Backyard Orchard News
It's a story that began in May 1938 with a farmhouse-turned-lab-turned-eyesore. It will end with the honey bees' version of "A Field of Dreams"--the Campus Buzzway.
UC Davis firefighters torched the abandoned building in a control burn on June 30. Where flames erupted will be where California poppies, coreopsis (tickseed) and lupine will spring to life.
The Campus Buzzway will be planted this fall and will bloom starting next spring.
It all takes place on the grounds of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, west of the UC Davis campus.
The Buzzway will be nestled adjacent to the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden scheduled to open next month. The haven will serve as a year-around food source for honey bees. Goals also include raising public awareness about the plight of honey bees and encouraging visitors to plant bee-friendly gardens of their own, said entomologist Lynn Kimsey, professor and vice chair of the Department of Entomology and director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology.
“The Campus Buzzway," Kimsey said, "will be a fabulous addition to the honey bee garden already under construction at our Bee Biology facility. “Both will greatly benefit our colonies and make terrific teaching opportunities.”
Dave Fujino, executive director of the California Center for Urban Horticulture, said the Campus Buzzway will boast year-round blooms and vibrant colors. “The Buzzway will transform an empty field into something beautiful and functional,” he said. “Most importantly, the flower mix will have a positive impact on the health and wellness of our local pollinator populations.”
And oh, the gold and blue flowers planted in the Campus Buzzway have a special meaning to the university. They're the official colors of UC Davis, the Aggies.
To the bees, they're N and P: nectar and pollen.
Baxter House Fire
Honey Bee on Poppy
The Argentine Rain Lily (Zephyranthes candida), also known as the White Rain Lily, White Fairy Lily and White Zephyr Lily, is drawing a few honey bees, but the bees like the lavender and sage best.
The white Zeph is one of the "Arboretum All-Stars," a list of 100 plants that thrive in the Central Valley and stay attractive most of the year. Most of the All-Stars are also drought tolerant, require little maintenance, and are relatively pest free, Arboretum officials say. A few--about 15--are California natives.
You can find the All-Stars (and other plants) at the Arboretum's periodic plant sales; the next sales are Oct. 3 and Oct. 17.
"Bee there" for bee-friendly plants and other selections.
At the last sale, we picked up some sage and a carnivorous plant.
To be honest, we were happy the carnivorous plant died. It ate one of our honey bees.
Honey Bee in Rain Lily
If you stuff your turkey with sage, chances are it's Salvia officinalis.
Not the turkey, the sage.
And if you visit the Storer Garden at the UC Davis Arboretum, you'll see bumble bees stuffing themselves with nectar from the purple flowers of Salvia officinalis, cultivar Berggarten, also known as Berggarten sage.
Scores of Bombus californicus nectared the flowers last weekend, seemingly proving that this is indeed a culinary sage favored by people AND bumble bees.
Salvia officinalis (salvia is Latin for "to heal") shows up in both medicinal and culinary history. In fact, Wikipedia says our ancestors used it to ward off evil and snakebites, to increase women's fertility, "and more."
The "and more" means just that. Think of every ailment known to humankind. Now fast forward to modern times. Some researchers are using it to treat mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease and depression.
On the culinary side, Julia Child favored it as a flavorful herb.
Bombus californicus probably knows something that Julia Child did.
Bumble Bee Tongue
If you're into composting, chances are you've seen this one.
Common name: black soldier fly (BSF). Scientific name: Hermetia illucens.
Before you say "yecch"--wait! This is considered a beneficial insect because its larvae are quite desirable in compost piles. In fact, your friendly neighborhood compost instructor will probably teach you how to set up BSF bins.
The adult, about three-fourths of an inch long, looks like a dark wasp. A distinguishing feature: white tips on its tarsi (legs).
However, it's not the adult that's on the B (beneficial) list. It's the larval or immature form.
Cindy Wise, compost specialist volunteer coordinator with the Lane County office of the Oregon State University Extension Service, has a thing or two to say about the larvae of these black soldier flies.
“Soldier fly larvae are voracious consumers of nitrogen-dominant decaying materials, such as kitchen food scraps and manures," she says. "They almost exclusively populate compost bins or sheet-mulch compost piles and manure piles."
Good reason to have them around.
Black Soldier Fly
It's time to pop open a bottle of champagne and do a happy dance.
Finally, finally, we saw a yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii) in our yard.
After a 20-year absence.
Dusted with yellow pollen, it (or rather he) was nectaring the rock purslane--he, along with assorted honey bees and hover flies.
This Bombus brought to mind the May 27th Webinar that bumble bee expert Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis presented on "The Plight of the Bumble Bees" at UC Davis.
At the Webinar, he focused on Franklin's bumble bee (range of southern Oregon and northern California) and now feared extinct.
Thorp, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences since 1986, is a noted authority on bumble bees. In June he served as a key speaker at a public symposium on "The Plight of the Bumble Bees" at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. His topic: "Western Bumble Bees in Peril."
Bumble bees need our protection.
As Thorp says: "“The loss of a native pollinator could strike a devastating blow to the ecosystem, economy and food supply."
Yellow-faced Bumble Bee
Cover with Pollen