Cooks’ Gardens Update for 8/14/18

Saturday 8/11 Update: At SIG we picked peppers and basil from RB3 and some sample veg for the class from around the garden. All but one onion and about half the remaining carrots were harvested from RB 1. We also harvested 3 sunflower heads.

Tuesday 8/14 Update: The Garden was very pleasant this morning and surprisingly cool for much of the workday. Lots of harvesting went on amid a flurry of butterflies. Monarchs, blue swallow tails and others were all around the TG this morning.

In the Shed Beds, there was only minor damage from our rodent pest, mostly on the okra. The sweet potatoes seem to be recovering but there is still a big question about if we’ll see a harvest. Still 2 months to go before frost so there’s still hope. We thinned the tomatoes and basil. We picked tomatoes including some green ones that were close enough to the ground it seemed prudent to let them ripen off the vine. We also picked serrano peppers. We put a little more rye and sorghum in SB4 to make up for slow germination.

In the Blueberry beds, we’d removed the surveyor’s tape from around the sun hemp as it was growing upright and had recovered from weeks of storms. After last night’s rain, however:


The beans were picked and cut down in preparation for converting BB1 into Brassicas for the fall. As you can see from the this plant who accidently came up roots and all, the beans have nodulated and all that banked nitrogen will give the Brassicas a good boost over the season.


The Vietnamese cilantro was trimmed but won’t be cut back for overwintering until October. Overall the blueberry beds look good.


In the Bio beds, the deer(?) have been grazing the Mexican sunflower in D, but they are still hanging on. We’ve decided the mystery squash is a buttercup. She has several fruit, but one should be close to ready for harvest in a week or two. We did get 3 eggplant and a little over a pound (16.47 oz) of cherry tomatoes from the bed. Only one of the sunflowers has bloomed but the others in Bio A are getting close to popping. In both Bio A and BB6, the painted lady caterpillar numbers are down to largely insignificant numbers. Crimson clover was overseeded into the sunflowers in Bio A.

In the raised beds, RB1’s okra is growing well. It should have a few fruits to harvest by Thursday. In RB2 the tomatillos are starting to fill their husks but it will be some time before they are harvestable. In RB3, everything harvestable had been harvested at SIG.  In RB4, we harvested over a pound of cherry tomatoes (17.95 oz), over 2 pounds of roma tomatoes (37.21 oz.), as well as several jalapeno and wax peppers. In RB5, we harvest several wax peppers and a few green bells, then overseeded with crimson clover.

The electric fence for the shed beds was put off until next TuesdayNext Tuesday we are also planning to video sunflower harvesting and plant Brassica starts.

Vegetable Planting Guide for PWC:

Cook’s Garden Planting Dates (2013)

Map/Locations for Cooks Gardens 2018






News from the Cooks’ Gardens, August 8, 2018 , by Thomas Bolles

On Tuesday, we found caterpillars attacking the leaves of the sunflowers in BB6. I have seen these on sunflowers I’ve grown before but not in the numbers we found. They appear to be thistle caterpillars (painted lady butterfly) – a common pest of commercial sunflower growers. They also like zinnias and other asters, but we didn’t see any in BB7. From what I discovered, the economic threshold for treatment is when the crop averages about 25% damage on each plant. Looks like we’ve spotted them well before they could do serious damage, but we do need to keep an eye on both the sunflowers and the zinnias in BB7 over the next few weeks.

Interestingly, in looking up pests of sunflowers I came across this pub from Extension in Georgia: Sunflowers (and sorghum, and okra) are common trap crops. If we could only find a trap crop for the groundhog…

The groundhog continues to find a way over the fence around the Shed Beds. We’ve inspected for holes in the fence the last two weeks and haven’t found any. Looks like he’s going over the top. Barring the arrival of a ravenous pack of dachshunds or an eagle with night vision googles, I am thinking we may want to try an electric fence. If we could figure a way to run it along the top of the fence, it might discourage the varmit from climbing in general. That may keep it from giving up on the Shed Beds and moving on the Blueberry Beds.

In the Shed Beds the damage continues from the groundhog who has developed a taste for the okra as well as the sweet potatoes and zinnias. There are volunteer pea sprouts coming up in and around SB2 which the groundhog has yet to attack. The tomatoes were also given the usual rodent ‘take one bite and move on to the next one’ treatment but we were able to get several tomatoes from the nuns. Some of our supports are now leaning as the plants are heavy with fruit, though very few are ripe. The rye and sorghum planted in SB4 is starting to poke up through the straw. The crimson in SB1 and SB2 is coming up nicely. Ellen planted vetch by the eggplant last Saturday which hasn’t come up yet. Volunteer potatoes continue to pop up in SB1 and 2.

