We first met Sheridan Miller, 11, of Mill Valley when she visited the Harry H.Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, University of California, Davis, to give $733 to bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, now of Washington State University.
Young Sheridan, concerned about the plight of the bees, began raising money for bee research at age 10. This included selling jars of honey, baked goods featuring honey, beeswax candles, olive oil, soap and a self-penned booklet about the plight of honey bees.
At the time, Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and UC Davis professor of entomology, was the interim chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology (later to become the Department of Entomology and Nematology).
“It's very thoughtful and generous of a little girl to think of the plight of the honey bees and to raise funds for research,” Kimsey said. “We are overwhelmed.”
Said Cooperative Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology since 1976 and now retired: “I really appreciate the fact that so many members of the general public have become concerned about the plight of honey bees. I am particularly impressed by individuals such as Sheridan who have devoted so much time and effort in really trying to improve the health and longevity of the honey bees.”
Then in October 2009 at the opening of the department's Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden that supports the Laidlaw bees and serves as an educational resource, the officials honored Sheridan and her family. Sheridan's name is engraved on donor plaque in the garden.
Fast forward to today. Sheridan is now a high school senior and yes, she's still raising funds for Cobey's bee research. She has raised more than $5000. See WSU article.
In the WSU article, Sheridan's father, Craig, a Bay Area lawyer, is quoted as saying: “Sue has been generous with her time and her gratitude toward Sheridan, She has instilled confidence in Sheridan and an incredible sense of pride. I guess an organization could simply send a thank-you note for a donation. Sue, on the other hand, sent friendship, knowledge, encouragement–and even bees!”
Sheridan Miller's enthusiasm for bees now extends to her becoming a beekeeper. Beekeeper Brian Fishback of Wilton, a former volunteer at the Laidlaw facility and a past president of the Sacramento Area Beekeepers' Association, has worked with Sheridan for the past four years. He set up her hives and is teaching her how to care for and manage bees.
And, Cobey and Fishback continue to answer Sheridan's questions. Meanwhile, Fishback also shares his bee expertise with students in area classrooms.
Cobey and her fellow WSU researchers are working to build a better bee. Their research includes importing germplasm (honey bee semen) from Europe and crossing it with domestic breeding stocks to create healthier stock.
Sheridan hasn't decided on what college to attend or her major, but Cobey and Fishback hope that maybe it has something to do with bees.
"Sheridan is amazing," said Cobey, who traveled to Mill Valley a couple of years ago to participate in one of Sheridan's bee research fundraisers and "to talk bees."
If you're interested in helping Sherican help the bees, access the Go Fund Me account.
Sheridan is the human equivalent of a worker bee.
It's also a story about a beekeeper named Brian Fishback of Wilton who eagerly taught them to love bees.
Fishback, a former volunteer at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis, and a past president of the Sacramento Area Beekeepers' Association, delights in teaching beekeeping classes and providing bee presentations at schools and public events.
One such recipient: Beth Bartkowski's third graders at Galt's Lake Canyon Elementary School.
“My class (Room 12) has been learning about honey bees since October,” she said. “We have turned our classroom into a ‘Beetopia.' We have done many fabulous activities. Thanks to Brian, we have a hive on campus right now! I am hoping to start a beekeeping club at some point with Brian.”
“My students are so invested in bees!” Bartkowski enthused today. “Brian has been in our room for the past two days sharing his wealth of knowledge. I literally fell in love with bees today when we went outside and opened up the hive! I have an autistic student who has been very apprehensive around the hive. But an amazing thing happened today...we spotted a baby bee starting to make its way out. We watched in awe and cheered her on until sje fully emerged. My autistic student literally had her face inches away with bees all around and was cheering!”
That's the kind of response that beekeepers love.
The class is now trying to “bee part of the solution" by seeking grant funds for a pollinator garden, a virtual "outdoor classroom." Bartkowski and her students submitted their plans for a Raley's Research Grant in keeping with the grocery chain's Earth Day celebration (“Healthier Planet, Healthier You”). First prize is $10,000. Now they are seeking votes on the Raley's website to help them make their bee-lievable dream a reality.
As of today, they're in ninth place and about 300 votes behind first place. The contest ends May 16. The 10 nominations with the most votes will be eligible to receive a Raley's Research Grant up to $10,000.
How will the money be used if they should win?
Here's how to cast a vote for their project. Access http://www.raleys.com/cfapps/reach/nomination.cfm?ideaid=3635400 and press the "vote" button. (And for more information, contact Beth Bartkowski at email@example.com)
As for Brian Fishback, seeing the youngsters love the bees flashed him back to 2008. “From the first moment I opened a hive and held a full frame of brood covered with bees, I was in utopia,” he recalled. “Everything came together. In my hand I held the essence of core family values.”
That same year, 2008, he and his wife Darla purchased a ranch in Wilton, renamed it BD Ranch and Apiary, and began pursuing a self-sustaining life.
The couple now has three young daughters. And yes, another generation of bee lovers.
Beekeeper Brian Fishback of Wilton is quick to answer that.
“Bees,” he says, “teach us core family values. Bees have to take care of each other and work together for the success of the colony, just as people do for the success of their families.”
Fishback, a past president of the Sacramento Area Beekeepers’ Association, a member of the California State Beekeepers' Association, and a former volunteer at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis, instills his love of bees and beekeeping to everyone around him.
