It's Pollinator Week! And to celebrate, we have a special episode for you all. We got to sit down and chat with Sam Droege, who works at the Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab with U.S. Geological Survey. We talk about how native bees differ from honey bees, learn about some neat bee flower interactions, and Sam gives us some tips about how to transition to a native garden using wood chips.
Ask A Bumble Bee program: https://u.osu.edu/askabumble/
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The Garden Thyme Podcast is brought to you by the University of Maryland Extension. Hosts are Mikaela Boley- Senior Agent Associate (Talbot County) for Horticulture, Rachel Rhodes- Senior Agent Associate for Horticulture (Queen Anne's County), and Emily Zobel-Senior Agent Associate for Agriculture (Dorchester County).
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The Garden Thyme Podcast
Season 3: SP. Native Bee Special with Sam Droege
Note: The Garden Thyme Podcast is produced for the ear and designed to be heard. If you are able, we strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that's not on the page. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors.
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Mikaela: Hello Listener, Welcome to UME presents the Garden Thyme podcast. Where we talk about getting down and dirty in your garden. We are your hosts. I'm Mikaela, I’m Rachel, and I’m Emily. This month we have a special episode to help celebrate pollinator week.
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Mikaela: So June 20 through 26 is pollinator week, which is an annual celebration in support of pollinator health. And while there are lots of animals and insects that pollinate our crops and native plants, today we're going to highlight native bees. And we're actually joined by Sam Droege who is a wildlife biologist with the USGS Ecological Science Center. Among other duties, he operates the Native Bee inventory and monitoring lab. And this must be really fascinating work. So Sam, do you want to expand more upon what you do and your role at the bee lab?
Sam: Sure. The way to think about our lab is as a support group. So we're doing some research ourselves, but it's about fundamentals. We're asking questions like what's the best way to count bees and how many bees are there? I’m looking at bees, how do I identify the 4000 different species in North America? We work with lots and lots of outside groups, mostly collaborative. We help them set up programs. We also identify a lot of people's material because it's very difficult. And finally we're moving into right now a research program where we're looking at bee plant interactions. We're interested in what are the patterns that we see in which plant is used by each of the bee species and then reverse we're asking like okay, for each plant, which bees go to it? And it turns out, in addition to just being plain old fascinating, it's also really detailed. Many plants have a very restricted list of bees in their rolodex that come to visit them. And many bees have an equally restricted rolodex of plants that they visit. In fact, bees are almost always more picky, let's call it, than plants.
Rachel: That's fascinating.
Sam: So just in the big picture, we're doing a lot of sort of very fundamental to many people, perhaps boring, not super sexy. We're not getting on the front page of the Washington Post with this kind of thing, but that information then supports many, many other people's research programs. And also things like simple questions like what kind of plant should I plant in my garden?
Emily: I think to get on the front page of the Washington Post with bugs, you literally have to eat them. Because the only person I've seen doing that was Mike Raupp. And he got his picture on the front page of the Washington Post when the Cicada outbreak happened. And it was him like eating one, so unless you're ready to eat a bee, Sam, I don’t think you will get there, but that's okay.
Sam: If I could be on the front page of The Washington Post, I would eat a bee.
Mikaela: Oh man, that's drastic.
Sam : Well, I don't know that at least for most species of insects, whether any are really toxic to eat. Could you not just eat any old insects that you feel like?
Emily: Well, I know that people will eat honey bee larvae in other countries. It's a great protein source, and I think bumble bee larvae as well.
Sam: Why not? Yeah, we eat crabs.
Emily: So I think as long as you're eating the larvae, I'd probably be larvae.
Mikaela: Well, maybe the monarch. Right. Because they're all of those alkaloids.
Sam: Right. Well, maybe one of you guys should just start at the top of the list with the as and just start eating each of them and write a little review “Oh, tastes like crunchy with notes of blackberry” to “I threw up immediately afterwards” and that would be something useful.
Rachel: I'll let you guys handle that.
Mikaela: Look, I know there is a research article out there where someone actually stung themselves with a bee all over their body as, like, an index for where the pain would hit the most.
Sam: That's the Schmidt pain index.
Mikaela: Yeah. That is crazy. So I guess it wouldn't be as crazy as that. I would rather eat than get sung, I think.
Emily: I think there's a given that there are certain insects that right off the bat, like, I wouldn't eat fire ants.
Rachel:L; No, I'm alive.