Cooks Gardens8.9b

volunteer potatoes in SB2

In BB3, the vetch (it was vetch wasn’t it?) Ellen planted has started to come up. Ellen had also put two rows of kale in BB1 on Saturday which hasn’t germinated yet. We talked about cutting down the Vietnamese cilantro later in the season and trying to overwinter in under straw and a row cover after we transition BB1 into Brassicas this fall. In BB2 it looks like the Japanese beetles are finally gone. The sorghum is continuing to mature. The sorghum in BB5 is a little behind BB4 and not all of the plants have fully tassled yet. In BB7 the Mexican sunflower is trying it’s best to cover the entire collumnbarium side of the bed. In the depression between the actual blueberries and BB6-7, we planted 2 tumeric and 3 yaro plants (courtesy of Virginia State Univ). Should you be in the garden and wondering which is which, the taro plants are the ones that look like elephant ear (they are in the same family).

Vegetable Planting Guide for PWC (check dates for fall planting!):

Cook’s Garden Planting Dates (2013)

TG Cooks’ Garden Update: July 31, 2018

How does your garden grow? As we move into August, the difference between our older garden and our new garden is visually shocking. Our original bed struggles more than ever due to the strange summer weather, a mystery fence breecher who happily eats whatever he can find, and the ever-encroaching shade. Our new garden, sitting in full, glorious sun (when it’s not raining) looks like a forest. The sorghum currently stands at 9’5” and our sunflowers at 10 feet tall! The beans produced well, and the variety of flowers continue to bloom. The cook’s team is happy this new garden is growing well, or we might have had to consider retiring our Master Gardener badges!

Changes are happening in Harriet’s bed too; the change being plants are growing instead of being eaten! The newly installed fence seems to be doing its job. Jannell, Stephanie and Charlene’s raised beds look amazing and continue to produce as well. Our harvest to the monastery today included carrots, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, jalapeno, serrano, and banana peppers and a lovely eggplant from Harriet’s bed.

Happy growing,

The Herb Bed and a Short History of Herbal Gardening

The use of beneficial herbs for food, medicine and dyes has been prevalent throughout history, dating back to Prehistoric man. As man moved from hunter/gatherer to practicing agriculture, the cultivation of herbs in home and formal gardens was introduced around the world. Modern herbal gardens are a popular way to combine the textures of attractive foliage and fragrant flowers, attract beneficial pollinators, and grow plants that can be used as medicines, teas and culinary flavorings.  Most herbs are easily grown in a variety of conditions, making them ideal for new gardeners. An example of a modern herb garden can be found at the Teaching Garden.

The botanical definition of an herb (herbaceous plant) is any plant with a fleshy stem that dies back at the end of the growing season, but herbs are also widely defined as aromatic plants that have value as medicines, flavor, fragrance, pesticides or dyes. Herbs can include trees, perennial shrubs, annuals, vines, ferns, mosses or algae.

Herbs are depicted in cave paintings in France, dating from 13,000 to 25,000 BC, and some scholars believe they were used as early as 60,000 years ago. All early civilizations including the Aztecs, Mayans and Egyptians are known to have used herbs for medicinal purposes. The first written record of the usage of medicinal plants for various illnesses was written on clay tablets over 5,000 years ago by the Sumerians of ancient Mesopotamia. The Egyptians also recorded over 850 herbal medicines around 850 BCE. Herbal and natural remedies for illness were also widely used by the ancient Greeks and Romans.  Hippocrates (460-377 BCE), known as the Father of Modern Medicine, listed 400 common herbs used in his practice. The use of medicinal herbs in treating illness was also widespread in China (3,000 BC) and India (1,500 BC).

During the Middle Ages in Europe, herbs were used to preserve meat and to cover the odors of rotting food. Since bathing was rare, herbs were also used to mask body odors. This period did not see the widespread use of herbs for medicinal purposes by common citizens, as the Catholic Church accused herbalists of witchcraft and burned them at the stake. Most Medieval herb gardens were found at Benedictine Monasteries where monks translated ancient Greco-Roman and Arabic texts about herbs. Here, monks planted extensive herbal gardens and used them for teaching. The earliest visual representation of a formal garden to survive the Middle Ages was a master plan for an herb garden at a Benedictine Monastery.  These gardens contained a wide range of herbs including winter savory, oregano, garlic, chives, basil, curry, lavender, coriander, tarragon, sage and rosemary, many of these plants being brought from the Mediterranean region.

