Hello July. Half way through 2018. Did you vote last Tuesday? I did, after finding my polling place. Since moving here, I have voted at a private residence, a community center, the mall, a university and another church. Every US citizen over 18 is guaranteed the right to vote by the Constitution and be a part of the decision-making process of our governments at every level. Never underestimate how powerful your voice can be conveyed through voting. Your country, your responsibility, your vote.

Hello July. Half way through 2018. Did you vote last Tuesday? I did, after finding my polling place. Since moving here, I have voted at a private residence, a community center, the mall, a university and another church. Every US citizen over 18 is guaranteed the right to vote by the Constitution and be a part of the decision-making process of our governments at every level. Never underestimate how powerful your voice can be conveyed through voting. Your country, your responsibility, your vote.

The 2018 Oklahoma State Master Gardener Conference was recently held in Muskogee. The Wednesday Gardening Article introduced the conference Keynote Speaker Paul James. What a guy. The Master Gardeners then dispersed into break-out sessions.

Native herbs, Cherokee Ethnobiology, sustainable greenhouses, vermiculture (raising worms), groundless gardening, smart pots, and Butterfly Camp were some of the options offered. My first lecture was with Carla Grogg of Grogg’s Green Barn in Tulsa. Her presentation focused on “Transforming Agriculture and Engaging a New Generation.’’ Grogg’s Green Barn opened in 2011 as an organic and sustainable landscape nursery. They harvest their own rainwater, the barn windows can be opened, sell only organic Espoma fertilizers and native plants thrive out front.

Carla saw many great farmers were not meeting ends. The next generation were being encouraged to take better jobs and leave farming. To bridge the disconnect in younger generations, she proposed a new way of gardening different from previous generations. Incorporate composting, companion gardening, beneficial insects, native plants and collect rainwater.

Did you know in the United States that seven BILLION gallons of water per day are used at personal residences? Thirty thousand TONS of synthetic pesticides are applied to lawns annually. She sees good signs: younger generations are buying less packaged foods, 85% of their purchases are driven by sustainable practices and the numbers of backyard gardens are rising.

“It’s Not Easy Being a Bee Today!” was the topic of Dane Strickland, RJ’s Bee Farm and NE OK Beekeepers’ Association with 350 active members. Dane has been managing 80 beehives for 12 years. His kids had asthma triggered by allergies. He was asked if he had tried honey since the bee product can be comparable to allergy shots. His son’s breathing improved. This fired up Dane’s interest in the European honey bee ‘Apis mellifera.’

Well-groomed honey bees have black skin and yellow hair. Battle warriors are all black; the hair is gone. Honey bees live 6 months in winter but only 6 weeks in the summer. Their wings become so tattered they can’t carry droplets of nectar. The bees fly themselves to death.

For fifty years there was little understanding of bee structure and colony function. Six million beehives existed across the US in 1947. Bees stayed home. In 2006 numbers had dropped to 2.4 million beehives. In 2018 there are 2.7 million hives of European honeybees. Across the board the decline has averaged 40%.

What has happened to the honeybees and why are their colonies collapsing?

The Asian Varroa mites. They suck the hemolymph of bees like vampires that drink our blood. The mites have been in the US for about 30 years. Bees have yet to figure how to get the mites off their backs. Deformed wings and compromised immune systems contribute to Colony Collapse Disorder.

The African Small Hive Beetles. These insects have hard shells and love pollen and royal jelly. The beetles do a mass rush attack and release enzymes that rot the honey and pollen. The bees back off, the beetles advance and the battle continues until the bees abandon their hive. August is the worst month since it is at the time the bee colony is trying to shut down for the winter and the queen stops laying eggs. Bees try to defend themselves by building walls to corral the beetles, but the beetles have evolved to produce the scent of young bees. This attracts the clueless nurse bees who bring the beetles food thinking they are bee babies. Move, counter move.

Monocultures. For decades almond orchards have needed bees for pollination. Eighteen wheelers haul hives to California where busy bees pollinate miles and miles of almond trees for 6-8 weeks during February (honeybees fly 2 miles in every direction in search of pollen and nectar.) Each semi holds 408 beehives. One hive nets the beekeeper $160. The cost to transport bees from Oklahoma to California and back home is $10,000. Bees are kept alive by air flow. Risky business.

Manicured lawns. Grass monocultures and synthetic chemicals used to control lawns decimate bees. Grasses are wind pollinated and inaccessible to bees. Neonicotinoid pesticides are systemic, accumulate in flowers and destroy bee nervous systems. The fatty acids on bee feet trap the chemicals as the bees fly from contaminated flower to flower. They bring back pollen, nectar and pesticides to the hive. Solution? Plant oregano, thyme, buckwheat and other plants that grow low and flower in summer. Less mowing and pollinators have food. Be a bee advocate. Support your local honey producers.

Dr. Clifford Ivy introduced us to Oklahoma butterflies and butterfly gardening in “Flying Flowers.” From the dimorphic Diana (males are black and orange; females are black and similar to swallowtails minus tails!) The royal Monarchs are mimicked by Viceroy and Queen butterflies. As July 4th approaches, look for the Red Admirals wearing red, white and blue. Grow flowers.

“Making Great Wine In Oklahoma” was taught by Gary Ketcham and Bob Wickizer of Pecan Creek Winery. Gary is the vineyard manager where great wine starts. Contour of the land, drainage, air flow, training grape vines on trellises and seasonal maintenance assure good grapes.

Grapes are wind pollinated. As grapes mature, clusters are thinned, the canopies are pruned and veraison (color changes in grapes) is checked. Leaf stem analyses are done to determine what nutrients may be needed. This year 600 pounds of potassium and phosphorus were required in the vineyard. It takes 3 years to train grape vines; most grape clusters are removed. By fourth year they go into full production at 40-45 clusters per plant. Harvest time will be later this year due to the cold April. It is forecast to begin mid-August. Sugar content is key (in OK 22-23% is great and 24% wonderful).

Sixty wineries operate in Oklahoma, but only ten crush their own grapes. The rest utilize barrels of concentrates. Commercial firms may process grapes in twenty thousand gallon tanks the size of swimming pools. Aggressive filtering, chemical manipulation, highly automated funneling of juice through oak chips and blending produce high volumes of wines at lower costs.

The terrior (total influence of soil, weather, air, microbes, earth’s orbit...) is reflected in each Oklahoma grape. It’s a wine thing. Oklahoma temperature swings are shallow which encourages over 200 pests. Fermenting grapes can create heat up to 96 degrees; not good. The aromas and essences go off at higher temps, so the Pecan Creek motto is low and slow!

Sulfites are naturally present in Pecan Creek wines. They are produced by yeasts fermenting the grapes, so their wines have natural sulfites. The change in tannins balances the presence of tartaric and other acids as sugar levels taper off. This is the sweet spot where the wine is best and goes into oak barrels for aging. Pecan Creek Winery produces 4,000 gallons of wine per year. Their products are sold throughout the state.

With that, I shall now return back to the 21st FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) World Cup games now being held in Russia. De Football means soccer and the games are held every four years in a different country. In 2022 the games will be in Qatar. Will the USA make the cut?