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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Hornets, Feared yet Fascinating

My dogs have brought me some interesting gifts over the years, but when our Marley came up from the field with a hornet nest in his mouth it got my attention pretty quick. By late October, the bee activity is slowing down and since he didn't look any worse for wear, perhaps he didn't pay a price for disturbing the nest. Below is what was left of it, and I have to admit, its construction is pretty interesting. It looked like several paper wasp nests stacked upon one another. The outer covering was missing which is a protection that the nests of paper wasps don't have.

There was one solitary wasp still in one of the cells. From the looks of it, it appears to be a bald-faced hornet. In the picture below it is in the center, a bit to the right. Just the back end is showing.

Bald-faced Hornet
Dolichovespula maculata
cosmopolitan family Vespidae

There is confusion when identifying these insects. The only species of a true hornet in the United States is the European or brown hornet (Vespa crabro). The insect that is really a wasp, but usually thought of as a hornet, is the bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata). The bald-faced hornet is actually a yellow jacket. All of the yellow jackets in the genus Dolichovespula build nests in bushes, trees and sides of buildings, and produce the grey papery nests.

The insect we usually think of when we say yellow jackets build both above and below ground nests, underground more often. Other differences include:
Hornets are 1 - 1 1/2 inches long, whereas yellow jackets are an inch or smaller.
Hornet nests can have 100 to 500 workers, while yellow jacket nests can have up to 5000 workers.
Hornets are black and white, jellow jackets are a variety of coloration.
Hornets feed on other insects and are not attracted by sweets, yellow jackets prey on insects too but are scavengers and like sweets.
Hornets are very aggressive and will sting over and over, but usually do so only if the nest is bothered or they are provoked.
Yellow jackets are also very aggressive, but paper wasps are not likely to sting unless threatened.

Paper wasp

Yellow jacket

The Bald-faced hornets have an interesting life cycle. All the workers die off by November, except for the fertilized queens. In the spring, queens that have overwintered in areas of protection such as hollow trees and rock piles, become active and begin to build a nest. She collects cellulose from rotting wood, chews the wood and by adding her saliva, she makes a paste. With that paste she makes a papery material to construct the nest, starting with the stem and enough brood cells to begin egg laying. She feeds the hatching larvae and these young will take over the duties of nest building, food collection, feeding the larvae and protecting the nest. The queen then never leaves the nest and her purpose is to lay eggs. As the colony grows there may be from 100 to 400 workers.

The chosen spots for the nest can be a few feet off the ground in shrubs or way up in the trees. They are a grey color and can reach two feet in height and a foot across. There have been several occasions where towards the end of the summer season and the leaves are starting to die back, I'll suddenly notice a huge nest in an area I've been mowing past or working around without incident all summer long. A little unsettling to think what could've happened had they felt threatened.

Bald-faced hornets can be considered a beneficial insect in that they feed on insect proteins, therefore reducing the populations of unwanted insects.
As the season progresses and there are fewer larvae to feed, the workers will take nectar, so do help with pollination.
With the arrival of fall and the first hard frost, all the workers die off except for the fertilized queens that will leave the nest and seek protection for the winter. The nests are not reused the following spring.

It is wise to have the utmost respect for hornets and unless the nest is in an area where there is a good chance of disturbing them, it is best to just leave them alone. Here is a good post about the subject of whether or not to destroy hornet nests. The good information is in the comment section.

If you do discover a hornet or wasp nest there are a few ways to handle them. Since the workers will die off with the arrival of the cold season, if it is already near fall, try to just use caution around the nest and leave it alone. If the nest is high up in the trees, there is little chance it would become a threat anyway.

If the decision is to remove the nest there are options:
Commercial sprays can be used to kill them. If you choose this route and try to do it yourself, wait until evening when the wasps are all back in the nest and are quiet. Follow the instructions on the can. If over the next few days you still see activity, you may need to repeat the application.

