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Posts Tagged: pollination

Honey: Nothing short of miraculous

A taste of honey: dipping fingers into the honeycomb. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
“Honey, please pass the honey!”

That simple request, prefaced with a term of endearment for good measure, means there's honey on the table.

And well there should be. As the daughter, granddaughter and great-great granddaughter (and beyond) of beekeepers, I grew up with honey on the table. (And on my fingers, face and clothes.)

My favorite then was clover honey from the lush meadows and fields of our 300-acre farm in southwest Washington. My favorite now is Northern California yellow starthistle honey, derived from the blossoms of that highly invasive weed, Centaurea solstitialis, which farmers hate (and rightfully so) and beekeepers love.

“Almost every honey has its own unique flavor-- even when it is the same varietal,” says Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center. “There are characteristics we learn to look for, but even within that variety, the honey will differ from each area collected. For instance: avocado honey is known for being very dark amber with a flavor reminiscent of molasses, licorice or anise. However, once you start tasting a selection, some will taste like blackstrap molasses and very black licorice. Others will have almost a fruity flavor like dried figs or prunes. Most folks can't tell the difference – and then there are the honey nerds, like me!”

A beekeeper at UC Davis holds a frame of honey. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

“My favorite all-around honey is one I keep returning to. I love sweet clover from the High Plains with its cinnamon hit —the spicy characteristic is just something I love,” Harris said. “My favorite ‘shock honey' is coriander. Collected near Yuba City, this seed crop gives us a honey that is like walking through a spice bazaar with hints of cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, coriander and — chocolate.”

The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, located in the Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science on Old Davis Road, periodically offers courses on the sensory evaluation of honey, as well as honey tastings. Next up: the center will host free honey tastings at its home base during the 105th Annual Campuswide Picnic Day on April 13, and at the California Honey Festival in downtown Woodland on May 4. Another popular honey tasting: California Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, based in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, hosts a honey tasting at Briggs Hall during the annual Picnic Day.

There's more to honey than meets the eye — or the palate. The Honey and Pollination Center recently hosted a three-day Sensory Evaluation of Honey Certificate Course last October, using “sensory evaluation tools and methods to educate participants in the nuances of varietal honey,” Harris said. Northern California public radio station KQED spotlighted the course on its “Taste This” program.

And we owe it all to honey bees.

Pollination ecologist Stephen Buchmann of the University of Arizona (who received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, studying with native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp), writes in his book, Honey Bees: Letters from the Hive, that each worker bee “may make four to ten or so flights from the nest each day, visiting hundreds or many thousands of flowers to collect nectar and pollen. During her lifetime, a worker bee may flown 35,000 to 55,000 miles collecting food for her and her nest mates. One pound of honey stored in the comb can represent 200,000 miles of combined bee flights and nectar from as many as five million flowers.”

Take a 16-ounce jar of honey at the supermarket. That represents “the efforts of tens of thousands of bees flying a total of 112,000 miles to forage nectar from about 4.5 million flowers,” writes Buchmann.

Of course, we primarily appreciate honey bees for their pollination services (one-third of the food we eat is pollinated by bees) but honey is more than just an after thought.

It's been described as “liquid gold,” “the nectar of the gods” and “the soul of a field of flowers.” Frankly, it's nothing short of miraculous.

And well it should be.

A honey bee sips honey from honeycomb. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee sips honey from honeycomb. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee sips honey from honeycomb. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee sips nectar from a lavender blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee sips nectar from a lavender blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee sips nectar from a lavender blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, November 28, 2018 at 9:26 AM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture, Environment, Food, Innovation, Natural Resources, Yard & Garden

A honey of an educational odyssey -- and you're invited

Honey: the handiwork of bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Show me the honey!

You've probably tasted wine in California's acclaimed Wine Country, but have you ever tasted honey in the nation's rapidly growing “Honey Country”—the University of California, Davis?

Now you can.

The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center is hosting a Honey Sensory Experience next month so you can learn all about honey, taste honey varietals from all over the world, and hear what researchers are doing.

The Honey Sensory Experience is scheduled for Nov. 10-11 in the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science's Sensory Building on Old Davis Road. The course is for beekeepers, bakers, mead makers, honey lovers, packers, importers, professional buyers, honey producers, and "anyone who wants to gain expertise in the aroma of honey analysis," said Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, which is closely affiliated with the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, part of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR). "Over two days, expert teachers will guide participants through a unique tasting and educational odyssey."

