Beekeeper Clay Ford, who owns the Pleasants Valley Honey Company, also known as "Clay's Bees," is devastated.
Gone, millions of bees. At an average of 60,000 per hive, that's about 3.9 million bees.
The estimated loss: about $30,000.
And that stings.
Ford launched the Pleasants Valley Honey Co., 10 years ago with his wife Karen. A member of the Pleasants Valley Agricultural Association, he is a familiar face at the Vacaville Farmers' Market and at University of California, Davis conferences hosted by the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
National award-winning photographer Paul Kuroda of Piedmont photographed the raging fire and the melted bee boxes and honeycombs. "I didn't get stung," Kuroda said. "I heard they go for eyes and mouth, so I put on goggles with my mask."
"And one followed me into my van," Kuroda related. "(It) took a ride with me, but...(it was) only half a mile." (See his fire images.)
Clay loves his bees and the family history of beekeeping. "My great-great grandfather in New Hampshire was a beekeeper," he said. (See his video on YouTube)
"But anyways once getting to know the craft and the bees, really there's almost nothing better, in my opinion, than to open a hive in the mid-spring with a little bit of nectar flowing. You open it up and the bees are just sort of sitting there humming...I mean it's absolutely wonderful."
At the Vacaville Farmers' Market, he sells several honey varietals, including orange blossom, blackberry, starthistle, wildflower and lavender.
But now the Vacaville bees are mostly gone. His out-of-town hives remain at a lavender farm, Araceli Farms, in nearby Dixon. (In a Bug Squad blog last June, we toured the lavender farm during Lavender Day and mentioned his Cordovan bees, "the color of pure gold.")
Clay also rents his bees to almond growers during the pollination season, but he won't this year. It's time to rebuild.
"Next year I'll be 60," he said. He and Karen will be rebuilding the boxes, replacing the equipment and recovering from the tragic loss of the Vacaville Fire.
Friends, neighbors, the beekeeping community and others who want to help Clay's Bees recover, can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, access his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ClaysBees/, or text him at (707)-681-9397. VENMO: @Clay-Ford-5. Or checks can be mailed to Clay's Bees at 212 Brookdale Drive, Apt., 1, Vacaville, Calif. 95687. Contact the Pleasants Valley Agricultural Association for more information on how to help the other farmers who lost their livelihoods and the residents who lost their homes.
The honey bees love it.
So do the long-horned bees, bumble bees, carpenter bees, European paper wasps, syrphid flies, butterflies, blister beetles, spotted cucumber beetles, crab spiders, praying mantids, and assorted other insects.
The Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) blooming in gardens around California and beyond is a delight to see.
A native of Mexico and Central America and an annual, it's a member of the sunflower family Asteraceae. In our yard in Vacaville, Calif, it blooms from May or early June through October and November--just in time for the migrating monarchs that pass through on their way to their overwintering sites along coastal California.
But for now, it belongs to the honey bees and the long-horned bees, such as Melissodes agilis.
We encountered this lone honey bee last week--a single bee in need of nectar but not in need of a dive-bombing by the male territorial Melissodes agilis.
The last image, of her in an upside-down stance and peering through the petals, indicates this bee is not about to let her guard down.
Want to learn about honey bees? Be sure to read Norman Gary's book, The Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees. Gary, a UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology, has kept bees for more than seven decades and has held or holds the titles of teacher, scientist, researcher, author, bee wrangler and musician. Check out his website.
Also read the UC book, California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, by Gordon Frankie of UC Berkeley, (the late) Robbin Thorp of UC Davis, and Rollin Coville and Barbara Ertter, both affiliated with UC Berkeley.
Picture this during National Pollinator Week: five monarch caterpillars and assorted honey bees sharing tropical milkweed.
It was love at first bite. Or love at first sip.
The 'cats kept munching and the bees kept foraging. Neither species seemed interested in the other.
But the adult monarchs definitely showed more interest in the tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), a non-native, than the other two species, both natives, that we planted: the narrow leaf (A. fascicularis) and showy milkweed (A. speciosa).
They laid eggs only on the tropical milkweed, and so far, have produced five caterpillars.
