UCCE Master Gardeners of Sacramento County
University of California
UCCE Master Gardeners of Sacramento County

UC Gardening Blogs

A Gathering of Beekeepers: Follow That Buzz!

Bill Lewis, CSBA president
Follow that buzz!

When the California State Beekeepers' Association, founded in 1889, meets Nov. 18-20 in Valencia for its 2014 convention, it will mark a milestone: 125 years of beekeeping. Not so coincidentally, the theme is "Celebrating 125 Years of California Beekeeping."

And to think that California's first honey bees are "fairly new" newcomers: they didn't arrive in the Golden State (San Jose area) until 1853.

The conference promises to be educational, informative, timely and fun. "We will hear about things going on in the world of beekeeping on the local, state, and national levels," said CSBA president Bill Lewis, who lives in the San Fernando Valley and maintains 650 colonies of bees (Bill's Bees) with his wife, Liane, and business partner, Clyde Steese.

Topics range from “Keeping Bees Safe in Almonds" and “Land Trusts Working with Beekeepers," to "Mead Making" and "Urban Beekeeping, Beginner to Advanced."

Among the hot topics: Entomologist Reed Johnson of The Ohio State University will speak on  “The Effects of Bee Safe Insecticide" on Wednesday, Nov. 19.

Biologist Thomas Seeley of Cornell University will speak on "Survivor Population of European Honey Bees Living Wild in New York State” at the research luncheon on Thursday, Nov. 20. He is also scheduled for two other talks, "Honeybee Democracy" (the title of one of his books) and "The Bee Hive as a Honey Factory," both on Nov. 20. In addition, speakers will address such topics as forage, land management, queen health, genetic diversity, and pests and diseases.

One of the featured presentations will be the richly illustrated documentary, "Almond Odyssey," a look at California's almond pollination season, the world's largest managed pollination event. The state's 900,000 acres of almonds draw beekeepers and their bees from all over the country.

The gathering of beekeepers will include multiple generations of family-owned commercial beekeeping operations, bee hobbyists, and those hoping to start their very first bee hive, Lewis says. They're there to learn the latest about beekeeping from world-renowned researchers and industry authorities. 

The University of California, Davis, is expected to be well represented. Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollination Center, UC Davis, will speak Wednesday, Nov. 19 on  “Honey Wheel” and “California Master Beekeeper." Extension apiculturist (retired) Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology serves as the organization's current apiculturist and parliamentarian (as well as a frequent speaker). He will introduce the new Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Nino in a Nov. 20th presentation titled "California Extension Apiculturist--Passing the Torch." (For a complete list of sessions and speaker biographies and to register for the conferene,  access the CSBA website.)
 
CSBA's mission is to support and promote commercial beekeepers and pollination services in California's agricultural farmlands. Each year funds raised at the CSBA convention go to research. Researchers attend the conference and provide updates. They are in "the front lines of the bee health battle," Lewis noted.  

The conference (as well as membership in CSBA) is open to all interested persons.

CSBA President Bill Lewis of the San Fernando Valley talks bees with Barbara Allen-Diaz, vice president of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) at the California Agriculture Day, State Capitol, in March. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
CSBA President Bill Lewis of the San Fernando Valley talks bees with Barbara Allen-Diaz, vice president of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) at the California Agriculture Day, State Capitol, in March. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

CSBA President Bill Lewis of the San Fernando Valley talks bees with Barbara Allen-Diaz, vice president of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) at the California Agriculture Day, State Capitol, in March. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bees pollinating almonds.  (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bees pollinating almonds. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bees pollinating almonds. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, October 22, 2014 at 9:23 PM

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  https://heydaybooks.com/book/california-bees-and-blooms/.

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

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

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
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

Have You Seen Me? A Tagged Monarch?

This Pacific Northwest-reared Monarch butterfly was found in San Mateo on Oct. 10. It had flown 330 miles in 10 days. (Photo by Albert Wong)
The next time you see a Monarch butterfly heading your way--or settled in at an overwintering site in coastal California or in central Mexico--check to see if it's tagged.