He and his wife, Darla, are teaching those bee-driven core family values to their two daughters Emily, 3, and Jane, 18 months (a third daughter is due this month). The girls have been around bees since birth. The Fishbacks keep 89 hives on their Wilton ranch, the BD Ranch and Apiary. So committed are they to bees that their website is www.beesarelife.com.
Through community outreach programs, Brian Fishback eagerly takes every opportunity to educate the public about honey bees. He displays his bee observation hives at the California State Fair and Dixon May Fair; engages in classroom, farm and other educational presentations; and annually hosts the American Honey Bee Queen, sponsored by the American Beekeeping Federation.
In his spare time, Fishback teaches introductory and advanced beekeeping classes at the Soil Born Farms, located at 2140 Chase Drive, Rancho Cordova. His next class begins March 8 and will be a two-part class, covering both beginning beekeeping and a more advanced session (See registration information. Sign-ups are now underway.)
What’s different about his classes? For one: The students (who are primarily young adults) don’t just stand back and observe him opening a hive. “They’re going to work a hive that day,” he says.
Fishback remembers the joy he felt when he first opened a hive. “From the first moment I opened a hive and held a full frame of brood covered with bees, I was in utopia. Everything came together. In my hand I held the essence of core family values.”
That was in 2008.
It was also the year he and Darla purchased the Wilton ranch 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.
In the fall of 2010, he began volunteering at the Laidlaw facility. One of his goals was to gain more knowledge to share in his community outreach programs. He worked with bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, beekeeper/research associate Elizabeth Frost, and Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, among others. He assisted Cobey with her classes on queen-rearing and instrumental insemination and her class field trips to Butte County to visit commercial queen bee breeders. Fishback also took on tasks that needed to be done around the Laidlaw facility, such as mowing the lawn around the apiary.
Another highlight: Fishback participated in a bee beard activity that Cobey coordinated for a small group of Laidlaw beekeeping staff and volunteers. (See top photo).
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 visits school classrooms, he delights in asking students to single out the queen bee, workers and drones in his bee observation hive.
That's not all.
“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 the joy that life has to offer."
It’s good to see so many children’s books being published about bees.
One of the latest ones is Buzz About Bees (Fitzhenry & Whiteside) by former elementary school teacher Kari-Lynn Winters, who asked for—and received—one of my photos of beekeeper Brian Fishback of Wilton wearing a bee beard.
Fishback, a former volunteer at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis, is a past president of the Sacramento Area Beekeepers’ Association and spends a lot of time educating people—especially schoolchildren—about bees. He also teaches beekeeping classes.
“From the first moment I opened a hive and held a full frame of brood covered with bees, I was in utopia,” Fishback said of his first encounter with bees in 2008. “Everything came together. In my hand I held the essence of core family values.”
That same year, he and his wife Darla purchased a ranch in Wilton and renamed it the BD Ranch and Apiary. They are their two daughters are pursuing 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.
And the bee beards? It’s an educational and entertaining activity best done in the spring when the nectar flow is heavy, when the temperatures are optimum, and when the bees “are fat and happy,” says noted bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, formerly of UC Davis and now with Washington State University. She has coordinated bee beard activities at Ohio State University, UC Davis and now WSU.
“Don’t try this at home—not without a seasoned bee-beard coordinator who adheres to the necessary preparations and precautions,” Cobey says. “The fact that honey bees are venomous insects with the ability to sting when threatened, must be respected.”
Why bee beards? Beekeepers, she points out, are not only passionate about bees but fascinated with them. Donning a bee beard provides an opportunity to observe bee behavior up, close and personal--to literally "look the bees in the eye."
The beekeepers who participated in Cobey's beard activity last year at the Laidlaw facility agreed that the beards are "heavy, hot and they tickle." After all, we're talking about wearing 10, 000 bees!
As for Winters' new book, it's a colorful, easy-to-read work with lots of interesting facts about honey bees and other bees. It does, however, contain some incorrect information, such as:
- “The swarm can contain tens of thousands of worker bees—all following the queen.” The queen doesn’t lead the swarm, as anyone who has read bee scientist Tom Seeley’s book on The HoneyBee Democracy knows.
- Winters quotes Albert Einstein as saying: “If bees disappeared, humans would have only four years left to live.” Only problem is: Einstein didn’t say that. That’s an urban legend.
- Winters also writes that cell phones may cause interference with a bee's navigational system, which bee scientists have long discounted. She advocates creating a “cell phone-free zone” near the bee hives. “Post signs and ask people not to use cell phones in that area.” We've seen scores of beekeepers answering their cell phones in the apiary or returning phone calls.
Overall, though, this is an interesting book, with catchy chapter titles, such as “”The Whole Ball of Wax” and “Bee-Ing Alone.” We passed it around in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. One bee scientist really liked the “Waggle Dance” poem on page 2. “Pretty good,” he said.
In addition to honey bees, Winters also touches on carpenter bees, mining bees, leafcutter bees and mason bees, which should inspire youngsters to go out and try to find them. She relates the difference between bees and wasps. She offers instruction on how to build a blue orchard bee (BOB) condo or nesting site (which we have in our back yard). There’s a fun game, “Leave Me BEE,” included in her book. And, a great recipe for a honey/lemon gargle.
By the time children finish reading the book, they're likely to (1) want to become an beekeeper (2) want to become a bee researcher or (3) just want to glean more information about bees.
For sure, they'll all appreciate bees more, thanks to this buzz about bees.
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."