The day originated back in the 1800s as a way to recognize and thank farmers for all the work they do to feed our nation--and the world.
It's also time to thank a beekeeper.
When beekeeper Kim Flottum of northeast Ohio, the 30-year editor of Bee Culture, addressed the recent Western Apicultural Society's 40th annual conference at UC Davis, he predicted that the nation's 250,000 beekeepers (who manage around 4 million colonies) will turn into a million beekeepers in five years.
A million. We can only hope!
Flottum applauded "the incredible rise of new beekeepers in the last 10 years."
"The urban, surburban and country beekeepers are younger than the norm and we have more women beekeepers than ever," said Flottum, who launched the magazine, BEEKeeping, Your First Three Years, two years ago. "This isn't like the 1970s Green Movement--I'm old enough to remember that. It's got legs! But watch out for an ugly urban disaster like a major beespill or bad honey recall."
Beekeepers are becoming more and more diverse, specializing in honey production, pollination services and queen bee breeding. Pollination services and queen bee breeding are the most profitable, Flottum said. Honey, not so much.
"If I'm in beekeeping, pollination services is sure bet," he said. "Beekeepers now get 200 bucks a colony for almond pollination in California. Pollination is more profitable than honey. Bee breeding? Queens can sell for as much as $40 or $50."
"In the United States, we eat on the average 1.2 pounds a year, but in Canada, it's 2.5 or 2.4 pounds." He lamented that unsafe and/or questionable honey from China floods our nation's supermarkets and is being sold at undercut prices. (Some statistics indicate that a "third or more of all the honey consumed in the U.S. is likely to have been smuggled in from China and may be tainted with illegal antibiotics and heavy metals"--Food Safety News.)
It's important for American beekeepers to label their honey "Made in America" or localize it by city or state, he said.
Flottum also touched on such issues as honey bee health, nutrition, loss of habitat, poor quality forage, and pesticides.
The varroa mite/virus is the No. 1 problem for beekeepers, he said. "Other stresses include nutrition, nosema, pesticides...All of these can be fixed with money, increased diversity of bee stock, and a move way from both ag and in-hive legal and illegal chemicals."
Meanwhile, thankfully, the appreciation of honey bees seems to be growing. Brought here in 1622 by European colonists in Jamestown, Va., bees now pollinate about one-third of the food we eat.
Happy Farmers' Day. Happy Beekeepers' Day.
(Editor's Note: Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño and her colleagues at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, teach beekeeping and bee health workshops. See the Niño lab at http://elninobeelab.ucdavis.edu/. The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center is hosting a two-day course on honey, Nov. 10-11.)
So there they were, the bride and groom, culminating their vows.
We spotted them in Vacaville, Calif., clinging to a passion flower vine (Passiflora), their host plant--just the two of them, the female Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) and the male.
Two's company? Not for long.
Soon other Gulf Frits descended on them.
Two's company, three's a crowd. Where did all those uninvited guests come from? They're everywhere!
All went well, though. The guests fluttered off, leaving the couple alone and allowing the photographer to engage in insect wedding photography.
Gulf Frits are incredibly beautiful, what with their bright orange wings with black markings, and underside, their elongated silver iridescence spots. A touch of the tropics!
Gulf Frits have been around a long time in the Bay Area--more than a century, according to Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis. "This dazzling bit of the New World Tropics was introduced into southern California in the 19th century--we don't know how--and was first recorded in the Bay Area before 1908, though it seems to have become established there only in the 1950s," Shapiro writes on his website. "It can be quite common in the East and South Bay--particularly in Berkeley--and has been found breeding spontaneously as far inland as Fairfield, where, however, it is not established."
"There are scattered records in the Central Valley and even up to Folsom, perhaps resulting from people breeding the species for amusement or to release at social occasions. According to Hal Michael, who grew up in South Sacramento, this species bred there in abundance on garden Passiflora in the early 1960s. It seems to have died out by the early 1970s, however. Intolerant of hard freezes, it still managed to survive the record cold snap of 1990 that largely exterminated the Buckeye regionally!"
