Saving Water in Your Landscape

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Be a TEXAS WATER STAR!sprinkler head

Save water by modifying just a few everyday habits and making inexpensive upgrades to technologies in your home landscape. The greatest waste of water is applying too much too often – it over waters plants; leaches nutrients deep into the soil, away from the roots; and can pollute streams and lakes by carrying fertilizers and pesticide in runoff.

Water Strategically.  Water your landscape early in the morning (before 10 a.m.) or late in the evening (after 6 p.m.). If you water in the heat of the day, most of your water is lost to evaporation. Do not over water your lawn. During the summer months, apply only 1 inch of water on your lawn every 7 days. Doing this will encourage a deep root system and a healthier lawn. During the winter months reduce your watering to once every 15 to 20 days. Remember: rainwater counts.  If it rains, you do not have to water your lawn. Buy a rain gauge to better track rainfall. Adjust sprinkler heads to water the landscape and not the pavement, and be sure to check your system regularly for leaks or misdirected sprinkler heads. Water your landscape by hand, or run sprinklers in manual mode. Use the cycle soak method by running sprinklers just long long enough for the soil to absorb the water, and repeating as necessary.  This will stop water before it runs off onto the sidewalk or street. Reduce irrigation station run times by 2 minutes and save 80 gallons of water. Install and maintain rain/freeze sensors to avoid misapplication of water. If possible, replace outdated overhead sprinklers with multi-stream rotors, soaker hoses, or drip irrigation.

Learn new ways to improve water conservation in residential, recreational and public landscapes at the Texas Water Star Conference which will be held on Friday, May 17 at the Thomas A. Glazier Senior Education Center in Houston.  Topics include:  The State of Water in the State of Texas, Irrigation Auditing, Earth-Kind Landscaping, Rainwater Harvesting, Turfgrass Water Conservation, and Irrigation Technologies.  Click here to download/print the flyer for more information.   You may also contact Diana Todd at 281-855-5614 or via email at DGTodd@ag.tamu.edu.

Richmond Farmers Market Spotlight

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Richmond Farmers Market LogoIf you haven’t had a chance to visit the Richmond Farmers Market, you have been missing out.  First off, you have missed out on the fresh seasonal produce that our region has traditionally been known for.  According to market manager Liz Stegint, “Our farmers offer a variety of freshly harvested local greens and vegetables — fresh Asian salad greens, lettuces, kale, salad mixes, onions, beets, turnips, fresh herbs and more. We also have locally grown vegetable and herb plants for your garden, local honey, and fresh free range eggs.

Secondly, you’ve been missing out on the opportunity to support local agriculture.  Local fresh farm sales allow limited resource farmers a “piece of the pie” so to speak. The locally-produced food movement is making its way into our region and into the minds of consumers.  Your support helps make this way of life sustainable for your local farmer.

Currently, the market is running every Friday afternoon from 2 pm to 6 pm one block West of the Brazos River in downtown Richmond, at the corner of Hwy 90 and 3rd Street. Starting the 5th of May, they will be kicking off a Sunday morning market from 10am to 2pm.  The Sunday market will continue in line with spring “bumper” production yields.

Stop by the market and meet your farmer.  You can visit their web page for more information at http://www.ci.richmond.tx.us/market.html Also, go online and “like” the market at facebook.com/richmondfarmersmarket for information on what fresh, additional market events, and for vendor applications.  If you are producing food in the area and are interested in sales potential, affordable vendor space is available for locally grown fruits, vegetables, and other farm fresh products. See you at the market!

Bees: Good Neighbors, Bad Roommates

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bees in structure

Hardly a day goes by without honey bees making the news. Public interest in “saving the bees” is high as a result of this (often alarming) media coverage. Knowledgeable counsel and advice is important in dealing with honey bees since they make good neighbors but really bad roommates.

The honey bee colony has only one queen and her role is critical. She is the largest bee in the colony and lays the eggs that will sustain the colony population. She also emits scents (pheromones) that regulate colony unity. The queen is the colony’s only fully developed female. She may live four years or more. The colony workers, numbering 60,000 or more in a fully populated hive, are females as well, but not reproductively mature. These workers keep the hive clean and tidy, produce beeswax, build comb, tend the queen and her brood, make honey, etc. Newly emerged workers spend their first three weeks or so doing these chores inside the hive. Later they progress to guarding the hive entrance and then become “field bees” gathering nectar, pollen, water and plant resins for the hive. During the peak of honey flow, a worker may only live six weeks or so under a heavy burden of work to be done.

