It’s not just the honeybees!

It’s not just the honeybees!

Swallowtail Butterfly Feeding on a native Buckeye. Buckeyes also attract hummingbirds. Photo Credit: Jed Dillard

Swallowtail Butterfly Feeding on a native Buckeye. Buckeyes also attract hummingbirds.
Photo Credit: Jed Dillard



Honey bees are quite the buzz these days. Reports of population declines and the importance of their role in pollination have caught the country’s attention.  The Northwest District IFAS Beekeepers’ classes have grown by leaps and bounds over the years. Many folks have decided to keep bees for the first time and even those who do not start their own hives are itching to know more about how to help these industrious insects.


As important as the European honeybee is to our agriculture, there are many species of native pollinators that were here when the first European bees arrived with the settlers from England and Spain. Many of our crops were also introduced, but when the Native Americans began growing squash and pumpkins, the honeybees were not around. Many native plants we treasure in landscapes and natural lands are also dependent on these pollinators.

Butterflies may be our most familiar pollinator after honeybees, and growing a butterfly garden is a great way to enjoy these colorful visitors. However, there are many other native insect pollinators. Moths may come to mind next, but native bees are the unknown stars here.

There are over 300 species of native bees in Florida. Some are conspicuous like bumble bees and some are rarely noticed because of their small size. These species are also economically important. Bumble bees are preferred in vegetable greenhouses, because they are more active than honey bees, and are also major pollinators of cotton.

As we increase our interest in native plants, it’s important to preserve and enhance native pollinators. Choosing native plants is just the first step. Many native annuals can reseed themselves if managed properly, and assuring there are appropriate pollinators on hand is one of the key steps in that. If you’ve planted to attract wildlife, you’ll want to know which pollinators will ensure fruit is produced.
As you attract more native pollinators, you’ll have a more vibrant native plant community. As you have a more vibrant native plant community, you’ll support a larger and more diverse native pollinator population, and that’s some more buzz the world needs to catch.

More information on butterfly gardening is available from the University of Florida . UF information on attracting and supporting native bees is available at http://entnemdept.ifas.ufl.edu/honeybee/nbns.shtml, and there is a great citizen science project on native bees (Teachers, youth leaders, parents have you read this far?) “The Native Buzz” at http://entomology.ifas.ufl.edu/ellis/nativebuzz/. The Xerces Society for invertebrate preservation also has informational resources available at http://www.xerces.org/.

Earthworms aren’t the only beneficial composters!

Earthworms aren’t the only beneficial composters!

I started a little vermiculture bin year before last with one cup of red wigglers from the local bait shop. I carefully sorted my garbage so there was no grease or animal protein in the bin and counted the worms every Saturday. Yes, I was a little obsessive about it.

 Sixth instar larvae of the black soldier fly Credit: Bianca Diclaro, University of Florida Credit: Bianca Diclaro, University of Florida

Sixth instar larvae of the black soldier fly
Credit: Bianca Diclaro, University of Florida
Credit: Bianca Diclaro, University of Florida

The initial population was twenty-four and during the cold month it had gotten down to twelve. The bin finally rebounded. The last time I counted, there were 499 worms. I spent an hour looking for another to make a round 500 but gave up. I decided my bin must be doing all right and let it drift into a period of what I assumed was benign neglect.

The next time I stirred up the bin I saw large flattened maggots that made me think I’d made a BIG mistake. The wigglers were still working, but I was mortified they might be in serious danger of compost collapse.

 

AdultBSF

Adult Black Soldier Fly Credit: Lyle J. Buss, University of Florida

 

 

A little research revealed they are the larvae of the Black Soldier Fly (BSF).  Being a fly it lacks a stinger.

Turns out the fly is an outstanding composter of animal manure and animal protein as well as a deterrent to nuisance flies. It is being used on a industrial scale to turn offal into compost/fertilizer and the larvae make great fish or poultry feed.

They had come to my worm bin because I had let it get wetter than the perfect red wiggler moisture level and because I had become lax in my garbage sorting. Instead of a problem, I had a bonus.

Mature larvae move to a dryer space to pupate. This tendency allows backyard MacGyvers to assemble a bin with a spout to deliver the larvae directly to the chicken yard or fish pond. What looks like an icky monster is really another natural wonder with lots of applications.

Check these links for more information on the Black Soldier Fly and how it can complement your red wigglers.

http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in830
http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/galveston/beneficials/beneficial-51_black_soldier_fly.htm

“Digital Devices Transform Couch Potatoes into Air Potato Destroyers – Use Your Phone to Help Manage Florida Invaders”

Map and identify invasives with "IveGot1"

Map and identify invasives with “IveGot1”

Digital devices have proliferated like kudzu in July, and new user applications for these devices are as common as armadillos. Untold hours and dollars are being spent by couch potatoes to defend artificial worlds from dragons, zombies and other imaginary invaders.
Meanwhile, real exotic aliens from air potatoes to monitor lizards are invading Florida.

