A sure sign that winter is nearly over: when the flowering quince bursts into bloom, attracting a flotilla of foraging honey bees.
Actually, the bees began "inspecting" the flowering quince in the bud stage. "Hurry, open up!" the bees seemed to urge. "We have to start feeding our colonies."
Flowering quince (genus Chaenomeles, family Rosaceae) is an ornamental plant that's delightful to see. Who doesn't admire the soft pink blossoms and the comforting hum of bees buzzing around with heavy loads of yellow pollen?
The nation's bees, though, are still in trouble. Overwintering losses are still around 30 percent as in the years past, honey bee experts say. Bees are still suffering from colony collapse disorder (CCD), a mysterious malady characterized by adults bees abandoning the hive. CCD is thought to be the result of multiple factors, including pesticides,pests, diseases, malnutrition and stress.
As Christi Heintz, executive director of Project Apis m. (as in Apis mellifera), told the Almond Board of California at its meeting in December: “Colony losses are not quite as acute as in previous years, mainly as a result of improved management, but overwintering losses still hover around 30 percent, an unsustainable rate of loss.”
Heintz, who is the Almond Board Bee Task Force liaison, listed seven areas for best management practice (BMP) development: bee nutrition, pest control/varroa, disease control/nosema, hive mangement/equipment, colony management, business management, and BMPs for almond growers/bee rentals.
You can read the entire BMP article in Bee Culture.
Project Apis m. or PAm, serves an important role. Beekeepers and orchardists established PAm in December 2006, as a "New Vision" to fund honey bee research on managed colonies, according to its website. The organization's goal: "to fund and direct research to improve the health and vitality of honey bee colonies while improving crop production. Emphasis is placed on research studies that have realistic and practical usefulness for beekeeping businesses."
"PAm brings together representatives of the American Honey Producers Association (APHA), the American Beekeeping Federation (ABF), the National Honey Board (NHB), California State Beekeepers Association (CSBA), and California almond farmers. PAm includes representatives from both the pollination and crop production enterprises."
Together we can all do our part to help save the bees. The first step: awareness.
This year, however, thanks to the unseasonably warm weather, almond trees began blooming in late January in some parts of Central California.
Take the city of Benicia. Its temperate climate is conducive to early spring. Today as the temperature climbed to 58 degrees, we saw almond blossoms everywhere--at the entrance to Benicia State Park, in residential yards, in fields and meadows, and lining city streets and roads.
Benicia resident Gordon Hough, who owns and skippers the sports fishing boat, The Morning Star, didn't go fishing for sturgeon and bass today, but he did go jogging in Benicia State Park. On his way home, he stopped to check an almond tree for honey bees.
No bees. But one ant.
It should be a great year for almonds. The USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service projects a record 2600-pounds-per-acre yield for the 2011-2012 California almond crop. That represents an increase of 200 pounds per acre, or 8 percent, over the previous yield-per-acre record set in 2008-2009, the NASS officials said.
This is what the California Almond Board had to say in its September 2011 newsletter: "The California Almond objective forecast for the 2011–12 crop year is 1.95 billion meat pounds, which is based on 750,000 bearing acres. Overall, shipments were up 13 percent, reaching 1.668 billion pounds and marking the fifth consecutive year of record shipments across domestic and export markets.
"For the second year, California shipped over 1 billion pounds to export destinations, an increase of 15 percent over 2010–11. Domestic shipments were up 9 percent over the previous year, at 490 million pounds. The top five export destinations (China, Spain, Germany, India and the United Arab Emirates) account for approximately 53 percent of total export shipments, while the top 10 destinations account for over 72 percent of export shipments. For the first time, China became the leading export destination, with shipments rising by 26 percent to reach 168 million pounds."
Meanwhile, it takes two hives per acre to pollinate California's 750,000 acres. The bees, trucked here from all over the country, are in holding yards and ready to go.
The orchards will be abuzz soon with millions of bees pollinating the blossoms.
A "she bee" on a hebe.
That has a nice ring to it.
It was Jan. 7, an unseasonably warm day for winter and we decided to take advantage of it by driving to the Loch Lomond Marina in San Rafael.
Gardeners do a good job tending the plants that border the marina and the honey bees do a good job of gathering nectar and pollen.
One of the plants popular among the bees is hebe (genus Hebe), an evergreen shrub that probably derives its name from Hebe, the goddess of youth (Greek mythology). A native of New Zealand, this plant is quite hardy, and some varieties bloom during the winter.
There's even a Hebe Society that promotes "the cultivation and conservation of hebes and other New Zealand native plants." Founded in 1985, it's a British registered charity. According to its website, the Hebe Society "is affiliated to the Royal Horticultural Society, New Zealand Alpine Garden Society and Tatton Garden Society. Most members are in the British Isles, but some are in the rest of Europe, North America and New Zealand."
