris or soil that is left from last year and sanitize the containers with a 10% bleach solution. Rinse them thoroughly and allow to dry in the sun. I find that coco fiber coir liners do not last more than a season or two so this is a good time to assess and replace those also. Although this spring I have spotted sparrows and mourning doves pulling out the fibers for use in their nests so I may leave one or two liners where they can get to them.

 

IMG_20160818_085918268_HDR

Vinca, evolvulus, lobularia

When selecting new containers keep their location in mind. Larger containers that contain a fig tree, a wisteria and a bi-color buddleia are placed on our ground level patio where it is easier to bring them into the garage for the winter. These plants don’t require much attention through the winter although I will water them every few weeks. Ok, I say that I water them but what I mean is I will dump the ice cubes from a depleted iced coffee into them as I walk by! They have started to show emerging greenery so I have pulled them into a shady area outside and will slowly bring them back into the full sun where they will spend the rest of the season.

 

2012-10-06_14-29-06_972

Bee visiting a bicolor buddleia

 

Hanging planters and railing planters can bring color and interest while not taking up valuable floor space on decks. Dining outside in the early evening is great when the hummingbirds and pollinators are so close by that we hold our breath lest we disturb them as they visit the flowers!

 

_20140807_184545

Hummingbird moth on a petunia

Selecting the plants that will go into your containers is limited only by your personal preferences and by the sun requirements for the given plant. Containers give us an opportunity to bring some non-native plants into our yard, especially those that are not suited to our winters. I find mandevilla to be a lovely container plant. As a tropical species it loves the full sun location of our front porch, produces striking blossoms all summer long, and will overwinter in the house.

 

These plants are about as large as I will choose but there are so many options for really large planters. I love seeing what the landscapers on the UConn campus come up with each season. Coleus, Vinca, sweet potato vine, geranium and petunias will profusely fill out many containers.

Of course, most of us don’t have a team of landscapers at our beck and call so once you have made your container and plant selections the next step is maintenance. The sun and wind will dry out most container plantings more quickly than if the same plants were in the ground, especially when in porous containers such as clay pots. Plastic vessels will retain water a bit better but its best to check all pots on a daily basis.

It’s no longer recommended that rocks or stones be placed in the bottom of containers for drainage. This procedure actually prevents excess water from draining from the soil layer and may keep the roots too wet. A piece of screen or a coffee filter placed in the bottom of the planter is sufficient to prevent soil from washing out.

Copy of IMG_20160608_081451273

Removing spent blooms and pinching back leggy plants will encourage plants to produce more flowers. Also, their fertilizer needs are different from the same plant in the landscape. Using a teaspoon of fertilizer to a gallon of water will help prevent the buildup of excess salt that can afflict container plantings (you know when you see that white crust forming on the surface of the soil or on the rims of clay pots). If it does appear just flush water through the soil until it drains out the bottom.

Container grown plants don’t have to be limited to flowering annuals. Using them for vegetables and herbs is a great option. A planter of herbs near the kitchen door provides really fresh additions to our meals and beverages in the form of rosemary, thyme and mint. It’s also a great way to contain mint which can easily take over a garden bed.

IMG_20160804_082808434

Another edible planting from last year included mint in a container which had eggplant and the non-edible tourenia. The purple flowers and the deep aubergine of the mature eggplant complimented the stems and leaves of the mint and the purple of the tourenia.

IMG_20160719_075428760

I have also grown the typical patio tomato plants and the not-so-typical potato plants in containers. It’s a great way to easily harvest the potatoes as you just dump the whole container out onto a tarp and ‘pick’ the potatoes. Controlling the insects and diseases that plague these plants is aided by the fact that you start out with a sanitized container and fresh soil each year. So, as you can see, there is no reason to contain yourself when it comes to container gardening.

Susan Pelton

bloodroot (2)

Bloodroot

“The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
When the sun is out and the wind is still…”

Robert Frost

After an extremely dry 2016, spring is already bringing abundant showers here in Connecticut. Vernal pools in most areas have reached their full capacity of rainwater and snow melt. Streams are running strong and ponds that were so low last year are filling up. The warm February weather almost tricked some plants into budding out too early, but the snow and cold that came in early March nipped that process in the bud. Phoebes who had returned in early March were greeted with a foot of snow and freezing temperatures. But they survived. Now we are seeing April return once again, and with it should follow the heralds of warmer weather and longer days.

trout lilies Pamm Cooper photo

Trout lilies in open woods in April

Native willows and maples, such as the red maples, are blooming now and early native bees are availing themselves of the pollen and nectar they provide. Colletes inaequalis– small, handsome ground-nesting bees- are emerging from their winter pupation homes in the soil, where they have lived all their pre-adult lives. They are important pollinators of many early- flowering native plants and often form large colonies in open areas of lawns with sandy soils. They seldom sting, and by the time grass is mowed for the first time, these bees are usually no longer flying in lawn areas. Females dug holes, bring in pollen and nectar they put in a “cellophane “ bag they make, and lay an egg on top. The larva feed on that supply until they pupate, and will emerge as adults the next spring. Queen bumblebees should be out and about any time now as well.