A way to get rid of the nest without using chemicals is to wait until evening and very slowly and carefully cover the nest with a plastic bag. Leave as little opening at the top as possible and cut the branch holding the nest. Moving slowly, relocate the nest to an out of the way area or to kill them, place the bag in the freezer or lay it in the hot sun. They'll die within a day or two.

Information for this post came from:
Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences Extension Office

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Warming Power of Ginger

Ginger root
Zingiber officinale
Tropical perennial
Native to East Asia and tropical Australia

When it comes to preparing Asian food, there is no comparison between using fresh ginger root and the dried powdered ginger. The spicy, warming, yet sweet taste adds the touch you want in oriental cooking. The powdered version is hotter and spicier. One of the oleoresin compounds, gingerol, is why this rhizome is so spicy.

Traditionally, because of its antimicrobial properties, ginger has been used in cooking to help preserve food against Shigella, E. coli, and Salmonella.
But since it has such a variety of uses, it is one of the most popular herbs and with such positive studies behind it, it is one of the more accepted herbs in Western medicine.
Ayurveda calls ginger the "universal medicine" and it is one of the most prescribed hers in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine).

As a hot tea, ginger is a very healthy tonic and one of the best for improving digestion. Served with lemon and honey, ginger tea is a delicious way to control any type of nausea. Motion sickness, morning sickness and medication induced nausea can all be relieved with ginger. When you sip the tea, you can feel the heat from the tea warm up your core and then spread to your limbs. The term energetics is associated with ginger, which means the distribution of energy. Often circular, the release of heat is followed by a coolness.

At the onset of a cold or fever, start drinking hot ginger tea. By warming you up from the inside, it can stop the shivers.  Ginger stimulates fluid loss by way of sweating or getting stuck mucus flowing again, therefore great for loosening phlegm and relieving sinus congestion.
For headaches, stir two tablespoons of ginger powder into hot water at the first sign of pain.
Sore throats and coughs can be relieved by drinking ginger tea, sucking on ginger candy, taking ginger infused honey right off the spoon or adding it to your hot tea.

Honey, Lemon & Ginger Syrup
Here we have a syrup made up of raw honey, lemons and ginger root. Taken as is or made into a tea, this can be a winning combination to feel better. Honey actually absorbs moisture, called hygroscopic, so it is helpful for cold symptoms as it can bring moisture to tissues in the throat. Being antibacterial, it helps to kill infection causing bacteria.

Lemons have both antibacterial and antioxidant qualities. Rich in vitamin C, the antioxidants in lemons help with the common cold as free radicals are destroyed within the body.

Ginger candy is a great thing to have on hand to suck on when nauseated, have a belly ache, a cough or a sore throat. It makes a sweet, spicy snack on its own or can be added to a cup of hot tea.
Ginger candy can be found at most health food stores but here is a recipe to make your own:
Ginger candy found in the store is usually a pale yellow color because sulfates were added to keep the nice color. Unsulphured is available and the color will be a more tan color.
Recipe by Rosalee de la Foret

1 lb of fresh ginger root
1 lb of sugar
kitchen scale
wax paper

Use a spoon to gently scrape off the papery sheath on the ginger. Wash the root.
Slice it fairly thin or cut into chunks.
Place the ginger pieces into the sauce pan and cover with water.
Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes or until the ginger looks translucent.
Drain off the liquid which is really ginger tea but reserve 1/4 cup.
If you want to save the tea to drink later, dilute it since it'll be very strong.
To figure how much sugar you'll need, weigh the ginger. You'll be using the same amount of each.
For example, if you have 8 oz.volume of liquid, you'll need 8 oz. by weight of sugar.
Return the ginger pieces, the measured amount of sugar and the 1/4 cup of reserved liquid.
Turn the stove to medium high and stir frequently.
The sugar will quickly dissolve.
Turn the heat down and let it simmer until the liquid is reduced and crystalizes.
Stir frequently, you don't want the ginger to scorch.
Once the mixture looks a bit dry, lay the ginger pieces out onto a sheet of wax paper and let it cool.
Store in a covered container in a cool place. 

