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Divide and conquer: Creating new queendoms

What’s a beekeeper to do when fall is around the corner, winter mortality is unnervingly high, and you’ve got just one hive? Make new queens, of course! (Right … just like that!)

I’ve been helping Chad Franer, Director of Horticulture, keep bees at the IMA for six years and every season we both learn something new. This year, we tried our hands at splitting the hive – our one and only hive that we purchased in the spring. Did we know what we were doing? Of course not!

Assistant horticulturist Gwyn Rager examines a hive to determine which frame to use when splitting the hive. Photo courtesy IMA Horticulture Department.

Assistant horticulturist Gwyn Rager examines a hive to determine which frame to use when splitting the hive. Photo courtesy IMA Horticulture Department.

Splitting the hive to force the production of queen cells felt a lot like moving from the freshmen level course to somewhere with the upperclassmen. It was one of those moments where we felt the training wheels coming off and it was time to ride or fall. After much instruction from our mentor, Brian Shattuck, we took on the challenge.

A healthy honeybee hive is composed of the queen, worker bees (female), drones (male) and brood (future bees). The queen will lay an average of 1,000 to 1,500 eggs per day, all the while producing a pheromone that communicates to the rest of the hive that she is present and thriving. The daily egg laying, referred to as the brood cycle, ensures a constant and strong colony. When a hive becomes robust, the beekeeper may have the option to split it.

Splitting the hive means moving the queen, along with a few handfuls of workers and brood, to another hive box and leaving the majority of the original hive intact and in need of a queen.

What happens next is pretty fascinating! The colony notices the absence of the queen and begins to prep several of the recently hatched eggs to potentially become the next queen. These select larvae are fed royal jelly and larger cells are constructed for them each to develop within. Then it’s a race to see who will emerge first and survive. A new queen, in her due diligence, will systematically kill off the other potential queens as they emerge. Once her position is secured, she takes her mating flight and returns to the hive to pick up where the last queen left off. Voila! The beekeeper now has two hives!

Laura Dulin, the IMA HortSoc fellow, looks for a new queen in one of the newly split hives. Photo courtesy IMA Horticulture Department.

Laura Dulin, the IMA HortSoc fellow, looks for a new queen in one of the newly split hives. Photo courtesy IMA Horticulture Department.

Brian encouraged us to also create a nuc (short for nucleus) around this time. A nuc is a mini version of an official hive. Midway through the splitting process, we opened up the original hive and removed a frame that contained a few queen cells, dropped it into a nuc box along with a starter kit, frames of honey, brood and room to start laying eggs, for the soon-to-emerge queen. We beekeepers now have three hives!

So, why go through this effort when we’ve got a strong, healthy hive? I guess I could argue that it’s part of proper beekeeping. We’re making certain that we go into winter with more bees and two new, fresh queens. Winters can be long and hard in Indiana and our honeybees need all the resources we can offer to ensure survival – survival into the next spring and for years and generations to come.

The training wheels are long gone and we’re a little bit wiser. Can we claim now that we know what we’re doing? Probably not! I’ll always be a gardener first and beekeeping is a bonus. But I couldn’t be a gardener without the bees. Each day that I work in the gardens of the IMA and I see my tiny worker friends, I thank them for their diligent pollination … and their sweet honey!

Filed under: Art and Nature Park, Greenhouse, Horticulture, IMA Staff

 

Wine cups for your garden

Image Source: Missouri Botanical Gardens

Image Source: Missouri Botanical Gardens

Don’t go grabbing a bottle of wine just yet! These wine cups, Callirhoe involucrata, belong to the Malvaceae, or the mallow family. It is native to many of the plains states, including Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. This is a drought tolerant plant that does well especially during hot summers without much rain and in the sun. It will also tolerate some partial shade. Due to the overall tolerance of the plant, it is recommended that one does not try to transplant as it will give resistance. The resistance comes from the long taproot of the plant. The plant prefers well-drained sandy or loamy soils but will tolerate clay. It can rot if the soil is poorly drained.

Wine cups is a purple flowering perennial that is also known as the purple poppy mallow. Its low and mat-forming habit makes it a great groundcover plant that does well in Zones 4-8. Eventually, this plant will spread to about 3 feet wide and about 6 to 9 inches tall. It can easily be used for naturalized areas but can also easily fit in amongst formal areas. Palmately arranged leaves and magenta flowers help characterize the plant. Each magenta colored flower has five petals in an upward cup formation and can be found from mid-spring through fall. Each flower will close in the evening and open again in the morning. Once a flower has been pollinated, it will remain closed.