Colletes inaequalis bee covered in pollen- willow 4-3-2017

Native Colletes inaequalis bee foraging on a willow flower

Spring peepers, out in late February for about a day just prior to a snow and freeze, have been giving a nightly chorus now for a couple of weeks. Wood frogs are singing and should be laying eggs any time now, along with spotted salamanders and the American toads.  Check out vernal pools for the floating egg masses of the wood frogs and the rounded masses of the salamander eggs stuck to twigs, stems and leaves under the water surface.

vernal pool reflections in April Pamm Cooper photo copyright 2017

Reflections on a vernal pool- with wood frog and spotted salamander eggs and young spotted salamander larvae swimming on right

Red trillium, Trillium erectum, should bloom around mid- April, if not before.  Tiny bluets, bloodroot and trout lilies also bloom April to May here. Bluets are also an important source of pollen and nectar for many pollinators and spring- flying butterflies such as the spring azure and tiger swallowtail. Dead nettles bloom by late April and receive visits from nay pollinators including honeybees, bumble bees and other native bees, syrphid and other flies and some butterflies.

Red trillium April Pamm Cooper photo

Red trillium

Birds have been singing their morning and evening songs for a while, and the one that sings the most- all day- is the song sparrow. Males sit on the tops of small trees and shrubs, singing to announce their territory and to find a mate. The wood ducks are here now. Look for them in woodland ponds where there is good cover from shrubs and small trees along the water’s edge. These are very shy ducks and often take flight at the tiniest snap of a twig, so stealthy moves and quiet are the way to see them. Check out the trail behind the Meigs Point Nature Center at Hammonasset State Park in late April. You may get to see small flocks of glossy ibis in the salt marsh area as they migrate through on their way north.

song sparrow april 13 2016

Song sparrow with its rusty breast patch

Mourning cloak butterflies may been seen now, especially where trees have sap flows from splits or wounds to the bark. They are seldom seen on flowers, but will obtain nutrients from dung, sap, mud and fermenting fruits. Eggs are laid in rings around twigs of willow, elm and poplars among other woody trees.

Mourning cloak on sap flow from freshly cut tree stump in early April

Mourning cloak butterfly obtaining sap in April from a freshly cut tree stump

bumblebee on purple deadnettle

Bumblebee on dead nettle flower

When you go out, listen for the raucous calls of pileated woodpeckers as they find mates and establish territories. Don’t forget to look down occasionally and you can find all sorts of insects and plants that might be missed otherwise. And check out the flowers of skunk cabbages for the insects that pollinate them. Stop, look and listen whenever and wherever you go, even if it is in your own backyard. Maybe you will agree with Albert Einstein-

“ Joy in looking and comprehending is nature’s most beautiful gift.”

 
Pamm Cooper                                 All photos copyrighted by Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

autumn-leaves-autumn-2016

Some red maples still had leaves late in the fall in 2016

 

“ November comes
And November goes,
With the last red berries
And the first white snows.”

– Clyde Watson

This fall was spectacular in its color displays both in the leaves and in the skies.And we are not done yet. A relatively indifferent  landscape can turn charming or spectacular when autumn colors abound as they have this year. Since a pictures is said  to be worth a thousand words, I will save you much reading…

autumn-morning-pamm-cooper-photo

Canada geese on a pond splashed with early morning fall colors Pamm Cooper photo

american-lady-fall-2016-pamm-cooper-photo

American Lady butterflies migrate south for the winter, along with sulphurs, monarchs, cabbage whites and red admirals

delicata-squash

Delicata squash- one of the smaller winter squash varieties

old-house-with-bittersweet-and-japanese-maple-rte-154-november-13-2016-pamm-cooper-photo

Old house in the background with Oriental bittersweet on the left and an old Japanese maple on the right . Location is heading south from the Goodspeed Opera House on Rte 154

mushrooms-on-dying-birch-11-4-16

Mushrooms on a dying sweet birch in early November 2016.

