The day originated back in the 1800s as a way to recognize and thank farmers for all the work they do to feed our nation--and the world.
It's also time to thank a beekeeper.
When beekeeper Kim Flottum of northeast Ohio, the 30-year editor of Bee Culture, addressed the recent Western Apicultural Society's 40th annual conference at UC Davis, he predicted that the nation's 250,000 beekeepers (who manage around 4 million colonies) will turn into a million beekeepers in five years.
A million. We can only hope!
Flottum applauded "the incredible rise of new beekeepers in the last 10 years."
"The urban, surburban and country beekeepers are younger than the norm and we have more women beekeepers than ever," said Flottum, who launched the magazine, BEEKeeping, Your First Three Years, two years ago. "This isn't like the 1970s Green Movement--I'm old enough to remember that. It's got legs! But watch out for an ugly urban disaster like a major beespill or bad honey recall."
Beekeepers are becoming more and more diverse, specializing in honey production, pollination services and queen bee breeding. Pollination services and queen bee breeding are the most profitable, Flottum said. Honey, not so much.
"If I'm in beekeeping, pollination services is sure bet," he said. "Beekeepers now get 200 bucks a colony for almond pollination in California. Pollination is more profitable than honey. Bee breeding? Queens can sell for as much as $40 or $50."
"In the United States, we eat on the average 1.2 pounds a year, but in Canada, it's 2.5 or 2.4 pounds." He lamented that unsafe and/or questionable honey from China floods our nation's supermarkets and is being sold at undercut prices. (Some statistics indicate that a "third or more of all the honey consumed in the U.S. is likely to have been smuggled in from China and may be tainted with illegal antibiotics and heavy metals"--Food Safety News.)
It's important for American beekeepers to label their honey "Made in America" or localize it by city or state, he said.
Flottum also touched on such issues as honey bee health, nutrition, loss of habitat, poor quality forage, and pesticides.
The varroa mite/virus is the No. 1 problem for beekeepers, he said. "Other stresses include nutrition, nosema, pesticides...All of these can be fixed with money, increased diversity of bee stock, and a move way from both ag and in-hive legal and illegal chemicals."
Meanwhile, thankfully, the appreciation of honey bees seems to be growing. Brought here in 1622 by European colonists in Jamestown, Va., bees now pollinate about one-third of the food we eat.
Happy Farmers' Day. Happy Beekeepers' Day.
(Editor's Note: Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño and her colleagues at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, teach beekeeping and bee health workshops. See the Niño lab at http://elninobeelab.ucdavis.edu/. The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center is hosting a two-day course on honey, Nov. 10-11.)
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!
You could call it a slacker, a deadbeat, a moocher, a sponger, or a loafer.
Or you could call it a cuckoo bee.
Take the cuckoo bee, Xeromelecta californica, a parasite of the digger bee, Anthophora.
When the female Anthophora leaves its nest to collect more pollen, the female cuckoo bee sneaks in and lays an egg.
"When the host female seals her nest, it seals the doom of her own offspring," distinguished emeritus professor Robbin Thorp of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology told the crowd at last week's 40th annual Western Apicultural Society meeting, held at UC Davis. They eat the provisions, a pollen ball meant for the host offspring, and kill and eat the host larvae.
The cuckoo bee offspring emerge.
Thorp, co-author of California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists, also called attention to their "pointy abdomen" and "wasp-looking appearance."
But they are bees--cuckoo bees. They're also called parasitic bees or "kleptoparasites" or "cleptoparasitises."
They have no pollen-carrying/collecting apparatus, like a scopa, because they don't need any, Thorp said, just as they do not construct their own nests.
If you look around a pollinator garden, you just might sight some cuckoo bees. Last week we saw a Xeromelecta californica (as identified by Thorp and Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and UC Davis professor of entomology). It was sipping nectar from a tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica.
We've also spotted Anthophora urbana nectaring on our lavender.
One thing's for certain: a cuckoo bee didn't lay its eggs in the Anthophora nest that time or the urbana wouldn't have been there.
Her name is Sarah Red-Laird, and she is here to present an interactive educational program involving bees and beekeeping, honey, beeswax and bee habitat to students from Peregrine School, Davis. It's part of her "Bees and Kids" program, funded by the American Beekeeping Federation's Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees.
She's speaking to them as part of the Western Apicultural Society's 40th annual conference, Sept. 5-8.
The students are super excited.
Holding up fruit after fruit, she asks if they like strawberries, apples, oranges and lemons, all bee-pollinated. They eagerly raise their hands. She tells them that bees are responsible for providing one-third of the food we eat, including fruits, vegetables and nuts (almonds). Our shopping carts would be sparse if there were no bees, she says. She quizzes them about grapes, rice and oats, which are not bee-pollinated.
Then she turns to honey.
"How much honey does a bee make in her lifetime?" she asks. "Is it 1 cup, 1 teaspoon or 1/12th of a teaspoon? if you think it's one cup, raise your hand." Half a dozen hands shoot up.
"If you think it's one teaspoon, raise your hand." A few more raise their hands.