Image Source: Missouri Botanical Gardens

Image Source: Missouri Botanical Gardens

This plant is great sprawling over rock walls, in rock gardens, and elsewhere. Plant individual plants only several inches apart so that they will mat together. One can plant with a variety of plants depending on the purpose of the garden. Some suggested plants to plant with the Wine Cups are Veronica, Stachys (lamb’s ears), Hemerocallis (daylillies), and Aquilegia (columbine).

 

Filed under: Greenhouse, Horticulture, Oldfields

 

An obedient plant?

Can a plant actually be obedient? Why yes, there is one that can be and it just so happens to be commonly known as the obedient plant. The Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana) gets its name from the flowers’ ability to stay in place according to how you move them. The flowers are on each side of the spike and can act like a hinge. In this way, one can push them to the right or left, up or down, and have them stay in that position. It might change its position on its own after some time has passed, but for the time being, it will stay in the position you place it in.

That is the extent of this plant being obedient, for it can be aggressive and spread to places where you don’t want it. That is the main issue with the plant. Otherwise, one can prune it in the spring to help reduce its height. It can also be divided every two to three years to help keep this clump-forming Obedient Plant under control. Each clump can get up to 2 to 3 feet wide. Overall, the plant is tall, reaching heights of 3 to 4 feet. These heights sometimes lead to floppiness in the plants, so staking helps to keep them upright.

These plants are more of a prairie type plant, being a great perennial plant for the wildflower garden, the prairie garden, native gardens, and meadows. One can also use their color in a perennial border. The nectar will also attract butterflies and hummingbirds, so it is a possible plant for a butterfly or hummingbird garden. The plant just requires a sunny to partly shady location that has moist, well-drained soils.

The leaves are sharply toothed and lance-shaped, growing up to 4 inches in length. Square, stiff stems allow flowers to be born on four different sides. This stem is typical of the Mint Family, of which this plant is a member. When the flowers bloom, they start opening at the bottom of the spike first, moving toward the top. Flowers usually bloom from June to September, providing some summer color. They are usually pink in color, but can also be white. Individual flowers resemble the flowers of snapdragons and thus the obedient plant is also called false dragonhead. One can see these pink flowers around some of the apple trees in the IMA’s orchard.

Filed under: Greenhouse, Guest Bloggers, Horticulture

 

Two Indiana plants

There are multiple plants throughout the gardens that are native to Indiana, others to the United States, and still many more from other countries, as well as those of a cultivated origin. With this wide array of possibilities, it is nice every now and again to focus on something found originally in the state of Indiana. Two native Indiana plants are Spigelia marilandica and Delphinium exaltatum. These two flowers bring color to the garden, and can be used in various places, especially when trying for a more naturalized appeal. Seasonal horticulturalist Helen Morlock considers Spigelia marilandica to be her favorite flower while I really enjoy seeing Delphinium exaltatum amongst many other native Indiana plants.

Spigelia marilandica (Indian pink) Photo courtesy of North Creek Nurseries

Spigelia marilandica (Indian pink)
Photo courtesy of North Creek Nurseries

Spigelia marilandica is known as Indian Pink. This shade loving plant is great for many homeowners’ shady areas created by windbreaks and other trees and shrubs. This woodland native loves moist and rich soils that have good drainage and some organic matter present. It is a perennial native, growing well alongside the native Aquilegia canadensis (columbine), or in among other summer blooming perennials, such as salvias and geraniums. One can also plant it beside or among a variety of hostas, lungworts, and other shade perennials.

In the spring, the plant should be divided if already present, or planted as transplants. It will self-seed, as the mature seeds will pop out of their seedpods and onto the ground around the plant. Maintenance-wise, this plant requires little once it is in a shady spot with a moist, well-drained soil. (Try to help keep the soil moist during the hot summer months!) Just remember to cut the plant back to the ground in the fall for winter protection.

Red and yellow tubular shaped, star flowers (two inches in length) can be found in early summer on plants that can be up to 2 feet tall and wide. These plants have opposite glossy green leaves that can get up to 4 inches long. The flowers for the Indian Pink are one-sided as well. The best flower display occurs in June, with blooms reoccurring throughout the rest of the summer. Right now, we have some blooming on the museum grounds along the tennis courts. This is along the drive of the Lilly house, where the tennis courts used to be located.

