When youngsters meet Alyssa Fine, the first thing they ask is “Do you ever get stung?”
They also ask if the bee population is “still” declining and if she’s a beekeeper.
Yes, yes, and yes.
Alyssa Fine, 23, of Monongahela, Penn., is accustomed to answering questions. As the 2012 American Honey Bee Queen, sponsored by the American Beekeeping Federation, she’s an ambassador to the beekeeping and honey industries. One of her responsibilities is to educate the public about the importance of bees and the merits of honey.
And that’s just “fine” with her.
“I really enjoy this,” she said enthusiastically.
A 2010 graduate of Pennsylvania State University with a bachelor’s degree in agribusiness management, Fine is spending 11 days in California, one of some 23 states on her itinerary during her yearlong role as the American Honey Bee Queen.
She speaks at state and county fairs, festivals, schools, beekeeping association meetings and to the news media, spreading the word about the importance of bees. She monitors the American Beekeeping Federation’s Facebook page, and the kids’ blog, buzzingacrossamerica.com.
Fine also works closely with youth development groups, including Girl Scouts, 4-H, Boy Scouts. She hopes to “help bring back the beekeeping badge” for Girl Scouts.
Today she toured the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road at the University of California, Davis, and the adjacent Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden that's anchored with a six-foot-long ceramic bee sculpture.
The sculpture, created by Donna Billick of Davis and cleverly titled "Miss Bee Haven," portrays a morphologically correct worker bee.
Alyssa Fine recognized the worker bee right away.
No stranger to bees, she's been around bees all her life. Her family owns the Fine Family Apiary in Monongahela, located 20 miles south of Pittsburgh. They keep about 150 hives and sell honey at farmers’ markets, at country stores, and via word of mouth. They also offer pollination services on area farms.
Alyssa's earliest childhood memories include running through a field of clover and getting stung by a bee; enjoying fresh comb honey on the front porch; and crafting scores of school projects on honey bees.
So, going from bee onlooker to bee fancier to beekeeper to Pennsylvania Honey Bee Queen to American Honey Bee Queen seemed quite natural. For, "bee-neath" the sash and the crown is a beekeeper who loves to talk about bees and their role in agriculture.
One thing's for sure: come next January, when her year as American Honey Bee Queen ends, she'll replace the crown with a bee veil.
Meanwhile, Alyssa is enjoying her California stay at the BD Ranch and Apiary in Wilton, owned by veteran beekeeper Brian Fishback and his wife, Darla, where they maintain 100 hives. Brian, a volunteer at the Laidlaw facility, is active in area, state and national beekeeping organizations.
Plans for the rest of the week? It's off to the California State Fair in Sacramento.
In fact, State Fair visitors can see their American Honey Bee Queen tomorrow (Thursday) and Friday at the Insect Pavilion where she will be greeting the public, handing out honey-based recipes, and answering questions in front of Fishback’s bee observation hive.
At 2 p.m. on Friday, she'll offer a special treat to State Fair visitors. She will present a cooking demonstration at 2 p.m. at The Farm. She'll prepare glazed skillet chicken, cole slaw and lemonade--all with honey, of course.
As for the Fishbacks, they've hosted an American Bee Queen for the past three years because they believe strongly in the American Beekeeping Federation's mission and message.
“Having an American Honey Bee Queen," he said, "is really good for public education, for people to learn about the importance of bees."
If you head over to the California State Fair, which opened July 14 and continues through July 31, be sure to check out the Insect Pavilion at "The Farm."
It's a treasure house of not only insects, but spiders and assorted other critters.
At the entrance, tuck your head inside the monarch butterfly cutout and have someone take your photo. You can be "Butterfly for the Day."
Then it's off to see the "live" monarchs, a few steps away. The contrast between the painted cutout and the real insects is startling. Nature does a much better job!
Other highlights at the Insect Pavilion include honey bees, wasps and spiders.
The site probably should be called "The Bug Pavilion" because some of the critters, such as spiders, aren't insects.
Beekeeper Brian Fishback of Wilton, a member of the California State Beekeepers' Association and a volunteer at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, provided the bee observation hive.
Parents exclaim to their children: "Look! Bees!"
Then they usually point out that bees make honey and "No, honey, they can't sting you; they're behind glass."
It shouldn't be about stinging. It should be about their pollination services, not their defensive mechanism. Bees pollinate one-third of the food we eat.
However, a walk through the nearby vegetable garden buzzes home the point that honey bees are invaluable.
Next Tuesday, July 26, the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis will display live insects and specimens at The Big Bugs attraction at the state fair, according to Tabatha Yang, the Bohart's education and outreach coordinator. The specimens will be in the "oh, my" drawers--so called, she says, because that's what folks say when they see them: "Oh, my!"
It's a crucial time for bees, which are the victims of the mysterious colony collapse disorder, probably closely linked with a multitude of issues, including viruses, parasites, pests, pesticides, diseases, stress and malnutrition.
As the guest of veteran beekeeper Brian Fishback of Wilton, past president of the Sacramento Area Beekeepers’ Association and a member of the California State Beekeepers’ Association (CSBA), Bryson will be helping out at the CSBA booth July 16 to 21. The booth is located in the California Foodstyle building.
She also will be working in the insect pavilion at “The Farm,” which includes an observation hive. Bryson will answer questions from the public on Saturday, July 16 from 2 to 3 p.m. and on Wednesday, July 20 from 3:15 to 4:30 p.m.
