Hornfaced Bees Better Pollinators than Honeybees, Grow Exotic Mushrooms at Home, and More Gardening News

The hornfaced bee pollinates garden plants and trees more efficiently than ordinary bees, the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center is threatened by a plan to sell its “surplus” acreage, a new fertilizer from zoo animals is on the market, Shiitake and truffle mushrooms are now readily available in the U.S., and we recommend some books for gardeners.

| July/August 1983

  • mushrooms on a log
    Logs inoculated with Shiitake mushrooms allow you to grow your own at home.

  • mushrooms on a log

Hornfaced Bees: Super Pollinators

Imagine a docile insect whose sole aim in life seems to be pollinating fruit trees, and which does so almost 80 times as efficiently as the common honeybee. Well, you've just conjured up a mental image of an important insect recently introduced from Japan: the hornfaced bee. Dr. Suzanne Batra, of the USDA Beneficial Insect Introduction Laboratory at Beltsville, Maryland, has been studying the little critters for several years, and her enthusiasm for their ability as pollinators is boundless. It seems that the hornfaced bee loves the nectar and pollen of fruit trees (peaches, plums, pears, and especially apples), while the common honeybee often would rather visit a dandelion than the pink and white blossoms of a McIntosh. Hornfaced bees are not honey producers, but they seem perfectly designed for their role as pollinators. They emerge from winter dormancy when the cherry trees bloom, mate, lay eggs, and collect nectar and pollen—with a passion—for four to six weeks, and then die! All summer long, the new larvae grow inside the reeds (or cardboard tubes) the insect uses as a nest. Shortly after this next generation evolves into adults in the late summer or early fall, the bees (still in the nests) become dormant, remaining quiet all winter long. (The bees have a freezing requirement similar to that of hardy plants.) Finally, in the spring—as the cherries bloom again—the little insects emerge and go to work.

A good deal has been learned about the hornfaced bee, but additional information concerning their adaptation to differing climates is still needed. Dr. Batra would like to give small colonies of the insects to some of MOTHER's readers, those who meet certain requirements and who would agree to report back on their successes (or failures). She's interested in folks who (1) are organic growers (sprays—especially Sevin, but others as well—devastate the bee colonies), (2) have fruit tree orchards ranging in size from a couple of trees to several acres, and (3) have kept bees in the past, or are familiar with beekeeping. If you'd like to receive a colony of horned bees, drop a postcard to Dr. Suzanne Batra, Beneficial Insect Introduction Laboratory, Building 417, USDA-BARCE, Beltsville, Maryland 20705. Mention the size and kind of your orchard, and give information on your beekeeping experience. Also, describe your climate: Horned bees thrive in the moisture of the eastern half of the country as well as the coastal Pacific Northwest, but are unsuited to the dry western states. This fall, Dr. Batra will contact the readers she has chosen to participate in her experiment, and dormant bees will be shipped in late fall or winter. And don't be disappointed if you're not selected: The people at Beltsville will be using the list Dr. Batra compiles to seek out test sites for other experiments, too. If you are fortunate enough to get some bees, though, prepare to bet a bumper crop of apples! 

Beltsville Agricultural Research Center Threatened

If Dr. Batra's hornfaced bees captured your interest, or if you're concerned as to whether Dr. Robert Schroder's work on natural controls for the Colorado potato beetle will continue unimpeded, or if you want to make sure that Howard Kerr's innovative (and enormously important) small farm program will retain access to scientific personnel of all disciplines, it's time to make your wishes known! According to Science magazine, a major shift in administration policy on public lands may threaten the continued existence of this nation's Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC) in Maryland. It seems that the sale of at least some of Beltsville's "surplus" acreage is being contemplated by the General Services Administration as a device to reduce the national debt, a highly questionable means to a rather improbable goal. While the immediate threat is to just part of the center, many people are of the opinion that GSA will chip away at the facility until BARC's very existence is no longer justified. 

Of course, if the widely respected center is to be turned into acres of suburban condominiums (BARC is currently one of the few greenbelt areas in the suburbs north of Washington, D.C.), it would take years to reestablish elsewhere the experiments already in progress at BARC. Worse yet, the invaluable cross-fertilization of scientific disciplines now occurring would be lost altogether. And it's practically a certainty that the programs for small and organic growers would "fall between the cracks" with Beltsville's demise. 

BARC's preservation is vital to all of us, since we all benefit from the basic research conducted there. To help preserve the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, write to your Representative, suggesting support of Rep. Steny Hoyer's bill (HR 1688), to your Senators, in support of S 423, which was introduced by Senators Mathias and Sarbanes, and to the General Services Administration's Federal Property Resources Service, requesting that none of Beltsville's land be declared surplus.  

ZooDoo: A Fertilizer from Zoo Animals

One of the most unusual (as well as catchily named) soil amendments I've run across is being test-marketed by the Bronx Frontier Development Corporation, a community development group in New York's poverty-shocked South Bronx. ZooDoo is a wholly organic soil-enricher made from composted leaves, straw bedding, and (ready for this?) manure from herbivores at the famous Bronx Zoo. Jack Flanagan, president of Bronx Frontier (he quit his police officer's job in New York's 41st Precinct—"Fort Apache"—to help the community by starting a gardening program), claims that the compost is terrific fertilizer. If you'd like to put an elephant in your eggplant, information on availability (so far, just in the New York area, including Bloomingdales!) of the product and details about the composting program can be obtained from The Bronx Frontier Development Corporation. 


Fermentation Frenzy!

September 12-13, 2019
Seven Springs, Pa

Fermentation Frenzy! is produced by Fermentation magazine in conjunction with the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR. This one-and-a-half day event is jam-packed with fun and informative hands-on sessions.


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