Have you ever received an email, text or postcard from vacationing family or friends with the lead sentence: "Wish you were here?"
Well, in this case, it's "Wish you WAS here!"
Excitement is building for the 40th anniversary conference of the Western Apiculture Society (WAS) of North America, headed by president Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus. WAS returns to its roots on Sept. 5-8 and will be meeting here in Davis. The organization was founded at UC Davis by professor Norm Gary (his idea); postdoctoral fellow Becky Westerdahl, and Eric Mussen, then a new faculty member. Gary is now an emeritus professor; Westerdahl is a Extension nematologist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology; and Mussen, although retired, maintains an office in Briggs Hall where he continues answering questions about bees. This is also his sixth term as WAS president, so the "R" word does not mean "Relax."
The 2017 WAS Conference will provide the following opportunities, according to honey bee guru "Dr. Eric":
- to learn about current scientific honey and native bee research, from the researchers themselves, on varying topics such as foraging behavior, parasites, predators, and diseases of bees
- to speak directly to the researchers concerning their research findings and any other bee-related topics
- to learn specific beekeeping-related information from nationally renowned speakers such as Bee Culture editor Kim Flottum of Ohio, who will discuss "The Rapidly Changing Bee Scene"; Les Crowder of Texas, co-author of the book, Top-Bar Beekeeping: Organic Practices for Honey Bee Health, who will focus on "Managing Honey Bee Colonies in Top-Bar Hives" with co-author Heather Harrell; and Larry Connor of Michigan, who will address more in-depth beekeeping fundamentals with his presentation “Keeping Your Bees Alive and Growing.”
- to discuss your beekeeping styles, successes and difficulties with beekeeping peers from western U.S. states and Canadian provinces
- to meet new friends and to share recent personal information with long-time acquaintances
- to learn about various styles of beekeeping from "leave alone," through "essential intervention," to "intensive intervention"
- to exchange opinions on unique hives and products brought to the conference by various vendors or demonstrated during the tour to UC Davis facilities, the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility and the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden installed in 2009 and anchored by a ceramic-mosaic sculpture of a six-foot-long worker bee, and art coordinated by entomology professor/artist Diane Ullman and self-described rock artist Donna Billick
- to obtain in-depth knowledge on industry concerns, such as pesticide issues
- to participate in a formal honey tasting led by Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center
- to interact with personnel from Mann Lake LTD on a tour to their products showroom, warehouse assembly plant, and liquid sugar blending plant. That tour also includes a visit a highly successful, moderate-sized, retail, gourmet honey packing operation Z Specialty Foods.
(So, those are 10 good reasons. The prez gets an extra bonus point: he provided 11 reasons, and No. 11 is...drum roll...)
- to visit the UC Davis campus, downtown Davis, and the northern Central Valley of America
Another big draw is leadoff speaker and Sonoma County beekeeper Serge Labesque, "who has organized a terrific presentation on the natural seasonal growth and decline of a healthy honey bee colony population living in a hollow tree," Mussen said.
Okay, that's an even dozen!
You can learn more about the WAS meeting on its website. (And be sure to register so you can send your family and friends a note saying "Wish you WAS here.")
He's been beekeeping and playing the clarinet for 69 years.
Meet Norman Gary of Citrus Heights, UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology who retired in 1994 after a 32-year academic career. As an apiculturist and researcher, he authored scores of peer-reviewed publications, and most recently wrote a how-to-book, The Honey Bee Hobbyist: the Care and Keeping of Bees.
Gary, now 83, doesn't keep bees anymore. “I had to give up hobby beekeeping in 2015," he said, "because the equipment is too heavy for me to lift."
Now he feeds wild bees in his yard like some folks do wild birds. And he feeds the birds, too. "They share feeders with no problem," he told us. "Been this way for a million years or more!"
Determined to help bees thrive and survive, Gary feeds them with his patented artificial nectar. "I make it with ordinary table sugar … one part sugar and four parts water. Then I add one tiny drop for flavoring, such as anise, that provides a fragrance that attracts bees. Almost any flavor will work fine … peppermint, lavender, etc. My artificial nectar is as good, maybe better, than natural nectar. At least the bees respond 100 percent! People don't realize that table sugar (sucrose) is perhaps the purest natural product on the market. It is identical to the sucrose found in natural nectar."
During his professional bee wrangler career spanning four decades, Gary trained bees to perform action scenes in movies, television shows and commercials. Among his credits: 18 films, including “Fried Green Tomatoes”; more than 70 television shows, including the Johnny Carson and Jay Leno shows; six commercials, and hundreds of live Thriller Bee Shows in the Western states. Mainly for educational purposes but also for entertainment, he launched the highly sophisticated Thriller Bee Shows, performing more than 100 times in three western states, with venues that included the California State Fair. He drew widespread acclaim for wearing a head-to-toe suit of clustered bees while "Buzzin' with his Bee-Flat Clarinet."