Shapiro says that in the Bay Area "this species can be seen flying any day of the year, if it is warm and sunny enough."
Thankfully, that's not all they do.
Coming soon to a passion flower vine near you--eggs, caterpillars, chrysalids, and then those gorgeous butterflies!
It's not every beekeeper who can say they've owned--and used--a smoker for 70 years.
"Bee Man" Norman Gary can.
And he displayed it at the Western Apicultural Society's 40th annual conference, held recently at UC Davis.
Gary, who initiated and spearheaded the founding of WAS while a professor of apiculture at UC Davis, told the 150 conference participants that he's owned the smoker since age 13. And, holding it up, he promised that it would be auctioned off at the society's 50th conference. "But I won't be here."
Gary, 84, a resident of the Sacramento area, was introduced as a noted apiculturist, scientist, author, bee wrangler and musician. "His 70-year career with bees includes hobby and commercial beekeeping, 32 years as an entomology professor teaching apiculture at UC Davis, more than 40 years as a bee research scientist and more than 100 publications," WAS president Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus, told the crowd.
Mussen added that Gary wrote the popular book, Honey Bee Hobbyist; The Care and Keeping of Bees, and "he spent 40 years as a consultant and bee stunt coordinator for 17 movies, 70 TV shows and six TV commercials."
Taking the podium, Norm Gary related that he co-founded the society with Mussen, newly arrived at UC Davis in 1976 with a doctorate in entomology from the University of Minnesota; and postdoctoral fellow Becky Westerdahl, now an Extension nematologist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Chronicling the history of WAS, Gary recalled how much he enjoyed attending the Eastern Apicultural Society (EAS) meetings as a graduate student and post doc at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., and thought "Why not a Western Apicultural Soicety?"
"I was a young man then," he said, "but I don't remember being young."
Gary, the oldest of five children, spent his childhood in a small, central Florida farming community known as Oak (near Ocala). Insects, especially honey bees, have fascinated him since age four.
Gary singled out four important points about honey bees "that you should all remember."
- Bees feed us. "Bees are responsible for one-third of our food supply."
- Honey bees are never "aggressive," and "don't ever use that word; bees are 'defensive' when they are defending their colonies. They defend their nest by stinging. Bees foraging for flowers--they will not sting you unless you step on one."
- "Bees do not ever, ever regurgitate. They suck up liquid nectar and it goes into a special storage chamber, not the stomach. When they get back to their hive, they unload it." In other words, honey is not vomit or barf, he emphasized.
- "Honey bees are real bees. Why do you insist on spelling 'honeybee' as one word? Honey bee is two words."
Case in Point: Honey Bee or Honey Bees? Richard Levine, former communications manager for the Entomological Society of America (ESA), said it well in a piece published in the May 6, 2014 edition of Entomology Today:
"The reason for the discrepancy is that entomologists use two words if a common name accurately describes the order to which a particular insect belongs. For example, all true flies belong to the order Diptera, so true fly names will be spelled using two words by entomologists — house fly, horse fly, pigeon fly, or stable fly, for example. However, despite their names, dragonflies and butterflies are NOT true flies — their orders are Odonata and Lepidoptera, respectively — so they are spelled as one word.
"The same goes for 'bed bug' or 'stink bug,'” both of which are true bugs in the order Hemiptera, which is why they are spelled as two words in the entomological community," Levine wrote. "However, insects that are not in the order Hemiptera, like billbugs or sowbugs, are spelled as one word.
"Likewise, honey bees and bumble bees are true bees in the order Hymenoptera, so entomologists spell them as two words, even though the dictionaries and newspapers spell them as one."
"Bee Man" Norman Gary could not agree more.
The insects he loves--the insects that have fascinated him for 70 years and counting--are "honey bees," not "honeybees."
Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño of the University of California, Davis, and staff research associate Bernardo Niño are planning three classes this fall and one deals specifically with “Varroa Mite Management Strategies.” The all-day short course starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 22 in the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, 1 Bee Biology Road, west of the UC Davis central campus.
Current beekeeping challenges call for all beekeepers to have a solid understanding of varroa mite biology and management approaches, the husband-wife Niño team said. “We will dive deeper into understanding varroa biology and will devote the majority of the time to discussing pros and cons of various means to monitor mitigate and manage this crucial honey bee pest.”
The course modules will cover varroa biology, effect of varroa on honey bee colonies, non-chemical management, and chemical options. The practical modules will cover mite monitoring, treatment applications, data/record keeping and inspection of colonies for varroa.
The varroa course is limited to 25 participants, who are asked to bring their bee suit/veil if they own one. The $175 registration fee covers the cost of course materials, lunch and refreshments. Registration is underway at https:registration.ucdavis.edu/Item/Details/342. The last day to register is Wednesday, Sept. 20. The blood-sucking varroa mite, which can also transmit diseases, crippling and decimating a hive, is considered a beekeeper's No. 1 enemy.
Bernardo will speak on beehive iterations on Thursday afternoon, Sept. 7 during a conference tour of the Laidlaw facility from 1 to 4. This is part of several education stations planned at the facility and the nearby bee garden, the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, both operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. There's still time to register for the Western Apicultural Society conference.
Then in October, the Niños will teach two more classes at the Laidlaw facility as part of their fall schedule: “Planning Ahead for Your First Hives” is on Saturday, Oct. 7; and “Queen Rearing Basics” is on Friday, Oct. 20. Both are one-day short courses set from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Laidlaw facility.
Planning Ahead for Your First Hive, Saturday, Oct. 7, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.: Participants will learn about and practice many aspects of what is necessary to get the colony started and keep it healthy and thriving. This short course will include lectures and hands-on exercises. “This course is perfect for those who have little or no beekeeping experience and would like to obtain more knowledge and practical skills to move on to the next step of owning and caring for their own honey bee colonies,” the Niños said. At the end of the course participants will be knowledgeable about installing honey bee packages, monitoring their own colonies and possible challenges with maintaining a healthy colony.
Lecture modules will cover honey bee biology, beekeeping equipment, how to start your colony and maladies of the hive. Practical modules will cover how to build a hive, how to install a package, how to insect your hive and how to monitor for varroa mites.
The course is limited to 25 participants; participants are asked to bring their bee suit or veil if they own one. The $95 registration fee covers the cost of course materials (including a hive tool), lunch and refreshments. Registration is underway at https://registration.ucdavis.edu/Item/Details/314. The last day to register is Friday, Oct. 6.
Queen-Rearing Basics, Friday, Oct. 20, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.. Participants will have an opportunity to learn about the theory behind the queen rearing strategies and topics from basic queen biology to basics of breeding honey bees. “This course is perfect for those who want to learn more about the most important individual in their colonies or have been thinking about rearing the own queens, but might not feel ready to do hands-on exercise," the Niños said.
Topics covered will include honey bee queen biology, ideal rearing conditions, various queen rearing techniques, mating new queens, installing new queens and basic breeding principles. The course is limited to 25 participants who have basic beekeeping experience. The $125 registration fee covers the cost of breakfast, lunch and refreshments. Registration is underway at https://registration.ucdavis.edu/Item/Details/341. The last day to register is Wednesday, Oct. 18.
About the Niño Team: Elina Niño holds a doctorate in entomology from Pennsylvania State University and Bernardo Niño holds a master's degree in entomology from North Carolina State University.
