"You can learn a lot from these displays," a fairgoer at the 144th annual Dixon May Fair commented.
She was looking at an educational display with the catchy title, "None of Your Beeswax," the work of Ryan Anenson of the Tremont 4-H Club, Dixon, whose projects include beekeeping. The display is showcased in the Youth Building (Denverton Hall) at the Dixon May Fair, which opened Thursday, May 9 and continues through Sunday, May 12.
In his project, Anenson explained what bees produce. He zeroed in on bee venom, pollen, beeswax, royal jelly, honey, propolis, and also alternative medicine, history of honey, and bee hive air. Anenson concluded: "Honey might be the most well-known bee product in the world, but it certainly isn't the only by-product these magnificent creatures produce. Bees are considered 'the pillars of agriculture' for the work they do in pollination. If you have ever enjoyed most fruit, vegetables and other crops, you should generally thank the bees. Through pollination, bees contribute to maintaining biological balance in nature and help various animal and plant species, including humans, to thrive. Honeybee products are an entirely natural food source and have a long medicinal history that people have used since ancient times.Bees are arguable the most invaluable species to life on earth and are more vital than many people may realize."
As for beeswax, Anenson penned: "Worker bees at a young age will secrete beeswax from a series of glands on their abdomens. They use this beeswax to form the walls and caps of the honeycomb. However, some beekeepers use plastic as a foundation or substitute for honeycomb. Just like the honey that bees produce, many people harvest beeswax for various purposes, like candles, lip balms, creams, polish and conditioners, just to name a few."
The teenage 4-H'er was among those who attended a UC Davis Bee Symposium several years ago, and also participated in a recent California Honey Festival, co-sponsored by the City of Woodland and the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center.
Madeline Giron, another Dixon 4-H'er, sketched a color pencil drawing of a bee, and Markus Taliaferro of the Suisun Valley 4-H Club, Dixon, submitted a photo of a honey bee sipping nectar. Another drawing, the work of Katelyn Nipper of Fairfield, featured "crayon art flowers": brightly colored spring flowers bordered by the crayons she used.
Lots of flowers! Just add pollinators!
Meanwhile, speaking of pollinators and plants, there's a clearance plant sale at UC Davis on Saturday, May 11 at the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden's Teaching Nursery on Garrod Drive. It's open to the public from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Horticulturists are billing it as a "Pollinator Paradise." Everything is 15 percent off (Members receive an additional 10 percent off.) You can access the inventory here.
Lots of plants! Just add pollinators!
Yesterday on Bug Squad we featured holiday gifts available at the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis--from calendars, t-shirts and sweatshirts to books, jewelry, posters, and insect-collecting equipment. Monarchs, honey bees, lady beetles, dragonflies--and more--grace the shirts. (Note: the museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, is closed to the public Dec. 21-Jan. 6.)
Ready for Part II of entomological gift-giving craze?
The UC Davis Entomology Graduate Student Association (EGSA) offers a variety of innovative and creative t-shirts, all designed by graduate students.
The EGSA, comprised of UC Davis graduate students who study insect systems, is an organization that "works to connect students from across disciplines, inform students of and provide opportunities for academic success, and to serve as a bridge between the students and administration," according to EGSA president Brendon Boudinot, an ant specialist/doctoral candidate in the Phil Ward lab.
As a year-around fundraising project, they sell t-shirts, which can be viewed and ordered online at https://mkt.com/UCDavisEntGrad/. They're especially popular during the holidays.
One of the favorite bee t-shirts depicts a honey bee emerging from its iconic hexagonal cells. It's the 2014 winner by then doctoral student Danny Klittich, now a California central coast agronomist.
Jill Oberski, a graduate student in the Phil Ward lab, designed an award-winning onesie, “My Sister Loves Me." It's an adult ant, “loosely based on Ochetellus, a mostly-Australian genus,” she says. Oberski serves as the t-shirt sales coordinator. She can be reached at email@example.com for more information on the t-shirts. (For holiday gifting, they should be ordered now--or at least by Dec. 20)
Over at the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, directed by Amina Harris, the focus is on honey, mead-making classes, the honey flavor wheel and insect-themed note cards. The center is located in the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Sciences on Old Davis Road, UC Davis campus.
Interested in learning how to make mead (an alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey)? The center is offering a Mead-Making Bootcamp from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 24, in the Robert Mondavi Institute Brewery, Winery, and Food Pilot Facility and Mead Making 101 on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 25-26 in the Sensory Theater of the Robert Mondavi Institute. (Click on links above for more information).
