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Davis

Davis, California

Saturday, December 4, 2021

“If you like to eat, thank a bee!”

CIERA PASTUREL / AGGIE
CIERA PASTUREL / AGGIE

Local programs inform the public about honeybee populations

Bees are one of the most important insects in communities all over the world; they are essential to plant growth, food production and ecosystems. Although this is mostly common knowledge, many people are still unaware that these fuzzy little yellow creatures are on the decline.

On Oct. 2, the Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven had their fall open house in their office on Bee Biology Road in west Davis. Open to all members of the public, the garden showcases what local foliage can do for bees around the Davis area.

“[Haagen-Dazs] had two goals,” Garden Director of the Honey Bee Haven Chris Casey said. “One was to provide forage for the bees at the research facility next door, and the second was for events just like this — to educate the public.”

The open house served as a resource for gardeners and bee supporters from all walks of life, the turnout ranging from groups of high school students to more experienced horticulturists.

“The public sees examples of plants they can have in their own gardens that will be useful for bees,” Casey said. “They can also get ideas for bee houses for cavity nesting bees, the importance of leaving bare ground for ground nesting bees and to get an appreciation for the range of crops that rely on bee pollination. We like to say here: if you like to eat, thank a bee.”

Pollinators of all different subspecies buzzed through the garden while Casey and other volunteers provided informational packets, a raffle and interactive booths for the visitors.

“We really want folks to get out here and learn about bees and take advantage of this resource,” Casey said. “It connects people with their foods in a way a lot people don’t think about.”

Casey took gardeners on a grand tour of the garden which included fall blooming flowers and shrubs native to California.

“The complete list of plants in the garden is on the website,” Casey said. “I also have shorter lists for say, someone who wants really low water use plants or plants that can grow in the shade.”

From stone fruit trees to pumpkins and daisies, each plant can attract a different species of bee. Professor Emeritus in the nematology department Robin Thorp has been conducting research on the populations of crop pollinators and native bees in the area since 1964, long before the garden was created in 2010. A significant amount of these species can now be seen in the Honey Bee Haven, thanks to the diverse planting and different modes of habitation offered there.

“If you plant flowers, you will bring in bees, but in order to keep the bees around, you’ll have to provide habitat for them to nest as well,” Thorp said. “A good bee garden is going to have bloom that lasts for a long while and some bare ground around somewhere for the bees to nest. That’s where we get back to the bee gardens and restoration plantings.”  

The recent decline of the honeybee has raised awareness of the threats to the species’ survival. This attention allows Honey Bee Haven and researchers to further inform the public over main threats to the pollinators.

“When bees are in a stressed state, their immune systems are compromised and have more of a problem dealing with these kinds of [threats]…the biggest [being] the destruction of habitat, pesticides, parasites and predators,” Thorp said. “There’s a lot more interest with a lot of people aware of the problems of the honeybee, which has been publicized heavily, [and this] has spilled out into a number of other interests, including urban gardening.”

There are over 16,000 different species of bees native to California, which may be helpful in reducing the stress of the honeybee and downsizing the threats which endanger the species, according to Thorp.

“[Almond growers and growers of other crops] are now looking at some native bees, [such as the Blue Orchard bee,] as possible alternatives or supplements to reduce the problem,” Thorp said. “That’s led to interest in restoration plantings, hedgerows, and interplanting with some of the tree crops and making actual plantings for bees to increase native bee population where agriculture is much more intensive…to bring some of the populations back.”

The Honey Bee Haven and the entomology and nematology department rely on the public’s education on bee population matters to bring more awareness and involvement in programs which aim to help “save the bees.”

“One of the most important things people can do is educate others about what’s going on with the bees, why they’re important and what we can do to help them out,” Thorp said.

Amina Harris, Director of the Honey and Pollination Center, allows the public access to research from professors like Thorp. According to the center, it’s important that people are informed if they truly want to keep honey around.

“When we started the [center], it had to include pollination,” Harris said. “We happen to like honey, but that’s not the important thing that [bees] do. The job of this institute is to inform and educate the public… [and] making sure people know what else is happening in the entymology world. We can showcase the research and try to reach out to the people who need the information.”

The Honey and Pollination Center, the entomology department and the Honey Bee Haven work together towards outreach and engagement with the university.

“Right now [the Honey and Pollination Center is] working on a new mission,” Harris said. “It [used to] be to help beekeepers, and we found out that we were doing outreach on many levels.”

These levels manifest themselves in various forms: honey tastings, honey quality wheels (available at the bookstore), the yearly Bee Symposium, Master Beekeeping classes and mead making courses. These opportunities help keep the center and honey bee awareness relevant in the city of Davis and the academic world.

“We are the only university in the country putting out courses for mead: a honey-based alcoholic beverage,” Harris said. “Right now we’re doing intro courses, but we’re beginning to start intermediate and advanced courses for people who are opening meaderies or people who have been in the mead business for a while to up their game.”

The Honey and Pollination Center would not be able to offer these opportunities without the research provided by entomology faculty on-campus.

“I don’t conduct the research, [but] I can talk about it [and] inform people about it. I think it’s really exciting because it gives us something to work with, to understand what we’re doing,” Harris said. “That’s what the Bee Symposium [in the spring] does; people who normally present papers only educator to educator, now can present to a lot of beekeepers.”

The goal of the programs associated with UC Davis is to increase awareness of the honeybees’ dire situation. According to Casey, volunteer forms are available at the Honey Bee Haven for anyone who is interested in contributing to the cause.

“I’d like more students to know what’s going on here,” Harris said. “They should be aware that [these programs are] happening.”

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