You don't want to just keep bees, you want to devote your life to learning more about them and understanding them. And you want to engage in public service.
“Any universal and immutable scale with which to measure mastery of a human pursuit is at best elusive,” says Master Beekeeper Mea McNeil of San Anselmo, who doubles as a journalist, writing for beekeeping journals and other publications. “For those whose lives are devoted to understanding the wonders that are bees, every research answer begets a new question. So it is that an array of Master Beekeeper programs have been developed to bring dedicated beekeepers to a sophisticated level of knowledge that is defined by each course.”
McNeill, who is also an organic farmer, wrote those words for an article published 10 years ago in The American Bee Journal. Roger Morris of Cornell University taught the first known Master Beekeeping course, she related, and the first Master Beekeeping certificate went to beekeeper Peter Bizzosa in 1972.
The good news is that the University of California, Davis, is now planning its first-ever Master Beekeeping course. There are no times and dates. Not yet. It's all in the beginning stages, says Extension apiculturist Elina Niño of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
If you want to get on the Master Beekeeper list, send an email to email@example.com from your email address or the address you want subscribed. In the subject line of your message, type in: subscribe camasterbee Firstname Lastname.
“I completed the Master Beekeeping Program at the University of Nebraska under Dr. Marion Ellis,” McNeil said, adding that it was quite comprehensive. “I learned enough about bees and beekeeping to become humbled at the vastness of the subject. An important component of that program is service, so, as a working journalist, I began writing about the bee world as a result.”
In her journal article, McNeil described several programs, but pointed out that “No two programs may be alike, but they spring from a common philosophy: the bees are precious and necessary, and those who know them well will serve to help them thrive. Most intend to create ambassadors for the bees, a mission to bring the public into greater awareness of their importance.”
These are university-level courses--extensive, detailed and challenging--with written, lab, oral and field exams. You have to know the material and be comfortable in explaining it. You may have to, for example, identify “a blob of unidentifiable substance” and “describe the cause and how to prevent it,” as McNeil wrote. One blob turned out to be “chewed up bees from skunks sucking the juices from bees, then spitting out bee parts.”
Take the Master Beekeeping Program at the University of Florida. It's an ongoing program that spans a minimum of five years. Participants work toward “advancing to the next level by reading books, demonstrating public service credits, participating in research projects, or extension programs, etc.," the website says. "In order to enter the program, you must begin by taking the written and practical examination for the Apprentice Beekeeper level." Master Beekeepers serve as an arm of the Extension services.
Meanwhile, in addition to the pending Master Beekeeper course, UC Davis offers beekeeping and queen-rearing courses for novices, intermediates and advanced beekeepers. If you're interested in joining the beekeeping course list, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org from the address you want to subscribed to the list. In the subject line, type: subscribe elninobeelabclasses Firstname Lastname.
Make way for the Good Food Awards competition, opening July 6.
This year is the second consecutive year for the honey category. Last year more than 50 beekeepers from throughout the United States entered their honey.
Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, is chairing the committee. She's joined by fellow members Emily Brown, owner of AZ Queen Bee and winner of a 2014 Good Food Award in Honey; Kim Flottum, editor of Bee Culture magazine; Marina Marchese, founder of the American Honey Tasting Society and co-author (with Kim Flottum) of The Honey Connoisseur; and Mea McNeil, writer, beekeeper and organic farmer.
Here's what Harris advises:
- Put July 6, 2015 (sometime in the afternoon) on your calendar
- Go to the website: http://www.goodfoodawards.org/
- Click on the ‘Honey' link to read the NEW criteria (also listed below)
- Click on Entrant Information to download a form.
So, what are the rules? Among them:
- All honey must be the bona fide produce of the entrant's own bees.
- It must be harvested between August 2014 – August 2015.
- It must be extracted with minimal heat (100°) and after extraction, not exposed to heat greater than 120°.
- It must be strained and/or filtered to leave in pollen.
- It can be made with inclusions (such as fruit, alcohol and herbs):
- That grow domestically, inclusions are locally sourced wherever possible; traceable; and grown without synthetic herbicides, pesticides, fungicides or fertilizers.
- That are not grown domestically on a commercial scale; they are farm-direct, certified organic, or Fair Trade certified.
- It must be produced in the United States
There are other rules as well, including being responsibly reproduced.
Is honey the nectar of the gods? Or the soul of a field of flowers? Both. How many flowers must honey bees tap to make one pound of honey? Two million, according to the National Honey Board. The average worker honey bee makes only 1/12 of a teaspoon in her lifetime. How long have bees been producing honey from flowering plants? 10-20 million years. How many flowers does a honey bee visit during one collection trip? 50-100. See more questions here.
The Good Food Awards, according to its website, is all about celebrating "tasty, authentic and responsibly produced foods." The organization presents the awards at the Ferry Building in San Francisco. This year, the sixth annual, will include 13 categories: beer, cider, charcuterie, cheese, chocolate, coffee, confections, honey, pickles, preserves, spirits, oil and the newest category, pantry. Awards will be given to producers and their food communities from each of five regions of the U.S.
Meanwhile, Amina Harris says we're tasting honey all wrong! Read the interview in Civil Eats.
