Backyard Orchard News
'Twas the night before Christmas
When all through the house
Not a creature was stirring
Not even a mouse...
--'Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863)
No, but maybe a boxelder bug (Boisea trivittatus). In the late fall, the adults seek overwintering sites, which may include your house or garage.
The adults, about a half-inch long, are black with red or dark orange markings. Distinguishing features include red eyes and three red stripes on the thorax. Red also outlines their leathery wings. As nymphs, they are bright red.
As adults, they feed primarily on boxelder, maple, alder and ash trees but are considered a pest only when they take up residence with you.
On warm winter days, you may see them stirring around your yard or in your house.
Maybe on Christmas Eve, too.
When the U.S. Postal Service Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee meets in January 2010, let's hope the group supports the proposal for a Lorenzo Langstroth commemorative stamp.
The Rev. Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth (1810-1895), an apiarist, clergyman and educator, is considered the "Father of American Beekeeping."
Born in Philadelphia and an 1831 graduate of Yale University, Langstroth revolutionized the beekeeping industry by inventing the movable-frame honey bee hive, patented in 1852. He authored The Hive and the Honey Bee (1853) and Langstroth on the Honey Bee: A Bee-Keepers' Manual (1860), both in use today.
A commemorative stamp would pay tribute to his life's work and draw attention to the work of the honey bees and the declining bee population.
The Down to Earth Project of the Science Friday Initiative (4 West 43rd Street, NY, NY 10036) is spearheading plans for the proposed stamp.
In an e-mail sent us by the Pollinator Partnership: "Throughout the year 2010, the Down to Earth Program will be developing and coordinating a network of national workshops, exhibits and gatherings to teach and learn about the considerable science connected with the honey bee."
The Down to Earth Project organizers hope that "the beekeeping community, anyone who enjoys honey, and everyone who appreciates all the foods we eat which would not be available without the work of the honey bee, will write a letter or sign a petition encouraging the U.S. Postal Service to honor Langstroth in this way at this special time."
They're seeking a flood of letters to convince the Postal Service "how important Langstroth is to Americans across the country, and how a commemorative stamp would help him achieve the recognition he has so far been denied. The stamp is especially important at a time when honey bees are threatened by colony collapse disorder, and people all over the country, even in urban areas, are helping out by embracing beekeeping."
To be included in the petition, folks can send an email to LLL200@scifri.org and include their zip code (to show the breadth of the nationwide support).
Or better yet, write to:
Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee
c/o Stamp Development
U.S. Postal Service
1735 North Lynn St., Suite 5013
Arlington, VA 22209-6432
It's a honey of a cause.
Every year the Entomological Society of America (ESA) invites its members and other interested persons to enter the Insect Salon juried photo competition.
It's a highly competitive event, drawing photographs from around the world. The non-profit Peoria (Ill.) Camera Club coordinates it.
The macro images are amazing. You'll see, on the Insect Salon Web site, insects in the act of being themselves: feeding, flying, crawling, taking off, resting, hanging around, mating--and yes, even a honey bee cleaning her tongue. (That would be one I took of a cooperative bee in Tomales, Calif.)
The winning images include bumble bees, carpenter bees, damsel flies, dragonflies, katydids, grasshoppers, monarchs, moths, scorpion flies, skippers, swallowtails, robber flies, and assorted beetles.
ESA members viewed the winning images on screen at their recent meeting in Indianapolis.
Bigger than life!
Cleaning Her Tongue
New this year – snow in Lathrop!
Christmas carols fill the air, Santa chats with children in the general store full of sweet treats and local crafts and families meet live raindeer and baby farm animals. Meanwhile, a crew of farmworkers-turned-snowmakers work 24 hours a day blowing 100 tons of snow onto a tube-sledding slope. It's all at the Dell’Osso Family Farm right off Highway 5 just south of Lathrop. Welcome to the latest family adventure in the San Joaquin valley, Holidays on the Farm.
Ron and Susan Dell’Osso started taking their October pumpkin patch and corn maze seriously about eight years ago, and last year about 140,000 people showed up to buy pumpkins, enjoy the corn maze, haunted house, pony rides, pumpkin blaster, and otherwise play on Dell’Osso Family Farm. Tourists contributed about 50 percent of the San Joaquin County farm’s gross annual income. The other 50 percent of income comes from 350 acres of pumpkins, Indian corn and other seasonal specialty crops sold wholesale through a broker to grocery stores throughout the Western United States.
This March, the Dell’Ossos started researching Christmas attractions in order to extend their agritourism season. They bought a train and a zipline, built a general store with a bakeshop, learned how to make snow and opened the first annual “Holidays on the Farm” in late November. The train, zipline and store make business sense when they are amortized over both the October and December holiday seasons. The Snow Tube Mountain is already popular, with online reservations recommended for the $15.00 90-minute sessions of tubing, since the hill can only hold 250 tubers each session.
Why would these third-generation farmers turn to corn mazes and snow-making? Susan Dell’Osso explained that agritourism spreads the risk. Commercial farmers hope to make a three percent return on crops like alfalfa or pumpkins, and some years, like last year, 50 percent of the pumpkin crop can be wiped out by wet weather and mold problems.
Holiday attractions like Dell’Osso’s are also great ways to connect to and support the local community and offer low-cost entertainment for local families. Dell’Osso Family Farm tries to keep the prices low. There is no charge for parking or admission and some activities like the hay rides and go-cart speedway are free. They also include more than twenty local non-profit organizations by offering concession opportunities for volunteers to donate their time to benefit organizations including the Lathrop Senior Center, the Lathrop Police and Fire departments and the Lathrop Square Dance Club. In addition to extending the work season for many farmworkers, all of the agritourism employees are hired locally, and the popular operation is a major contributor to the local tax-base.
Watch for more pumpkin patch operators to jump on the December holiday wagon next year!
If you look closely at the colorful ceramic sign at the Harry H.Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis, you'll see an entrance to a bee hive.
Entrance? Right. There's a hole in the skep, which tunnels to a hive in back of the sign.
And if you look really closely at the entrance, you'll see guard bees guarding their turf. They don't like home invasions or unwelcome visitors. When bees from other colonies try to sneak in to rob the honey stores, the guards chase them out.
The sign? It's the work of Davis artist Donna Billick, who co-teaches art-and-science classes at UC Davis with entomologist-artist Diane Ullman, a professor in the Department of Entomology.
Look for their students' "bee art" next spring at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden planted this fall next to the Laidlaw facility. A public opening is set for June 19.
Sign of the Times
Guarding the Hive