Imagine watching your honey bees gathering nectar from star thistle--which some beekeepers claim makes the best honey. (Yes, Centaurea solstitialis is an invasive weed. The love-hate relationship runs deep; farmers and environmentalists hate it; beekeepers love it.)
Then imagine you picking up one of the top prizes in the country for having the best honeycomb--made from star thistle honey.
That's what happened when Miss Bee Haven Honey of Brentwood, Calif., entered its honey in the national Good Foods Awards competition and won one of the top 2017 awards. Their bees, based in numerous locations, primarily forage in the San Francisco Bay Area and along the Delta.
Fast forward to today. There's still time to fill out the forms to enter your honey in the next Good Foods Awards competition; the deadline is Monday, July 31. Only the form--not the honey--is due July 31. The honey can be the August harvest, as the judging won't take place until Sept. 17 in San Francisco, said Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, who coordinates the contest. She announced that awards will be given in four subcategories: Liquid and Naturally Crystallized, Creamed, Comb, and Infused Honey.
Dates to keep in mind, in addition to the July 31 entry deadline (see entry information and the full criteria for honey) are Sept. 17 when the blind tasting takes place in San Francisco (entrants will be asked to ship their product a week in advance; and October 2017 (high scoring products undergo sustainability vetting) and November 2017 (when finalists are announced).
Harris says there are more than 300 unique types of honey in the United States. "The Good Food Awards," she said, "will showcase honeys most distinctive in clarity and depth of flavor, produced by beekeepers practicing good animal husbandry and social responsibility."
Harris and master beekeeper/journalist Mea McNeil of San Anselmo are coordinating the honey committee, which also includes
- Emily Brown, Owner, AZ Queen Bee
- Mark Carlson, Beekeeping instructor and entomologist, Round Rock Honey Beekeeping School
- Kim Flottum, editor, Bee Culture Magazine
- Marina Marchese, Founder, The American Honey Tasting Society and co-author The Honey Connoisseur
- Terry Oxford, Owner, UrbanBee San Francisco
The 2017 winners who took home the bragging rights:
- Bee Girl, Bee Girl Honey, Oregon
- Bee Local, Bee Local Sauvie Honey, Oregon
- Bee Squared Apiaries, Rose Honey, Colorado
- Bees' Needs, Fabulous Fall, New York
- Bloom Honey Orange Blossom, California
- Gold Star Honeybees, Gold Star Honey, Maine
- Hani Honey Company, Raw Creamed Wildflower Honey, Florida
- Mikolich Family Honey, Sage and Wild Buckwheat, California
- MtnHoney, Comb Honey Chunk, Georgia
- Posto Bello Apiaries, Honey, Maine
- Sequim Bee Farm, Honey, Washington
- Simmons Family Honey, Saw Palmetto Honey, Georgia
- Two Million Blooms, Raw Honey, Illinois
- UrbanBeeSF, Tree Blossom Honey Quince and Tree Blossom Honey, Napa, California
The Honey and Pollination Center is affiliated with the UC Davis Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. For more information contact Amina Harris at (530) 754-9301 or email@example.com.
When the inaugural California Honey Festival buzzed into Woodland on Saturday, May 6, organizers figured attendance might total around 3,000.
No. It did not. It tallied about 20,000, according to organizer Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center.
And this was the inaugural one! Next year is the second annual...
The festival was all about honey, bees, and beekeepers. Just as the queen bee reigns in a colony, bee products reigned at the festival: honey, honeycomb, beeswax candles and bee pollen.
The mission, said Harris, was "to promote honey, honey bees and their products, and beekeeping through this unique educational platform, to the broader public."
A key attraction was Apis Inlusio, a sculpture art car designed to look like a bee. Built for the 2013 Burning Man Festival, it is based in San Francisco.
Another key attraction was the colorful walk-around-bee character (inside was Benji Shade of the Woodland Christian School). Photographers considered her very "bee-coming." Teacher Jessica Hiatt did the talking (bees don't talk).
Margaret Lombard, chief executive officer of the National Honey Board, based in Firestone, Colo., was among those speaking on the Beekeeper Stage, one of five stages at the festival.
Among the other speakers:
- Billy Synk, director of Pollination Programs for Project Apis m., Paso Robles, and former manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility;
- Elina Niño, Extension apiculturist based in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
- Vicki Wojcik, research director of Pollinator Partnership, San Francisco
- Gene Brandi of Gene Brandi Apiaries, Los Banos (he is active in the California State Beekeepers' Association, the American Beekeeping Federation and the National Honey Board)
Bernardo Niño of the Elina Niño lab kept busy answering questions how how to become a beekeeper and how to become a master beekeeper.
The California Honey Festival is over, but there's another activity on the bee horizon: The 40th annual Western Apicultural Society meeting, set from Sept. 5-6 in Davis, where it all began. Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen, one of the co-founders, is serving his sixth term as president. It's an educational conference that's open to all interested persons who want to learn more about bees and beekeeping.
