QUESTIONS FOR THE WEEK
are new to San Antonio, what kind of grapes would grow
well in our area?
The grapes recommended for the San Antonio area are mostly
for juice and jelly because of the pest problems encountered
by other varieties. The
varieties recommended are Mars Seedless, Lomanto,
Black Spanish, Champanel and Favorite.
More information about fruit growing in Texas is
available on the PLANTanswers site at:
QUESTION: We are purchasing a new home on the NW side
of San Antonio. The
side yard will be 11 x 110 and the back will be 60 x 24
The only tree left standing is a middling size
pitiful hackberry. It looks to be in fairly good health.
It has a touch of Mistletoe on one branch and the
one other low branch seems to be damaged. It looks like
it will be near the back of the house rather than out
into the yard. According to my bird book the Hackberry
is food to a number of different species of birds, however
if it is going to be a problem or UGLY tree I want the
builder to remove it before we move into our home. Do I want this tree?
I am a bird, butterfly and squirrel lover. I want to
encourage as many animals as possible to visit the yard. Can you suggest several plants/trees and flowers
that would draw the wildlife.
I do not want Grackles, how do I get rid of them
without harming them.
You will be MUCH better off to have the hackberry removed
now than becoming disgusted with it later and having to
pay over $600 to have it removed.
Hackberries do have berries on which birds feed
and deposit the rapidly‑germinating, invasive seedlings
which give the first part of the trees name ‑‑
folks spend half of their time "hacking" the
seedlings and eventually the tree down and out of every
flower bed within 100 miles. If you want a fast‑growing, long lasting,
pest‑free tree, plant a Chinese Pistache
which has berries for birds or an oak (Red Oak or Live
Oak) which has acorns for squirrels.
A list of recommended trees and shrubs for this
area can be found at the PLANTanswers site:
All trees and plants have some disadvantages but I think
the hackberry has too many problems to be considered a
desirable landscape tree.
When replanting, use a smaller specimen and make
sure to locate it at least 30‑50 feet from the house
and not under utility lines because THESE LITTLE TREES
DO GET LARGE!!
QUESTION: What is comfrey used for? How do I propagate
it and when is the best time to plant it in Austin?
COMFREY ‑ Comfrey is a rank‑growing herb
with large "donkey‑ear" leaves that remind one of green sandpaper. It has been promoted as being high
in protein and an excellent
foodstuff, but unfortunately, it's hard to find a suitable
way to eat it. It is widely used as a tea made either from
the leaves or from the roots.
They are easily grown in any good garden soil and
are tolerant of shade. Remove the flower stalks of those grown for
their foliage and propagate by division, root‑cuttings
or by seed (difficult).
Once established it is difficult to eradicate.
Root pieces left in the ground will produce new
is hardy throughout Texas.
Comfrey is not generally recognized as a culinary
herb, it is edible. Like
borage, the leaves are covered with fine hairs.
In Germany, Comfrey is prepared by dipping the
young leaves in batter, then frying them quickly in hot
oil. The leaves
are then drained and served immediately.
QUESTION: We have recently noticed honey bees living
in our very old and gnarly oak tree.
They can be seen coming and going from close to
the base of the tree.
Our first reaction was to try and kill them, but
I remembered watching a show in which people were actually
trying to grow bees in their back yard because the bees
help to create beautiful gardens (pollination and such.)
(1) Will the bees harm the oak tree?
Absolutely not; they have just taken up dwelling in the
hollow of the tree which was already there. In fact, the presence of their bee's wax which lines every bee hive's
interior may prevent further wood decay.
(2) Are they
beneficial to our yard?
Yes, they are beneficial to your yard and to your neighbor's
yards for miles around.
The presence of pollinating insects in urban areas
is on the decline and pollination by insects is critical
to fruit trees and vine crops (cucumbers, cantaloupes,
and (3) How can
tell if they are "killer bees" or the friendly
Whether they are killer (Africanized) bees or not, wild
bees are seldom friendly.
