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!
The things we overlook are the things we should look for.
Take mustard and honey bees.
You've seen mustard thriving in fields, but have you ever considered planting some seeds from a nursery in your garden so honey bees will have something to eat in early spring? (And then, of course, replacing the mustard with other plants so the mustard does not go to seed? The soil also benefits.)
We've been planting mustard now for several years, and it's a joy to watch the bees foraging, flying and gathering pollen and nectar. Sometimes they'll stop in mid-air to clean their tongues.
"The importance of pollen to the health and vigor of the honey bee colony cannot be overstated," writes Norman Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, in his book, Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees. "Honey bees need a balanced diet. Honey satisfies the bees' carbohydrates requirements, while all of the other nutrients--minerals, proteins, vitamins and fatty substances--are derived from pollen. Nurse bees consume large amounts of pollen, converting it into nutritious secretions that are fed to developing larvae. During an entire year, a typical bee colony gathers and consumes around 72 pounds of pollen."
"Pollen in the plant world is the equivalent of sperm in the animal world," Gary continues. "Fertilization and growth of seeds depend upon the transfer of pollen from the male flower parts (anthers) to the receptive female parts (stigma)."
Yes, airborne pollen causes most human allergies, Gary acknowledges.
But for us, watching the bees go airborne with a load of pollen is a treat, a treasure and a tribute to their industrious bee-ings.
"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!
The phrase "can't cut the mustard" (not able to handle the job) doesn't apply to honey bees. It's spring and honey bees are emerging en force from their hives to collect nectar and pollen to feed their colonies.
The fields are awash with mustard.
By the way, O. Henry, in his collection of short stories, The Heart of the West, was apparently the first known person to use the phrase, "Cut the mustard." He wrote: "I looked around and found a proposition that exactly cut the mustard."
Today we hear the more negative version, "can't cut the mustard."
Meanwhile, it's a joy to see a bee swathed in gold dust from the mustard. In doing so, our bee is akin to the kid with a milk mustache. Life is good!
"The importance of pollen to the health and vigor of the honey bee colony cannot be overstated," UC Davis emeritus professor and retired bee wrangler Norman Gary writes in the newly published second edition of his book, The Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees. "Bees need a balanced diet. Honey satisfies the bees' carbohydrate requirements, while all of the other nutrients--minerals, proteins, vitamins and fatty substances--are derived from pollen. Nurse bees consume large amounts of pollen, converting it into nutritious secretions that are fed to developing larvae. During an entire year a typical bee colony gathers and consumes around 71 pounds (35 kg) of pollen."
The next time you see honey bees collecting pollen, think of a colony gathering 71 pounds of pollen a year!
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!