So said bee scientist Thomas Seeley, the Horace White Professor in Biology, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, when he addressed the 2018 UC Davis Bee Symposium on "Darwinian Beekeeping."
Seeley, who studies feral or wild bee colonies in the 4200-acre Arnot Teaching and Research Forest owned by Cornell University, emphasized that "honey bees are superb beekeepers; they know what they're doing."
Fast forward or "buzz" forward to Africa.
Have you ever seen a feral bee colony of the African honey bee, Apis mellifera scutellata?
Son James Keatley Garvey, CEO and founder of Self LLC, captured images of a feral bee colony on Feb. 19, 2013 in a fig tree in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya.
The colony's architecture is nothing short of incredible--sort of like immaculate construction! Comb building, as evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin observed, is "the most wonderful of all (insect) instincts."
Josh van der Ploeg of andbeyond.com--he's a guide, public relations manager and podcast host--told us in an email that scutellata is "the more commonly occurring bee species inland. The tree they have constructed their hive on is a giant-leaved fig tree or Ficus lutea."
Bees share the Maasai Mara National Reserve with The Big Five (lion, elephant, rhino, leopard and African buffalo) as well as four more to tally The Big Nine: cheetah, giraffe, hippo and zebra. The reserve, primarily of savannah grasslands, rolling hills, and riverside crossings (Mara and Talek rivers), is located along the Great Rift Valley area, about 140 miles from the capital city of Nairobi. Established in 1961 as a wildlife sanctuary and now comprised of more than 700 square miles, it also hosts the Great Migration, known as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa, and one of the ten Wonders of the World.
“I've not been to Africa, but I have read a fair amount about beekeeping in different parts of the continent,” Seeley wrote in an email. "I know that in the grassy woodland regions, nest sites are rare for colonies, so often they have to nest in the open, as shown in your son's photo. If a swarm sees a protective cavity, it will use it. This is why beekeepers in this region of Africa have good success in hanging up log hives."
Log hives are the most widely used type of hives in Africa, according to the Apiculture Platform of Kenya.
Seeley, who teaches courses on animal behavior and researches the behavior and social life of honey bees, shared an image of a log hive painting that his late mentor, Professor Roger Morse (1927-2000) of Cornell purchased in the 1970s at a market in Kenya. Morse was known as "the Cornell entomology professor who championed the art and science of beekeeping."
Seeley, who joined the Cornell faculty in 1986, has authored numerous books, including Honeybee Ecology (1985), The Wisdom of the Hive (1995), and Honeybee Democracy (2010). Look for his next book, Bees' Ways: 20 Mysteries of Honey Bee Behavior Solved, in the spring of 2024.
"You can learn a lot from these displays," a fairgoer at the 144th annual Dixon May Fair commented.
She was looking at an educational display with the catchy title, "None of Your Beeswax," the work of Ryan Anenson of the Tremont 4-H Club, Dixon, whose projects include beekeeping. The display is showcased in the Youth Building (Denverton Hall) at the Dixon May Fair, which opened Thursday, May 9 and continues through Sunday, May 12.
In his project, Anenson explained what bees produce. He zeroed in on bee venom, pollen, beeswax, royal jelly, honey, propolis, and also alternative medicine, history of honey, and bee hive air. Anenson concluded: "Honey might be the most well-known bee product in the world, but it certainly isn't the only by-product these magnificent creatures produce. Bees are considered 'the pillars of agriculture' for the work they do in pollination. If you have ever enjoyed most fruit, vegetables and other crops, you should generally thank the bees. Through pollination, bees contribute to maintaining biological balance in nature and help various animal and plant species, including humans, to thrive. Honeybee products are an entirely natural food source and have a long medicinal history that people have used since ancient times.Bees are arguable the most invaluable species to life on earth and are more vital than many people may realize."
As for beeswax, Anenson penned: "Worker bees at a young age will secrete beeswax from a series of glands on their abdomens. They use this beeswax to form the walls and caps of the honeycomb. However, some beekeepers use plastic as a foundation or substitute for honeycomb. Just like the honey that bees produce, many people harvest beeswax for various purposes, like candles, lip balms, creams, polish and conditioners, just to name a few."
The teenage 4-H'er was among those who attended a UC Davis Bee Symposium several years ago, and also participated in a recent California Honey Festival, co-sponsored by the City of Woodland and the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center.
Madeline Giron, another Dixon 4-H'er, sketched a color pencil drawing of a bee, and Markus Taliaferro of the Suisun Valley 4-H Club, Dixon, submitted a photo of a honey bee sipping nectar. Another drawing, the work of Katelyn Nipper of Fairfield, featured "crayon art flowers": brightly colored spring flowers bordered by the crayons she used.
Lots of flowers! Just add pollinators!