Sam: But people do eat ants. In fact, maybe we have to test that out because that little bit of formic acid on the tongue might be exquisitely delicate. Add all kinds of flavors that we don't usually have. So I'm going to say don't scratch it off the list, yet it's got.
Mikaela: The highest concentration of protein out of any other species that you would eat.
Sam: Oh, is that right? Yeah. And also, they're way more efficient because they're cold blooded. Right. They're not having to heat themselves.
Rachel: Yeah. I'm going to stick to cheese.
Sam: Maybe cheese. Just leave the cheese out and the ants will crawl in it, and then you can have both.
Mikaela: So we know honey bees are really charismatic, and people tend to use them as kind of like an example of why we should care about pollinators, but we know that we have so many more native bees. Would you tell us a little bit more about native bees in Maryland? Like, how many and what is the difference between them and honeybees?
Sam: Yeah, so culturally, that's the bee we know about, and we know a lot. Like, it's integrated into all our literature. People have it. It's on the farm. When we talk about bees, we show a beehive, all that kind of stuff. So the average person does know a fair amount, at least compared to almost any other insect, about honeybees. And they're very cool, but they're very different from our native species, and pretty much all their aspects so different that I tell people the best way to think about the difference between honey bees and natives is to say anything that the honeybee has that's not going to show up in the native bees. So they're that different. So given that kind of thing, we're not seeing honey, we're not seeing waxy comb, we're not seeing swarms, we're not seeing barb stings. They have hypodermic needle-like things, and many of them can't actually even penetrate our skin. No one's allergic to any of the native bees. Most are solitary, not in colonies. And then there's just this long list. We could go down it from a honeybee perspective. It's a good starting point though, because that's what we know.
Sam: So to add on top of that, in North America we have about 4000 species, some of which don't have names yet. It shows that we don't know that much about bees. We haven't even bothered to give them a name, and in Maryland when we come over here, there's fewer than, say, in the west. The deserts of the Southwest have the most diversity of species of bees in North America and when we get to Maryland, we still have many. So right now our list is at roughly 450 species, which I think is going to be surprising to most people, but nowhere near as much as say, Arizona, which is going to have 1000 plus species. But the interesting thing is that why don't we know this, right? We know all the bird species and all these other kinds of things and bees are out there. We see bees on flowers and the answer is that most of them are really small. So when we see them on a flower, they're just another bug. And because they don't give us honey and they also don't sting us and they also are not something that we have to at least be concerned about from an agricultural point of view, at least we thought we didn't have to. They were just basically ignored, we don't have stories, people as pets and so forth.
Sam: There's one exception, and that would be bumblebees, which is not the bumblebee, but we have 14, or is it 15 species? I can't remember now in Maryland of different kinds of bumblebees. So simply going out and looking at the different species which occur in your yard is one thing to do. To learn a little bit more. As an aside, and perhaps we can add this as a link, we have a program that has citizens, really anybody, there's almost no training involved that we call Ask a Bumblebee. And we're looking at what bumblebee species use in terms of flowers. So it's not straightforward. Bumblebees do occur throughout the year, so they have to use lots of different kinds of flowers throughout the year. But at any moment in time they're really only on one or two kinds of flowers. They're pretty darn picky. So when we want to attract more bumblebees, we need to learn more about what their preferences are. And this program, which is just allowing people to go into their gardens, to go into parks, places with lots of flowers, like who wouldn't want to do that? And we're not picky about where you go. It's a very simple half hour count. So that's something that actually people can do to help out. And we'll learn about how bumblebees divide up the world and then rather than planting some random list of flowers, you would say if you wanted bumblebees, you would be able to pick from a list that we know that bumblebees love and are critical to helping them.
Sam: So where was I when I got diverted about bumblebees? We were talking about all the different species. So with bumblebees are a good example. They're generalists in a sense that they have to use a bunch of different plants. But many of our species, and the reason there are 450, has to do with this very interconnected world that our native bees and native plants have created. So you go back maybe 150, depending on who you talk to, 200 million years when plants started producing flowers that attracted bees. And the reason we have color in flowers, you can thank a bee for that, right? Because that color is a signal to the bees to come here and check this out. Right? The bees don't have that app. I need sunflowers. Where are the sunflowers in the metropolitan area that I can visit?
