Hillsborough Extension Garden Blog

Solutions you can use for your gardening problems.

April is Water Conservation Month April 10, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 8:48 am

by Tampa Bay Water

The Tampa Bay Water Board of Directors joined the State of Florida and local governments in declaring April as Water Conservation Month. This annual proclamation underscores the need to conserve water during Florida’s typical spring dry season by highlighting a variety of programs, promotions and public awareness campaigns aimed at improving water use efficiency.


In April, May and June, Florida’s temperatures begin to increase while the state’s rainfall tends to decrease. As temperatures rise, so does outdoor water use. Residents and businesses can take a number of steps to save water outdoors during our traditional dry times:


  • If it rains at least ½ inch on or just before your watering day, skip your day.
  • Conduct a visual inspection of your irrigation system by turning the system on to each zone for less than 5 minutes and
    visually looking for broken or misdirected heads. Correct these problems and water your landscape only.
  • If you are planning new plants this spring, use Florida-friendly landscaping to put the right plant in the right place and
    save water.
  • Hold off on installing new sod, trees or plants until the summer rainy season.
  • Make sure your landscape beds have at least 3 inches of organic
    mulch around each plant but not touching the plant trunk. Mulch cools the plant roots and helps retain moisture.
  • Use a hose nozzle when hand watering or washing your car. It saves water by keeping the water from running constantly.
  • Mow your grass on the highest setting possible (3 to 4 inches) and never mow more than one-third of the grass height.
     This helps to increase plant root depth and make it more tolerant to dry conditions.


And as always, know your watering day(s) and times. Watering restrictions differ by city and county.


Photo 3

For questions, please contact our office. The Hillsborough County Extension Service is located at 5339 County Road 579, Seffner, Florida 33584. Our office hours are Monday –  Friday from 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM.


The Africanized Honey Bee – part 4 of 4 March 2, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 9:28 am

By Nancy Ham, Master Gardener and Advanced Bee Keeper

What is being done to protect our human population and the managed colonies of European bees?


The Africanized Honey Bee (AHB) is believed to have entered Florida in 2002. It probably entered the state as a stowaway on a cargo ship in one of the deep-water ports. Since its arrival, it has spread throughout the state and has been reported in all counties south of the Tampa Bay area, including Hillsborough County, and certain counties as far north as the panhandle. It is unknown how far the species can spread due to its poor adaptability to cold.

As noted in a previous post, homeowners need to “bee- proof” their property to discourage feral swarms from establishing colonies near humans. This of course does not guarantee swarms will not find a home in an inappropriate place. A true swarm usually leaves within a few hours or days and if left alone will leave. However, once the swarm starts building a new home, they will become defensive as they now have something to defend.

I have spoken to many homeowners who enjoy having feral hives near their homes and report no contact between humans and bees. I understand their delight and even the possibility of increased pollination. However, the official recommendation is to have the colonies removed if close to human activity.

With the introduction of the AHB into Florida, it is estimated most feral colonies are Africanized. The risk of allowing these colonies to remain near humans must be carefully weighed, as the potential consequences cannot be known.

How can a feral colony be removed?

Florida law allows any registered bee keeper to remove swarms and colonies. A homeowner can locate a registered bee keeper themselves or can access The Florida Department of Agriculture, Consumer Services Bee Removal list – entnemdept.ifas.ufl.edu/afbee/resources/homeowners.shtml

Also on the same list are the names of Certified Pest Control Operators who specialize in bee eradication.

What else is being done to control this invasive species?


The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) maintains swarm traps around Florida’s deep water ports, along Interstate 10 and along the Alabama border. These traps are checked periodically, the bees eradicated and samples sent to their lab in Gainesville to determine the probability of Africanization.

