Posts Tagged: mustard
St. Patrick's Day is the "wearing of the green," but it's also the "wearing of the yellow."
Wild mustard, that is.
If you drive through the hills of Napa, around St. Patrick's Day, or from January through March, you'll see bee hives nestled in the green landscape with a flourish of mustard (Brassica spp.).
It's a child's delight, a photographer's dream, and a painter's inspiration. But mustard is also a good cover crop and bee food.
Indeed, honey bees crave mustard just like folks on "Irish Day" crave corned bee and cabbage (with that yellow condiment made from mustard seeds).
Bee hives nestled in a field of green and yellow (mustard) along Highway 12, Napa. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee foraging in mustard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii) may be one of the most underappreciated pollinators.
You see it buzzing around lavender, lupine, California poppies, mustard and other plants.
But a Xerces Society study of organic farms in Yolo County found that it was one of the most important of the native bees visiting the Sungold cherry tomatoes.
The study, titled “Native Bee Pollination of Cherry Tomatoes,” was based on research by Claire Kremen of UC Berkeley, Neal Williams and Robbin Thorp of UC Davis and Sarah Greenleaf, California State University, Sacramento, all members of Xerces.
“Recent studies demonstrate that tomatoes pollinated by native bees produce larger and more numerous fruits,” the authors wrote. “Honey bees do not pollinate tomatoes because they cannot get the pollen and the flowers do not produce nectar. With no reward, honey bees will not visit the flower. Many native bees, however, know the trick to extracting tomato pollen and are, therefore, valuable pollinators.
"Although the tomato plant is self-fertile, flowers must be vibrated by wind or bees in order to release pollen for fertilization. To achieve the most effective pollination, the flower must be vibrated at a specific frequency to release the pollen. Honey bees are unable to vibrate the tomato flower in this way, but bumble bees and other native species can.
The Xerces Society offers a great resource on how to attract bumble bees: see Farming for Bees: Guidelines for Providing Native Bee Habitat on Farms.
In some respects, the yellow-faced bumble bee resembles a cuddly teddy bear. It's big and bumbly, as a bumble bee should be.
From behind, however, its heavy load of pollen looks for all the world like saddlebags on a trail horse.
Foraging Bumble Bee
A golden bee on golden mustard.
What could represent spring in California more than that? Well, besides the just-ended almond pollination season.
Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis, took her queen bee-rearing class to Orland today to tour Olivarez Honey Bees, Inc. While admiring the commercial queen bee-rearing operation, we spotted honey bees foraging on the newly planted mustard.
A beautiful spring day. Mustard plants gently swaying in the breeze. Honey bees gathering food for their hives.
If that doesn't cut the mustard, nothing does.
Honey Bee on Mustard
Who's the Visitor?