Let's pay special tribute to the servicemen and women who left the family farm to serve in our military. They were the farmers who fed the nation. And they became soldiers who defended our nation, much like guard bees defending their hives from intruders.
The late Harry Hyde Laidlaw Jr., (1907-2003), a noted professor at the University of California, Davis, was both a beekeeper and a military veteran. Harry spent his late boyhood and teen years in southeastern United States, working as a beekeeper with his grandfather. "Although he had never completed elementary school, he was able to enroll as a special student at Louisiana State University," according to a a UC memorial tribute. "In 1934 he completed a master's degree in entomology, and from there he went on to earn a Ph.D. in genetics and entomology from the University of Wisconsin in 1939."
Laidlaw went on to become renowned as "the father of honey bee genetics." (See his interview on Aggie Videos.)
But he was also an Army veteran. In 1942, he was inducted into the U.S. Army, commissioned, and served as the Army entomologist for the First Service Command in Boston, Mass. "He didn't see any war action, but I think he fought mosquitors on a base in Newfoundland," remembers his daughter Barbara Laidlaw Murphy. "Later he was stationed in Boston and that's how he met my mother. He stayed in the reserves and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel."
If you visit the UC Davis bee biology facility, the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility located on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus, you'll see a sign memorializing him. The sign, the work of Davis-based artist Donna Billick, creatively includes a hole in the skep for bees to tunnel to a hive located in back. For years we saw bees entering with pollen, leaving to get more, and guard bees on duty. Due to liability issues, the hive is no longer there, but there are plenty of hives in the apiary behind the building.
Bees and veterans go well together. Take the Hives for Heroes, a national, non-profit organization founded in 2018 in Houston, Texas, to help America's military veterans by getting them involved in beekeeping. Hives for Heroes focuses on honey bee conservation, suicide prevention, and a healthy transition from service. As their website says: "As a 501(c)3, Hives for Heroes gives back to veterans looking to start their beekeeping journey. Our organization is run by volunteers looking to serve those veterans who have selflessly served our country."
Our military veterans guarded and defended our nation. Now, in caring for their colonies in their newly acquired beekeeping roles, they can watch bees guard and defend their hives.
It's the work of Washington State University's Honey Bee Research Program, College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences (WSU CAHNRS), and accessible free online on Vimeo at https://vimeo.com/380776410.
The 28-minute video, two years in the making, is aimed at helping beekeepers improve their stock and overcome some of the obstacles they may face in their breeding efforts.
The UC Davis connection is strong. The video chronicles the work of "the father of honey bee genetics," Harry H. Laidlaw Jr., of the University of California, Davis, for whom the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis, is named. The husband-wife scientific team, Susan Cobey and Timothy Lawrence, both formerly of UC Davis and now of WSU, are executive producers and are featured in the video, as is noted bee scientist Steve Sheppard, director of the WSU Center for Reproductive Biology and former chair of the WSU Department of Entomology. The trio, also the authors, describe the Page-Laidlaw Population Breeding Program, one of the most successful bee breeding program and named for Laidlaw and Robert E. Page Jr., now a distinguished emeritus professor at UC Davis and emeritus provost, Arizona State University.
The video is "a guideline, that bees respond to selection but they need to be aware of some of the pitfalls that can hamper progress," said Lawrence, county director of WSU Extension for Island County. He's been working with bees since 1963 and landed his first commercial beekeeping job in 1969.
Sheppard says in the introductory remarks: "Honey bees are fascinating animals to work with and essential to pollination of our food supply. Currently faced with many challenges, one of our most important tools for long-term sustainability and improved honey bee health is a program of selection for stock that is hearty, productive, winters well, and has a reduced susceptibility to pests and pathogens."
Sheppard, Cobey and Lawrence know their bees. Between them, their bee experience encompasses some 150 years. Cobey, a bee breeder-geneticist who began working with bees in 1976, studied with Laidlaw, and later managed the Laidlaw facility. She is recognized as a global expert on instrumental insemination. Sheppard, who specializes in genetics and evolution of honey bees, and insect introductions and mechanisms of genetic differentiation, began working with bees while a graduate student at the University of Georgia.
In the video, Sheppard points out that "beekeepers recognize the need for more rigorous programs to select, improve and maintain their breeding stocks. The varroa mite and the movement of Africanized honey bees adds to this urgency. The principles discussed here serve as a guide to develop and establish a successful and practical breeding program with a focus on the traits you choose to enhance is your breeding population."
- Maintain a diverse population to provide the basis for selection
- A proficiency in queen and drone rearing
- Establish a selection index of desired traits
- Careful record-keeping
- Control of pests and diseases, and
- A method of controlled mating.
"The honey bee colony is a superorganism and this complicates the selection process," says Cobey, who breeds Carniolan bees. "Keeping your breeding program simple is key. Genetic diversity within the colony as well as within the population increases honey bee fitness. Several mechanisms contribute to this diversity:
- The high mating frequency of the queen.