Photo of Africanized Honey Bees in swarm trap

Africanized Honey Bees in swarm trap. Photo credit: Michael O’Malley, UF

The fast growing hobby of backyard bee keeping is also a means of control. Whenever a void occurs in nature some species will move into the area to take advantage of any resources. When an area has managed bee colonies with European genetics, the competition for resources can discourage feral hives from settling in an area. Recognizing this to be true has resulted in Florida laws that allow bees to be kept in urban areas.

Ultimately, we must recognize we will probably never eliminate the AHB from the state. We will have to be smart in protecting families and ourselves. Registered bee keepers know what steps to take to minimize Africanization of their managed hives and homeowners need to do their part.

References and further information:

UF/IFAS Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab-


UF/IFAS African Honey Bee Extension and Education Program-



The Africanized Honey Bee, part 3 of 4 February 20, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 3:43 pm

By Nancy Ham, Master Gardener and Advanced Bee Keeper

How can a homeowner protect themselves and family?


Most people have seen the re-enactments on TV of a tethered animal attacked by a swarm of bees. They may have heard the stories on the news or read them in newspapers of tree trimmers attacked. Inevitably, within a day, an “expert” is quoted by the news source proclaiming the bees are Africanized. This of course serves to scare the listener or reader into believing they are in eminent danger while outside. Add to that is the “Killer Bee” description coined by the media. As reported in previous posts, the human eye cannot detect the difference between the Africanized Honey Bee (AHB) and the European Honey Bee (EHB). The “expert” who usually remains anonymous is basing their opinion on the bees’ behavior and it should be remembered that almost all insects that maintain colonies will defend the colony when threatened. This includes yellow jackets, hornets and paper wasps to name a few.

Photo of an Africanized Honey Bee and an European Honey Bee

European Honey Bee and Africanized Honey Bee. Can you tell the difference? Photo credit: UF/IFAS

Because we live in a semi tropical area of the state, the social insects mentioned above can remain active year round although they will maintain larger numbers of members in the hive during the hotter months of the year.

What this means for the homeowner is the need for year round vigilance. The University of Florida has an excellent document called Bee-Proofing for Florida Citizens. This document provides homeowners steps to bee-proof your home. This document can be accessed at the below address at this link: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in741

What should a person do if encountering an angry swarm of bees?


Leave the area – in other words, RUN. Run and look for an enclosure to enter. This could be your home, your car or a shed. Some of the bees will probably enter the enclosure, but once inside many will become confused and fly to the windows looking for a way out. Even if some continue to pursue you and additional stings are sustained, the number will be fewer than if remaining outside.

Standing your ground and swatting at the bees just angers them more. Jumping in a pool or pond also is ineffective in the long run, as the bees will just wait for you to surface.

If stung multiple times, what should I do?


If you know you are allergic to bee venom, you should have already been prescribed an epinephrine (epi) pen from your doctor. The epi pen will give you about 20 minutes to seek medical attention. If you do not know whether or not you are truly allergic, monitor your vital signs for any indication of respiratory distress and seek help if indicated. Only a tiny percentage of people are truly allergic to bee venom. Most people experience redness, swelling and itching. This is a normal reaction to any insect venom.

With proper attention to our outdoor living spaces and awareness of the risks posed by all stinging insects, we should all be able to enjoy the awesome climate in which we live.

References and further information:

UF/IFAS Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab-


UF/IFAS African Honey Bee Extension and Education Program-



The Africanized Honey Bee , Part two of Four February 19, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 11:01 am
By Nancy Ham, Master Gardener and Advanced Bee Keeper

What is the difference between the AHB and bees managed by bee keepers?  

