Overwintering Honey Bees in the South

By Catherine Urich, EMGV

As the days of autumn begin to shorten, the bee hives prepare for winter. The queen’s production of eggs will decline in order to reduce the number of bees that need to be taken care of during the cold months. A productive hive requires approximately 40 pounds of honey for the bees to survive an average southern winter. Therefore, the hive will be reduced from 50,000 bees to approximately 20,000. The reduction of the bees is due to the decline of eggs laid by the queen and worker bees dying off. A worker bee’s lifecycle is approximately 28 days during the summer and up to 50 days in the winter. All of the male bees are kicked out of the hive kicking and screaming NOOOOO so the girls will not have to feed them all winter long.

Beekeepers will normally reduce the number of the hive bodies and honey supers on the hive so that it’s more compact and doesn’t overwhelm the bees. It’s important to have one brood chamber and one honey super on each hive. The beekeeper will place an entrance reducer on the hive to prevent rodents from entering and setting up housekeeping during the winter.

Honey and pollen are stored around the perimeter of the brood frame for easy access during very cold weather. The colony will cluster around the queen to keep her warm and fed during cold months. They rotate from outside in to create warmth through their body heat to help keep the brood warm as well as the queen and themselves. The internal temperature of the cluster should remain no lower than 45 degrees regardless of the external temperature. There are winters that the bees will starve or succumb to disease even though they have been well taken care of. Sometimes it’s just bad luck. 

Pests like hive beetles are not normally an issue in the winter because they had rather overwinter in the ground below. Some beekeepers douse the area with a pesticide around the hive to kill the eggs of the beetles. Normally bees do not hang out or land directly in front of the hive.

Food supplies may dwindle during the winter months and the beekeeper will feed with sugar syrup, one pound of sugar to one pound of water. The beginning of February or three weeks before the honey flow starts, the beekeeper will provide pollen patties for the bees to build up their energy to be successful in the spring. Even though there could be snow on the ground, trees will still produce pollen and the worker bees are anxious to collect it. The queen will begin increasing egg production around the same time. Spring is on the way and the hive is beginning to re-BUZZ.

Resources & Further Reading

If you wish to learn more about beekeeping, join your county beekeepers club. Durham’s club meets the third Monday of the month at 7 p.m., currently via Zoom.

Getting started as a beekeeper

The classified ads section of the NC Agricultural Review newsletter is a place to find beekeeping supplies for sale

NC Beekeepers Association

Ask Extension

The current format for Ask an Expert has been retired. It will be replaced by a new, but similar system called Ask Extension. This is a statewide initiative to upgrade the Ask an Expert system and details are still forthcoming.

In the meantime, and beyond, you may contact the Durham County Extension Master Gardener program directly to ask your gardening questions – We are experts, too! Reach us via email: durhammastergardener@gmail.com or telephone: 919-560-0528.

November: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

It appears to be November, not that we could have missed that fact this year.

The accidental cottage garden is a mixed bag this time of year. The driveway border planting has only a few hardy ageratums (Conoclinium coelestinum) and flat-topped white asters (Aster umbellatus) keeping it from looking like a totally neglected weed patch. The kitchen garden looks slightly less morose. The Chrysanthemum ‘Spreads Like Crazy’ is nearly done. There are some black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia fuglida) and three sunflower plants (Helianthus annuus) from seeds donated by wildlife. The other end of the house has Galardia (Galardia puchella) and Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) gracing us with their brightly painted blooms.

Lawn Care

If you have a warm season grass lawn (Bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, centipedegrass, St. Augustinegrass) all you need to do is keep it relatively free of leaves.  If on the other hand you have a cool season grass lawn (tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, fine fescues, and perennial ryegrass), you are still cutting it 3.5 to four inches tall AND keeping it relatively leaf-free. Continue the never-ending war with fire ants.


Not much going on here. If your soil pH is low, less than 6.0 (I’m sure you were astute enough to get it tested before NCDOA starts charging for the service later this month), apply the recommended amount of lime. A good way to incorporate it into the soil is to core aerate the lawn before the application. Wood ashes from your fireplace can be spread on your gardens and shrub beds. Be careful to avoid acid-loving plants such as azaleas, camellias, gardenias, etc.


Let me repeat, “Fall is for planting!” There is still lots of time to add and/or transplant plants in your landscape (per your PLAN, naturally). Plant one-year-old asparagus crowns now. Sow a cover crop* over the veggie garden if it is done for the year. A planting of annual rye, wheat, or barley will help prevent erosion and keep weeds to a minimum. Besides you can just till it into the soil in the spring as a bonus.


After Jack Frost has claimed the last of your herbaceous perennials including existing asparagus they can be cut back to the over-wintering rosettes or the ground. Dead and/or diseased wood can be pruned out at any time. Weeds and undesirable trees can now be removed without the three bottles of water per hour, head sweat band, and insect repellent.


Surely by now you have cleaned up and put away the spray equipment. If not, “Just do it.”

Other stuff to do that will keep you outside and prevent eggnog overdose
As mentioned earlier, add lime where recommended. No fertilizer until spring.

Walk around the yard on mild days and, this year anyway, maybe on some not so mild days. Not only are mild days numbered for the rest of the year, but outside seems to be the safe place to be.

