Visitors at the annual California Agriculture Day, held Wednesday, March 18 on the west lawn of the State Capitol, made a beeline to the California State Beekeepers' Asssociation (CSBA) booth to see the bees, pocket some honey sticks and talk bees.
Staffing the booth were five beekeepers and Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who retired last June after 38 years of service, fielded lots of questions.
Bill Cervenka of Bill Cervenka Apariies, Half Moon Bay, provided a bee observation hive. Carlin Jupe of Sacramento, secretary-treasurer of the CSBA, brought along 2000 Honey Stix containing wildflower honey, ordered from Nature's Kick, Salem, Ore.
Each honey stick contained a CSBA message:
- Honey bees are the backbone of agriculture
- They pollinate 1/3 of the human diet
- They pollinate 50 varied U.S. crops worth more than $20 billion
- They pollinate California's $2.5 billion almond production
- They produce $150 million in U.S. honey and beeswax
"I spent quite a bit of time on 'How do I keep bees in a thirty-third floor apartment with no balcony?'" Mussen related. "I sent a number of people to the Sacramento Beekeeping Supply store to find an opening in beginning beekeeping courses. I spent time explaining the bee space and how to keep purchasing wooden ware from the same supplier, so the space would not be violated."
Folks also wanted to know how the drought is impacting the bees. State Senator Jim Nielsen "wanted to know that he kicked up enough of a fuss to get agriculture a place at the water conference table. Up until then, no ag reps were desired."
Eight-year-old Sam Blincoe of Sacramento took a special interest in the bee observation hive, as Mather explained what the bee colony is all about. "He's going to become a beekeeper," she predicted.
The theme, she added, "also reflects the United Nations' declaration of 2015 as the International Year of Soils to increase awareness and understanding of the importance of soil for food security and essential ecosystem functions."
Meanwhile, California Farm Bureau Foundation president Paul Wenger issued this statement today, the first day of spring: "On this first day of spring, we celebrate the agricultural bounty of our nation and especially of California, where a unique combination of climate, soils, water and know-how allows farmers and ranchers to harvest food and farm products every day of the year. While parts of our nation continue to shiver in cold and snow, California provides, thanks to one of only five Mediterranean climates in the world. As we celebrate this bounty, we must also resolve to assure we can sustain it. As California suffers through another year of drought, we must pay particular attention to our state's ability to manage the rain and snow that does fall each winter, to sustain us through dry times. Farm Bureau will continue to press our leaders, at the local, state and national levels, to assure sustainable food production by building new water storage and better managing the entire water system, to ensure California remains the No. 1 agricultural state in the nation."
You can tell it's almost spring when you hear bees buzzing on the flowering crab apples.
Spring officially starts Friday, March 20, but don't tell that to the bees.
They're in the midst of their spring build-up.
Meanwhile, California Agriculture Day beckons.
The California State Beekeepers' Association and other ag-affiiiated organzations are gearing up for the annual California Ag Day, part of National Agriculture Week.
California Ag Day, free and open to the public, takes place from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wednesday, March 18 on the west steps of the state capitol.
There you'll see a John Deere tractor parked on the steps, 4-H'ers and FFA'ers showing their animals, and ag industries displaying educational material and offering samples. Generally, it's a day to celebrate agriculture and thank the farmers and growers for the bounty that we tend to take for granted. This year's theme is “California Agriculture: Breaking new Ground." The focus: the importance of soil health to our food supply and all of agriculture.
Said Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross: "National Agriculture Week gives us the opportunity to celebrate agriculture, an industry that provides a safe, abundant, and affordable food supply, a strong economy, and a world of job opportunities.”
If you stop by the California State Beekeepers' Association booth on California Ag Day, you can learn first-hand about bees from the beekeepers and "honey bee guru" Extension apiculturist (emeritus) Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who retired last June after 38 years of service.
Generally, they're asked:
- How are the bees doing?"
- "What can we do to help?"
