One Foot

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Losing a Tree to Pine Wilt is Painful

Mixed ages of landscape trees

          If you have ever had to take a chainsaw to a 60 ft. pine tree on your property, then you know the pain of losing a featured landscape tree.  Here in Kansas, we are losing many stately trees to “pine wilt,” which has affected my older neighborhood severely.

     Pine wilt is caused by a plant parasitic nematode, referred to as the pine wood nematode, which is carried on the pine sawyer, an ugly insect in itself, which tends to have a taste for our “exotic” pine trees.  As the pine sawyer feeds, the nematodes hop off, infect the tree and live and reproduce in the resin canals of the branch and trunk of the tree.  An infected tree will die within a few months. Of course, landowners are asked to remove and burn the wood immediately to contain the disease.
          Our summer field based botany class visited the John Pair Horticultural Research site last week, just south of Wichita, and reviewed some of the research being conducted on pine wilt.  As an aging facility, the research site has trees affected by pine wilt as
Dead wood inside tent traps
well as healthy evergreens for comparison.  Their current research is to determine wilt resistant trees for landscape use.

          In a small greenhouse located at the site, insect collection chambers have been set up to determine infestation rates.  Filled with dead trees of varied species, emergent pine sawyers are counted and documented.  The degree of infection can then be determined and attributed.


       Recent sawyer collections have been applied to young
Pine sawyer
pine trees thought to be resistant.  The trees will then be observed and documented for resulting infection.

Testing exposure
I suppose the importance of trees of an “exotic” nature in this area might be questioned, but I have always been a softy for any tree that is clearly beneficial.  Of course, the advice of the extension service is to plant native trees that are resistant to wilt, but one hates to lose a tree for any reason.  Especially as older elms and weaker trees are removed, the landscapes take years to recover. 
          The research at John Pair research center is encouraging in that it seems to hit at the heart of city folks who treasure the trees that have taken generations to grow. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Bees and Dandelions, Part II

When you live in the city, it is not difficult to let awareness of wildlife slip as we enjoy smaller spaces, more confinement and tons of concrete that surrounds us.  Urban wildlife is alive and well though, and there is an abundance of bees and other pollinators living among us, buzzing our flowers,  vegetable gardens, and fruit trees if we’re lucky enough to have them. 
I had so many bees last year that I asked my friend Barb, the beekeeper, if I should be considering a hive.  She laughed good-naturedly, and then told me the bees would starve to death on the resources I alone had to give.  Besides, she added, those bees belong to someone local.  I would be wiser to help that beekeeper by helping his bees.  But how, I asked, can city folks do that?
I found a helpful article on, a supplier of bee colonies, that applies to us city slickers.  Want to help the honeybee and don’t know how?    Is there really anything the average person can do to make a difference?  It turns out there is and that we do.
It turns out that spring wildflowers are a critical source of pollen for honeybees.  Not just the dandelion, for in itself, it does not provide adequate nutrients. But it is a moderate resource for them.  Add to that other wildflowers such as clover and plantains in early spring and numerous other wildflowers throughout summer and fall, and we have provided for a part of the bees’ needs.
There are some helpful options for the average homeowner.
 First, I can opt to not treat the wildflowers in the lawn with chemicals.  Note that I didn’t call them “weeds.”
Second, I can delay mowing the dandelions until other sources of pollen are available and the bees have moved on.  Actually, that option was easy to achieve this year as the cool weather eased us into the summer with little mowing.
Third, I can help either as an individual or as an HOA member by choosing and planting plants and trees that provide good pollen sources for bees.
Fourth, in that same way, I can choose not to plant plants and trees that are not beneficial to bees.  (One example given was the Bradford pear, grown commonly in my area.)
Finally, if I garden, I can do so organically.  That eliminates the whole issue of chemicals;  I can eat local honey (thank you Barb and Rich for providing some to buy); and  I can support legislation and environmental measures to protect and assist bees.
 As president of our small neighborhood association, I have received repeated pleas from my neighbors to spray the dandelions.  While this year I was able to avoid the issue because of the temperatures and rainfall, but next year I’ll make an effort to solicit members'assistance.
           So the next time you see those pretty yellow flowers covering the back yard, just remember – the bee you save IS your own.  It is pollinating the food you eat.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Bees and Dandelions

There is a great deal of interest in my community about raising honeybees.  Although the days of large alfalfa fields have passed with the days of the livestock farmer, there are areas of nearby fields that provide good forage for hives. There are also good responsible beekeepers who know the science of caring for bees.
                Recently an article was published regarding the nationwide problem of colony collapse which gave great hope for Kansas beekeepers.  Apparently, the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency conducted a study to determine the cause of honeybee decline that yielded some important information.  In searching for causes of the problem, researchers found multiple culprits.   Among them were parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure.  The hopeful part for Kansas came in the report conclusions, indicating that Kansas beekeepers are not experiencing colony loss at the same rate.
 It is the belief of Kansas researcher Chip Taylor that this is because Kansas colonies are tended by amateur beekeepers rather than commercial ones.  Our bees are not transported for pollination purposes and instead are kept at home.  This, he believes, minimizes the stress on hives, makes them less likely to be exposed to pesticides, minimizes the nutritional issues, and helps in controlling mites and disease. 
Local beekeepers Barb and Richard indicate that the last two years have been difficult on the local bee colonies, largely due to problems associated with the heat and drought.  Some of the new hives required additional feeding due to low forage availability and some simply weren’t able to survive the lack of nutrition. 
While local farmers are assisting beekeepers with better farming practices, it is important that all of us, perhaps especially urban residents, remember the impact of herbicide use.  Bees need early forage and yellow dandelions and other early blooming plants that thrive in our yards provide some of the first pollen available.  We would do well to help pollinators out and NOT spray them.
They too, are a part of the urban wildlife.