Okay, you can go inside now and order those fruit trees* and vines you’ve been talking about. They will be delivered in time for planting in February or March.  (Did you know hardy kiwi will grow well in a sunny place and produce a prodigious amount of fruit?)

While you are inside look at your landscape plan and make adjustments based on this year’s experiences. I hope you have a great, though perhaps modified, Thanksgiving. Cook enough to share with someone who wouldn’t otherwise have any.

And, stay safe: Wear your mask. Wait six feet apart. Wash your hands. The life you save may be your own.

*Resources & Further Reading
A list of common plant diseases, pests, and other problems you may encounter in your garden in November

Covid-19 information

Winter annual cover crops

NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox

Growing tree fruits and nuts in NC

A Tale of Three Sedges

by Flora O’Brien, EMGV

What’s so great about sedges? They just look like clumps of grass, right? Well, here are three sedges both unusual and interesting for sun, shade and in-between.

Top to bottom: Carex scaposa, Carex Sparkler, Carex Whitetop. Credit Flora O’Brien.

The Cherry Blossom Sedge, (Carex scaposa), has surprising, vibrant, showy pink flowers, something you don’t expect to find in a sedge. The plant grows in clumps, stands about a foot high and has wide arching leaves. It blooms in summer and repeats in the fall. Plant this beauty in part shade to shade in average soil.

Next is Carex phyllocephala, “Sparkler.’ This plant was given to me last winter by a friend. What I love is that it looks like a small palm tree. The foliage is variegated and sits atop one- to two-foot tall cane-like stems. This is also a clump former and does best in part shade to deep shade.

And for the sun, try Rhynchospora colorate or Star Sedge (also known as Whitetop Sedge). The flowers themselves are tiny but have long flowing bracts, white near the flower, then changing to green near the tip. From a distance they look like bobbing white daisies. This plant spreads by rhizomes so it will need to be thinned occasionally. I have included a close-up photo to illustrate the lovely form.

So, don’t pass over sedges believing them to be boring. Check these three out and prepare to be amazed.

Resources & Further Reading https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/rhynchospora-colorata/

Garden Hose Maintenance and Repair

By Ann Barnes, EMGV

A garden hose may not be the most exciting tool you have in your shed, garage, or yard, but it is certainly one of the most essential. Between watering your lawn and garden, washing a vehicle, and keeping your steps or favorite outdoor chair clean, you may find yourself using the garden hose many times per week.

A good hose can last for many years with just a little maintenance. To keep it in its best condition, either coil your hose or hang it after each use. Leaving a hose kinked rather than coiled can cause a weak spot that could later crack and leak. Hoses should also be protected from temperature extremes to prolong the life of the hose materials. If you have an easily accessible spot to hang your hose in a garage, crawl space, or shed, this would be an ideal place to store it when not in use. If keeping it outdoors is the best option for you, try to find a shady spot to coil your hose, especially during the heat of the summer. UV light can degrade the hose, leading to cracks. Once the weather turns cold, lift your hose to drain any water out and move it to a protected location. Don’t allow water to freeze in your hose, as ice will expand and may cause the hose to burst.

Even with proper storage and care, your hose may develop a leak over time. If water is leaking from the connection between the hose and spigot, the repair may be a simple one. There should be a rubber or plastic washer in the coupling that attaches to the spigot (the “female end” of the hose). Simply remove the existing washer and replace it with a new one. Some hose manufacturers recommend replacing the washer every year or so. If you have leaks where a sprayer nozzle connects to your hose, replacing the washer on your sprayer could be the solution there as well. The part is inexpensive and easy to install, so why not buy a bag of washers and replace them when you get your hose out of winter storage each year?

If your hose has developed a crack or hole, you may be able to repair rather than replace it. Small holes or cracks can be repaired with electrical tape or a specialty hose repair tape. Duct tape is not recommended for more than a temporary fix, since it is not designed to be water tight.

A large crack, multiple leaks, or a run-in with a string trimmer may require splicing. This is not a difficult task and is much less expensive than replacing a good hose. You will need a hose mending kit, available from any hardware store. The kit consists of a brass (or plastic) fitting and two clamps. Many kits are designed to fit both 5/8” and 3/4” diameter hoses, but always make sure you are purchasing one that fits the hose you own. To repair the hose, disconnect and drain the hose and cut out the damaged section. Loosen the clamps from the fitting and slide a clamp on each side of the area to be spliced. Next, insert the fitting into the hose. The fitting is designed to fit tightly, so you may need to soak the cut ends of the hose in hot water to soften them first — or repair your hose in the sun on a warm day. Once the fitting is tightly inserted into both sides of the splice, push the clamps as close to the middle of the splice as possible and tighten the clamps with a screwdriver. Now you can reconnect your hose and make sure there are no more leaks.

If the couplings at either end of the hose are bent or otherwise damaged, they can be replaced using a similar technique. In addition to making sure you purchase a correct-diameter kit, check that the kit is for the end you need to replace. The coupling that goes to the spigot is often called the female end, while the side that attaches to a sprayer is the male end. Remove the damaged coupling, slide the clamp onto the hose at the cut end, insert the fitting, then tighten the clamp.

Proper storage and care will help to prevent hose leaks, but even the best garden hose may eventually become damaged. Hopefully, these tips will give you the confidence to repair rather than replace a leaky hose.

Resources & Further Reading