"Where'd that yellow pollen come from?"
Beekeepers who watch their bees return to their hives with pollen loads like to guess the origin of the pollen. Red, yellow, blue, white...
It's not unlike "What Color Is Your Parachute?" the job-hunting guide by Richard N. Bolles.
Sunday the bees foraging in flowering quince collected yellow pollen--heavy loads of pollen. They struggled with the weight and then headed home to help feed their colonies.
Blue skies, pink flowers, yellow pollen...life is good.
Honey bee guru Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology, said today that almond growers may not have enough bees to pollinate this year's crop of 800,000 acres.
“We need 1.6 million colonies, or two colonies per acre, and California has only about 500,000 colonies that can be used for that purpose,” he said. “We need to bring in a million more colonies, but due to the winter losses, we may not have enough bees.”
Those winter losses--still being tabulated--and the resulting fewer bees per hive could spell trouble for almond growers, he said.
The fact is 2012 was a bad year for bee nutrition. Honey production appears to be way down, maybe the worst ever in our nation's history. Nectar and pollen foraging are closely linked, Mussen says, and malnutrition is one of the stressors of colony collapse disorder (CCD), which since 2006 has decimated about a third of our nation's bees.
Bee scientists believe that CCD--characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive, leaving behind the queen, brood and food stores--is caused by multiple factors, including pests, parasites, pesticides, diseases, viruses, stress, and yes, malnutrition.
“Many, many colonies are not going to make it through the winter,” said Mussen, an apiculturist in the UC Davis Department of Entomology since 1976 (and who plans to retire in June of 2014). “We won’t have as large a bee population as in the past.”
Already brokers are getting calls from beekeepers saying “I can’t fulfill the contract. I’m going to be short.” Beekeepers charge the almond growers an average of $150 per hive.
The average almond orchard in California is in full bloom around Feb. 14, but some orchards bloom earlier or later, depending on the cultivar and the weather.
It remains to be seen what will happen in the almond orchards this year. Mussen says it may all work out well in the end as “bees pollinate almonds on a community basis. The strong colonies will make up for the weak colonies. The strong colonies will clean the orchard of pollen by early afternoon and then go down the street and grab food from nearby orchards.”
Almonds are California's biggest export. This year the National Agricultural Statistics Service is forecasting a record-breaking 2.10 billion meat pounds, valued at approximately $3 billion. California grows 80 percent of the global supply of almonds, and about 70 percent of California’s crop is marketed overseas.
No bees? No almonds.
When the honey bee meets the flowering quince, the bee is "the belle of the ball."
The winter ball.
Suddenly the flowering quince (genus Chaenomele) transforms the bleak wintery landscape into a spring ballroom of sorts. The giddy bee is a joy to see.
Around here, the ornamental flowering quince, a member of the rose family (Rosaceae), usually blooms around late January or early February. The tightly woven pink buds unfold amid the tangled, dreary limbs that still denote winter but promise spring.
When you watch the bees, sometimes you can't tell where the pollen load ends and the anthers begin.
Extension apiculturst Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology encourages gardeners to plant flowers that will bloom in late winter or early spring. The bees, he says, are hungry.
Indeed they are.
The flowering quince is a buffet for the bees and a feast for our eyes.
"Stop and smell the roses."
How many times have you heard that? It's usually from someone urging us to slow down, to savor life, and to pay attention to the pleasures.
Like fragrant roses.
Honey bees seem to be particularly fond of the butterfly rose, also known as the China rose (Rosa mutabilis), a deciduous shrub that can grow up to six feet high and spread five feet across. It's a long flowering plant, especially important to bees when they emerge from their hives after a long cold winter and begin to forage for food.
The butterfly rose, so named because its blossoms resemble butterflies, is cherished for its ever-changing flowers, which turn from yellowish/orange to pinkish/red to a coppery red.
Stop and smell the roses? Yes, but also look for the beauty in the bees.
(These photos were taken at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden and demonstration garden on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis. The garden, located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, is open to the public from dawn to dusk for free, self-guided tours. Plans call for guided tours, for a nominal charge, starting March 1. Contact Christine Casey at email@example.com)
The bush germander (Teucrium fruticans) is definitely a great fall-winter plant that's a magnet for bees. Just look at the bees that frequent the germander in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road at UC Davis.
As soon as the temperature rises to a sunny 50 or 55 (good bee-flying weather), the honey bees head over to the haven from the nearby Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
Last Saturday's visit to the haven yielded an "out-to-lunch" bunch that included a dozen honey bees in the germander and one syrphid fly (aka flower fly or hover fly). Bumble bee aficionado Gary Zamzow, one of the volunteers in the haven, found something better: A bumble bee, a queen Bombus melanopygus or black-tailed bumble bee, foraging in the germander.
The germander bush is one of several plants blooming in the haven in the dead of winter, according to Missy Borel, haven volunteer and program manager of the California Center for Urban Horticulture at UC Davis. Among the others blooming or just finishing a bloom:
- Autumn sage (Salvia greggii)
- Blanket flower (Gallardia)
- Bulbine (Bulbine frutescens)
- Butterfly rose (Rosa mutabilis)
- Catmint (Nepeta)
- Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii)
- Coreopsis (Coreopsis)
- Red hot poker (Kniphofia)
- Dwarf plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides)
- Oregano (Origanum vulgare ‘Betty Rollins’ )
- Lavender (Lavandula)
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus)
- Sage (salvia)
- Seaside daisies (Erigeron glaucus 'Wayne Roderick')
"Honey bees in California will seek forage on warm sunny days in California," Thorp noted. "Some Asteraceae and mint family flowers will continue blooming and provide some food for honey bees, but they primarily rely on their stored honey to get them through the winter."