Yes, I'll Have Som Mustard, Please!

Bug Squad By Kathy Keatley Garvey April 3, 2019

Yes, I'll have some mustard, please.

Yes, both the pollen and the nectar, thank you.

We watched a honey bee buzz into our little mustard patch,  her proboscis (tongue) extended, and pollen weighting her down. If she were at the airport, someone would have volunteered to carry her bags. 

But there she was, determined to bring back both pollen and nectar to her colony. It's nature's equivalent of gold. It's spring and time for the colony build-up.

In peak season, the queen bee lays 1500 to 2000 eggs a day. Everyone has a job to do, and if you're a bee scientist or a beekeeper, you'll see them all:  nurse maids, nannies, royal attendants, builders, architects, foragers, dancers, honey tenders, pollen packers, propolis or "glue" specialists, air conditioning and heating technicians, guards, and undertakers.

What's thrilling this time of year, though, are the worker bees bringing home the mustard.

Want to learn more about bees? Be sure to stop by Briggs Hall, off Kleiber Hall Drive, on Saturday, April 13 during the campuswide 105th annual UC Davis Picnic Day.  You'll see a bee observation hive, as well as smokers, hive tools and veils, all part of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology displays. You can talk to the bee scientists. And you can sample many different varietals of honey.

Briggs Hall also will feature cockroach races, maggot art, t-shirt sales, face-painting, aquatic insects,  forensic entomology,  Integrated Pest Management Program display, fly-tying and much more. It's free and family friendly.

And over at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, more entomological excitements await. It's the home of nearly eight million insect specimens, plus a gift shop and a live "petting zoo" of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects (walking sticks), tarantulas and praying mantids.  Stay tuned!

A pollen-laden honey bee heads for more pollen and nectar on mustard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A pollen-laden honey bee heads for more pollen and nectar on mustard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Pollen-packing honey bee is a sight to see amid the mustard blossoms. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Pollen-packing honey bee is a sight to see amid the mustard blossoms. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Pollen or nectar? Both please, says the honey bee as she forages on mustard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Pollen or nectar? Both please, says the honey bee as she forages on mustard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Cutting the Mustard

Bug Squad    By Kathy Keatley Garvey   February 16, 2015

"Spring is the busiest time of year for honey bees,  and their keepers, whether the operation is in the desert uplands of southern Arizona, the citrus groves of Florida, or the apple orchards of Washington state," writes entomologist/bee expert Stephen "Steve" Buchmann in his book, Honey Bees: Letters from the Hive.

So true.

Lately we've been watching honey bees collecting pollen from mustard, Brassica. The amount of pollen they collect is truly amazing. Each honey bee colony collects an average of 20 to 40 pounds a year, Buchmann writes. 

Buchmann, the author of The Forgotten Pollinators, The Bee Tree, and other books, will soon release his next book, The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives, in July.  Buchmann, an adjunct professor in the University of Arizona's Department of Entomology and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Tucson,  and scientist-at-large for the Pollinator Partnership, San Francisco, received his doctorate in entomology from the University of California, Davis. He studied with major professor/native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, now a UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology. Buchmann's dissertation was on buzz pollination.

There's an old saying "to cut the mustard," meaning that someone is good enough or effective enough for a task.

The meaning probably originated from the military term "pass muster," but with honey bees, they're not only good at passing the muster and foraging in the mustard, they excel.

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Rapini! Rapini! Rapini!

Bug Squad - Happenings in the Insect World   By Kathy Keatley Garvey       4/21/14

Honey bee population declining? 

You wouldn't know it if you were to visit the two rapini patches in front of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis.

“The bees love the rapini,” said Laidlaw manager and staff research associate Billy Synk, who planted the seeds given him by Project Apis m.

Project apis m., a moniker derived from Apis mellifera, the scientific name of the European honey bee, funds and directs research to enhance the health and vitality of honey bee colonies while improving crop production. It's based in Paso Robles, Calif.  Take a look at the organization's website:  "We've infused over $2.5 million into bee research since our inception in 2006 to provide growers with healthier bees resulting in better pollination and increased crop yields.  We have personal relationships with the nation's commercial beekeepers and with the top bee scientists in the country."

"We fund research studies, purchase equipment for bee labs at our universities, support graduate students and provide scholarships to young bee scientists to encourage their pursuit of science-based solutions to honey bee challenges." 

Its eight-member board includes beekeepers and industry leaders. Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of UC Davis is a longtime scientific advisor.

And rapini? It's a green cruciferous vegetable from the mustard family. The leaves, buds and stems are edible and often served in restaurants throughout the world. If you were in Italy, you'd eat the cimi di rapa or rapini. In Naples, it's known as friarielli and sometimes broccoli di rapa, according to Wikipedia. If you were in Rome, broccoletti. And in Portugal and Spain, grelos.

The bees know it as simply food for their colonies. Good stuff.  (In addition to rapini, PAm encourages folks to plant lovers, vetch, allysum, and native wildflowers as bee pasture.)

One thing's for certain: If you plan to participate in the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' pollinator count for a three-minute period on Thursday, May 8 your eyes will tire from counting all the bees in the rapini!

Like to participate?  See the UC ANR's website, Day of Science and Service. You can also photograph pollinators and post the images on the website for all to see and enjoy.

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