- Semen storage--after mating only about 10 percent of the semen collected migrates to the spermatheca, although this represents each drone she has mated with."
- The high rate of recombination. a queen can mate with up to 60 drones, though typically mates with 15 to 20 drones. This mating behavior seems risky and inefficient, though is very successful in creating a genetically diverse superorganism, the colony."
"The many subfamilies of worker bees represented by the different drones mated, subfamilies specialize in different traits," Cobey says, "which together contribute to colony fitness."
She relates that "beekeepers and bee researchers have been selecting the honey bee for many years--some of the earliest attempts included attempting to mate bees in a confined enclosure or by hand .discoveries in the queens anatomy and physiology led to the first break through in controlled mating of honey bees with instrumental insemination.we owe a lot to some of the early pioneers in bee breeding like Laidlaw, (Lloyd) Watson, (Otto) Mackensen, (William) Roberts and many others."
Page-Laidlaw Closed Population Breeding Program
Noting that the Page-Laidlaw Closed Population Breeding Program "is one of the most successful practical breeding systems used, Cobey explains "the system basically is how most beekeepers approach selection--choose the best and propagate from these. The key component is an annual selection program supported with controlled mating and record keeping. Beekeepers rely on natural selection pressure to increase desirable traits in the population. The goal of the closed population breeding program is to increase the selection pressure and the frequency of desirable traits in the breeding population. Given the behavioral complexity of honey bees, this can be a challenging process. To be successful and give the program, longevity, it must be simple and repeatable."
The video drew nearly 1,000 views the first week. The first comment: "Great video! ....where can i buy that bee hat that Susan is wearing? Thanks so much!"
Cobey does have some nice hats!
That's because bees don't fly until the temperature hits around 55, and the thermometer on that wintry day (Jan. 7) refused to budge over 47.
The facility, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, is located next to the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus.
It slides Davis into the national spotlight as "Pollination Central" and "The Bee Capital of the World." The Davis facility is the newest of five USDA bee research labs in the United States and as the only one in California.
“This is the only USDA bee research team in California—where the action is,” said emcee Paul Pratt, research leader of the Invasive Species and Pollinator Health Research Lab. USDA maintains honey bee research facilities in Tucson, Ariz.; Beltsville, M.D., Baton Rouge, La., and Stoneville, Miss.
“The opening of the USDA-ARS bee lab marks a new opportunity for USDA and UC Davis entomologists to collaborate and investigate serious problems that affect stakeholders,” said Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. “We are very fortunate that the lab was built at UC Davis.”
Plans for the USDA-ARS facility began five years ago at a stakeholders' conference in the Laidlaw facility. Attendees at the November 2015 meeting targeted honey bee health, primarily varroa mites, pesticides and nutrition.
Park-Burris, of Jackie Park-Burris Queens, Palo Cedro--her family has worked with UC Davis researchers for more than 80 years--cut the ribbon with four other stakeholders: almond pollination consultant Robert Curtis of Carmichael, former director and associate director (now retired) of Agricultural Affairs, Almond Board of California; Kevin Adee of Bruce, S.D., president of the American Honey Producers' Association; Brad Pankratz of Can-Am Apiaries, Orland, Calif.; and Darren Cox of Cox Honey Farms, Logan, Utah, a past president of the American Honey Producers' Association.
Pratt introduced newly hired research entomologists, Arathi Seshadri and Julia Fine, who form the Invasive Species and Pollinator Health Research Unit at Davis. They are dedicated toward developing technology that improves colony survivorship through long-term studies of multiple stress factors, he said. "They will develop and transfer integrated biologically based approaches for the management of invasive species and the improvement of pollinator health.”
The speakers centered their presentations around cooperation, camaraderie, and, yes, the cold! (See new story and images on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website.)
Park-Burris said it well:
"The California State Beekeepers' Association is overwhelmed that we have a USDA lab to collaborate with our UC Davis lab. We hope there's a lot of collaboration going on. We really look forward to that. As a stakeholder, my family has been raising queens just north of here (Palo Cedro) for over 80 years. Dr. Laidlaw had worked with my uncle and my father. He's been at my house. And he's been through my bees. Julia (Fine) has even already been up to see the queen farm.” (See more information on Harry Hyde Laidlaw Jr., 1907-2003, the father of honey bee genetics, on the UC Davis website.)
“The queen bee breeding industry could definitely use you guys,” Park-Burris continued. “California has all the issues because everybody comes here. …it's very important that we have this lab here and how grateful we are that you have all gone to the work to make this happen."
“We look forward to solving some of our problems—varroa, varroa, varroa--and forage and pesticide interaction,” Park-Burris said, “and all that happens in California during the largest pollinator event in the world. So you're in a good place and we're grateful.”
The bees? They're grateful, too.
Beekeeper Kelvin Adee, who hails from Bruce, isn't experiencing any of that right now.
He's in California--and so are his bees for the almond pollination season.