- "How difficult is it to keep bees?"
- "How can I learn beekeeping?"
- "What's wrong with my bees?"
There's a reward, too, for visiting the booth. You'll receive a sweet treat: a honey stick.
Did you know that it takes honey bees 10 million floral visits to make a pound of honey? (Source: Bees of the World by Christopher O'Toole and Anthony Raw). "The members of a single hive may make four and a half million visits to flowers in the course of one day's work and more than one thousand workers will die every day in the summer," they write. "Cause of death? Sheer exhaustion. Life expectancy? Af the height of the nectar-gathering season, a mere six weeks."
That's something to think about the next time you see the foragers going about their bees-ness.
The theme? "Keeping Bees Healthy." An excellent topic.
The symposum is designed for beekeepers of all experience levels, including gardeners, farmers and anyone interested in the world of pollination and bees, said Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollination Center, housed in the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science. (See news article. To register, access this page.)
Keynote speaker is Marla Spivak, Distinguished McKnight Professor, University of Minnesota and a 2010 MacArthur Fellow. Spivak will speak on "Helping Bees Stand on Their Own Six Feet."
Another speaker is Amy Roth, assistant professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology, Department of Entomology, Iowa State University, Ames. She will be doing double-speaking duty when she makes the 1761-mile trip to UC Davis. Roth will deliver separate talks on honey bees and social wasps. At the May 9th symposium, she'll speak at 11 a.m. on "Combined Effects of Viruses and Nutritional Stress on Honey Bee Health."
A few days later, on Wednesday, May 13, her topic will turn to social paper wasps. She'll present a seminar, hosted by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, on "Molecular Evolution in Insect Societies: Insights from Genomics of Primitively Social Paper Wasps" from 12:10 to 1 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall, off Kleiber Hall Drive.
A little more about social wasps...
"The evolution of highly cooperative, eusocial behavior from solitary ancestry represents one of the major transitions in the evolution of life," she says. "Thus, understanding the evolution of insect eusociality can provide important insights into the evolution of complexity. Recently, with the advent of the genomic era, there has been great interest in understanding the molecular underpinnings of social behavior and its evolution. Several hypotheses about how eusociality have been proposed; these ideas can be roughly divided into two camps—one proposes that eusociality involved new (novel, or rapidly evolving) genes, and the other, that old (deeply conserved) genes took on new functions via shifts in gene regulation."
Toth will provide an overview of recent research in her laboratory "aiming to address the genomic basis of social evolution in insects, with a focus on gene expression. Utilizing a comparative approach involving multiple species and lineages of bees and wasps, as well as denovo sequencing of genomes,transcriptomes, andepigenomes, our work aims to trace the types of genomic changes related to the evolutionary transition from solitary toeusocial behavior."
Toth will present results from several lines of research mainly focused on primitively social Polistes paper wasps, that have led to the following insights:
- Relatively minor shifts in gene expression patterns may accompany earlier stages of social evolution
- Convergent evolution of social behavior in different lineages involves similar gene expression patterns in a small set of key pathways,
- Epigenetic mechanisms such as DNA methylation are variable across species and evolutionarily labile.
"Although more data on additional solitary and social species, and on novel genes, are needed, the emerging picture is that earlier transitions from solitary to simple eusociality involved relatively small changes in gene expression and regulation," Toth points out.
All in all, it's going to be a busy week for Amy Toth. Honey bees first, on Saturday, May 9. The vegetarians. Then their cranky cousins, the social wasps, on Wednesday, May 13. The carnivores.
Right this very minute there are about 1.7 million colonies of bees pollinating California almonds. Since it takes two colonies to pollinate one acre, and California doesn't have that many bees, beekeepers throughout the nation trucked in some 1.6 million colonies.
Feel the buzz!
"Spend a couple days driving on county roads around I5 and Hwy 99 in the Central Valley of California, and you can feel the excitement!" writes Christi Heintz, executive director of Project Apis m. in her February newsletter. "Semi-load trucks are delivering over 400 hives each near orchards."
