Posts Tagged: honey bees
That they do. Safflower fields literally buzz with bees foraging on the blossoms. Sometimes the pollen load is so heavy it's a wonder they can fly back to their colonies.
Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) is grown for the vegetable oil extracted from its seeds. The plant looks somewhat like a thistle. The heads of the safflower, however, are commonly yellow--not purple--but can be orange or red.
We know safflower as an ancient crop. Safflower-dyed textiles dating back to the 12th Dynasty were found in the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun, according to Wikipedia.
Here in California, the name of world-renowned UC Davis scientist Paulden F. Knowles (1919-1960) is synonymous with safflower. The Canadian-born scientist, former chair of the UC Davis Department of Agronomy and Range Science, played a major role in the establishment of safflower as a California crop. Considered the "father of the safflower," Knowles gathered most of the germplasm of wild and cultivated species now in the USDA world collection.
"It is a minor crop today, with about 600,000 tons being produced commercially in more than sixty countries worldwide," Wikipedia points out. "India, United States, and Mexico are the leading producers, with Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, China, the Arab World, Argentina and Australia accounting for most of the remainder."
That's something to think about when you see honey bees touch down on the blossoms. Or when you open that bottle of safflower oil in your kitchen...
Honey bee foraging on safflower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee loaded with pollen heading home. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Folks are planting milkweed for the monarchs.
The milkweed (genus Asclepias) is the host plant (larval food) for the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). No wonder the monarch is sometimes called "the milkweed butterfly."
The perennial plant is so named for its milky juice, consisting of a latex containing alkaloids and other complex compounds. Carl Linnaeus named the genus for the Greek god of healing, Asciepius.
But milkweed is also a favorite bee plant. It's an important nectar source.
The UC Davis Arboretum has a beautiful milkweed patch near Mrak Hall and on any given day, you'll see honey bees foraging. Be prepared to see as many as four or five honey bees on one bloom. The fragrance is delightful and so are the bees!
Honey bee foraging on milkweed in the UC Davis Arboretum, near Mrak Hall. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Walk down the garden path, lined with milkweed, and sit on the bench in the UC Davis Arboretum. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The occasion: Barbara Allen-Diaz, vice president of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR), was on the UC Davis campus recently to fulfill her UC Promise for Education. Last October she vowed that if she received $2500 in contributions for UC students, she would wear honey bees. Actually, she not only reached her goal but surpassed it.
Enter Norm Gary, no doubt the world's best bee wrangler until his retirement last year. A UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology (specializing in apiculture or bee science), he showed that his work is definitely buzzworthy: he kept bees for 66 years, researched bees, wrote about them in peer-reviewed publications and popular books, and appeared in movies, TV shows, commercials, and fairs and festivals and other special events.
So, he volunteered to come out of retirement and train a few bees at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility to land on a nectar-soaked sponge, which he then transferred to Allen-Diaz' hand.
"I wanted to help her communicate the importance of honey bees to everyone, regarding pollination, research on pollination and teaching of bees and I wanted to help her do this by showing her how much fun it is to work with bees," he told videographer Ray Lucas of UC ANR. (See video.) The artificial nectar he used was a special one he patented.
"It was no threat," he said. For the bees it was "like kids in an ice cream store."
Allen-Diaz graciously thanked all her supporters. "I wanted to promise to do something that would highlight this incredibly important part of our ecosystem." (See video.)
He once trained bees to fly into his mouth to collect food from a small sponge saturated with his patented artificial nectar. He holds the Guinness World record (109 bees inside his closed mouth for 10 seconds) for the stunt. He is well known for wearing a head-to-toe suit of bees while "Buzzing with his B-Flat Clarinet."
What now? At the young age of 80, he says he's "devoting the rest of my life to music."
He's in a duo, Mellow Fellas, and plays clarinet, alto sax, tenor sax, and flute.
"For the last two years I have also been performing in a Dixieland band, Dr. Bach and the Jazz Practitioners. We are playing lots of gigs in every imaginable venue," he said. "Our most notable performances are at the Sacramento Music Festival, a four-day event held each Memorial Day weekend. We also perform at pizza parlors, senior retirement organizations, etc. We play swing-music style, too. "
Gary also performs with a quartet, Four For Fun, that has eclectic tastes, but most tunes, he says, have a Dixieland flavor. "I still play duo gigs with several piano/keyboard professionals. And I play clarinet occasionally with the Sacramento Banjo Band."