Gary once trained bees to fly into his mouth to collect food from a small sponge saturated with his patented artificial nectar. His holds the Guinness World record (109 bees inside his closed mouth for 10 seconds) for the stunt.
He's also the guy behind the "bee suit" record in the Guinness World Records; Gary clustered more than 87 pounds of bees on a friend.
Today, as a musician, he plays the clarinet, alto sax, tenor sax, and flute. Most of his performances are at senior homes and private parties. He directs and performs with Four for Fun, Mellow Fellas Duo, and the Calamity Jazz Band.
FOUR FOR FUN is considered a "popular 4-piece Dixieland band that plays happy, toe-tapping, upbeat, sing-a-long music that seniors love." The seniors' favorites include "Bill Bailey," "Bourbon Street Parade," "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans," "Georgia" and "Just a Little While To Stay Here." Said Gary: "We love to play at senior homes and also for Mardi Gras parties." All the musicians are seniors who have been playing professionally in the Sacramento area for more than 30 years.
MELLOW FELLAS DU0. Norm Gary plays clarinet and sax, and Bill Rowland is the guitarist and vocalist. Many tunes are sing-a-longs that especially delight the seniors. (Hear samples of their music online at www.mellowfellas.com.) "At senior homes where we are regulars, we usually play three or four gigs per year," he said.
CALAMITY JAZZ BAND. Norm Gary also has a Dixieland Jazz quartet that he books locally as the Calamity Jazz Band. The full Calamity Jazz Band is based in Eugene, Ore. "Whenever the two gals (trumpet and bass sax) who lead this band perform in the Sacramento area, I add a banjo player and we instantly have a wonderful band," he enthused. "We've been playing together for around six years at events in Oregon as well as California."
DR. BACH AND THE JAZZ PRACTIONERS. Norm Gary plays sax and clarinet with this band, featured many times in the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee and the Sacramento Music Festival. (See details about the band.) Tonight (Nov. 30) they are performing at the Straw Hat Pizza in Rancho Cordova.
A local television station, KXTV, Channel 10, recently spotlighted him as the "honey bee charmer of Citrus Heights."
Meanwhile, Norm Gary is loving his post-retirement music career, just as he loves bees. And yes, he still has CDs of his Beez Kneez Dixieland band that he retired several years ago. In addition, Gary provides the sound system for what is billed as "the world's only all women banjo band, GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS," directed by his wife.
It's all music to his ears—and so are the bees.
It's just been announced that the Western Apicultural Society (WAS), founded 40 years ago at UC Davis, will be meeting ...drum roll...Sept. 5-8, 2017 in Davis, Calif.
That's the kind of advance notice we like.
Fortieth anniversary? Is that possible? It is. The group traces its beginnings back to 1977 and founders Norm Gary, UC Davis professor of entomology and noted bee wrangler; newly hired Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen; and Becky Westerdahl, who had just received her doctorate in biology/nematology from UC Riverside. Both Gary and Mussen are retired. (Don't mention the "R" word to them, though! Mussen continues to maintain an office in Briggs Hall, UC Davis, and Gary is a jazz musician who keeps busy playing the "B" or "Bee" flat clarinet, among other instruments.) Westerdahl went on to become an Extension nematologist, based in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Mussen will serve as the program coordinator for the 2017 event, to be held in the Activities and Recreational Center (ARC) on campus. He is already planning a program that will showcase the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, and the adjacent Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Meanwhile, WAS will be meeting in a few weeks--Oct. 13-15--in Honolulu. Two of the speakers are from UC Davis: Eric Mussen, who will discuss pesticides; and Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, an expert in queen breeding.
What's WAS all about? Mussen, a five-time president, remembers hammering out the mission with his colleagues: "WAS is a non-profit, educational, beekeeping organization founded in 1978 for the benefit and enjoyment of all beekeepers in western North America. Membership is encouraged from anywhere in the world. However, the organization is specifically designed to meet the educational needs of beekeepers from the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming as well as the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and the Yukon." Current president is Ethel Villalobos of Hawaii. Niño serves as the second vice president.
The entire country--indeed the entire world--is worried about bee health and the declining bee population. The United States has about 2.6 million colonies, Mussen says, while the number of colonies in California is approximately half a million.
Indeed, Davis, Calif. is the place to "bee" Sept. 5-8, 2017.
This is the bible of the beekeeping world, and rightfully so. It was first published in 1853--which, by the way, happens to be the same year that the European honey bee arrived in California.
Apiarist, minister, and teacher L. L. Langstroth (1810-1895), “The Father of American Beekeeping,” wrote the first edition, then called Langstroth on the Hive and the Honey Bee.
The Hive and the Honey Bee, last updated in 1992, is a massive effort. Published by Dadant, the 1057-page book is the work of dozens of national and international icons in beekeeping science and the beekeeping industry. The book traces the global history of beekeeping to modern day apiculture and spotlights the progress, problems and achievements along the way. European colonists brought the honey bee to America (Jamestown colony) in 1622.
