Backyard Orchard News
I managed to capture a photo of her and labeled the image "Golden Bee Nectaring on Lavender," because that's what she was doing. Nectaring on lavender. And she was golden, the most beautiful bee I've ever seen.
Other bees have almost lived up to the "gold standard," but not quite.
So when Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollinator Center, located in the Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science, today announced the publication of the Honey Flavor Wheel, I immediately thought of my favorite golden bee and my favorite honey varietal: starthistle. The starthistle is an exotic, invasive weed that farmers hate (and rightfully so) and beekeepers love (and rightfully so).
The flavor is exquisite. And the color is golden.
What's the Honey Flavor Wheel? Well, have you ever sampled wine and overheard the comments about it? You'll hear about the color, the clarity, the swirl, the aroma, the taste and "the finish."
I've heard folks comment "I taste a little corn...Oh, that's a puzzle to my palate."
A puzzle to me, too. I've never tasted "a little corn" in any glass of wine.
Now with the UC Davis Honey Flavor Wheel, you can describe the honey you're sampling.
“I have always been astonished by the range of flavors in honey,” Harris said. “And its aromas, too. Developing the wheel has been an astonishing learning experience at all levels. I now truly pay attention as I taste many different kinds of foods. I notice flavors from beginning to end.
“This gives a huge lexicon to the tastes and aromas we find when tasting honey,” Harris said.
The Honey Flavor Wheel production involved six months of research and development. “We brought together a group of 20 people--trained tasters, beekeepers and food enthusiasts--who worked together with a sensory scientist to come up with almost 100 descriptors,” Harris said. “This wheel will prove invaluable to those who love honey and want to celebrate its nuances.”
“I had one wonderful surprise during the tasting series. The sensory scientist we worked with, Sue Langstaff, had been to New Zealand and brought back several honeys. One was a wild flower called Viper's Bugloss. What an amazing aroma! Imagine sitting in a garden. The sun has just set. And the heady aromas of jasmine and orange blossom together crowd the air. This is the scent of Viper's Bugloss. An astonishing honey. Now I want more!”
Harris' favorite honey? Sweet clover, not to be confused with clover. “Sweet clover is a tall, five-foot wildflower that grows in profusion in Montana, the Dakotas and elsewhere in the high plains of the United States,” Harris said. “It is light in color, spicy with a wonderful cinnamon hit!"
“When we tasted it, one of our analytical panel members said: 'There is really only one word for this. Yum!'
"And that is how I feel, too!” Harris said.
The front of the colorful wheel shows the descriptors, including fruity, floral, herbaceous, woody, spicy, nutty, confectionary, caramel and earthy. No longer can you just say “sweet” when you taste honey or “sour, salty and bitter.” If it's fruity, can you determine if it's berry, citrus, dried fruit, tree fruit or tropical fruit? If it falls into the confectionary category, can you pinpoint marshmallow, vanilla, maple, butterscotch, toffee, molasses, cotton candy, crème brûlée, burnt sugar or brown sugar?
There's even an “animal” category” where you can opine that your honey sample reminds you of a barnyard.
Retired Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who has coordinated and conducted the annual honey tasting at the UC Davis Picnic Day for 38 years, remembers tasting buckwheat honey in Oregon that reminded him of “goat.”
“Maybe the honey bees drank goat pee,” he said, smiling. “Actually, the environmental conditions where the plants are growing can have quite an effect on the odors and flavors of some honeys, while others just seem to be the same everywhere. The ‘goat' honey that I tasted was buckwheat. In many cases, buckwheat honey seems more similar to blackstrap molasses than anything else. It is normally quite robust, but can be mild. In some cases it has been described as having a ‘barnyard' odor and flavor--goat? A search of websites suggests that the mild-tasting samples can become more pungent, with off-flavors developing if it's left sitting around for some time or if it's been heated.”
The back of the Honey Flavor Wheel relates how to taste honey and shares four honey profiles (Florida tupelo, California orange blossom, Northwest blackberry and Midwestern clover) “so the consumer can get an idea of how to use this innovative product,” Harris said.
The Honey Flavor Wheel, measuring 8.25 inches, sells for $10 each with all proceeds benefitting bee research at UC Davis. The wheel is available at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science and soon will be available online, at the UC Davis Campus bookstore and at the downtown Davis Campus Bookstore.
This will be a definite conversation piece for all honey enthusiasts.
However, when I taste wine, I don't get "corn." When I taste honey, I don't get "goat."
Now what if a honey enthusiast tasted both corn and goat...and a wine aficionado tasted both honey and goat?
And maybe a little starthistle thrown in for good measure...
A golden honey bee (Cordovan of the Italian subspecies) nectaring lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee sipping nectar from lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
After attending the 6th World Congress on Conservation Agriculture in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in June, Jeff Mitchell, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, and Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, stated, "Focusing on soil care will improve soil water intake and storage...Reducing soil water evaporation can be achieved by preserving surface residues. Together these steps reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions – very important goals.”
Mitchell is the chair of the UC Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation Center. CASI is exploring options to help support the implementation of conservation agriculture in California. Read more.
Conservation agriculture can result it greater efficiencies and better economics for California agriculture.
