The California State Beekeepers' Association (CSBA) and the Sacramento Area Beekeepers' Association (SABA) staffed a beekeeping booth from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and filled it with honey straws, Häagen-Dazs premier ice cream and bee-related pamphlets from Project Apis m. A bee observation hive, brought by Bill Cervenka Apiaries of Half Moon Bay, fronted the booth.
The bees buzzed all right, but the people--the general public lining for the ice cream donated by Häagen-Dazs--seemed to create the biggest buzz. They made a literal beeline for the strawberry and vanilla ice cream. Häagen-Dazs supports the University of California, Davis, through its bee garden and bee research (some 50 percent of its flavors require the pollination of bees).
By 11:35, the honey was all gone. "It vanished, just like our bees," quipped Bill Lewis, CSBA president.
Staffing the booth with him were Carlen Jupe, CSBA treasurer; Marti Ikehara of SABA, and Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Among those stopping to chat with the beekeepers were California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross and Barbara Allen-Diaz, vice president of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR). The California Department of Food and Agriculture sponsors the annual event, this year focusing on "Celebration, Innovation and Education."
Their bees pollinate almonds, oranges, avocados and alfalfa.
For Lewis, his interest in bees began at age 14 when he took up beekeeping in the Boy Scout program and earned his beekeeping badge. That was in Wisconsin, north of Milwaukee, where he maintained several bee hives in his backyard. "I 'abandoned' them when I went off to college," he said.
After earning his master's degree in mechanical engineering at Purdue University, he settled in California to work in the aerospace industry. Ten years later he began a 10-year period of working at a horse-boarding stable. "Horses don't much like bees," he commented. "It bothers the horses when they have to share the same water bowl."
How did he get back into beekeeping? "The bees found me," Lewis said. He began keeping bees in 1991, first as a hobby, and then as a business. "I'm a first-generation beekeeper."
"Our food supply is so dependent on bees," Lewis said. As visitors flowed by, some asked him what they could do to help the bees. Plant bee friendly flowers, buy local honey, try not to use pesticides in your garden, and generally, provide a friendly place for bees.
His favorite variety of honey is black sage "but we're not getting to get much of it this year due to the lack of rain." His second favorite: orange blossom.
He also has almond honey, which he and Mussen describe as "bitter." And, Lewis said, it gets more bitter with time."/span>
They're there for the pollen.
"California poppies provide only pollen--no nectar," native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, told the Pollinator Gardening Workshop last Saturday on the UC Davis campus. Thorp was one of the featured speakers at the event, sponsored by the California Center for Urban Horticulture.
Thorp, who identifies thousands of bees a year for researchers, enthralled the audience with facts about bees. Although he retired in 1994, he maintains an office at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, and is one of the instructors of The Bee Course.
Some of the information he presented:
- Unlike wasps, which are carnivorous, "bees are vegans." They gather pollen and nectar from plants. (They also collect water and propolis, or plant resin, for their colonies.)
- "Flowers don't have wings; so we need the pollinators to come to them."
- The global population of bees includes some 19,500 named species. Of that number, about 4000 different species of bees occur in North America; 1600 in California, and more than 300 species of bees in Yolo County. (Over the last four years, Thorp has found more than 80 species of bees in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven a half-acre bee friendly garden on Bee Biology Road maintained by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.)
- Seventy percent of bees are solitary, and most nest in the soil.
- Fifteen percent of bees are cuckoo bees; the females lay their eggs in other bees' nest and their offspring eat the provisions
- Only 10 percent of bees are social (honey bees are among them)
Thorp recommends that if you want to attract native bees, provide food (bee plants), water and shelter. "Leave some bare soil, avoid mulch madness, and provide bee condos (drilled blocks of wood that blue orchard bees and leafcutting bees use for their nesting sites.)
"Plant it and they will come," Thorp said. "Provide habitat and they will stay and reproduce."
Thorp is the co-author of a newly published book, "Bumble Bees of North America" (Princeton University Press) and a co-author (with Gordon Frankie of UC Berkeley and colleagues) of a pending book with the working title, "California Bees and Blooms."
One of the websites Thorp recommends is the UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab website, http://www.helpabee.org/, which provides information on native bees, gardening for bees, and current projects and partnerships.
St. Patrick's Day is the "wearing of the green," but it's also the "wearing of the yellow."
Wild mustard, that is.
If you drive through the hills of Napa, around St. Patrick's Day, or from January through March, you'll see bee hives nestled in the green landscape with a flourish of mustard (Brassica spp.).
It's a child's delight, a photographer's dream, and a painter's inspiration. But mustard is also a good cover crop and bee food.
Indeed, honey bees crave mustard just like folks on "Irish Day" crave corned bee and cabbage (with that yellow condiment made from mustard seeds).
The European honey bee, also known as the Western honey bee, has been in the United States for s-o-o-o long that we think it's a native.
It's not. European colonists brought the honey bee (Apis mellifera) to the Jamestown colony (Virginia) in 1622. The native Americans called it "the white man's fly." And the honey bee wasn't even introduced to California until 1853. That was in the middle of the California Gold Rush, 1848-1858, when it arrived in the San Jose area.
Our ancestors quickly became quite fond of the industrious little pollinator and honey/wax producer buzzing around them.
Today, as they did, we frequently see non-native and native bees sharing nectar resources, such as in the photos below of honey bees and yellow-faced bumble bees (Bombus vosnesenskii).
We're often asked: "Do honey bees, being an invasive species, impact the native bees?"
We put that question to Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. He's served as California's Extension apiculturist since 1976, almost 40 years.
His answer: "We do not have a definitive answer to that question. But, since honey bees have been living in what is now the U.S. for just short of 400 years, it is likely that honey bees and native bees determined, long ago, how to partition resources at any particular location so that both species survived. It is true that only honey bees can be moved into and out of a specific location overnight, and that might put a stress on local populations of native bees, but I never have heard of honey bees eliminating native bees from any particular spot."
That's the buzz on bees.
- "I just saw a golden bumble bee. I think it's a new species! Can I name it?"
- "I just saw a huge bee and it's gold in color and all fluffy with green eyes!"
- "I just saw a huge bumble bee flying around in our backyard. It's yellow and I think it's a pest."
It's the male Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, which native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the Department of Entomology and Nematology at the University of California, Davis, calls "the teddy bear" bee.
Like all male bees, it doesn't sting.
But what's unusual about this bee is its color, golden with green eyes. It's sexual dimorphism at its best, because the female Valley carpenter bees are solid black.
The Valley carpenter bee is the biggest carpenter bee in California. And it scares the living beejeez (dead beejeez, too) out of young children, teenagers, and adults. Just about everybody and everything, including the family dog and cat.
As Thorp told us several years ago for a news story:
"Xylocopa varipuncta occurs in the Central Valley and southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and southward through Mexico. It is large (about the size of a queen bumble bee), with all black females and golden/buff-colored males with green eyes. Females have dark wings with violet reflections."
Some folks think it's a pest. It's not. It's a pollinator. Let it "bee."