“The Great Age of Herbalism” occurred between the 15th and 17th centuries in Europe, and it is during this time the formal herb garden became popular in Europe. Families in the 18th and 19th centuries had herb gardens for flavoring, preservatives, dyes and medicinal remedies. The Renaissance also gave rise to the use of herbs in formal and knot gardens.

European colonists who settled North America in the 1600’s brought with them seeds from their home regions, especially from the Mediterranean. Most colonial homes had an herb garden in a sunny location, not far from the kitchen and colonists used them for seasoning, sachets, dyeing and medicines. Settlers introduced plantain, mint, lavender, parsley, calendula, roses, dandelion, chamomile, thyme and yarrow from their native regions. Native Americans introduced the settlers to cayenne, goldenrod for fever and Echinacea to treat wounds, and these quickly became part of the herb garden.

The Teaching Garden at the Benedictine Monastery on Linton Hall Rd. in Bristow, VA has a beautiful herb bed that is maintained and carefully tended to by Master Gardener Cheryl Ayers.  Cheryl has been the bed leader of this aromatic bed for around 2 years now and has been doing a fantastic job. She keeps the bed looking lush, while supporting the many diverse types of culinary and scented herbs planted by the original caretakers. She can be found at the TG on Tuesday mornings, and often has interns or other master gardeners helping.

Cheryl describes the herb bed as lush in late June until mid-August and aside from keeping some plants within their boundaries (mint), has little weeding to do. Despite the fact that many of the plants are drought tolerant, Cheryl waters the bed at least once a week. The herb bed is in full sun and has little shade. You will find small, woody shrubs such as rosemary as well as herbaceous plants such as basil.  Taller plants such as horseradish, dill and fennel are found in the center of the planting. Fennel (both green and bronze) attract beneficial butterflies and pollinators such as tiger and zebra swallowtail caterpillars, and is not harvested as a vegetable.  Two rectangular stone walls (“Wall of Herbs”) were added to the garden last year and add height to the planting.  Cheryl has planted Thai basil and curry on these walls, which are surrounded by chocolate mint, spearmint and lemon balm, to name a few.  Other herbs that can be found are onions, garlic, sage, two types of parsley (flat leaf and curly), tarragon, basil (both amethyst and Genoa), lavender, cilantro, and pineapple mint.  Chamomile, oregano, wooly thyme and variegated marjoram are used for groundcovers.

Luckily, most of the plants in the herb bed are unappetizing to local wildlife, so there is no need to worry about animal damage unless the local deer decide to rest in the chamomile.  Other than the signs of deer, this bed is often visited by turtles, birds, and plenty of butterflies. After working in the bed for a long time, Cheryl recommends planting certain plants, especially the mint and lemon balm, in more confined spaces because she has seen how easily these plants can “take over”. Container gardening is an excellent way to grow kitchen herbs and Cheryl recommends planting up to three different herbs of choice in a large pot. She also wants homeowners to be aware of horseradish and fennel because of how deep their roots extend.


Herb gardens require minimum effort to grow, and include many drought tolerant perennials that are also resistant to pests and diseases. They are best located in areas of 6-8 hours of full sun. The best soil for an herb garden is fertile and loamy with a pH of 6.3-6.8.  Prepare soil depth to 8”, and amend with composted organic material. Raised beds and mixed garden beds with vegetables are an excellent way to grow herbs in smaller spaces. Some herbs will need winter protection from drying winter winds and do better behind windbreaks, such as shrubs or rocks. Dwarf varieties grow well in pots that can be brought indoors during the winter.  Annual herbs are best started from seed indoors during the late winter, and perennial herbs do best when purchased as plants. Many herbs can be rooted from stem cuttings.

When in the area, please come out to the Teaching Garden to visit the Herb bed! During visiting hours and at Saturdays in the Garden, Master Gardeners will be there to give you a tour of this and any of our other beds!


Thanks to for some of these great photos!


Herb Bed at the Teaching Garden Plant List

Culinary Herbs plant list




What’s New in the Cooks’ Gardens?

Cook’s Beds Update July 3, 2018

The Teaching Garden has a variety of different themed beds, and one of the most popular are the “Cook’s Gardens”.  Tended by a number of dedicated Master Gardeners who also teach free classes on sustainable vegetable gardening throughout the year, these beds utilize the latest in research from Virginia Tech, Virginia State and other Land Grant universities. Intended to be an educational showcase for the latest in Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques, crop rotation, and design for small space and urban horticulture, the Cooks’ beds also serve as an outdoor laboratory to try out new cultivars and support native pollinators. The harvest from the gardens is donated to the Benedictine Sisters Monastery kitchen.