Sam: No, they just have to start flying. And if everything was hidden in green on the plants point of view, how would they hook up? Right? So in this case, flowers are the signal, and they also put out perfume. So we love the smell flowers, another plus that we also enjoy. But for the flowers point of view, they could care less whether it smells good to us, that perfume is another level of attractant, because now I can disperse an odor over a huge area that tells it be, hey, let's try and track this smell plume down and find our plant. And if you just look at a florist shop or look in your garden, why are all those shapes there? You have little tiny flowers. You have huge flowers. You have flowers with long corollas, you have morning glories that bloom only in the morning, with squash plants only blooming in the morning. And you have evening primroses that open up only in the evening, and you have flowers in the spring, and you have flowers in the fall. Why all this diversity? And the answer is, each of those plants is crafting a strategy with a small set of usually bees.
Sam: So some of them do beetles and flies, but with a set of bees to maximize their ability to have babies, which we call seeds. So over time, it's just gotten more and more detailed. And that's why when we talk about saving bees, we're really talking about planting. This is sort of the cut line here for lots of what my recommendations are native plants, lots of different kinds of species, and look at doing something a little bit outside of what the norm is. Everyone plants blackeyed Susans. Some bees only go to black eyed Susan, but many bees hate black eyed Susan. So black eyed Susan might be a little lower on your list. For example, bumblebees are like maybe I'll visit them every once in a while, but give me a cup plant and I'm all over it. So we can actually give you a lot of details now and more will come. We have a bumblebee plant finder, for example, that links a lot of those kinds of things and will do this for all the different kinds of species. But the super simple thing is more flowers that are native, right? So the introduced plants do get bees, but these are the bees that are okay with pretty much anything.
Sam: So they're generalist, they are out all throughout the year, so they can't be picky. And a lot of times they're like introducing plants. We're okay with that. So introduced plants attract bees, but they're not supporting a lot of the native species that were much more concerned about. So I think of a lot of the introduced plants as sort of like a bird feeder, right, for bees. So the plants that they attract are the crow and sparrow, bees that are fine no matter what, because they're like, you give us chicory, you give us dandelion, we're down with that, we can handle it. But a lot of bees, like, there's a set of bees that only use willow, only use cactus, only use pickerweed, and on down this huge list. So dandelion don't work for them, clover doesn't work for them. So it's a broader, more complicated story. But I don't want people to get like, that's too much information. Just go and work with your native plant providers, whatever they might be, and plant a variety and the more different from your neighbors, the better.
Mikaela: Well, that's really good information, particularly about the dandelions and the clover, because I know no more may has been getting a lot of attention. In fact, I was just interviewed about it yesterday and the idea is that it's nice to help promote having more wild yards, but that the things that are there and that you're not mowing aren't necessarily native. It's not going to really make a difference unless you replant with native plants and those flowers that provide for the native pollinators too.
Sam: Right? It's a step in the right direction because people are awareness go up, but I'm more for no lawn May.
Mikaela: There you go.
Sam: So lawn as a planting things strategy is either slightly better than or slightly worse than a parking lot, right? Because it's shedding all kinds of chemicals that depending on who you are, you're applying to have the perfect lawn into the rest of the environment. And it's really not providing the plant resources, flowering plants that are native and the less common ones, and it's taking up space. Right before that lawn was there, at some point, if you go back in time, that was an environment that was providing high quality plants to bees and many, many other things. So bees are a surrogate in some ways of talking about how to better the environment in general, by bringing back a components of the native environment that was there with all their complexity. But much of that complexity isn't redlining suburban areas, right? Like, oh, well, I'll be in a park, but I'm not moving into your backyard. But they will move into your backyard. So by transitioning back from lawns back to native environments of different kinds, even if it's simple ones, like I'm just planting ironweed in a bed next to my foundation, is all positive. So, yeah, I'm a big promoter of no lawn May, but no mow May.
Sam: Fine. First step, your neighbors won't like you, but they will like you better if maybe you had a neat and tidy strip of lawn and then lots of planted beds with flowers behind that. So all strategies are about you, bees and the neighbors in a suburban type of aspect. Whatever you do has to look like one did it on purpose, and that you're keeping the covenant of neat and tidy lawn at the public interface of your property. Which would be edge of your sidewalks, your driveway, your neighbor's fences, and then interior to that probably you can do almost anything. But if you just stop mowing. That's a problem for most people.
Rachel: These are some really great tips.
(17:28) Emily: So you talked at the very beginning about bee and flower relationships. Do you have a good example of one for our listeners?
