Episode 2: What To Do About Carpenter Bees?


About This Episode

In this week’s episode of Southern Living’s Ask Grumpy podcast, SteveBender, also known as the Grumpy Gardener and his sidekick Nellah McGough tackle a reader’s question on how to deal with carpenter bees. Plus, Grumpy shares his tip of the week on preventing blossom-end rot.

Carpenter Bee
Carpenter Bee. Photo by Bob Peterson from North Palm Beach Florida

Question: My daughter has problems with carpenter bees flying around her porch and boring holes into the wood. What can she do to stop this?

Grumpy Gardener Answer: If she'd like to have her porch, let me explain a little bit about carpenter bees. Carpenter bees to most people look exactly like a bumblebee. They're black, they're about the same size. The way you can tell the difference is the abdomen on a bumblebee is all kinds of fuzzy and hairy. The abdomen on a carpenter bee is black and shiny. Now, what a carpenter bee does which makes it such a pain is it bores holes into wood, and they're generally about a half-inch in diameter, and they are absolutely round. And they can bore into any wood imaginable, doesn't matter if it's pressure-treated or not. And what they do is they bore holes in there so that they can lay eggs in there, and reproduce. They don't eat the wood, they just chop it with their mandibles, and throw it out. And so the easiest way to see if you have carpenter bees, besides ‘em flying around, you'll see little piles of sawdust beneath the hole. Over time, they will come back to the same hole every year and enlarge it. And if you don't do anything, it can really weaken the wood. So if you see these things, don't ignore it. What I would do is I would go to the garden center, and you can get these little cans of expandable foam. And you just stick the little nozzle into the hole and spray it, and it fills up the entire cavity that the eggs are laid in, or the larvae might be in, and then it kills them. And then once that foam is drying out, you don't want to just leave the hole there, because next year the bees will come back to the same hole. So fill that hole up with something like caulk or wood filler, and then just paint it over and they won't come back.

Nellah: I have these chairs on my front porch, and every year they bore holes up underneath the arms. Don't the eggs fall out? How are they upside-down?

ANSWER: The reason that they do that is kind of clever, actually. Because if they bored holes from the top, they would all drown every time it rains. They want it to be nice and dry. So they only bore from the sides or from underneath. And once they get down into there, they make a curve, they're not just sitting at the bottom of the hole, they will go along the arm of the chair. And that's the reason why you have to kind of fill up that cavity, because they enlarge it every year, and you'll get more and more bees.

Grumpy's Weekend Gardening Tip

How To Prevent Blossom End Rot

Spring is coming, and people are going to be heading out to the garden centers, and not only are they gonna be buying flowers, but they're gonna be buying those veggies. And so, I want to talk today about a very common problem that happens to people who are growing tomatoes, or peppers, or eggplants, or squash. And that's a problem called blossom end rot.

This is a very common problem. It's not your fault, so don't feel bad. This is going to happen to about anybody who grows these vegetables. What's going to happen is, you're gonna have your plants in the ground, out in the garden, or they could be in a container. And you're gonna get fruit start to set on that, and start to grow, and you're gonna be very, very happy. And then, you're gonna come out one day, and you're gonna see the end of the tomato, let's use that for an example, it's the end of the tomato that's opposite the stem, so we call that the blossom end.

And what happens is you notice that as the tomato is ripening, the blossom end starts to turn dark, dark, dark, ever darker, and finally it turns black, and it rots. Well, that's not something you're gonna put on a sandwich. And then, to make things worse, the next time a tomato starts to ripen, the same thing happens. And you go, "What the heck is going on here? Am I doing something wrong?"

Well, there's a couple of ways that are easy to fix this. This is a physiological problem, it's not a disease, it's caused by a nutrient deficiency in the soil, which is a deficiency of calcium. Tomato plants, and the actual tomatoes themselves, they need enough calcium to form strong cell walls, just like people need enough calcium to get strong bones. And if they don't have enough calcium, (laughs) the tomato's cell walls, they basically just turn to mush, and that's why you get the rot.

Now, why could you have a deficiency of calcium in the soil? Well, it could be that your soil that you're using doesn't have enough calcium in it. And you can add this easily by just going to the garden center and getting a back of ground lime, and just sprinkling maybe a half a cup around each tomato plant and water it in. Lime is a great source of calcium, and it's also very inexpensive. So, that's one way. Another thing is if the drainage in the pot, or where you're growing your tomatoes isn't very good, it injures the roots of the tomato plant if it stays wet too long. And because it does that, you may have plenty of calcium in the soil, but the roots aren't taking it up. In that case, it's always good to put veggie plants in well-drained areas, and if you can plant 'em in, in a container, that's much easier to control. So, the soil should stay moist, but the excess can drain away.

So, those are the two big causes of blossom end rot. And if you'll follow these tips, the problem will correct itself on it's own and you'll get good tomatoes before the summer's done.

About Ask Grumpy Podcast

Introducing Ask Grumpy, a new podcast featuring Steve Bender, AKA Southern Living’s Grumpy Gardener. For more than 20 years, Grumpy has been sharing advice on what to grow, when to plant, and how to manage just about anything in your garden. Tune in for short episodes every Wednesday and Saturday as Grumpy answers reader questions, solves seasonal conundrums, and provides need-to-know advice for gardeners with his very Grumpy sense of humor. Be sure to follow Ask Grumpy on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen so you don't miss an episode.

Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript does not go through our standard editorial process and may contain inaccuracies and grammatical errors.

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