Photo comparison of African Bee and European Bee

Comparison of an Africanized Honey Bee on left and a European Honey Bee on the right. Photo source: Scott Bauer USDA/ARS

All honey bees managed by bee keepers in Florida are descendants and hybrid mixes of the European or Western bee subspecies. They are usually fairly docile and easy to manage. That said, any colony could become defensive under certain circumstances such as harassment, rough handling, bad weather etc. Let me repeat a point made in earlier postings, and that is the Africanized Honey Bee (AHB) and the European HB (EHB) look exactly alike to the human eye. The only way to tell them apart is under a dissecting microscope and by a trained technician. This is partly why the homeowner is urged to avoid contact with even a seemingly docile swarm. The differences between the two subspecies are in their behavior. Below is a list of some of these behaviors. Dr. William Kern, Jr. of the University of Florida who is a recognized expert on the AHB supplies much of this information.

  1. The AHB can be intensively defensive of the colony. It has been observed they will pursue an intruder 10 times further than the EHB with 10 times the number of bees. (Kern, 2014)
  1. They can become defensive with an intruder at twice the distance of the EHB.
  1. AHB swarm many more times per year than the EHB. Swarming is the hives way of asexual reproduction and all bees are genetically programmed to do so. This involves the queen and half or more of the worker bees leaving the hive to establish a new colony leaving behind in the parent colony half or less of the workers and a new or emerging queen. In effect, one hive now becomes two. (Refer to a previous posting for more information on swarming)
  1. AHB will abscond more frequently if disturbed. When the colony absconds, unlike swarms, all the bees will abandon the hive sometimes leaving behind unattended brood and honey.
  1. AHB colonies grow faster than EHB colonies. The queen lays more eggs, produces more drones (males)and the development time is shorter.
  1. The AHB tends to establish colonies in smaller cavities than the EHB. They maintain smaller numbers of bees and swarm more frequently. Homeowners should be especially cautious when bees are found in meter boxes and other small cavities around the home.
  1. The AHB is more likely to establish a new home in exposed areas, such as tree limbs or outdoor gym equipment. They are also more likely to choose sites lower to the ground placing them in closer vicinity to humans.
Photo of a technician measuring an AHB wing.

Technician measuring an Africanized Honey Bee wing. Photo credit: Scott Bauer USDA/ARS

One additional characteristic of the AHB that has greatly aided in their success is their increased resistance to the pests and diseases that are devastating our EHB colonies. This is believed to be due to their evolving along side the pests and diseases the EHB wasn’t previously exposed to. References and further information: UF/IFAS Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab- http://entnemdept.ifas.ufl.edu/honeybee/index.shtml UF/IFAS African Honey Bee Extension and Education Program- http://entnemdept.ifas.ufl.edu/afbee/ Kern, W. (2014). Africanized Honey Bees (Power Point slides)


The Africanized Honey Bee – Part One February 6, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 10:04 am

By Nancy Ham, Master Gardener and Advanced Bee Keeper

What is an Africanized honey bee?

The Africanized honey bee (AHB) is a cross between an African bee and a Western bee. Both bees are races of the species Apis mellifera and it is not unusual for two races or subspecies of a species to cross breed. Think about the cross of a Poodle and a Labrador. The result is a very cute and desirable puppy. But all cross breeding does not always produce the outcome desired. In the cross between the African and Western bee, the outcome has been very undesirable and has forever changed beekeeping in South America and in the southern United States.

This is a picture of an Africanized honey bee queen.

Africanized honey bee queen. Photo credit: Scott Bauer, USDA/ARS, USDA Photo Gallery

If the Africanized bee is undesirable, how did it come to exist?

In the 1950’s a Brazilian researcher imported 26 African queen bees to Brazil with the belief that he could crossbreed them with the European honey bees used in the beekeeping industry in Brazil and produce a superior race. The African bee evolved in a climate much like the Brazilian climate and he hoped their genetics would strengthen the European bees’ productivity.

One of his observations was that these cross bred colonies were very defensive. Then despite having safeguards in place, an accident released these bees into the environment. Since then, they have mated with the local population and have spread throughout the Americas.

According to Dr. Jamie Ellis, Associate Professor at the Department of Entomology and Nematology at the University of Florida, the AHB is considered to be the most successful invasive species of all times.

