Beekeepers don't like their "girls" foraging in California buckeye (Aesculus californica)
It's poisonous to bees.
"The signs of poisoning can be as severe as dying adult bees and brood, only dying brood, brood that barely makes it and emerges misshapen, brood that emerges undersized, and probably bees that don't live normal lifespans, but we haven't proven that," says Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen, who, although retired, continues to maintain an office in Briggs Hall, UC Davis campus.
Is it the pollen or the nectar that's poisonous?
Possibly it's only the pollen that contains the toxin, "but some pollen always ends up in the nectar and honey," Mussen says.
"It is all a matter of dilution. When many different plants are producing pollen and nectar at the same time as the buckeye, sometimes the bees escape undamaged. However, beekeepers have long known that on dry years the buckeye is the best producer of both pollen and nectar, so the bees go for it.
What to do? Bees can fly some five miles from the hive to collect nectar and pollen. It isn't always possible for beekeepers to move their bees out of areas with buckeye, "especially on dry years--we've had more than enough of those," Mussen says.
"Otherwise, they feed the bees with substitute, pollen traps might help a bit but most beekeepers don't have them, they feed sugar syrup, and if they can do it, they take the buckeye-pollen combs out. If the combs are left in, the buckeye pollen gets stored. It gets covered up when fresh pollens start coming in, and things seem to straighten out."
"Then long comes another pollen and nectar dearth and the bees dig into the stores. It is not uncommon to have the bees 'buckeyed' twice in one year," Mussen says.
"California buckeye was discovered in the early 1800s in California and described by Edouard Spach in 1834 (Little 1979, Hickman 1993)," writes Frank Callahan of Central Point, Ore. writing for the Native Plant Society of Oregon.
"All parts of California buckeye are toxic to humans and livestock," Callahan points out. "Poisoning is from glycosidal compounds that are present in all plant parts. Humans have been poisoned by honey made from the flowers (USDA Forest Service 1974). The flowers are toxic to European honeybees (Apis mellifera); however, native pollinators relish the collection of nectar without side effects. The adult pale swallowtail butterfly (Papilio eurymedon) appears particularly fond of this plant."
Yes, we've seen butterflies nectaring on the buckeye. Never seen a buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia) nectaring on a California buckeye, though!
Two species of male sunflower bees, Svastra obliqua and Melissodes agilis, spend the day on our Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) chasing the girls and protecting their turf.
Sometimes I wonder why they don't tire out sooner than they do. The Energizer Bunny could take lessons from them.
But a night, it's a different story.
While the female sunflower bees return to their underground nests at night, the males sleep in a tight cluster on the nearby lavender stems. These boys are s-o-o tired that they're often "in bed" by 5 or 6 p.m.
But their cousins, the honey bees, are still foraging, gathering pollen and nectar for their colony.
So what a surprise last weekend to see a worker bee doing what her name implies--working!--on a lavender blossom next to the sleeping boy bees, Melissodes agilis. "Excuse me, boys! There's nectar here! Do ya mind? Could you move over just a little bit?"
I aimed my little pocket camera, a Nikon P340, and caught the girl on the boys' night out.
She'll be back. So will the boys.
(Editor's Note: You can learn more about native bees in the Heyday book, California Bees and Blooms, a Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, written by UC-affiliated authors Gordon Frankie, Robbin Thorp, Rollin E. Coville, and Barbara Ertter.)
Based in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, Mussen completed 38 years of service last June and is nationally and internationally known as "the honey bee guru."
"Most of us take pollinators for granted. That's a key reason why Gov. Jerry Brown has joined other governors throughout the country to celebrate June 15-21 as National Pollinator Week. It's a time to appreciate what bees, butterflies, beetles, bats and other pollinators do. Honey bees and native bees are especially important for the pollination of our agricultural crops. Without them, we'd be pretty much confined to a boring, unappealing and non-nutritious diet of wheat and rice."
"Many beekeepers can't keep their colonies alive, no thanks to pesticides, pests, parasites, diseases, stress and malnutrition. We humans negatively impact our bee populations by converting their natural habitat to an unnatural habit (for them): airports, highways, housing projects, shopping malls, and parking lots. Food sources and nesting habitat for pollinators continue to shrink. Use of herbicides reduces what little bee-food resources are left. In some cases, pesticides kill insect pollinators outright. In other cases, chronic exposure to sublethal doses of pesticide residues disrupts normal development of immature pollinators."
Mussen asks that we all "consider planting bee-attractive flowers that bloom well beyond late summer into fall. The colonies require good-sized populations of well-fed bees to survive through winter."
"Also, we should consider restricting the use of pesticides to those times that pollinators are not attracted to blooming flowers or weeds. This would prevent acute bee kills, contamination of stored pollens, and unnecessary use of bodily energy for detoxification of pesticide residues."
He adds: "It's good to see that the Almond Board of California--with the help of an advisory committee comprise of scientists, beekeepers and growers--generated a packet of materials: “Honey Bee Best Management Practices for California Almonds.” The impetus: a large number of colonies suffered serious pesticide damage during the 2014 almond pollination. The packets contain an 18-page pamphlet about honey bees, their management, and their protection. Included, as well, are two heavy-duty, laminated “Quick Guides” (in English and Spanish) to be taken into the fields as reminders of best management practices. You can request the free packets by contacting the Almond Board at (209) 549-8262 or downloading the document at http://www.almonds.com/growers/pollination. The information in the packets pertains equally well to most other crop situations."
"Our bees," Mussen says, "deserve the best."
That they do.
She has her olive groves, her California olive oil company that mills what's praised as the "finest of the fine" artisan olive oil, and now...drum roll...bees.