If I were in charge of a praying mantis' daily diet, I would enforce one stringent rule: "Please don't eat the pollinators! Do not, I repeat, target the bees or butterflies. Leave them alone!"
The mundane menu would include flies, gnats, stink bugs, aphids, mosquitoes, yellowjackets, grasshoppers, leaffooted bugs and not much else.
But since I'm not likely to be employed as the chef of a praying mantis' diet, these predators can--and do--eat what they want.
This morning I encountered a praying mantis perched on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) in our bee garden. He saw me. He swiveled his head about 180 degrees as he followed me with his five keen eyes--two large compound eyes and three smaller simple eyes. Hmm, not potential prey. He went about "praying"--bending his front legs and "assuming the position."
Okay, I thought. "Go catch a fly, gnat, stink bug, aphid, mosquito, yellowjacket, grasshopper or leaffooted bug."
So, what did he catch? A beautiful Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) which made the fatal mistake of landing on his flower.
Yes, a praying mantis has to eat. Yes, he was hungry. Yes, it's nature. But why not a stink bug?
He polished off a butterfly.
"Yummy!" declared a colleague.
A praying mantis eyes the photographer. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The praying mantis quickly snatches a Western tiger swallowtail. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The predator gripping his prey. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Predator polishing off his prey. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Say the word “wings” to folks who attend fairs and festivals and they may think of something to eat--buffalo wings or chicken wings.
But if you head over to McCormack Hall at the Solano County Fair, Vallejo, you'll be thinking of insect flight.
Flight of butterflies and moths. And maybe a ladybug or two.
Butterflies grace wall hangings, quilts and t-shirts and also appear in photographs and arts and crafts projects. You'll also encounter other bugs, including a moth (photograph), and a youngster's educational display board about spiders. (For those who aren't fond of spiders, these are illustrations.)
The 65th annual fair, themed "Cruisin' the County," opened Wednesday, July 30 and ends on Sunday, Aug. 3. The theme spotlights classic and unique cars.
Gloria Gonzalez, superintendent of the McCormack Hall building, and her crew have done a marvelous job setting up and displaying the many exhibits, which range from youth photos, preserved foods, and baked goods to quilts, special collections and arts and crafts projects.
Among the special butterfly and moth attractions we spotted:
- "Butterfly Lovers," a hand-and-machine quilted wall hanging by Tina Waycie of Vallejo
- "Butterflies," a needlepoint (stamped cross-stitchery) by Marlo Wilson of Vallejo, adult division
- "Butterfly T-Shirt," a textile project by Leslie Dunham of PACE Solano, adult division
- "Flying Wing," a machine-quilted wall hanging by Suzanne Ruiter of Fairfield, adult division
- "Moth," a photo by 9-year-old Maximilian Burgess-Shannon of Benicia
Gloria Gonzalez, a longtime 4-H leader (she's the co-community leader of the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club, Vallejo) kept busy finishing up the displays last Sunday. Among those assisting were Sharon Payne, past president of the Solano County 4-H Leaders' Council and the superintendent of the youth exhibit building at the Dixon May Fair; Gloria's daughter, Angelina Gonzalez, who leads the arts and crafts project for Sherwood Forest; and their colleague Iris Mahew of American Canyon.
Angelina, who recently received her master's degree in sociology from Sacramento State, is also the Solano County representative to the Statewide 4-H SET (science, engineering and technology) Program. (By the way, she's also a great cook--her caramel cookies won best of show.)
Fairs are all about informing, educating and entertaining--not necessarily in that order. They are a place where you can browse through the exhibit halls, enjoy the carnival rides, check out the 4-H and FFA livestock and the junior livestock auction, attend a free concert, and eat a bacon-wrapped hot dog. (Actually, I think something vegetarian sounds better!)
We're especially glad to see the insect-themed exhibits in McCormack Hall. It's not just vehicles that "cruise" the county or parts of the county.
Insects do, too.
McCormack Hall superintendent Gloria Gonzalez hangs "Butterfly Lovers" by Tina Waycie of Vallejo. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
McCormack Hall assistant Angelina Gonzalez with "Butterflies," a needlepoint by Mario Wilson of Vallejo. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
McCormack Hall assistant Sharon Payne with "Butterfly T-Shirt" by Leslie Dunham of PACE Solano. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Hanging "Flying Wing" are (from left) Gloria Gonzalez, Angelina Gonzalez (back) and Sharon Payne. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
McCormack Hall assistant Iris Mayhew holds a photo of a moth, the work of 9-year-old Maximillian Burgess-Shannon of Benicia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center helps develop a sorghum feedstock program in California.
Pacific Ethanol, Inc., Chromatin, Inc., SCU Fresno's Center for Irrigation Technology and the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources received a $3 million matching grant for the California Energy Commission to collaboratively develop a sorghum feedstock program in California. This includes the California In-State Sorghum Program that facilitates California's production of low-carbon ethanol from Californian feedstock so that we can meet the state's renewable fuel and greenhouse gas reduction goals mandated by the federal Renewable Fuel Standard and the Californian Low-Carbon Fuel Standard.
Jeff Dahlberg, Ph.D., the director of Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources sorghum research group. Collaborative efforts of the group will be managed from KARE.
Sorghum biomass research.