The score to date:
Tropical milkweed: 5 caterpillars
Narrow leaf milkweed: 0
Showy milkweed: 0
Reminder: Folks planting the tropical milkweed in temperate zones (like here in Vacaville,Calif.) must remove or cut back the tropical milkweed by winter. "A protozoan parasite of monarch butterflies, Ophryocystis elektroscirrha or OE for short, can travel with monarchs visiting the plants and become deposited on leaves," explains the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
Yes, indeed. But meanwhile, we're witnessing untold sharing on the wildly popular tropical milkweed by not only monarch caterpillars but honey bees, syrphid flies, bumble bees, carpenter bees, leafcutter bees and sweat bees.
We gardeners and photographers are also drawn to the spectacular red, orange and yellow flowers that add both beauty and color to a cherished pollinator patch in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic...and National Pollinator Week.
You may have lost track of the hours, days, weeks and months due to the coronavirus pandemic, but how can you forget National Pollinator Week?
Especially if you've ventured out in your yard, garden or park and witnessed the pollinators doing what they do best.
National Pollinator Week, set June 22-28, is a "time to celebrate pollinators and spread the word about what you can do to protect them," according to the sponsor, Pollinator Partnership.
As they write on their website: "Thirteen years ago the U.S. Senate's unanimous approval and designation of a week in June as 'National Pollinator Week' marked a necessary step toward addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations. Pollinator Week has now grown into an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles."
So, what can you do to observe Pollinator Week? The Pollinator Partnership says this year won't be a "typical Pollinator Week."
"We urge everyone to hold a socially distant, appropriate event. In an effort to lighten the load on state governments during this time, we are not pursuing formal state proclamations this year, but will continue to post proclamations that we do receive. Moreover, we encourage everyone to go outside and spend some time with the bees and butterflies that inspire hope in many."
And, when we think of Pollinator Week, we think of the honey bee totally dusted with pollen on a blanket flower, Gaillardia, in our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif.
The bee just couldn't get enough of the pollen.
We just couldn't get enough photos. Bravo, Ms. Honey Bee!
Did you hear that buzz in California's almond orchards?
It takes about two colonies per acre to pollinate California's 1.2 million acres of almonds. That's about 2.5 million bee colonies trucked here from throughout the country.
And now the 2020 almond pollination season, which began around Valentine's Day, is ending, not with a buzz, but with somewhat of a bang as growers worry about whether they'll have enough bees for next season.
In a Jan. 22 article in Ag Alert, assistant editor Christine Souza covered the situation well. In noting that California has some 1.2 million bearing acres of almond trees, she pointed out: "As another 300,000 almond acres come into production in the next few years, beekeepers and farmers say an additional 600,000 beehives will be needed for pollination. Achieving that could be somewhat daunting, as beekeepers report annual bee losses due to challenges such as reduced forage, the Varroa mite and pesticide-related issues."
In a forecast article published Jan. 6 in West Coast Nut on "2020 Almond Pollination Market: Economic Outlook and Other Considerations," Brittney Goodrich, assistant Cooperative Extension specialist, UC Davis Department of of Agricultural and Resource Economics, wrote that the total yield in pounds per acre is "projected at 1,880, down 10 percent from 2019 (United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), 2019). Not all of this was due to poor pollination, growers also experienced less than ideal weather conditions throughout the rest of the growing season."
Goodrich also mentioned that:
- "As of October 15, 2019, almond prices were between $2.63 to $2.98 per pound depending on the variety. Prices have remained fairly steady in this range since 2016 (Champetier, Lee, and Sumner, 2019). Almond returns per acre have also remained fairly steady since 2016, though these returns seem small when compared with the 2013-2015 time period with almond prices well above $3 per pound."
- "Pollination expenses as a percentage of operating costs have increased from 6.7 percent in 1998 to 20 percent in 2016 (Champetier, Lee, and Sumner, 2019)."
- "As expected, counties in the San Joaquin Valley have the highest amount of planted acreage."
- "With the exception of Contra Costa and Sacramento counties in Northern California, increases as a percentage of bearing acreage by county range from 0.2 percent to 6.5 percent of total bearing acreage. Contra Costa and Sacramento counties each saw increases over 40 percent, but combine for a total planted acreage of 217 acres in 2018."
- According to the California State Beekeepers' Association, "average almond pollination fees have gone up around $5 per colony per year since 2017. The range in fees seems to have grown over time, in 2019 there is more than a $60 difference per colony between the lowest and highest fee reported. From talking with others in the industry, the average fee of $195 in 2019 may be on the lower side. Fees for a majority of colonies likely ranged from $200 to $220 per colony in 2019."
Meanwhile, take a look at the honey bees foraging on an almond near the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis campus.