"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."
John Mola, a fourth-year doctoral student in the Neal Williams lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, won the $850 first-place award with his presentation on "Bumble Bee Movement and Landscape Genetics."
“In conservation biology and ecological study, we must know the distances organisms travel and the scales over which they go about their lives,” Mola said of his work. “To properly conserve species, we have to know how much land they need, how close those habitats need to be to each other, and the impact of travel on species success. For instance, if I'm told there's free burritos in the break room, I'm all over it. If the 'free' burritos require me traveling to Scotland, it's not worth it and I would spend more energy (and money) than I would gain. For pollinators, it's especially important we understand their movement since the distances they travel also dictates the quality of the pollination service they provide to crop and wild plants."
“Despite this importance, we know comparatively little about the movements of bees--the most efficient of pollinators--due to the difficulty of tracking individuals," Mola explained. "Unlike birds or large mammals, we can't just attach large radio collars and follow them around. As such, my work has focused on improving methods that we can use for study. I use a combination of landscape ecology and molecular genetics to identify the locations of siblings (colony-mates) in landscapes. From that information, we can infer all sorts of useful information about the potential foraging range, habitat use, population size, etc. It's a very exciting time to be working on these topics as the availability of new genetic and GPS technologies allows us to answer or re-address scientific and conservation issues with bees.”
In his abstract, Mola related: "Understanding the way organisms move through environments is crucial to our ability to monitor, study, or conserve species--after all, a habitat that is wholly inaccessible is no habitat at all. However, studies of wild bee movement lag far behind those of many numerous individuals. This limits our ability to answer basic questions like how large of an area is needed for individuals to forage? Or how close do conservation areas need to be connected? For honey bees, we can answer these questions through the study of their infamous waggle dance--which reveals the distance and director of their travel. However, most bees do not possess these complex communication behaviors and so our ability to understand their patterns of movement has rlied on mark-recapture, observation, and nascent advances in radar tracking or molecular methods."
He went on to share that "Here, I present a novel methodology for studying bumble bee movement using high-throughput sequencing techniques. This method provides substantial improvement in the accuracy of estimations while simultaneously giving us insight into fine-scale population genetics. Both factors can be important in the conservation and study of pollinators and our ability to 'keep bees healthy." I demonstrate the method's utility by presenting a few case studies of its implementation, and the insight we gain into wild bumble bee movement."
Judges were Tom Seeley, professor at Cornell University, the symposium's keynote speaker; speaker Santiago Ramirez, assistant professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, and native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor at UC Davis. Master beekeeper/journalist Mea McNeil of San Anselmo served as the timer and coordinator for the panel.
Mola, who aims for a career "to run a collaborative research program as a faculty member at a research-oriented university,” received his bachelor's degree in environmental studies in 2011 from Florida State University,Tallahassee, and his master's degree in 2014 from Humboldt State University, Arcata, in biology.
Second place of $600 went to Maureen Page, a second-year Ph.D. student in Neal Williams lab for her research, “Impacts of Honey Bee Abundance on the Pollination of Eschscholzia californica (California golden poppy).”
Page presented her research on the impacts of honey bee abundance on native plant pollination. “While honey bees are economically important, they are not native to North America and may have negative impacts on native bees and native plant communities in certain contexts,” she related. “My research is ongoing, but preliminary results suggest that honey bee abundance may negatively affect the pollination of California poppies.”
In her abstract, Page wrote: "Many studies support the claim that introduced honey bees compete with native pollinators. However, little is known about how honey bee introductions will affect native plant communities and plant species' persistence."
Page, who seeks a career as a professor and principal investigator, received her bachelor's degree in biology from Scripps College, Claremont, Calif. in 2006, cum laude.
Third-Place, $300: Doctoral student Emily Kearney of UC Berkeley, for her research on “How Does Landscape Context Affect the Pollinator Community of Chocolate (Theobroma cacao)."
Fourth-Place (tie, $250 each): Doctoral student Jacob Francis of the University of Nevada, for his “A Sweet Solution to the Pollen Paradox: Nectar Mediates Bees' Responses to Defended Pollen” and Katie Uhl, a master's student, UC Davis Department of Food Science and Technology, for her “Determination of Volatile Organic Compounds in Mono-Floral Honey Using HS-SPME/GC/MS."
Fifth-Place ($150): Doctoral student Kimberly Chacon, UC Davis Geography Graduate Group, for her “A Landscape Ecology Approach to Bee Conservation and Habitat Design."
The annual Bee Symposium is sponsored by the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, headed by director Amina Harris, and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, chaired by nematologist and professor Steve Nadler. Neal Williams serves as the co-faculty director of the Honey and Pollination Center.