Sam: Yeah, there's many and actually we have, so if you want to do a quick lookup, look up Jared Fowler and Droege and you'll see Jared has put up a website that has lists of all the specialist be relationships. A lot of these plants are not really that rare, so you have all kinds of aircace shrubs, so blueberries have specialists, cranberry has specialists, deerberry has specialists, willow has specialists. Some flowers have specialists. Weird things like dodder has specialists. Chestnut, which is an interesting one, so we recently figured out that a bee that had just disappeared in the east was actually a chestnut specialist, and we found it on Chica Pin, which is the congener of American chestnuts. And a lot of people don't even think of chestnuts as being pollinated by insects, but they're both wind and insect pollinated. So that was one of the cool ones. Picker weed, which is that plant that's way out in there that has huge purple blooms in the middle of the water. There's a set of bees that will fly out there, and they have very long tongues because the corolla on picker weed is very long. And they have hooks on the tips of their tongue because the pollen is designed basically to be best pollinated by those particular bees. And they have to have hooks on the tongue to pull the pollen out efficiently.
Rachel: That's so cool there.
Emily: That is the coolest bee fact that we'll learn today. We can just stop now.
Sam: There you go.
Mikaela: That's awesome.
Sam: And so it's just really a complicated world. And I don't think that many of us had realized how complicated just the bee plant interaction thing is. But it's not like you just need a couple of flowers or you need a couple of kinds of bees. It's really balkanized with small groups of plants working with small groups of bees, and a lot of things start falling off the map, mostly because, I hate to say it, we've kind of dumbed down our environment. We're spraying and cutting our ditches. We're mowing the size of highways all the time, so we're promoting cool season grasses and we're dialing out a lot of the big tall composites that used to be there, like the golden rods, asters and sneeze weed and those kinds of things. They just disappear because you've mowed them. So there's lots of opportunities. edges of fields. You can leave one mower deck that's not mowed except once a year you still want to mow it, but why mow it every single time along the edge of a piece of property? You don't use that lawn right at the edge of woods anyway. They're little, so little tiny gifts of extra flowers here and there. Makes a huge difference, too. And sometimes it's the thing that changes the trajectory of their populations. So a lot of these, for example, woodland areas, that edge of woods often retains a lot of the native plants. You don't have to plant anything there. The native plants are still there struggling, and if you sort of just give them a little more room to breathe by not blowing their heads off every day, then, you know, magic can happen.
Rachel: That's some awesome advice.
Emily: So, Sam, do you have a favorite native bee?
Sam: I do. It's not a bee, it's a group of bees. So there's a group of bees called the genus is called Nomada, and I don't know if it has a common name or not, but they do, which a number of bee species do. Approximately 20% of bee species are nest parasites. So it's kind of like cuckoos or brown heavy cowboys. So instead of actually raising young themselves or creating nests, they simply go into another bee's nest and lay their egg in it and then their baby there's different strategies, but basically their baby comes out a little earlier and kills and eats the other baby. It's a horror story. And then eats all the provisions and hatches out and moves on from there. But because they're a parasite, they're not as common, so we don't see them often and they're tricky. This is the kind of nerdy things that I love. And the bee lab helps people out with is like, okay, well, how many different kinds are there? They're very colorful, lots of reds and yellows and blacks mixed together. And it's like trying to sort through all the different colors and what's variation. And this is a different species than that. And because they're rare, it's like, oh my gosh, I never seen that one. We found new species that way, so that's my favorite one.
Emily: Those are neat ones.
Mikaela: Yeah. So you mentioned a couple of really nice strategies for helping native bee populations. Is there any other strategies or things that homeowners can do to help bees, even if it's just something simple?
Sam: Yeah, I can talk for hours and hours and hours about all these different factors, I guess. So each species is different, right? So there's all kinds of cool things about each of these different kinds of species. I'll say that any particular point in the metropolitan area has access to about 100 species of bees. So the reason that they're in your yard or not is up to you. So you're planting strategies and what you have in your yard is a reason to have or not have any bees at all. So planted your diverse mix of native plants, even if you don't even look up anything about who attracts bees, is going to be a big positive. So that's always an advocate for planting more blooming and native plants, particularly in the perennial and shrub categories. So that's one thing. And I also just from working with local people and homeowners, I also discourage people from using these mosquito control companies for controlling mosquitoes. Number one, they're not that effective. More effective would be what Doug Tallamy advocates, which are buckets filled with water, that you use a mosquito dunkin to get rid of your breeding populations and cleaning up your water sources where you have these days line mosquitoes.