Ginger speeds up the delivery of healthy plant chemicals into the bloodstream. Working as a blood thinner, it increases blood flow throughout the system. This helps to relieve cramps and menstrual discomfort, cold fingers and toes from spasms, even helps prevent blood clots.  Symptoms of stagnant blood often results in pain. Ginger helps to relieve these symptoms as it dilates blood vessels and increases circulation.

Anti-inflammatory actions make ginger widely used for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid pain.
Taken internally as a tea is wonderful, but also take advantage of hot ginger compresses.
Muscular aches, abdominal cramps, kidney stone attacks, bladder inflammation, back ache, neck pain, neuralgia, etc. can be relived using a hot compress.

Directions for making a hot compress:
Bring a gallon of water to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Meanwhile wash but don't peel a ginger root. Grate the root by hand using a rotating, clockwise motion instead of the usual back-and-forth movements. This helps keep the tough fibers from building up on the grater. Put the grated in the center of a clean muslin cloth cut into an 8-inch square. Draw up the corners and tie with a string. Once the water is no longer boiling, squeeze the grated ginger bag so some juice drops into the water, then lower the bag down into the pot. Cover and let simmer for about 7 to 10 minutes. Press the bag along the side of the pot to help release the juices. The water should turn a golden yellow. Remove the bag and set aside.
Holding a hand towel by the ends, dip the middle part into the pot to get it hot and wet. Carefully squeeze it out and lay it over the site of pain. Lay the ginger bag on the towel and cover this with another dry towel to help hold in the heat. Keep in place for 45 minutes, rewarming the towel in the hot water to keep the compress hot. Repeat every 4 hours or as needed.

Fresh grated ginger infused in olive oil creates a wonderful, warming oil to be used as a pain relieving massage oil, a post-workout muscle oil to prevent cramping, a chest oil for congestion, a bath oil or as a foot or hand rub to bring back circulation to cold fingers and feet.
To make your own, you'll need a bit of patience:
 Shred enough ginger root to give you 2 cups. Add to a small crock pot and cover with 3 cups of olive oil. Turn the crock pot onto the lowest setting, you don't want the oil to boil. Leave the cover ajar to allow the moisture from the ginger to evaporate. If the moisture cannot evaporate your oil will easily mold. Keep an eye on the pot. Should it begin to bubble, turn off the crock pot for a bit and then turn back on. The process will take about two days. The greenish color of the olive oil should turn a golden color and you'll be able to smell the zing of ginger in the oil. Once done, strain the oil by stretching a cheesecloth over a bowl held in place with a rubber band around the bowl. After the oil has strained through the cloth, gather up the ends and press the remaining juices out with a wooden spoon. Allow the oil to sit for a day so any moisture left in the oil will settle to the bottle and you can pour the oil into a jar, leaving the water behind.
If you don't want to make your own ginger oil, you can purchase it through the given link.

ginger oil
Too often we'll buy a ginger root and end up throwing part of it away because we don't use it fast enough. Here are a few ways to store it:

Don't frustrate yourself trying to peel the knobby thing with a potato peeler. Here are a few methods:

1. Use a spoon to remove the papery sheath. Use circular motions to grate it so the fibrous and stringy root doesn't get hung up on the grater. Lay the shredded ginger out onto a piece of plastic wrap, roll up and twist the ends to close. Put into the freezer and snip off a piece when needed.

2. Slice the peeled root into thin slices, lay out onto a tray or plate and freeze. Once frozen store the pieces in a ziploc plastic bag. Handy to have on hand to add a piece to a cup of tea.

3. Freeze the whole root without bothering to peel first. Frozen ginger will grate smoothly without all the strings.

4. Use alcohol to preserve:
Puree it with a little vodka and store in the fridge
Cover ginger slices with sherry and store in the fridge
Peel the whole root, put into a glass jar, cover with vodka and store in the fridge.

Information for this post came from Rosalee de la Foret and John Heinerman