Pumpkins at Topanga Nursery
Did you know that pumpkins are pollinated by bees? Proof is in the above picture. When we ventured to Ventura to hand pick local pumpkins for our first ever pumpkin patch, we were pleasantly surprised to see the bees were there too. There's still time to pick up your pumpkin before Halloween. Spend $40 at Topanga Nursery or The Valley Hive and get a FREE small pumpkin of your choosing.
(Turnip photo c/o Wikipedia, the actual lamp can be found at the Museum of Country Life in County Mayo, Ireland)
Oh My Gourd
If you've ever been curious about the history of pumpkin carving, you may be interested to learn how this modern day custom evolved over the centuries. Gourds, in fact, are one of the earliest plant species farmed by humans. Carving them is a tradition that can be traced back hundreds of years all over the world. For example, the Māori, (Indigenous peoples of New Zealand) have been carving lanterns out of gourds for at least 700 years!
The custom of carving jack-o-lanterns, as we know them at Halloween, began in Ireland in the 19th century. These lanterns, carved out of turnips or potatoes, were created with grotesque faces to represent spirits or supernatural beings. Sometimes meant to scare people, but also they were used as a means to ward off evil spirits. Folklore around "Stingy Jack" whose bargain with Satan left him doomed to roam the earth after death with only a hollowed turnip (pictured here) to light his way is thought to be a namesake of this Halloween custom. Once this tradition was brought to North America the carvings were done with pumpkins, a gourd native to the continent.
A female parasitic Apocephalus borealis fly about to infect a honey bee with its eggs. Photo credit: Christopher Quock
Fly maggots bursting from a parasitized honey bee. Photo Credit: John Hafernik
The Dreaded Zombie Bee
"They're coming to get you Barbara." Although the human zombies of horror lore from movies like Night of The Living Dead do not exist, we do have to watch out for zombie bees! John Hafernik, a biologist at San Francisco State University, noticed honeybees exhibiting some abnormal behavior. These honeybees were flying from their hives at night in chilly weather to circle artificial light. After this strange occurrence the bees would fall to the ground and stagger around.
A Parasitic Fly...Oh My!
After placing these honeybees in a vial, Hafernik discovered the culprit, a parasitic fly called Apocephalus borealis. The female fly will inject her eggs into a crack in the honeybee's abdomen, and after about a week the larvae travel into the bee's thorax to liquefy and consume the wing muscles. Finally, the maggot bursts through the bee in the space between its head and shoulders. Hafernik recorded 24 maggots exiting a single bee! Researchers have yet to determine why the bees leave the hive at night to seek artificial light, Hafernik theorizes that the parasite manipulates the bees to move to a better spot to complete its life cycle or it could be a form of altruistic suicide. Volunteers have reported these zombees in California, Washington, Oregon, Vermont, Pennsylvania and New York. So on Halloween, remember that even though our brains are safe our bees may not be!
In Case of Death...Tell the Bees
In medieval Europe, bees were important family members who were kept apprised of all the happenings in the household. It was once customary for beekeepers to “tell” their bees about important events like marriages, births, deaths and travels. In case of death, the typical way to tell the bees was for the head of the household, or “goodwife of the house” to go out to the hives and knock gently to get the attention of the bees, and then in a sorrowful tune share the solemn news. Oftentimes, the news of the event was delivered in little rhymes. It was considered bad luck if the bees were not told these things. Neglecting to do so could cause a hive to collapse or have a poor honey harvest. In the Victorian era, it became particularly important to tell the bees about deaths, and some families would even put the hives into mourning, covering them in black shrouds for a period of time.
Bees As Sacred Messengers
This superstitious practice was rooted in Ancient Greek and Mesopotamian cultures, where honeybees were considered sacred messengers between the natural world and the underworld. It was believed that the bees could transmit messages between people and their beloved dead. As Halloween approaches and the veil thins, pay attention to the honeybees. They might have messages for you!
Photo Credit: Blake Little
The Mellified Man The legendary mellified man, a strange but real medical confection from 16th century China, was made by mummifying human bodies in honey (the photo above is not of a mellified man but from an art exhibition by Blake Little, where subjects were drenched in honey for a photo shoot).
That’s right—you read that correctly! It might sound ridiculous now, but prior to the 17th century AD, various forms of “corpse medicines” were consumed by people all over the world to treat everything from epilepsy to broken bones. Many cultures believed that the life force energy from a dead body could heal the wounds of a live one, and this led to the creation of all sorts of powders, tinctures and elixirs made from human bodies. The mellified man was one such medicine, and the process of making it was truly bizarre.
A Body of Honey
Elderly holy men would volunteer their bodies for this process, which began while the donors were still alive. First, the men would bathe in honey daily and eat nothing but honey for weeks, until their bodily fluids turned to honey and they inevitably died. After death, their bodies would be placed in stone vats filled with honey, where they’d be left to steep for decades. After a century or so, the resulting human honey confection would be sold at street markets as a treatment for broken limbs and other conditions.
Honey As A Cure
While eating mummy-infused honey might sound horrifying, the ancient progenitors of this ghastly confection were right about one thing—honey, on its own, is a powerful medicine! In addition to being a sweet treat, honey makes an excellent topical medicine for wounds and burns, and it’s natural antibacterial properties make it a great food to eat when you’re sick.
Corpse Flower at Topanga Nursery
The Corpse Flower
Carrion Plant (Stapelia gigantea), also recognized as the "corpse flower" gets its nickname from the characteristically stinky odor it emits. This bloom's stench, reminiscent of rotting flesh, attracts pollinators far and wide—especially flies! These large succulents also thermal regulate, further dispersing their nauseating scent. Pee-yew! With only a short bloom during the fall, it's impressive to look at...but not so pleasant to the nose! If the description of this smelly plant has your curiousity perked, come see if for yourself at the Topanga Nursery.
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