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“Bay Area’s ‘urban’ bees like native, diverse plantings”

By Lou Fancher via mercurynews.com

Bay Area's 'urban' bees

Dr. Gordon Frankie said native bees have preferences, and knowing what they like can improve the health of your garden.

“If they have a choice, they’ll go after native plants,” said Frankie, a professor and research entomologist at UC Berkeley. He and Steve Gentry, a founding member of the Mount Diablo Beekeepers Association, teamed up for a recent Lafayette Library Foundation Science Cafe presentation.

Frankie’s point — that local gardeners hoping to attract Agapostemon texanus or Xylocopa varipuncta, two local native bee species, should include native plants in their gardening plans. And mulching should be done lightly because 70 percent of all native bees nest in the ground and can’t burrow through materials heavier than soil.

A project at Frog Hollow Farm and other Brentwood farms is demonstrating the impact of placing native plants between crop rows.

Urban areas are ideal for bees, Frankie claimed, because of the diverse food supply they offer. The Oxford Tract Bee Garden he and his team of researchers planted allows them to monitor and categorize bees’ attraction to native and nonnative plants. A 10-city survey across California is providing a detailed picture of the bee population. San Diego, he said, is the worst city for attracting bees.

“It’s their gardening culture: No one is using diverse, floral plants,” Frankie said.

On the other end of the spectrum, a 30-by-30-foot garden in Ukiah had 68 bee species, and Santa Cruz is a hotbed beehive community. (The Bay Area is fifth on that list.)

Gentry, known by local residents as “Bee Man” — although he is considering an upgrade to “Emperor of Bees” — began the popular event’s 60-minute talk with a bucket.

“All of these products from bees are helpful to humans,” he declared, pulling hunks of beeswax and jars of honey, pollen and actual bees from the container. “Their history goes back thousands of years.”

Within five minutes, Gentry had advocated (beeswax is used for lubricants in cosmetics, candles, wax-resist dyeing and food preserving), acknowledged (“We have some hindrance about eating insects, but watch a bear break into a bee’s nest. He’ll eat the whole thing,” he said), and advertised (pollen is the new superfood, with protein, enzymes, vitamins and minerals, according to Gentry).

He also shared a 30-year-old epiphany he had while watching a black bear and her two cubs demolish a rotted tree while feasting on termites.

“I wasn’t the first person to see natural things. Forty thousand years ago, hunter-gatherers watched bears, bees and insects, too. The timeline is long,” he said.

Skipping through honeybee history, from Middle Eastern origins to monks in monasteries needing dependable light sources to small farmers before World War I who kept just enough hives to feed their families and pollinate their crops, Gentry landed on the contemporary world’s bee dilemmas.

“Industrialization changed farms. They became bigger, and now, large pollination contracts and commercial beekeeping are driving the business. (More than a million) hives are brought into the central Southern California valley for pollinating almonds each year.”

Frankie, whose business is less about keeping bees and more about watching them, asked the Science Cafe audience of gardeners, beekeepers and general science fans a series of questions.

Delighting at stumping his listeners, he said 1,600 bee species were attracted to California’s 5,000 flowering plants, drawing a hefty percentage of the United States’ 4,000 total bee species.

“Notice, you are not on their list,” he said. “Bees are vegetarians. They’re not after you or your burgers. Wasps are the ‘meat bees’ after your burgers.”

Generating a local buzz
The University of California Press will publish Gordon Frankie’s findings in a forthcoming book, “Native Bees and Their Flowers in Urban California Gardens.” Bee appreciators who don’t want to wait can find information at http://nature.berkeley.edu/urbanbeegardens/index.html and diablobees.org.

Read full story · Posted in Yay Bees

ARTICLE: Wasps vs. Bees
by Jaime Pawelek and Rollin Coville

“Wasps and bees are often mistaken for each other, but knowing a few key features of both can help one tell them apart. Bees gather pollen and nectar from flowers to use as food for their offspring. Wasps are carnivorous and hunt for other insects or spiders, but some also visit flowers for nectar. Bees usually have very hairy bodies and pollen collecting hairs on their legs or under their abdomen to help them accomplish this task. Wasps tend to have few to no hairs at all because they don’t intentionally collect pollen.

