June. Time for the annual Oklahoma Master Gardener State Conference. Hosted by the Master Gardeners of Bryan and Carter counties, the gathering was held at Southeastern Oklahoma State University (SOSU) in Durant.

June. Time for the annual Oklahoma Master Gardener State Conference. Hosted by the Master Gardeners of Bryan and Carter counties, the gathering was held at Southeastern Oklahoma State University (SOSU) in Durant.

I missed the Thursday night social, but no doubt the snacks and wine in the historic white brick Massey Building kept everybody happy. Next morning began the conference. One hundred seventy-eight Master Gardeners from across Oklahoma came.

David Hillock, Oklahoma State Master Gardener Coordinator, welcomed everyone Camp T.U.R.F. (Tomorrow’s Undergrads Realizing the Future) was a success. Our Multi-County Master Gardeners funded Piper Goodson, 8th grader from South Rock Creek School. The Master Gardener program is in its 41st year. Twenty-seven counties currently participate with 7,800 certified Master Gardeners (2018).

Andrea Lashley led with “Insect Hotels”. The SOSU botany senior wondered what type project could attract pollinators, predators and decomposers to an area but at the same time be sustainable and educational? An Insect Hotel!

The Bee B&B was constructed near the Biology Building on the SOSU campus. A brick foundation keeps the hotel high enough off the ground to thwart ants, especially fire ants. Hollow reeds, bamboo and logs drilled with holes of specific depths were lightly sanded. Edges were left as landing sites. No heat-conducting metal nor condensation-plagued plastic tubing. The structure receives morning sun and afternoon shade. Its’ slanted roof with 2-3” of soil on top is topped by moss rose (Portulaca) and watered 1-2 times per week during the summer.

The hotel is filling up fast. Wasps have been seen carrying caterpillars into the holes where they lay eggs and the plug ends with resins and waxes. The new insects break out later as evidenced by pin holes.

Horticulture Consultant Steve Upson from the Noble Research Institute was next with “Sustainable Practices.” Did you know planting in rows is a carryover from tractor plowing? Plant beds are better for cultivating, vertical walls make interesting gardens, high density planting and pruning increases efficiency. Make the garden friendly to work in.

Healthy soil should have a loamy texture, depth and structure not like peanut butter caused by over-tilling. The most important practice for good soil health is regular application of organic material.

“Lepidoptera” was presented by Paula Pierce, an educator and Bryan County Master Gardener. The order is broken into 2 huge categories, butterflies and moths. Butterflies and moths have scaled wings. The scales appear as shingles stacked on a roof. Moths spin silk cocoons. The skipper chrysalis is on a thread. Butterflies hatch from a chrysalis made of hardened protein.

Moths. Everything eats stocky bodied moths. They work the night shift for pollination. Males have thousands of olfactory senses to detect female pheromones miles away. The antennae of moths are threadlike or plumed. At rest moth wings are open. The large green Luna moth uses sonar to disrupt predators. The largest moth in North America, the Cecropia moth, exists only for reproduction

Skippers are unique robust butterflies active during the day. They have thin antennae ending in hooks that bend backward and large eyes. Their wings are closed at rest.

Butterflies. Daytime workers with long, thin antennae. Rest with wings maddingly closed which makes it tough for photographers. The Hackberry Emperor butterfly only lays eggs on the Hackberry tree—leaves are food for caterpillars. Ditto for the Monarch that exclusively focuses on milkweeds plants.

Some Monarchs live year-round in South America. Others use several flyways merging into one through central Texas. Monarch Generation #0 begins in Mexico. #1 usually occurs in Oklahoma. In fall the larger #4 generation makes the trek to Mexico to overwinter. Males have 2 black spots on the hind wings. The butterflies become immobile at 55 degrees F. In 2013-2014 Monarchs were spread over 45 acres in Mexico, but after a severe cold snap, the coverage dwindled to 2.5 acres.

Plant wildflowers. Plant milkweed. Plant 10 native milkweeds. Feed the caterpillars critical amino acids needed for life. Do not release butterflies at weddings or other events. These butterflies are not familiar with the area, may have diseases and usually die.

“Drip Irrigation” by the Director of the Botanic Garden at OSU, Lou Anella, was about conservation of water. Proper design, installation and management solves most problems. The spray system is least efficient because the pressure is too high leading to evaporation. The rotator is a bit better with streams of water moving through nozzles, but usually set the beginning of the season and never adjusted. The soaker hose does not regulate water pressure--lots of water at the front but little at the end. Drip Irrigation is best. Two types: (1) Inline Emitters spaced 18” apart and pressure compensated. (2) Point-Source Emitters with adjustable emitters which allow micro-irrigation from 0 to 10 gallons/hr.

