What a remarkable project a biologist launched in Kenya involving honey bees.
It all began with farmers complaining that migratory elephants were raiding their crops and destroying their livelihood. What to do? How do you conserve the elephants and protect the crops at the same time?
Knowing that elephants dislike being around honey bees, biologist Lucy King came up with a clever idea: she installed bee hive fences around 17 farms in a two-year pilot project aimed at preventing the elephants' entry, according to an article in Discovery magazine. She placed the hives 10 meters apart and then connected them with wire.
When the elephants tried to push their way through the fence, the jostled bees, defending their hives, pushed back by stinging them. The elephant scattered and most--93 percent--never returned.
Can you say "Memory like an elephant?"
Now the farmers in Kenya cannot only protect their crops from the pachyderms but there's the added bonus of a second income: honey!
We wouldn't be surprised if this little experiment is tried elsewhere.
During Prohibition, bootleggers reportedly placed bee hives inside their liquor trucks to disguise their cargo and ward off inspection.
The bee fence could be the new "no trespassing" sign, the new "caution" tape, the new security guards.
Pomegranate growers could string a beehive fence around their fields to deter thieves. They could replace their signs, "No Trespassing; Violators Will Be Prosecuted" with "No Trespassing; Violators Will Be Stung." Banks owning foreclosed homes could fence off their yards with bee hives. Prisons could increase their security with a line of bee fences.
Problem is, though, one percent of the population is allergic to bees and if stung, they could go into anaphylactic shock.
And folks would perceive bees the wrong way--they'd forget about their pollination services and think only of insects that sting.
Then, too, some unethical folks would steal the hives, as they do during almond season.
But hey, it worked for the elephants!
Did you know that honey bees visit more than two million flowers just to make a pound of honey?
Two million visits for one pound?
That's just one of the tidbits about honey that will be mentioned Friday, Oct. 21 at the all-day “Honey!” event at the UC Davis Conference Center, 550 Alumni Center.
"How can the 60,000-some bees in a hive live in such a chaotic environment, divide up the jobs, do them well, and get everything done?" asks Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
He'll tell you at the "Honey!" event.
This one-of-a-kind event, sponsored by the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science at UC Davis, will take place from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Co-sponsored by the UC Davis Department of Entomology, the event will include six experts discussing honey-related topics, a honey-themed lunch, and honey and mead tasting. In addition, displays will feature a bee observation hive by Brian Fishback of Wilton and beekeeping equipment from the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis.
Among the speakers will be three bee scientists from the UC Davis Department of Entomology: Extension apiculturst Eric Mussen speaking on “The Wonder of Honey Bees”; assistant professor Brian Johnson, “How Bees Cooperate to Make Honey and What They Do With It”; and emeritus professor Norm Gary, discussing “Hobby Beekeeping in Urban Environments.”
Other UC Davis speakers: Louis Grivetti, professor emeritus, Department of Nutrition, discussing “Historical Uses of Honey as Food” and Liz Applegate, professor, Department of Nutrition and director of Sports Nutrition Program, “Sweet Success—Honey for Better Health and Performance.”
The program will begin at 9 a.m. light refreshments, served until 10 a.m. Speakers, lunch, more speakers, honey tasting, and mead tasting will follow. The event ends with a refreshment reception at which Norm Gary will sign and sell his recently published book on backyard beekeeping.
Coordinating it all is Clare Hasler-Lewis, executive director of the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science.
If you're like to attend, you'll want to make reservations now. The deadline to make reservations is Friday, Oct. 14. Recently reduced costs are $50 for the general public and for folks with connections to the beekeeping industry; $35 for UC faculty members, staff and Friends of the RMI; and $25 for students.
To reserve your space, you can contact Kim Bannister at email@example.com or (530) 752-5171. Payments may be made online at http://robertmondaviinstitute.ucdavis.edu/honey.
And while we're at it, let's thank the bees!
The Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road at the University of California, Davis, is awash with autumn colors, despite the persistent rains.
The half-acre bee friendly demonstration garden, like the insects that feed there, beckons and withdraws, and attracts and detracts, as plants, prey and predators come and go.
Honey bees dislike rain, but in between showers--sun breaks!--you'll see them gathering pollen and nectar to take back to their hives.
A sun break means no work break for these industrious bees.
Often you'll hear kindergarten students asking one another: "What's your favorite color?"
Beekeepers do that, too--in a joking sort of way. Some like to rear the blond Italians; some prefer the darker Carniolans, developed from the area of the Carniolan Alps in southeastern Europe; and others opt for the even darker bees, the Caucasians, originating from the Caucasus Mountains of eastern Europe.
It's the desirable traits, not the color, though, that really matters.
"More than 20 breeds of bees have been identified, and many of these have been tested by beekeepers for their ability to live in manmade hives, as well as their adaptability to the moderate climates of the world," writes Bee Culture editor Kim Flottum in his excellent book, The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner's Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden.
"Many species," Flottum continues in his book, "have been abandoned by beekeepers because they possess undesirable traits, such as excessive swarming, poor food-storage traits, or extreme nest protection."
Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, who has a dual appointment with the University of California, Davis and Washington State University, is partial to her New World Carniolans, a bee line she established.
Overall, the Carniolans are known as a good colder-weather bee. The Italians, though, are the most common bee in the United States. Sometimes you'll see an Italian bee so blond it's lemony.
Jackie Park-Burris of Palo Cedro, chair of the California State Apiary Board, rears Italians, which leads to good natured-ribbing between her and Cobey about "the best bee."
If you're interested in genetic diversity, mark your calendar for May 2, 2012. Cobey will speak on “Importation of Honey Bee Germplasm to Increase Genetic Diversity in Domestic Breeding Stocks" at her seminar from 12:10 to 1 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall, UC Davis. It's part of a series of seminars that the UC Davis Department of Entomology is sponsoring. Plans are to webcast this; so stay tuned.
Meanwhile, take a look at foraging honey bees in your neighborhood. Like the patchwork coat in the Dolly Parton song, "Coat of Many Colors," you'll see many colors.
Many, many colors. And some belong to young bees with a fuzzy thorax and fresh wings, and some to old bees with a bare thorax and tattered wings.
What's your favorite bee? Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology who maintains an office at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, says that "beauty is only skin (integument) deep."
"I prefer the ones with a good disposition regardless of their external appearance even on a 'bad hair day,'" Thorp says.
As for me, to paraphrase American humorist Will Rogers (1879-1935), "I've never met a bee I didn't like."
I haven't met any of those highly aggressive, super-defensive Africanized bees, though.
The places to "bee" for beekeepers in September and November are the Big Island of Hawaii and the not-so-little-city of Rohnert Park, Calif.
The Western Apicultural Society, founded by UC Davis scientists in 1978, has scheduled its annual conference for Sept. 12-15 at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, Big Island, north of Kona.
The California State Beekeepers' Association, organized in 1889, will gather Nov. 15-17 for its 2011 convention at Sonoma/Wine Country Doubletree Inn at Rohnert Park.
Bee health, and the latest updates on colony collapse disorder (CCD), will be among the topics at each conference.
Among the UC Davis experts participating at both conferences will be Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty since 1976 and one of the founders of the Western Apicultural Society.
It's called "WAS" for short, but there's nothing past tense about it.
Meanwhile, you can get up-to-date bee news by reading Mussen's from the UC apiaries newsletters and Bee Briefs, both located on the UC Davis Department of Entomology website and downloadable for free.