What is so undesirable about the Africanized bee?

The most undesirable trait is the defensiveness of the AHB. They are much quicker to go after a perceived threat from further distances than the European honey bee. They will pursue much further and in larger numbers. This characteristic poses a greater threat to unsuspecting individuals than other feral colonies. They also tend to establish colonies in smaller structures and often near homes. Beekeepers have learned to be extra vigilant when attempting to remove colonies from water meters, electrical boxes and other smaller cavities as these small spaces do not appeal to the European bee as much.

References and further information:
UF/IFAS Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab- http://entnemdept.ifas.ufl.edu/honeybee/index.shtml
UF/IFAS African Honey Bee Extension and Education Program- http://entnemdept.ifas.ufl.edu/afbee/


Honey Bee Swarms May 23, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 4:40 pm

By: Nancy Ham, Master Gardener and Advanced Bee Keeper

 During spring and early summer in Florida, homeowners may experience a fascinating phenomenon that can intrigue or alarm them. They will suddenly notice a large cluster of insects in a tree or object near their home that wasn’t in this locate earlier. Upon further investigation they will discover the insects are honey bees. These large clusters of bees are called swarms.

Honey Bee Swarm in Palm Tree credit: W.H. Kern, UF

Honey Bee Swarm in Palm Tree
Credit: W.H. Kern, UF

Why do bees swarm?

Honey bees are social insects that live in colonies of up to or more than 80,000 individuals. Within their colonies the queen lays over 1,000 eggs each day during the spring build up, which allows the colony to dramatically increase in size. The colony therefore is a society made up of thousands of individuals, of which each has a role and function within the colony.

However, the colony is more than just a collection of thousands of individuals. It is also a single entity that acts as a whole for the survival of the colony. This is called a superorganism. One of the functions of a superorganism is reproduction and the way the colony reproduces is by swarming and establishing a new colony separate from the parent colony.

What is a swarm?

When the colony begins preparing to swarm, the workers within the colony select several fertilized eggs and feed these larvae a special diet to create new queens. They usually create multiple new queens to ensure the survival of the parent colony. The older worker bees are the individuals that will leave with the old queen leaving behind the younger nurse bees to care for the brood and the new queen in the colony. In the preparation, the bees may withhold food from the old queen so she loses weight and will be able to fly. Just before they leave the colony, the workers will gorge on food from the colony as they may be without food for a few days.

Honey Bee Queen Cells Credit: Mark Dykes, UF

Honey Bee Queen Cells
Credit: Mark Dykes, UF

Then, at the right moment, the old queen and the older workers will exit the parent colony in a large mass. They usually do not fly a long distance at this time but will land on a structure within a short distance from their parent colony. This is the cluster of bees that suddenly appears in the home owners yard.

While the swarm is hanging out at their first landing area, scout bees are flying in all directions looking for suitable locations to establish a permanent home. This process can take only a few hours or can last a few days. Once a location is selected, the entire swarm will leave for that location.

Swarms usually occur in the spring and early summer as the bees instinctively know they are in a race against time and the availability of food is high. The new swarm must select a new home site, build enough comb to rear the next generations and store food for the coming winter. Not unsurprisingly, it is estimated that most new feral hives do not survive the following winter.

Honey Bee swarm Credit: Michael K OMalley, UF

Honey Bee Swarm
Credit: Michael K OMalley, UF

Can swarms be prevented?

Beekeepers with managed hives in an apiary obviously want to prevent swarms but they are working against mother nature. Losing half or more of the bees from any hive greatly reduces the strength and productivity of the hive. Likely, the beekeeper will not be able to harvest any products from that hive until at least the next fall when the population in the hive has recovered. This has negative economic impact for the beekeeper.

There are a number of things conscientious beekeepers will do to attempt to prevent swarms. One commonly used technique is to split any overcrowded hives. These “splits” are made by literally making two hives from one. This technique simulates an artificial swarm and each hive will have a much smaller populations than the original hive making it less likely to swarm.

