As summer nears its end, the honey bees are hungry.
That's why Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology advocates that we plant flowers for late summer and fall to help the bees. Often we think of spring as the season for planting bee plants, but mid- to late summer and fall is when they really need our help.
Malnutrition is one of the factors suspected in colony collapse disorder (CCD), the mysterious malardy in which adult bees abandon the hive, leaving behind the queen bee, immature brood and food stores. Other factors in the declining bee population include pesticides, pests, diseases and stress.
If you look around, you'll see bees foraging in Northern California on blanket flower (Gaillardia), sedum (family Crassulaceae) and late-blooming towers of jewels (Echium wildpretii).
And the lavenders, salvias (sages) and the mints.
Current resources? The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation features plant lists on its site. The UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab maintains a wealth of information about plants and pollinators on its site. There's even a Bee Smart app, offered free by the Pollinator Partnership, that will enable you to browse through about 1000 native plants.
Some of my favorite honey bee plants: the lavenders, the salvias, sunflowers, catmint, sedum, blanket flowers, oregano, artichoke, zinnias, cosmos, borage, bush germander, buckwheat, basil, ceanothus, coneflowers, seaside daisies, red hot poker, and of course, the tower of jewels, which, in height, towers over them all.
Ever seen honey bees foraging for water on your outdoor clothesline?
When Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the University of California, Davis, addresses beekeeping associations, he tells them to "always provide water for your bees on your property. Otherwise, they will visit the neighbor's hanging laundry, bird bath, swamp cooler, dog dish, leaky hose connection, etc."
Bees collect nectar, pollen, propolis (plant resin) and water for their colonies. On very hot days, you'll see scores of bees at a water fountain, bird bath, or pond.
Kim Flottum, editor of the Bee Culture magazine, writes in his book, The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner's Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden: "A summer colony needs at least a quart (liter) of water every day, and even more when it's warm."
Flottum points out: "Water is as necessary to your bees as it is to your pets and to you. Whatever watering technique you choose for your bees, the goal is to provide a continuous supply of fresh water. This means while you are on vacation for a couple of weeks, when you get busy and forget to check, and especially when it's really, really hot--bees always need water."
With temperatures soaring to 100 degrees today in Yolo and Solano counties, that's good advice.
Mussen and Flottum acknowledge that bees are industrious and will find water somewhere even if their regular source is unavailable. "Water is used to dissolve crystallized honey, to dilute honey when producing larval food, for evaporation cooling during warm weather, and for a cool drink on a hot day," Flottum writes in his book.
We've watched bees gathering water from our bird bath. We've seen hawks, doves, squirrels, crows, finches and bees sipping water there--as well as our cat, Xena the Warrior Princess. Not all at the same time, though! The Cooper's Hawk reigns supreme.
At the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, bees can sip water from a slanted board propped against a slowly dripping faucet, or from the specially designed watering devices at the nearby Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden that doubles as an educational resource.
Bees know exactly where to return for the same water source. "Foragers seem to seek water sources that are scented," Flottum says.
This could be from a roadside ditch, storm drain, fish pond, dog dish or bird bath.
"Foragers will mark unscented sources of water with their Nasonov pheromone so others can locate the source too," Flottum writes.
Flottum's book is one of the "must-have" books for a beekeeper's library or for anyone wanting to learn more about bees.
You can read more about bees in Mussen's newsletters, from the UC apiaries, posted on his website.
Bees, butterflies and sunflowers at the California State Fair?
The state fair, which opened July 12 and ends July 28, is a good place to see a bee observation hive, honey bees on sunflowers, carpenter bees on petunias, and butterflies in the Insect Pavilion, aka Bug Barn.
If the purpose of a fair is to educate, inform and entertain, then that's what this fair does. A recent stop at the 160th annual fair provided a glimpse of what's going on in the entomological world--and what shouldn't be going on in the petunia patch.
At the California Foodstyles in the Expo Center, beekeeper Doug Houck of the Sacramento Area Beekeepers' Association and his daughter, Rebekah Hough, urged folks to find the queen bee, worker bees and drones in the bee observation hive. Then the fairgoers sampled the honey.
At the Bug Barn, mounted butterflies drew "oohs" and "ahs." Just a few of the butterflies: Monarchs, Western Tiger Swallowtails, Great Purple Hairstreaks, Dusty-Winged Skippers, Red Admirals, and Painted Ladies. The Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis, home of nearly eight million specimens, provided some of the butterflies.
Outside the Insect Pavilion, a garden thrived with tall-as-an-elephant's-eye sunflowers. Honey bees and sunflower bees buzzed among the heads--sunflower heads and fairgoers' heads.
The most disconcerting scene: teenagers screaming when they heard and saw the female Valley carpenter bees nectaring petunias. "Ick, big black bees!" said one as she quickly ran off.
"Carpenter bees," a middle-aged bystander commented dryly as she sauntered off to see the sturgeon display.
Another teenager approached the petunia patch, and she, too, bolted. "They're going to sting me!" she yelled.
It's rather sad that the first reaction on seeing bees in a flower bed is not "pollinator" or "pretty flowers" or "pink petunias" but "sting."
When did "Big Fun" become "Big Scare?"
Honey bees are passionate about passion flowers (Passiflora).
The intricate tropical flower is their private merry-go-round, their favorite hide 'n seek place, their gathering spot.
If you've been around passion flower vines, you know they attract honey bees, carpenter bees and Gulf Fritillary butterflies.
It's a showy flower to be studied, to be admired, to be photographed.
Especially with honey bees circling it.
You can tell it's summer along Yolo County roads by the acres and acres of sunflower fields.
Looking like real-life Van Gogh paintings (Van Gogh painted them in vases, Mother Nature paints them in rows), the sunflower fields are nothing short of spectacular. With tousled heads rising toward the sun and golden locks nodding in the breeze, they stand their ground.
Sunflowers (Helianthus Annuus), native to North America, are one of our most recognizable flowers. They're a good food source, a designer's dream, and dugout tradition.
Earlier this year we fielded a call from a young man from southern California who wanted to know when the sunflowers would bloom in Yolo County. He wanted to propose to his girlfriend in a sunflower field.
This is one agricultural crop that does not go unnoticed. Not by people, not by animals, not by birds, and especially not by honey bees and sunflower bees.