It was the third day of the Western Apicultural Society's 40th annual conference, and Oliver was there to show beekeepers how to determine the levels of Nosema or Varroa mite infection in their hives. He brought along his microscope, his four decades worth of beekeeping experience, and his humor.
His credentials: He owns and operates a small commercial beekeeping enterprise in the foothills of Grass Valley, Northern California. He and his two sons manage approximately 1000 colonies for migratory pollination, and they produce queens, nucs and honey.
Oliver holds two university degrees (BS) and master's (MS), specializing in entomology.
He is an avid scientist. He researches, analyzes and digests beekeeping information from all over the world in order not only to broaden his own depth of understanding and knowledge, but to develop practical solutions to many of today's beekeeping problems. He then shares that information with other beekeepers through his bee journal articles, worldwide speaking engagements and on his website, www.scientificbeekeeping.com. Oliver says on his website, "This is not a 'How You Should Keep Bees' site; rather, I'm a proponent of 'Whatever Works for You' beekeeping." He is never without a research project; he collaborates with the nation's leading bee scientists, and is a stickler for data. "I'm a 'data over dogma' guy, and I implore my readers to correct me on any information at this website that is out of date or not supported by evidence."
But back to his presentation. Got bees? Yes.
Oliver calmly reached into a hive and brought out a handful of nurse bees (the foragers were out foraging) as Sonoma County Beekeepers' Association newsletter editor Ettamarie Peterson watched. A longtime beekeeper and 4-H leader, she owns Peterson's Farm, Petaluma, a certified bee friendly farm. She marveled at the bees on his hand.
Seeking to share the bee-utiful bees, Oliver handed them over to her as photographers chronicled the encounter.
"See, they don't sting!" he said.
They did not. Here's proof!
Honey bees are still in trouble.
University of California scientists hammered home that point tonight during the PBS NewsHour program on the colony collapse disorder (CCD) and the declining bee population.
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology told Spencer Michels of the PBS NewsHOur that "We really don't seem to have accomplished a whole lot (since CCD surfaced five years ago), because we're still losing, on an average, approximately 30 percent or more of our colonies each year. And that's higher than -- than it used to be. Only 25 percent of the beekeepers seem to have this CCD problem over and over and over. The other 75 percent have their fingers crossed and say, 'I don't know what this is, but it's not happening to me.'"
CCD is indeed frustrating, agreed Mussen, beekeeper-researcher Randy Oliver of Grass Valley, and UC San Francisco researchers Joseph DeRisi, Michelle Flenniken and Charles Runkel.
Flenniken, a postdoctoral fellow in the Raul Andino lab at UCSF and the recipient of the Häagen-Dazs Postdoctoral Fellowship in Honey Bee Biology at UC Davis, was among the team of scientists who recently discovered four new bee viruses, a discovery that may help unlock the secrets of why the bee population is declining.
The team found the new viruses while examining viruses and microbes in healthy commercially managed honey bee colonies over a 10-month period.
"Honey bee colonies, kind of like human populations, are exposed to a number of viruses and pathogens throughout the whole -- the entire course of the year," Flenniken told Michels. "So what this study provides us is a normal, healthy colony baseline of the ebb and flow of the microbes associated with that colony throughout the course of the year."
Oliver, who maintains 1000 hives and who has dealt with CCD, pointed out that CCD is resulting in "new science, new interest and new researchers" studying the mysterious malady.
As scientists delve in the mysteries of what's ailing the bees, they're bound to learn what's causing it. Meanwhile, it's good to see a national news program exploring this topic.
(Read PBS NewsHour transcript. Read more about the declining bee population on Spencer Michels' blog.)
Robbin Thorp's many areas of expertise include the amazing diversity of native bees.
He'll discuss their diversity, nesting habits and nest site requirements when he addresses the 2010 Bee Symposium, sponsored by the Santa Rosa-based Partners for Sustainable Pollination (PFSP).The conference, to take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, March 7 in the Subud Center, 234 Hutchins Ave., Sebastopol, will offer updates and new perspectives on honey bees and native pollinators.
Thorp, a native bee specialist and an emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, "retired" in 1994, but not really. He still maintains his office at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, and continues to focus his research on the ecology, systematics, biodiversity and conservation of bees. He's involved in research on the role of native bees in crop pollination, the role of urban gardens as bee habitat, and declines in native bumble bee populations.
Thorp is known as the "go-to" person when it comes to native bee identification. Mason bees? Check. Leafcutter bees? Check. Blue orchard bees? Check. Bumble bees? Double-check.
Last June he presented a talk at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., on "Western Bumble Bees in Peril" and in August, addressed the Western Apicultural Society conference in Healdsburg on native bees.
Retired? No way.
Among the other main speakers at the 2010 Bee Symposium: Kathy Kellison (top left), executive director of PFSP; beekeeper Serge Labesque of Glen Ellen, Sonoma County; researcher and beekeeper Randy Oliver of Grass Valley, Nevada County; and Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist (honey bee specialist) and a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
The conference also will include information on beekeeping practices, innovative approaches and ecological strategies for beekeepers, Kellison said, "and actions that can be taken by beekeepers, groups and other interested supporters who wish to help our bees."
Kellison say the "early bee" (not "early bird") registration for the 2010 Bee Symposium is $25 if you sign up by March 1. After March 1, the cost is $30. It's open to all interested persons.
More information on the symposium, including registration, is on the PFSP Web site.