The inaugural California Honey Festival, to take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, May 6 on a four-block stretch in historic downtown Woodland, will draw folks from all over state and beyond. And it's free and open to the public.
Coordinated by Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, the festival will offer honey sampling, mead, live bands, talks on beekeeping and bee friendly plants, and vendors offering bee-related wares. And that's just the "bee-ginning."
At the Honey Lab, located in the UC Davis booth, members of the UC Davis Master Beekeeper Program and knowlegeable volunteers will teach festival-goers about "all things honey."
Some of the activities at the Honey Lab booth:
- Taste honey from around the world and check out the giant honey flavor and aroma wheel
- Learn about UC Davis beekeeping and the California Master Beekeeper Program
- Follow how honey is made from flower to bottle
- Marvel at the life cycle of a honey bee, starting with an egg and resulting in a bee just a couple weeks later
- Learn what is harming our bees
- Peruse the different kinds of bee hives and how they work
- Purchase books and UC Davis honey from the UC Davis bookstore
"The California Honey Festival's mission is to promote honey, honey bees and their products, and beekeeping through this unique educational platform, to the broader public," said Harris. "Through lectures and demonstrations, the festival will help develop an interest in beekeeping by the younger generation. Attendees will learn about the myriad of issues that confront honey bees including pesticide use, diseases and even the weather! In addition, attendees can learn how to creatively plant their gardens to help feed all of our pollinators. It is important for the community to appreciate and understand the importance of bees as the lead pollinator of many of our crops adding to the food diversity we have come to enjoy."
Brandi, who spoke at a 2015 symposium at UC Davis, said that the major issues that negatively impact colonies include pesticides, varroa mites, nutritional issues and diseases. "It's much more difficult to keep bees alive and healthy today than it was in the 1970s," he told his audience. "I had a 5 percent winter loss in the 1970s, and a 13 to 45 percent winter loss in his operation during the past 10 years."
Among the many other speakers: Extension apiculturist Elina Niño, booked from 11 to 11:45 a.m. and from 2 to 2:45 p.m., and Billy Synk, director of pollination programs for Project Apis m., and former manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Honey Bee Facility at UC Davis. Sync speaks from 12 to 12:45.
The California Honey Festival website includes a program schedule.
Expect lots of honey--which has been described as "the soul of a field of flowers."
Orchid bee researcher Santiago Ramirez, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology, will discuss his work on Sunday, May 7 at the third annual UC Davis Bee Symposium in the UC Davis Conference Center on Alumni Drive. He'll speak at 10:45 a.m. on “The Evolution and Chemical Ecology of Orchid Bees.”
The all-day symposium, sponsored by the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, begins at 9 a.m. with registration and a continental breakfast. Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollination Center, and Neal Williams, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will welcome the crowd. Registration for the event continues today through Wednesday, May 3.
Orchid bees, distributed throughout South and Central America, are easily distinguished by their brilliant metallic coloration, primarily green, gold and blue.
“Insects rely more on chemical signals than on any other sensory modality to find, identify, and choose mates,” Ramirez points out. “Euglossine--or orchid--bees constitute a diverse group of conspicuous insect pollinators from tropical America. Male euglossine bees do not produce their own pheromones, but instead gather and accumulate perfume compounds from orchid flowers, fungi, and other resources, to subsequently present to females during courtship display.”
The intellectual merit? “Most insects rely on chemical signals (semiochemicals) to gain precise information on the location, identity, and quality of potential mates," Ramirez says. “Despite the ubiquity and importance of semiochemicals across the insect phylogeny, the underlying genetic and molecular mechanisms that control signal chemistry and signal detection remain poorly understood. Moreover, whether insect sex semiochemicals mediate reproductive isolation, speciation, and lineage diversification remains surprisingly unexplored given the vast diversity and ecological dominance of insects on Earth.”
His project involves integrating diverse techniques from multiple disciplines, including behavioral ecology, chemical ecology, population genetics, functional genomics, and neuroethology “to answer specific questions about the genetic basis, function, and evolution of chemosensory communication in arguably one of the most important groups of insect pollinators in the American tropics.”
“This project offers unique training and educational opportunities,” he says. “One postdoctoral researcher, one graduate student, and several undergraduate assistants will receive training in entomology, chemical ecology, population genetics, molecular biology, and neuroethology.”
Ramirez expects the field and laboratory work in South and Central America to “foster greater international cooperation, broadening our impact in the education and training of future scientists from diverse backgrounds. We have a track record of collaborating intimately with museums, public exhibits, filmmakers, botanical gardens, and educational institutions to disseminate our work on euglossine bees and their intricate associations with orchids.”
“They are extremely charismatic organisms and we are currently planning to join forces with a botanical garden to install an interactive exhibit on euglossine bees," he says. "Our research will contribute toward the wider goal of gaining a better understanding of the natural world, including key organisms such as insect pollinators. The results derived from this investigation are likely to be of interest to the general public.”
