Archive for September, 2013

Honey Bees and Human Health

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Honey Bees and  Human Health      MasGarTM5x7_w85[1]

By George Giltner, Adv. Master Gardener, MS Biology

Where are all the honey bees?  They are around, but just not as many as their used to be.  Back in the 1950’s, according to the USDA Natural Agricultural Statistics Services, over 5.5 million honey bee colonies were buzzing around pollinating our US crops.  Now we have less than ½ that number.

These valuable little pollinators were once treasured by large numbers of rural small farms throughout America.  Crops were pollinated to substantially increase the crop yields and local honey flavored morning biscuits and Grandmother’s pies.  But things have changed.  Now, urban sprawl and big agriculture have moved into our countryside.  The result of this encroachment into honey bee habitat is fewer bees, less interest in beekeeping, and even suburban phobias of every bee as a “Killer Bee”.  Therefore without beekeepers, honey hive trees, and diverse vegetation for most of the year, the numbers of bee colonies have dwindled. Urbanites obsessive tidiness with yard and landscaping removes uncultivated areas that make good bee habitats, especially for ground dwelling bees. Take away their homes and food sources (nectar for energy and pollen for protein), and they are simply gone.

Purdue honeybee pic

Honey bee foraging for nectar. Photo by Purdue Extension.

However, modern changes in agriculture (globalization, crop monocultures, insecticides, microbes and nutrition) are further affecting the decline in bee populations. That sounds familiar.  These topics come up every day in the news on human health.  We have many parallels in life with honey bees.

Globalization of bees from around the world has opened up new markets for honey and bee products.  Beekeepers have imported specific gene characteristics of Australian bees, Russian bees and many other countries.  Then in 1987 (Florida and Wisconsin), the bee blood-sucking varroa mite was detected as an imported pest.  In a few years nearly every colony in the United States was infected.  Wild honey bees have nearly disappeared.  Not only did the mite vampire-feeding destroy bees and larvae, but it also spread various bee viruses, which can lead to the rapid and spectacular death of colonies.

Similar human events occurred worldwide when Europeans expanded into the New World.  Smallpox, venereal diseases, and other pathogens decimated non-resistant island and American native populations.  Previously the same type of event occurred in the 1300’s with the introduction of the “Black Death” Bubonic Plague which wiped out up to 60% (25 million) of the European population with infected rat fleas from the Asian silk roads.  Biologists are well aware of the dangers of introducing foreign species into new environments. Yet many products from produce to exotic animals to horticultural plants are imported into the US without adequate quarantines and inspections.

Monocultures like hundreds of thousands of acres of corn threaten the future of our bees.  In these huge patches of corn, there is almost nothing but corn.  A rare spider, a few grasshoppers, can be found but very sparse samples of life from what used to be in the same fields.  The newer systemic insecticides, known as neonicotinoids, are the fastest growing insecticides in the world, especially in genetically modified corn.  These insecticides are very efficient in reaching all parts of the plant, including the pollen and nectar and even soil dust in and near applied fields.  Bee colonies began disappearing immediately after the EPA allowed use of these pesticides in the United States.

The neonicotinoids like Imidacloprid, are highly toxic to bees by affecting their nervous systems accumulatively.  Minute levels cause impaired navigation, disorientation, and other neurological problems.  The result is bees wondering off course and not returning to their hives.  Immune dysfunction and opportunistic diseases with parasites, viruses, bacteria, and fungi also result when pesticide-laden pollen is brought back to the hive.  In March of 2013, the European Food Safety Authority banned several neonicotinoids for the next two years.  Also in March 2013, professional beekeepers filed a lawsuit against the US EPA for allowing the use of the neonicotinoids, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, which is blamed for a dramatic die off (up to 50% reported by beekeepers) of bees in the United States.

Insecticide health problems have long plagued man too.  Back in 1925, the USDA Yearbook recommended the use of lead arsenate as an insecticide for spraying peach and other orchards.  Lead is now regarded as unsafe particularly in children at any detectable level.  It has been tied to genetic to many neurological disorders (learning disabilities, behavior changes, insomnia, hyperactivity, impaired growth, hearing loss, and upper extremity weakness – Hero EPA website).  Arsenic is a known carcinogen.  Therefore, the message is that quickly introduced, under-evaluated insecticides have caused much misery to man and other life forms.

