When California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) bloom and honey bees battle over the blossoms, can spring be far behind?
No, it's just California's pleasant weather. The California poppy, the state flower, usually blooms from February to September, but sometimes in a warm, sheltered area, you'll find it blooming in the dead of winter--and honey bees foraging among the blossoms.
Such is the case over on Garrod Drive by the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery. The asphalt from the parking lot generates quite a big of heat--and coupled with the sun, that's plenty of warmth for golden poppies to flourish.
It's a sight to bee-hold when Apis mellifera and Eschscholzia californica meet in December.
As 2012 approaches, it's "out with the old and in with the new!"
The huge feral honey bee colony that we photographed Jan. 9, 2011 in a Modesto ash tree at a Vacaville (Solano County), backyard, is still going strong. Thirty feet off the ground, the structure is solidly intertwined in the limbs of the old tree and is truly a sight to bee-hold.
Bee scientists at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, estimate it's been there since the spring of 2010. Leaves shroud it much of the year, but when the leaves drop, it's very much exposed.
Despite heavy rains, severe winds, robber bees, and foraging birds and other animals, this feral bee colony stays put.
On Sunday, Jan. 1, it will enter its third year of existence, which is quite remarkable in itself. Several UC Davis bee experts figured it wouldn't make it through the 2010-2011 winter. "If it lasts, I want that queen!" bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey quipped.
Well, it's lasted. And we're now in the second winter.
The homeowner just told us that "Yes, the feral bee colony is still there! Now that most of the leaves have blown off the tree, so it's much easier to see. The bees still come down to the deck to walk, not fly around. I'm surprised that it's remained viable for so long. The bees still buzz busily around the structure! What an amazing natural phenomenon!"
The photo (below) of the feral honey bee colony that first appeared in Bug Squad has attracted a lot of attention. A TV producer asked to borrow it for a recent episode of My Extreme Animal Phobia (Animal Planet), about a guy deathly afraid of honey bees. If you saw the entire episode--some of it filmed at the Laidlaw facility and some of it filmed in the quarters where a Sacramento clinical psychologist was treating him--you saw the photo on a bedroom wall.
We don't know how this magnificent structure could instill fear. For us, it instills only wonder, amazement and admiration.
It's like a spray of sunshine in the depths of winter.
The Bulbine frutescens, native to the desert grasslands of South Africa, is blooming well in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, located on Bee Biology Road at the University of California, Davis.
On any given day, even with the temperatures hovering around 50 degrees, the nearby honey bees find their way to the yellow compound flowers perched on the two-foot stalks.
The half-acre bee friendly garden, which opened to the public on Sept. 11, 2011, is gated (to keep out the rabbits), but it's open from dawn to dusk, all year around. Admission? Free!
The designers wanted something blooming year around in the garden, and that's exactly what's happening.
You won't find anyone more passionate about building a better bee than bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, who holds dual appointments at the University of California, Davis and Washington State University.
For one thing, her spring workshops on queen bee rearing and instrumental insemination at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis are already filled and there's a waiting list. Those on the waiting list--or at least some of them--are expected to register for her Washington state summer classes.
Those should fill up fast, too.
Cobey and her work are mentioned today in a Washington Post article, "In search of a better bee."
A key enemy of honey bees is the varroa mite, a parasitic critter that feeds on bee brood. Sometimes you'll even see it clinging to a foraging adult.
Cobey seeks to improve her stock. This includes building a better hygienic bee that can remove the varroa mites from the cells and the brood.
It's not an easy task.
"As vital as the hygienic bee is, the breeder must preserve desirable traits--a reluctance to sting or swarm, for example, as well as genetic diversity in a hedge against future diseases or pests," wrote Washington Post reporter Adrian Higgins.
"That's why gains are so slow," Cobey told her in the news story. "I would say we are just in the infancy of bee breeding."
Higgins wrote that Cobey is one of only a handful in the country skilled at artificially inseminating "virgin queens from known drone stock."
Why artificial insemination? When a virgin queen bee mates with drones in the drone congregation area (she mates in flight with a 12 to 20 drones or more), the breeding stock can't be controlled.
With queen bee insemination, it can be.
That's one of the reasons why Cobey's workshops draw students from throughout the world, and why they fill up fast.
If you're planning to join the ranks of backyard beekeepers in 2012, you should keep a few things in mind, says Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
Mussen, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty since 1976, advises what to do and what not to do in his current edition of from the UC Apiaries.
One of the most important things, says Mussen, is not to become a laissez-faire beekeeper, that is, "place the bees in a hive and walk away, leaving the bees to fend for themselves." This can lead to serious problems for your colony and the health of your neighbors' colonies, he points out. Plus, it could lead to more stringent city and county ordinances.
You should always provide water for your bees on your property, Mussen says. Otherwise, they will visit the neighbor's "hanging laundry, bird bath, swamp cooler, dog dish, leaky hose connection, etc."
Mussen also advises:
--Use fencing or bushes to get the bees to fly up, then away from the apiary. "They will also attain that altitude on return flights.
--Use gentle stocks and "work" the bees during warm, nice middays. That "free" swarm you catch may not be of gentle stock (and it could be Africanized bee stock if it's collected in areas where Africanized bees are).
--Use smoke and slow, gentle movements.
--Inspect the brood periodically, twice a month, "to be certain that the queen is laying a good pattern, that the brood is healthy, and that there are adequate food stores for the time of year."
And, Mussen says, "if you need to feed the bees, start feeding after flight ends for the day, to help prevent robbing."
Mussen offers a wealth of information in his current newsletter, the other bimonthly editions (dating back to 1976), and Bee Briefs.
Bottom line: if you're going to keep bees, Mussen says, "be a beekeeper, not a bee-haver."