Sam: Because despite what often is either implied or even said by these companies, the stuff that they spray is killing everything. It's not oh, it's not going to not kill pollinators. No, it kills everything. And they are often spraying on windy days because their contractors need to make their bank. So it's really not doing that much for mosquitoes. And it also is antithetical to perhaps why you are planting plants for bees. So I guess those are the two bits of advice for landowners in the region right now. So there's a couple more things I'll mention. One is if you do want to transition your lawn, it doesn't have to be this huge burden. Okay. So there's a lot of advice out there, a lot of it, which includes herbiciding everything and then putting down cardboard and then amending the soil and things like that. The super simplest thing that works all the time is to get a big bunch of arborist chips. So these are the things that truck would chip up trees alongside the roads and have it dump it in your yard. There's an app in the area called Chip Drop, and if you use that, you'll get a whole truckload of chips, which is what you want because the reason is arbors have to pay to dump their chips otherwise.
Sam: And then you simply bury your targeted lawn. You don't have to do anything fancy. You don't have to dig it up or anything. You just literally bury it and in though somewhere around eight inches of chips. Okay. So it can't be just like, well, I covered up a little. You don't have to put down cardboard that actually smothers the soil. You want the air exchange with the soil that the big chips provide, but they also don't allow light or anything in. And then all the microbes and earthworms and other creatures kick in and they're going to till and add carbon to the soil and help the plants out that get planted in there. And then you plant through that mulch plugs. So give up on seeds. So seed packets that are like wildflower mix, don't bother because you will also grow every weed and its mother and I really never see anyone successful with that. So you want to use plants, you can take that seed mix and grow it in a flat of potting soil and then transplant them. That's actually a pretty good strategy. Although I have to say most of the plants in those mixes are not what I would call native or high dollar, but it's a start. So plant through the mulch and then watch for anything that does get through the mulch. So in a lawn environment, there's really only one thing that gets through the mulch, and that is our friend crabgrass. So that's a negative, but it also is I-see-you crabgrass coming up through the mulch. And you can pull it or use one of these. I love these little matic that they're just hand matic. There's one by Ames. My sharp edge just go in there and I just chop them right in the mulch bed.
Mikaela: Do you leave them then in the mulch bed or do you take them out?
Sam: I just leave them because I've just basically severed their body. They may come back several more times, but ultimately they can't survive in that situation. You may not have that grass, so you're in good shape.And then.
Mikaela: We have it.
Rachel: We all have it.
Emily: We all have crabgrass.
Sam: Yeah, I have it. I just assumed that other people don't have it. But ultimately what you would do is when you do that planting, if you plant fairly tightly and there's a book, Claudia Vest has a good book. She's a regional planter and landscaper and she makes a point like plant your plants in a pretty dense pattern and they will shade out most of your other problems. And I've seen that work plenty of times, too. And you can then cut them down in the fall and then reapply somewhere towards spring another layer of an inch or two of chips across everything. And that'll bury any seeds that have blown in there during the winter. That may decide that I'm okay with sprouting here. And your perennials will punch right through and then at some point it's its own environment, you have relatively little to do, so that's my advice.
Rachel: So when you do that initial eight inches of chips, do you then wait a season? Like wait? No, you just go ahead and do it right away?
Sam: Right away, yeah. So you do a little crater where you're going to plant. And again, I like to use that kind of little magic chopping tool and I just can chop into the soil your turf below that, chop it up a bunch, put my plug mostly in there. And it's not as critical to completely bury your potted plant tends to be that's the case because that mulch is going to become material that the plants will move their roots through eventually. But it can be fresh chips and you can do it the day you drop the mulch onto the lawn, you're good to go, but thick, it needs to be that eight inches is important. First of all, that compacts down to only four or so inches. If you have tiny little plants, you have to be careful that the chips don't come back over on top of them, but when you're dealing with chips, it's pretty easy to make these craters and the craters retain their shape. So I put tiny little plants that are only a couple of inches in and have been successful, but better are plants that are in four inch pots, kinds of things that have a little more height to them.
Rachel: I'm just letting you know. Emily has currently requested a chip drop for her front yard. I saw her doing it. I know she is.
Emily: Well, it's funny because I started doing the cardboard and then soil and then mulch with mine and I ran out of cardboard. But I can definitely just use wood chips instead.