Poor nutrition is believed to cause 50% of bees dying by reports from several states.  Researchers state that colony collapse disorder is mainly due to bees feeding on a monoculture diet.  They should receive pollen and nectar from a variety of sources/plants.  Bees fed pollen from a variety of plant species have been shown to have better immune systems.  In some areas bees are given corn syrup in winter, then in summer they pollinate a single crop like cherries, orange, apples, or almonds.  A recent 2013 study has shown that a detoxifying-insecticide chemical of natural honey, p-coumaric acid, is not found in high fructose, artificial, over-winter food substitutes.  With more research and understanding of bee nutrition, we may see a comeback in bee populations.

Poor nutrition is also a big problem in the United States where obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and a whole spectrum of other nutrition related diseases affect our population with misery and health care costs skyrocketing.  A trip to the grocery store leads to rows of high fructose corn syrup, corn products, wheat, and potato products. Change the flavor and these three plant starches make up many modern poor diets.  Cook food with Louisiana’s alkaline water (8.3 pH avg.) and folic acid (along with other B vitamins) are destroyed. Fresh fruit and a wide variety of vegetables are left off the menu of many family diets in favor of ready to eat microwave meals.

A study of human coprolites (paleo-poop) of caves is west Texas and many other places in the world have shown that our ancestors relied on a diet of hundreds of plant species.  From this wide variety of fruits and veggies, they received a natural complement of phytonutrients, essential minerals and vitamins.  Our current limited variety of foods is new to our human biology and digestive microbes.  It is causing us health problems.

When we examine the loss of bees, we should also reflect upon parallels that we share together with these small creatures of nature.  As we learn more from microbiology, nutrition, our history, and the sciences, our future can bee brighter.  Contact the Southwest Louisiana Beekeepers Association or the LSU AgCenter (337-463-7004) for more information.

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Battle of the Bugs: Spider Mites of Summer

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Spider Mites of Summer

By George Giltner, Adv. Master Gardener, MS Biology

In the hot and humid Summer months, a common pest problem is spider mites which infect tomatoes, snap beans, roses, lantana, maple, redbud, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, squash, cucumber, and about 200 other species of plants.  The most common spider mite throughout the U.S. is the two spotted spider mite, Tetranychus urticas . 

spider mites

Spider mites at various life stages. Photo by LSU AgCenter.

Symptoms appear similar to a graying of the leaves which is caused by destruction of chlorophyll containing cells by the piercing mouth parts of the mites.  One may think that the plant is undergoing some type of heat stress or fungal disease, but close observation of the leaves reveals small webs that all spider mites produce.  A magnifying lens with 10x power will reveal the presence of a minute (1/50th inch) spider mite with 8 legs.

The best chance of control is early in the infestation. Miticides are available in garden stores, however most are not effective on eggs.  Therefore plan on multiple applications. After continuous use, most acaricides  become ineffective as the spider mites built resistance to chemical sprays.  If no control measures are taken, populations can spread rapidly to completely defoliate the leaves or to impair plant flowering and fruiting.

Insecticidal soaps, commercially available natural predators, and oils are options that are friendly to nature and less toxic to humans.  Note that oils and soaps may burn plants, especially at higher rates.  Natural predators can be purchased from internet sites, but they are delicate forms of life that can be destroyed during shipping, especially in summer.

Important natural predators include lady bugs, predatory mites (Metaseiulus, Amblyseius, and Phytoseiulus), minute pirate bugs, lacewing larvae, big eyed bugs, and thrips (Leptothrips).  Therefore use of broad spectrum insectides can destroy these predators, making your problems much worse.

Spider mites are difficult to control.  For home gardeners persistence of treatment is the most important aspect of control.  If the infection becomes too difficult, consider eliminating affected plants by bagging and burning during calm periods of the day.  Spider mites are like spiders.  They use their webs to spread in the wind.

