Neighborhood garden for september 20, 2008





          you don’t see orchard bees and horseradish together very often. A letter from a reader prompted this article. He asked two questions as follows:

          1. “I made four nesting blocks for solitary wood nesting bees. Do I                      have to clean the holes out?”

          2.  “Also, I planted horseradish in the spring. Do you wait a year to                          cut the root?”

George will answer the question about the bees and Gladys will answer the question about the horseradish.



          “There are more than 20,000 species of bees. The greatest diversity is found in the tropics, but over 3,500 species have been reported in North America.  A few species are social and live in colonies.  Bumble bees and honey bees are social bees.  However, most bee species are solitary insects that live in a hole in the ground or in a hollow tube like cavity.  They form a pollen ball mixed with a little nectar, lay an egg on the pollen ball, and seal the cell for the young to develop.  In solitary bees, the young have no contact with their mother. Their mother’s only contribution to their future is to provide them a pollen ball in a suitable location.” (“Artificial Habitats for Tube Nesting Bees”, Cooperative Extension in Gage County)

          The Orchard Mason Bee is a small black or blue-black metallic, gentle bee that is native of almost the entire continental United States. In the Eastern part of the country it is called a Blue Orchard Bee. This solitary bee, Osmia lignaria, was pollinating the fruits and flowers of the continent for millions of years before the first colonists brought the honey bee to North America. It does not live in hives, and is unable to make its own hole but depends upon others for the nest site. In nature it frequently lays its eggs in abandoned beetle holes in the old growth forest, within hollow stems, woodpecker drillings and insect holes in trees and wood. In cities it will use the spaces between shingles on a dwelling or any other small holes it can find.

          If we provide proper holes for egg laying, the Orchard Bee is very easy to propagate in your yard.  They are completely non-aggressive and perfectly safe to raise in your backyard. One writer said, “In my yard with children and dogs we all happily co-exist.  The males don’t even have stingers and the females will only use theirs in times of true distress. In fact, unless you actually squeeze one of the females between your fingers, it is almost impossible to get stung.” (Orchard Mason Bee by Lisa Novich owner of Knox Cellars in Sammamish, Washington)

          Dr Marion Ellis, Entomologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and head of the Bee Keeping Program, has been encouraging me to raise some next year to pollinate my fruit trees. I plan to do that. Gladys gave me a container of nesting tubes and I plan to purchase another.  My carpenter friend next door is going to make a box to hold them. Also I plan to do a series of articles this winter on the orchard bees, what nesting tubes are, and plans on how to make your own wood nesting box.

          The question asked by the reader was about cleaning a wood nesting box. Yes, you need to clean them. A wood nesting box is basically a 4x4 block of wood with 5/16th inch holes drilled on 3/4 inch centers. You can buy wood nesting boxes or make your own. If you make your own make sure the holes are straight by using a drill press. It is recommended that you have at least two boxes and alternate each year. In the Spring the bees leave their nesting block and go in search of pollen. Before the bees leave the box, hang up the second one. Then, when they are gone, clean the old one by brushing or re-drilling holes and rinsing with a mild chlorine solution. You can just drop the empty nest block in a Clorox and water solution for a half hour, dry, and store until next year. If you don’t clean the old one you invite disease and mites to invade.

Copyright 2008


          Sometimes called Red Cole, Horseradish is known for its pungent roots. The sap causes skin rash in some people. Harvesting of the roots is not done until after frost has affected the leaves. If you have a very vigorous plant you can harvest a little of the roots the first year.  The plant is very invasive so it needs to be in an area where it can be controlled as small portions of the roots will grow if left in the garden. It needs deep soil preparation that drains well as it can get root rot in wet areas. In drouth stress the roots will become woody.  The plants grow about 3 feet high and 18 inches wide.  People who grind the roots to make their own horseradish, do so outside and with gloves on, adding only vinegar to their grindings. Copyright 2008


          If you have a question for Gladys or George, write or e-mail the editor. The editor will forward it on and one of them will answer it in a future column or respond by e-mail.