If you like writing with light (photography), then you'll probably love capturing images of honey bees spinning like helicopters.
In the late afternoon, when the light softens, head over to your favorite Spanish lavender patch. Pull up a chair, listen to the buzz of the bees, and watch them spin their wings somewhat like helicopters do their blades.
Such was the case yesterday. The bees were buzzing so loud in the patch of lavender, Lavandula stoechas, that they sounded like spring unleashed. That buzz you hear is their wings; they've been recorded at 200 beats per second. Honey bees can be long-distance travelers; they can forage up to five or six miles, and can move about 15 miles per hour.
Those streaming purple petals topping the bloom are actually sterile bracts--Wikipedia defines a bract as "a modified or specialized leaf, especially one associated with a reproductive structure such as a flower, inflorescence axis, or cone scale." The bracts resemble rabbit ears, but ironically, Spanish lavender is rabbit-resistant and deer resistant (which is probably why there are no deer or rabbits in our urban yard!)
Meanwhile, if you've been wanting to learn more about honey bees, mark your calendar for these events in Davis and Woodland, Yolo County.
California Honey Festival: The inaugural California Honey Festival will take place Saturday, May 6 in downtown Woodland. Associated with the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, it will be held outdoors (Main Street), encompassing four blocks. It's free and open to the public. Expect beekeeper talks, booths, vendors, music, mead, honey tasting and lots of fun, says Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollinator Center See http://californiahoneyfestival.com.
UC Davis Bee Symposium: The Honey and Pollination Center and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology are sponsoring their third annual Bee Symposium, "Keeping Bees Healthy," on Sunday, May 7 in the UC Davis Conference Center. Keynote speaker is noted apiculturist Steve Sheppard of Thurber Professor of Apiculture and chair of the Department of Entomology, Washington State University, Pullman, Wash. Sheppard specializes in population genetics and evolution of honey bees, insect introductions and mechanisms of genetic differentiation. He also heads the Apis Molecular Systematics Laboratory. Registration is underway at http://honey.ucdavis.edu/events/2017-bee-symposium.
Western Apicultural Society (WAS): Founded 40 year ago at UC Davis, WAS will return to its roots for its next conference, set from Sept. 5-8 in Davis. Its president is Eric Mussen, UC Extension apiculturist emeritus, who is based in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. He's a familiar face; he's one of the three WAS co-founders and he's serving his sixth term as president. The conference open to the public. Registration is underway on the WAS website, http://www.westernapiculturalsociety.org.
That was the most commonly asked question at the California State Beekeepers' Association (CSBA) booth during the California Agriculture Day on Wednesday, March 22 on the west lawn of the State Capitol.
The annual event, heralding the first day of spring and showcasing the state's many crops and commodities, also offers an opportunity "for farmers and ranchers to show their appreciation by bringing together state legislators, government leaders and the public for agricultural education," a spokesperson said. This year's theme: "Food for Life."
Despite the light rain, several thousand crowded through the gates to visit the 52 booths, see 4-H and FFA animals, and to sample everything from tri-tip sandwiches from the Buckhorn Restaurant to strawberries from the California Strawberry Commission to milk from the Dairy Council of California to honey from the CSBA. Scores of other activities abounded.
The CSBA crew handed out some 2500 honey bee sticks-- long straws filled with honey--to two groups of people: legislators and staff from 10:30 to 11:30, and the public from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
A message affixed to each honey stick emphasized the importance of honey bees.
Honey bees, the five-bullet message related:
- Are the backbone of U.S. agriculture
- Pollinate 1/3 of the human diet
- Pollinate 120 various U.S. crops worth over $15 billion
- Pollinate California's $5.3 billion almond productions
- Produced over $200 million in U.S. honey and beeswax
The bees arrived, too. Providing the two bee observation hives: Bernardo Niño, who serves as the program manager of the California Master Beekeepers' Program, based at UC Davis, and Bill Cervenka, a longtime CSBA member. To visitor queries, they pointed out the whereabouts of the queen bee in the Laidlaw hive with: “Look for the pink one!” referring to the queen bee marked with a pink dot.
And just how are the bees doing?