Ramirez received his bachelor's degree in biology, with honors, from the Universidad de los Andes (Colombia) in 2001, and his doctorate in organismic and evolutionary biology from Harvard University in 2008. He served as a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley from 2008 to 2012 before joining the UC Davis faculty in 2013.
Keynote speaker at the event is Steve Sheppard, Thurber Professor of Apiculture and chair of the Department of Entomology, Washington State University (WSU), Pullman, Wash. His topic is "Bees, Mushrooms and Liquid Nitrogen--What?" Sheppard's research involves improving honey bee health through breeding and alternative treatment approaches. He specializes in population genetics and evolution of honey bees, insect introductions and mechanisms of genetic differentiation.
Among the other speakers:
- Extension apiculturist Elina Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology will introduce the apprentice-level California Master Beekeepers and present them with pins
- Researcher Maj Rundlöf, International Career Grant Fellow, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will discuss “Flowering Crops: A Tricky Treat for Bees”
- Veterinarian Michael Karle of the Mid-Valley Veterinary Hospital, Oakland, will speak on "The New FDA Rule on the Use of Antibiotics in Hives"
- Margaret Lombard, chief executive officer of the National Honey Board, to discuss "Good as Gold: Growing Opportunities for the Small-Scale Honey Producer."
Also included will be a "Lightning Round," with each presentation spanning four to six minutes.
- "Bumble Bee Cognition in the Wild" by Felicity Muth, postdoctoral researcher, Department of Biology, University of Nevada, Reno
- "Habitat Planting for Bees," by the Neal Williams' lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
- "Optical Tagging of Bees to Track Individual Movements in colonies" by Stacey Combes, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior
- "Planet Bee: Citizen Bee Projects" by Debra Tomaszewski, executive director and co-founder of the Bay Area's Planet Bee Foundation
- "Plants and Pesticides: Keeping Bees Healthy with Ornamental Horticulture" by Christine Casey, program representative, Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, UC Davis
Graduate students throughout California will be showcasing their pollinator-related research in the Graduate Student Poster Competition, a traditional part of the symposium. The winners will be announced at 4:15, at the conclusion of the symposium. Awards are first place, $1000; second place, $750; third, $500; and fourth, $250.
To register for the symposium, access http://honey.ucdavis.edu/events/2017-bee-symposium. Amina Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
If you like writing with light (photography), then you'll probably love capturing images of honey bees spinning like helicopters.
In the late afternoon, when the light softens, head over to your favorite Spanish lavender patch. Pull up a chair, listen to the buzz of the bees, and watch them spin their wings somewhat like helicopters do their blades.
Such was the case yesterday. The bees were buzzing so loud in the patch of lavender, Lavandula stoechas, that they sounded like spring unleashed. That buzz you hear is their wings; they've been recorded at 200 beats per second. Honey bees can be long-distance travelers; they can forage up to five or six miles, and can move about 15 miles per hour.
Those streaming purple petals topping the bloom are actually sterile bracts--Wikipedia defines a bract as "a modified or specialized leaf, especially one associated with a reproductive structure such as a flower, inflorescence axis, or cone scale." The bracts resemble rabbit ears, but ironically, Spanish lavender is rabbit-resistant and deer resistant (which is probably why there are no deer or rabbits in our urban yard!)
Meanwhile, if you've been wanting to learn more about honey bees, mark your calendar for these events in Davis and Woodland, Yolo County.
California Honey Festival: The inaugural California Honey Festival will take place Saturday, May 6 in downtown Woodland. Associated with the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, it will be held outdoors (Main Street), encompassing four blocks. It's free and open to the public. Expect beekeeper talks, booths, vendors, music, mead, honey tasting and lots of fun, says Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollinator Center See http://californiahoneyfestival.com.
UC Davis Bee Symposium: The Honey and Pollination Center and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology are sponsoring their third annual Bee Symposium, "Keeping Bees Healthy," on Sunday, May 7 in the UC Davis Conference Center. Keynote speaker is noted apiculturist Steve Sheppard of Thurber Professor of Apiculture and chair of the Department of Entomology, Washington State University, Pullman, Wash. Sheppard specializes in population genetics and evolution of honey bees, insect introductions and mechanisms of genetic differentiation. He also heads the Apis Molecular Systematics Laboratory. Registration is underway at http://honey.ucdavis.edu/events/2017-bee-symposium.
Western Apicultural Society (WAS): Founded 40 year ago at UC Davis, WAS will return to its roots for its next conference, set from Sept. 5-8 in Davis. Its president is Eric Mussen, UC Extension apiculturist emeritus, who is based in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. He's a familiar face; he's one of the three WAS co-founders and he's serving his sixth term as president. The conference open to the public. Registration is underway on the WAS website, http://www.westernapiculturalsociety.org.