Each week throughout the season, Thomas, Amye, Jean, Ellen, Pam, Harriet, Jannell, Charlene, and Stephanie come out to the Teaching Garden on workdays to carefully record information, water, weed, plant, and remove pests by hand. Saturdays in the Garden and the Sustainable Vegetable Gardening series are an excellent free way to learn from the Cooks’ gardeners.  A class on Growing Herbs will be offered on August 11 as part of the Saturdays in the Garden series. (check the calendar at for upcoming 2019 classes).

The week of July 3 brought some challenges at the Cooks’ Gardens which homeowners and farmers are also experiencing. The Mid Atlantic had been experiencing a remarkable heat wave last week, with high humidity. These are the conditions that favor bacterial and fungal diseases in a number of crops.  The heavy rains in May and June are conducive to splashing soil borne pathogens on the lower leaves of tomatoes. Some of the cucurbit diseases recently seen in the garden are environmental, and some are vectored by squash bugs. Careful daily observations, good cultural practices and prompt removal of pests are important for successful and sustainable vegetable gardening.

Insect and invertebrate damage was noted in a number of locations including slugs, hornworms, potato beetles, and Japanese beetles which are all actively feeding. When these pests are seen they are physically removed and placed in the “Bad Bug Swimming Pool”. Slugs can be controlled by providing a good mulch layer to create habitat conducive to spiders and predatory beetles. Homeowners can try using slug bait or placing flat boards around the garden, which slugs collect under during the hot part of the day. From here they can be collected and killed.

Mammals have also been actively causing trouble in a number of beds including the Cooks’ Gardens including deer, squirrels and woodchucks. A number of vegetable crops are favorites including sweet potatoes, and it remains a full time job for the gardeners to mend fences and plug entrance holes.  All the beds in the Teaching Garden are routinely sprayed with deer repellent.

Now is the time to rotate out all remaining spring (cool season) crops such as lettuce and peas, and plant the remaining vegetables for the summer season. In the Cooks’ gardens the lettuce has been picked although some has been left bolt and self-seed, the peas have been picked and the plants have been composted, and both varieties of potatoes (Kennebec and Green Mountain) have been harvested.  The potatoes were harvested before there was damage from rot and slugs Thomas noted that “there were more adult slugs than I have ever seen in the soil and they were fairly deep down (8+ inches from the soil line)”. He also noted that the potatoes were smaller this year and this could be due to the earlier harvest time. Also harvested and weighed were 1.05 lbs of yellow onions, 5.6 oz of scallions and 1.12 pounds of garlic.  Japanese eggplant, edamame and zucchini have been planted, Patti-pan and spaghetti squash plant starts have yet to be put in. Tomatoes and peppers were planted in May. If you visit the Cooks’ Gardens you will also see a bed of Sugar Drip Sorghum. This was planted in early May and was intended as a cover crop for the blueberry beds. Sweet sorghum can be used to make syrup and molasses.

The Rule of Thumb for watering is 1 inch/week, but at the Teaching Garden the MG’s water at least twice per week depending on the weather. With fruiting vegetables at fruit set, adequate water is really important. They try to be as consistent as possible to avoid issues like blossom end rot.

For any questions or concerns you have about your vegetable garden or any other landscape plant including turf, call the Horticultural Help Desk at: 703-792-7747


For more information on diseases of tomato and cucurbits (squash, cucumber, pumpkin, etc):


Saturdays in the Garden 2018 Schedule:

Prince William County Vegetable Planting Guide:

Cook’s Garden Planting Dates (2013)

Maps of the Cooks’ Gardens:





What’s the Buzz About Native Bees?

by Robin Finehout

Thanks to Linda and Tom Ligon, Nancy Berlin and Harriet Carter for pictures and advice!

The Teaching Garden has always been native bee friendly! Our gardens have many native plants and flowers intended to attract pollinators including wild bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. All of our plantings are designed with pollinators in mind. We are mindful of not using pesticides, use plants that naturally discourage pests, and make sure we have constant blooms designed to feed pollinators all season. You can find bee friendly block plantings of buckwheat and zinnias, edge plantings of hyssop and hairy vetch, and cover crops such as Crimson clover in our Cooks gardens.  Letting herbs in the Herb bed such as fennel, rosemary and thyme bolt and bloom is an excellent way to provide nectar and pollen. All of our beds use plants to attract  native bees, such as Coreopsis, Salvia, and lavender. You will also find a number of native bee nesting houses designed to attract mason and leaf cutter bees. These structures provide artificial nesting sites for solitary bees with tubes that can be used for cells for the eggs and larvae.

