The old Town Hall off Main Street, Vacaville, Calif., is the perfect backdrop for Iceland poppies (Papaver nudicaule) thriving in planters.
The Iceland poppies, sometimes called arctic poppies, are native to northern Europe and North America. "Papaver" is the Greek word for "poppy."
Last Sunday, around 8 a.m., we spotted two pollinators--the honey bee and the mason bee--nectaring the blossoms.
Honey bee: Apis mellifera. (Contrary to Jerry Seinfeld's incorrect information in The Bee Movie, foragers are worker bees, and all worker bees are female.
The mason bee? A female from the genus Osmia (Family Megachilidae)
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, said this mason bee could be the blue orchard bee (BOB), Osmia lignaria propinqua, "but I would need to be able to see the face of the bee to be sure. BOB females have distinctive horns at the bottom of the face. Osmia are difficult enough to separate under a microscope, and only a couple can be identified to species from photos at just the right angle."
It's probably too early for BOB, he said. Whatever the species, the mason bee declined to turn around.
It didn't take long.
Last year at this time the field next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road at the University of California, Davis stood bleak and barren.
Nothing there but scattered patches of grass and a few pocket gophers and ground squirrels.
Last fall, after an international design competition, the site morphed into the truly beautiful Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden designed as a year-around food source for the bees in the Laidlaw apiary and as educational opportunities for visitors. Visitors will learn all about honey bees and what to plant in their own gardens to attract pollinators. (Folks can also download the 21-page design, which includes the list of plants.)
Next to crop up: The quarter-acre Campus Buzzway, planted with California poppies, lupines and coreopsis (tickseed). Blue and gold? Those are the university colors. The Buzzway sprawls on land once occupied by the Baxter House.
Fast forward to today, Feb. 26. The Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven and its neighbor, the Campus Buzzway, are beginning to take off, just like the beginning pilots that practice their take-offs and landings at the nearby University Airport.
Among the first to bloom: the salvias, lupines, and almond trees. Next: the Teucrium fruticans, cultivar "Azureum."
The Teucrium fruticans, or bush germanders, are in the mint family, Lamiaceae. They're evergreen perennial shrubs native to the Mediterranean and produce strikingly brilliant blue flowers.
And you know how much bees like the color, blue.It's pure bee bliss.
How fuelish is the honey bee?
Is it as fuel-efficient as say, the new Volkswagen that gets an estimated 170 miles per gallon, more MPG than any other vehicle?
National Public Radio recently posted an interesting article on its Web site comparing the VW with the HB (the honey bee, Apis mellifera).
It seems that when the German engineers rolled out their new VW--an 837-pound car with a 2.6-gallon diesel fuel tank--they boasted it could go 416 miles without stopping for gas.
Nice going, but wait just a minute!
"We suggest," wrote NPR author Robert Krulwich, "that Germany's proud engineers take picnic baskets to the nearest springtime hill and meet their energy-efficient masters, honey bees."
Krulwich recalled that in 1957, Canadian scientist Brian Hocking figured out "bee miles to the gallon."
"Experimenters take a bee, give it all the honey it can eat, and then tether it to a pole," Krulwich wrote, adding that this procedure "neither harms nor seems to disturb the bee."
So, our busy little bee flies around the pole until it runs out of fuel. "The pole measures the distance flown by the rotating bee," Krulwich explained. "Because the experimenter now knows how far a bee can travel on a bee-belly of fuel, you scale up to imagine how far it would go if it had a gallon-sized belly. That's how you calculate Bee Miles Per Gallon."
Hocking's formula: flight efficiency of a bee=0.5 mg per 1 kilometer.
The bee. By far.
The bee gets nearly 5 million miles per gallon, or specifically 4,704,280 MPG.
And that's without packing pollen.
Eric Mussen is used to fielding questions about honey bees--how and why they gather nectar, honey, propolis and water; how many eggs a queen bee can lay in a day; and why beekeeper use smokers.
Typical of the questions and his answers:Why do beekeepers use smokers?
The smoke from the smoker has three effects on the bees. First, it prevents the guard bees from liberating much “alarm pheromone” (smells like bananas) in the hive. Second, it prevents “soldier” bees in the hive from smelling the pheromone that has been secreted. Third, it causes many bees to fill up on honey. Despite the wives’ tales to the contrary, there is no reason to believe that the bees “think” there is a fire or that bees full of honey cannot sting.
Can honey bees see color?
Yes, honey bees can see nearly all the colors we see. They cannot see red, which looks black to them. They can see into the UV wavelengths a ways, which is beyond our limit at purple. UV looks black to us.
However, when Mussen takes the stage on Monday, March 1 at the California Small Farm Conference in San Diego, he won't be giving a presentation on honey bees or answering questions.
He'll be receiving a well-deserved award: the Pedro Ilic Outstanding Ag Educator Award for his work in educating the agricultural community, the beekeeping industry and the general public about honey bees.
Mussen, an Extension apiculturist and member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty since 1976, is considered by his peers as one of the most respected and influential professional apiculturists in the nation.
He serves in leadership roles in numerous honey bee organizations, from the California State Beekeepers' Association to the American Honey Producers' Association. He helped found the Western Apicultural Society and served terms as president. The list of service to agriculture and apiculture is both impressive and extensive.
“Yet he is just as open to answering a question about Nosema to a beginning beekeeper or responding to a child’s question about queen bees as he is to helping a commercial beekeeper with 15,000 hives, or engaging in intricate scientific research,” said nominator Larry Godfrey, Extension entomologist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
Mussen delivers his messages via computer, phone, field and office visits, research, conferences and publications. Since 1976, he has written the bimonthly newsletter, from the UC Apiaries, and fact sheets called Bee Briefs.
Yet unbeknowst to many of today's agriculturists: Eric Mussen and Pedro Ilic, a small farm-advisor in Fresno County who died in 1994, knew each other. In fact, they worked together as members of the Small Farm Work Group, part of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR).
"They were alike in many ways: their dedication, enthusiasm, high energy, friendliness, their commitment to small-scale and family farming, and the easy-going way they imparted information on a diversity of projects, solving a multitude of problems—and sometimes at a moment’s notice,” Godfrey said.
Ilic was known as an effective teacher who instilled self-esteem in others and constantly encouraged others, his colleagues said. Illic showed characteristic determination, exuberance, high energy, and genuine friendliness for all people, with the conviction that the smallest is as important as the biggest.
That would be describing Eric Mussen to a "T."
Or to a "B."
A tip of the bee veil to Eric Mussen, public servant extraordinaire.
It's not too early to start thinking about NPW.
NPW? National Pollinator Week.
They are a key to our global sustainability and food supply. Eighty-percent of the world's crops depend on pollination. Honey bees pollinate about one-third of the food we eat.
Worldwide, we have about 20,000 species of bees, according to native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis. And California alone, he says, has more than 1600 species. Bees include sweat bees, digger bees, leafcutting bees, bumble bees, and scores of others.
Want to know what to plant in your garden to attract bees and other pollinators? Good sites to read are UC Berkeley's Urban Bee Gardens Web site and the Xerces Society Web site.
Meanwhile, almond blossoms are in full bloom in California. At the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, an almond tree near the apiary is a burst of blossoms and a flash of aromatic fury.
Walk by the tree and you'll see pollen-packing honey bees buzzing around like there's no tomorrow.
We must ensure there will be a tomorrow.