The Honey and Pollination Center is also selling varietals of honey: orange blossom, coriander and wildflower (purchase here) and offering free recipes. Think "Honey Roasted Carrots," "Bourbon and Honey Chocolate Lollipops" and "Lemon and Ginger Infused Honey."
Honey Flavor Wheel
The Honey Favor Wheel, published by the Honey and Pollination Center, enables folks to define and describe their honey tasting experience. "This wheel will prove invaluable to those who love honey and want to celebrate its nuances," Harris says. "The front of the colorful wheel has all of the descriptors – the back explains how to taste honey and shares four honey profiles so the consumer can get an idea of how to use this innovative product!" Purchase here.
The Honey and Pollination Center is selling insect-themed cards (photographs by yours truly, Kathy Keatley Garvey). Purchase here. A set includes the following eight cards:
- California Buckeye Butterfly on Sedum
- Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly on Mexican Sunflower
- Yellow-Faced Bumble Bee on Red Buckwheat
- Monarch Butterfly and Honey Bee on Mexican Sunflower
- Honey Bee visiting Tower of Jewels
- Hover Fly (Syrphid) on Gaillardia
- Brilliant Male Green Sweat Bee on a Seaside Daisy
- Female Sweat Bee on Purple Coneflower
For inquiries, contact Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollination Center, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Something sweet. Something neat.
That incongruous belief that “Honey is bee vomit” is resurfacing on a number of YouTube channels, opinion pieces and other Internet posts. It's usually said with great glee: “Honey is bee vomit! It's bee puke! It's bee barf!”
Is it #FakeNews?
We asked noted honey bee guru Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus at the University of California, Davis, whose career in bee education spans four decades, to settle the issue. Although he retired in 2014, he keeps active. Last year he completed a term--his sixth--as president of the Western Apicultural Society. He maintains an office in Briggs Hall.
And he continues to answer questions about bees and honey.
“As for the bees and vomit issue, the explanation requires quite a bit of knowledge,” Mussen says. It's about an "expandable pouch called 'the honey stomach' (which we humans do not have) and a valve called the "proventriculus" (which we humans do not have)."
“As most people know, honey begins as a dilute sugar solution secreted by ‘nectaries,' sugar syrup-secreting glands which are located in flowers or in extra-floral nectaries,” Mussen explains. “Pollen is not a natural constituent of nectar. The nectar is sucked up by honey bees and it passes into an expandable pouch called the ‘honey stomach.' This is the pre-digestive part of the part of the digestive tract that honey bees use to bring water and nectar to the hive. In honey bees and other insects, this ‘crop' precedes the portions of the digestive tract used for digesting food. There is a unique valve between the crop and the ventriculus (midgut), called the ‘proventriculus,' that has rake-like projections that constantly pull particulates, like pollen grains, from the crop contents and push them along for digestion.”
“Then the film is again exposed to the air. That process repeats itself until the moisture content of the syrup falls below 20 percent. Evaporation is influenced significantly by the relative humidity. Since honey will ferment at moisture contents above 20 percent, it is important to leave the honey with the bees until it can be immediately processed in locations with high humidity. That honey will seem to be thin. During the summer in California, the ambient relative humidity is quite low--15 percent or less. In that case, honey produced in the Central Valley can have a moisture content of 13 to 13.5 percent. That honey is quite thick.”
As an aside, “pollen grains are likely to be found in honey,” Mussen says. “Wind-blown pollens can fall into flowers that are open faced. Pollen grains are collected by hairs on the bees' bodies. They can get onto the mouthparts and become consumed with the nectar. Nectar-processing bees may have eaten some pollen in the hive before processing the honey. This is how the pollen grains get into honey. They do not necessarily get consumed with the fresh nectar. Physical contaminants of honey have to be quite small, like pollen grains, since the bees ingest all their food by drinking it through a straw-like proboscis with a very small opening at the tip. Most of the physical contaminants are removed by the proventriculus.”
And here's the point: “Since honey never is mixed with digesting food in the intestinal tract, it is inaccurate to refer to honey as ‘bee vomit.' A dictionary definition of vomit includes ‘disgorging the stomach contents through the mouth.' Since a human does not have a crop, the stomach is in direct contact with the esophagus and mouth. In a bee, the proventriculus and crop are in direct contact with the mouth. The digestion of solid foods in bees begins in the ventriculus and there is no way that a honey bee can bring that food back through the proventriculus, or ‘vomit.'
