Congratulations to the California Master Beekeeper Program, the newly announced recipient of a $199,949 grant from the UC Agricultural and Natural Resources through its 2017 Competitive Grants Program.
California Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, based at the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is the principal investigator of the grant, titled "The California Master Beekeeper Program: Development of a Continuous Train-the-Trainer Education Effort for California Beekeepers."
The California Master Beekeeping Program uses science-based information to educate stewards and ambassadors for honey bees and beekeeping.
"Honey bees are arguably the most important managed pollinator and are used as the primary pollinator for over 30 crops in California many of which are considered specialty crops such as almonds," wrote Niño in her successful grant application. "Therefore, the food security of our state and our nation depends largely on robust and healthy honey bee populations. However, in recent years, U.S. beekeepers have been reporting annual colony losses of up to 45 percent. These losses are attributed to many pathogens and pests associated with bees, as well as pesticide exposure and lack of access to plentiful and diverse forage."
Niño noted that "Development of these educational opportunities will help minimize potentially disastrous consequences, such as increased pest and pathogen transfer or spread of Africanized bees which are considered a public-health risk, due to lack of understanding of proper honey bee husbandry. To fulfill this need we established the first-ever California Master Beekeeper Program which provides California-centric, contemporary, research-based training in apiculture."
Currently, the program is overseen by an advisory committee consisting of UCCE specialists and advisers, Department of Entomology and Nematology research staff, the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center staff at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, California beekeepers, and other apiculture specialists.
This program will establish UCCE and the Department of Entomology and Nematology (chaired by Professor Steve Nadler) in partnership with the Honey and Pollination Center (directed by Amina Harris) as a center of excellence in apiculture.
That's wonderful news!
"Most importantly," as Niño wrote, "members of the program will serve as knowledgeable ambassadors that will disseminate science-based information about the importance of honey bees, preserving bee health and responsible beekeeping."
And your bees.
The declining honey bee population now has 52 more friends. Science-based friends. Bee ambassadors. Partners.
They're the new apprentice graduates of the California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMPB), administered by Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño and her colleagues at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Program, University of California, Davis.
The program, which includes apprentice, journeyman and master levels, uses science-based information to educate stewards and ambassadors to help the troubling honey bee population, assist beekeepers, and engage in public outreach, according to CAMPB program manager Bernardo Niño of the E. L. Niño lab. The written and practical exams for apprentice took place in September at the Laidlaw facility. Now the 52 grads can opt to stop at the apprentice level or continue on to the more advanced levels of journeyman and master.
“We know that all will represent the program confidently and knowledgeable throughout the state and the country and we look forward to working with all the future CAMPBers,” wrote Elina and Bernardo Niño in the current edition of their Apiculture Newsletter.
The 52 beekeepers answered 125 questions on the written test, dealing with basic honey bee biology, beekeeping equipment, maladies of the hive, and management techniques. Then they took the practical exam, which consisted of 20 minutes of one-on-one time with an examiner. They demonstrated their mastery of basic colony and hive inspections, identification of equipment and different hive types, and various management techniques.
The most intimidating portion of the exam? Performing a sugar shake to monitor for varroa mite levels, the Niños said. The parasitic varroa mites are considered "Public Enemy No. 1" of honey bees.
The first beekeeper to sign up for the practical test, held in the Laidlaw apiary, was Cheryl Veretto, president of the Sonoma County Beekeepers' Association (SCBA) and a member of the Sonoma County Master Gardeners (SCMG).
“I signed up to get it over with," Veretto acknowledged. "I hate waiting for a test--it is nerve-racking. But once I opened the hive, I felt at home. The Master Beekeeper session was somewhat intense studying for the test. There is a lot of science/biology and vocabulary that I learned. Overall, it was a great experience. And I passed."
Veretto joined SCBA seven years ago, and has been keeping bees for six years. Seven years ago, the membership totaled 95; today it's 460. "SCBA has been a non-profit since 2011," she said. "Prior to that it was a club that changed names a few times but the core beekeepers have been going since 1990s."
How did she decide to be a beekeeper; what interested her in bees and in beekeeping? “I started out as a greedy gardener-- wanting everything to be pollinated so that I could select my best,” Veretto recalled. “I have always planted for pollinators in my gardens, but wanted to maximize, and so, I started beekeeping--and what a journey its been. I am now an activist for pollinators, and you never stop learning when you get into bees/beekeeping. The honey bee and humans are tied together closer than many think."
Veretto thoroughly enjoys keeping bees and engaging in public service. “I enjoy building community. We have an awesome bee club with a membership that is fully engaged--we have activities going on most every week, and we are active in the community, doing presentations and demonstrations,” she said. “I do public speaking with both SCBA and SCMG groups talking on 'Planting for Pollinators' and 'Safe Gardening' practices. I just finished the Advanced Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program with Master Gardeners and hope to include much of that information in my presentations as well. My true passion is gardening and propagating bee forage plants; most days you find me outside in the gardens and apiary.”