The event revolves around a first-of-its-kind study in the United States. or the past nine months, the center has been working with a team of sensory experts and trained tasters in the sensory lab in the UC Davis Department of Food Science and Technology. The panel analyzed the flavor, aroma, color, pollen and nutrition of three varietal honeys with samples produced across the nation.

Honeycomb--made by the bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The center's goal is to create a description of each varietal honey's unique characteristics.

“We have about 300 varietal honeys here in the United States,” Harris pointed out. “Many aren't produced each year. And some years actually have a better crop than others. Our center's goal is to help consumers understand what each varietal honey should really taste like.”

Well-known varietals include orange blossom and clover honeys, although these are rarely pure varietals, Harris said.

“According to current honey labeling laws, the varietal listed on the label need only be the predominant floral source. Simply, a blended honey of 23 percent alfalfa, 25 percent wildflower and 25 percent cotton with 27 percent orange blossom can be labeled ‘Orange Blossom Honey.' Swap out the orange blossom for clover and you have a new varietal.” 

A honey bee sips nectar from an orange blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Harris said the center is "ready to share our experiences. Together we will spend two full days tasting varietal honeys from the world over and investigating the bees' handiwork. It all starts with nectar.” 

The Honey and Pollination Center, at the forefront of honey sensory research, developed the first-ever Honey Flavor and Aroma Wheel. The wheel has been featured on National Public Radio, at the Smithsonian, and at tastings and specialty food conferences across the country.

With interest in honey is on the rise,  consumers are actively looking for intriguing varietals, said Harris, who has tallied 35 years of experience in the world of varietal honeys. “The Honey Sensory Experience is the perfect opportunity for consumers looking to better-understand how honey is developed—from the moment the honey bee collects the nectar, until the honey is on the supermarket shelf."

"The two-day program “will bring together a group of exceptional presenters to explain all the nuances from nutrition to flavor to cooking."

Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, speaks Sept. 6 at the Western Apicultural Society's 40th annual conference, held at UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

In addition to Harris, the presenters will include Orietta Gianjorio, member of the Italian Register of Experts in the Sensory Analysis of Honey; Hanne Sivertsen, sensory researcher, UC Davis Department of Food Science and Technology; Amy Myrdal Miller, certified nutritionist and owner of Farmer's Daughter Consulting, Sacramento; Joyce Schlacter, certified quality control specialist and director of food safety and quality, Smitty Honey, Iowa; chef Mani Niall, owner of Sweet Bar Bakery, Oakland, Calif. and Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, based in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.

Niall, known as “Baker to the Stars,” served as a chef to Michael Jackson and a chef for the National Honey Board in the 1990s. He is the author of the book, Covered in Honey: The Amazing Flavors of Varietal Honey.

Miller, a UC Davis graduate, is an “amazing nutritionist,” Harris said. She is a farmer's daughter, a highly regarded public speaker, published author, and founder and president of Farmer's Daughter Consulting, a privately-held agriculture, food, and culinary communications firm.

A honey bee heading for lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The Honey and Pollination Center is sponsored by the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, part of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR).

The course, which includes breakfast and lunch each day, is $625. To access the agenda and to register, see http://honey.ucdavis.edu/events/honey-sensory-experience-an-introduction.

Posted on Monday, October 9, 2017 at 1:49 PM

Super blooms in the Central Valley: Why it’s not just about the color

Wildflower planting next to almonds, Yolo Co, 2017.

Have you seen the blaze of super blooms popping up alongside orchards and field crops in our rich agricultural Central Valley? The corridors of poppies, tidy tips, yarrow, baby blue eyes, and redbud planted by farmers, dazzle us with color, but they serve a purpose, too.  

The flowers provide nectar and pollen for the pollinators, including honey bees, bumble bees and carpenter bees. Look beyond the buzz, and you'll see other beneficial insects, such as lady beetles (ladybugs) and their larvae devouring aphids, and tiny parasitoid wasps preying on stinkbugs and armyworms. They're (unpaid) pest control agents at work.