Sam: Right? There have been studies that show that adding that layer of cardboard prevents the growth of I think they did it with shrubs and things and it's better just to have straight chips, and the chips, first of all, the cardboard is you don't know what you're getting in that cardboard sometimes and it just basically smothers the soil. The key to all plantings, as you guys know, is good soil and lawns are notoriously hard packed and not great soil. But again, once you drop the chips, the chips are basically feeding the microorganisms and the worms and the fungi and they are going to just shoot through and basically loosen up all that soil. We've seen that we basically have sub soil out here at the lab and we just use unbelievable amounts of chips to do our plantings. And after just a few years, that earth is very friable. And it's been shown that you're actually making soil underneath those chip things. You're actually adding carbon back in because of the microorganisms, so the microorganisms are neglected. I think you guys, I'm sure, have talked about this. They're a very neglected part of our environment. And this is a good way to kind of get back. And plus there's all these chips around. Why not?
Sam: I'll tell you, at the lab, we have very few places that are actually we're lawn. I've done the lawn stuff more at my house and with other people at the lab, we have stuff that's mowed once a year. So what does that look like? It looks like every face of in the world with an understory of poison ivy to boot. A million kinds of things, and we've done things like do a quick rotate over stuff, but again, we've just done mow it just so that it's at least somewhat easy to travelers and bury it and yes, the blackberries and things will come up through it, but a lot of things won't. Like most of the poison ivy can't figure it out for whatever reason. But I'll warn you that when you do your planting, that poison ivy is right there and you have just severed a whole bunch of roots and put plants in with your probably bare hands and then wiping your eyes. And we had a couple of people who really got hammered by the poison, because you didn't see it, but it was down there, but it becomes not a problem of like, oh my gosh, I just have a forest of happy poison ivy pumping through and a few, like porcelain berry will come up. Asiatic bittersweet will come up, but they're easy to spot. It's on a nice mulch thing, so again, this chopper tool works great. You just sever them and it's fun to use. It's not like digging dandelions out of the lawn. So I find great pleasure because it's so fast and just going through my mulch beds with this little tool and just cutting out the blackberry. They're very persistent, but they're also very easy to spot, and you're working on a nice and cushy environment, right. You're on the mulch. Instead of just imagine planting plants into a moan bed that was a brush hog field and what that would be like. Everything would still be coming up, all the grasses, all the other things, all the poison ivy, it would be competing and you would be dealing with hard packed soil, which is hard to dig anything out. It just wouldn't work. But simply burying it in the chips changes the landscape of possibilities there. Yeah, stuff's coming up, but it's handleable.
Mikaela: Does that include callery pear? Because I know that's a big pressure, especially for meadow situations.
Sam: Yeah. So, callery pear, we have a big callery pear problem here, too. Well, first of all, if you want a good way to get rid of callery pear is to leave, as we found out, is to leave a giant pile of chips on top of them after you cut them and that they can't get through. Most people have that option, but in the area that had baby callery pear all over the place. It's the same thing. You bury it, they will ultimately poke through. They're not super happy and then you just chop them a few times a year and they're very easy to identify and they give up the ghost after a while. But they will come up, unlike in most grasses, except for, I guess crabgrass, they just give up immediately. You just don't have them. And most of the Forbes, the baby Forbes and things like that also not a problem. But deep chips, not like, well, I can't see the grass anymore layer of chips.
Rachel: Those are some really great tips and I know our listeners are going to really appreciate the chip drop because I think that's something that we all struggle with. Like Emily said, we run out of newspaper, we run out of cardboard, we don't know where it's sourced from, and then mulch is pretty expensive, especially if you're going to do eight inches, so it's a very economical option.
Sam: And you also run out of momentum, like, oh, I could do a whole bunch of lawn, but I've got to strip the sod. Maybe I'm going to rototill, add, compost, then put down paper already. It's too much work already for people versus I'm coming in with a bunch of chips, so you want a nice, I call it a mulch fork, but one of those, I don't know what the exact name is, and you can very quickly, literally within minutes, you've done your job and you can plant through that.
Rachel: You know, I have a spot that I want to convert. I've talked about this with Emily Mikaela for probably two years and I haven't done it because it's an awkward area and it's a lot of work. But I think I could do it with the chip drop because I'm not cumbered down by the paper and the mulch. It would be a lot easier to convert.
Emily: I almost feel with the chip drop, you have to commit because they're not going to just drop off like a little bit. Like it's going to be a whole truck, so you have to commit. It's sort of like pushing you off a cliff, like you've committed. You've got to do this now and I need that, so I'm signed up.
Rachel: I knew you were doing it.
