If you want to learn about what bees do, and how gardeners can support healthy pollinator populations through simple gardening practice, then this is for you: Your Sustainable Backyard: Pollinator Gardening.
Sponsored by the California Center for Urban Horticulture (CCUH), it's a workshop set from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, April 28 on the UC Davis campus. It's for all who love gardening, says coordinator Melissa "Missy" Gable, program manager of CCUH.
"This workshop is designed both to inspire gardeners and equip them with all the necessary tools to provision pollinating insects in their own landscape," Gable says. "Without the pollination services of European honey bees and native bees, what fruits and vegetables would be accessible to us?"
The first part will include talks by entomologists, horticulturists and design experts from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in Room 101 of Giedt Hall.
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis, and Dave Fujino, executive director of CCHU, will welcome the crowd from 8:45 a.m. to 9 a.m.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, will speak on "Bees 101: Species Diversity and Behavior" from 9 to 4:45 a.m. Then , pollination ecologist Neal Williams, assistant professor of entomology at UC Davis, will discuss "Importance of Pollinators and Conservation."
Ellen Zagory, director of horticulture at the UC Davis Arboretum will cover "Bee Plants" from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. The last workshop speaker, Vicki Wojcik, associate program manager of Pollinator Partnership will zero in on "Pollinator Gardening: Design and Maintenance" from12:30 to 1:15 p.m.
Following the formal presentations, participants are invited to (1) tour the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, and (2) visit the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery, where they can see the pollinator demonstration beds and have an opportunity to buy plants at a specially held sale inside the nursery. Members of the Friends of the Arboretum will receive a 10 percent discount.
Both the haven and the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery will be open from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Thorp and Gable will be at the haven to answer questions during the self-guided tours, and Zagory will be on hand in the teaching nursery's demonstration gardens to field questions.
The registration fee of $45 registration includes parking, morning coffee/tea, scones and a gourmet boxed lunch. See registration site.
This definitely is "the place to bee."
We've been watching the almonds budding and blossoming since late January.
They're in full bloom now, but a little ragged by the recent rain.
California has some 750,000 acres of almonds, and it takes two hives per acre to pollinate them.
Since California doesn't have that many bees, beekeepers from all over the country--from Florida to South Dakota to Washington state--truck in the little agricultural workers.
We asked Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, just how many California-based hives are in the state's almond orchards. That is, how many are "residents" and how many are "migratory."
Being a honey bee guru--after all, he's been with the department since 1976--Mussen knew the answer.
"About 500,000 hives of the 2.6 million hives now pollinating California's almond orchards live here," he said.
As we checked out a spectacular almond orchard on Pitt School Road, Dixon, we stopped to ponder the numbers: 750,000 acres of almonds (and increasing yearly) and 2.6 million hives for pollination services. The bees forage within four miles from their colony, or within a 50-mile radius, Mussen says.
In the almond orchards, they don't have far to go.
California is known as the "The Golden State," but this time of year, it's never been so true. The "gold" is the pollen that the bees are transferring from blossom to blossom in the almond orchards.
If you've ever watched honey bees work the blossoms, you'll probably see them packing pollen in their pollen baskets and cleaning their tongue as they buzz from flower to flower.
Pollen is protein, and nectar, carbohydrates. Worker bees collect both, plus water and propolis (plant resin) for their colony.
"Pollen in the plant world is the equivalent of sperm in the animal world," writes UC Davis emeritus professor Norm Gary in his book, Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees. "Fertilization and growth of seeds depend upon the transfer of pollen from the male flower parts (anthers) to the receptive female parts (stigmas). For many species, such as grains and nuts, pollination occurs by airborne pollen that is produced in great quantity and characterized by very small, lightweight pollen grains. Airborne pollen causes most human allergies."
That's what he calls "Pollen 101."
"Inexperienced foragers quickly learn the most efficient movements to dislodge pollen grains from the anthers," writes Gary, who spent 32 years in the academic world of teaching, research and public service and continues to be a professional bee wrangler. "This frequently involves the use of their tongues and mandibles in licking and scraping the anthers, which slightly moistens the pollen."
"After becoming coated in pollen grains, the bees meticulously brush pollen from the body hairs with the comblike hairs on their legs. This process gradually transfers the pollen to the hind legs, where it accumulates as two 'pellets,' adhering to the outer surface of the pollen baskets on their hind legs."
A pollen-collector can collect a full load in about 10 minutes, Gary says. Number of pollen-collecting trips a bee can make in a day? Ten is typical.
Gary, who has amassed more than six decades of beekeeping experience, marvels at how the bee transfers pollen from its body to its pollen basket. It's "choreography that almost defies description," he writes.
Other folks just don't want to be around them. Sure, they appreciate the pollination services and they worry about the declining bee population, but they don't want these tiny agricultural workers near them.
We received an inquiry last week from an Amador County resident who wanted a "bee catcher" to come and remove honey bees from his rosemary bushes.
Was this a swarm? No. No swarm.
Just a lot of bees visiting his yard.
Honey bees, however, are social insects. Every morning (unless it's too cold, or rainy or windy) foragers leave home to collect food (nectar and pollen) to bring back to their colony.
Honey bees survive as a unit, a sort of super unit or superorganism, not as individuals. Each has a task to perform. So you can't just catch foragers (which already have a home) and give them to another beekeeper. Guard bees will stop them at the entrance.
As Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology says: "At this time of year, foraging bees are leaving colonies all over the warmer states to forage for water, nectar, and pollen. Certain plant blossoms are particularly attractive to honey bees, including rosemary.
"Despite the fact that you have many plants, thousands of blossoms, and hundreds of bees, the idea of capturing them and trying to integrate them into another colony is not likely to work.
"First, the colony from which they are originating would be suffering loss of valuable foragers. Second, honey bees from different colonies do not tend to combine very easily. They tend to fight."
"Finally, the queens in the colonies are laying around 1,000 eggs per day. In three weeks, nearly 1,000 new worker bees will emerge, daily. Later, the colonies will pump that up to 2,000 a day. We cannot capture bees at that rate of increase. It is best to let the healthy colonies build up quickly, then split the colonies in half (before they decide to swarm) and then have two colonies from one."
Bottom line: You should enjoy the bees in your yard, knowing "that because of the food you provide, one or more colonies are going to build up faster and provide extra bees that the beekeeper can use to increase colony numbers at the proper time of the season."
As for us, we look forward to spring and the return of blossoms, bees and butterflies. Especially the bees!
It was a golden moment.
The honey bees that collected pollen from our nectarine trees today looked as if they were lugging gold nuggets left over from the California Gold Rush. Struggling with the heavy pollen loads, some of the bees crashed to the ground.
The nectarine trees burst into bloom last weekend but the bees seemed to pay no attention to them until today, Presidents' Day. The queen (bee) probably had something to do with it! "Hey, girls, if I'm going to be laying 1500 to 2000 eggs a day, we need some food."
If you look at peach and nectarine blossoms, you probably couldn't distinguish between the two. Nectarines are actually a cultivar of peaches (Prunus persica). The peach tree, native to China, sports "fuzzy" fruit, while you could say the nectarines are "clean-shaven."
No one knows when nectarine varieties first surfaced, but according to Wikipedia, "the first recorded mention in English is from 1616." Pomologists figure that the peach was probably grown much earlier, though, in its native range.
One thing's for certain: thanks to a mild winter and early spring, our nectarine trees are blooming a couple weeks earlier this year than last year.