By Margaret Bayne, OSU Extension Service Staff-retired, OSU Master Gardener

Open hands with palms holding corn gluten meal.
Corn Gluten Meal. Photo: University of Connecticut

Cornmeal magic – the myth that will not die.  Learn the facts! (Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, WSU)

The complicated issue of heavy metals in residential soils, part 2: How plant species and environmental variables complicate the issue. (Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott,

Soil Myth Busting for Extension Educators: Reviewing the Literature on Soil Nutrition. (Dr. Linda-Chalker Scott, WSY ; A.J. Downer, U of CA via

Reviewing the literature on tree planting- Landscape Trees. (Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, WSU & A. J. Downer, U of CA; via

Soil Myth Busting for Extension Educators: Reviewing the literature Soil Structure and Functionality. (Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, WSU & A. J. Downer, U of CA via

Check out some new and exciting new plants! (National Garden Bureau)

The horrors of mass-produced bee houses. (Note: while a commercial, has useful info and links) (Collin

Blueberry plant with ripening berries.
‘Legacy’ blueberry. Photo: Bernadine Strik, OSU

REVISED PUBLICATION: Growing Blueberries in Your Home Garden. (Bernadine Strik, OSU; et al: EC 1304)

Hummingbird Drone Films Half a Billion Monarch Butterflies Taking Flight. (

Just for fun: Bugs and Organisms look like Monsters Under a Microscope.  Ever wondered what an ant or wasp looked like up close?  Have a look! (

Soil fungi act like a support network for trees. New research is first to show that growth rate of adult trees is linked to fungal networks colonizing their roots. (U of Alberta, via

Pollinators of Butterfly Bush (and Other Questions) (stillca, OSU)

20 Questions on Plant Diagnosis– “This is the third fact sheet in a series of 10 designed to provide an overview of key concepts in plant pathology. Plant pathology is the study of plant disease including the reasons why plants get sick and how to control or manage healthy plants.” (Joe Boggs, Ohio State, et al)

Golden foliage of larch trees in forest of evergreen trees form a smiling face in the midst of the dark green foliage of the evergreen trees.
Larch among Douglas Fir. Photo: Jay Pscheidt, OSU

The Deciduous Conifer Conundrum. (

Natter’s Notes

Jean R. Natter, OSU Master Gardener

Early in 2020, a new pest of mason bee, Cacoxenus indagator, was identified in Washington State for the first time. It’s often referred to as the Houdini Fly because of the unique way it escapes from the mason bee’s nesting cell. It’s also nicknamed the Red Devil due to its large red eyes, or just Devil Fly. It’s presence in Oregon is suspected to but not yet verified.

Fig 1 – houdini fly, BugGuide

The arrival of the Houdini fly is suspected to be an unfortunate example of moving bees without carefully inspecting them and their nests prior to the move. “In New York, the first two records were in 2011, although it may have arrived there earlier. It had presumably come there from Europe, probably someone moving an unclean nest block,” said Josh Vlach, from the Oregon Department of Agriculture during an interview by Andony Melathopolous during PolliNation Podcast #154 (2020).

What damage does the fly cause?

“The flies don’t actually attack the bees; they’re kleptoparasites,” continued Vlach.  “The fly is in the same group as Drosophila fruit flies that fly around a bowl of over-ripe fruit.” They closely resemble their fruit fly cousins – about the same size, with large red eyes, but otherwise a dull brown color. They move rather sluggishly, and are often seen near the entry to a nesting tunnel.

After the mother bee leaves the nesting tunnel, the Houdini fly enters the tube, lays eggs on the pollen ball, then quickly exits. After the nesting cell is closed by the mother mason bee, the fly larvae hatch and eat the pollen ball. As a result, the mason bee larva starves.

Fig 2 – Cacoxenus indagator

 How to recognize an infestation

Telltale signs of these kleptoparasitic flies are sticky clusters of small white maggots in a nest cell. The bee larva is dead or missing. [Note: Kleptoparasite may be spelled with a “c” as in cleptoparasite.] But beware! Another pest, a parasitoid, produces a similar cluster of small white larvae.

Be aware of a look-alike infestation by tiny wasps

Unfortunately, to the untrained eye, the white larvae of Monodontomerus wasps could be mistaken for Houdini fly maggots. These small black wasps – sometimes referred to as ‘Mono’ wasps – are much more active than adult Houdini flies. The adult wasps erratically flit about. They’re parasitoids which lay multiple eggs in a single mason bee larva. However, the end point is the same as with the Houdini flies: Dead mason bees.

Management suggestions for Houdini flies (WSDA Pest Alert)

–  Harvest mason bee cocoons – Open mason bee nesting materials before they emerge in the spring and destroy Houdini fly maggots.

– Control adult mason bee emergence – If you cannot open nesting materials, place your nesting materials in a fine mesh bag and close tightly. As the bees emerge, release the mason bees daily and kill any Houdini flies.

– Only use nesting materials that allow you to open, inspect, and harvest cocoons. Visual inspections can greatly reduce Houdini fly populations. (Ed. note: Kill the larvae on sight.]

