Friday, Feb. 11 seemed like a glorious spring day. Almond trees at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis burst into bloom.
Early birds...err...early bees...began foraging among the blossoms.
A faux spring.
Then the rains came. Almond pollination and spring buildup in the hives will have to wait until the rain stops and the cold weather subsides.
The flight of the honey bee? Stilled.
We found the book, ABC of Bee Culture: A Cyclopedia of Everything Pertaining to the Care of the Honey Bee; Bees, Honey, Hives, Implements, Honey-Plants, Etc. by A. I. Root, in an antiques and jewelry shop in Vacaville, Calif.
The book offers a look into how our ancestors kept bees. It also reveals that the former book owner was apparently quite enamored with President William Howard Taft (1857-1930), the 27th president of the United States, who served from March 4, 1909 to March 4, 1913.
Why? The foreword pages hold newspaper clippings about the late president.
And not just "hold." They're glued. As in heavy-duty glue.
Apparently the book owner had no money for a real scrapbook.
One clipping is headlined “Taft Anecdotes” and another, “Taft’s Career in a Nut Shell." A photo caption reads “Mr. Taft starting for his vacation in Canada in 1928.” Another caption: “Out for a stroll in Washington.” And yet another: “Chief Justice in His Office" (Taft served as chief justice of the Supreme Court from 1921-1930).
Here I buy a book about bees and beekeeping and I get a two-for-one: Apis mellifera and William Howard Taft.
Fortunately, the main text is devoid of Taft clippings.
The book is interesting reading. Back then beekeepers didn't worry about parasites, pesticides, pests, diseases, colony collapse disorder (CCD), malnutrition and stress. American beekeepers had no varroa mites or small hive beetles--but they did have wax moth larvae and American Foul Brood.
"Diseases of Bees: I am very glad indeed to be able to say, that bees are less liable to be affected with disease than perhaps any other class of animated creatures. It is perhaps because the individual members of a colony are so constantly giving way to other younger members, as they are hatched out and come on the sstage of action. Nothing but a really contagious disease could do very much harm, where vigorous and youthful members are being added to the family circle almost daily, and for a great part of the year, by hundreds or thousands. Therefore, if your bees lack thrit, all you have to do is to start brood-rearing briskly; and if the queen is in any way at fault, you can simple remove her and substitute another, without even so much as disturbing the regular routine."
A. I. Root goes on to say that the only disease that interferes with brood rearing is Foul Brood (what we now call "American Foul Brood" or AFB.)
How times have changed. The varroa mites which transfer viruses are beekeepers' nightmares and probably play a huge role in the mysterious phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder.
The overwintering ladybugs tucked in the leaves of our tangerine tree are gone.
Sunny temperatures hit 75 degrees, and off they went. Guess they thought it was spring.
Anyhow, they made a glorious sight as emerged from the folds of a tangerine leaf. One perched on the top of a tangerine tree and then crawled up and down the leaf.
Natalia Vandenberg, a USDA employee with the Systematic Entomology Lab, Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, identified these as an introduced species, Coccinella septempunctata.
Ladybugs in February...
It's Valentine's Day and it's a honey of a day.
Valentine cards proclaim "Bee Mine" and "Bee My Valentine."
Invariably, there's a happy honey bee buzzing around a flower on a Valentine's Day card. With the onset of colony collapse disorder, the smile may be fading a bit, but the honey bee is still very much a part of Valentine's Day.
“Honey is nature’s best and sweetest sweet,” said bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, who does research at both UC Davis and Washington State University. “It tastes sweeter than sugar, so you use less when you’re cooking with it.”
“Also it comes in as many flavors as there are bee flowers,” she said. “It’s a high-energy simple, natural sweet. Athletes use it for a quick pickup.” Each tablespoon of honey provides 17 grams of carbohydrates or 64 calories.
Honey, she said, is one to 1.5 times sweeter than sugar—and that’s especially “sweet” on Valentine’s Day when folks partake of such dishes as honey-baked ham, honey-mustard chicken, whole wheat honey bread and assorted honey desserts. And then there’s mead, or honey wine.
The average worker bee produces about 1/12th teaspoon of honey in her lifetime; on one collection trip, she visits 50 to 100 flowers. The workers in a beehive may collectively travel 55,000 miles and visit more than two million flowers “just to gather enough nectar to make a pound of honey,” Cobey said.
Depending on the location, the average healthy hive can yield from 50 to 500 pounds of honey a year. “In Canada they get crops of 300 to 500 pounds—surplus harvest,” Cobey said. “It’s about 50 pounds here. This is their winter feed.”
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty says the bees’ floral source determines the color and flavor of honey.
The standard colors are water white, extra white, white, extra light amber, light amber, amber and dark amber, he said. The lighter colors tend to be mild and the darker colors, more robust.
"The milder flavors are good for drizzling over pancakes and oatmeal or for vegetable dishes," said Mussen, who writes the bimonthly newsletter, from the UC Apiaries, available free on the UC Davis Department of Entomology website. "The darker, more robust colors, are excellent recipe ingredients, providing substantial honey flavor and resistance of the final product to 'drying out.'"
"For great lemonade," he said, "try mixing one cup of freshly squeezed lemon with one cup of liquid honey, and add water to fill a quart."
Now that sounds like a honey of lemonade on a honey of a day!
Remember when Chicken Little ran around yelling "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!"
For almond growers, beekeepers, entomologists, researchers and artists, it's "The almonds are blooming! The almonds are blooming!"
Finally, the almond trees at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis burst into bloom today. They still have a long way to go for a full bloom--but this is a start.
These are Sue's bees.
That would be bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey with her line of New World Carniolians.
Her nectar-sipping, pollen-packin' bees are back in action after the winter doldrums, which are turning into spring frenzies.
Soon: the big spring buildup in the colonies.
But for now, "The almonds are blooming! The almonds are blooming!"
Oh, hap-bee day!