Farmers are taking notice. Knowing that most beneficial insects rely on floral resources to survive and reproduce, they're bordering their field crops with strips of flowering plants. In addition to gaining pollination and pest control services, they're gaining financial benefits.  University of California researchers documented that pest control and pollination benefits will help pay the cost of a 1,000-foot-long-flowering hedge planting within 7 to 16 years. Their research, Pest Control and Pollination Cost-Benefit Analysis of Hedgerow Restoration in a Simplified Agricultural Landscape, was published last year in the Journal of Economic Entomology.

Other benefits of field edge habitat plantings can include weed exclusion, air quality improvement, erosion reduction, wind protection, shade, and wildlife habitat.

What plants are best to attract beneficial insects to farms and gardens? The UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) has just published a list of insectary plants on its website.  The list includes native California perennial flowering shrubs and wildflowers suited for field-edge plantings.

UC IPM defines insectary plants as “those grown to attract, feed, and shelter insect parasites (parasitoids) and predators to enhance biological pest control. Insectary plants provide nectar and pollen for adult natural enemies to consume. Even if pests are abundant, certain natural enemies may be less abundant, shorter-lived, or produce fewer offspring unless nectar and pollen resources are available. Insectary plants can also host alternate prey that will feed the natural enemies and keep them abundant locally.”

Are you concerned about rodents and food safety issues from hedgerows plantings? Not to worry.  A recent study by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) researchers found minimal adverse influence on larger agricultural landscapes. A bonus: Migratory songbirds, like goldfinches, often seek out the seeds from the flowering plants in the hedgerows and offer their own display of color. What about weeds? Yes, they can be problematic. Be sure they're well-controlled before planting wildflowers; think soil solarization and herbicides.

Another UC ANR-associated study, Determinants of Field Edge Habitat Restoration on Farms in California's Sacramento Valley, published this year in the Journal of Environmental Management, found that landowners and farmers familiar with the benefits were more likely to adopt these small-scale habitat restoration plantings on their farms. Also important is technical support from agencies such as the USDA, UC Cooperative Extension Service, and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, and the sharing of information from farmer-to-farmer and neighbor-to-neighbor.

Something else we can all do:  Share your photos of field-edge habitat plantings and your observations on social media. They tell an important story and can inspire landowners to diversify farmlands. This will help drive home the point that providing flowers for beneficial insects, including bees and natural enemies, will build resilience in our farming systems. Natural pollination and pest control services help counter the disastrous effects of colony collapse disorder and other honey bee maladies, and pesticide resistance.

And it's a counter-punch of color.

Redbud planting adjacent to a grass hay forage crop, Yolo Co., 2017.

Posted on Wednesday, April 12, 2017 at 7:44 AM
Tags: agriculture (24), pest control (2), pollination (10), wildflowers (3)

How wildflower plantings on farms benefit bees and crop pollination

Bumblebee.
Bloom where you're planted.

That old adage takes on more meaning when you plant wildflower strips on your farm. Wildflowers add resilience to our farming systems by providing bees with habitat and food - pollen and nectar. And they're not just for honey bees. Many native bees, such as bumble bees and blue orchard bees, are important crop pollinators. Currently about a third of our crops benefit from bee pollination. This includes vegetables, fruit and nuts, as well as crops grown for seed production, including sunflower, melon, and carrot.  

Farmers primarily rely on honey bees for crop pollination; generally two colonies per acre are needed. Honey bees are efficient pollinators, but with colony collapse and increasing colony losses, we must diversify our farming systems so we don't rely solely on honey bees.

Some important native bee crop pollinators include bumble bees, sunflower bees, squash bees, mason bees (blue orchard bees, which pollinate almonds, are mason bees) and leafcutter bees.

The benefits of native bees? Generally they forage on flowers earlier in the day than honey bees do, they tolerate more wind and cooler temperatures and often they're more efficient at gathering and moving pollen from one flower to another. Native bees also prompt honey bees to disperse more, resulting in more pollinator efficiency. All this is important for good pollination and crop production, especially for crops like almonds that bloom in late winter when the weather is more unpredictable. 

Many native bees, including squash bees, nest in the soil, generally excavating chambers about 12 inches deep, where they pack cells with pollen for their young. Bumble bees often occupy vacated rodent holes. Leafcutter bees nest in woody cavities, often taking advantage of old beetle galleries. Discing and land clearing removes their nesting sites and potential food sources, but if you add wildflower plantings and hedgerows of flowering shrubs on your farm, that brings them back. Farms with strips of flowers along field edges have higher numbers of native bees than those that do not. Honey bees also benefit from better nutrition from flowers, strengthening their resiliency to pests, diseases, and pesticides.