Meanwhile, speaking of pollinators and plants, there's a clearance plant sale at UC Davis on Saturday, May 11 at the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden's Teaching Nursery on Garrod Drive. It's open to the public from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Horticulturists are billing it as a "Pollinator Paradise." Everything is 15 percent off (Members receive an additional 10 percent off.) You can access the inventory here.
Lots of plants! Just add pollinators!
A spectacular pollinator garden that's a "must-see" is Kate Frey's pollinator garden at Sonoma Cornerstone.
Kate Frey, a world-class pollinator garden designer, pollinator advocate and author who addressed the UC Davis Bee Symposium in March on "Designing Bee Friendly Gardens," has created a masterpiece. And yes, the pollinator garden is open to the public--no admission fee.
We visited the garden last Saturday and saw a pipevine swallowtail nectaring on Nepeta tuberosa, yellow-faced bumble bees sipping nectar from Stachys bullata, hummingbirds scoring nectar from salvia, and honey bees foraging on everything from Scabiosa "Fama Blue" to a native milkweed, Asclepias speciosa.
This is a happy place.
As she told the crowd at the Bee Symposium, hosted by the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology: Whether you plant them, nurture them, or walk through them, bee gardens make us happy.
Frey's sign at the Sonoma pollinator garden explains that "All the plants offer food resources of pollen and nectar for pollinators such as native bees, honey bees, hummingbirds and beneficial insects. Pollen is a protein, mineral and fat source and is primarily a larval food for bees, while nectar is composed of various sugars and is the main food for pollinators and the adult life stage of many beneficial insects. Pollinators need a continuous food source for many months of the year. This garden contains a range of plants that will bloom in succession from early spring to late fall."
Frey's sign also noted that "Pollinators all have preferred plants they feed from, and flowers cater to specific pollinators. Some flower shapes are designed to exclude unwanted pollinators. The long, constricted floral tubes of honeysuckles or many salvia exhibit their focus on hummingbirds as primary pollinators. Other flowers nectar, like coffee berry is easily accessible to all pollinators. This garden contains a wide range of plants to appear to a variety of pollinators. Over 80 percent of flowering plants require insect or animal pollination. What insects or birds do you see visiting each flower type?"
Well, let's see: bees, butterflies, and birds...Apis mellifera, Battus philenor, Bombus vosnesenskii, Papilio rutulus, Calypte anna...
"The same plants that support pollinators," Frey indicated on the sign, "also make us happy."
They do! Happiness is a pollinator garden...
That's what world-class pollinator garden designer, pollinator advocate and author Kate Frey told the crowd at the fourth annual UC Davis Bee Symposium, hosted by the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
She's seen faces light up, steps quicken, and frowns turn to smiles as visitors tour gardens, including the ones she's designed at the Chelsea Flower Show in London, Sonoma Cornerstone in Sonoma, Lynmar Estate Winery and Gardens in Sebastopol, Melissa Gardens (privately owned) in Healdsburg, and the Ben and Kate Frey Gardens (privately owned) in Hopland.
“Bee gardens make us happy and are good for wildlife,” Frey reiterated. She's the co-author of the award-winning book, The Bee Friendly Garden, with Professor Gretchen LeBuhn of San Francisco State University, a book that details how to design an abundant, flower-filled garden that nurtures bees and supports biodiversity.
Frey, a two-time gold medal winner at the Chelsea Flower Show and co-founder of The American Garden School, illustrated her talk with photos of native bees, the plants they love, and the gardens they populate. In showing an image of a bumble bee on a California golden poppy, Frey commented “It looks like love.”
Yes, it does, the audience agreed.
Frey noted that of the 20,000 species of bees worldwide, 4000 species inhabit the United States, and 1600 of them are found in California. A good many of them, she said, are found in the UC Berkeley Urban Gardens launched by UC Berkeley Professor Gordon Frankie (see UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab).
“Seventy-percent of our native bees are ground nesting,” she said, “so leave some uncovered space in your garden for them.”
“Our gardens can be positive spaces for diversity,” Frey related. "Native plants are best for native bees but many (bees) are generalists.” For example, the squash bee is a specialist, foraging only on cucurbits (these include squash, cucumber and zucchini), while bumble bees are generalists, foraging on scores of plants, from poppies to salvia (sage).
Frey offered these "simple rules for success" for bee gardeners:
- Create healthy gardens that require no pesticides by using the right plant, right approach, add quality compost to all plants and irrigate adequately
- Think in terms of abundance, not minimalism
- Aim for this goal: 12 months of bloom throughout the garden
- Plant annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees
- Make sure plants do offer floral resources, as many common landscape don't
- Provide patches or repeated plants of the same flower. Honey bees practice floral constancy
- Include water for honey bees
- Note that sunny spaces are the best.
- Use native and non-native plants.
