Friends In Our Backyards - Solitary Bees by Kathy Conner Cornell

            Nowadays we hear a lot about honeybees but did you know that there are many other bees in your backyard that survive with minimal help from you. We all know the honey bees are at risk from mites, increased pesticide use and lack of available pollen. Some of these same things are now affecting our native solitary bees. Honeybees were brought from Europe by the colonists but solitary bees have been around for thousands of years. They were the primary pollinators before the arrival of the honeybee. They still perform a necessary service to us today.

            Unlike honeybees, solitary bees do not live in a colony. They make a tunnel like brood nests in the ground or in tree holes left by birds and insects. The brood nest consists of several brood cells. Each brood cell contains chunk of bee bread, named so because it has a loaf form, that contains pollen and nectar the female has collected. The female then lays a fertilized egg near or on the bee bread. Then she closes the cell with mud or chewed up plant parts. Depending on the species, there may be just one brood cell or several. Generally unfertilized eggs are laid close to the nest entrance. These become the males who emerge first. Just like men tend to hang around the Ladies Room when they are looking for some action, the males hang around the nest awaiting a female to emerge for mating.  

            Solitary bees have a complete metamorphosis consisting of four stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. We only see the adult stage since the others take place in the brood nest. The egg remains in this stage for about three weeks before hatching into a grub like larva. At this stage the larva will eat the bee bread and continue to grow until time to form into a pupa. During this stage the pupa will take on adult features and be wrapped in a protective covering for eight to nine months. When emerging the bee will be a fully functional adult ready to eat, mate and build her own brood nests.

            Because there is no one to rely on, the female adults are very docile. If they risked stinging, they would be unsuccessful at creating a brood for next year. As with all bees, males have no stingers. Therefore they are lovely creatures to have in our gardens. Solitary bees are either generalists or specialists. The generalists will go to whatever is in bloom so are the more resilient species. The specialists only feed on one type of plant. For example, the squash bee will only feed on plants in the squash family such as pumpkins, cucumbers and gourds.

            If you want to invite these fascinating insects into your gardens there are few things you can do. Create diversity in your landscape by providing nectar rich plants blooming at various times during the growing season. Good early season plants are False Blue Indigo, Baptisia australis, Redbuds Cercis canadensis and even those Violets we hate having in our lawns. Coral honeysuckle, Lonciera sempervirens, not to be confused with the invasive alien Japanese honeysuckle, Lavender, Lavendula and Threadleaf Coreopsis, Coreopsis verticillata are great for early summer. Late summer will find Oakleaf Hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia and Garden Phlox, Phlox paniculata in bloom and asters round out the season. Step two is to not be afraid to be a bit untidy. Brush piles, old tree stumps and open bare ground provide good nesting sites. Finally, don’t use pesticides which kill the good bugs right along with the bad ones. With a little patience in the landscape the good bugs will consume the bad ones anyway.

Caption for picture: The False Blue Indigo is a great plant to attract solitary bees in early in the season. Solitary bees are important pollinators for many fruits and vegetables.





PSA-Over-Sized Transport on US Hwy 501 through the Town of Halifax on 04-18-16 & 04-20-16

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Herbs and Plants Featured at Flora Fest

     Flora Fest is a good way to welcome and celebrate springtime.  The annual festival sponsored by the Charlotte County Master Gardeners, will be held on Saturday, April 30th from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Charlotte County Extension Office at 133 LeGrande Avenue in Charlotte C.H.  Activities throughout the day include the Spring Plant Sale, lavender products from Evergreen Lavender Farm, lectures, Herb Sale and Herbal lunch.

     The day's lectures feature Bonnie Swanson, Evergreen Lavender Farm at 9 a.m. who will share her knowledge of lavender including culinary, health, beauty and decorative aspects of this wonderful plant.  At 10 a.m. Katie Martin, District Wildlife Biologist, will be speaking about the American Black Bear.  She will discuss the habitat and habits of the black bear as it relates to Southside Virginia.

     A partner in the day's events is the Southside Virginia Herb Society.  Their herb plant sale will be held across the street from the Extension Office at Village Presbyterian Church.  The Herb Plant Sale will feature all types of herbs including ones you don't often find locally.  A handmade throw rug will be raffled off at $1 per ticket.  Booklets featuring Easy Herbal Crafts, Culinary Herbs and Herbs and Spices of the Holy Bible will be offered for sale.

     An eat in or take out herb lunch will be served from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the church Fellowship Hall.  The $5 lunch will consist of a sandwich, a snack and homemade cookies.  Bottled water and tea will also be for sale along with extra cookies.

     The Southside Virginia Herb Society is a group of area residents interested in learning about herbs, promoting herb use and sharing herbal knowledge with others.  A major goal of the Society's work is to sponsor a scholarship program for students interested in agriculture or horticulture.  Proceeds from this event fund the scholarship program.  So please join the fun to help out a local college bound student.

River Rubbish Rampage 2016

Volunteers Take To Waterway to Clean Up Ahead Of Paddling Season

     In preparation for the upcoming paddling season, the Town of Halifax's spring Banister clean-up will be held this Saturday, April 16th at noon.  Dubbed Earth Day Extravaganza River Rubbish Rampage, the clean-up will involve a volunteer orghanized trash removal at the Banister Lake boat landing and the Banister River.