"It's a challenge," Niño said, detailing some of the issues, from parasites, pesticides and pests to diseases and malnutrition. The "bee educators" also referred to the 44 percent loss: a national survey showed that beekeepers across the United States lost 44 percent of their honey bee colonies during the year spanning April 2015 to April 2016. "Rates of both winter loss and summer loss—and consequently, total annual losses—worsened compared with last year," according to Bee Informed. This marks the second consecutive survey year that summer loss rates rivaled winter loss rates. (See survey.)
CSBA, a non-profit organization serving California's beekeeping industry--primarily commercial beekeepers and queen breeders--actively supports bee research efforts; works with government officials to protect and promote the interest of the beekeeping industry; and educates the public about the beneficial aspects of honey bees. Officials say that the group supports research beneficial to beekeeping practices, provides a forum for the cooperation among beekeepers, and supports the economic viability of the beekeeping industry. Membership also includes a subscription to "The California Bee Times" and automatic membership in the $10,000 Bee Theft Rewards Program.
The E. L. Niño lab, directed by Extension apiculturist Elina Niño, supports California beekeepers through research, extension, and outreach. Their website lists current beekeeping courses which began March 11 and continue through June 11. They also maintain the E. L. Niño Lab Facebook site.
And it's definitely not a good time to be a honey bee.
The wind-whipped storms that are ravaging California are wreaking havoc on the state's almond pollination season, says honey bee guru Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and president of the Western Apicultural Society.
The situation: California's million acres of almonds require two hives per acre for pollination. Without bees, no almonds.
Honey bees usually fly when temperatures reach around 55 degrees. During inclement weather, they hole up inside their hives. They're so unlike our postal workers who vow that “neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet” can stop mail delivery. Unfavorable weather for bees? Think "no-fly zone."
Mussen, California's Extension apiculturist for 38 years before retiring in 2014, continues to maintain an office in Briggs Hall, UC Davis, and respond to inquiries about honey bees. Not one to say "no," Mussen is serving a sixth term as president of the Western Apicultural Society (WAS), which was founded at UC Davis and gearing up for its 40th anniversary meeting Sept. 5-8 Davis.
And the steady rain we're having? How will that affect the pollination season?
“Rain," said Mussen, "is hard on the almond bloom for a few important reasons." He lists five reasons:
- Rain frequently is accompanied by cooler weather, which delays bloom. But, the delay can last only a short while, and then the flowers open and shed pollen, despite the weather. Honey bees usually neither forage on damp or wet blossoms, nor fly in the rain.
- If pollen grains come into contact with water, the water enters the openings in the pollen grains, through which the pollen tubes are supposed to emerge. The water is absorbed by the living protoplasm in the pollen grain and bursts its contents.
- Free water tends to transport spores of fungal, and sometimes bacterial, diseases to open flowers. Those microbes can invade the floral tissues, or in some cases, begin a journey through the flowers into the branches of the tree. When rain is imminent, growers usually will apply a fungicide to their trees to reduce the amount of infection. Frequent rains can promote multiple pesticide applications.
- By almond bloom time, honey bee colonies are collecting as much pollen as they can find, to feed an expanding brood nest. A prolonged period of inclement weather will interfere with nectar and pollen foraging, and leave little food to raise be brood. Lack of incoming pollens can reduce brood rearing, sometimes even to the point of the adult workers consuming most of the younger brood to save the nutrients for better times.
- Beekeepers who are used to seeing their colonies increase from 8-10 frames of bees to 10-12 frames during almond bloom may be disappointed this year due to a situation that is beyond their control. Providing supplemental feed can help their bees to a limited extent, but we have no supplemental feed that matches the nutritional value of mixed pollens.
Mussen says that native, solitary bee species, such as the blue orchard bee, also can be impacted negatively by continuous wet weather. “Foraging flight is curtailed, pollens and nectars are diluted or washed away, nesting sites can be flooded, and preferred or required floral sources may not be available that year,” he said. “This can have substantial negative impacts on the size of the following generation.”
Bottom line: it's not a good time for almond growers, beekeepers, and bees.
Remember the iconic song, "The 12 Days of Christmas," which begins with "On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree?" Eleven more gifts follow: 2 turtle doves, 3 French hens, 4 calling birds, 5 gold rings, 6 geese-a-laying, 7 swans-a-swimming, 8 maids a'milking, 9 ladies dancing, 10 lords-a-leaping, and 11 pipers piping.
Sadly, that song, published in England in 1780, lacked one gift: insects. Not one single, solitary mention of a bug. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Talk about no representation!
