Tuesday afternoons in the woods

by Sandy Garland

When our ash trees were taken down last spring, not only did they leave enormous “holes” in the Old Woodlot, but they also caused damage to other trees and plants when they fell and were dragged out of the area. Increased light means the ground vegetation is likely to change. All this prompted us to form a regular work group to restore this habitat and create a mixed woodlot full of a variety of native plants, shrubs, and trees.

A small group of us have been tackling this work, a bit at a time. Here are some successes and some things we’ve seen.

Over the last few weeks, a priority has been to remove Garlic Mustard, especially plants that are blooming as we want to prevent any more seeds from planting themselves. Garlic Mustard is an invasive species that is especially a problem in woods. See our fact sheet and photos.

Dog-strangling vine (DSV) is the most difficult invasive species to control. In fact, we don’t seem to be able to control it at all. Our goal is to at least keep the plants that are already in the woods from producing seeds. Mirko proved to be very adept with a scythe last Tuesday and cut a lot of DSV that was just starting to bloom. We’ll have to cut these same plants again in a month and probably once more in late summer as they grow back quickly. But if we can deplete the resources the plant stores in its roots, we might gain a few “points” in the battle. See our fact sheet and photos.

Newly scythed Dog-strangling Vine. Cutting gives grasses an advantage as they grow back faster than DSV.

Newly scythed Dog-strangling Vine. Cutting gives grasses an advantage as they grow back faster than DSV.

Glimpse of a gartersnake photographed by Kate Davis

Glimpse of a gartersnake photographed by Kate Davis

Kate chose to dig up DSV as that’s the only way to truly get rid of it. We dig it out around “good plants,” but it would take an army to do this all through the garden. In this area, goldenrods, blackberries, native clematis, and other wildflowers are competing with DSV. We’re on their side. While working, Kate found this gartersnake that seems to live on the south edge of the woods.

Another way to fight DSV is to cover thick patches of it with a tarpaulin. The tarp has to be left in place for more than a year to make sure the plant roots are killed. Last week, Catrina and I moved a tarp from this area to an adjacent one. I was very pleased to see that blackberries from nearby had grown runners under the tarp and were now sending up new shoots. You can just see blackberry flowers at the right of this photo. And you can just see the tarp in its new location in the background.

After killing DSV by covering it for more than a year, we were delighted to find blackberries growing into this now bare area

After killing DSV by covering it for more than a year, we were delighted to find blackberries spreading into this now bare area

Names of plants

A mass of Large-leaved Asters

A mass of Large-leaved Asters

In addition to invasive species, we’re all learning the names of the “good” plants. At the left are Large-leaved Asters (Eurybia macrophylla; see our database), a good ground cover in shady areas. They DO bloom, in late summer and early fall, usually just before Heart-leaved Asters.
Jack-in-the-Pulpit on the left growing right next to White Trilliums (right)

Jack-in-the-Pulpit on the left growing right next to White Trilliums (right)

At the left are two spring ephemerals, both of which have three-part leaves: Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum; database) and White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum; database).

Interesting sightings

We learned that Kate’s the one with sharp eyes – and a great cell-phone camera. She spotted and photographed a huge spider (not sure what species), a morel mushroom growing in our plant nursery, and a colourful American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus).

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Help wanted

With Ted off in Europe and Gene visiting grandchildren, we are down two valuable people from our Old Woods team. If you’d like to help, please come along any Tuesday afternoon at 1:30 pm. Even helping for one afternoon is important.

Nest boxes for mason bees

This very small bee was exploring the various nest holes in this bee box. This tiny bee is in the Tribe Osmiini, and in the genus Heriades (thanks to Bug Guide for identifying the genus).

This very small bee was exploring the various nest holes in this bee box. This tiny bee is in the Tribe Osmiini, and in the genus Heriades (thanks to Bug Guide for identifying the genus).

by Sandy Garland

Mason bees are named for their use of mud or clay in their nests. They belong in the genus Osmia in the family Megachilidae.

At the Fletcher Wildlife Garden, we have found Blue Orchard Mason Bees (Osmia lignaria) as well as the Heriades pictured below. This and other species in the family are very good at pollinating fruit trees. They are closely related to leaf-cutter bees, which will also use bee boxes.

Some sources of information about mason bees
Blue Orchard Mason Bee
Wikipedia
BugGuide

Life cycle of mason bees

May: Adults emerge in spring around the time apple trees bloom. They mate and lay eggs, provisioning their tunnels with lumps of pollen mixed with nectar and saliva. They seal the
chambers and the whole tunnel with mud, so need a source nearby. Adults live 4‐8 weeks.

Early summer: Eggs hatch, larvae eat their pollen

Late summer: 5th instar larvae pupate

September: Pupae open and adults emerge, but hibernate in their coccoons until the following spring, when the cycle starts again.

Why do they need bee houses?

Mason bees do not dig their own tunnels; instead they look for “natural” tunnels, such as hollow plant stems or twigs or the abandoned nests of other insects. Many of these potential mason bee nests are cleared away from our urban properties in an effort to keep our yard “tidy.”

Bees are also susceptible to parasites and disease. Providing a nest box that can be cleaned or replaced every year may help minimize these and produce healthier bees.

Mason bees are readily attracted to paper tubes. Drilled holes in wood are also an option, but both types of tunnels should be replaced every year.

How to make a mason bee box

Our instructions come from Richard Scarth, who has been helping mason bees for many years. Jenny Sheppard demonstrated the construction of this type of bee box at a workshop in May and donated two boxes to the Fletcher Wildlife Garden.

Step by step instructions

Please note: this easy-to-make bee box is intended for summer use only. The idea is to open the tunnels in the fall and store cocoons in the refrigerator over the winter. This provides a chance to clean away parasites and increases the chances of bee survival.

Jenny has kindly offered to do a follow-up workshop in the fall to show us how to retrieve cocoons properly and the best way to store them.

Alternatively, you may wish to build a protective structure for your bee boxes and leave them out all year round. In either case, the whole box should be replaced in spring just before the previous year’s adults emerge.

Does it work?

We installed our two boxes in our insect hotel on 7 May 2015. Within a week, bees were busily filling the tunnels with nectar and pollen, laying eggs, and closing up the compartments with mud.

In this photo, taken on 15 May 2015, two tunnels in our bee box are already full of eggs and are sealed with mud. A mason bee in the upper left tunnel is still at work bringing pollen and laying eggs.

In this photo, taken on 15 May 2015, two tunnels in our bee box are already full of eggs and are sealed with mud. A mason bee in the upper left tunnel is still at work bringing pollen and laying eggs.