Veretto lives on a small rural farm with her human family and 12 bee hives, along with Cashmere goats, chickens, cats, dogs, a food garden and several pollinator forage gardens.
"I started beekeeping with one hive six years ago and gradually built up to 12," she said. "I think that is a good size of apiary for me; it takes a little more time for management but I am learning so much more, having several colonies to watch, and something different is going on in each. I keep bees in both Langstroth and TopBar hives, and have an observation hive for demonstration.“
Now she's looking forward to serving in the California Master Beekeeper Program as a science-based bee ambassador.
Interested in learning more about the California Master Beekeeper Program? Here are some Niño-lab resources:
- California Master Beekeeper Website
- E. L. Niño Lab Website
- E. L. Niño Lab Facebook Page
- Apiculture Newsletter
The Niño lab plans to expand testing sites to encompass the entire state, and will be working with UC Cooperative Extension offices. The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center helps support the program. To receive the most up-to-date news and information, folks can sign up for the CAMPB-specific mailing list.) For further information, contact Bernardo Niño at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 380-BUZZ (2899).
If you enroll in a beekeepers' course at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis, one of the instructors you're likely to meet is Charley Nye, manager of the facility.
Meet Charley Nye, behind the veil.
Charley remembers distinctly when bees first drew his interest.
As an undergraduate at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, he enrolled in an introductory entomology class. “I remember seeing the research technician standing in and indoor flight cage, surrounded by bees,” Nye said. “They were flying from the hive to a feeder stand and completely ignoring her. We covered the long history of beekeeping in that class around that same time and I was just amazed at how much knowledge had been collected. I applied for a job and started working as an assistant to the research technician I saw that day that spring. I spent the next three summers working for the lab of Dr. Gene Robinson and learning as much as I could.” (Note: Access this YouTube video to hear Gene Robinson speak on " Me to We: Using Honey Bees to Find the Genetic Roots of Social Life" at the Feb. 22, 2016 UC Davis Chancellor's Distinguished Speakers' Colloquium.)
Charley went on to spend eight years in Illinois working with the bees—three as an undergraduate assistant and five years as the facility manager and research technician. He joined UC Davis in December 2015.
“Adapting to the California ecosystem has been a bit of an adjustment,” Nye said. “A big part of beekeeping is understanding the ecosystem you live in. If you've got a bee yard that doesn't have a water source close, you may need to move water in during dry periods. Different flowers provide nectar and pollen at varying quantities, so being aware of what's going on in the environment can give you some insight into whether or not you might need to assist your bees with some sugar to make it until the next bloom. That has honestly been my favorite part of moving here, learning about all the trees and shrubs and wildflowers and when they bloom. It's a constant process through the year, and being my first year here it's been really enjoyable to watch the seasons progress."
"I think the general public's knowledge of bees has made amazing advances in recent years. The shortage of bees for agricultural purposes here in the Central Valley really brought beekeeping into the news, followed by a lot of documentaries and things that made people want to be beekeepers or at least plant pollinator friendly gardens. Lots of people bring up beekeeping documentaries they've seen, and I don't think beekeepers were experiencing that 20 years ago. Overall, I'm mostly impressed with the amount of bee related knowledge out in the world right now.
Myths and misconceptions about bees? Often people associate bees with stinging, and falsely claim they have an allergy. “I've been doing this long enough that I don't laugh at people when they tell me they are allergic, but I think people don't completely understand what allergic means,” he said. “Only one or two people out of 1000 are actually allergic and have a life threatening reaction--most people just experience pain and swelling. I try to point out to people that when it hurts and makes their hand swell up, that might not mean they have a bee allergy, but most of the time I just nod my head and move on. I worked a booth at a local fair and half my conversations were people telling me they were allergic because it hurt. I get stung every day, and I can attest that at no point does it stop hurting.”
Nye divides his time with the labs of Extension apiculturist Elina Niño, pollination ecologist Neal Williams, and Brian Johnson, who studies the behavior, evolution and genetics of honey bees. “My responsibilities are pretty spread out,” he said. “The majority of my time is spent keeping the bees healthy enough for experiments.” In peak season, “it's pretty common to just have a few weeks' notice that we need any number of healthy full sized colonies, and like other animals, you can't grow a calf to a full sized cow with any magic tricks, so we try to buffer that by keeping a tight schedule for disease monitoring and making sure all our colonies are as robust as possible.”
What does he like the best about his job? The least?