So in 2010, the UC Davis Department of Entomology (now the Department of Entomology and Nematology) replaced the traditional song with "The 13 Bugs of Christmas."
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen (with the department from 1976- 2014 and now emeritus) and yours truly came up with a "bugworthy" song that focused on California agricultural pests. We performed it at the department's holiday party to roaring applause. (Entomologists like bugs.) Then it went viral when U.S. News picked it up.
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a psyllid in a pear tree.
On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, 2 tortoises beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 8 ants a'milking aphids, 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 9 mayflies dancing, 8 ants a'milking aphids, 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 10 locusts leaping, 9 mayflies dancing, 8 ants a'milking aphids, 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the 11th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 11 queen bees piping, 10 locusts leaping, 9 mayflies dancing, 8 ants a'milking aphids, 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
On the 12th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 12 deathwatch beetles drumming, 11 queen bees piping, 10 locusts leaping, 9 mayflies dancing, 8 ants a'milking aphids, 7 boatmen swimming, 6 lice a'laying, 5 golden bees, 4 calling cicadas, 3 French flies, 2 tortoise beetles and a psyllid in a pear tree
"On the 13th day of Christmas, Californians woke to see:
13 Kaphra beetles,
12 Diaprepes weevils,
11 citrus psyllids,
10 Tropilaelaps clareae,
9 melon fruit flies,
8 Aedes aegypti,
7 ash tree borers,
6 six spotted-wing Drosophila,
5 five gypsy moths,
4 Japanese beetles,
3 imported fire ants,
2 brown apple moths,
And a medfly in a pear tree."
Fast forward to Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016. We asked the honey bee guru (he's emeritus but still maintains an office in Briggs Hall and is president of the Western Apicultural Society--sixth term)) if we should update our "bugworthy" song, what with the influx of new agricultural pests and all. (Especially "new" and "all.") Within minutes--well, it seemed like minutes--he came up with a 2016 bugworthy version:
"On the 13th day of Christmas, Californians woke to see:
13 Japanese beetles,
12 guava fruit flies
11 citrus psyllids,
10 brown apple moths,
9 melon fruit flies,
8 longhorn beetles,
7 imported fire ants,
6 white striped fruit flies,
5 g-y-p-s-y m-o-t-h-s,
4 peach fruit flies,
3 false codling moths,
2 peach fruit flies,
And a grapevine moth in a pear tree."
Thirteen bugs. That's bugworthy all right.
It's just been announced that the Western Apicultural Society (WAS), founded 40 years ago at UC Davis, will be meeting ...drum roll...Sept. 5-8, 2017 in Davis, Calif.
That's the kind of advance notice we like.
Fortieth anniversary? Is that possible? It is. The group traces its beginnings back to 1977 and founders Norm Gary, UC Davis professor of entomology and noted bee wrangler; newly hired Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen; and Becky Westerdahl, who had just received her doctorate in biology/nematology from UC Riverside. Both Gary and Mussen are retired. (Don't mention the "R" word to them, though! Mussen continues to maintain an office in Briggs Hall, UC Davis, and Gary is a jazz musician who keeps busy playing the "B" or "Bee" flat clarinet, among other instruments.) Westerdahl went on to become an Extension nematologist, based in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Mussen will serve as the program coordinator for the 2017 event, to be held in the Activities and Recreational Center (ARC) on campus. He is already planning a program that will showcase the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, and the adjacent Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Meanwhile, WAS will be meeting in a few weeks--Oct. 13-15--in Honolulu. Two of the speakers are from UC Davis: Eric Mussen, who will discuss pesticides; and Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, an expert in queen breeding.
What's WAS all about? Mussen, a five-time president, remembers hammering out the mission with his colleagues: "WAS is a non-profit, educational, beekeeping organization founded in 1978 for the benefit and enjoyment of all beekeepers in western North America. Membership is encouraged from anywhere in the world. However, the organization is specifically designed to meet the educational needs of beekeepers from the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming as well as the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and the Yukon." Current president is Ethel Villalobos of Hawaii. Niño serves as the second vice president.
The entire country--indeed the entire world--is worried about bee health and the declining bee population. The United States has about 2.6 million colonies, Mussen says, while the number of colonies in California is approximately half a million.
Indeed, Davis, Calif. is the place to "bee" Sept. 5-8, 2017.