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Bee-ing green

Going green in your backyard doesn’t mean just planting a bee-friendly garden and providing water for the bees.

Have you ever thought about becoming a backyard beekeeper? You can help boost the declining bee population while engaging in a fascinating and rewarding hobby. Your flowers, fruits and vegetables will benefit (as will your neighbors' gardens). Another reward that’s sweet: honey.

There’s another benefit, too. If you’re into photography, especially macro photography, this is a perfect opportunity to “bee” there.

The number of backyard beekeepers in the United States has increased by about 15 percent over the last three years, according to Kim Flottum (top), editor of Bee Culture magazine and author of The BackYard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden. He estimates the number at 100,000-plus and growing.

“Backyard beekeepers easily represent more than 80 percent of total beekeepers, but have only about 25 percent of the total hives,” he told us. “They contribute lots to local pollination of small gardens and orchards and plants for wildlife. And, they are responsible for most of the local honey one sees for sale, since most sell close to home in farmers’ markets and the like.”

Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen (left), member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty, also advocates that folks do their part in the honey bees crisis. Don’t just plant bee friendly plants, but plants that bees can forage on in the late summer and fall when food is scarce, he says.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation provides regional lists of bee friendly plants. The UC Berkeley Urban Gardens website maintains a California list.

What are some of the first steps in becoming a beekeeper?

  1. Join a local beekeeping association where veterans can assist you. Bee Culture maintains contact information for beekeeping associations. The Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis maintains a list of beekeeping clubs in California. Many 4-H clubs also offer beekeeping projects where youths can learn the not-so-secret life of bees.
  2. Check your city and county ordinances and your county agriculture commissioner for bee-colony regulations.
  3. Contact your neighbors to see if they are allergic to bee stings or if they have any objections to your keeping bees.
  4. Start a library of beekeeping books. Some of the most recent books by bee experts include The Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum; Honey Bee Hobbyist: the Care and Keeping of Bees by UC Davis retired emeritus professor Norman Gary (his experience spans six decades); and Storey's Guide to Keeping Honey Bees: Honey Production, Pollination and Health by University of Florida Extension beekeeping specialist Malcolm T. Sanford, with expertise from the late Richard E. Bonney's book, Beekeeping and Hive Management.
  5. Subscribe to bee publications such as The American Bee Journal, Bee Culture and Speedy Bee.
  6. Glean information from the Internet, including YouTube, but be aware that some info is misleading and inaccurate.

Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey of UC Davis and Washington State University cautions that you must take care of your bees to ward off diseases and pests. And, if you’re catching swarms, especially in southern California, be aware that some could be Africanized bees.

“The swarms are initially docile, but can become very defensive when they grow and have brood and honey—and turn to a public health issue,” she says.

Cobey advocates that would-be beekeepers find a good mentor and/or bee club that offers beginners’ classes and arranges purchase of good queens.

“Temperament alone will make a huge difference,” she says.

Good advice!

On the light side, once you’re a bonafide beekeeper, you can wear T-shirts like “Show Me the Honey,” “I Have Hives” and “I Smoke Burlap.”

The best part of rearing your very own bees, though, is making an individual statement in a world filled with millions of unanswered questions.

Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is one of them.

(Editor's note: Kathy Keatley Garvey, a communication specialist in the UC Davis Department of Entomology, comes from a long line of beekeepers tracing back to "at least the 1800s.")

Posted on Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 9:22 AM

Master gardeners and UC Davis team to 'green' California backyards

A greener vision of the home landscape is taking shape throughout California with the help of volunteer master gardeners and the California Center for Urban Horticulture (CCUH).

The center, a statewide program begun at UC Davis in 2007, is holding educational workshops in various locations that will help master gardeners and other gardening enthusiasts learn more earth-friendly gardening techniques.

The first five “Your Sustainable Backyard” workshops were held in 2009 and 2010 and focused on roses, fruit trees, and edible landscaping. More than 800 people attended those events.

Five more workshops are in development for 2011. Two have been confirmed:

  • “Your Sustainable Backyard:  Landscaping for California” — April 9, 2011, the ARC ballroom at UC Davis. Speakers include landscape architect and author Bob Perry and author/garden photojournalist Deborah Baldwin.
  • “Your Sustainable Backyard:  Roses” — April 30, 2011, Foundation Plant Services at UC Davis. This event will also include a rose sale.

The idea for the workshops grew out of the “Global Climate Change in your Backyard” conference held at UC Davis in 2008. “The feedback we got indicated a strong desire for hands-on demonstrations of specific gardening tasks,” said CCUH program manager Missy Borel. “So we brainstormed and came up with these cost-effective, high-quality educational workshops for gardeners to learn usable skills they could take home and share with other people.”

Master gardeners are public educators trained by university experts in horticulture, pest management, and related home gardening topics. California Master Gardener programs, currently serving 45 counties, are experiencing phenomenal growth. UC’s Statewide Master Gardener coordinator Pamela Geisel says they’re seeing a 28 to 30 percent annual increase in the number of master gardeners, totaling about 4,700 individuals as of early 2010.