The 20th Anniversary Oklahoma Proven Plant Selections for Oklahoma just won the National Horticulture Award. Available on PDF file or hard copy for $10 from the Oklahoma State Marketplace.

“Honey Bees”, the topic of Master Beekeeper and owner of 48 hives, Pat Tickel, introduced us to Apis millifera, the western honey bee from Europe that came to North America in flowers and fruit trees.

In the US are 4,000 species of native bees. Seven species of honey bees live worldwide. Early bee keepers raided and destroyed bee colonies to get honey. In the 1860s a better bee hive was created for easier management and removal of excess honey so bees did not starve.

In 1946 there were 6 million hives. Society and farms changed. Hives decreased to 4.5 million in 2019. 148 million pounds of honey = $100,000,000. US consumption: 700,000,000 pounds/year or one quart/week. Most honey goes into food products. Little is consumed straight out of the jar, except at my house. Watch out for adulterated honey. Look on the label for “Source verified.”

Worker bee. Jackie-of-all-trades. All females. Eyes have 7,000 lenses. Pollen baskets on hind legs. Wax glands under the abdomen secrete wax for honeycombs. The hypopharynx glands make royal jelly. The workers convert resin from woody fibers into propolis (wax and resin) to maintain the hive. Honey is regurgitated and put into cells. They will eat six pounds of honey to make one pound of wax. Pollen in a variety of colors is stored in the hive as a protein source. Workers only live 40 days after hatching. A worker during her life may visit 1000 flowers which results in only one teaspoon of honey! A lifetime of work for one bee.

The queen is the largest female with fully developed reproductive organs. The stingless drone is male whose only reason for being is reproduction. They have larger eyes to locate the virgin queen. Drones survive 3-4 months but in fall workers eject them from the hive. No drones will be found in a beehive during winter.

A new queen in spring will launch into breeding flight and may mate with up to 20 drones who have congregated in a drone area away from her hive. After mating the drones die. The queen returns to her own hive and begins to secrete strong pheromones the workers touch then pass along as information throughout the hive. The queen produces 2,000-3,000 eggs per day and may live 3-4 years dependent upon the health of the hive. She only mates once in her life.

The safest time to be near honeybees is when the bee colony splits and workers are swarming with the queen. The worker scouts have located a new place where the group will live. In preparation, they have engorged themselves on honey. The old colony has the remaining workers who continue on and tend virgin queens still growing in cells.

Three thousand-year old edible honey was discovered in the pyramids of Egypt. How? Hydrogen peroxide. When the honeybee collects nectar, the carb is changed into honey through enzymes and minerals with a minute bit of hydrogen peroxide formed in the process.

Check out the Bee ID Guide: https://bugguide.net/node/view/475348.

Last, but not least, was Bill Farris of Prairie Wind Nursery, a man passionate about “Landscaping with Natives.” Bill remembers he first won money in Durant at the rodeo and later went to MIT (Murray in Tishomingo) where he studied plant science.

Why natives? Builder landscapes are simply sterile. Natives offer diversity and interest; edible gardens of berries and food-scaping with sweet potatoes as ground cover. He is not a purist but looks for plants that will survive and thrive in Oklahoma. In the Tallamy study, a native white oak had 478 caterpillars, but only one was found on the Bradford pear. It takes 6,000-7,000 caterpillars to raise a fletch of chickadees. Songbird populations are dropping. You still want your non-native Bradford pear?

Bill’s Definition of Insanity: Buy new house, install Bermuda grass lawn, water every week, mow twice a week, haul grass to dump. In Edmond water usage in winter is 8 million gallons. In summer it rises to 20 million gallons. Wasting too much water on lawns.

Nature-scaping. Plant native grass lawns of Blue Grama, Side oats Grama and Buffalo Grasses. Benefits of native turf: Less water, fertilizer, supports pollinators and reduces storm runoff. Bermuda holds water in the top 6 inches which moves laterally, forming hard pan below. The much deeper prairie plant root systems allow water penetration.

The Blue Mistflower blooms late summer. Its nectar feeds Monarchs during their autumn migration. Swallowtail butterflies appreciate Cowpen daisy (Golden Crownbeard). Moths lay eggs in the flowers of the Yucca Glauca. The seedpods hold the larvae as they eat their way out. Natives.

The 2019 conference was amazing. Want to be a Master Gardener?

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at Becscience@att.net.