"If you think it's 1/12th of a teaspoon, raise your hand." One person responds.
"The correct answer," says Sarah the Bee Girl, "is 1/12th of a teaspoon. That's how much a honey bee makes in her lifetime."
"I guessed that!" yells a little girl.
"Did you?" Sarah asks, approvingly. "You're a smartie," she praises.
"We didn't," a boy laments.
Sarah continues. "How many flowers does it take the bees to make one pound of honey?" she asks, holding up a jar of honey.
The students respond with answers that range from 99 to 100 to 200 to 1000 to 2000 to 8000 to 1 billion.
"The correct answer is 2 million," she tells them. "it takes 2 million flowers to fill this one jar of honey."
Sarah drives home the point with: "The best thing to do to help bees is to plant flowers. Let's say it all together. what can you do to help bees?
"Plant flowers!" they chorus.
Later she reads a book and then asks them to answer questions about nurse bees, house bees, scout bees, guard bees, queen bees, foragers and drones. Each person who answers the question correctly is adorned with props depicting that bee.
The first graders love it! They gigle, laugh and cheer.
Next they move in small groups to the educational stations where they taste honey, learn about bee habitat and bees wax, and see honey bees and other bees up close.
It's obvious that Sarah loves bees and wants others to love them, too.
Sarah says her love of bees began in Southern Oregon, on the deck of her aunt's cabin, at the end of a country road. She received her degree, with honors, in resource conservation from the University of Montana and did research in Jerry Bromenshenk Honey Bee Lab. She presented her beekeeping findings at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research on "How to Keep 100,000 Girlfriends, the Careful Relationship of a Beekeeper and Her Honey Bees."
Among the UC Davis personnel assisting her at the haven were:
- Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who caught and released bees with a device that included a magnifying glass
- Staff research associates Bernardo Niño of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr., Honey Bee Research Facility/UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who staffed the beeswax table, where children drew pictures with crayons
- Staff research associate and Charley Nye of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr., Honey Bee Research Facility/UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who staffed the habitat table, where the children learned about where the bees live.
- Zoe Anderson, a UC Davis undergraduate student majoring in animal biology, assisted with the honey tasting. The youths all agreed they liked Sarah's vetch honey the best.
This is the week of the 40th annual Western Apicultural Society's conference, set Sept. 5-8 at the University of California, Davis. The non-profit group, founded at UC Davis to meet the educational needs of small-scale beekeepers primarily throughout the western United States, will meet in the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC) on campus.
It's a conference filled with educational topics, networking, field trips, a silent auction, door prizes and just plain "bee" fun, says honey bee guru and Western Apicultural Society (WAS) co-founder Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who is serving his sixth term as president.
He's been bee-sy. Ditto the delivery services to the third floor of Briggs Hall. Tomorrow the packages will be trucked over to the ARC, and the anticipation continues.
The newest addition to the conference schedule is the "Kids and Bees" program, set from 10:30 a.m. to noon on Tuesday, Sept. 5 in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, located on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis campus. The haven is the department's half-acre educational bee garden. "Bee Girl" Sarah Red-Laird of Ashland, Ore., program director of the American Beekeeping Federation's "Kids and Bees" Program and executive director of Bee Girl will be "borrowing" the site as part of a grant from the American Beekeeping Federation's Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees. First-graders from Peregrine School, Davis, have signed up for the interactive educational program involving bees and beekeeping, honey, beeswax and bee habitat.
Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, and staff research associates Bernardo Niño and Charley Nye of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr., Honey Bee Research Facility/UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology will staff four of the work stations.
As for the Bee Girl organization, Sarah describes it as a "nonprofit with a mission to inspire and empower communities to conserve bees, their flowers, and our food system." She serves as the Oregon director of the Western Apicultural Society, a member of the New York Bee Sanctuary Advisory Board, and the regional representative to the Southern Oregon Beekeepers' Association. She is also a "Mountainsmith Brand Ambeesador." (As of Monday afternoon, she was seeking several more volunteers. Those interested can contact her email@example.com or 541-708-1127.) See her work on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (@sarahBeeGirl). Her hashtag is #loveyourbees.
Sarah describes her Bee Girl organization as a "nonprofit with a mission to inspire and empower communities to conserve bees, their flowers, and our food system." She serves as the Oregon director of the Western Apicultural Society, a member of the New York Bee Sanctuary Advisory Board, and the regional representative to the Southern Oregon Beekeepers' Association. She is also a "Mountainsmith Brand Ambeesador." (As of Monday afternoon, she was seeking several more adult volunteers to help out at the stations. Those interested can contact her firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-708-1127.) You can see her work--and her passion--on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (@sarahBeeGirl). She's known by the hashtag, #loveyourbees.
And she does. The logo adorns her bee suit.
Topics at the WAS meeting? They range from Africanized honey bees to top bar hives to how to keep your bees healthy. See schedule. Eric Mussen, who offers 10 reasons why one should attend the conference (see Bug Squad blog), may be reached at email@example.com for further information.