Backyard Orchard News
Sunflowers, native to the Americas, are spectacular, especially when you encounter a field of them. If you look closely, you'll see honey bees, sunflower bees and bumble bees working the flowers.
It's pollination at work.
To encourage backyard gardeners to grow sunflowers and collect data about the bees that visit them, the Great Sunflower Project provides free seeds and educational information.
You can obtain the Lemon Queen sunflower seeds from the Great Sunflower Project, from a local nursery or from a seed catalog.
Associate professor and biologist Gretchen LeBuhn of the University of California, Santa Barbara, started the project in 2008 as a way to get citizens interested in bee pollination.
"In 2008, we started this project as a way to gather information about our urban, suburban and rural bee populations," writes LeBuhn, considered "the queen bee" of the Great Sunflower Project. "We wanted to enlist people all over the U.S. and Canada to observe their bees and be citizen scientists. We asked them to plant sunflowers in their gardens so we could standardize study of bee activity and provide more resources for bees. Sunflowers are relatively easy to grow and are wildly attactive to bees."
Since 2008, the Great Sunflower Project has expanded its list of plants studied to include bee balm, cosmos, rosemary, coreopsis (tickseed), and purple coneflower.
"It’s time to turn off your television, take off those earphones, shut down that computer, go outside, and rediscover the wonder of nature," LeBuhn says.
That's one small step toward improving bee habitat--and human habitat, too.
Ladybugs, aka ladybeetles (family Coccinellidae), are best known for devouring aphids, those pesky little critters that suck plant juices.
But have you ever seen ladybugs gobbling ants?
There's a three-way predator-prey relationship here. When aphids pierce plant stems, they leave behind honeydew excretions. Ants scurry to the honeydew and quickly alert their buddies. Soon, you'll see a long trail of ants marching toward the honeydew.
Now enter the ladybug, which is attracted--quite nicely, thank you--to both aphids and ants.
This little beetle will feast on aphids and ants much like we humans chow down on popcorn and jelly beans at a movie.
In the photos below, unsuspecting ants climbed a lavender stalk, only to meet their demise.
If you look on You Tube, you'll see a video of an apparently famished ladybug chowing down ants. The background music of Queen's "We Will Rock You" adds the finishing touch.
Want to learn more about ants? Check out professor Phil Ward's website. He's a noted myrmecologist (one who studies the taxonomy, evolution, biogeography and behavior of ants) and a professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis.
One of his former graduate students, Alex Wild, has incredible insect photography on his website, appropriately named myrmecos.net.
The wild roses planted last fall in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, University of California, Davis, are both "heaven sent" and "heaven scent."
The fragrance is delightful.
Basically, only wild roses--not the commercially grown roses found in our gardens--attract bees, according to Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
Also in bloom in the half-acre garden, located on Bee Biology Road on the west end of the campus, are salvia (sage), lavender, artichokes, seaside daisies, Mexican hat flowers and purple coneflowers, among others.
The grand opening celebration, open to the public, is set for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 11. Folks planning to attend may RSVP to Nancy Dullum of the UC Davis Department of Entomology administrative team, at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Insert "haven" in the subject line and indicate how many in your party will attend.)
It's rare for any one person to serve five terms as president of an organization.
But such is the case with Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, who took the helm of the Western Apicultural Society for five terms.
In fact, he and professor-apiculturist Norman Gary, now retired, founded the organization back in 1978 "as a non-profit, educational organization designed specifically to meet the educational needs of beekeepers from Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming; the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and the Yukon; and the states of northern Mexico."
Fast forward to today.
Mussen is one of two UC Davis bee specialists who will address the group at its annual conference, set Aug. 30-Sept. 2 in the Red Lion Inn, Salem, Ore.
He wiill speak on “Hints for Successful Backyard Beekeeping” at 2:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 1 during the session on Urban/Backyard Beekeepers.”
Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, who heads the breeding program at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis and also is a researcher at Washington State University, will discuss “Why We Need Better Bees” at 7 p.m., Monday, Aug. 30.
Cobey also will speak on “Progress on Breeding Superior Bees” at 10:45 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 31.
Mussen, who received his doctorate in entomology from the University of Minnesota, writes the bimonthly Extension newsletter, from the UC Apiaries, considered one of the best and most informative in the industry.
Cobey, who studied with noted bee geneticist Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. at UC Davis, returned to UC Davis in 2007 after 17 years as staff apiarist at Ohio State University. She received her entomology degree from the University of Delaware.
In the early 1980s, Cobey developed the New World Carniolans stock, a dark race of honey bees by back-crossing stocks collected from throughout the United States and Canada to create a more pure strain. A current focus of her research includes selecting and enhancing this stock to show increasing levels of resistance to pests and diseases.
Those interested in attending the conference may obtain more information from the WAS website.
Honey bees have a "choke hold" on artichokes.
They absolutely love flowering artichokes.
Take the artichokes blooming in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis.
Sometimes 10 or 15 bees try to gather on a single blossom.
The "beeline" of honey bees, bumble bees and sweat bees turns into a collision course not unlike a NASCAR race.
"Hot spot," said Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty. "They're all heading for that hot spot of nectar."
The artichoke (Cynara crdunculus)? It's a thistle, and bees are ravenously fond of thistles.
A rule of thumb: When you're trying to attract bees, don't harvest the artichokes. Let them bloom.
Lots of Bees