Thanksgiving isn't about selecting the largest turkey in the store, engaging in road rage or aisle anger, or preparing for the Black Friday sales.
Thanksgiving is all about sharing--sharing gratitude, love and a meal.
UC Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons, a leading scientific expert on gratitude, says that a growing body of research confirms that an ounce of gratitude is worth a pound of cure.
A feature story posted on the UC Davis Medical Center relates that practicing gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person's life. Says Emmons: "It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep. Gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders, and is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide."
Practicing gratitude also affects behavior, he says. The UC Davis article points out that studies have shown that "grateful people engage in more exercise, have better dietary behaviors, are less likely to smoke and abuse alcohol, and have higher rates of medication adherence – factors that translate into a healthier and happier life."
Emmons' expertise on gratitude resulted in a $5.6 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation to explore the subject.
In the insect world, what better day to post an image of a Gulf Fritillary butterfly, Agraulis vanillae, sharing the nectar of a passionflower (Passiflora) with three honey bees?
Table for four, please.
Don't tell the honey bees.
They will forage where they want to--whether it's on bee balm, a dandelion or that controversial tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica.
Just before we cut back the tropical milkweed for the season, the honey bees got their last hurrah--the last bit of nectar for the year.
Why cut back tropical milkweed? Scientific research shows that this plant disrupts the monarch migration patterns when it's planted outside its tropical range, and can lead to the spreading of OE, orophryocystiselektroscirrha, a protozoan parasite that infects monarch and queen butterflies. So we gardeners cut it back AFTER the monarchs have quit laying their eggs for the summer (or early fall) and BEFORE the monarch migratory season.
Honey bees, however, do love that milkweed. (Note that some scientists, conservation organizations and horticulturists urge folks NOT to plant the non-native tropical milkweed, and if they do, cut it back before the migratory season. See post from Xerces Society of Invertebrate Conservation.)
Connie Krochmal's article on "Milkweed as Honey Plants" in the Aug. 23, 2016 edition of Bee Culture magazine points out just how much bees love milkweed.
"Very fond of milkweed blossoms, bees will desert other flowers when these are available. The plants provide a good nectar flow. Bees discard the pollen. Assuming enough plants are available, milkweeds can bring a good crop of honey."
Milkweed, Krochmal writes, "are major bee plants in the North Central states, the Northeast, Southeast, the Plains, and the mountainous West." The honey is typically light colored and mild-flavored, she added.
"Generally, milkweeds are considered beneficial to bees. However, there are potential negative aspects to milkweed flowers. It is conceivably possible for bees and other small pollinators to become trapped in a blossom. Also, the sticky pollen masses might cling to a bee's head or legs, thereby affecting her mobility or appearance."
Yes, it does. We've seen many a bee struggle to free herself from the pollinia. Some lose their legs. Some perish.
But that nectar--that nectar--the bees keep coming back for more.
If you vacationed at Doran Regional Beach, Bodega Bay, on a Wednesday last year (pre-COVID-19 pandemic), chances are you saw scores of dedicated volunteers pulling out the invasive ice plant, Carpobrotus edulis, along 201 Doran Beach Road. It's hard work but it's rewarding.
Wednesday was--or is--Ice Plant Removal Day. (See the Sonoma County Regional Parks website.)
C. edulis, a succulent native to South Africa, is unwanted in Bodega Bay's wetlands because it chokes out native, endangered plants and alters the soil composition. When it's removed, native plant species return as do a diversity of wanted wildlife.
Yes, nurseries sell ice plant as a ground cover because it's hardy, easy to grow, and spreads quickly. The neon pink blossoms, in particular, are spectacular. (See photo)
C. edulis, though, is as pervasive as it is pretty. It's the flora equivalent of Public Enemy No. 1.
Nevertheless, you'll see "wanted" insects foraging on the "unwanted" plants along the Doran Beach trails. We've seen honey bee and butterflies foraging on the blossoms--including a pollen-packing bee seeking nectar--a short distance from the ice plant removal site. And once we saw a Great Blue Heron snatch a vole from the ice plant growing along the Jetty Campground, Doran Beach.
Beauty and beasts are where you find them, whether they're flora or fauna or wanted or unwanted. Take a hike. Take a camera. Or, better yet, volunteer for an Invasive Plant Removal Day. The California Native Plant Society will thank you.
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 email@example.com, 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.