Ann and her husband, Mark, own IL Fiorello located at 2625 Mankas Corner Road, Fairfield. They produce oil from their groves and mill oil for clients throughout the area, including UC Davis.
International award-winning olive oils.
The name, IL Fiorelli, Ann explains, means “little flower” in Italian. “IL” is "the" and "Fiorello" means "flower," from the tiny white flowers on the olive trees. Her grandfather, Dominic Fiorello, immigrated from Italy to the United States in the 1860s. She's a third-generation Fiorello.
Ann's background: She's a nationally recognized clinical nurse specialist in otolaryngology (that's head, nose and throat) surgery in the UC Davis Health System. She retired in 2013 from the Advanced Practice in Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgical Oncology. Highly honored for her work, she holds RN, MA and CORLN (certified otorhinolaryngology nurse) degrees.
Then she transitioned from health care to agriculture. Bees are the latest venture.
Back in March, Rick Shubert of Bee Happy Apiaries, Vacaville, and his assistant, Brittany Dye, placed some 286 nuc boxes at IL Fiorello.
They "have honored us with queens," enthused Ann in a blog. "We should be should all be wearing crowns in honor of our most royal guests."
Bee Happy Apiaries delivered 1144 queens in 286 nuc boxes, each divided into four sections to accomodate a queen and her colony. "The bee hives are all different colors for identification of who owns the bees, what size is the box, and light colors for heat reflection," Ann wrote. "Some bee keepers paint their hives with letters and pictures for fun and to help the bees identify their home, like little different landing pads. Brittany tells me these bees' ancestors are originally from Iran, named Carnolian bees. They are known to be gentle and produce tasty honey. These bees are here for queen propagation, not honey. But lots of honey is coming in the next stage."
Ann calls it "just an amazing opportunity to see nature at work. It is so fun to watch the dance of the bees."
Plans call for bee classes "when all the buzzing settles down," Ann says. "Brittany will teach us all about bees, and Sue Langstaff, Applied Sensory Co. will buzz us through the UC Davis Honey wheel and a sweet honey taste extravaganza."
We think her grandfather would be proud.
Dominic Fiorello, known as "The Chief," had a profound respect for traditional agriculture and put his knowledge of Italian methods, Ann recalled. "Raising vegetables and fruit for the family, making wine for their table, and carefully saving seeds from year to year became part of his dreams for the future. Innately respectful of the soil that supported them and dedicated to good stewardship of the land, the Chief passed down a concern for healthy nutrition to his son, Raphael Fiorello, who also relied on traditional practices when providing for his family during the Depression. As Ann grew up, Raphael's homegrown vegetables and grapes helped the family to thrive and enjoy the great pleasures of living close to the land."
Today the Sievers have some 2000 olive trees. Daughters Elisabeth and Katherine helped plant them.
How does health care compare to being an agriculturist?
"Being in farming and having an agro tourism business is really similar to what I did in health care," Ann says. "You take care of people and you take care of trees. You guide people through the process so they learn about olive oil and they enjoy the product. The trees just don't talk back and nothing is really an emergency as occurred daily in the hospital. I am glad I am not responding to airway emergencies anymore. I use all my training in health care and sensory science to pair oils, food, wine, and agriculture. I work just as hard for guests to have a wonderful experience at Il Fiorello. I explain to guests that if I, as a farmer and producer, do not grow food then you will not eat. In this time of water shortages this topic comes up frequently."
The Sievers engage in farming "with an eye to sustainability and good stewardship of the land.” (Read more about what they do on their website.)
Today the rapidly growing IL Fiorello includes a Visitor Center and Olive Mill for tours and tastings, and offers cooking classes in its state-of-the-art kitchen in the Grove Culinary Center.
And now IL Fiorello or"little flower" keeps honey bees. Beautiful honey bees...
Varma's time-lapse video of 2500 images vividly shows the development of eggs to pupae to adults. He captured the video at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, University of California, Davis. Varma's images of a bee in flight, and a close-up of an emerging worker bee are also from the Laidlaw apiary.
Those are our girls!
Indeed, our bees from the Laidlaw facility figured quite prominently in the piece, “Quest for a Superbee,” published in the May edition of National Geographic.
Staff research associate/beekeeper Billy Synk worked with and assisted photographer Varma for about a year. Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen, who retired last June after 38 years of service, served as a research fact-checker. National Geographic contacted him for data confirmation.
The article, authored by Charles Mann, questions “Can the world's most important pollinators be saved?' and ponders “how scientists and breeders are trying to create a hardier honeybee.”
In his article, Mann explores what it would take to build a better bee. He touches on RNAi and quotes bee researcher Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota and recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” as saying “If you target one specific area, the organism will always make an end run around it.” She advocates a “healthier, stronger” bee, or what Mann writes as “one that can fight (varroa) mites and disease on its own, without human assistance.”
Spivak was the keynote speaker at the Bee Symposium, hosted May 9 by the Honey and Pollination Center in the UC Davis Conference Center. It drew a crowd of 360. (Soon we'll post video from the symposium.)
Spivak and John Harbo of the USDA's research center in Baton Rouge, La. “both succeeded in breeding versions of hygienic bees by the late 1990s,” Mann writes. “A few years after that, scientists realized that hygienic bees are less effective as the mites grow more numerous.”
Both Spivak and Varma have presented TED talks on honey bees.
Spivak: Why Bees Are Disappearing
Both of the TED talks should be required viewing for anyone who wants to know more about bees and their needs. Maybe these TED talks should be TEB talks--Take Every Bee Seriously.