The honey bee garden at the University of California, Davis, is not only bee friendly, it’s people friendly, thanks to a major volunteer effort by a visiting biologist from Boston.

Veteran biology teacher Sarah Huber researched, created and installed two dozen illustrated signs, which provide a self-guided tour of the half-acre Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road.

The haven is as a year-around food source for bees, a demonstration garden and a research site.

Huber described the bee garden as “an amazing resource for anyone designing their own garden, taking their kids on a new adventure, or just meeting a friend for a walk.”

The haven is “a lasting source of inspiration for the public,” she said.

The numbered signs welcome visitors to the garden, relate why bees are amazing, why they are in trouble, and what folks can do to help.

Visitors can learn why beekeepers don’t eat bananas before they tend their hives (“A bee in danger releases an alarm pheromone which is also a chemical found in bananas”) how many flowers a colony must visit to make one pound of honey (“two million flowers”), and how fast a bee’s wings can beat (“12,000 times a minute”).

Huber’s signs also point out why the honey bee is considered both an immigrant and migrant worker. European colonists brought the honey bee (Apis mellifera) to America in 1662. Today U.S. farmers rent 2 million colonies a year to pollinate their crops.

“Some farmers own their own hives, but many rent hives from beekeepers to pollinate their crops,” Huber wrote. “Hives travel by truck from one flowering crop to the next each season. Smaller farms in less developed areas may rely on wild native bees and feral honey bees for pollination.

However, each year more than 2 million bee colonies are rented for U.S. crop pollination.”

The signage begins with: “Follow the numbered signs to gain an appreciation for the amazing adaptations of honey bees and the invaluable services they provide. Experience empathy for their plight and be inspired to take action to help save them as their population declines.”

The haven, open from dawn to dusk (admission is free), officially opened to the public on Sept. 11, 2010. Through its parent company Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream, Häagen-Dazs has gifted or pledged a total of $252,000 to the UC Davis Department of Entomology for the garden. Its other projects include funding the Häagen-Dazs Postdoctoral Scholar.

Signage project

Huber launched the signage project after consulting with Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator for the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis; Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty; bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey of UC Davis and Washington State University; native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, who monitors the garden for bee diversity; staff research associate-beekeeper and haven coordinator Elizabeth Frost of the Laidlaw facility; and communications specialist Kathy Keatley Garvey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology.

Garvey, also a photographer, provided the images for the signs, which include a feral honey bee colony, activities inside and outside the hive, and pollinator “portraits,” including such floral visitors as honey bees, bumble bees, carpenter bees, digger bees and butterflies.

“I am so glad that Tabatha gave me the project of designing a self-guided tour for the bee garden,” said Huber. “Using the signs seemed the most environmental and easy way to do this. I learned a lot about bees while researching what to put on each sign, as well as many cool tidbits of useful information, like how to build a nest site for native bees, and that it is best not to eat bananas when approaching a hive, just to name a couple.”

“Sarah is a fabulous educator,” Yang said. “We were incredibly fortunate to have her on our team. She is creative and fun and radiates enthusiasm for science education. It was an absolute pleasure to work with her.”

Huber also assisted with other outreach projects on the UC Davis campus, providing support for the Department of Entomology, the Bohart Museum of Entomology, and the Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology (MWFB). In addition, she volunteered at the Explorit Science Center, Davis.

Huber joined the UC Davis volunteer workforce for a year while her husband, Parke Wilde, an associate professor at Tufts University, Boston, pursued academic work at UC Davis.

A former Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia and El Salvador, Huber received her bachelor of science degree, cum laude, in biology from Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., and master’s degree in secondary science education from Catholic University, Washington, D.C. Huber's credentials include teaching interactive workshops for elementary-aged children and facilitating drop-in science, math and technology activities at the Museum of Science in Boston.

The garden is the work of scores of companies, people and volunteers. A four-member team from Sausalito won the international design competition: landscape architects Donald Sibbett and Ann F. Baker; interpretative planner Jessica Brainard; and exhibit designer Chika Kurotaki.

“This garden is a living laboratory to educate, inspire and engage people of all ages in the serious work of helping to save honey bees,” Dori Bailey, former director of Haagen-Dazs Consumer Communications, said earlier this year. It offers bees and other pollinators “a place to thrive,” Bailey said, and “it contributes to finding answers that enable us to be better stewards of these tiny pollinators.”

Melissa “Missy” Borel, program manager of the California Urban Horticulture at UC Davis and a key developer of the garden under the watch of Lynn Kimsey, then interim chair of the Department of Entomology, posted plant identification signs so visitors can select what they might want to plant in their own gardens. A volunteer team of gardeners, headed by Mary Patterson of Davis and coordinated by Frost, tend the garden every week.

The garden also features art from the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program, co-founded and co-directed by UC Davis entomologist-artist Diane Ullman and Davis artist Donna Billick. “Miss Bee Haven,” a 6-foot long sculpture of a worker bee by Billick, anchors the art work. Painted bee boxes, showing activity inside and outside a honey bee colony, grace the entrance. The most recent addition to the garden is a native bee mural on a garden shed, a project coordinated by UC Davis graduate student Sarah Dalrymple.

Ullman, Billick and Dalrymple are now consulting with Frost and Thorp on other art projects that will showcase native bees, particularly leafcutting bees.