"My job has a great balance between working out in a natural setting going through bee hives, and coming back to the lab and getting involved in research," he said. "I think doing either one of them by themselves would get a little tedious for me, so I feel really lucky to be able to split myself between the two. The least? It might be kind of a strange complaint, but foxtails. I spend a lot of time walking through tall grass and those foxtails burrow into my shoes and make me crazy. And I'm told I have to worry about them going up my dog's nose? I would say it's an urban myth but the seeds ability to get into my shoe and under my sock is practically magic."
(Editor's Note: Here's a list of the 2017 apiculture courses that the E. L. Niño lab is teaching; registration is now underway.)
Make way for the new beekeepers! Or "beeks," as they fondly call themselves in the apiary industry.
A short course on "Planning Ahead for Your First Hive" drew an enthusiastic group of prospective beekeepers last Saturday, Feb. 13 at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis.
Aimed at those with little or no beekeeping experience, the all-day course included lectures and hands-on experience. The instructors--Extension apiculturist Elina Niño, Bernardo Niño, Charley Nye and Patricia "Tricia" Bohls--explained what beekeeping is all about. The lectures covered honey bee biology, beekeeping equipment, how to start your own colony, and maladies of the hive. The participants also learned how to build a hive, how to install a package, how to inspect your hive, and how to monitor for varroa mites.
This was the first in a series of several beekeeping courses that began Feb. 13 and will conclude on March 20. All classes are filled, but folks can contact Bernardo Niño at email@example.com or call 530-380-BUZZ (2899) to be put on a list.
Meanwhile, the instructors are busily gearing up for these courses, all filled:
Working Your Colonies on Feb. 20: For novice beekeepers who already have a colony and/or have taken a previous course, and seek to develop their skills. Lectures will cover maladies and biology review, products of the hive, and troubleshooting problems in the colony. Hands-on information will encompass colony evaluations, monitoring and managing pests, feeding your colony, and honey extraction.By the end of the course, participants will be knowledgeable about evaluating colonies, solving common beekeeping problems, extracting honey and wax, trapping pollen and propolis, and treating colonies for pests, the instructors said.
Queen-Rearing Techniques: (two separate sessions) March 12-13 and March 19-20: Topics will include honey bee queen biology, basics of selective honey bee breeding programs, various queen-rearing techniques, testing hygienic behavior, and assessing varroa mite levels. Participants will have the opportunity to learn about and practice multiple methods for queen rearing. “We will go through a step-by-step process for queen rearing via grafting, including setting up cell builders and mating nucs,” Elina Niño said.
The Niño lab launched a website last year at http://elninobeelab.ucdavis.edu/, and administers a Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/elninolab/. In addition, Elina Niño writes a bi-monthly apiculture newsletter, free and online.
Bee scientists at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis, are offering a total of four short courses from Feb. 13 to March 20. All will be at the Laidlaw facility, located on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus. They will be comprised of lectures in the conference room and hands-on exercises in the apiary.
Instructors are Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño; staff research associate Bernardo Niño; facility manager/staff research associate Charley Nye; and graduate student Tricia Bohls.
The first short course, "Planning Ahead for Your First Hives," is set Saturday, Feb. 13. "This 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 bees," says Elina Niño. You'll learn about honey bee biology, beekeeping equipment, how to start your colony, and maladies of the hive. You'll be shown how to install a package, how to inspect your hive and how to monitor for those dreaded varroa mites. The $95 registration fee covers the cost of course materials (including a hive tool), lunch, and refreshments
Next will be the "Queen Rearing Techniques" short course. Due to popular demand, there will be two sessions and you can select the one on Saturday and Sunday, March 12-13 or the one the following weekend, on Saturday and Sunday, March 19-20. You'll learn about honey bee queen biology, basics of selective honey bee breeding programs, various queen-rearing techniques, testing hygienic behavior, and assessing varroa mite levels. You'll have the opportunity to learn about and practice multiple methods for queen rearing.
“We will go through a step-by-step process for queen rearing via grafting, including setting up cell builders and mating nucs,” Elina Niño said. At the end of the course, you'll be able to check your grafting success. If you live in the area, you can take home queen cells from the workshop. You'll also learn techniques to assess varroa mite loads and to evaluate hygienic behavior. Each session also will include a guided tour of the adjacent Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden that attracts many pollinators and is filled with art from the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program and entomology/art classes taught by Diane Ullman and Donna Billick.
The $350 registration fee for each queen-rearing session covers the cost of course materials (including a set of grafting equipment: grafting frame with bars, plastic queen cups and a grafting tool), breakfast, lunch and refreshments on the days of the short course.
Interested? For more information, contact Bernardo Niño at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 380-BUZZ (2899). The Niño lab website is at http://elninobeelab.ucdavis.edu/, and the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/elninolab/. The bi-monthly apiculture newsletter, written by Elina Niño, is online.