How to celebrate Valentine's Day?
Well, without pollinators, we wouldn't be celebrating Valentine's Day as we know it.
That box of chocolates? Give thanks to the midges that pollinated the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao.
That bouquet of mixed flowers? Honey bees probably visited them before they were gifted to you. Among honey bee favorites are lavenders, mints, sunflowers, asters, basil, rosemary and the like.
That candle on your dining room table or fireplace? It may be made of beeswax, provided by the bees.
But to paraphase John F. Kennedy, it shouldn't be about what bees can do for us; it should be what we can do for the bees. Two of the nicest things we can do are to (1) plant a bee friendly garden, offering a diversity of their favorite seasonal plants, (2) avoid pesticides and (3) learn about the bees around us and their needs.
You can learn how to attract pollinators at a workshop set March 28 on the UC Davis campus. That's when the California Center for Urban Horticulture is sponsoring "Your Sustainable Backyard: Creating a Living Landscape." Registration is underway.
Another perfect gift for Valentine's Day is the newly published California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardener and Naturalists (Heyday), the work of Gordon Frankie, Robbin Thorp, Rollin Coville and Gretchen Ertier, all with UC Berkeley connections, and one with a UC Berkeley/UC Davis connection. That would be native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor at UC Davis, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley.
As the authors point out, California is home to some 1600 species of bees. In their must-have book, they describe bee behavior, social structure, flight season, preferred flowers, and natural enemies. They offer "recipes" for bee gardens and list how you can become involved with projects that protect bees and promote public awareness.
Can't you just hear the bees communicating "Bee Mine?"
So you want to create a sustainable landscape in your backyard. You want to create a living landscape that attracts bees, butterflies and birds. You want plenty of pollinators and a plethora of beneficial insects.
How do you do it?
The California Center for Urban Horticulture (CCUH), based at the University of California, Davis, will clue you in at its workshop, "Your Sustainable Backyard: Creating a Living Landscape Workshop," on Saturday, March 28 on the UC Davis campus.
The event, set from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. (come for breakfast at 7:30!), will take place in Room 180 of Medical Sciences Building C in the School of Medicine complex. Registration is now underway and those planning to attend should reserve their space early.
Insect and wildlife habitat is growing scarce in the typical backyard, said Anne Schellman, program manager of CCHU. "Making your garden into a living landscape is an important way to create places of refuge for wildlife while adding biological diversity to your city. The goal of the sustainable gardener is to reduce pesticide use, select plants carefully and provide food and shelter for wild creatures, which helps tie our gardens to the larger landscape around us."
Workshop topics (the speakers and their titles will be announced soon) are:
- Plants that provide refugia for wildlife (refugia is defined as "an area where special environmental circumstances have enabled a species or a community of species to survive after extinction in surrounding areas")
- Not-so-common pollinators
- Cool tools to control garden pests
- Green roof applications
- Attracting birds to your backyard
The cost is $45, which includes parking, a light breakfast, lunch and a special tour of the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology on Bee Biology Road. It is located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, west of the central campus. Those attending will also have the opportunity to purchase bee condos or homes for leafcutter bees and blue orchard bees. They are blocks of wood drilled with specific-sized holes.
For more information on the workshop, access the CCUH website or contact Schellman at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 752-6642.
A welcome gift, indeed.
We placed our two little beneficial buddies on a yellow rose rose bush, "Sparkle and Shine," purchased last year during the Rose Weekend sponsored by the UC Davis-based California Center for Urban Horticulture (CCUH), part of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
"Eat," we said. "Eat aphids."
Ladybugs don't always do what they're told. Sometimes they fly away.
However, the yellow roses are gorgeous. They remind me of "The Yellow Rose of Texas," a song--and flower--so loved by my Texas-born mother. "So pretty," she'd say.
Which bring us to this: CCHU's 2014 Rose Weekend is set Saturday, May 3 and Sunday, May 4 at the Foundation Plant Services, 455 Hopkins Road, UC Davis. CCHU kindly hosts this fundraiser just before Mother's Day to make gift-giving easier. The two-day event includes rose sales, bus tours of the Foundation Plant Services' eight acres of roses, and informational sessions on roses--everything you've always wanted to know about roses but didn't know who to ask.
Admission is free. Also free: a rose for each guest while supplies last. In addition, CCHU will offer for sale copies of the popular UC IPM book, "Healthy Roses." The bus tours of the eight-acre rose field will take place every 30 minutes, from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m., both Saturday and Sunday.
