Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Friends and Foes in Garden, Field and Orchards

I gaze at these salmon carved from tree stumps at my writing group at Sheila Kelly's house in Ballard. Its a captivating picture--the salmon against the greenery with Puget Sound in the background. But lately I've been staring at these salmon a little more closely.

Look close--the biggest salmon's head is rotting away and you can see the gaping hole of nature taking it's course. While it's a sad to see this beautiful carving crumbling back to earth like totem poles in Alaska, I've been watching bumblebees flying in and out of their new home in the salmon's head.

These fuzzy, round easy-going pollinators fly like helicopters because of their big body size. Hardworking pollinators, bumblebees are troopers working in sun, breeze, and rain from dawn till dusk, early spring through fall. (Honey bees don't fly in rain and windy conditions.)

Sometimes bumblebees make their homes in rotten tree stump, living in small colonies of about 50 or so. These colonies only live for one season and only queen bumblebees overwinter to start another colony next season. The queen builds the nest and lays all the eggs.

Bumblebees are often more effective pollinators than honey bees. Bumblebees "buzz pollinate" going deep into a blossom, visiting flowers many times. Though they make honey, bumblebees don't store it like honey bee horders who continually produce more honey than they can use.

Bumblebees are often overlooked in news stories about pollinators because honey bees hog the limelight. Much has been written about keeping urban honey bee colonies lately. If you are interested in honey bees, urban beekeeping with honey bees and building your own local honey supplies, check out Amy Pennington's article in this month's edition of Edible Seattle.
While honey bees and native pollinators like bumblebees are hard at work boosting berry and soft summer fruit yields, a threat is lurking on the horizon. I read about it in

Ripe berries and soft fruits of summer attract fruit flies that can be annoying, but annoying is nothing compared to the new cowboy in town threatening berry and soft summer tree fruit harvests. A fruit fly called the Spotted Wing Drosophilia from Asia hitched a ride on some overripe fruit and well, you know what happens when fruit flies get together. . .

This little alien was never seen in the United States until recently and it has the potential to devastate future Northwest berry and soft tree fruit harvests.

The Spotted Wing Drosophilia is bigger than common fruit fly and it targets green or unripe fruit, depositing eggs on the soft fruit skin. These eggs burrow into the fruit and grow into larvae, destroying the fruit's texture when ripe.

"How would you know your fruit is infested?" I asked a gardening friend. "It would be all mushy," she replied wrinkling her nose at the thought of eating a mouthful of larvae. Tons of Northwest fruit can be ruined by these tiny pests. Right now, experts aren't sure how to deal with it, but conventional fruit growers have a solution.

How many different ways can you say new chemical pesticide?

My friend Bill Davis who works for WSU agriculture extension in Mount Vernon attended a seminar on this fruit pest, and now Bill is making vinegar traps to check for the Spotted Wing Drosophilia on fruit trees. Like all fruit flies, Spotted Wing Drosophilias are attracted to apple cider vinegar, so Bill got some clear large take out cups from a local coffee shop and poured apple cider vinegar in the bottom. Then he placed a strip of fly paper inside--half way in the cider vinegar. He snapped on the lid, put a wire on the top, and hung his apple cider vinegar trap near his raspberries and on plum trees. He has been checking his traps everyday and so far none of the fruit flies are the Spotted Wing variety. A farmer or gardener can also clean up their fields and trees by removing overripe fruit that mature flies feed on. You can remove blackberry bushes with unripe fruit around your garden.

These foreign troublemakers are most likely here to stay because of the sheer number of blackberry bushes we have growing wild in this state.

I'll be making some vinegar traps for my raspberry bushes this year.

Why does it seem like for every hopeful sign like bumblebees in a friend's yard there is a new opposing threat like fruit flies? Growing great Northwest fruit certainly isn't for sissies.

Badger and Finn with shameless product placement of The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook and Discover Cooking with Lavender by Kathy Gehrt. Also, read more about Alaskan totem poles in Voyages to Windward by Elsie Hulsizer.

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