Native bees are important pollinators of wild flowering plants and agricultural crops. Bees, including domesticated honey bees, provide an essential ecosystem service by pollinating 80% of all flowering plants worldwide, but also pollinating over 1/3 of global agricultural crops. There are an estimated 35,000-40,000 species of bees worldwide, 3,500-4,000 species of native bees in North America, and 500 species identified in the Mid-Atlantic region. Bees can be found on every continent except Antarctica, and are believed to have co-evolved with flowering plants 125 million years ago. They are found in habitats with insect pollinated plants and their life cycles are timed with seasonal plant reproduction. The USDA reports that 75% of the fruits, nuts and vegetables are pollinated by native insects and honey bees, which adds $15 billion increased crop yield per year.

When most people think about pollination of agricultural crops, they think of the honey bee. The European honey bee (Apis melifera) was brought to North America by European colonists in the 17th century and quickly escaped and naturalized. The honey bee is now used to pollinate large scale monoculture plantings and is efficient because they move from plant to plants over a large area. Important to agriculture, they can be moved from field to field timed to flowering. However, in the 6 years leading up to 2013, it is estimated that 10 million honey bee hives were lost, often to Colony Collapse Disorder. Although the exact mechanism is still unknown, CCD is believed to be caused by a synergetic combination of stress factors such as pesticide use, viruses, genetic factors, Acarapsis and Varroa mites.  Research has shown that native bees are more efficient at pollination of many crops and less susceptible to CCD and serve as an alternative or enhancement to the honey bee.

Native bees are more efficient at pollinating North American forest and meadow plants such as hawthorn, serviceberry, mountain ash, but also Asian cousins such as apple, plum, cherry, pear and peach. They are considered to be two to three times better at pollination of squash, tomato, peppers, beans and peanuts, and studies have shown that pollination by wild bees enhances the yield and the quality of a variety of important economic crops. Providing uncultivated land, or habitat for wild bees near field edges has shown to increase crop yield and profit.  In Virginia, many crops are dependent on pollinators, including native bees.  These include alfalfa, apples, tomatoes, cotton, cucumbers, squash, watermelon, peanuts, snap beans and soybeans.  Other Virginia crops that benefit from native pollinators include blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and pitted fruit such as peaches and plums. The most important wild bee crop pollinators in Virginia are: Mason bees (orchard crops), digger bees (berries), squash bees, sweat bees (asters), leafcutter bees (legumes), and bumble bees (generally all flowering plants).

All bees feed on both nectar (for energy) and pollen (for protein and nutrients). The majority of pollen and nectar is stored as larvae food. Most bees build nests and provide food for their offspring, although some rely on other nests (cuckoo bees). They stock their nests with pollen and nectar before laying eggs. Most bees have very furry bodies, better for trapping pollen, or pollen baskets for collection of pollen. They have fairly long tongues to sip nectar and a large crop, or second stomach for carrying it.  Bees find flowers through smell, colors and patterns and a great memory. They can be eusocial displaying cooperative brood care in a colony, or solitary laying eggs in individual cells in a nest.

There are two types of foraging strategies found in bees: Generalist and specialist.  Specialist bees feed from only one species of plant, sometimes 2 and at most 3 species.  It is estimated that 20% of the wild bee population are specialist foragers, with some 100 species of native bees in the Mid-Atlantic region.  In this feeding strategy, bees emerge from their nests at the same time the host plant is flowering. In this mutualist relationship, the host plant is dependent on one specific bee species for fertilization. Examples include squash, dependent on the squash bee (Peponapis pruinosa) and the sunflower, dependent on the sunflower bee (Diadasia enavata). Specialist bees have a shorter feeding season, have lower population numbers and typically have only one brood per season. Other examples of specialist native bees found in the Mid-Atlantic are Andrenidae (mining bees) and Colletidae (plaster bees).

Generalist bees make up 80% of the total bee population and sustain themselves by foraging on  many different species. They visit a wide range of diverse species for nectar and pollen, have a higher population number and numerous and continuous broods. Examples of generalists include leafcutters and many bumble bee (Bombus) species. Honey bees are also generalists.

All bees, native and honey bee, are currently suffering from decreasing populations believed to be caused by a combination of factors. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) of honey bees has been attributed to a synergistic combination of stress factors such as wide spread use of pesticides, parasitic mites, viruses, habitat loss and fragmentation. Native bees have also seen population declines and range reductions. Widespread use of monoculture agricultural plantings and decrease use of native plants is also seen as contributing factors. It is important to consider the use of wild bees as an alternative, or to augment honey bees, to offset losses due to CCD.  Urban and agricultural areas and home owners can encourage native bee populations by planting native plants in the landscape or by intercropping and block planting native plants with vegetable and fruit crops. Landscape practices such as rototilling a spot for digging bees, providing bee nesting structures, providing a source of mud, and a pesticide-free water source are all ways to help promote health populations of wild bees.  Helping native bees is essential to the continued productivity of farms, forests, gardens and ecosystems.


