"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!
The joy of the season strikes a chord.
When bees slip out of their California hives during winter sun breaks, they often head over to mallow blossoms to grab some nectar and pollen. A favorite is the tree mallow, Lavatera maritima “bicolor," native to Mediterranean regions of the world and California. The genus derives its name from Swiss botanist J.R. Lavater, who first discovered the species in Spain. The drought-tolerant plants, which can reach 12 feet in height, are perfect for gardeners challenging the California drought!
It doesn't take long for honey bees to discover the towering blossoms. The bees buzz in and out, battling for position, jockeying for the precious pollen. Then, laden with "gold dust," they linger in flight to clean their tongues for another go-around.
Bees, we can't get enough of them! Is it spring yet?
Meanwhile, let's fast-forward to May 2017. Mark your calendars for Saturday, May 6 and Sunday, May 7. On May 6 is the inaugural California Honey Festival in Woodland, and on May 7, the fourth annual UC Davis Bee Symposium.
The California Honey Festival, co-sponsored by the Honey and Pollination Center at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, UC Davis, and the Woodland Hoteliers, is an all-day family festival that will take place on Main Street, Woodland.
“The California Honey Festival will be a great opportunity for guests to experience the full spectrum of honey flavor,” said Honey and Pollination Center director Harris, who is coordinating the festival's educational content. “Not all honey tastes the same! Like wine, varietals of honey flavors and aromas can be very distinct. We developed our Honey Flavor Wheel in 2015 to help teach people about the nuances of honey flavor.”
In addition to tasting honey, festival goers can learn about honey bees, their pollination services, and the health benefits of honey. They can sample specialty meads or “honey wine”; taste honey-inspired food and beverages, and purchase honey and bee-themed gifts. Other family friendly activities will include a bee-themed play structure for kids, cooking demonstrations featuring honey, and informational sessions on beekeeping basics and bee-friendly gardening. More information on the California Honey Festival, including sponsorships and vendor details, is available on the festival website, www.CaliforniaHoneyFestival.com
And the next day, Sunday, May 7, is the fourth annual Bee Symposium, co-sponsored by the Honey and Pollination Center and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. The day-long event will focus on bee health and best management practices. It will feature keynote speakers, panel discussions, a luncheon, and a graduate student poster contest, among other activities. It's a mingling of bee scientists and researchers, beekeepers and others interested in bee health. Details are pending.
The cherry laurel, Prunus caroliniana, a member of the rose family, draws honey bees as if there's no tomorrow. Native to the southeastern United States, it can double as a 15-to-36-feet-tall hedge, screening neighbors from neighbors, as well as providing ample food for birds when the tiny black cherrylike fruit develops.
But the bees...the bees...if you've ever seen bees work the spring blossoms, gathering the cream-colored pollen and the nectar to take back to their colonies, you know how frenetic they can be.
Back at the hive, the nectar turns into cherry-laurel honey....hmmm.
Speaking of honey, the so-called "nectar of the gods," how much honey does an average California colony produce?
California Extension apiculturist (emeritus) Eric Mussen, whose career spanned 38 years, was recently asked that question. When he joined the faculty at the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology--that was during the 1976-77 drought--he was told that the average honey production per hive was around 29 to 35 pounds. Today the figure often quoted is 60 pounds.
But that depends.
"Later I learned that the 'average' honey production--years with "normal" rain--is not average across all our beekeepers," Mussen related. "The queen and bulk bee producers in northern California have never made much of any honey, especially after yellow starthistle fell victim to the USDA biocontrol program.
"The San Joaquin Valley beekeepers were more likely to approach the state average. They could obtain some honey from the crops they were pollinating and some from the wildflowers, especially in the hills surrounding the valley. It was the Southern California beekeepers who made up the difference. Production of 100-plus pounds could be common."
What about honey production today, in the throes of the California drought? "For the last few years, we have been having 1976-77-type crops," Mussen said. "The northern beekeepers basically have no honey unless they take their colonies out of state. The San Joaquin Valley beekeepers probably are averaging around 30 pounds or so, and the southern beekeepers would be lucky to be getting around 60."
The few years when California experienced high rain and floods--back in the 1980s and 1990s--beekeepers throughout the state reported an average of 90-plus pounds per colony. "Even the northern beekeepers produced a little," Mussen said. "However, even if we have a horrendous El Niño event, it probably won't make a huge difference in honey production this coming year. The seed bank has been terribly diminished by so many consecutive years of drought."
"While we can never predict exactly who is going to get the honey and how much, this is the way things generally tend to go in California," Mussen noted. "Our bees, and our beekeepers, are really hurting for nectar and honey right now."
There's not much blooming right now. But for those "lucky" honey bees with access to a 30-foot-high hedge of luxuriant cherry laurel, as in our yard, life is good.
That's when life is just a bowl of cherries (cherry laurels).