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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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."
How often do you see a honey bee "standing upright" to reach nectar?
"Well, I guess I could just buzz up there and grab some nectar! But why not stay right here where I am and just s-t-r-e-t-c-h like a giraffe to get it?"
This bee, foraging on a Photinia blossom, almost looked like an athlete in training. Was she stretching to "warm up?" Was she stretching to improve performance? Flexibility? Mobility?
Me thinks she was just taking a short cut to the sweet stuff and being a little territorial as other bees buzzed around her.
Our honey bee will return to the hive where workers will process the nectar into honey. Humans will get some of it, too.
If you'd like to sample honey--and mix with entomologists--mark your calendar for Saturday, April 22 and "bee" at Briggs Hall for the annual honey tasting, just one part of the 200 some events at the 103rd annual UC Davis Picnic Day. It's an all-day campuswide open house aimed to educate, inform and entertain.
But did you know that there's another celebration bee-ing hosted on Saturday, Feb. 11? And that you and your honey are invited? It's an event often billed as "the" Valentine's Day present.
For the fourth consecutive year, the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center will host “The Feast: A Celebration with Mead and Honey," a five-course fundraiser set from 6 to 9 p.m. in the Sensory Building Foyer, Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science, Old Davis Road.
Ann Evans, co-author of the Davis Farmer Market Cookbook and former mayor of Davis, has created a seasonally inspired menu, to be served amid a candlelight and musical ambience. The evening begins at 6 with hors d'oeuvres and honey stingers, featuring ginger mead from Schramm's Mead, Michigan. Mead, a fermented blend of honey, water and often fruits, yeast, or spices, dates back to 7000 BCE.
Then comes The Feast! Each course will be paired with select wines, honey lemonade or sparkling mead. Guests will dine on a rich tomato aspic salad, followed by chicken with plumped dried figs and apricots. The main course? Roasted musquée de province squash with couscous. A cheese interlude will accompany a dessert mead flight led by legendary Darrell Corti. The dessert? Show me the honey? Yes. It's a dessert of pears with blue cheese, walnuts, and honey. What's a feast without honey?
Proceeds from the dinner will be used to support the outreach and education programs of the Honey and Pollination Center--its mission is “to make UC Davis a leading authority on bee health, pollination and honey quality," Harris said. Funds are earmarked for stipends for UC Davis graduate students, ongoing development of the Master Beekeeper Program at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, and sponsorship of the third annual UC Davis Bee Symposium, "Keeping Bees Healthy," set Sunday, May 7.
There's still time to register. Tickets are $150 per person and registration is underway at https://registration.ucdavis.edu/Item/Details/264. For more information, contact Amina Harris at email@example.com.
One more thing: when you walk into RMI for The Feast, odds are that honey bees will be foraging and feasting in the newly renovated Good Life Garden, just outside the front door.