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.)
Her name is Sarah Red-Laird, and she is here to present an interactive educational program involving bees and beekeeping, honey, beeswax and bee habitat to students from Peregrine School, Davis. It's part of her "Bees and Kids" program, funded by the American Beekeeping Federation's Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees.
She's speaking to them as part of the Western Apicultural Society's 40th annual conference, Sept. 5-8.
The students are super excited.
Holding up fruit after fruit, she asks if they like strawberries, apples, oranges and lemons, all bee-pollinated. They eagerly raise their hands. She tells them that bees are responsible for providing one-third of the food we eat, including fruits, vegetables and nuts (almonds). Our shopping carts would be sparse if there were no bees, she says. She quizzes them about grapes, rice and oats, which are not bee-pollinated.
Then she turns to honey.
"How much honey does a bee make in her lifetime?" she asks. "Is it 1 cup, 1 teaspoon or 1/12th of a teaspoon? if you think it's one cup, raise your hand." Half a dozen hands shoot up.
"If you think it's one teaspoon, raise your hand." A few more raise their hands.
"If you think it's 1/12th of a teaspoon, raise your hand." One person responds.
"The correct answer," says Sarah the Bee Girl, "is 1/12th of a teaspoon. That's how much a honey bee makes in her lifetime."
"I guessed that!" yells a little girl.
"Did you?" Sarah asks, approvingly. "You're a smartie," she praises.
"We didn't," a boy laments.
Sarah continues. "How many flowers does it take the bees to make one pound of honey?" she asks, holding up a jar of honey.
The students respond with answers that range from 99 to 100 to 200 to 1000 to 2000 to 8000 to 1 billion.
"The correct answer is 2 million," she tells them. "it takes 2 million flowers to fill this one jar of honey."
Sarah drives home the point with: "The best thing to do to help bees is to plant flowers. Let's say it all together. what can you do to help bees?
"Plant flowers!" they chorus.
Later she reads a book and then asks them to answer questions about nurse bees, house bees, scout bees, guard bees, queen bees, foragers and drones. Each person who answers the question correctly is adorned with props depicting that bee.
The first graders love it! They gigle, laugh and cheer.
Next they move in small groups to the educational stations where they taste honey, learn about bee habitat and bees wax, and see honey bees and other bees up close.
It's obvious that Sarah loves bees and wants others to love them, too.
Sarah says her love of bees began in Southern Oregon, on the deck of her aunt's cabin, at the end of a country road. She received her degree, with honors, in resource conservation from the University of Montana and did research in Jerry Bromenshenk Honey Bee Lab. She presented her beekeeping findings at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research on "How to Keep 100,000 Girlfriends, the Careful Relationship of a Beekeeper and Her Honey Bees."
Among the UC Davis personnel assisting her at the haven were:
- Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who caught and released bees with a device that included a magnifying glass
- Staff research associates Bernardo Niño of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr., Honey Bee Research Facility/UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who staffed the beeswax table, where children drew pictures with crayons
- Staff research associate and Charley Nye of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr., Honey Bee Research Facility/UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who staffed the habitat table, where the children learned about where the bees live.
- Zoe Anderson, a UC Davis undergraduate student majoring in animal biology, assisted with the honey tasting. The youths all agreed they liked Sarah's vetch honey the best.
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."