A recent trip to the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, Fort Bragg, yielded spectacular views of the ocean, but something else also proved spectacular--the honey bees and bumble bees foraging on borage.
Borage (Borago officinalis) is a blue starflower with distinguishing black anthers, coupled with hairy, bristly stems and leaves. Borage is often used as a vegetable or herb in culinary dishes, such as salads and soups. It's also used to garnish a cocktail, flavor hot tea and to fill pasta ravioli.
Some folks swear by its medicinal purposes--its anti-inflammatory properties reportedly help you recover from a respiratory infection, or alleviate mild depression.
Your great-grandmother may have embroidered the likeness of a borage on her pillowcases or painted it on canvas or arranged the colorful flowers in a vase.
If you stroll through the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, you'll see borage lining one side of a traditional vegetable plot.
Honey bees and bumble bees can't get enough it.
Neither can photographers.
There are marathons, read-a-thons, dance-a-thons, quilt-a-thons, paint-a-thons, geek-a-thons and sleep-a-thons.
So why not a bee-a-thon?
YourGardenShow.com is teaming with The Great Sunflower Project to sponsor a worldwide bee-a-thon, a free online town-hall event to be broadcast from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (Pacific Time) at www.yourgardenshow.com/bee-a-thon.
You can listen to "bee experts, beekeepers and key environmental players reveal the latest buzz on what's happening to our bees and what you can do this summer to make a difference" and ask them questions.
In the meantime, the sponsors are encouraging you to RSVP and upload your favorite bee photo.
The bee-a-thon serves as the springboard for the citizen-science campaign, The Great Bee Count.
This is a great way to draw attention to the plight of the bees and the importance of these insects. While you're tuning in, the bees will be going about their business as usual--working inside the hive, and gathering pollen, nectar, water and propolis outside the hive.
The sponsors are urging us to "Bee curious, bee aware and bee a good neighbor."
Good advice all year long, but especially on Saturday, July 16.
You can't miss the flame skimmer dragonfly (Libellula saturata). You especially can't miss the male, which is firecracker red.
We watched a male flame skimmer hunt for prey over our fish pond Saturday afternoon. (Hopefully, it was nailing mosquitoes!)
This insect's pattern of flight is so unpredictable that it's difficult to photograph. Where it was, is not where it is. Where it is, is not where it was. It flutters, swoops, soars, and corners a turn like an Indy 500 race car heading for the checkered flag.
But wait! After you watch a dragonfly catch prey, follow it. See where it lands.
In our yard, the dragonflies seem to prefer landing on a tomato stake. The bamboo stake is there for two reasons: (1) to anchor the tomato vines and (2) to attract dragonflies.
We set up a "stakeout." The dragonfly kept returning again and again within a five-minute span to rest or eat its prey.
Nature's pole dancer...resplendent in red...
All that glitters is not gold.
The gold coin flowers (Asteriscus maritimus) planted in our yard attract a goodly number of leafcutter bees and hover flies (aka flower flies and syrphid flies).
But if you look closely, gold coins attract something else--arachnids.
This little crab spider (below) blends in so well that at first glance, it's not easy to spot.
And that's the key. Perfectly camouflaged, it awaits prey.
A golden opportunity...
If the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis Department of Entomology, seemed like a lonely place in 1994, 2004 and 2005, that's because four professors retired.
Now the bee biology program is gaining new strength. In 2009, the Department hired native pollinator specialist/assistant professor Neal Williams.
And this week Michael Parrella, chair of the the UC Davis Department of Entomology, announced another new addition to the faculty: Brian R. Johnson, a University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Berkeley.
That's good news for the university, good news for the department, good news for bee research and good news for the bees.
Johnson, an assistant professor, has broad interests in evolution, ecology, behavior, genetics, and theoretical biology.
"The Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility has been the site of very innovative bee research over the years that have contributed to the facility's national and international reputation,” Parrella said. “We are excited about hiring Brian Johnson as the new apiculturist at UC Davis as Brian is committed to moving the science of apiculture forward as well as to conducting problem-solving research to help beekeepers, bee breeders and those stakeholders who rely on pollination services provide by honey bees.”
Johnson received his doctorate in 2004 from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. in behavioral biology (thesis: “Organization of Work in the Honey Bee”). A native of Hartford, Conn., Johnson grew up primarily in San Jose but also lived in Omaha, Neb.
Johnson has studied bees for more than 12 years. But, as he said, "I still learn something unexpected and important with every new study. The colony is like a hugely complex puzzle, with many pieces fitting together in functionally cohesive ways. This brain-teaser aspect of figuring out how a honey bee colony works is I think what first attracted me to bee research.”
“In the past (prior to the 1980s) bees were more or less healthy, so little effort went into understanding their basic epidemiology,” Johnson said. “When tracheal mites, and then Varroa moved in, great effort went into controlling these pests, but still little effort went into basic bee epidemiology. Now with colony collapse disorder (CCD), the emphasis is finally transitioning from trying to put out fires--by which I mean control nasty pests of current concern--to both trying to put out fires and understand what causes them in the first place.”
“My hope is that Davis can be at the forefront of this endeavor to both control CCD,” Johnson said, “and to understand what factors underlie a healthy or unhealthy population of honey bees.”
Johnson has already settled into his lab at the Laidlaw facility and his office on the third floor of Briggs Hall.