Sam: So also with the chip drop, you have to have an obvious place for them to drop it or they're going to drop it either on your lawn or they're going to drop it in front of your car, so those are motivators, right? You're going to move them then, but just saying that these guys are “you said you want chips, I don't see where to put them except right here and you're not home.” It's a good winter activity too, to get a couple of chip drops and then move things around and then you can plant them in the spring or you could prep it in the fall do the same thing and then the extra chips, you can either pile somewhere that is hanging around for years and become more and more like compost. So it's actually nice to have them in spare, and then when stuff comes up, you just fork of some into your wheelbarrow and apply wherever you would like and almost everything can benefit from it. So again, if you have your azalea or shrub beds or I garden right through it. My vegetable garden is chipped and then I just plant right through it.
Rachel: I wonder how my husband is going to feel when this shows up to our house.
Sam: Men are always the problem because they love the lawn. That's what they're presented like man to man, like, your lawn looks like crap. You've just been downgraded to negative .5 on that one.
Mikaela: It is definitely a sociology study of men and lon. We have the same argument at our house.
Sam: Yeah, well, here's the in between. As a man, I'm going to give you like here's the way the compromise, so you take away his lawnmower and you give him a string trimmer and you say, okay, from now on, and first of all, you can get gasoline four cycle string trimmers that are not just the super polluting two cycle things. And you say, from now on, we're just going to mow the lawn with this and we can do all these really interesting beds and so he gets to trim them super neat. And you're in charge of keeping the fence line and keeping the sidewalk. So it's not like you no longer have a role here in the household. You still give the man a place outside to do cut grass and make it look good sharp. It's just a smaller amount.
Mikaela: He has to be able to use his tractor. That is like, I think, the bottom line. So I have to come up with tasks that are not mowing related for the tractor, Maybe dumping loads of chips.
Sam: He could be the chip guy, right.
Emily: Speaking about men, so I know in honeybee colonies, drones or male bees are normally pushed out. How do gender relationships vary with regards to our native bees?
Sam: So all male bees, first of all, don't have a stinger, so we can scratch that one off. And basically their role and sometimes their only role is mating. There's a couple of weird exceptions in some bees, out west, that weirdly, the males have like a gigantic head and they just sit in the front of the burrow as like a block, like no other bugs can get it because there's this male who then gets to mate, of course with the females, sits there and guards it. But in all other cases, essentially, they have no role except mating, so they come out a little bit earlier, often fly around and look for mating opportunities on flowers or in places where the females are nesting. And at this time of year, it's kind of stopping right now, but you might also have run into this. I get these calls. I've got all these bees in the lawn and they're buzzing all over the place and they're making little tiny turrets of soil everywhere. And what people see are the males.
Sam: So the males emerge early and because these females aggregate all their nests together, the males know where the females are, right? So they're waiting for the virgin females to come out and all they do is fly around. And if it were not for that, people would ignore these bees because the females only go in and out of those nests a few times a day. But the males flying around spooks people a lot, but it's actually not a sting issue, and it's something it's more like I say, well, you want your lawn chair and a cocktail and just watch what's happening out there because it's really fascinating. But in general, males are mating machines end of story
Rachel: Their sole purpose in life.
Emily: I like that. Can we make that another sticker?
Mikaela: Males are just mating machines?
Sam: I don't see why not.
Emily: We're in the process of coming up with ideas for podcast stickers. So, I like that.
Rachel: So I don't think we talked about this, but how did you get into native bees and entomology?
Sam: Well, I grew up in the area, I grew up in Hyattsville and I was interested in all of nature, but I fell in with a group of bird watchers and that led me here to Patuxent, because in the day and still to this day, a lot of the research here is bird oriented and it's a longer story, but at some point we diverge from just birds to other groups and we ask a basic question what groups out there besides birds do we need more information about their status? It might be for conservation, it might be because they're economically important. And we went through a whole phase of developing survey techniques and identification tools and those kinds of things for amphibians because back in the day there was a lot of problem with amphibians decline, still is by the way. But other groups then took that over. I started on looking around again and was like, well, pollinators. They're so critical. About 80% of all of our plants are pollinated by some kind of animal rather than just wind and then there was a lot of talk about these declines. But when I looked into it, well, there's a lot of talk about decline, but there's actually almost no data. Like there's no monitoring program for bees other than honeybees, which are a commodity, so they have to be monitored in North America. So that got me into it. I had taken at College Park because I went to College Park myself with Don Measuresmith, both insect taxonomy and advanced insect taxonomy when I was an undergraduate. So I had a background to get me going and not be afraid of tackling some entirely new taxa. It just turns out that in addition to just loving it and the reason that we're still doing it now and not haven't turned this over like we have with other things to other groups, is that the biggest problem for us was what is that bee I just collected or we're looking at. There were no real identification tools, so I could be an advocate for like, oh, you should do surveys for bees and here's how you catch them and here's how you process them. But in the end, you have to go from pin specimen to a name, and that turned out to be super problematic. So we now have the right technical. So one of the issues is it is super problematic and it's a super technical problem. You have to have a microscope to do this. Literally, the guides were dispersed among really, really obscure literature, so almost nobody could do it. So we spent and continued to spend tons of time on augmenting these identification guides for the country and here I am. I have not worked myself out of a job and now it just keeps deepening, like our work with plants and flowers now as a whole new adventure.