Through her extension activities, Elina works to support beekeepers and the beekeeping industry. Her lab offers a variety of beekeeping courses and educational opportunities for beekeepers, future beekeepers, other agricultural professionals and the public. Most recently, her lab has implemented the first ever California Master Beekeeper Program. Her research interests encompass basic and applied approaches to understanding and improving honey bee health and particularly honey bee queen health. Ongoing research projects include understanding the synergistic effects of pesticides on queen health and adult workers in order to improve beekeeping management practice, testing novel biopesticides for efficacy against varroa mites, a major pest of bees, and understanding the benefits of supplemental forage in almond orchards on honey bee health.
Bernardo, whose master's degree dealt with the population and genetic colony structure of the Eastern subterranean termite, switched to honey bees eight years ago. He now keeps “more than 130 colonies “happily buzzing to accommodate the needs of all the researchers in the lab,” and leads projects on varroa control and honey bee health. He has also developed a number of educational programs for diverse audiences and for the past seven years he has been involved with organizing and running queen rearing workshops and serving as the program supervisor of the California Master Beekeeper Program.
For more information, access the Niño lab website at http://elninobeelab.ucdavis.edu/. Be sure to read Elina's newsletter, UC Davis Apiculture, linked on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology home page. You can also keep in touch with the Niño lab's Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/elninolab/
It's August, 2007 and bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, University of California, Davis, is opening a hive in the apiary.
"Girls, where's your mother?” she asks again, pulling out another frame.
She quickly locates the queen bee, "the mother of them all." And "all" is not right in the bee world.
Susan "Sue" Cobey wants to "build a better bee."
Cobey, now a bee breeder-geneticist at Washington State University, seeks to maximize the good traits and minimize the bad traits. By controlling the genetics of honey bees (Apis mellifera), she says, researchers can breed stronger, more survivable bees--bees able to withstand such pests as varroa mites and such maladies as colony collapse disorder. “Controlled mating is the basic foundation of all stock improvement programs.”
Cobey who joined Washington State University's Department of Entomology in 2010, works with department chair and bee scientist Walter "Steve" Sheppard, who researches population genetics and evolution of honey bees, insect introductions and mechanisms of genetic differentiation; and bee scientist Brandon Hopkins, an expert on cryopreservation of bee semen.
"Building a better bee” involves collecting bee semen (germplasm) in European countries, including Italy, Slovenia, Germany, and the Republic of Kazakhstan. Those countries, she points out, rear bees with favorable genetic traits, such as resistance to varroa mites, the No. 1 enemy of beekeepers in the United States.
The dwindling gene pool diversity in the United States is troublesome, Cobey says. Although European colonists brought honey bees to the Jamestown colony in 1622, live honey bee imports have been banned in the United States since 1922.
So Cobey has been traveling to Europe since 2006--every year but 2016--to collect bee semen. “It took me 22 years to get that first permit," says Cobey. "It was opening the Canadian border to Europe that turned it--politics, not biology-based. We started asking (to collect bee semen in Europe) in the early 1980s with Harry Laidlaw's backing."
"My first trip to Europe was in 2006 from Ohio State University for carnica (Apis mellifera carnica, a darker subspecies) bee stock," recalled Cobey, who studied and trained with Harry Laidlaw, the father of honey bee genetics. Cobey joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology in 2007 and a year later, she began collecting bee semen in Europe with Steve Sheppard. The WSU bee breeding program involves crossbreeding honey bees to bolster their genetic traits. WSU is the only lab in the country with permits to import bee semen, and the only laboratory with the ability to freeze it. The WSU team uses liquid nitrogen to preserve the bee semen.
The European trip was memorable and productive. "Slovenia is a beautiful country with a long tradition of beekeeping," Cobey said.
"In Semič, Slovenia, we collected bee semen, met with the local beekeepers and gave presentations about our program,” Cobey said. “Afterwards we celebrated with a feast of roasted pig, hosted by Stane Plut."