A recent study, Pest Control and Pollination Cost–Benefit Analysis of Hedgerow Restoration in a Simplified Agricultural Landscape, published by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) and UC Berkeley, describes the economic value of these plantings. Generally, a $4,000 investment to plant a 1,000-foot hedgerow of native California plants, takes about seven years to pay off from enhanced pest control and pollination services from natural enemies and bees (where honey bees are limiting). If cost-share funding is available from the USDA, this will reduce the investment cost for the restoration and time on returns.

Although habitat plantings are definitely beneficial, some farmers have expressed concern that these plantings will bring in more pests, including rodents, birds and weeds. However, current UC ANR studies show strips of flowers on field edges export beneficial insects into adjacent crops for enhanced pest control. The wildflower strips are too small to support large numbers of rodents or flocking birds that can damage crops (with the possible exception of ground squirrels and cottontail rabbits), and weeds requiring management are present regardless of field edge habitat.

Gumplant next to almonds, Yolo County, August 2016.

Water? Although it's hot and dry out right now, many wildflowers do not need summer water. This includes Bolander's sunflower (great for songbirds like goldfinches, but the seeds should not be included in row crop mixes as they will cross-pollinate with our hybrid sunflower seeds), milkweed (great for monarch butterflies), vinegarweed, tarweed, gumplant, turkey mullein (doves love these seeds), and summer lupine. Bees, including natives and honey bees, thrive on these hardy flowers, especially now that the growing season is ending, and few crops are blooming.

Look for more information on wildflower and hedgerow plantings on the Hedgerow Hub website, , the Xerces Society website, and UC Davis fact sheet Habitat for bees and beneficials

Networking is important too. A recent UC ANR survey showed that networking among growers, landowners, and conservation agencies is crucial in the adoption and implementation of new ideas, such as wildflower plantings.

Bottom line: Wildflower strips can ensure a healthy, sustainable food supply for crops that rely on bee pollination.  “Bloom where you're planted” equals “Reap what you sow.”

 

Wildflowers next to tomatoes, Solano County, May 2015.

 

Posted on Friday, September 2, 2016 at 8:44 AM
Tags: bees (9), crops (5), pollination (10), wildflowers (3)

How to make something sweet even sweeter

There's still time to enter your honey in the Good Foods competition. Beekeepers across the country are invited to do so. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey, they say, is the "soul of a field of flowers."

It's more than that if you're a beekeeper. It's your pride and joy.

Whether beekeeping is your livelihood, your leisure activity, or something you do to help the declining bee population, that byproduct of your bees--honey--can also be an opportunity for bragging rights.

Entries are now being accepted for the nationwide honey competition sponsored by Good Food Awards.

If you're one of the nation's beekeepers, there's still time to enter your honey, says contest coordinator Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center.

The deadline to do so is Sunday, July 31. The four subcategories are Liquid and Naturally Crystallized, Creamed, Comb, and Infused Honey.  

The contest is divided into five regions--East, South, North, Central and West--with seven or more states assigned to one region, Harris says.

  • West: California, New Mexico, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, Hawaii and Alaska.
  • North: Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota and Minnesota
  • Central: Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky
  • East:  Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Maryland and West Virginia
  • South: Virginia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas

"Finalists from each region are selected on a tasting day in September," Harris explains.  "They are vetted according to criteria on this page. Winners are selected during the fall months and announced at the end of the year. The awards will be presented in mid-January."

Harris says there are more than 300 unique types of honey in the United States. The Good Food Awards will showcase honeys most distinctive in clarity and depth of flavor, produced by beekeepers practicing good animal husbandry and social responsibility. The honey can come from hives located in numerous places, from rooftops to fields to backyards.

Last year's top awards went to:

To enter the competition, access this page: http://www.goodfoodawards.org/honey/

The Honey and Pollination Center is affiliated with the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. For more information, email Harris at aharris@ucdavis.edu

Honey bees in the process of making honey. This photo was taken through a bee observation hive. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bees in the process of making honey. This photo was taken through a bee observation hive. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bees in the process of making honey. This photo was taken through a bee observation hive. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, July 20, 2016 at 10:15 AM

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