The domestication from their ancestorial swarm
has been lost and they are lean‑and‑mean survivors.
Just keep all motorized equipment away from the
entrance of the hive ‑‑ if you forget, they
will remind you. You
could trap and kill some of the hive inhabitants and we
could send the individuals off for a genetics test to
see if their lineage is from Africa or Italy. However, there is a somewhat painful home test
you can provide. Simply
measure off a 50 yard stretch from the entrance of the
hive. Then take a long plank and hit the entrance of the hive 6 times,
waiting approximately 15 seconds between blows and doing
this at 10 a.m. on a sunny day.
Then run like hell to the end of your 50 yard stretch.
Data indicates that if these are Africanized bees,
you will have approximately 134 stings on your body parts
by the time you have sprinted 29 yards and the bees will
carry your body (in shock from pain and agony!) over the
50 yard marker. If
the bee population is of a wild nature but not Africanized,
data indicates you will have approximately 98 stings on
your body parts by the time you have sprinted 27 yards
but will not be completely comatose by the time you end
the 50 yard stretch. I doubt if you have either of these types
since you say you only "recently noticed honey
bees living in a very old and gnarly oak tree" ‑‑
had they been the Africanized type, we all would have
seen you on the 10 o'clock news being taken to the hospital!!
Here is some more information you might find helpful
‑ enclosed and attached:
All of the
media coverage about Africanized honey bees (dubbed by media as "Killer
Bees" for sensationalism) has to be the supreme insult to a rational public. The media terror has certainly been enthusiastically received by some panic‑prone individuals. Some folks are so inundated with terror they can't write or speak without showing that bees are
on their minds. Telephone
calls from bee‑fuddled people have been pouring
into the Texas Agricultural Extension office. Folks want to know what can bee done! Bee‑ing the responsive group that the Extension Service is, we have written a wonderful fact sheet entitled "Bees And Me". This sheet contains helpful information such
as Killer Bees
in top physical condition can only fly 15 mph. An athletic
person can out run them
and bee gone. A
scared, stung‑and‑hurting semi‑athletic
person who is bee‑serk can run
rings around the ill‑tempered bees.
more good news from our fact sheet.
Unlike wasps, when stung by a honey bee, the stinger stays
in the skin and must be removed. The good news is that you have a memento of your encounter in case your friends don't bee‑lieve
that you have been
bee‑set. The bad news is there can bee as many as 25,000
souvenir donors waiting to bee‑stow their
If bees attack,
the Extension bulletin says you should:
through heavy brush and out of their territory. Since heavy brush may bee hard to find in urban areas, I recommend you run into a heavily crowded area.
The other people there will distract the angry bee‑asts. Dumb bees won't know who to sting first when huge crowds of people
begin to simultaneously
run into bushes and trees.
Therefore, the insects
bee‑come so confused they return to their
of fleeing into
unknown foliage types since a brisk run through
prickly pear, rose bushes, pyracantha, Chinese
holly or agarita can do more bodily damage than an entire flock
sweater or coat up over face.
Though this makes running through brush difficult, it may expose body parts which are
repulsive to bees.
If all of this sounds a bit bee‑zarre and
you think I have gone
completely bee‑zerk, you could bee right ‑‑
the whole thing is ridiculous. The simple
answer is to stay away from colonies
of bees, regardless of their lineage, and eliminate
colonies which have located in inconvenient locations.
Bee removal can be accomplished by professional exterminators
or homeowners. Wait until dark (bees come home to see their mama
at night) and spray the
swarm with a soapy solution consisting of one cup of liquid soap (detergent) and one‑fourth cup of ammonia in one gallon
of water. This solution will drop every bee in the swarm straight to the ground without a single bee fly‑away. If bees are in the wall of a building, killing bees by spraying insecticides
into the entrance will eliminate the stinging menaces
but may result
in a stinking mess when the stored honey begins to ferment.
of our winged, nectar‑gathering friends. Remember, these insects
are visitors to our
country and should be shown the
There are pictures and more frightening information at