An empty super can also be added to the hive creating more space. Bees tend to prefer empty spaces above them and will move into the extra space provided them.

Another swarm management trick is to remove frames of brood from a strong hive and place them in a weaker hive. This may reduce swarming tendencies in the larger hive and help shore up the population of a weaker hive.

One swarm control practice that is also a best management practice (BMP) and provides multiple benefits to the hive is requeening the hive. A young, strong queen will produce more pheromones and lay larger numbers of eggs which tends to discourage swarming.

Other techniques include clipping one of the queens wings so she cannot fly, placing a grid over the hive entrance that prevents the larger body of the queen from exiting the hive, cutting open swarm cells that are found in the hive and even setting up swarm traps around the apiary in an attempt to capture your own swarms.

All of the above only work on hives that are being actively managed by a beekeeper in an apiary. Feral hives have no such oversight and can swarm at will.

Honey Bee swarm Credit: UF/IFAS

Honey Bee Swarm
Credit: UF/IFAS

Are swarms dangerous?

Anytime there is a cluster of insects that can sting, caution should be taken. However, new swarms usually do not exhibit defensive behavior, as they have nothing to defend. They have left their home behind and have not yet begun to build a new home.

But most homeowners will not be able to tell the difference between a swarm and a feral hive. Once the bees start building new comb, they have established a new hive location and will defend the new location.

Although many homeowners express delight in having feral colonies on their property for the increased pollination activity and the joy in watching them, safety of humans and pets must be considered. When bees sting, the victim is injected with venom. Bee stings are uncomfortable and a very small percentage of humans have an allergy to bee venom, which can cause respiratory problems. Sometimes it’s the location of the feral hive that is the concern. If located near human or pet activity, the homeowner should consider removal.

Are they Africanized bees?

All honey bees are programmed to swarm regardless of their genetic makeup. The Africanized honey bees (AHB) does swarm much more often than the gentle European honey bee but that does not mean the swarm in your backyard is Africanized. Although behavioral characteristics can give an indication, identification of the AHB can only be made from lab analysis. The best recommendation for the homeowner is to limit contact with the swarm until it leaves quickly or to contact a registered beekeeper for removal or a licensed pest control operator for eradication.

How are bees removed?

The method of removal is up to the homeowner. Many homeowners are very aware of the value of honey bees and the challenges beekeepers face in keeping them healthy. Destruction of the swarm or colony is not their first choice. In this case, the homeowner can contact a registered beekeeper that is experienced in bee removal. It is important to select a registered and experienced beekeeper to reduce the chance of human or property damage. A registered beekeeper will have the personal protective equipment to safely handle the bees. This will include a veil, possibly gloves and a jacket, a smoker and some type of container to safely transport the bees. As a homeowner, it would be foolhardy to allow someone without the necessary experience and equipment to attempt to remove the bees.

Do not use wasp or hornet spray on the bees. If the bees are sprayed, most beekeepers will not attempt a capture as the likelihood of survival is low and the beekeeper will not be willing to introduce bees carrying pesticides into their apiary.

To find a registered beekeeper trained in bee removal, consult the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) Bee Removal or Eradication List available on their website. Beekeepers on this list are not only registered but have received training in AHB issues. Many of the registered beekeepers on this list offer removal services as part of their business and charge a fee. This should be discussed with the beekeeper to avoid any surprise. If the bees are located inside a wall or in a location not easily accessed, discuss the method of removal before the removal is attempted. Most beekeepers are not licensed contractors and will not be responsible for building repairs.

In the event the homeowner has already sprayed the bees or simply wishes the bees be eradicated quickly, FDACS also lists licensed pest control operators (PCO) on the same list previously mentioned. These operators have received special training in bee eradication and responding to AHB. They are verified as having a valid license and will have the proper personal protective equipment. Only a licensed PCO can use chemicals to eradicate the bees. The PCO has been trained in the use of these chemicals and a registered beekeeper cannot use chemicals to eradicate the bees.

