Saturday, November 6, 2010

UC Davis set to open Honey Bee Haven as part of pollinator research

By Debbie Arrington
Published: Saturday, Aug. 21, 2010 - 12:00 am | Page 1D
Last Modified: Sunday, Aug. 22, 2010 - 1:44 pm

From tiny metallic green specks to giant black drones, bees have found their honey heaven on a slice of the UC Davis campus.

More than 6 million bees representing up to 55 species have taken up residence in the new Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre refuge designed to educate students and the public about agriculture's most important little helpers.

The new garden will be dedicated Sept. 11, but it already buzzes with activity. Red sages attract legions of workers that dip eagerly for nectar. Summer squash and watermelon tempt honeybees into vegetable beds. Coneflowers with thimbles-full of pollen beckon native bees to dig right in.

Today is National Honey Bee Awareness Day. Interest in bees has never been bigger, say experts, mostly due to colony collapse disorder.

"Absolutely, bee awareness is the highest I've seen, no doubt about it," said bee expert Eric Mussen, who has been part of the UC Davis entomology staff for 34 years. "A lot of people are asking, 'What can I do to help?' "

America is losing its honeybees at an alarming rate for unknown reasons. Last winter, an estimated 33.8 percent of commercial hives died out. Since the start of its rapid rise in 2007, colony collapse disorder may have wiped out 25 percent to 35 percent of European honeybee colonies, the type tended by American beekeepers.

"Many bees just don't look as healthy as they used to," Mussen explained. "Something suppresses their immune system. We've found elevated fungal disease as well as elevated virus, but how did they get susceptible to these in the first place?"

Concern for bees is not just about honey. Many crops are dependent on bees for pollination. Among them are melons, squash, cucumbers, cranberries, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and sunflowers.

Also bee-dependent are alfalfa, buckwheat and clover. Most tree fruit needs bees. Among the biggest bee-users in California: almonds.

"We grow more than 700,000 acres of almonds in California, and every acre needs two to three hives," said Kathy Garvey of the UC Davis entomology department.

Each hive holds about 60,000 bees. That's potential employment for 126 billion bees – just in almond orchards.

But bees don't stay put. "Bees need the equivalent of an acre of plants to visit every day," Mussen said. "They'll fly up to four miles from the hive and cover 50 square miles. They're in everybody's gardens and fruit trees, not just the orchards."

Including three large almond trees and several other fruit trees, the new Bee Haven has 110 hives, but bees are everywhere – including the ground. Some native bees burrow and make nests in the soil.

"This garden already has incredible diversity," said Neal Williams, an assistant professor who works with native bees. "We have bumblebees, carpenter bees, leaf cutters, borer bees, mason bees, sweat bees. It's pretty incredible who we've found."

Before planting the garden, a survey by Davis bee expert Robbin Thorp found 21 species of bees buzzing around the Laidlaw Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis. Next to the research lab, the new garden – created as a food source for the facility's bees as well as an outreach program – attracted 15 more species this spring. In all, 55 species have been documented.

"We've seen some exotic nonnative species move in, too," Williams said, "plus some bees that we still haven't fully identified.

"It's important to have diversity," he added. "It's like a stock portfolio; diversity buffers change."
With a $75,000 budget, the garden began in July 2009 with a patch of open, untilled field. The local bees survived on star thistle and bindweed.

"The ground hadn't been worked in years," said Missy Borel, program manager of the California Center for Urban Horticulture at UC Davis. "It was like a giant concrete brick."

Sausalito landscape architects Donald Sibbett and Ann F. Baker, interpretative planner Jessica Brainard and exhibit designer Chika Kurotaki were picked after an international design search. Cagwin & Dorward Landscape Contractors of Antelope – experts on sustainable drought-tolerant landscaping – handled the installation.

"Our biggest challenge was cost," said Borel, who was in charge of the planting. "We had a tight budget and started with nothing but an empty field. We had no irrigation. But we had tremendous support. Almost everything was donated."

Most of the featured plants are Arboretum All-Stars, drought-tolerant, easy-care perennials and shrubs propagated by the university's arboretum. The compost came from scraps from campus cafeterias.

"We gave the designers a list of suggested plants to use that would offer year-round bloom," said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, who also oversees the UC Davis apiary (bee) program. "The bees love them – but so do the rabbits. That's been a real struggle."

To keep out voracious bunnies, a temporary fence skirts the garden, which is open free to the public daily from dawn to dusk.

Out of bronze and ceramic mosaic, Davis artist Donna Billick created a giant honeybee sculpture the size of a large dog. It sits atop a bench and pedestal decorated with mosaics by Sarah Rizzo, schoolchildren and UC Davis students led by artist-scientist Diane Ullman.

"We learned a lesson from the bees – the value of social networking and collaboration," Billick said.

The artists incorporated a bit of bee into their work depicting bee life. Beeswax went into the lost-wax process to create the bronze legs. To pattern the eyes, Billick used the same hexagonal screen that beekeepers use in hives.

About 1,000 people are expected for the grand opening, said coordinator Chris Akins.
Visitors have already started dropping by to catch the buzz.

"It's awesome," said preschool teacher Kerry Bzdyk of Virginia, who visited the garden with her daughter Emily, a grad student. "I especially love the bee sculpture. This is really great for kids – for anyone – to learn about bees."

Where: Bee Biology Road on UC Davis west campus.
When: Grand opening, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 11. Garden is open to public daily from dawn to dusk.
Admission: Free


1. Bees need water – not just to drink, but for air conditioning.

In triple-digit Sacramento summers, interior hive temperatures can top 130 degrees, melting the wax used to form cells in the comb. Bees gather water on hot days, then bring it back to the hive, where it's pooled on the floor as a sort of swamp cooler. Evaporation – up to a gallon a day – cools the hive.

Bees also need water to produce food for the colony's babies. Each "water carrier" makes 50 trips a day, collecting about 25 mg per trip. For a gallon, the bees need to make almost 160,000 trips.

2. Most bees live short, sweet, busy lives.

The average honeybee lives 30 days. Queens usually live two years, but some last longer. During spring, queens can lay 2,000 eggs a day. That allows the hive to rejuvenate itself. The colony needs workers. It takes 2 million visits to flowers to produce 1 pound of honey.

3. Bees like to dance, but the sun calls the moves.

When bees return to the hive after foraging, they communicate where the best flowers can be found with the "waggle dance." The direction of the bee's dances correlates to the angle of the flower from the hive relative to the angle of the sun.

Which plants will draw bees to your garden? Here are plants in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven:
• Basil
• California buckwheat
• Cape mallow
• Catmint
• Eggplant
• Honeysuckle
• Leucophyllum
• Mexican elderberry
• Mexican hat flower
• Mint
• Oregano
• Purple coneflower
• Red sage
• Roses
• Salvia
• Santa Barbara daisy
• Seaside daisy
• Strawberry
• White sage
• Watermelon

Most bees are not aggressive, but they will sting when stepped on or when they sense a threat to the hive.

Most bee stings happen in the fall. As flowers disappear, bees take more risks as they expand their search.

Bees are attracted to sweet smells and bright colors, so avoid wearing them.

If a bee lands on you, hold still. (Tell kids to pretend they're statues.) Don't swat; the rapid movement might startle the insect. Gently blow on the bee to encourage it to take off.

If you get stung, pull the stinger out immediately. That cuts down on the poison that causes swelling. Then apply an ice pack or cold compress.

If a person is allergic to bees and is stung, don't wait to see symptoms; call 911 or head for an emergency room.

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