     Everyone is welcome to participate, and volunteers are asked to meet at the King's Bridge Landing located at 1041 Bethel Road at noon to receive their trash bags and to sign their volunteer waiver.  Those wishing to help coordinate the shuttle for the Banister River portion are asked to arrive by 11a.m.  volunteers may paddle down river, removing trash between the landing and the Terry's Bridge take out.

     For those not wishing to be on the river, a second group will head over tothe Banister Lake Boat Ramp and pick up trash in the parking area and below the bridge.  Anyone wishing to get on the lake also may do so.  volunteers are asked to provide their own boats and personal floatation devices (life jackets) and should come prepared with gloves, appropriate footwear and sunscreen.  The event will be held "rain or shine" so be prepared with appropriate rain gear as well, if needed.


Become a Garden Recycler by William McCaleb

Become a Garden Recycler

By William McCaleb, Master Gardener Coordinator


Here are some creative things that will help build soil structure and health, and it will even repel some pathogens.  To improve garden soils, instead of just buying additives for the soil, why not use discarded wastes and materials from the kitchen and landscape, reducing both cost and waste that would normally go to the landfill.

Recycle and save a couple of bucks.  Compost is the primary example of this recycling.  Some kitchen waste also can have more specialized uses in the garden.  And, some don't even have to be composted to utilize their thrown away nutrients.  Here are five household and landscape wastes to recycle in the garden and how to use them:

     Eggshells can be used as a slug barrier or a soil amendment.  Coarsely crushed eggshells sprinkled in a ring around plants can keep slugs away.  The soft-bodied slugs don't like to drag themselves across the sharp-edged eggshells.  Finely ground or decomposed eggshells also will add calcium to soil.  While calcium gets less attention than the Big 3 of garden fertilizers (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium), it's vital to the health of plants, helping plants wtih water uptake and cell development.

     Calcium is apt to be deficient or unavailable in dry, acidic (native soil) or high potassium soils.  Calcium-deficient tomatoes and peppers are susceptible to blossom end rot.  Calcium-deficient potatoes are small and susceptible to brown rotten spots.  And, don't forget the health of broccoli as calcium-deficiency may cause the lack of head production.

     To give a quick calcium boost, grind eggshells finely by pounding them with a mortar and pestle or drying them well, putting them in a plastic bag and pulverizing them with a hammer or rolling pin.  Hand-crushed eggshells added to the soil, or large pieces of eggshell added to the compost, will boost calcium in the long term when they break down.  It is a long-term process as the egg shells do take a while to break down.

     It takes a lot of eggshell to make a difference.  Putting pulverized eggshells in the bottom of each planting hole before setting out tomatoes is a good practice.  Many know the effects of blossom end rot.  Eggshells also have a mild liming effect, raising soil pH and reducing acidity.  Once again, eggshells must be finely crushed to see quick results.

     Save those discarded coffee grounds as they are a good source of nitrogen.  Some serious composters collect grounds from coffee shops to use in their compost piles in place of manure.  The pH of most coffee grounds is usually near neutral (7.0).  Mix them well with high-carbon materials like leaves or straw, so they'll break down well.  Composted coffee grounds improve soil structure and attract earthworms.  Fresh coffee grounds, like fresh manure, can "burn" plants on contact, so be careful.  All garden plants need some nitrogen.  Nitrogen-loving plants that especially will benefit from the addition of composted coffee grounds include lettuce, spnach and cold crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale or brussel sprouts, just to name a few.

     There are more foods from the kitchen pantry and table that can be recycled and used such as table scraps (no meats) that do not contain large amounts of salt.  Salad greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, etc. make good compost.  Don't forget to toss tea bags in as well.

     With all of this cold frigid winter air, those wood stoves or a wood burning fireplace will have ashes to get rid of.  Wood ashes are used both to provide nutrients to the soil and to raise pH and reduce acidity.  Ashes are a good source of calcium, potassium and phosphorus.  Ashes can be added to compost piles or mixed directly into soil.  Do not use wood ash as a fertilizer if soil is already slightly alkaline.  Not many in Halifax County face that problem, but there are a few.  Also, make sure that the ashes are cold with no cinders active before applying.

     Moving outdoors to what is available, pine needles (pine tags) offer a treasure trove of good organic matter to help soil structure.  Pine needles can be used to lower soil Ph, making it more acidic.  They can be used as mulch around acid-loving crops like blueberries and strawberries, or added to compost in areas with overly alkaline soil.  When adding pine needles to the compst, increasing their surface area (mowing over them) will greatly speed up the time needed for them to breakdown.

     Once spring emerges and it is not that far away, grass clippings will be available to use as an additive to a compost pile where they will breakdown rather quickly if kept moist.  Lawn clippings are nitrogen-rich, therefore they decompose quickly.  Just don't apply them in layers more than one-inch thick, or they may start to break down anaerobically and stink.

     To correct that, use a pitchfork to turn the compost and let the pile breathe with the additional air pockets added by turning the pile.  Do not use clippings in compost if herbicides have been applied to lawns.

     By chewing up leaves and adding them to compost, along with the grass clippings, it makes for a working warm compost pile that will be well degraded and ready for use in the vegetable garden in the spring.

     To learn more about what can be recycled from home or landscape to enhance and improve soild using these natural methods, contact a local Halifax Virginia Cooperative Extension office at 434-476-2147 and ask for a Master Gardener or the coordinator or send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..