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Bees 'n Blooms

Co-author Gordon Frankie (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Bees 'n blooms. Blooms 'n bees.

Add "California" to it and you have California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists.

It's a book that's well-planned, well-executed, well-written and well-photographed.

Bees are hungry. What plants will attract them? How can you entice them to your garden and encourage them not only to visit but to live there?

The book, the first of its kind, profiles some of the most common bee genera found in California gardens; their preferred plants, both native and non-native; and how to attract them.

Most folks are familiar with honey bees and bumble bees. But what about the other bees, such as mining, leafcutting, sweat, carpenter, digger, masked, longhorned, mason and polyester bees?

Co-author Barbara Ertter
The authors point out that of the 20,000 bee species identified worldwide, some 4000 are found in the United States, and 1600 in California.

Published by the nonprofit Heyday Books in collaboration with the California Native Plant Society, the book is the work of four scientists closely linked to UC Berkeley: urban entomologist Gordon Frankie, a professor and research entomologist at UC Berkeley; native pollinator specialist and emeritus professor Robbin Thorp of UC Davis (he received his doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley); insect photographer and entomologist Rollin Coville, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley; and botanist/curator Barbara Ertter of UC Berkeley. 

“This book is about urban California's bees: what they are, how and where they live, their relationships with ornamental flowers, and how to attract them to urban gardens,” they wrote. “It was written in the urgency of knowing that bees are critical to the health of our natural, ornamental and agricultural landscapes and that populations of some, perhaps many are in rapid decline.”

Co-author Rollin Coville
Frankie, who has researched bees in urban gardens in California for 13 years, says: “While the book is specific to California, larger insights can be gathered about the role of native bees in developed landscapes (such as agriculture), and native bee conservation."

Frankie studies behavioral ecology of solitary bees in wildland, agricultural and urban environments of California and Costa Rica.  He teaches conservation and environmental issues. He is involved in how people relate to bees and their plants and how to raise human awareness about bee-plant relationships.

Co-author Robbin Thorp, who retired in 1994 after 30 years of teaching, research and mentoring graduate students, continues to conduct research on pollination biology and ecology, systematics, biodiversity and conservation of bees, especially bumble bees. He is one of the instructors at the The Bee Course, affiliated with the American Museum of Natural History and held annually at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz. The course is geared for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists and other biologists who seek greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees.

“The book is profusely illustrated with photos and drawings of bees and flowers, especially notable are the magnificent close-up images of bees by co-author Rollin Coville,” Thorp said.

Ertter thoroughly explores the anatomy of a flower. Bees and flowers constitute what the authors delightfully describe as "a love affair."

California's bees differ in size, shape and color, as do the flowers they visit. “The tiniest bees are ant-sized; the largest rival small birds,” the authors wrote. “Some are iridescent green or blue, some are decked out with bright stripes, some are covered with fuzzy-looking hairs.”

“Nature has programmed bees to build nests and supply their young with nutritious pollen and nectar, and their unique methods for collecting these resources are fascinating to observe. Their lives are dictated by season, weather and access to preferred flower types and nesting habitat.”

California Bees and Blooms lists 53 of urban California's best bee attractors identified through the Urban California Native Bee Survey. Among them:  aster, bluebeard, catmint, California lilac or Ceanothus, cosmos, California sunflower, red buckwheat, California poppy, blanket flower, oregano, rosemary, lavender, gum plant, and salvia (sage). With each plant, they provide a description; origin and natural habitat, range and use in California; flowering season; resource for bees (such as pollen and nectar), most frequent bee visitors, bee ecology and behavior and gardening tips.

The book offers tips on how readers can “think like a bee.” It devotes one chapter to “Beyond Bee Gardening: Taking Action on Behalf of Native Bees.” In addition, the book provides quotes on bees and/or bee gardens from Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen (retired) of UC Davis: Ellen Zagory, horticulture director of the UC Davis Arboretum; and Kate Frey of Hopland, a designer of sustainable, insect-friendly gardens throughout California and in some parts of the world.