The entire life cycle (eggs to larva to two nymphal stages to adult) can be completed within five days, but can be extended with lower temperatures to 20 days.  Adult females can live 4 weeks while producing several hundred progeny. Continuous generations are produced though summer.

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Battle of the Bugs: Citrus Leafminer & Natural Control

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Battle of the Bugs: Citrus Leafminer & Natural Control

By George Giltner, Adv. Master Gardener, MS Biology

If you have planted Satsuma’s or other citrus within the past 3 years, chances are that the leaves have been mined by the citrus leaf miner, Phyllocnistis citrella.  Close observation of the distorted wrinkled leaves will show the twisting larval tunnels, larval frass trail, and possibly the live larvae itself.

When the larvae are near the leaf marginal edge, use a fingernail to extract one.  Then you have successfully controlled one leaf miner, needless to mention that several hundred that may be ready to hatch from recently laid eggs by the 2 mm long adult female moths.  The singly laid eggs hatch after 4 to 5 days, then begin their mining operations for over a month, usually from midsummer to early winter.  The leaf distortions and curls are caused by the destruction of upper and lower cellular tissue.

juvenile leafminer

The larva of a leafminer feeding between the top & bottom surfaces of a citrus leaf. Photo by UFL Extension.

As you review the entire citrus plant, notice the pattern of infestation.  New fast growing and tender leaves are infected, but the hardened thicker leaves are resistant to leaf miners.  Therefore activities that stimulate rapid plant growth like pruning, vertical water sprout growth, and heavy fertilization actually make your citrus more favorable to citrus leaf miners.  Also notice that older (4+ years) trees are not impacted like younger trees.  The aged and hardened older leaves cannot be penetrated and mined like fresh leaves.

Commercial products containing imidacloprid, a systemic insecticide, have been used during periods of flushing (rapid growth) of young citrus.  These soil or irrigation treatments can protect the plants for up to 3 months.  However, there is concern over the use of this insecticide and its effect on bees.  The systemic insecticide will be inside plant tissues, pollen, and nectar.  Experts report that use of this chemical is one of the many possible causes of bee decline and colony collapse disorder (CCD).  The European Food Safety Authority (Jan. 2013) stated that neonicotinoids (imidachoprid) pose an unacceptably high risk to bees.

If you are an internet user, some suggestions for leaf miner control are absolutely hilarious.  One suggests using moth balls.  The response was to take good aim at the moths to be effective.  Another was to use Sevin, but the larvae is tunneled and protected by the waxy leaf cuticle.

Biological control can be the most effective means of control.  Worldwide, 39 parasites of CLM have been identified.  14+ natural enemies (many wasps) have been identified within the U.S.  Since the initial identification of CLM in Homestead, Florida (1993), it has spread throughout the South into Louisiana and Texas.  It is now a common pest.  However recent research has shown up to 90% mortality due to endemic beneficial insects.  The message from researchers is to not use wide range killing insecticides (malathion, carbaryl, and pyrethroids) that destroy beneficial predators of citrus leaf miner.  Better control with less environmental impact can be obtained by using spinosad formulated products like Conserve, Green Light Spinosad, Success, Leafminer & Tent Caterpillar Spray, etc.

adult leafminer UF pic

Adult Leafminer. Photo by Florida Extension

Gardeners and homeowners of citrus may choose to not treat citrus for citrus leaf miners.  That is correct – do nothing and let nature take its course (Dr. Malcolm Manner, UFC) .  Young citrus will be infected and look ugly for several years.  Nature will begin to supply CLM predators without the use of harmful insecticides.  The mature hardy thick green leaves develop.  Then the citrus tree matures into its round dark green form.

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Health Benefits of Fall Gardening by George Giltner, Master Gardener

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Health Benefits of Fall Gardening

By George Giltner, Adv. Master Gardener, MS Biology

Here we are in the hottest, most humid month of the year.  Wow! Who in their right mind is enduring these temperatures, fighting off pests, and drought to garden?  It does seem like an unhealthy tortuous activity – unless you are a seasoned gardener.