Adee is the president of the American Honey Producers' Association, which is meeting Jan. 7 through Jan. 12 for the 2020 North American Honey and Pollinator Summit and Trade Show at the Hyatt Regency, Sacramento.
Adee and other members of the executive board met Tuesday morning, Jan. 7 at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis, for a pre-conference session. They then participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony and tour of the newly constructed USDA-ARS bee research facility, corner of Bee Biology and Hopkins roads. (See news story)
“Is it true that the national tree of South Dakota is the telephone pole?” we asked him during the luncheon.
He laughed and said the state does indeed have wide-open spaces. The population in Bruce is sparse, too. In fact, the 2019 census recorded the population at 204.
Bruce is the home of Honey Days Festival, held the last week of July. In fact, Adee Honey Farms, known as the world's largest producer of honey (and a prominent employer in town) inspired it.
But back to Kelvin Adee. He's a third-generation beekeeper. He actually lives in nearby Brookings but works out of the home office in Bruce.
His biosketch indicates: “Growing up in a commercial beekeeping family, Kelvin developed his interest in beekeeping at a young age, learning the business and the science from his father. As a third-generation beekeeper, he also gathered beekeeping knowledge from his grandfather, uncles and cousins who have been involved in beekeeping operations." Adee attended college in Bartlesville, Okla., receiving a bachelor's degree in business and accounting. and then returned to the beekeeping business. He has been actively involved in growing the business into an 80,000 colony farm operating in multiple states, according to the biosketch. He oversees the queen rearing/nuc operation in Mississippi and Texas along with company-wide honey production.
His biosketch also relates: “In addition to beekeeping, Kelvin has served on boards in various positions for the state beekeeping association and the national association. He is active in his community and his church and has served numerous years on the school board. Kelvin married his high-school sweetheart Darla and recently celebrated 37 years of marriage. They have four grown sons and five grandchildren. Three of Kelvin's sons have joined him working full time in the beekeeping business, and the fourth son works in crop production ag. He also enjoys working in the business with his father, Richard, brother, Bret and his sister Marla.”
Meanwhile, it's brrrr cold in Bruce, but here in the Davis area, it's warming up. Plants such as tidy tips, Kniphofia "Christmas Cheer" and manzanita are blooming on the UC Davis campus.
Almonds usually start blooming around Valentine's Day, heralding the beginning of almond pollination season. Hear that buzz? No? It's coming.
The Dec. 7th class is sold out. But keep in touch: another class is scheduled June 14, 2020.
In the December class, set from 8:45 a.m. to 5 p.m., in the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Center on Bee Biology Road, participants will learn how wax is made, how to collect it, how to process it, and how to make their own wax products such as candles and wax reusable food wraps.
It will be taught by Extension apiculturist Elina Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty and director of the California Master Beekeeper Program, and lab assistants Robin Lowery and Nissa Svetlana Coit.
Lowery and Coit "will be leading us through the practical part of the wax working day,” announced Wendy Mather, program manager of the California Master Beekeepers Program. “This class is perfect for the hobby and sideline beekeeper and for other individuals interested in learning the basics of working with wax.”
The instructors said the class "will be a creative and science-based class learning the what, why and how of beeswax, making candles, lotion bars, beeswax food wraps, lip balm and dipped flowers to take home.” The products are wonderful for holiday gifting, they said.
As a bonus, the instructors will provide an overview of the honey extraction process, and learn bottling, labeling rules and regulations, and how to perform a honey tasting.
Class participants will have an opportunity to make candles with wicks, use molds, pour wax into jars or cans, dip flowers in wax, and make hand lotion, chapsticks, and wax reusable food wraps.
The two lab assistants are daily exposed to bees, beekeeping, and all things related to honey bee husbandry, said Mather. Lowery, a two-year beekeeper, assists with managing the apiary and the research at the E. L. Nino lab. "She has been making gifts for special occasions for over 15 years and looks forward to modeling how to dip and roll candles, make sealing wax, lotion and lip balm, and wax food wrappers," Mather said.
Beeswax is a natural wax produced by worker honey bees, which have eight wax-producing glands in the abdominal segments. Hive workers collect the wax and use it to form cells for honey storage and for larval and pupal protection. When beekeepers extract the honey, they remove the wax caps from the honeycomb frame with an uncapping knife or machine.
Beewax has long been used for making candles (they are cleaner, brighter and burn longer than other candles) and for cosmetics and encaustic paintings. Wax food wrappers, used to wrap sandwiches and cover bowls of food, are environmentally friendly, sustainable, economical, and a reusable alternative to plastic bags. Statistics show that globally, people use an estimated one trillion single-use bags every year, or nearly 2 million a minute. While beeswax is a natural wax, plastic bags and plastic bags contain chemicals, and there is concern that chemicals can leach into the food.
The $235 registration fee covers a continental breakfast, snacks, lunch and refreshments, and materials. Participants make and take two of each item. Mather may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.