mourning-cloak

Mourning Cloaks overwinter as butterflies and may be seen flying about near or in the woods on warm winter days

japanese-barberry-covers-the-forest-floor-november-13-2016

It is obvious where the barberry is in these woods. Photo taken near the Gillette Castle State Park

honey-bee-on-witch-hazel-11-14-2016

Honey bees are visiting mums and witch hazel this week, as well as any Montauk daisies that are still blooming

dawn-november-9-2016-pamm-cooper-photo

November 6 2016 dawn over Glastonbury, Ct.

sugar-maple-on-left-and-japanese-maple-on-right-november-5-2016-pamm-cooper-photo

Here is a good example of thinking ahead when planting. A sugar maple on the left and a Japanese maple on the right were probably planted over 30 years ago and are the perfect companions for great autumn color.

Take some little trips this season in our little state. There is still some good color out there, but it may not last much longer. And you may not have to go very far to get some great visual  compositions. Perhaps just as far as your own back yard.

Pamm Cooper                                          All photos by Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 I love insects. They are amazing.”  Andrea Arnold  

The UConn Bug Week programs were held over the last week of July this year and for our particular Bug Week event on July 30, we started early on in the season acquainting ourselves with the world of insects and searching high and low for specimens we could find and then bring home with us to raise. While rearing insects, you learn a lot about what they do, what they eat, how they behave and what their life cycles are.

Some of the fabulous volunteers -Bug Week 2016 Amy Estabrook photo

Some of our Master Gardener Volunteers- Amy Estabrook photo

We had several bug hunts from early June on and went to specific areas searching for specific insects and any surprises that might turn up. Volunteers from the Master Gardener program spent two months looking for and raising insects in the hope that they would be available as live specimens for our event on July 30. Of course, many pupated and that was that. But we still had a lot of wonderful specimens to show all the people that attended our program. We had display boards that our volunteers made for their particular insects, and with the live specimens, people got to see insects up close and personal.

Bug Week 2016 Suzi Zitser photo of Debbi Wright's display board

Debbi Wright’s fabulous display for the Virginia Creeper sphinx moth- Suzi Zitser photo

Our event was held at the Tolland County Agricultural Center, home to the Tolland County UConn Extension Office. There are over 35 acres of woodland, wetland and open environments, plus pollinator and butterfly- friendly plantings all over the property, so we were able to go outdoors and take advantage of all the gardens and wood lines to search for insects.

bugweek 2016 earl parent photo

Volunteers show visitors our insects. Photo by Earl Parent

Among the insects we had for specimens and displays caterpillars of the clear dagger moth, mottled prominent, Virginia creeper sphinx, milkweed tussock moth, Monarch butterfly, stink bugs of all kinds, Imperial moth caterpillars (just hatching that day), tobacco hornworms on their favorite tomato host, beetles, John Suhr’s moth and butterfly collection plus the UConn Natural History Museum brought some specimens from their fabulous collection. Other specimens included red-lined panapoda caterpillars and orange-striped oak worm caterpillars. We also had two walking sticks which were found in early June when they were the size of a thumbnail.

walking stick and friend bug week 2016 Earl Parent photo

One of our walking sticks out for a walk- Earl Parent photo

AMy Estabrook photo of Leslie and friends and a walking stick Amy Estabrook photo

Amy Estabrook took this photo of Leslie showing our walking stick to two small guests

We had three bug walks as well, and found interesting insects of all kinds- a Buffalo treehopper, leaf-footed bug nymph, silver-spotted skipper caterpillar, an apple maggot fly, a salt marsh tiger moth and a chickweed geometer moth just to name just a few. Many butterflies were also floating by  as we did our walks and we ended up seeing them again  when we got to the butterfly garden.

Bug Hunt with Jean Laughman

Jean Laughman finds some good insects on her beating sheet

 

The TAC Center has one of the best butterfly gardens going, and has been well maintained by Tina Forsberg and Jean Laughman. It has a spicebush in the center of one side and on it we found 6 spicebush swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, one of which was only a couple of days old. Hummingbird moths, swallowtail, crescent, skipper and, brush foot butterflies were there, and we even found a tiger swallowtail egg on a small black cherry.

chickweed geometer moth Bug Week insect hunt Pamm Cooper photo

Chickweed geometer moth Pamm Cooper photo

Butterfly garden walk with Tina Forsberg

looking for bugs in the butterfly garden

saltmarsh tiger moth Estigmene acrea found resting in the butterfly garden

Salt Marsh Tiger moth found in the butterfly garden- Pamm Cooper photo

Thanks are in order for all our Master Gardeners and Master Gardener interns for a job well done. Without your efforts, this would not have been a success, nor as interesting an event as it was. Also, thank you Joan Allen, for your talk on vegetable insect pests, and Dave Colbert for bringing terrific specimens from the UConn Museum of Natural History.