The summer trips to the garden are earlier in the cooler morning when the birds are chirping and a glistening dew is on the vegetables and flowers.  In this serene time, an inspection for pests is not a chore, but a look into the health and balance of life in the garden.  A hand spray of neem oil or a mist of horticultural oil takes care of most pests.  The timer and watering system are checked, and a few weeds are pulled or scraped.  Fresh vegetables like peas, okra, and squash are harvested for daily consumption.  So begins the day with a relaxing and rewarding activity that sets a non-stressful mood for the day.


Collards are popular fall vegetables. Photo by Georgia Extension.

Next, is the fall garden which is my favorite.  The vegetables which include a whole spectrum of healthy nutrients from carrot beta carotene to anticancer agents in kale are only part of the health advantages of gardening.  The regular physical exercise aids in the prevention of heart disease, obesity, adult-onset diabetes and high blood pressure.  “Compost turning strength-training” is important in the prevention of osteoporosis.  Lift and push a wheelbarrow around to have a complete workout without the transportation and cost of a gym workout.  “Gardening is a labor of love.  A treadmill is just labor.”

Fall gardening provides fresh fruits and vegetables.  When you grow your own food, it will be on your table within hours of harvesting without vitamin loss.  The family will enjoy the fresh taste, the money saved, and the satisfaction of self-sufficiency.  Be sure to plant blueberries, Satsuma’s, plums, and apples this fall for seasonal treats and a cornucopia of healthy nutrients.  New flavors and varieties of vegetables add spice and nutrition to the family diet.  My son would not eat peas until we introduced him to fresh “Quick Picks” straight from the garden.  The flavor of kale cooked with sausage bits also became his favorite.  Also when you grow your own food you have control over pesticides, plant genetic choices, and fertilizers that are used.  Add herbs to “Kick it up a Notch” in enhancing flavor, yet reducing sugar and salt.  Try herbs early in your gardening experience.  The aromas and ease of gardening will increase your success and pleasure of gardening.

Gardening is a pleasant brain workout with creativity, research, and planning.  Let your persona come out with your garden plans.  Take Master Gardener Courses offered by the LSU AgCenter (337-462-7006) to stimulate and encourage your creativity.  Find a whole wealth of information on the internet.  Interact and exchange ideas with other Master Gardeners.  Get connected.  Everyone likes to talk to a gardener.

Studies have shown that gardening provides a natural rhythm of life in stressful world.  You become more knowledgeable and appreciable of nature. You become aware that a garden is not picture perfect all the time, but your labor can usually restore problems.  Just viewing a garden or nature has healthy psychological benefits.

Gardening is good for family bonding and for people with special needs.  Kids and people with handicaps can enjoy garden activities as a form of physical therapy.  This hobby increases range of motion, improves motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and increases self-confidence.  Raised beds that are 24 inches high are accessible to wheel chairs and elementary kids.  Many new gardens tools are now designed for little ones, and for those with physical limitations.

Begin the planning now, and plant your garden this fall.  Start small for success, then work your way up to more complex gardening challenges.  Whether you try a deep flower pot for carrots or a hydroponic greenhouse, enjoy the journey, learn new techniques, try new varieties, and have a healthy hobby!

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Inspection of Jimmy Earl Cooley’s bees, Summer 2013

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Inspection of Jimmy Earl Cooley’s bees, Summer 2013

by Jimmy Earl Cooley

SHIRLEY HIVE contains two brood boxes only. Bees and new queen installed in this hive, by Richard Hebert, from a group without a queen, on April 12, 2013.

I opened lid and saw lots of bees here. Then I removed inner cover, saw small hive beetles (SHB) on top of frames on top brood box and killed with hive tool.

I inspected frames, in upper box, starting with outer ones on both ends going toward center of frames. I  saw bees but no sign of any building activity until frame three .

By this time bees were swarming me badly and were very mad (time is 9:30 am and sunny), hitting my veil and two stung me through  my bee suit in the area of my belly (probably the part of my body toughing the inside of the suit, had no T shirt on).  It was just a prick so the bees were not able to get stingers into me deeply.  Also I got a sting through the left glove between wrist and elbow. Again, it was just a small sting.  Also I got a bite on right leg, just above my sock.   The itch went away after I applied stick Benadryl.