Although the "she bees" (worker bees) forage on the hebe, the "he bees" (drones) eventually derive the benefits via the food brought back to the colony. So, the "she bees" and the "he bees" draw nourishment from the hebes.
That is, when the colony starts producing the "he bees."
The more we know about our pollinators, the better we'll be able to protect and sustain them.
Bee scientists from the UC Davis Department of Entomology will present four of the six talks at the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Pollinator Workshop, set Tuesday, Feb. 21 in Woodland.
The event, free and open to all interested persons, will take place from 9 to 11 a.m. in Norton Hall, 70 Cottonwood St.
Topics will include multiple stresses on honey bees; sustainable pollination strategies for specialty crops; native pollinators and squash and pumpkin pollination; insecticides, honey bees and hybrid onion seed production; and creating habit for pollinators, according to UCCE's Yolo County farm advisor Rachael Long.
The meeting is sponsored by UCCE and the Yolo County Resource Conservation District.
9 to 9:10 a.m.
Introductions and Updates: Rachael Long, farm advisor, UCCE Yolo County
9:10 – 9:35 a.m.
“Multiple Stresses are Hard on Honey Bees”: Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist, UC Davis Department of Entomology
9:35 – 10 a.m.
“Sustainable Pollination Strategies for Specialty Crops”: Neal Williams, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology.
10 to 10:20 a.m.
“Native Pollinators and Squash and Pumpkin Pollination”: Katharina Ullmann, graduate student, Neal Williams lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology
10:20 – 10:40 a.m.
“Insecticides Reduce Honeybee Visitation and Pollen Germination in Hybrid Onion Seed Production”: Sandra Gillespie, postdoctoral researcher, Neal Williams lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology.
10:40 – 11 a.m.
“Creating Habitat for Pollinators”: Jessa Guisse of Sacramento, Pollinator Habitat Restoration specialist, The Xerces Society
Norton Hall is located between the UCCE office and the Agricultural Commissioner’s office.
For further information, contact Katie Churchill of UCCE, Woodland, at email@example.com or (530) 666-8143.
Thomas Seeley has. Many times.
"Choosing the right dwelling place is a life-or-death matter for a honeybee colony," he writes in his book, Honeybee Democracy. "If a colony chooses poorly, and so occupies a nest cavity that is too small to hold the honey stores to survive winter, or that provides it with poor protection from cold winds and hungry marauders, then it will die."
Seeley, a professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University, where he teaches courses in animal behavior and does research on the functional organization of honey bee colonies, will present two lectures this week on the UC Davis campus.
Seeley will speak on “Swarm Intelligence in Honey Bees” from 4:10 to 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 19 in 2 Wellman Hall as part of the UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology’s winter seminar series. Host is Rick Grosberg, professor of evolution and ecology.
Then on Friday, Jan. 20, Seeley will speak on “The Flight Guidance Mechanisms of Honey Bee Swarms" at 12:10 p.m. in 6 Olsen Hall as part of the UC Davis Animal Behavior Group’s winter seminar series. His host will be Brian Johnson, assistant professor at the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
Of his Thursday talk, Seeley says: “Swarm intelligence is the solving of a cognitive problem by two or more individuals who independently collect information and process it through social interactions. With the right organization, a group can overcome the cognitive limitations of its members and achieve a high collective IQ. To understand how to endow groups with swarm intelligence, it is useful to examine natural systems that have evolved this ability. An excellent example is a swarm of honey bees solving the life-or-death problem of finding a new home. A honey bee swarm accomplishes this through a process that includes collective fact-finding, open sharing of information, vigorous debating, and fair voting by the hundreds of bees in a swarm that function as nest-site scouts.”
Seeley said he will show “how these incredible insects have much to teach us when it comes to achieving collective wisdom and effective group decision making.”
Seeley, who grew up in Ithaca, N.Y., began keeping and studying bees while a high school student. He left Ithaca in 1970 to attend college at Dartmouth, but he returned home each summer to work for Roger A. Morse at the Dyce Laboratory for Honey Bee Studies at Cornell University. There he learned the craft of beekeeping and “began probing the inner workings of the honey bee colony. “
Thoroughly intrigued by the smooth functioning of bee colonies, Seeley went on to graduate school at Harvard University, earning his doctorate in 1978.
Seeley subsequently taught at Yale for six years, then worked his way home to Ithaca/Cornell in 1986, "where I’ve been ever since.”
In recognition of his scientific work, Seeley has received the Senior Scientist Prize of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation; a Guggenheim Fellowship, and was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Seeley’s research focuses on the internal organization of honey bee colonies. His work is summarized in three books: "Honeybee Ecology" (1985, Princeton University Press), 'The Wisdom of the Hive" (1995, Harvard University Press), and "Honeybee Democracy" (2010, Princeton University Press).