References and more information:

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Bee Removal or Eradication List


UF/IFAS Extension African Honey Bee Extension and Education Program:


Swarm Control for Managed Beehives


For questions, please contact our office. The Hillsborough County Extension Service is located at 5339 County Road 579, Seffner, Florida 33584. Our office hours are Monday –  Friday from 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM.


January’s Garden Money-Saving Tip: Make Your Own Vegetable Stock January 17, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 9:04 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

Make Your Own Vegetable Stock
by Nicole Pinson, Urban Horticulture Agent and Master Gardener Coordinator and
Dr. Mary Keith, Food, Nutrition and Health Extension Agent UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County

I love to cook, and this year one of my resolutions is to make more meals at home. I find chopping vegetables (like weeding!) cathartic, and preparing a tasty, elegant meal for myself is a gift. So, while cooking tonight’s mushroom barley soup (it’s getting really cold in Florida- time to start making and freezing soups!), I thought of this month’s tip.

We chop our veggies and add them to meals. And, some of us are smart enough to save those kitchen scraps and throw them on the compost pile, with the understanding that our kitchen scraps will add nutrients to the compost pile, rendering them into a rich, fertile soil we can later add to more crops or our landscape beds.

I have a suggestion to make those kitchen scraps go even further: use them for stock and then compost them! Two uses for the same valuable “scraps.”

Celery stalks and leaves can be added to soups and stocks. Photo: Carolyn Keeney

Celery stalks and leaves can be added to soups and stocks. Photo: Carolyn Keeney

Homemade stock is easy and lends a delicious base to soups. When I cook, I keep a zip top bag next to the wood chopping block for tops of carrots, onion skins, tomato cores. For tonight’s dinner, my bag was stuffed with onion and garlic skins, carrot tops and bottoms, celery stems and leaves (I actually love to use celery leaves in dishes and as a garnish) and mushroom stems.

Zip top bag filled with stock ingredients. Photo: Nicole Pinson

Zip top bag filled with stock ingredients. Photo: Nicole Pinson

If you have space in the freezer, you can gradually accumulate a good mixture of vegetable scraps over time, to get a better blend of flavors. Vegetables in the cabbage family in particular – turnips, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli – are quite strong-flavored and can overpower the flavor. Once your frozen bag is full, follow Mary’s directions below to make your stock.

Place clean kitchen scraps in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and then simmer uncovered from 15 minutes to 1 ½ hours. The longer cooking will release more flavor if you have the time. Then squeeze or strain all the water out of those vegetables. Just straining them makes a clearer stock, while pressing them will often make a cloudy but thicker stock. I use a wooden spoon in a sieve for pressing, but a potato masher would work well too.

Use the stock immediately in soups or freeze and save for later. Stock will keep for 3-5 days in the refrigerator or 8 months in the freezer. Freeze it in quantities that you will use at one time, so that you can thaw just enough for your next recipe.

After you’ve made your meal with fresh vegetables, use the pieces to make your stock. By making your own homemade stock, you’ll create delicious meals, add more minerals and maybe a few vitamins to your food and use more of the produce you’ve purchased. You will also be able to make it with little or no salt, a big benefit since most commercial stocks and broths are very high in sodium. Then, discard those veggies on your compost pile.

Compost your scraps after using them in stock. Photo: Nicole Pinson

Compost your scraps after using them in stock. Photo: Nicole Pinson

Now, you successfully got “more bang for your buck,” cooking meals at home, making fresh stock and composting. Bon appétit!

Nicole Pinson
Extension Agent – Urban Horticulture
Master Gardener Coordinator
UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County
5339 County Road 579
Seffner, FL 33584-3334
p: (813) 744-5519 X 54145



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