Rachel: That's really cool. That's a very cool history.
Emily:Thank you so much, Sam. We really appreciate you coming on.
Sam: And you bet.
Mikaela: I have learned so much. We'll include in the show notes some of the links that you mentioned, like the Ask Bumble and the B lab website. Is there anything else like link wise you would like us to add?
Sam: I don't have a link for this. It's not on the website either, but we have open lab days on almost every Thursday and from 3 to 6 p.m, and then on periodic Saturday, the best thing is for people to email me and I'll put them on that list and they can come out and just do a looky- look, or they can come out and we will encourage them to help us with transplanting, and mostly it's plant stuff rather than bee stuff. We have a set of bee volunteers, but that seems to be a different track and kind of person. But we have lots of plant things. I should also say we work a lot with different community groups who are growing plants to give away as examples to plant. Like we have the Anne Arundel watershed society. We have Laurel for Patuxent that's putting in polymer plants throughout. We have USDA, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service people, and a bunch of other groups that I can't remember. We have lots of space and we have automatic watering and we know how to grow seeds and things like that, and when we grow things for what we want, we have these big seed platts, right? And then we take what we need and then there's a bunch of seedlings left over, so right now we have hundreds of seedlings that we are going to compost unless someone comes out and pots them up and does something with them. So we really are encouraging the community groups to work with us. We'll do the watering. We'll do the seed stratification, but everything else would be on them. Right. So they would have to do their own planting of seeds and then their own transplanting and schlepping around stuff. So we encourage people to come out and if you're a community group that wants to do pollinator things, there's a lot of opportunities at lots of different levels, from small to big to get plant material.
Mikaela: I think we need to take a field trip. Rachel and Emily
Racehel: So do I.
Sam: Yeah, come out and get some plans. But I'll tell you that you need to be in contact with us because we have no address. We have our own entrance because it was the endangered crane propagation area, so it's designed to be isolated. So I will have to give you really detailed instructions to get here, Or, Yeah. You'll be at the visitor center or at our guard station, but you won't be here because there is no address.
Mikaela: We'll email you and get some.
Rachel: That would be awesome.
Mikaela: I know, too.
Emily: We'll pick a date. The three of us will come help out.
Sam: Yeah. And I can show you some of these mulch beds and some of these other kinds of things that we've done, including the giant field of mowed poison ivy.
Emily: Maybe we don'let Mikaela do thatt. I think just the fumes would have her breakout.
Rachel: She's very sensitive to it.
Mikaela: I know how to have a good.
Sam: Okay. All right. Well, just encase you in something. Well, but most of the area is not, and you don't have to interact with poison ivy unless you want to.
Mikeale:I’ll just suit up.
Rachel: Well, thank you so much. This has been great.
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Emily: Well that's all we have for this episode listener. We hope you enjoy it and will tune in next month for more garden tips. If you have any garden related questions please email us at UMEGardenPodcast@gmail.com or look us up on Facebook at GardenThymePodcast. That is Garden T-H-Y-M-E. For more information about University of Maryland Extension and these topics, please check out the University of Maryland ExtensionHome and Garden Information Center website at go.umd.edu/hgic Thanks for listening and have fun getting down and dirty in your garden.
Mikaelal: The Garden Thyme Podcast is a monthly podcast brought to you by University of Maryland Extension. Mikaela Boley (Senior Agent Associate)- Talbot Co, Rachel Rhodes (Senior Agent Associate), and Emily Zobel (Senior Agent Associate).
Emily: University programs, activities, and facilities are available to all without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, marital status, age, national origin, political affiliation, physical or mental disability, religion, protected veteran status, genetic information, personal appearance, or any other legally protected class.
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