The "B" flat clarinet, of course.
A handful of bees, held by Barbara Allen-Diaz. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Norm Gary shows Barbara Allen-Diaz the sign in front of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. It is the work of Davis artist Donna Billick. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Barbara Allen-Diaz and Norm Gary talk bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Female Valley carpenter bees are solid black--except when they're foraging around passion flowers. Then they're black and yellow--the yellow being the color of the pollen transferred to their thorax.
Mary Patterson, one of the founding Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven gardeners, planted a Passiflora (passion flower vine) along a fenceline of the bee garden several years ago to attract such insects as honey bees, carpenter bees and Gulf Fritillary butterflies (Agraulis vanillae). This is the Gulf Frit's host plant.
And the Passiflora does indeed attract them.
The Valley carpenter bees (Xylocopa varipuncta) were really mixing it up today during a Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven Committee meeting.
The garden, installed in the fall of 2009, thanks to a generous gift from Häagen-Dazs to the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is located on Bee Biology Road, west of the central UC Davis campus, next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. It is open from dawn to dusk.
Check out the passion flowers. You'll find lots of insects passionate about them.
A Valley carpenter bee receives a brush of pollen. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Check out the yellow pollen on this Valley carpenter bee's thorax. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bees frequent the passion flowers, too. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It's also a story about a beekeeper named Brian Fishback of Wilton who eagerly taught them to love bees.
Fishback, a former volunteer at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis, and a past president of the Sacramento Area Beekeepers' Association, delights in teaching beekeeping classes and providing bee presentations at schools and public events.
One such recipient: Beth Bartkowski's third graders at Galt's Lake Canyon Elementary School.
“My class (Room 12) has been learning about honey bees since October,” she said. “We have turned our classroom into a ‘Beetopia.' We have done many fabulous activities. Thanks to Brian, we have a hive on campus right now! I am hoping to start a beekeeping club at some point with Brian.”
“My students are so invested in bees!” Bartkowski enthused today. “Brian has been in our room for the past two days sharing his wealth of knowledge. I literally fell in love with bees today when we went outside and opened up the hive! I have an autistic student who has been very apprehensive around the hive. But an amazing thing happened today...we spotted a baby bee starting to make its way out. We watched in awe and cheered her on until sje fully emerged. My autistic student literally had her face inches away with bees all around and was cheering!”
That's the kind of response that beekeepers love.
The class is now trying to “bee part of the solution" by seeking grant funds for a pollinator garden, a virtual "outdoor classroom." Bartkowski and her students submitted their plans for a Raley's Research Grant in keeping with the grocery chain's Earth Day celebration (“Healthier Planet, Healthier You”). First prize is $10,000. Now they are seeking votes on the Raley's website to help them make their bee-lievable dream a reality.
As of today, they're in ninth place and about 300 votes behind first place. The contest ends May 16. The 10 nominations with the most votes will be eligible to receive a Raley's Research Grant up to $10,000.
How will the money be used if they should win?
Here's how to cast a vote for their project. Access http://www.raleys.com/cfapps/reach/nomination.cfm?ideaid=3635400 and press the "vote" button. (And for more information, contact Beth Bartkowski at email@example.com)
As for Brian Fishback, seeing the youngsters love the bees flashed him back to 2008. “From the first moment I opened a hive and held a full frame of brood covered with bees, I was in utopia,” he recalled. “Everything came together. In my hand I held the essence of core family values.”
That same year, 2008, he and his wife Darla purchased a ranch in Wilton, renamed it BD Ranch and Apiary, and began pursuing a self-sustaining life.
The couple now has three young daughters. And yes, another generation of bee lovers.
Beekeeper Brian Fishback shows students at Lake Canyon Elementary School, Galt, a frame of bees. (Photo by Beth Bartkowski)
Brian Fishback points to an emerging bee. (Photo by Beth Bartkowski)
Students wrote "love notes" to the bees. (Photo by Beth Bartkowski)
This is the students' interpretation of a hive. (Photo by Beth Bartkowski)