For more data on the book, the authors, and purchase information, access the publisher's website at

And for ongoing research on California's bees and blooms, be sure to check out the UC Berkeley website, appropriately named

A honey bee and yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenski, share a coneflower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee and yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenski, share a coneflower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee and yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenski, share a coneflower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp with a copy of the book. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp with a copy of the book. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp with a copy of the book. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 5:42 PM

Reporter ponders UC Cooperative Extension pepper research

Capsaicin, the yellow line of fluid, gives jalapeño peppers their heat.
A column in the Salinas Californian playfully reflected on UC Cooperative Extension research that aims to turn up the heat in the mighty jalapeño pepper.

Writer Dennis Taylor reported that Aziz Baameur, UCCE farm advisor in Santa Clara and San Benito counties, is trying to increase the Scoville units in hot peppers by adjusting on-farm practices.

"The trend lately is toward hotter items," said Jeff Sanders of George Chiala Farms in Morgan Hill, the site of the research project.

Taylor waxes on about super hot peppers that are being grown around the world - including the current record holder, according to Guinness, the Carolina Reaper, which is 900 times hotter than the jalapeño.

He wrote that he asked a newsroom colleague, UCCE Master Gardener Laramie Trevino, whether she would prefer more heat in jalapeños, and he mentioned a plan to call Baameur and Sanders to learn more about the motives behind their research work.

For more information about the hot pepper research, see: Some like it hotter: UC Cooperative Extension tries to grow a spicier jalapeño.

Posted on Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 4:39 PM

A Fly Is a Fly Is a Fly

Honey bee nectaring on Spanish lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A bee is a bee is a bee is a bee.

'Cept when it's a fly.

Lately we've been seeing lots of images on social media (including Facebook and Twitter), news media websites, and stock photo sites of "honey bees." 

But they're actually flies. 

Will the real flies come forth?

Today we saw several drone flies, Eristalis tenax, sipping nectar from our Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, jokingly calls this drone fly "the H bee." Why? There's an "H" pattern on its abdomen.

The drone fly and honey bee are similar in size and both are floral visitors in their adult stages. However, the drone fly is quite distinguishable from a honey bee. The fly has large eyes, stubby antennae and one pair of wings.

The larvae of the drone fly is a rat-tailed maggot that lives in drainage ditches, pooled manure piles and other polluted water.

Unlike a honey bee, the drone fly "hovers" over a flower before landing. The  fly belongs to the family Syrphidae (which includes insects commonly known as flower flies, hover flies and syrphids) and the order, Diptera. The honey bee is Apis mellifera, family Apidae, order Hymenoptera.

The case of mistaken identity can cause excruciating pain.  A journalist will spend half a day interviewing bee experts about bee health--investigating colony collapse disorder, malnutrition and Varroa mites--only to have a copy editor illustrate the prized bee story with a fly.  It's more horrific than Halloween.

Likewise, Facebook editors have been known to turn a fly into a bee faster than the beat of a wing. And photographers who know more about "F" stops than "H bees" post misindentified photos on Flickr or sell their mislabeled images to stock photo businesses.

The old saying, "If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, it's probably a duck" doesn't ring true in "the drone bee vs. the honey bee" identity crisis.

If it looks like a bee, acts like a bee and buzzes like a bee, it may be...a drone fly.

Drone fly, Eristalis tenax, sipping nectar from a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Drone fly, Eristalis tenax, sipping nectar from a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Drone fly, Eristalis tenax, sipping nectar from a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The "H" is easily seen on the drone fly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The "H" is easily seen on the drone fly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Drone fly heads for another blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Drone fly heads for another blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Drone fly heads for another blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, October 20, 2014 at 9:03 PM

Cool Season Vegetables


Cool Season Vegetables

By Tami Reece    UCCE Master Gardener


Fall is the perfect time to refresh your garden and keep it growing into the winter. You want to choose the right crops and the best location; choose cold weather protection best suited to your needs and know your frost dates.

 Cool season crops thrive in cooler temperatures and several have shorter seasons than warm season crops. Cool season vegetables grow best between 45 and 55⁰F and 55 to 75⁰F and most mature cool season vegetables are frost tolerant. Winter crops can be planted from seed if there is sufficient time for the plant to become established before the first frost. Otherwise, it's best to consider using transplants. It's important to know the local frost dates and plan and plant accordingly. The approximate frost dates for San Luis Obispo County are:


Interior area         First Frost:  October 7            Last Frost:   April 20

North County       First Frost:   November 7        Last Frost:   April 17

Coast/SLO          First Frost:   December 31       Last Frost:   February 15



Pick a location that will get full sun, but will be shielded from the wind or frost such as near a south facing wall or fence. If the best location for your winter garden is the same location as your spring and summer garden, it's important to regenerate the soil that provided your spring and summer crops. Work in several inches of compost throughout the planting area to replenish and rebuild the soil.