- Provide mulch-free nest sites and drllled bee blocks (or "bee condos" where blue orchard bees and leafcutter bees can make their nests)
In the Frey gardens, "closeness" is important. "I have a phobia that plants SHOULD touch one another," she quipped. "Don't space them far apart."
Frey also pointed out that some so-called "weeds" shouldn't be labeled as such. "Some great weeds (that bees love) are Hemezonia congesta or tarweed and Trichostemma lanceolatum or vinegar weed," she said. Both are annual herbs that are native to California.
All in all, happiness is a bee garden.
As Frey writes in the introduction of The Bee Friendly Garden: "Spending time in a bee garden allows us to step into another world transcending the everyday routine and entering a place of beauty and anticipation. With these gardens, we develop and maintain a connection to something larger than ourselves--we get to see and know the intrinsic value of the flowers and the lives of the bees that visit them in each season."
Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, director of the program, introduced the 40 new apprentice-level graduates, Class of 2017, at the fourth annual UC Davis Bee Symposium, held recently in the UC Davis Conference Center.
The 40 Master Beekeepers join the 56 members of the Class of 2016.
The program uses science-based information to educate stewards and ambassadors for honey bees and beekeeping. Members of the program serve as knowledgeable ambassadors who disseminate science-based information about the importance of honey bees, preserving bee health, and responsible beekeeping.
The members of the Class of 2017 are Jesse Adcock, Heather Angeloff, Alyssa Beth Archambault, David Barbosa, Ornella Bonamassa, Max Boyce, Christopher Brennan, Cathy Carlson, Michael Conroy, Elisabeth Eschelbeck, Gerhard Eschelbeck, Yee-Yie Fogarty, Nanette Herbuveaux, Sandy Honigsberg, Russell Hudyma, Christine Jeffries, Nancy J. Johnson, Carolyn Jordan, Jesus Llamas, Meike Maag, Joel MacPherson, Shannon Marie Ciortea, Roberto Martinez, Jennifer Matthews, Cherry Mattias, Kourtney McGrath, Robert Meyer, Jeffrey Michaels, Chitra Mojtabai, Andres Molina, Holly Nelson, Sara Ramsey, Donald H. P. Sexton II, Rob Slay, Melody Wallace, Nicholas Wigle, Christine Wilson, John Winzler, German Yegorov, and Karen von Gargen.
Bernardo Niño, the founding program coordinator of CAMBP, congratulated the Class of 2017 and presented each with a pin. New program manager is Master Beekeeper Wendy Mather of El Dorado Hills. Bernardo Niño who recently accepted a position as head of bee research and development at UBEES Inc., an organization headquartered in New York City. Bernardo will be based in Davis area. He will continue to work with CAMBP as the educational advisor.
CAMBP recently received a four-year UC ANR grant of $199,949. “We are expanding geographically to include the Fresno/Madera area (Shannon Mueller, Fresno County Extension director and agronomy farm advisor) and the San Diego area (James Bethke, farm advisor and Jennifer Pelham, area environmental horticulture advisor), said Elina Niño, the principal investigator of the grant, "The California Master Beekeeper Program: Development of a Continuous Train-the-Trainer Education Effort for California Beekeepers."
"Honey bees are arguably the most important managed pollinator and are used as the primary pollinator for over 30 crops in California many of which are considered specialty crops such as almonds," wrote Niño in her successful grant application. "Therefore, the food security of our state and our nation depends largely on robust and healthy honey bee populations. However, in recent years, U.S. beekeepers have been reporting annual colony losses of up to 45 percent. These losses are attributed to many pathogens and pests associated with bees, as well as pesticide exposure and lack of access to plentiful and diverse forage."
"Colony losses have also prompted those who have never kept bees before to try their hand at beekeeping in an effort to help honey bee conservation," she pointed out. "Currently, in California there are an estimated 11,000 backyard and small-scale beekeepers, with many of them belonging to one of 35 beekeeper associations within the state. While these associations often serve as hubs of information transfer, the information provided is not always accurate or supported by research findings. Considering the importance of California to the US agriculture and the fact that almost 80 percent of the U.S. colonies start their pollination and honey production routes in almonds, it is clear that there is an urgent need to develop a comprehensive, science-based, and state-wide apiculture curriculum."
Niño noted that "Development of these educational opportunities will help minimize potentially disastrous consequences, such as increased pest and pathogen transfer or spread of Africanized bees which are considered a public-health risk, due to lack of understanding of proper honey bee husbandry. To fulfill this need we established the first-ever California Master Beekeeper Program which provides California-centric, contemporary, research-based training in apiculture."
Overseeing the California Master Beekeeper Program is an advisory committee comprised of UC Cooperative Extension specialists and advisers, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology research staff, UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center staff, California beekeepers, and other apiculture specialists.