– Before purchasing mason bees, ask the provider how they harvested and whether they inspected the cocoons for Houdini fly.

Only purchase pest-free mason bee cocoons.

A few final words

– WSDA suggests: “Please do not unnecessarily move bee blocks or boxes around.”

– If you’re having sizeable losses of healthy mason bee cocoons, seriously consider modifying your materials, methods, and procedures.

– A viable alternative to using clustered artificial housing for native bees is a healthy environment with modest-sized patches of suitable flowering plants that provide a year-round succession of bloom

– Perhaps the best habitats for native bees are patches of bare soil, along with naturally-occurring tubes, among them spent plant stems and old holes from boring beetles, all in a pesticide-free location.


– PolliNation transcript #154 – An interview with Josh Vlach, ODA. (

– “Parasitoids and Cleptos”- [Caution: “. . .artificial bee nests and hotels may be preferentially used by introduced bee species and native wasps, rather than native bees]

– Video: Houdini fly, a kleptoparasite of Osmia –

– Video: Life cycle of Montodontomerus wasp – 

– “How to Manage the Blue Orchard Bee”- An overview.

– “Orchard Mason Bee” (10-Minute University) — Orchard Mason Bees (

 – Pest Alert WSDA//  Houdini fly found in Washington; images and 2 videos:

Video: How does Cacoxenus escape?; Video:Devil fly on nesting tubes. “The accompanying fauna of Osmia cornuta and Osmiarufa” – Pests of Osmia in Europe, with images –

Snowdrop flowers emerging out of snow.

Every gardener knows under the cloak of winter lies a miracle – a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to light, a bud straining to unfurl. And the anticipation nurtures our dream.

Barbara Winkler

Learning and growing in the new year…

As we start the new year with much hope and anticipation, we are excited to share the upcoming OSU Extension Service Master Gardener Program offerings for 2021.


Long stairway ascending through natural greenway.

Current OSU Master Gardeners (including the class of 2020) have the opportunity to be inspired with the ‘Elevated Skills’ training, taught by OSU Extension staff. A wide-range of topics aim to enrich and support Master Gardeners. ‘Garden plant ID with the OSU Landscape Plant Database’, ‘Superpower Your Education Garden’, ‘Community Science and the Master Gardener Program’ are just a few of of the many offerings to inspire and elevate Master Gardeners as community educators. Registration details to come.

Level Up

Slow motion video of Dahlia flower blooming.

OSU Master Gardeners and the gardening public can get ready to ‘Level Up’ in a new series for experienced gardeners, with presentations by OSU horticulture experts. Take your gardening knowledge to a new level with timely topics from gardening in a changing climate to techniques to extend your season.

This monthly webinar series kicks off Tuesday, January 12, 3pm, focusing on ‘Understanding Seed Characteristics’. Register in advance and level up!

The Culture of Gardening

Hands harvesting greens.
Photo credit: University of Maine

Come spring, Master Gardeners can participate in ‘The Culture of Gardening’. Explore what gardening means to different people and groups, and how to grow and use plants from a variety of cultures. This new series of blog posts and talks will debut in late spring 2021, with a keynote address by horticulturist Abra Lee on the history of African American gardens and gardeners. The series kicks off on May 18th. Details to come.

Get ready, to get growing!

Invitation to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration

What does the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. mean to you? As a Master Gardener? As a gardener? How can we honor his teachings in our own work?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with overlaid quote "Be a bush if you can't be a tree. If you can't be a highway, just be a trail. If you can't be a sun, be a star. For it isn't by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are."

Join us for a moderated online Zoom discussion January 18th, 7pm. See registration link below.

As part of the University-wide 39th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration, OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers and staff are invited ahead of time to read, view and reflect upon materials and prompts of inclusion and identity as gardeners and Master Gardeners. These include:  

Listen to and reflect upon the YouTube interview of Abra Lee, by Annie Guilfoyle and Noel Kingsbury of Garden Masterclass. View here.

Read and reflect upon the article posted on the Oregon Humanities Website about farming as a form of homecoming for the African American community in Portland. Read here.

Watch the presentation: Steady & Focused:  Efforts to Promote Racial Justice in Oregon’s Master Gardener Program. This talk was given earlier this year at Cornell University’s Ag In-Service Day and at the National Extension Master Gardener Conference by OSU Extension Master Gardener leadership Gail Langelotto and LeAnn Locher. Watch here.

Use Google Image Search to search for the terms, below. What do you notice about the images that are returned with these search terms? What does it say about who is or can be a gardener or Master Gardener?

• Gardener
• Master Gardener

Attend the keynote address for OSU’s 39th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, delivered by Dr. Angela Davis, January 18, 9:30am to 10:30am. The event is free and open to the public. Register here.

Register here for the moderated January 18th, 7pm, online Zoom discussion, with fellow OSU Master Gardeners and staff.

Our January and February Garden Checklist

No need to be idle in winter. Our garden checklist guides you through forcing some early blooms, winter pruning, covering sensitive plants and planning your spring vegetable garden.