 Choose the right form of weather protection based on your needs and available resources. Cloches make for a simple cold weather protectant. A cloche is something you put over an individual plant to protect it from frost or freeze. They can be plastic milk jugs, glass or plastic cloches, or even cardboard boxes. Row covers are permeable fabrics placed over plants or frames.  Heavier fabrics can protect to 24 degrees. Cold frames are bottomless frames placed on the ground, with a hinged top that act like a mini greenhouse. Lastly, a good straw mulch of 6 to 10 inches loosely scattered can provide additional protect from frost.  

With a little preparation, you can have fresh vegetables throughout the fall and winter seasons.


Are you interested in becoming a UCCE Master Gardener? Join us at our Informational Meeting, Monday, October 20 at 1:00 p.m. in our auditorium at 2156 Sierra Way, San Luis Obispo. For more information please visit:





Posted on Monday, October 20, 2014 at 6:51 PM

Daily Life For Master Gardeners


Fall Planting

By Andrea Peck


I've heard that fall is the time for planting ornamentals, but I must confess I have always wondered why. Logically, I'd assumed that the reason fall planting is best is to gain the benefit of rain. But, California, as a rule, does not weep measurable precipitation during those three grand months. Contrarily, the fall months are often some of our warmest and driest, particularly along the coast.

So what gives?

I decided to dig a bit deeper and I discovered that much of the interwebs is composed of forums that discuss the merits of vegetable planting during the fall.  Brussels sprout and broccoli fans are consistently represented and there is a bit of showing off with the mention of exotica, such as watermelon radish and red perilla. There are fancy photos and book loads of recipes involving kohlrabi and spinach. Finally, I unearthed it: the reason we plant in fall.

And confound it; no matter the angle that I view gardening, it appears that the future-think approach is the one with the most rewards. If you dial back to spring, you will see what I mean. Planting in spring is notoriously popular – you can visualize the frenzy, as ladies and gentlemen fling themselves amongst the colorful spring flowers and vegetable starts.

 Such a relief from the doldrums of winter!

But, tumble into this marketing ploy and you will come to learn that planting in spring lends little support for the average new ornamental. Think of summer - it's not hard with that dry desperate heat still smoldering around us. Now think of that poor plant that you stuck in the earth during the spring. You watered it for a bit, assuming it would soon root in and stand on its own. Then summer waltzes in with its water restrictions and phenomenal temperatures. If you are like me you see a number of dead “new” plants creating texture and sculptural interest in your landscape. Mine were even drought tolerant.

Planting during the fall is the opposite. Just as you are finished nurturing your little plant infant, the winter steps in to take over with the real irrigation manna.

But, hold fast! There are other reasons that make fall planting ideal. Apparently plant shoots require fewer nutrients as winter dormancy approaches. Also during the fall, carbohydrate “food” that is produced in the leaves is moved to the roots – this promotes growth and survival.

Autumn generally shows a temperature shift, as well. The temperature may continue to feel overwhelming, but the days are quickly becoming shorter and the nights cooler – a perfect combination for plant growth. Warm days keep soil temperatures elevated which encourages root growth, while the overall cooler temperatures lessen moisture loss through the leaves. 

Winter brings changes which promote a hardy plant over time. Rain provides clean moisture and nitrogen. Colder temperatures slow top growth which allows rain and cool soil to focus on root growth. Warmer air temperatures arrive with spring. The fall plant, allowed the extra resources of initial warmer soils, cooler air and the subsequent winter rains and cool temperatures, is primed to support top growth. Root growth continues during the spring which allows the plant a better chance towards survival during the increased dryness and heat of summer.

Now, with all that nourishing and care – and planning - your little one is ready to show off a full flush of foliage.


Posted on Monday, October 20, 2014 at 6:44 PM

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