…wasps usually have more elongate bodies, longer legs, and sometimes have what looks like a pinched waist, whereas bees usually look more compact. There are other physical differences between bees and wasps, but they are hard to make out without the use of a hand lens or microscope. So, if you see a busy creature flying from flower to flower and actively collecting brightly colored pollen, then you can be fairly sure it is a bee.

Bees actually evolved from predatory wasps (apoid wasps), so bees and wasps have a lot of similarities both in appearance and behavior. Bees and wasps both have two sets of wings, unlike flies, which only have one. Also, only the females of bees and wasps can sting because the stinger is actually a modified egg laying apparatus. Behaviorally they are similar in that they both have social and solitary species. Yellow jackets, like bumble bees, have seasonal colonies that form in the spring and die out in the late fall with the queens overwintering to start a new colony the following year. The majority of bees and wasps though are solitary, and the female does all the work of building and provisioning nests for her young.

One wasp that a lot of people confuse with bees is the yellow jacket. Unlike honey bees, yellow jackets and other wasps don’t leave their stinger behind when they sting something, therefore they are able to sting several times in a row. These social wasps form papery nests both above and below ground that can contain anywhere from 50 to 5,000 individuals. The larger the colony gets the more aggressive the wasps become. This usually happens in late summer/early fall when food is in short supply. Yellow jackets then become nuisances at picnics eating whatever they can find…”

[click here to read the original article on nature.berkeley.edu]

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ARTICLE: Collecting Nature’s Bounty: Honeybees

By Libby Motika, Senior Editor [Palisadian-Post]

A triumph of nature and nurture, the queen honeybee is the head and heart of the hive. Plumped on royal jelly (secretion from the glands of worker bees) and pampered by worker bees, the queen is the colony’s big mama, whose sole mission is produce up to 2,000 eggs a day. 

??Royal distinction for the queen bee can be traced to ancient times, some say 10,000 years ago, when human beings became beekeepers. In India, Persia, Rome Egypt and Babylonia, bees were considered sacred animals, symbols of life and fertility.

??In the 21st century, bees are no less important: they are responsible for the variety of our food, and ultimately our survival. ‘Four out of 10 bites of food we eat are dependent on the honeybee,’ says Michael Pollan, professor of science and environmental journalism at Berkeley…

When a swarm of honeybees showed up in Rob and Chelsea McFarland’s backyard, they called Backwards Beekeepers, a group of organic, treatment-free beekeepers in Los Angeles who remove and relocate honey bees. ‘It was pure magic for me seeing the swarm and gentle nature of bees,’ said Rob, a featured speaker at the Pali Cares program. The McFarlands are the founders of HoneyLove, a nonprofit organization with two goals: to inspire urban beekeepers and to help legalize beekeeping in Los Angeles.

??Contrary to popular lore, honeybees are too busy to be vicious. In the spring, when the nectar flows, bees are working overtime. ‘There is lots to forage on in our landscape,’ McFarland said. ‘Our cities are a banquet for bees. It is estimated that there are nine to 11 colonies for every mile in L.A.’

…in the last three years, more than one in three honeybee colonies nationwide has died in a phenomenon know as collapse colony disorder. For farmers, this is a not only a great worry but potentially catastrophic. According to the Natural History’s Brown, you need a certain number of colonies to pollinate orchards. Michael Pollan points to the loss of diversity in agriculture as contributing to the bees’ demise.

??’Monoculture wreaks havoc on honeybees’ diets, limiting options once the dominant crop is no longer flowering,’ he says. ‘Bees can’t survive on a continual cornfield; there is nothing to eat.’ 

??The industry is now transporting hives over long distances in order to pollinate orchards. Working the bees nonstop for up to three months causes tremendous stress on the bees. Pesticides and fertilizers further contribute to their demise.

??This is where backyard beekeepers can help make up a little for the loss and increase awareness of the problem, the McFarlands say. 