Which begs the question: Why can't we enjoy honey for what it is, not for what it isn't?
We can. Mark your calendar to attend these two events: the second annual California Honey Festival on May 5 in downtown Woodland (it's held in partnership with the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center) and the fourth annual UC Davis Bee Symposium: Keeping Bees Healthy (hosted by the Honey and Pollination Center and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology) on March 3 in the UC Davis Conference Center. The Bee Symposium will feature keynote speaker Thomas Seeley, the Horace White Professor in Biology at Cornell University, New York.
Interested in beekeeping? UC Davis Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño and her lab will teach a number of classes this spring, beginning March 24, at the Harry H.Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis campus.
The schedule and links to the capsule information:
- Planning Ahead for Your First Hives: Saturday, March 24
- Working Your Colonies: Sunday, March 25
- Queen-Rearing Techniques Short Course: Saturday and Sunday, April 21-22 course; Saturday and Sunday, April 28-29 course
- Bee-Breeding Basics: Saturday, June 9
- Varroa Management Strategies: Saturday, June 16
When the American Beekeeping Federation (ABF) meets Jan. 9-13 at the Grand Sierra Resort, Reno, Nev. for its 75th annual American Beekeeping Federation Conference & Tradeshow, the key concern is bee health.
Sadly, colony losses continue to take their toll.
Our nation's honey bee colonies are down slightly for operations with five or more colonies, according to statistics released Aug. 1, 2017 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In its news release, the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service noted that "Honey bee colonies for operations with five or more colonies in the United States on January 1, 2017 totaled 2.62 million colonies, down slightly from January 1, 2016. The number of colonies in the United States on April 1, 2017 was 2.89 million colonies. During 2016, honey bee colonies on January 1, April 1, July 1, and October 1 were 2.62 million, 2.80 million, 3.18 million, and 3.03 million colonies, respectively."
Honey bee colony loss (for operations with five or more colonies) amounted to 362,000 colonies or 14 percent. "The number of colonies lost during the quarter of April through June 2017 was 226,000 colonies, or 8 percent," according to the USDA news release. "During the quarter of October through December 2016, colonies lost totaled 502,000 colonies, or 17 percent, the highest of any quarter in 2016. The quarter in 2016 with the lowest number of colonies lost was April through June, with 330,000 colonies lost, or 12 percent."
And again, no surprise: the No. 1 colony stressor was that dreaded varroa mite (Varroa destructor) and the viruses it can transmit. The parasitic mites suck the blood (hemolymph) from both the adults and developing brood, especially drone pupae.
The ABF conference will zero in on the varroa mite at several presentations on Thursday, Jan. 10:
- "Selecting for Behavioral Resistance to Varroa Destructor"--Krispn Given, Apiculture Specialist, Purdue University Department of Entomology, West Lafayette, Ind.
- "RNA Viruses and Varroa Mites: Temporal Variation in Honey Bee Pathogens Influences Patterns of Co-Infection"--Alex Burham, University of Vermont, Burllngton, Va.
- "Engaging Beekeepers with MiteCheck: Implementing a Nationwide Citizen Science Program for Monitoring and Comparing Varroa destructor Infestations"--Rebecca Masterman, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minn.
Overall, the diamond-anniversary conference will focus on educational sessions, social and networking activities "and lots of opportunities to learn about new products and services," according to ABF president Gene Brandi of Los Banos, a bee industry leader for four decades. He currently manages some 2000 colonies in central California with his son.
Morris Weaver of Montgomery, Texas, the 1975-76 ABF president, will deliver the keynote presentation on "The American Beekeeping Federation, Inc.: 75 Years Strong."
Attendees can choose from five track sessions: small scale beekeepers; serious sideliners; package bee and queen breeders; honey producers and packers; and commercial beekeepers. Registration also will take place at the door.
On Saturday, Jan. 13, Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, will present two honey-tasting workshops: "Taste and Evaluate Honey: Matching Flowers to Flavors."
This week is truly a gathering of bee scientists and beekeepers. In conjunction with the ABF conference, the American Bee Research Conference will take place Jan. 11-12 in Reno. Marla Spivak, MacArthur Fellow and Distinguished McKnight University Professor, University of Minnesota, is the keynote speaker.
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.)