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Good morning gardeners!

Join Joyce today at 1:00 pm on Ask a Master Gardener for an introduction to permaculture: part 1. As always, while we have a theme for today, we're happy to answer any gardening questions.

Join us on zoom:

Upcoming events
  • All about garlic with Susie. Thursday November 3 at 1:00 pm on Ask a Master Gardener.
  • Little Forest workshop series at the Senior's Centre. Learn about Kingston's ecozone and the forest types and trees native to our area. Saturday October 29 at 10:00 am. To register email
Overwintering habitat for stem-nesting bees

Last week Nancy gave an excellent presentation around providing safe winter habitat for our pollinators. Here's a great resource from University of Minnesota extension that includes a list of plants used by stem-nesting bees.

Need a native grass that attracts slug snackers extraordinare?

“If you build it, they will come. We built our first beetle banks in 2012, by 2015 we were really seeing a difference, and seeing many beetles. We see them everywhere – we catch them in our mousetraps. For example, when we dig potatoes now, we usually see one small, black beetle for every potato, and those beetles eat scads of the Colorado potato beetle."
Andy Dunham, Grinnell Heritage Farm

Too often we only think of trees and shrubs for fall colour, but this week I can't stop admiring the spectacular fall colours of Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium).
Here's a picture I took yesterday at Lakeside of a first year plug of Little Bluestem along with Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium) and Smooth Rose (Rosa blanda).

I've also got at patch of Little Bluestem on the sunny, gravelly edge of my ditch. Little Bluestem can handle salt, grass, drought and poor soil.

Tara Mitchell, roadside realm: the unseen realm of little bluestem grasslands
Tara Mitchell, in her article on the roadside realm, says that:
"When the soils are dry and infertile and the land is sufficiently exposed to the wind and the beating sun, there exists (when the mowers allow) extraordinary beauty in long stretches of little bluestem grassland. These grasslands may not be particularly noticeable during the summer, but by late August, when the foliage turns a coppery-red hue and the fluffy white seeds glint in the sunlight, the land is transformed. When mixed with the pink haze of purple lovegrass in bloom and a sprinkling of goldenrod, rabbit tobacco, and aster, the combination can be stunning." 

Doesn't this make you dream of reimagined roadsides?
Featured in Shaun Booth's list of native plants for stunning winter interest, Little Bluestem's fall colour is one of the many reasons it was awarded the Perennial Plant Association (PPA)'s 2022 Perennial Plant of the Year®.

Daniel Halsey, Permaculture Research Institute

Another reason, building on Nancy's talk last week, is Little Bluestem's importance to native pollinators and other beneficial insects. In this Minnesota research, they found that Little Bluestem supported at least 11 native pollinators, including several threatened or endangered butterflies like the Dakota skipper and powershiek skipperling. Songbirds love the seeds. And it offers important overwintering habitat for beetles, bumblebees and other beneficial insects.

Ground beetle vs slug. H.St./Youtube

Last week Janis asked how to control slugs that were snacking on her crucifers. Nancy suggested attracting toads. I suggested fireflies (who are actually a beetle). What I didn't realized until writing this morning's article is many predacious beetles are "slug snackers extraordinarie".
, says that:
"Unless you garden at night, you aren’t likely to encounter this nocturnal beneficial insect on a regular basis, even though ground beetles are extremely common. Ground beetles: Slug snackers extraordinaire! if you flip over a rock or a log and see a dark beetle scurrying around, there’s a very good chance it’s a ground beetle. Both adult and larval ground beetles consume mites, snails, slugs, caterpillars, earwigs, cutworms, vine borers, aphids, and lots of other insects. Each beetle can eat more than its own body weight in prey insects every night.

Because ground beetles like to take shelter in bunch grasses during the day, building a specialized habitat known as a beetle bank is the best way to encourage this beneficial insect. Ground beetles like to climb upwards and away from moisture, so the berms are mounded 12 to 18 inches high.  Ground beetles like to climb upwards and away from moisture, so the berms are mounded 12 to 18 inches high."


How do you attract ground beetles? Build a beetle bank! While we haven't yet built one at Lakeside, I've dreamed of planting a beetle bank ever since learning about them during Janice Keeler's talk on rewilding the veggie garden.

According to Farming with Native Beneficial Insects,
"The beetle bank concept originated in Great Britain to provide habitat for beetles and other beneficial insects that had declined due to the loss of hedgerows and other habitat adjacent to cropland. British farmers have used beetle banks successfully to control grain crop pests like aphids and wheat blossom midges; in some cases they have eliminated the need for pesticides altogether. Additional research suggests that various ground beetle species supported by beetle banks may feed extensively on weed seed, and can play an important role in suppressing crop weeds."

While I've never seen a Little Bluestem cultivar at a nursery in Kingston, if you're interested in cultivars with varying heights, shapes or fall colour, Hoffman nurseries has a comparison chart of the cultivars. Check out the pictures of PPA's Board member top performer picks for their regions (I think it's hilarious that they have a Canada region). Chicago Botanic Garden also trialed 10 species, reporting the results in Evaluation Study of Hardy Native Grasses. This free ebook on gardening with native grasses in cold climates has some excellent information, including a chart on wildflower and grass pairing.

Today looks like another spectacular day for gardening. I think I'll collect some Little Bluestem seeds to propagate for next year's beetle bank.

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