“We’re seeing greater attendance at all our workshops,” Geisel says. “In the past, you might have had six people show up to learn about vegetable gardening. Now, they’re filling up right away, with long waiting lists.”

A survey by the National Gardening Association found that  seven million more households planned to grow their own fruits, vegetables, herbs, or berries in 2009 than in 2008—a 19 percent increase. More people simply want to grow their own produce for improved quality, taste, and cost savings.

Geisel says it’s not just about locally produced food. “More people than ever are interested in learning how to reduce the use of fertilizers and pesticides, to conserve and protect water resources, and to eliminate landfill waste through green waste composting,” she said.

“Gardening practices are going to change because of climate change, water shortages, and other factors,” Borel adds. “Our workshops empower people to do that correctly. We’re setting them up for success.”

To learn more, visit program websites at http://ccuh.ucdavis.edu and http://camastergardeners.ucdavis.edu/.

Posted on Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 7:50 AM

GIS identifies best farmland for conservation

Geographic information system (GIS) models developed at UC Davis are being used to pinpoint the best farmland for conservation in the Central Valley. A new landscape-scale method, described in a recent issue of California Agriculture journal, was applied in Fresno County, and the approach is being extended regionally in the San Joaquin Valley.

“Policy programs and local planning agencies must assess farmland before implementing policies and programs aimed at farmland conservation,” lead author Evan Schmidt wrote in California Agriculture. “The application of GIS to existing land-assessment practices can update and reinvigorate [currently used] techniques.”

The method involves integrating environmental and human factors into a GIS to develop maps of strategic farmlands to be targeted for conservation. These five factors are:

  • Soil productivity, based on maps developed by the California Department of Conservation’s Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program (FMMP).

  • Water cost and reliability, based on maps developed by California agricultural commissioner’s offices.

  • Microclimate, to identify areas with optimal growing conditions.

  • Environmental sensitivity, to incorporate state and federal designations of vernal pools and wetlands.

  • Urban growth pressure, to identify areas within and adjacent to existing cities that are expected to be developed in coming years.

With extensive input from the public, agency officials and land-use professionals, the method expands upon farmland assessment frameworks developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and FMMP soil classification maps.

The Fresno County GIS-based assessment identified 343,321 acres of “very-high-value” farmland, mostly in the eastern and southern county and located in areas without existing or projected urban development. “High-value” farmland, totaling 491,613 acres, was similarly situated but included more acreage in the western county.

“In Fresno County, we found that the majority of growth to 2050 could fit into existing spheres of influence,” Schmidt and co-authors wrote. “This important information challenges decision-makers to set and maintain policies that encourage compact growth and infill development in order to preserve Fresno County’s highest-value farmland.”

Posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at 7:55 AM
  • Author: Janet Byron

Public collects data on invasive weeds

Invasive weeds can be very problematic, affecting agricultural productivity, public health, natural resource biodiversity; increasing the risk and severity of wildfire; and reducing water quality and quantity.

A nationwide program designed to map invasive weed locations online was started at the University of Georgia in 2005. What’s Invasive! Community Data Collection provides a way for people to map invasive weeds they see while visiting national parks.

The U.S. Forest Service is instantly alerted to the location of habitat-destroying species. This information is useful for increasing knowledge about the location and establishment of invasive species and directs limited U.S. Forest Service personnel and funds in a straightforward and efficient manner to minimize further spread of these species.

Before visiting a park, participants can view photos and information about what to look for in different parts of the country. Sightings can be added through phone apps or through the website.

As of today there are 973 registered users, with 3,019 invasive species observations in 19 participating parks. New parks can be easily added by users.

Posted on Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at 8:12 AM
  • Author: Chris M. Webb
Tags: invasive species (10)

World's first LEED Platinum winery, brewery and food-processing labs

A new winery, brewery and food-processing complex at the University of California, Davis, is the most environmentally sophisticated complex of its kind in the world, one that promises to unravel scientific enigmas and solve practical problems related to foods, beverages and health.

The $20 million, 34,000-square-foot teaching-and-research complex is the first winery, brewery or food-processing facility expected to earn LEED Platinum certification, the highest environmental rating awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council. It is intended to become self-sustainable in energy and water use.

Neal Van Alfen, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis, said, "It will serve as a model for industries throughout the nation that are also committed both to environmental excellence and production efficiency."

The complex houses a brewery, general foods-processing plant, milk-processing laboratory, and a teaching-and-research winery which will serve as a test bed for production processes that conserve water, energy, and other resources. The complex is adjacent to a 12-acre teaching-and-research vineyard.

Its environmentally friendly features include on-site solar power generation, a large-capacity system for capturing rainwater and conserving processing water, and many other features. The facility is expected to be carbon zero in carbon emissions.

Read more about the facility and take an online tour at the facility’s website.

Posted on Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 6:43 AM

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