Saturday, May 3:
10 a.m. to 4 p.m.: Rose sale
12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.: Rose field tours
10 a.m. to 11 a.m.: Peter Boyd, noted Rosarian
11 a.m. to noon: Christian Bedard, rose breeder
--UC Master Gardeners' booth for questions and answers
--Rose Tissue Culture Information Booth
Sunday, May 4:
10 a.m. to 4 p.m.,: Rose sale
12:30 to 3:30 p.m.: Rose field tours
UC Master Gardeners' booth for questions and answers
The colors? Among them: Luscious reds, brilliant golds, and pure-as-the-driven-snow whites. You can download an online catalog to help you with your selections. Some roses are All-American Rose Selections (AARS). To be selected, a rose is evaluated for two years under no-spray conditions, and must meet strict criteria for superior disease resistance, fragrance and flower color, according to CCHU director Dave Fujino and program manager Anne Schellman.
They're also provided a handy rose dictionary on their website for those unfamiliar with roses:
English-style roses: Roses with dense petals that possess a strong fragrance. David Austin roses are English roses.
Floribunda: Medium-sized flowers in a “spray” of blossoms. Compact plants that are smaller and “bushier” than hybrid teas.
Grandiflora: Largest rose plant, has hybrid tea-style roses in small clusters of 3-5. Stems can be used for cutting.
Hybrid tea: One large flower per stem. Plant is medium to tall. Stems can be used for cutting.
Polyantha: A bushy plant with vibrant flowers
Whether they're English-style, floribundas, grandifloras, hybrid teas, or polyanthas, everything will be coming up roses on May 3 and 4.
It won't bloom until summer, but already many eyes are on the California buckeye.
The tree's blossoms are poisonous to honey bees. Bees are attracted to them and forage on them, but the end result of the food provisions to the colony can be deformed larval development.
We've seen bee hives within a quarter of a mile of California buckeyes (Aesculus californica). And we've seen honey bees, native bees and other pollinators foraging on the blossoms.
At the recent UC Davis Pollinator Gardening Workshop hosted by the California Center for Urban Horticulture, Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen talked about the poisonous plants. (See PowerPoint presentations.) That led to one workshop participant wondering if the flowers of the California buckeye are poisonous to native bees. (Honey bees are not native; the European colonists brought them to the Jamestown colony, Virginia, in 1622).
Responded Mussen: "My guess: either the native bees that have been in the areas around California buckeye for a long, long time are not poisoned by the pollen or they have been selected (by death of the other genetic types) to avoid the pollen, that eons of natural selection have adapted them to coexist with California buckeye while using their resources."
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, shared: "We know California buckeye nectar and/or pollen is toxic to honey bees from years of experience with managed hives. Toxicity to native bees and other flower visitors is not so easily determined and to my knowledge has not been investigated. The fact that populations of native bees and butterflies visit California buckeye flowers and continue to persist in areas where the tree is a dominant part of the plant community tends to confirm what Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen says about them. Some good research projects here. So we still do not know if it is the nectar, pollen, or both that may be toxic to honey bees, much less to native flower visitors."
According to gardeningguides.com, the seeds in their raw state are poisonous to humans, but native Americans learned to get around that and use them for food. They pounded the seeds into flour and then cooked the mixture. "This tree had multiple cultural uses among California Indian tribes," the website says. "Many indigenous groups utilized buckeye seeds for food, often when other plant food sources were scarce. These tribes included the Costanoan, Salinan, Kitanemuk, Serrano, Wappo, Sierra Miwok, Coast Miwok, Chumash, Kawaiisu, Northern Maidu among others. The Pomo ate the seeds even when other important food plants were plentiful. The seeds are poisonous to humans in the raw state. Thus, the nuts were cracked open with a rock, the shells removed, the seeds pounded into flour, and their toxic saponins removed in a lengthy leaching process. The meal was subsequently cooked and eaten. There are many different methods for processing and cooking buckeye seeds for food, depending upon the tribe. The seeds have medicinal properties and were cut into pieces, mixed with water, and made into suppositories for hemorrhoids by the Costanoan and Kawaiisu. The Pomo cut bark from the base of the tree and made a poultice, which was laid on a snakebite. Young buckeye shoots were sometimes used as spindles or twirling sticks in fire-making kits of the Sierra Miwok, Northern Maidu, Wappo, Yahi and other tribes. Many tribes mashed buckeye nuts and poured the contents into quiet pools to stupefy or kill fish."
And, no wildlife will eat buckeye seeds except squirrels, such as the California ground squirrel (Citellus beecheyi).
Meanwhile, the poisonous blossoms continue to beckon the honey bees--and their colonies keep producing deformed bees.
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.