Groups of Native Bees:

Carpenter Bees

Family: Apidae

 Example:  Xylocopa virginica  Eastern Carpenter Bee


Carpenter bees are large, solitary bees that resemble bumble bees, but the upper surface of their abdomen is bare and shiny black. Using powerful jaws to excavate tunnels in wood, they build their nests in the ends of logs and areas where bare wood is exposed. Both the male and the female cut ½” circular holes as an entrance to tunnels that run parallel to the surface. The female stores food made from pollen and nectar and then lays her eggs in individual cells. Carpenter bees have one generation per year. Carpenter bees dislike paint and wood finish, so it is important for homeowners to paint or stain all outside surfaces, including exposed areas on decks.


Bumble Bees

Family: Apidae

Example: Bombus spp., Bombus impatiens Common Eastern Bumble Bee


Bumble bees have stout, hairy and robust bodies, ¾ to 1 ½ “ long,  and are usually black, yellow and/or red striped. They are variable in size and color patterns even within the species. Patterns of stripe coloration on the abdomen and thorax are used for identification. Bumble bees are 2-3x’s the size of honey bees and are generalist feeders. They need to forage on a wide variety of plant species and in a wide range of weather conditions, to support a colony. Bumble bees are able to fly in cooler temperatures and lower light levels than many other bees, making them excellent pollinators for higher elevations and in early spring.  They are active in late winter (February), are last in the fall (November), and are pollinators of spring ephemerals such as Dutchmans Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria).  While foraging the female carries pollen in a concave, hairless area surrounded by stiff hairs on the rear legs called a “corbicula”. Bumble bees are known for using a behavior known as “buzz pollination” where they grab the flower in their jaws and vibrate the wing muscles to dislodge the pollen. Buzz pollination is highly efficient in cross pollinating crops such as tomato, pepper and blueberry. Tomato does not require this type of pollination, however bumble bees may produce bigger and better-shaped fruits when they contribute to their reproduction.

Bumble Bees of Virginia (1)

Like honey bees, most species of bumble bees are eusocial and display cooperative brood care. They nest in a variety of places, often choosing nest sites around houses and wood storage sheds. Most bumble bees nest in the ground during the summer, and queens overwinter an inch or two below the soil surface. They have long lived colonies which start in spring and last until fall. When not working, females rest inside the nests. Males have nothing to do with nest building and can be found resting in other locations. Newly mated queens hibernate and do not need vast amounts of honey, but do however, make a small amount of honey to feed the colony during bad weather. Bumble bees produce smaller annual colonies then honey bees, numbering around 50-1500 individuals.  Due to smaller annual population sizes, bumble bees are susceptible to extinction. Twenty eight percent of all North American bumble bees are facing some risk of extinction due to the combined effects of habitat loss and fragmentation, disease, parasites, pesticide use and climate change. The Rusty Patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) population is steeply declining and is estimated to have declined by 80%. It is now found only in isolated areas.


Andrenid Bees (miner or digging bees)

Family: Andrenidae

Examples: Colletes inaequalis Plaster bee, Andrena nubecula mining bee

Andrenid bees are a large sized family of about 750 species,that are important pollinators of crops and fruit trees.  They are about the size of a honey bee but darker, and can be brightly striped. Some are nondescript and black, although others can be bright red or metallic, with wings that appear short for their body type. They are all ground nesters and are one of the first species to emerge in the spring. Miner bees are solitary, but females nest in the ground in large numbers when soil is favorable.  They are only out a few weeks per year (2-4 weeks) when individual females make nests for developing larvae. Andrenid bees rarely sting, are non-aggressive unless handled, but will fly up as a group as a defense mechanism. They spend most of the season as immature bees. Miner bee nests can be identified by ¼” holes found in exposed and well-drained soil, often surrounded by a small mound of soil. They should be left alone, but can be controlled through elimination of bare patches of soil either with mulch or ground covers. In lawns, keep bare patches to a minimum. Ground nesting bees prefer soils with moderate level of disturbance, bare ground to sparsely vegetated areas, and clumping native grasses and can be encouraged to nest in these areas.


Leafcutter Bees

Family: Megachilidae

Examples: Megachile spp, Dianthidium spp.