Euthochtha galeator leaf footed bug nymph 7-30-16 Bug Week hunt Pamm Cooper photo

Leaf- footed bug nymph found on a bug walk- Pamm Cooper photo

 

After all our hard work raising insects and running around finding host plant material to feed them, and after many long insect hunts in 90 degree weather, I guess we were all happy, in a way, to see Bug Week draw to a close. My dining room table is no longer a laboratory and that is how it should be. And yet, I do miss the pitter-patter of tiny little feet…

 

Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

Leafcutter bees, members of the genus Megachile, have an interesting life history.  You may have seen their plant damage and wondered who did it because they are seldom caught in the act.  Even though the nearly circular holes left on the edges of leaves are pretty good-sized at nearly a half inch across in some cases, it only takes the female bee a matter of seconds (one report says about 10) to chew it out.  Commonly used plants include rose, lilac, Virginia creeper, azalea, redbud, ash and others.  Leaves that aren’t too thick or waxy are preferred.

Leafcutterbeedamage.redbud.JAllen

Redbud leaf with edge pieces removed by a leafcutter bee. J. Allen, UConn

These solitary bees are not eating the leaf segments they remove, they are using them for building their nests. Nests are created in long narrow cavities such as hollow stems or crevices.  As solitary bees, the female does all the work of nest building, foraging for food and egg-laying.  While each queen will build and provision her own nest, some species will be found creating numerous nests near each other.  A female may even enter the wrong nest by mistake but she will exit and not work on it or lay an egg there.

Leafcutterbee.bugwood

Leafcutter bee (Megachile sp.) Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

Leafcutter bees vary somewhat in size but in general are similar in size to a honeybee. They are mostly black on the back or top and fuzzy golden to orange on the lower side of the abdomen.  Adults forage for both nectar and pollen and blend them in combination with saliva to form a ‘bee loaf’ for each individual cell.  Formation of the complete bee loaf requires many trips between the nest and the flowers.  Once the loaf is completed, she lays a single egg on it.  Each cell is lined with leaf pieces and after the egg is laid, the cell is sealed with chewed leaves.  A completed nest, depending on species and nest size, may have six to twelve cells/eggs.

Nest building and egg laying occur during early to mid summer. References differ on how the new generation of bees overwinter.  Some say they overwinter as larvae while others say they mature into adults and then remain dormant within the cells until the following spring.  It may vary by species but in any case there is one generation per year.  Adults emerge in the spring once it is suitably warm.  They mate over the course of a couple of weeks and the males soon die.  Females die once they complete egg laying later in the summer.

Leaf cutting bees are fantastic pollinators.   This is because of the way they forage and carry the pollen.  Unlike honeybees, who moisten the pollen for carrying on their hind legs, leafcutter bees carry the pollen dry.  When they are visiting a flower, they are active, resulting in quite a bit of pollen adhering to their hairy abdomens.  Because it’s carried dry, it is easily and abundantly dislodged and distributed to subsequent flowers visited.  Early in the twentieth century, pollination of alfalfa, an important livestock food plant, was decreased due to a lack of pollinator habitat as agriculture and land clearing expanded and alfalfa seed shortages resulted.  The alfalfa leafcutter bee was introduced to the U.S. and pretty much saved the alfalfa seed industry.  It is still relied upon for this purpose today.

Because of their effective role as pollinators, it’s beneficial to encourage leafcutter bees. Another positive characteristic is that they are not aggressive and, while they have stingers, they are only used when the bees feel very threatened or confined.  The sting is also minor compared to most.  Nesting sites or ‘houses’ can be purchased or constructed from common materials to attract and maintain leafcutter bee populations to your yard or area.  A very simple nest unit can be made by drilling numerous ¼” holes (or about the diameter of a pencil) 6” deep into a block of wood.  Face the side with the holes to receive early morning sun.  One source recommends bringing the nest into an unheated shelter such as a garage or shed once cell construction is complete to protect the overwintering leafcutter bees from pests and predators.

There are many native leafcutter bees and they have the potential to be major contributors to pollination in gardens and on small farms. They don’t forage far from the nest for provisions or for leaf pieces (about 300 ft.) and that is why they are less effective on large expanses of crops.

J. Allen