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From the UC Blogosphere...

Bumble Bees and Spiders Don't Mix?

Bumble bees and spiders don't mix, you say?

Well, they will at the Bohart Museum of Entomology's open house from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, July 26. The family-centered event, free and open to the public, takes place in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus.

Actually the theme is about spiders: "Arachnids: Awesome or Awful?" There you'll see black widow spiders, jumping spiders, cellar spiders and the like. But you don't have to "like" them as you do posts on Facebook!

You can also learn about bumble bees. Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, will be one of the tour guides.  Thorp co-authored the newly published Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide, which is available in the Bohart gift shop. He can autograph your book and answer questions about how to attract bees to your garden.

Thorp was recently interviewed by Tom Oder of the Mother Nature Network on how to garden for bumble bees. So was Steve Buchmann, an adjunct professor in entomology and ecology at the University of Arizona.

Thorp told Mother Nature Network that some bumble bees are in very serious decline, and others are doing quite well.

So, how do you attract them to your garden? Buchmann was quoted as saying: “Gardening for bumblebees is similar to gardening for other bees and pollinators."  To entice bumblebees to visit your garden, “plant mints, Salvia, Monarda, plants in the sunflower family and clovers."

Read Oder's article for more information.

And keep your eyes open for the soon-to-be-published California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, co-authored by entomologist Gordon Frankie of UC Berkeley, Thorp, and two others with UC Berkeley connections: photographer/entomologist Rollin Coville and floral curator Barbara Ertter.

As for Saturday, July 26 there won't be a vote on whether you like bumble bees or spiders better, nor will you be asked to sing "Itsy Bitsy Spider" or "Baby Bumble Bee." It promises, though, to be fun and educational. Plus, you can enjoy the live  "petting zoo," featuring 24-year-old Rosie the tarantula, assorted walking sticks, and the colorful Madagascar hissing cockroaches. Yes, they hiss.

The gift shop is also popular. You can browse through the books, jewelry, t-shirts, sweatshirts, insect-themed candy, butterfly houses, and insect-collecting kits.

The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, houses nearly eight million insect specimens and is the seventh largest insect collection in North America. It is also the home of the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of insect biodiversity. Noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) founded the museum.

 

The museum's regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. It's closed to the public on Fridays and on major holidays. Admission is free. For more information, email education and outreach coordinator Tabatha Yang at tabyang@ucdavis.edu or telephone her at (530) 752-0493.

A camouflaged jumping spider eyes a honey bee on Japanese anemone. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A camouflaged jumping spider eyes a honey bee on Japanese anemone. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A camouflaged jumping spider eyes a honey bee on Japanese anemone. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Robbin Thorp points at a yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenski. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Robbin Thorp points at a yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenski. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Robbin Thorp points at a yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenski. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, July 25, 2014 at 9:12 PM

So Beautful, So Exquisite

There's something about seeing a butterfly that makes your eyes light up, your smile widen, and your feet feel like skipping.

Nature's joy.  

So when I was over at Kaiser Permanente in Vacaville last Tuesday, I rejoiced at seeing a magnificent anise swallowtail, Papilo zelicaon, fluttering around the lantana flower beds near the entrance.

The butterfly flashed its brilliant yellow and black colors in the morning sun as it glided around the flower bed, touching down occasionally for a sip of nectar.

Such a beautiful, awe-inspiring, glorious creature. 

So I did what comes naturally—I pulled the camera out of my bag—somewhat like pulling the rabbit out of a hat because you never know what kind of magic may--or may not--happen.  Assuming my best "non-predator posture," I slowly trailed it from blossom to blossom, dropping down to capture its image.

It was then that I noticed a woman sitting on a nearby bench, smiling, as she watched the photographer follow the butterfly.

“I love butterflies," she said. "I collect butterflies—jewelry. I would never collect the real thing. They're too beautiful.”

“Me, either,” I said.  “I try not to disturb them—I just photograph them.”

Half an hour later, I returned to the area only to observe a stricken look on the woman's face.

“You have the last photo of that beautiful butterfly," she said. "A bird ate it." 

And right in front of the managed health care facility.

Anise swallowtail foraging on lantana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Anise swallowtail foraging on lantana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Anise swallowtail foraging on lantana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Anise swallowtail about to take flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Anise swallowtail about to take flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Anise swallowtail about to take flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Anise swallowtail spreads its wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Anise swallowtail spreads its wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Anise swallowtail spreads its wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, July 24, 2014 at 9:54 PM

New advisors build of the scientific work of predecessors

Carol Frate, left, and Michelle Le Strange.
When new UC Cooperative Extension advisors come on the job, they aren't starting their programs from scratch. "We are a science-based organization," said Jim Sullins, county director for Tulare UCCE. Academic advisors document their work in reports and papers. "The next advisor can build on their (predecessors') experience, their results and observations."

Sullins was quoted in an article by Luiz Hernandez in the Visalia Time-Delta that focused on the retirements of two long-time Tulare County farm advisors, Michelle Le Strange and Carol Frate, who together represent nearly 70 years of service to farmers, landscape professionals and the public.