Gary wrote a chapter on “Activities and Behavior of Honey Bees"; Mussen, “Injury to Honey Bees by Poisoning"; and Cobey, “Instrumental Insemination of Honey Bee Queens.”
“It has taken us until the 21st Century to realize just how important these hardworking insects are and their significance in the integrity of the environment is, at least, beginning to be fully understood,” wrote Richard Jones, director emeritus of the International Bee Research Association, Cardiff, United Kingdom, in the first chapter. “There are many threats to honey bees and the possibility of their demise has sharpened interest in them and in turn led to further investigating, scientific research and the dissemination of more material on their management and well-being.”
Gary opened his chapter with “The activities and behaviors of honey bees haven't changed significantly in thousands of years! What has changed is our understanding of how and why bees behave as they do.”
Mussen began his chapter with “Honey bees have been exposed to naturally occurring intoxicants and poisons for tens of millions of years. Their exposure was limited mostly to toxicants that were components of nectar and pollen or naturally occurring gases such as methane from anaerobic breakdown of organic wastes.”
“While flying as many as four miles from the hive in their quest for water, nectars, pollens and propolis, a fifty-square mile potential area of coverage, forages are likely to encounter many different chemicals and organisms,” Mussen wrote.
In her chapter on instrumental insemination, Cobey wrote: “The ability to control honey bee mating is essential for stock improvement and a valuable research tool. Instrumental insemination provides complete control of the random honey be mating behavior.”
Cobey noted that queens “mate in flight with an average of 10 to 20 drones in congregating areas consisting of 10,000 to 30,000 drones from diverse genetic sources.”
Former manager of the Harry H.Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, Cobey served UC Davis from 2007 to 2012 when she joined the WSU Department of Entomology. With a strong background in practical bee breeding for the commercial industry, she developed a collaborative honey bee stock improvement and maintenance program, partnering with the California queen producers. She coordinated a project to develop techniques for the international transport of honey beegermplasm. Under a permit from the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), germplasm collected from Old World European honey bees was successfully imported and incorporated into domestic breeding stocks to enhance U.S. honey bees. Cobey developed information and outreach programs to assist beekeepers in honey bee breeding methods, providing instructional material and workshops in queen rearing and instrumental insemination, presented locally and internationally.
Norm Gary, Eric Mussen, Susan Cobey--three UC Davis scientists who made a difference in the beekeeping world and are sharing their expertise.
The "bee bible" belongs on the bookshelf of every bee scientist, beekeeper, and bee enthusiast.
(Editor's Note: The price for the new edition is $54.50 plus shipping, and the books can be ordered now from the Dadant web site: www.dadant.com or purchased at any of the Dadant branches. The toll-free order line for the Hamilton, Ill., home office is 1-888-922-1293.)
It was good to see the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) conduct its recent "Be a Scientist" project. Thousands of participants across the state counted pollinators (and also mapped places where food is grown and checked off the ways they are conserving water), according to Pam Kan-Rice, assistant director, News and Information Outreach, UC ANR.
In a news release posted this week, she reported that "10,697 people counted pollinators, including bees, butterflies, bird and even a few bats."
“It's encouraging to see so many Californians interested in pollinators because they play a vital role in producing food,” said Barbara Allen-Diaz, UC vice president for agriculture and natural resources, in the news release. “People are conserving water in many different ways, which is important because water is a limited resource even in non-drought years. And, surprisingly, almost half of the people participating in our survey said they grow food.”
"Preliminary results," Kan-Rice reported, "show that people counted 37,961 pollinators in a three-minute period. Flies were by far the most abundant, accounting for 79 percent of the pollinators counted."
Meanwhile, on the national level, the Pollinator Partnership announced that National Pollinator Week, established by U.S. Congress in 2007, is growing by leaps and bounds. (Or maybe by wings and feet.)
In a press release, the Pollinator Partnership officials wrote: "Pollinators, like bees, butterflies, birds and other animals, bring us one in every three bites of food, protect our environment. They form the underpinnings of a healthy and sustainable future."
One of the many ways we can protect our pollinators is to pass the Highways BEE Act, introduced in Congress by Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) and Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), co-chairs of the Congressional Pollinator Protection Caucus (CP2C), to create and/or preserve pollinator habitat along our highways. Individuals, along with regional and local organizations, are signing an online petition at http://www.pollinator.org/BEEAct.htm.
BEE is an acronym for "Bettering the Economy and Environment" Pollinator Protection Act.
And at the UC Davis level, the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology is hosting an open house at its Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Friday night, June 20, in observation of National Pollinator Week. The event, free and open to the public, will take place from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus. Visitors will receive zinnia seeds until they're all gone.
The bee garden, installed next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility in the fall of 2009 with generous financial support from the premier ice cream company, is a year-around food source for bees and is also intended to raise public awareness of the plight of the honey bees and to provide ideas on what to plant in our own gardens.
When you walk through the front gates, you'll immediately see the six-foot-long mosaic ceramic honey bee created by self-described "rock artist" Donna Billick, co-founder and co-director of the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program. It's anatomically correct right down to the wax glands.