Friday, December 18, 2009

The ABCs of Beekeeping

In January, I’ll conduct a beginner’s beekeeping course in Doylestown, PA. It will just be the ABC’s…not the ABCs’ and XYZ’s of beekeeping. The latter is the title of a famous and (still published ) book on beekeeping. The registration information is posted on the web . Or you can give us an old fashioned phone call at Penn State Extension, 215-345-3283 and request a brochure if you think you are interested.

Interest in bees and beekeeping has grown tremendously in the last several years. Probably as a result of the widely publicized Colony Collapse Disorder. As a beekeeper, I find it very heartening that so many folks pay attention to this and are concerned.

Interest in honey bees is not new. It is a hobby that has been entertaining and rewarding people for thousands of years. A Philadelphian named Lorenzo Langstroth really got things going when he invented the modern hive with movable and interchange parts in the 1850’s.

Apparently some folks are so concerned about the plight of bees that they want to start hobby beekeeping. I imagine that for others, there was a dormant desire to learn about bees that was awakened by bees in the news. Some gardeners feel that they need to keep bees to ensure pollination for their crops… especially as they notice fewer and fewer honeybees visiting flowers. But our native pollinators (honey bees are not native to North America) actually do a very good job of moving pollen in small gardens. It is the big-time fruit and vegetable producers that really need honey bees. Maybe you’ve heard that more than a million colonies of bees go to California each spring for almond pollination.

There are about 25,000 honey bee colonies in Pennsylvania and 2 million nation-wide. Most of these are maintained by commercial beekeepers. On the other hand, my estimate is that more than 95 % of all beekeepers are hobbyists. If you have an eye for the stacks of 16 by 20 inch boxes that kept bees generally live in, you’ll finds bee hives everywhere. City beekeepers are common in San Francisco, New York, Paris and most cities.

My bee course will be conducted on four consecutive Tuesday evenings beginning on Janaury 26. Interestingly, My co-hort, Tom Butzler, in Clinton County Extension, will be conducting a bee keeping course on- line in January also. Since you are on the web maybe this also appeals to you. Or do both! For more info on Tom's course see this.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hoe, Hoe, Hoe...Holiday Shopping for Gardeners

Gardening is supposed to be America’s most popular hobby. So, chances are, you know a gardening enthusiast well enough to be thinking about a holiday gift for them.

Here are some ideas in case you are still wondering what to get them.

OK, I guess I have to say it because I work for Penn State but you really can’t go wrong with a Penn State soil test kit. The “kit” is not a “do it yourself “ deal but a service provide by Penn State. Cost is reasonable (nine bucks) and it is guaranteed to be useful. Unique, too. Soil test results tell gardeners about the nutrient needs of their gardens. If you want to splurge, go ahead and get that optional organic matter test for a few bucks more. Check out the details at Penn State's Ag Analytical Services or contact your local extension office . Soil test kits make good stocking stuffers.

Books …. Here are a few that are sure to please.

Every gardener deals with weeds. My favorite weed book is Weeds of the Northeast. 300 pages of color pictures and descriptions of the most common weeds found in the northeast U.S…all for about 30 bucks.

Woody plant lovers generally consider Manual of Woody Landscape Plants by Dirr to be the most useful and comprehensive book on woody plants in the U.S. I use it weekly. The fifth edition is 1100 pages…. a winner. Dirr has companion picture books that bring the text to life. Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs is one of them.

Another great tree book is Trees for American Gardens by Donald Wyman. A oldie but a goodie is A Natural History of North American Trees by Donald Culross Peattie… part poetry, part botany. Nothing else like it.

If you have a hard core botanist in the family… consider The Plants of Pennsylvania by Rhoads and Block. About 3000 Pennsylvania plants are described.

You aren’t likely to find any of these texts in the local book store or even the big box-book stores but you will find them online.

It is a bit tricky to get the right tools for gardeners but I don’t know any gardener who wouldn’t like a pair of Felco hand pruners. They are the “gold standard” in pruning equipment and Felco has an amazing array of options… did you know lefties need custom pruners and that small hands need smaller tools? Check it out.

Other stuff… how about a membership in the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society, Morris Arboretum or passes to Longwood Gardens? Garden centers offer gift certificates.

Has someone been naughty this year? Arrange for a load of mulch to be dropped in the driveway Christmas morning.