Delphinium exaltatum (tall larkspur) Image courtesy of Mt. Cuba Center

Delphinium exaltatum (tall larkspur)
Image courtesy of Mt. Cuba Center

Delphinium exaltatum is known as the Tall Larkspur. It is named thus due to its height of 4 to 6 feet, whereas many others in the Delphinium genus do not reach such heights. Flowers occur on terminal racemes, being gentian blue in color. Others might consider this color to be more of a purple than a blue. So be sure to know that sometimes when you ask for blue flowers (especially from a florist) that they might actually be closer to what you consider as purple. Larkspur comes from the shape of the flower, which looks like it has a spur. Dark green leaves are palmate, each with three to five lobes.

Protect the tall larkspur from the winter winds. In summer, color might fade in hotter weather but usually does better here in the north than further down south, so give it some afternoon shade from the hot summer sun. Flowers bloom during the summer, later than others of the same genus. Overall, this native plant enjoys full sun, well-drained fertile soils, and can be 4 to 6 feet high, as mentioned above, and 1 to 2 feet wide. Once the flowers have finished, remove the stalk so that the plant has a chance to produce more flowers for you to view and enjoy.

Delphinium exaltatum (tall larkspur) Photo by Audra Franz

Delphinium exaltatum (tall larkspur)
Photo by Audra Franz

Here at the IMA, the tall larkspur can be found in the more naturalized area of the Formal Garden. Facing the entrance to the Formal Garden with the lawn area (tennis court area) to your back, the larkspur can be found on the left, before getting to the pots sitting at that entrance.

Filed under: Greenhouse, Horticulture, Indiana, Oldfields

 

Excited about Echinacea

Echinacea "Sundown"

Echinacea “Sundown”

What can you find in the garden that is tall, purple, and named after a hedgehog? Echinacea, of course! Echinacea comes from the Greek word echinos, meaning hedgehog, because of the spiny centers of the flower heads. I am sure that many are familiar with the purple coneflower because of its popularity in the Eastern United States. What makes it so special? Echinacea has become a very commonly used flower because it is so easy to grow and very tolerant of weather conditions and garden pests that we are all too familiar with here in Indiana.

Echinacea purpurea, also known as purple coneflower, is native to meadows, prairies, and woodland edges where they are able to receive the most sunlight. It is drought tolerant, heat tolerant, deer tolerant, and even tolerant of clay soil. With just those three factors it is easy to see why the use of Echinacea is so widespread. As long as your coneflowers are in a spot where they can receive full sun, you will have the benefit of their summer long bloom time usually from July until September. Pruning before flowering will delay bloom time and allow you to have fresh, new blooms later in the season. Most people like to cut back all of the dead heads at the end of the flowering season to prevent the massive amounts of reseeding. However, if you like to help feed the birds in the colder months, leaving the seed heads on the coneflowers provide plenty of seed for birds such as golden finches and juncos. Just be sure to prepare yourself for all the coneflower seedlings that will show up in the spring if you do not remove the seed heads.

Echinacea "Sundown" with bee.

Echinacea “Sundown” with bee.

Not only do coneflowers benefit the bird population in the fall, but they also aid the insect population during its flowering season. During the summer, bees and butterflies can be spotted feeding on the nectar and, in late August, you may even find soldier beetles. The soldier beetle is a beneficial insect that feeds on those pesky aphids as well as other soft-bodied insects. So be sure not to harm these particular beetles as they are causing no harm to the plant itself. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of Japanese beetles. If there are signs that something is eating away at your coneflowers, it is most likely this pesky critter. Along with Japanese beetles, aphids and eriophyid mites are also problematic to these plants. Sadly insects aren’t the only force of nature that coneflowers have to contend with. Some disease problems to watch out for are powdery mildew, anthracnose, and aster yellows. But, as with any other type of plant, proper care and maintenance can help prevent your coneflowers from falling victim to these diseases.

On the much brighter and more beautiful side, the Echinacea have eight to none different species to choose from that are all tough plants which can withstand the weather conditions in the Central and Eastern United States. Echinacea is no longer just purple coneflowers, but pretty pinks, reds, oranges and whites too. Here at the IMA, you will see the first clusters of Echinacea as you walk down the mall. Walking down the sidewalk past the overlook you will notice the bright pink ‘Southern Belle’ cultivar. The Garden for Everyone has a nice section devoted to ‘Sundown’. And you can’t miss all of the coneflowers in the Four Seasons Garden. It is a beautiful summer with so many wonderful Echinacea to see.

Filed under: Greenhouse, Guest Bloggers, Horticulture, Oldfields

 

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