If you can't chew gum and walk at the same time, think about the multi-tasking honey bee.
Have you ever seen a worker bee engaging in three tasks simultaneously: flying, adjusting her pollen load, and cleaning her tongue?
We recently spotted a honey bee packing what seemed like a bowling ball-size load as she headed toward the mustard in our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. She took the opportunity to clean her tongue or proboscis. There's a reason they're called worker bees!
This time of year, Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, is also engaging in multi-tasking as she plans the second annual California Honey Festival in partnership with Woodland city officials. It's set for Saturday, May 5 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in downtown historical Woodland. It's a free, family event that promises to be both educational and entertaining.
"The California Honey Festival's mission is to promote honey, honey bees and their products, and beekeeping through this unique educational platform, to the broader public," Harris says on her website. "Through lectures and demonstrations, the festival will help develop an interest in beekeeping by the younger generation. Attendees will learn about the myriad of issues that confront honey bees including pesticide use, diseases and even the weather! In addition, attendees can learn how to creatively plant their gardens to help feed all of our pollinators. It is important for the community to appreciate and understand the importance of bees as the lead pollinator of many of our crops adding to the food diversity we have come to enjoy."
The California Honey Festival benefits "select bee and pollinator non-profits doing the hard work of research and education to ensure bee health worldwide," Harris says.
At the inaugural festival last year, Harris was expecting a crowd of 3000. Surprise! Surprise! More than 20,000 attended. With all the buzz about the bees and the crucial need to protect them, the attendees turned into "bee-lievers." And there's more in store this year.
Among the speakers are Gene Brandi, past president of the American Beekeeping Federation; Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology; John Mola, UC Davis graduate student and the winner of the 2018 UC Davis Bee Symposium graduate student poster competition; Kate Frey of Hopland, noted garden designer, consultant, columnist and co-author of The Bee Friendly Garden; and Billy Synk, director of pollination programs with Project Apis m., and formerly with the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis.
The Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis will present its insect petting zoo (think Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects, tarantulas and praying mantids) and educational displays.
Wait, there's more. And more. and more. Check out the California Honey Festival's schedule of events.
Ever seen this mottled brownish/blackish/grayish moth around lately? The alfalfa looper moth, Autographa californica?
We spotted this moth, as identified by Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, and Bohart Museum of Entomology associate Greg Kareofelas, a naturalist and photographer, nectaring on mustard blossoms last weekend in Vacaville, Calif.
It was flying during the day. "They are semi- to quite diurnal," says Shapiro, who has been seeing "a lot of them" lately, including at his research field site in Gates Canyon, Vacaville. "The caterpillars are semiloopers and feed a great variety of herbaceous plants."
A moth of the Noctuidae family, it's found from Southern British Columbia to Baja California and to Manitoba, South Dakota, Colorado and New Mexico, according to Wikipedia.
The caterpillars can be troublesome, according to the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program. The 'cats feed on the leaves of many plants, including agricultural crops such as dry beans, lettuce, artichoke, cotton, and tomatoes. They are often mistaken for their fellow leaf eaters, the cabbage looper, Trichoplusia ni.
"Alfalfa and cabbage loopers are quite similar in appearance," UC IPM says on its website. "The greenish larvae crawl by arching their bodies and are 1 to 1.5 inches long when mature. Looper eggs are similar to those of the bollworm in that they are spherical with vertical ridges from top to bottom. However, looper eggs are more flattened and have finer ridges. Alfalfa looper is usually found in May and early June while cabbage looper appears in late June through September."
The adult Autographa californica stopped by for about five minutes for a little food, and then it was off, flying awkwardly. It would have been easy prey for a hungry bird. Or a not-so-hungry bird.
A little drama in the mustard patch...
A honey bee is foraging head-first in the mustard. She's collecting nectar and pollen. She does not see the lady beetle, aka ladybug, thrust head-first above her.
The honey bee is dusted with yellow pollen. The ladybug, not so much.
The bee moves closer. The ladybug does not move.
If there were any conversations between the two beneficial insects, it might go like this:
Honey Bee: "Hi, ladybug. Let's share the mustard, okay? You take the aphids--I don't eat aphids--and I'll take the nectar and pollen. Is that all right with you?"
The ladybug does not move. She neither sees nor hears her buzzing companion.
The honey creeps closer.
Honey Bee, louder: "I said, is that okay, ladybug? I'm here for the nectar and pollen! I don't want your aphids!"
Ladybug, mumbling: "Aphids? Don't even think about eating my aphids. Buzz off, will ya?"
The honey bee buzzes off--to find more nectar and pollen.
The drama ends as quickly as it begins.
Another day in the mustard patch.
A sure sign of spring: honey bees foraging on mustard.
You'll see mustard growing as cover crops in the Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley vineyards, but you'll also see it gracing the hillsides, roadways and area gardens.
It's a time when the yellow pollen dusts the bees from head to thorax to abdomen. Sometimes you'll see a bee's head absolutely covered with the "gold dust."
According to this Sonoma County website:
"Whether it's growing wild or planted by thoughtful vineyard managers, mustard is more than just a feast for the eyes, it's a feast for the vines. It thrives just until bud break, when it is turned under to mulch and provide valuable nutrients and phosphorus to the emerging grape plants."
"The practice holds deep roots in Wine Country. According to legend, a Franciscan missionary first spread the mustard seed while landscaping church properties throughout California. Planting was simple – these early world gardeners carried the mustard seeds in a sack slung over their backs, and each sack had a small hole in it, so as they walked, the seeds would scatter."
Indeed, mustard is not only a feast for the eyes. The mustard plant, from the family Brassicaceae, provides us with
- The condiment known as mustard (seeds are ground and mixed with water, vinegar and other ingredients); and
- Mustard greens (the leaves are edible and perfect for a salad).
And it's a feast for bees!
"Spring is the busiest time of year for honey bees, and their keepers, whether the operation is in the desert uplands of southern Arizona, the citrus groves of Florida, or the apple orchards of Washington state," writes entomologist/bee expert Stephen "Steve" Buchmann in his book, Honey Bees: Letters from the Hive.
Lately we've been watching honey bees collecting pollen from mustard, Brassica. The amount of pollen they collect is truly amazing. Each honey bee colony collects an average of 20 to 40 pounds a year, Buchmann writes.
Buchmann, the author of The Forgotten Pollinators, The Bee Tree, and other books, will soon release his next book, The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives, in July. Buchmann, an adjunct professor in the University of Arizona's Department of Entomology and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Tucson, and scientist-at-large for the Pollinator Partnership, San Francisco, received his doctorate in entomology from the University of California, Davis. He studied with major professor/native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, now a UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology. Buchmann's dissertation was on buzz pollination.
There's an old saying "to cut the mustard," meaning that someone is good enough or effective enough for a task.
The meaning probably originated from the military term "pass muster," but with honey bees, they're not only good at passing the muster and foraging in the mustard, they excel.