So said bee scientist and author Tom Seeley of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., when he keynoted the fourth annual UC Davis Bee Symposium, held March 3 in the UC Davis Conference Center.
"EVERYTHING that colonies do when they are living on their own (not being managed by beekeepers) is done to favor their survival and their reproduction, and thus their success is contribution to the next generation of colonies," Seeley said in his talk on "Darwinian Beekeeping."
"And I mean everything."
Seeley, the Horace White Professor in Biology, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, where he teaches courses on animal behavior and researches the behavior and social life of honey bees, visually transported the symposium crowd to his research site, the 4200-acre Arnot Teaching and Research Forest owned by Cornell University.
Located about 15 miles from the campus, Arnot Forest is a place where the honey bees live in the wild, that is, they are not managed by beekeepers, Seeley pointed out. They build small nest cavities high in the trees, about 25 feet high, and space their colonies apart by at least 750 meters. They build drone comb freely, amounting to 15 to 20 percent of the nest cavity. They live as they did millions of years ago.
It's survival by natural selection.
"We can learn from the wild colonies," Seeley said. "I go into the wild areas and track down where bees are living and follow the bees home. It takes me about two days to find a bee tree."
Does the Arnot Forest have Varroa mites, the worldwide parasitic, virus-transferring mite that's considered the No. 1 enemy of beekeepers? A pest that arrived in the New York area around 1994?
Yes, they do. All the colonies in the forest are infested with Varroa mites. And they survive.
Seeley's research shows that before 1978 (pre-Varroa mite), the forest contained 2.8 colonies per square mile. After 2002 (post-Varroa mite), the forest still contained 2.8 colonies per square mile.
Honey bees typify the Charles Darwinian concept of evolution by natural selection, Seeley said. Indeed, "all bees living today are the products of natural selection."
Darwin, who described comb building as "the most wonderful of all (insect) instincts" and Lorenzo L. Langstroth, who invented the movable-frame hive, "both had important insights that can help us with our beekeeping," Seeley related.
"Darwinian beekeeping is allowing the bees to use their own beekeeping skills fully."
However, Darwinian beekeeping or "bee friendly beekeeping" is not for everyone, Seeley emphasized. "It's not for large-scale beekeepers, it's not for urban beekeepers. It is an option for small-scale rural beekeepers who want to avoid chemical treatments and who are satisfied with modest honey crops."
With Darwinian beekeeping, the emphasis is on the "environment of evolutionary adaptedness, "or the original environment in which wild colonies live," Seeley said. "Colonies are genetically adapted to their location."
How can beekeepers practice Darwinian beekeeping?
"Keep bees that are adapted to your location," he said. "Rear queens from your best survivor colonies, OR capture swarms with bait hives in remote locations OR purchase queens from a queen breeder who produces locally adapted queens."
"If the mite level gets high (more than 10 mites per 100 bees), then euthanize the colony; pour warm, soap water into hive at dusk," he said. "This does two things: it eliminates your non-resistant colonies and it avoids producing mite bombs. An alternative to euthanasia of the colony: treat for Varroa and requeen with a queen of resistant stock."
The issues of hive size and proximity are also important. Many modern beekeepers use "multi-storied wooden kits, super-sized like McDonald's," the professor said. "And managed bee hives are often a meter away from one another, as compared to 750 meters in the wild."
Seeley also said it's important "not to disturb colonies in winter: no checking, no stimulative feeding, no pollen patties, etc. Even a brief removal of the lid causes winter cluster to raise its temperature in alarm for several hours."
In his presentation, Seeley touched on nine Darwinian beekeeping tips, summarized here:
1. Keep bees that are adapted to your location
2. House colonies in small hives and let them swarm
3. Space colonies as widely as possible
4. Line hives with propolis collection screens or untreated lumber to allow them to build a "propolis (antimicrobial) shield"
5. Provide the most resilient (lowest mite count) colonies with 10 to 20 percent drone comb
6. Keep the nest structure intact
7. Use a small, bottom entrance
8. Do not disturb colonies in winter
9. Refrain from treating colonies for Varroa
He lists 20 Darwinian beekeeping tips in his article published in the March 2017 edition of the American Bee Journal. (The article also appears on the Natural Beekeeping Trust website, printed with permission.)
Seely is the author of Honeybee Ecology: A Study of Adaptation in Social Life(1985), The Wisdom of the Hive: the Social Physiology of Honey Bee Colonies (1995), and Honeybee Democracy (2010), all published by Princeton Press.
The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology sponsored the event, which drew a crowd of 250. Amina Harris, director of the center, coordinated the event.
In introducing the keynote speaker, Professor Neal Williams of the entomology faculty and the faculty co-director of the Honey and Pollination Center board, described Seeley's work as "innovative and insightful. He is truly a gifted author who blends science and philosophy."