Leafcutters are valuable and efficient pollinators found in the Megachile family. According to the USDA, one alfalfa leafcutter can pollinate as many plants as 20 honey bees.  They are also highly efficient pollinators in greenhouses.  Leafcutter bees are small and solitary, and are considered to be cavity nesters. Nesting in ready-made cavities or soft rotting wood, they cut out small pieces of leaf in perfect circles to fill a nesting area for immature bees. Here, they build cells sealing them with a little piece of leaf, or even petals.  Adults are important and beneficial pollinators of crops and native plants. Leafcutters look similar to honey bees, but are darker in color. Adults do not have pollen baskets on their hind legs, but collect pollen on hairs on their underside of the abdomen.  Non-aggressive unless handled, they also make excellent garden pollinators. Home gardeners can encourage nesting behavior by building bee houses.


Orchard/Mason Bees

Family: Megachilidae

Examples: Osmia spp

Mason bees, also known as orchard bees, are frequently metallic blue or green, many are blackish and one species is rust red. All mason bees are solitary and do not produce honey or beeswax.   Mason bees make excellent pollinators and are very productive in pollinating spring flowers and fruit and nut orchards. They are solitary bees that use mud as a masonry product to seal off the entrance hole when making nests in dark cavities such as hollow stems or holes made by other insects. There are 300 species found in North America, and are cultivated in different parts of the world to improve pollination of orchard fruit and nuts, as an alternative to honey bees.  An individual mason bee can visit up to 60,000 flowers in its lifetime, and like the bumble bee, will forage in colder temperatures and earlier in the spring.  Females carry pollen from plant to plant on the underside of their hairy abdomen, and it is carried dry and scraped off in the nesting hole. Each egg is sealed in a chamber and sealed with mud. Mason bees need a supply of mud nearby, and will search for areas where it can be found.  They are gentle enough to touch, rarely sting and their stinger is unbarbed. Homeowners and farmers will find that mason bees are easily raised by providing nesting houses. These are affordable to buy already constructed or can be made at home with affordable materials.


Sweat Bees

Family:  Halictidae

Examples: Agapostem viriscens

Lasioglossum spp.

Sweat bees are beneficial bees that occur worldwide, are usually dark colored and often bright metallic color. They are attracted to the salt in perspiration and can be a nuisance to anyone working or entertaining outdoors in the heat of summer. Most are ground nesters, and a few species will nest in wood. Females make vertical chambers with side passages that lead to nesting chambers. In these chambers they leave the egg with a mass of pollen and nectar with the egg laid on top. Some species of sweat bees are considered “eusocial” and exhibit cooperative brood care with a queen and defined caste system. Some species of sweat bees are nocturnal, active only at dusk or early evening. Repellents can be used to discourage visits from sweat bees during outside activities. They will sting if disturbed, but the sting is considered minor.


Cuckoo Bees

Families: Apidae, Halictidae, Megachilidae

Examples: Spheodes spp, Coelioxys spp. (Cuckoo Leafcutter)

Cuckoo bees only lay eggs in the constructed nests of a few bee species and practice kleptoparasitic behavior. They enter the nest of a pollen collecting species to lay eggs in the cell made by the host bee.  The Cuckoo bee larvae consumes the host larvae’s food (pollen ball) and may kill and eat the host larva.  Some species of parasitic bumble bees can infiltrate nests of nonparasitic bumble bees, lay eggs, and kill and replace the queen. Often, the kleptoparasitic bee is similar in appearance to the host.  Females lack pollen collecting structures, have reduced body hair, and do not construct their own nets.




Great photos that can be used; public domain

Teaching garden photos by MG photographer 


The Fairy Garden

Fairy gardens are a trend which recently have become very popular in the United States. Garden centers everywhere now have sections with plants and accessories for the fairy gardener. Early fairy gardens are believed to have existed to draw good luck. According to legends, fairies are typically harmless creatures but they can have a dark side. During the ancient times, many new parents believed their babies could be replaced by baby fairies, called “changelings.” These replacements would have odd characteristics that included physical defects and developmental problems. Keeping a fairy garden was believed to please the fairies and lowered the chance of your child being “changed” or replaced.  First introduced in the US in 1893 at the Japanese Pavilion of the Chicago Worlds Fair, fairy gardens began as bonsai dish gardens and became popular after a feature article in the New York Times.