It may have flown hundreds of miles from the Pacific Northwest, and Washington State University entomologist David James is eager to know where you found it.

James, an associate professor at Washington State University,  studies the migration routes and overwintering sites of the Pacific Northwest Monarch population, which are thought to overwinter primarily in coastal California but also in  central Mexico. He spearheads a Monarch-tagging project in which volunteers--primarily inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla--rear and release the butterflies.

“There are currently more than 2000 monarchs (Danaus plexippus) in the Northwest that are carrying tags and many of these I have good reason to believe are in the general Sacramento to San Francisco area," James said this week.

“Last Friday, Oct. 10, one of our tagged Monarchs was seen near San Mateo--this one was tagged 10 days earlier in Applegate, southern Oregon. It had flown 330 miles! Then a few weeks ago (Sept. 27) another was seen at Glen Ellen, Calif. This one had flown a whopping 600-plus miles from Yakima in central Washington."

James explained that “we have very little data to support the notion that they all fly to coastal California for overwintering. Before our project there was just a single tagged Monarch from Washington recovered in California. Recent observational evidence suggests that some PNW Monarchs fly in a more southerly-south-easterly direction, away from California and we speculate these may end up in Mexico! We have had one tag to date that supports this idea...a monarch released at Walla Walla turned up at Brigham City in Utah.”

Because the summer Monarch population in Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho is so small, James and his team have had to resort to mass breeding of Monarchs for tagging.

“We obtain wild females in Washington and rear their progeny,” the entomologist said. “Much of the rearing is done by inmates at Walla Walla Penitentiary.” He described it as “a very successful program for the butterflies and the prisoners! “

James is also increasingly using citizen scientists to rear and tag as well. See more details of recent recoveries and information about the program at the program's Facebook page.

You don't need a professional camera to capture an image. James said that "the two California recoveries we have had so far were both confirmed by cell phones or regular cameras! This technology definitely aids recoveries. It's so easy to take a high quality 'snap' that can be used to determine the tag details."

“I am confident there are a number of tagged Monarchs currently in your area," James told us. "We are actually still releasing them here in Washington, so the opportunity to see one will persist for a few weeks yet. “

He figures they are "likely heading to the overwintering sites at Bolinas, Santa Cruz and Pacific Grove--maybe further south as well.”

So, if you see a WSU-tagged monarch, take a photo and let WSU know. Contact: david_james@wsu.edu or the Facebook page.

For more information about the project, see WSU's Monarch Butterfly news story.

Close-up of a tagged Monarch butterfly. (Photo by David James, entomologist at Washington State University, Pullman, Wash.)
Close-up of a tagged Monarch butterfly. (Photo by David James, entomologist at Washington State University, Pullman, Wash.)

Close-up of a tagged Monarch butterfly. (Photo by David James, entomologist at Washington State University, Pullman, Wash.)

Entomologist David James demonstrates how to tag a Monarch.  This image was taken at a meeting of the Washington Butterfly Association at a Monarch breeding site near Vantage in central Washington on Aug. 23 2014.
Entomologist David James demonstrates how to tag a Monarch. This image was taken at a meeting of the Washington Butterfly Association at a Monarch breeding site near Vantage in central Washington on Aug. 23 2014.

Entomologist David James demonstrates how to tag a Monarch. This image was taken at a meeting of the Washington Butterfly Association at a Monarch breeding site near Vantage in central Washington on Aug. 23 2014.

Inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla, rear most of the Monarchs. The photo, taken during a WSU Media Day, shows the  release of the butterflies. (Photo by David James)
Inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla, rear most of the Monarchs. The photo, taken during a WSU Media Day, shows the release of the butterflies. (Photo by David James)

Inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla, rear most of the Monarchs. The photo, taken during a WSU Media Day, shows the release of the butterflies. (Photo by David James)

This Monarch  butterfly, reared by inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, heads for freedom. (Photo by David James)
This Monarch butterfly, reared by inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, heads for freedom. (Photo by David James)

This Monarch butterfly, reared by inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, heads for freedom. (Photo by David James)

Posted on Friday, October 17, 2014 at 3:57 PM

Bee BMP: 'A' for Communication

Honey bee pollinating an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Can you say "Bee BMP?"

That's a short-cut for "Bee Best Management Practices."

The Almond Board of California today unveiled its long-awaited "Honey Bee Best Management Practices for California Almonds."

It's an important document because it is aimed at protecting the honey bees that pollinate California's 900,000 acres of almonds. Last spring some 80,000 colonies died because pesticides reached them before the beekeepers did, that is, before the beekeepers could remove them from the orchards after pollination season. It amounted to a lack of communication.

The editors spelled out the importance of the document at the onset:

"Honey bees are essential for successful pollination of almonds and the long-term health of the California Almond industry. Why should almond growers — and all parties involved in almond pollination — care about healthy, strong bees? First, bees are a valuable resource and almond production input, and the time they spend in almonds impacts hive health throughout the year, from the time they leave almond orchards until they return the next season. Second, although almonds are only one of more than 90 foods that rely on pollination by bees, because of its size and number of bees needed, the California Almond industry is increasingly being watched by the public on matters related to the health and stability of honey bee populations. Of particular concern at this time is how to manage the use of pest control materials in ways that minimize their possible impact on honey bees. It is important that growers of all crops implement best management practices to support bee health, and for those whose crops rely on honey bee pollination, to consider honey bee health not only during the pollination season, but during the entire year."

The Bee BMP zeroed in on four key precautions:

1. Maintain clear communication among all parties involved, particularly on the specifics of pesticide application.
2. If it is necessary to spray the orchard, for instance with fungicides, do so in the late afternoon or evening.
3. Until more is known, avoid tank-mixing products during bloom.
4. Avoid applying insecticides during bloom until more is known about the effects on honey bees, particularly to young, developing bees in the hive. Fortunately, there are several insecticide application timing options other than bloom time treatments.

The document advocates that a clear chain of communication be established among all parties involved in pollination and pest management during almond bloom. This should definitely help prevent bee losses before, during and after the pollination season.

Three officials from the Almond Board of California did an excellent job editing the document and drawing input from the industries: 

  • Bob Curtis, associate director, Agricultural Affairs
  • Gabriele Ludwig, associate director, Environmental Affairs
  • Danielle Veenstra, specialist, Agricultural and Environmental Affairs

They received input from 10 contributing editors and reviewers: 

  • Gene Brandi, Gene Brandi Apiaries
  • Jackie Park-Burris, Jackie Park-Burris Queens
  • Orin Johnson, Johnson Apiaries
  • Gordon Wardell, director, Pollination Operations, Paramount Farming Company
  • George Farnsworth, California Department of Pesticide Regulation
  • Karen Francone, California Department of Pesticide Regulation
  • Eric Mussen, Extension Apiculturist retired, UC Davis
  • Thomas Steeger, Office of Pesticide Programs, U.S. EPA
  • CropLife America
  • Christi Heintz, Project Apis m.

You can download the document on the Almond Board of California website. (Look under "growers" at the top of the home page.)

Michael
Michael "Kim" Fondrk of UC Davis tends Robert Page's bees in a Dixon, Calif. almond orchard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Michael "Kim" Fondrk of UC Davis tends Robert Page's bees in a Dixon, Calif. almond orchard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A frame of healthy bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A frame of healthy bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A frame of healthy bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, October 16, 2014 at 9:19 PM

Next 5 stories | Last story

4145 Branch Center Road, Sacramento, CA 95827       Master Gardener Phone:  916.876.5338             Fax:  916.875.6233

Webmaster Email: mgwise@surewest.net