In addition, she’ll be speaking at the Sacramento Area Beekeepers’ Association meeting set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 19 at 4049 Marconi Ave., Sacramento. The site is located in the second module behind the Town and Country Lutheran Church.
The American Honey Bee Queen competition is sponsored by the American Beekeeping Federation.
“As the American Honey Bee Queen, I travel across the United states promoting beekeeping and the use of honey,” she said. She educates the public with “facts on the beekeeping and honey industry concerning pollination of our nation’s crops and how dependent we are on the honey bee for agriculture, how honey is a healthy substitute for sugar, and how honey also extends the shelf life of baked products and adds that extra special something, such as taste or texture to other products.”
Bryson’s year as American Honey Queen ends in January when she will crown the next queen at the American Beekeeping Federation’s annual conference in Las Vegas.
Bryson is a junior at Hagerstown Community College, Hagerstown, Md., where she is double-majoring in English and forensic science. She is a member of the National Honor Society and has been on the dean’s list for the last two years.
A 4-H member for 10 years, she serves as a leader for two clubs. Bryson has kept bees for three years, and manages five hives in her family's apiary. In her leisure time, she said she enjoys reading, sewing, and caring for the many animals on her family's small farm.
Fishback, a volunteer at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, owns and operates BD Ranch and Apiaries, Wilton.
Beekeeping comes naturally for Brian Fishback of Wilton, a past president of the Sacramento Area Beekeepers’ Association and a volunteer at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis.
“From the first moment I opened a hive and held a full frame of brood covered with bees, I was in utopia,” he said. “Everything came together. In my hand, I held the essence of core family values.”
That was in 2008.
Now he shares his knowledge with beekeepers-to-be, beginning beekeepers and veteran beekeepers, and gives presentations at schools and public events.
One of his next projects is teaching a class on “Introduction to Beekeeping” from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, May 14 at the Soil Born Farms’ American River at 2140 Chase Drive, Rancho Cordova. Pre-registration is under way at (916) 868-6399 ($35 for Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op owners and $45 for others).
Fishback will introduce the class to the basics of beekeeping, life in the honey bee colony, equipment and tools, swarming, pests and diseases “and what it takes to get started.” He will offer both classroom and field instruction and provide an “Introduction to Beekeeping booklet.”
Back in 2008, he and his wife Darla purchased a ranch in Wilton, renamed the BD Ranch and Apiary (www.beesarelife.com), to pursue a self-sustaining life. “I catapulted into this way of life, knowing that honey bees would provide us with pollination as well as a natural sweetener,” Fishback recalled.
Like a nurse bee tending brood, he dived into the project head first—joining the Sacramento Area Beekeepers’ Association, reading books, and talking to beekeepers.
He acknowledges that his first year of keeping bees was a rough one. “I had 40 percent losses due to colony collapse disorder (CCD),” Fishback said. “I was determined to research more into the contributing factors of CCD and how I could raise bees successfully without having to use harsh chemicals to treat them.
“My quest as well as my passion with honey bees led me to become the president of the Sacramento Area Beekeepers’ Association and become a member of the California State Beekeepers’ Association. This allowed me to delve deeper into working with others at all levels of beekeeping and research.”
Fishback has helped out at events such as the California Agriculture Day at the state capitol and at state and county fairs. His interest in research led him to Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty and other UC Davis bee specialists.
In the fall of 2010, his began volunteering at the Laidlaw facility, located on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus.
“It’s a privilege,” he said, to work with bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey and beekeeper/research associate Elizabeth Frost at the Laidlaw facility “and still have time to share my knowledge in community outreach efforts.” This year he assisted Cobey with her queen rearing classes and instrumental insemination classes, and also with her field trips to commercial queen-bee breeders.
Fishback continues his outreach programs “to encourage interest in honey bees and to share the importance of the honey bee to our environment and our food supply.” When he gives his presentations in schools, he brings along a bee observation hive, where the youths can single out the queen bee, workers and drones.
“I allow anyone or any group with an interest agriculture, small-scale farming and of course, beekeeping, to take a day tour of my ranch, get in a bee suit and feel joy that life has to offer,” Fishback said.
Tame that tiger.
Wilton beekeeper Brian Fishback, president of the Sacramento Area Beekeepers' Association, stopped Friday at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, and a friendly Western tiger swallowtail greeted him.
At least, it seemed quite friendly.
Fishback and Laidlaw staff research associate Elizabeth “Liz” Frost paused to watch the butterfly (Papilio rutulus) glide in and out of the flower garden in front of the facility.
Fishback held out his hand. The butterfly obliged and touched down for just a moment.
This year is a good year for Western tiger swallowtails.
There’s an outbreak--or an elevated population--in the area, says noted butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis. “I’ve seen as many as 11 a day in Davis recently, and the outbreak ranges from as far west as Vallejo and as far east as Reno.”
This is the second year for elevated populations of the tiger, Shapiro says. The epicenter seems to be Davis.The colorful butterfly visits a variety of hosts, including California yerba santa, milkweed, lilies, lilacs, coyote mint, California buckeye, sycamore, privet and sweet gum.
It doesn't mind being around the 6 million honey bees (from 110 hives) in the apiary at the Laidlaw facility, either.