The drone (male honey bee) has a fascinating story. His mother, the queen, decides when the colony has sufficient resources in the spring to raise her sons who will pass her genes on to the next generation. The colony will be repaid the food and effort devoted to raising new workers. Raising new workers is like an investment for the colony but the drone’s only role is as mating partner for new queens. When the time is right, the queen seeks out bigger comb cells that the workers have prepared to produce their larger brothers. There she lays unfertilized eggs that will develop in to some 200 or so male drones. You read that right!  Drones develop from unfertilized eggs (strange to us mammals, but not all that uncommon in the insect world). While not quite as large as the queen, the drones are barrel-shaped robust bees with large compound eyes like those of a dragonfly.  The drone gather some 100 feet above the ground and circle about giving off scents that attract newly emerged virgin queens. New queens are attracted to the drone congregation area and fly up to mate in flight with as many as 20 or more drones. After mating, the drones fall to the ground and die while the new queen returns to her colony to assume her role, perhaps never leaving over her life span of four or more years.

While the queen is egg laying effort sustains colony numbers, new colonies are created by dividing in two or “swarming”: about half the population leaves with the queen in search of a new home. The swarm must find a suitable nest site to survive while the established colony that is left behind must nurture a new queen who hopefully survives a mating flight and returns to the colony. If both groups are successful, there are now two colonies instead of just one. Reproductive swarms usually happen in the springtime when forage is plentiful, so “swarm season” is right now. (“Absconding” is the term beekeepers use for entire colonies that “swarm”, abandoning their nest, usually due to pests or disease. Absconding can happen at any time of the year.)  

A cluster of bees hanging from a tree limb or on a wooden fence are awaiting the return of scouts that will guide them to a new residence. The worst advice anyone can receive is “don’t worry, they’ll leave” since the rest of the sentence may well be “and move into your garage.” 

Capturing swarms and introducing them into a hive is a basic beekeeping skill. A clustered swarm of bees in a tree or on a fence is hungry and anxious, so the beekeepers offer of a new home is often quickly accepted. If not the beekeeper’s managed hive, hopefully the bees will move into a hollow tree or maybe an abandoned birdhouse. If the colony moves into the wall of someone’s home, it’s not good for the people or the bees. Now there is a costly pest control problem not a beekeeping problem. Simply killing the bees leaves the wall full of dead bees and honey that must all be removed or the stench will be awful. The cavity must be filled (with material like fiberglass insulation) and caulked closed to discourage another colony from moving in (a common occurrence). And don’t forget the restoration, painting and cleanup. Few beekeepers are willing to tackle removals or “cutouts” and it is hard to find commercial services that will do the work. Honey bees make good neighbors but really bad roommates.

This article was written by Fort Bend Beekeepers Association officer and member, Jeff McMullan.  The Fort Bend Beekeepers meet monthly at the Bud O’Shields Community Center in Rosenberg.  Meetings start at 7pm the second Tuesday of the month.  For more information about the Fort Bend Beekeepers, visit their website at http://fortbendbeekeepers.org/. We also keep a SWARM LIST at the Extension Office.  This is a list of local experienced beekeepers that are available to assist in removal of bees from your property.  For information call (281) 342-3034.

 

The Scoop on Mulch

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Mulch in hands

Mulch in your garden has many benefits, let’s break it down and start with the rules.  Apply a generous layer of mulch at a maximum depth of 4 inches twice a year, once in spring and again in fall.  Tuck mulch around shrubs and trees, and sprinkle over the tops of dormant perennials.  Do not “cone” or “volcano” mulch around the base of trees, simply level it to the crown of the plant, where the base of the truck starts expanding out with the first layer of surface roots. Once applied, water the surface thoroughly, to disperse the smaller dusty particles into the soil.

Now let’s discuss the benefits of mulching.  Number one for me is weed control.  Regularly having to pull weeds is not a reason why people enjoy gardening.  A thick layer of mulch will stop germination of most of these pesky volunteers.  Number two, is moisture retention.  Mulch acts as a barrier between the sun and wind, holding natural rainfall and irrigation into the soil instead of it running off or evaporating.  The third benefit of mulching is soil temperature moderation.  Think of mulch like a cooler or a sweater.  Plants are like people in this matter, they don’t like such a range in body temperature. This effect on the roots can stress plants, thus having a negative impact on their growth. The fourth benefit of mulching is the replenishment of organic matter into the soil.  Each season, the mulch from last year is breaking down into humus.  This feeds microorganisms in the soil and they in turn release nutrients back to the plants, essentially adding free fertilizer to your garden.

So now you are standing in front of twenty options for mulch at your local garden center.  “Which one do I choose?” you say.  Basically, unless you have a preference for texture or color, all options are fair, with a couple exceptions.  If your landscape is flat and prone to standing water, pine bark mulch is not your best bet.  These nuggets will float and pile up in the lowest area.  It is generally recommended to use locally sourced mulch products.  Products labeled as native or hardwood mulch are generally locally sourced materials.  This is the most environmentally conscientious choice.  These local landscape by-products are saved from landfills and recycled back into local gardens.  Also, if you have access to a truck, bulk purchase is cheaper and relieves our landfills from those plastic bags.  So, if you haven’t mulched yet for spring, now is your time.