She lists five February facts:
- Commercially-managed bees are just about ready for the biggest pollination event ON EARTH
- More than 3,500 truckloads of bees have crossed the border into California for the event,
- Almonds will require 1.7 million colonies this season
- If over-wintering losses for honey bees are hovering about the same as previous years (30 percent), almond pollination requires nearly ALL available commercially-managed colonies, and
- Some lucky bees have been able to forage on PAm's Mustard Mix and thus will not starve prior to bloom!
What is Project Apis m.?
As Heintz explains: Project Apis m.'s mission is to fund and direct research to enhance the health and vitality of honey bee colonies while improving crop production. Our organization's name comes from Apis mellifera, the scientific name for the European honey bee. Project Apis m. or PAm is the go-to organization at the interface of honeybees and pollinated crops. We've infused over 2.5 million into bee research since our inception in 2006 to provide growers with healthier bees resulting in better pollination and increased crop yields. We have personal relationships with the nation's commercial beekeepers and with the top bee scientists in the country."
"We fund research studies, purchase equipment for bee labs at our universities, support graduate students and provide scholarships to young bee scientists to encourage their pursuit of science-based solutions to honey bee challenges."
"We are a non-profit 501 (c) (5) organization governed by an eight-member board. Our board members are beekeepers representing the major national and state beekeeping organizations. Four scientific advisors review research proposals and provide recommendations to the board." (Among the long-term advisors: Extension apiculturist (now emeritus) Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.)"
Unfortunately, California is deep in the throes of a four-year drought.
As Heintz notes in her current newsletter: "Last year, we sadly reported that the drought had prevented or delayed emergence of much of our pre-almond bloom flowering plants. This year, though the drought continues, we can happily report we are on target in many areas, with some rain falling at the right time so bees are enjoying planted forage during the usual pre-almond dearth."
Meanwhile, explore the Project Apis m. website: lots of information about what this organization is doing and what it hopes to do.
So we're looking forward to a special seminar by Pennsylvania State University bee scientist Christina Grozinger on "Bee Health: from Genes to Landscapes” on Friday, March 6 at the University of California, Davis.
Grozinger, professor of entomology at Penn State and director of the Center for Pollinator Research, will present the seminar at 1 p.m. in 122 Briggs, off Kleiber Hall Drive. Her host is her former graduate student, Extension apiculturist Elina Niño, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Niño received her doctorate from Penn State.
"Populations of honey bees and other pollinators are in decline globally due to the effects of multiple biotic and abiotic stressors," Grozinger says in her abstract. "We have examined the impacts of several of these stressors (pathogens, parasites, and pesticides) on honey bee workers at the genomic level to determine if they perturb common or distinct pathways, and if these pathways are related to particular physiological functions or social behaviors. Parasitization with Nosema and chronic sublethal pesticide exposure both modulate expression of metabolic and nutrition-related pathways, suggesting that nutritional parameters can mitigate the impact of these stressors."
"Additional testing demonstrated that diet can significantly influence individual bees' sensitivity to pesticides," Grozinger continues. "Furthermore, we have demonstrated that the nutritional quality of floral resources is influenced by environmental conditions, and, in turn, influences foraging preferences of bees. Overall, our results demonstrate that the nutritional quality of floral resources is modulated by multiple factors, bees use nutritional cues while foraging, and high quality nutrition improves bees' resistance to stressors."
Grozinger received her bachelor's degree from McGill University in 1997, her master's degree from Harvard in 1990 and her doctorate from Harvard in 2001. Her areas of expertise include pollinators, honey bees, social insects, genomics, immunity, behavior and physiology. See her website for more about her lab research.
Grozinger's seminar will be video-recorded for later viewing on UCTV Seminars. Matthew Prebus, graduate student in the Phil Ward lab, will record the seminar.