So said Senior Extension Associate Maryann Frazier of Penn State when she addressed the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's seminar last Wednesday, April 2 in Briggs Hall.
Frazier, on a trip to California to discuss her research with the Marin County Beekeepers, took time out to travel to the UC Davis campus at the invitation of Master Beekeeper/writer Mea McNeil of the Marin County Beekeepers and associate professor Neal Williams and assistant professor Brian Johnson of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Frazier, a 25-year extension specialist, expressed concern about the pesticide loads that bees are carrying, as well as the declining population of bees and other pollinators.
Beekeepers, she said, used to be much more concerned about colony collapse disorder (CCD), that mysterious phenomenon characterized by adult honey bees abandoning the hive, leaving the queen bee, brood and food stores behind. CCD surfaced in the winter of 2006, but today, when beekeepers report their winter losses, "they're not blaming CCD any more," she said.
Frazier listed the prime suspects of troubled bees as poor nutrition, mites, genetics, stress, pesticides, nosema and viruses. "Varroa mites are a huge issue," Frazier said.
Turning to pesticides, she said a 2007-2010 U.S. analysis of some 1000 samples (wax, bees and flowers) showed "an astonishing average of six pesticides per sample and up to 31 different pesticides per sample." The analysis, done by U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service Lab (USDA/AMS) screened for 171 pesticides at parts per billion. The samples involved a CCD study, apple orchard study, migratory study and submissions from individual beekeepers.
Frazier compared the interaction of pesticides in bees to the interaction of medications in humans. When you go to the doctor, you'll be asked the names of the medications you're taking, she said. The "interaction" situation is similar to what's happening with the honey bees.
In a bee colony, lethal exposures to pesticides are easy to see, Frazier noted. "You'll see dead bees, bees spinning on their backs and bees regurgitating." But the sub-lethal effects can mean "reduced longevity, reduced memory and learning, reduced immune function and poor orientation."
Marin County Beekeepers recently undertook a similar study of pesticide analysis, raising $12,000 to do so ($300 per sample). "Marin is very mindful of pesticides, probably more than any other place," Frazier said. McNeil agreed. The results are pending publication.
"If we truly want to protect our pollinators," Frazier concluded, "three things need to be addressed or changed:
- Beekeeper reliance on chemicals and drugs to manage mites and diseases
- Pest control practices, particularly agricultural land
- The approach of more regulatory agences assessing risk and protecting the environment"
As the seminar participants left Briggs Hall, many could be heard discussing the take-home message: "average of six pesticides per sample, up to 31 pesticides per sample."
The folks who devote their entire lives to honey bees--how do they begin?
Well, if you're Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturst at the University of California, Davis, it begins in childhood with a fascination for insects and the walks in the woods with your grandfather, who explains the flora and fauna to you.
Then when you graduate from college and attend graduate school, your mentor makes sure you're stung by a bee before you can join his research team.
M.E.A. "Mea" McNeil tells the story of Eric Mussen in a fascinating two-part series in recent editions of the American Bee Journal.
Honey bee guru Eric Mussen, a fixture in the Department of Entomology since 1976, will do just about anything to help the bees and the beekeeping industry. He fields calls from his Briggs Hall office from commercial beekeepers, small-scale beekeepers, hobbyists, beginning beekeepers, 4-H'ers, pest control advisors, growers, assorted industry representatives, legislators, news media and the general public.
And that's just to name a few. Fact is, he'll answer any question from the simple to the complicated.
One of my favorite photos of Eric Mussen is really of a bee stinging him at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis. At the time, we were doing a hive check and an irritated bee landed on his wrist.
"It's going to sting me," he said, alerting me to a pending "photo opportunity." He knew my macro lens was ready to go. Eight frames a second.
One of them is below.
I told him he could be my "hit man" any time.
If you want to read more about "the bee guy," check out the news story posted on the UC Davis Department of Entomology website, which links to McNeil's two articles in the American Bee Journal.
Pro bee, all the way.
Who celebrated the most? Homo sapiens or Apis mellifera?
It was difficult to tell.
The Celebration of the Bees, held June 18 at the hillside home of a Mill Valley resident, drew avid fans of honey bees and native bees (no, honey bees are not natives; the European colonists brought them to America in 1622).
Sponsored by Savory Thymes, the event featured a honey bee talk by master beekeeper-writer Mea McNeil of San Anselmo; a native bee demonstration and talk by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis; and learning stations staged by the Marin Beekeepers' Association.
Folks tasted honey, sampled meads, listened to live music, and feasted on hamburgers, hog dogs, beans, salad and freshly picked cherries and strawberries. It was all a benefit for the beekeeping projects of SuperOrganism: the Marin Pollen Project and the Marin Survivor Stock Queen Bee Project.
UC master gardener Kathy Ziccardi, who tends the hillside garden twice a week, thoughtfully numbered the native bee plants so guests could match each number to a hand-out sheet containing the common and botanical names. The plants ranged from African blue basil (Ocimum) and California phaelia (Phacelia cicutaria) to tickseed (Coreopsis grandiflora).
While the guests mingled, the bees worked the flowers.
There's a "bee" in benefit.