"What a trip that was (to Italy and Slovenia)!" said Park-Burris. "Slovenia only allows the beekeepers to keep Carniolan bees. Sue was in heaven and it was fun to see how excited she got about her bees. Likewise I was really happy to see the Italy stock in Bologna again. The beekeepers there were so excited that we wanted more of their stock. Their hospitality was overwhelming."
Park-Burris marveled that the Slovenians keep almost all of their hives in "houses" and "then they paint pictures on them that tell a story. It was very interesting. One Slovenian told me that they treat their bees like pets and that was so true!"
Cobey is an international authority on the instrumental insemination of queen bees. She's taught the specialized technique for more than three decades, instructing students how to extract semen from a drone, and inseminate an anesthetized virgin queen. Magnified images on a computer screen help illustrate the procedure.
Cobey began training students in instrumental insemination in 1984. "This has taken me all over the world--currently I have invitations/inquiries to six countries," said Cobey, who has set up a lab at her home on Whidbey Island to teach workshops. Husband Timothy Lawrence, also a veteran beekeeper, is an associate professor and the county director (Island County) of Washington State University Extension.
"I receive three to five requests for classes per day here; I'm sorting these to the most needed/most serious," Cobey said. "The interest is much more serious. But note--still many struggle with this, as there are many aspects, including the specialized beekeeping that goes with it."
Cobey recently taught UC Davis staff research associates and beekeepers Bernardo Niño and Charley Nye of the Elina Lastro Niño lab in a three-day class in her lab. "I'm just doing small classes so I can give more individual attention, and concentrate on the details. So I have just three or four people per class. I hope UC Davis starts some classes as the interest is overwhelming." A UC Davis goal is to offer classes in 2018 or 2019, according to Niño.
Some of Cobey's students go on to teach others the technique. UC Davis graduate Elizabeth Frost learned from Susan Cobey while working as her staff research associate at the Laidlaw facility. "She is now teaching instrumental insemination in Australia," Cobey said.
Cobey traces her interest in bees back to the 1970s. After enrolling in a student exchange program in entomology in 1975 at Oregon State University, Corvallis, she received her bachelor's degree in entomology in 1976 from the University of Delaware, Newark. From 1978 to 1980, she worked at UC Davis, where she was influenced by Harry Laidlaw (1907-2003).
Laidlaw perfected artificial bee insemination technology. “He discovered the valve fold in the queen bee which hinders injection of semen into the lateral oviducts,” Cobey said. “He developed instrumentation to bypass the valve fold enabling the success of bee insemination.”
Utilizing the training, Cobey established the Vaca Valley Apiaries in Vacaville in 1982, developing the highly regarded New World Carniolan Breeding Program. The Carniolans, originally from the Austrian Alps and the Balkans, are darker than the popular Italian honey bees, the most common subspecies in the United States. The Carniolans are known for their gentle behavior, and may be more suited to cooler weather.
In 1990 Cobey pulled up roots—and hives—and settled in Ohio, serving as staff apiarist at the Rothenbuhler Honey Bee Research Laboratory at Ohio State University until accepting the staff research associate position and manager of the UC Davis facility in 2007.
Now she's focused on the WSU bee breeding program, which produces breeder queen bees, which are then provided to commercial queen bee producers, who in turn can produce thousands of queen bees for the nation's beekeepers. The goal is to preserve and improve the stock of honeybees and to prevent subspecies from extinction.
Hopkins says that genetic diversity offers improved bee fitness and productivity. A genetically diverse colony handles diseases better. The biggest need in the U.S. honey bee population is anything that would increase resistance to parasitic Varroa mites, Hopkins says. (See WSU post.)
Cobey is featured in a National Public Radio piece, "No Offense, American Bees, But Your Sperm Isn't Cutting It."
"Honey bees aren't native to America," Cobey told reporter Ryan Bell. "We brought them here. But the U.S. closed its borders to live honey bee imports in 1922, and our honey bee population has been interbreeding ever since."
"Girls, where's your mother?"