"Both Carol and Michelle have been very dedicated advisors, committed to their clientele, and driven to help resolve grower's problems, and helping the general public make informed decisions, based on science," Sullins said. "It will take a lot of adjustment with them not on staff.

Hernandez contacted Frate by phone from vacation in Olympia, Wash. A 36-year UCCE veteran, she commented on a research trial conducted in the 1980s in which she sought to determine how much damage an alfalfa crop sustained if irrigation stopped in the summertime.

"It has come in handy in drought" Frate said. "We showed alfalfa could withstand, survive" a water stoppage.

Le Strange, who completed 31 years with UCCE, said she became interested in food production following a trip to Mexico and Guatemala. She went to college at UC Davis and accepted her position in the San Joaquin Valley.

"We are here to help find solutions for local agriculture problems," she said. "I am proud of all the research I have done."

Posted on Thursday, July 24, 2014 at 1:50 PM

It's National Moth Week!

Greater wax moth, Galleria mellonella, a pest of bee colonies. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It's National Moth Week!

The event, which runs through Sunday, celebrates "the beauty, life cycles, and habitats of moths," according to its website. Scientists and citizen scientists are encouraged to document their findings. It's now a worldwide event.

A few nuggets from the website:

"Moths are among the most diverse and successful organisms on earth.

  • Scientists estimate there are 150,000 to more than 500,000 moth species.
  • Their colors and patterns are either dazzling or so cryptic that they define camouflage. Shapes and sizes span the gamut from as small as a pinhead to as large as an adult's hand.
  • Most moths are nocturnal, and need to be sought at night to be seen – others fly like butterflies during the day.
  • Finding moths can be as simple as leaving a porch light on and checking it after dark. Serious moth aficionados use special lights and baits to attract them."

Then there are, of course, the pests such as the greater wax moth, Galleria mellonella. This moth slips in at night to honey bee colonies and lays its eggs. The bees struggle to remove the larvae.  Beekeepers struggle with control of the  tell-tale evidence--damaged combs.

The honey bee bible, The Hive and the Honey Bee (Dadant Publication), says the wax moth female "produces less than 300 eggs during her life span of 3 to 30 days, but a few lay as many as 2000 eggs. Mated females fly to beehives one to three hours after dark, enter, and lay eggs until they leave shortly before daylight."

Sneaky little critters!

The Hive and the Honey Bee authors relate that "the presence of the wax moth larvae usually signals a major problem such as queenlessness, an infectious disease, poisoning and starvation."

Greater wax moths are probably not what the organizers of National Moth Week, founded by two naturalists in East Brunswick, N.J., had in mind when they launched this special week! (Unless, of course, they were anglers; the larvae make good fish bait!)

Wax moth larvae and a hive beetle (top left). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Wax moth larvae and a hive beetle (top left). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Wax moth larvae and a hive beetle (top left). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

An infestation of wax moth larvae. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
An infestation of wax moth larvae. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

An infestation of wax moth larvae. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, July 23, 2014 at 5:50 PM

Dry Farming

Photo by Jutta Thoerner

 

Dry Farming

By Jutta Thoerner   UCCE Master Gardener

 

I have heard about dry farming crops in agriculture, could I save water in my garden with the same method?  Susan, Paso Robles

 

Dry farming is a technique that has been used for thousands of years in the Mediterranean regions for farming olives, grapes and grains. How does it work? Using a tillage technique, the farmer/gardener starts to work the soil as soon as possible after the last rain of the season.  By disking (two passes) and using a roller, the goal is to have three to four inches of dry, even soil when cultivation is done. This is often called dust mulch or dust blanket and it traps the moisture in the soil.

In order for this technique to work, several key elements have to be present. The soil must have good water holding capability, which excludes sandy soils or heavily fractured soils. This technique requires a minimum of 10-12 inches of rain during the rainy season. If the crop is a permanent crop, such as grapes or tree crops, sufficient spacing between the plants is required to avoid competition for water and nutrients. Planting the appropriate rootstock for permanent crops is essential for dry farming in an orchard or vineyard.  Under the right conditions, the following vegetables, fruits and nuts can be successfully dry farmed in California: tomatoes, pumpkins, watermelons, cantaloupes, winter squash, olives, grapes, garbanzos, apricots, plums, pears, apples, various grains, potatoes, almonds and walnuts.

The farmer/gardener has to be content with lower yields, often 1/3 of the yield expected from irrigated crops. Fruit and nut crops are often too small for produce buyers from large grocery stores and markets, even though they are generally sweeter, denser and store better than commercial grown products.

Here are some interesting water saving facts from a UC Davis cost study.  If not irrigated, these crops would save the following amounts of water: two feet per acre for potatoes (Klamath basin), three feet per acre for apples (Sierra Foothills) and 16,000 gallons/acre for lightly irrigated grapes (Napa Valley). While dry farming is not for every grower or for every region in California, it could be a promising alternative system in times of uncertain water supply.

Posted on Wednesday, July 23, 2014 at 1:46 PM

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