I did not remove upper box completely to look at lower box, replace all frames and inner cover and lid.  NO honey from this hive for JEC. This year all the honey will go to bees for winter food.

HEBERT HIVE contains two brood boxes and one  honey super. These bees swarmed and  I lost half of them on April 10, 2013. Richard and I Installed a new queen, assuming old one went with swarm, on April 12, 2013.

I opened lid and saw lots of bees here. Then I removed inner cover and inspected frames. No hive beetles present due to treatment inside.

Working bees are in super but they produced almost nothing in the way of comb on any frame.  I thought there would have been something but I guess all their work has gone into storing supplies in lower and upper supers for winter.  I did not inspect upper or lower brood boxes at this time. I  just looked down from super and all looked well.   There will be NO honey from this hive for JEC this year, all work gone into storing supplies for upper and lower brood box.  Bees in the Hebert Hive are better than Shirley Hive, but they are still annoyed by me.

RESULTS:  No honey to harvest for JEC from Shirley or Hebert Hive.  What honey made, was left for the two hives to consume for winter food.

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Beauregard Parish 100 Year Celebration: A Master Gardener Perspective

Beauregard Parish 100 Year Celebration: A Master Gardener Perspective

by George Giltner & Emily Shirley, Beauregard Parish Master Gardeners

It is great to be part of an MG organization that promotes good health, productivity, education, and family values.  The Beauregard Parish Police Jury had a well planned celebration ,and the public enjoyed the show.  However, it was nice to rarely escape the loud music and crowds, and to talk to visitors in the garden area.

From my view, our participation, booth, and garden were a huge success.  We presented our Ag heritage well with garden produce, a pristine summer garden and grounds,  healthy foods (even though the menu was free hotdogs and cake), and many Master Gardeners participating.  Our radio controlled “Black Widow” got the attention of passer-byes as it wiggled and jumped under the control of Mickey and Keith.  Many conversations were engaged with visitors from soil to bugs to joining MG.  We gained another 11 people for the next MG class sign-up.  The kids and parents kept me busy in the microscope/bug area of the booth – for most of the 6 hours.  Thanks to Jimmy for recording the event in pictures.  I forwarded some to family and friends.

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Thanks to all the Workday volunteers for their efforts on Friday.  Wow – it looked so well kept!  Chris’s signs highlighted each garden area, the compost area was cleaned up and neat, Alan’s doors were on the shed addition and locked, the barrier fence was up, the grass was mowed and trimmed, John’s veggies for display/sale highlighted our mission, and Shirley’s professional display of MG was outstanding.  It had to be a group effort of sweat and hard work (sorry I was sick).

Merlyn and I left with a van full of 4-H birdhouses, signs, books, scopes, etc. before the fireworks display.  It was an exhausting day, but full-feeling.

Here is Emily Shirley’s response to George’s perspective:

Thank you George and Merlyn for taking the lead on Saturday and for all that the two of you did to make this event such a success.  I am sorry I had to leave a little early on Saturday to get to Houston, but the rest of you had things under control, and it sounds like everything went off well.  Master Gardeners were well represented at the booth and we had an opportunity to walk around and talk to people about the Master Gardener Program as well.  Shirley Corda’s display board looked great.  Thanks to all of the Master Gardeners that contributed to this event – from the Calling Committee, to all the Friday-workday crew, to the Saturday people, it was a good week for Beauregard Master Gardeners.

This group works so well together and we get so much done when we call for a workday.  We can’t all be there all the time, but by everyone coming when they can and contributing what they can, it works out.  We are doing great things, enjoying each other’s company, and accomplishing a lot.  These type events do keep us working to get the gardens presentable and well maintained.  The people that worked on Friday before the event, did a great job of getting all over the place and getting things in shape.  The new plants around the sign by the gate look great, the new “Children’s Garden” sign that Chris designed and installed looks great.  All the signs that Chris made for all the garden areas look great.  And I love the little pot-lady, or is she a “garden fairy?”  The giant beanstalk in the Children’s Garden looks great.  I think Allen Wells may also have some type giant beans growing in his area.  They are about 12 inches long right now.  I could not believe how much corn John was able to harvest from the “Dale & John” corn patch again.

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