Don’t panic; there is some good news. A group of new applications that can help citizen scientists identify, locate and manage invasive plant and animal species in Florida is available for free.

The first line of defense is identifying and mapping new occurrences of invasive species. Many, if not most, new infestations were established before anyone noticed or cataloged them, and effective control strategies depend on knowing the extent of new infestations.

The Early Detection & Distribution Mapping System (EDDMapS) has been available at http://www.eddmaps.org since 2005. In the words of its developers, Charles Bargeron and David Moorehead of the University of Georgia’s Bugwood Network, the system was designed to: “develop more complete local, state and regional level distribution data of invasive plants, identify “leading edge” ranges of new invasive threats, provide a means of implementing early detection and response, and help corroborate threats and refine invasive plant lists and management priorities.”

IveGot1”  was developed by this same group through a cooperative agreement with the National Park Service in cooperation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the University of Florida Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. The application is now available on both Apple and Android operating systems. The app includes invasive plants and animals and allows direct reporting of sightings as well as back ground information on Florida’s most common invasive species.

The impact of wild hogs on the environment is soil erosion, decreased water quality, spread of other invasive plants, damage to agricultural crops, and damage to native plants and animals. Photo by Jennifer Bearden

The impact of wild hogs on the environment is soil erosion, decreased water quality, spread of other invasive plants, damage to agricultural crops, and damage to native plants and animals. Photo by Jennifer Bearden

At least two other apps useful for invasive species management are also available. “Invasive Plants in Southern Forests” is adapted from the US Forest Service book of the same name. This publication is available for download at http://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/gtr/gtr_srs062, but it’s a big file (33MB). In addition to its ID function, the app includes appropriate control methods for the over 100 invasive trees, shrubs, vines, grasses and forbs described. As of now, this application is only available for the iPhone platform.

The second app is for Florida’s most widespread invasive animal. Although pythons may be our most infamous invasive animal, they don’t have the distribution of the wild hog. “Squeal on Pigs” combines a location app and educational information to support states’ efforts to control wild hog populations and reduce their impacts on streams and crops.

Maybe you won’t reach Destroyer level in the real battle on air potatoes and Florida’s other invasive species, but moving from Angry Birds to Squeal on Pigs will raise your power level as a Friend of Real Florida.

Deer Feeders Can Hide Trouble!

 

Palmer amaranth can reach heights up and signal real trouble for hunters, farmers, and land managers. Loaded with numerous small seeds, mature plants and "offspring" difficult to control. Photo Courtesy of University of Florida / IFAS

Palmer amaranth can reach heights up 10 feet and signal real trouble for hunters, farmers, and land managers. Loaded with numerous small seeds, mature plants and “offspring” are difficult to control. Photo Courtesy of University of Florida / IFAS

Deer feeders are common in North Florida, and “deer corn” is sold in multiple markets. Cross-roads convenience stores sell it in plain brown bags and big box stores in town sell it in camouflage  bags with three color pictures of giant bucks on the front. With the high price of corn in 2012, many hunters saved a few dollars buying “combine run” corn from local farmers or corn screenings from grain elevators. The corn’s no different, however, either product can contain weed seed, especially Palmer amaranth. These weeds can mean big trouble for farmers and hunters.

Palmer amaranth is a species of pig weed, but it’s not your granddaddy’s “careless weed”. It’s taller than either red root pigweed or spiny pigweed, and is becoming resistant to several herbicides, most notably glyphosate (“Roundup”). Amaranth seed are small and plentiful (1 to 1.5 millimeters in diameter) and easily can fit in the nooks and crannies of grain harvesting and handling equipment. 

 

Palmer amaranth first true leaves have small notches on the end and can serve as an identifying characteristic. Photo Courtesy of University of Florida / IFAS.

Palmer amaranth first true leaves have small notches on the end and can serve as an identifying characteristic. Photo Courtesy of University of Florida / IFAS.

Once Palmer amaranth seed make it into a deer feeder, there’s a huge opportunity for seedlings to take root in places under the radar of typical scouting and control measures. If these seedlings are herbicide resistant, you’ve done far more harm to the landowner than any savings on corn cost can offset. Conservative estimates indicate herbicide costs have at least doubled due to herbicide resistant weeds. Do your local farmer a real favor; scout and control weeds coming from your deer feeder.

Further information on identifying and controlling Palmer amaranth is available from your county Extension agent or at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ag346

 

Feeding corn to deer and turkey is permitted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as long as the following restrictions are met. “Resident game and wild hogs may be hunted in proximity of year-round game-feeding stations on private lands, provided the feeding station has been maintained with feed for at least six months prior to taking resident game,” and “Wild turkey may not be taken if the hunter is less than 100 yards from a game feeding station when feed is present.” See General Information regarding Feeding Game at http://myfwc.com/hunting/regulations/general-information