A Fairy garden can be found at the Teaching Garden and is lovingly tended by Master Gardener Eileen Murphy. Eileen has been a MG since 2015. and the bed leader of this garden since 2016.  She describes her garden as a “magical place, a little kingdom for fairies to romp and play”. You can find Eileen at her garden on most Tuesday mornings with various interns as helpers. This bed is in full, hot sun so Eileen has chosen plants that do well in these conditions including a Sedum ground cover.  She does not water except in times of extreme drought since the garden contains many succulents. Eileen  removed a weeping pussy willow since it attracted Japanese beetles, and has added dwarf spruce and other plants. She has also added some great fairyland miniature decorations that make the garden special including a main house, swimming pool and paths. The fairy home even has its own vegetable garden on the property! This year Eileen is adding some small annuals such as ice plant for pops of color.



Home gardeners can also create a magical fairy gardens with tiny houses, chairs, lawns and ponds – fairy worlds which can be created in any space – inside or out. A corner of a flower bed, under a tree, in a pot on the patio; they are so small they’ll fit in any space.  Fairy dish gardens or terrariums make an excellent gifts and most garden centers have plenty of decorations you can add. Design ideas can be found on social media and in gardening books. We have included references below.

The plants you select should naturally stay small or  trimmed to stay tiny.  Choose annual and perennial flowers that bloom at the height of your growing season and if brought indoors, will do well as indoor plants the remainder of the year.  When selecting plants for your garden, consider choosing varieties that will allow you to create a realistic miniature landscape. Fairy garden enthusiasts recommend at least one plant from each of the following categories:

  • Groundcovers that mimic grass
  • Shrub-like plants that imitate bushes
  • Trailing plants that creep over tiny arbors and gazebos
  • Tree-like plants providing the perfect shady spot

Be sure to think about the location where you’ll keep your Fairy Garden and select plants that will thrive in its conditions.

  • Full sun means plants will perform best with eight or more hours of direct sun per day.
  • Sun means plants will perform best with six to eight hours of direct sun per day.
  • Part sun means plants will perform best with four to six hours of direct sun per day.  If you live in a very hot dry climate, plants that say “full sun” or “sun” generally perform better in part sun conditions in the summer months when the heat is especially intense.
  • Part shade means plants will perform best with no more than four hours of sunlight.
  • Shade means plants will perform best with no more than two hours of diffused sunlight.
  • Full shade means plants will perform best in situations where there is never direct sunlight (i.e., a northern exposure).

Have fun creating your Fairy Garden! Its a great way to get children involved and a fun place for them to play. They enjoy helping pick out decorations and a fun way to teach them about gardening basics.



Fairy Garden Plant List: Fairy Garden Plant List

The Fragrance Garden

Master Gardeners of PWC , Teaching Garden

A very unique garden at the Teaching Garden is the Fragrance Bed, which is designed to give us scents throughout the year.  Master Gardener Ruth Johnston  (Scizzorhands!) has been the bed leader for this garden and a Master Gardener for 9 years. Other bed leaders at the Teaching Garden rely on Ruth to help with deer repellent spraying and answers to many questions about insects and plant diseases. She has much experience from her many years of gardening at home.  Ruth came up with the idea for this garden, designed it and brought many plants from her home gardens.  You can find Ruth tending to this bed most work days. Throughout the season, interns and other master gardeners help Ruth with the weeding, mulching and edging.

Ruth describes the Fragrance Bed as a mix of shrubs and perennials with year round fragrance and beauty. Among the spring bloomers are the…

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Cooks Gardens Update, 5/29/18. by Amye Foelsch

Gardening tasks grow like weeds!

When we started this season, our initial focus was all about installing the fence around our new cook’s garden, but April quickly turned to the end of May. The ever-growing list of gardening tasks could not be ignored: cover crops needed to be managed, compost added, weeds removed, trellises erected, seeds spread, cool season crops harvested, all our heat loving vegetables needed to get into the ground, and work still needed to be done on the new fence. Slugs and rolly pollies decided our Napa cabbage and potato plants would be their meal of choice and a decent size black snake kept things interesting at the compost pile. That weedy list of gardening chores did not deter us and as we exchanged stories, laughter, skill-sets and noshed on Charlene’s delicious baked goods, those early gardening chores were happily completed. As we enter the month of June our garden is in good shape!

These past weeks have been a good reminder of the power of teamwork. I’ve never built a fence before and mentally tagged it as a daunting task, but when surrounded by good teachers, hands-on experience, and an encouraging environment, the sky’s the limit when it comes to learning and tackling those intimidating tasks.


Parsnip muffins made by our creative baker Charlene Toloso


When visiting the Teaching Garden  at the Benedictine Monastery,  9535 Linton Hall Road, Bristow, VA 20136, here are the maps of the Cooks Gardens for 2018