??’We believe that the city is the last refuge of the honeybee. Our home gardens are free of pesticides, and in city like Los Angeles, there is year-round availability of pollen and nectar.’

??While beekeeping is legal in Los Angeles County and in certain cities, such as Santa Monica and Redondo Beach, ‘the city of L. A. has no official policy; therefore it is illegal,’ Chelsea says. 

??Los Angeles currently outlaws beekeeping in residential areas, and the city’s policy is to exterminate all feral honeybees. 

??Eight Community Councils within Los Angeles (Mar Vista, Del Rey, Greater Griffith Park,  South Robertson, Silver Lake, Hollywood United, Atwater Village, and West L.A.) have already voted in favor of supporting an urban beekeeping program in residentially zoned districts. 

[CLICK HERE TO SIGN HONEYLOVE’S PETITION TO LEGALIZE URBAN BEEKEEPING IN LOS ANGELES!!]

??Legalizing beekeeping in Los Angeles would enable better bee management, control and public safety as compared to only having wild hives, which is the current situation, reasons Danny Jensen of Backwards Beekeepers. ‘More beekeepers actually mean fewer swarms, fewer feral bee colonies taking up residence where they aren’t wanted and fewer grumpy bees.’ 

??For more information on urban beekeeping and upcoming events, visit honeylove.org

[click here to read the full article on palisadespost.com]

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VIDEO: Beekeeping in the city
Mateo Rutherford shows us the bees in his Berkeley (CA) backyard, the recycled hive boxes (out of scrap lumber) and the very important water source for their bees (an old hot tub).

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Seven Billion People Need Bees

“This first week of November (2011) our population surpassed seven billion humans. And in the last week of October (2011) scientists from the University of California at Berkeley irrefutably proved that over one billion temperature sensors registered warming between 1-2 degrees Celsius, in some cases more than three times greater than the IPCCs average of 0.64 degrees Celsius. Humans are forcing the climate by burning carbon-based fuels releasing over 82 million metric tons of greenhouse gases, daily, on our planet.

All life forms are in jeopardy. Our food chain is perilously close to collapsing; yet the lawmakers in Washington regularly ignore this message. My biology and environmental students at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks and I are miffed at why this issue is not front and center in DC…

We all need to be aware of the health and well being of the bees. Because without healthy honey, bumble, stingless and solitary bees there’s no chance that more than seven billion people can thrive especially since the oceans are fished-out and currently feeding, unsustainably, at least a couple billion people, daily — in addition to acidifying (from absorbing rising atmospheric CO2) faster than any time in the last 60 million years…

Surprisingly, bees and humans share a number of similarities. For example, we both require restful and rejuvenating sleep. Sleep deprived bees, just like humans, experience communication problems like finding food and performing an accurate waggle dance to reveal locations of nectar, pollen, water and tree resin. Stressed bees like humans become anxious, depressed and pessimistic; they display emotion-like qualities. Moreover, bees that exhibit a high defensive behavior or optimism are likely to survive a winter rather than perish.

Did you know that humans have been keeping bees in cities for over three thousand years? Bees were kept in the “land of milk and honey” in the Iron Age city of Tel Rehov in the Jordan Valley — the oldest known commercial beekeeping facility in the world. It should then come as no surprise that city councils around the world have recently allowed urban beekeepers to keep hives in Santa Monica, New York, Chicago, London, Melbourne, Tokyo and many other places. In fact, urban beekeepers along with the tremendous support of city dwellers are planting more bee-friendly trees and flowers helping to sustain urban bee populations.

And make no mistake, bees around the globe are dying by the billions from insecticides like neonictinoidsclimate-driven mismatches, introduced parasites and diseases, air pollution and habitat loss. In the last four years alone over a quarter trillion honeybees have died prematurely. Of the 100 crop species providing 90 percent of the world’s food — over 74 percent are pollinated by bees…

Help save urban bees — please, do not use herbicides, insecticides, miticides or fungicides in your garden.”

[click here to read the full article on huffingtonpost.com]

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