Christmas in May?
When it's in full bloom, the aptly named "tower of jewels," Echium wildpretii, which can tower as high as 10 feet, looks very much like a Christmas tree. Think of the brilliant red blossoms as red bells.
Native to the island of Tenerife, it belongs to the family Boraginaceae. It's a biennial, meaning that it takes two growing seasons to complete its life cycle. In the Vacaville, Calif., area, it blooms in its second year, around mid-April and diminishes by mid-May.
Honey bees love its nectar and pollen. And the pollen? It's blue, which is always a surprise when beekeepers open their hives. "Where did that blue come from?"
Scilla sibirica (wood squill) and Epilobium angustifolium (fireweed) also yield blue pollen as does Gilia tricolor (bird's eye). Borage pollen is a bluish-gray.
"The importance of pollen to the health and vigor of the honey bee colony cannot be overstated," writes emeritus entomology professor Norman Gary of the University of California, Davis, in his best-selling book, "Honey Bee Hobbyist, The Care and Keeping of Bees."
"Honey satisfies the bees' carbohydrate requirements, while all of the other nutrients---minerals, proteins, vitamins and fatty substances--are derived from pollen. Nurse bees consume large amounts of pollen, converting it into nutritious secretions that are fed to developing larvae. During an entire year, a typical bee colony gathers and consumes about 77 pounds of pollen."
Gary adds: "Pollen in the plant world is the equivalent of sperm in the animal world. Fertilization and growth of seeds depends upon the transfer of pollen from the male flower parts (anthers) to the receptive female parts (stigmas)."
Honey bee experts at UC Davis and Oregon State University (OSU) will teach the comprehensive, asynchronous course, "Honey Bees and Beekeeping for Veterinarians." Registration is now underway at http://www.wifss.ucdavis.edu/beevets/. The course is intended for veterinarians, veterinary technicians, apiculture educators, apiary inspectors and beekeepers in California and Oregon. Participants are encouraged to register today; the course will be available only until June 30, 2020.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) addresses antibiotic resistance and antimicrobial use in the feed or water of food-producing animals. The VFD implementation aims to ensure the judicious use of antimicrobials, and to minimize the impact of their use in colonies.
This means that beekeepers now need to establish a veterinarian-client-patient relationship to obtain the antibiotics they need to manage foulbrood and other microbial diseases, according to the course instructors.
The training is being offered by the laboratory of Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, affiliated with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources; the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine; and OSU.
Course authors and developers are the Western Institute for Food and Security (WIFSS), UC Davis; Elina Niño and Bernardo Niño; Jonathan Dear, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, and Ramesh Saglii, OSU's Honey Bee Laboratory.
Instructors said that participants, upon completion of the course, will be able to:
- Describe the importance of honey bees
- Explain the veterinarian's role in commercial beekeeping
- Recognize distinguished characteristics of honey bees
- Recognize specialized beekeeping equipment, including personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Recognize the components of a hive inspection
- Describe honey bee immunity against pathogens, pests and diseases
- Describe common pests and diseases that may impact honey bees
- Describe how the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) governs the use of antimicrobial drugs in apiculture
Honey bees are responsible for pollinating one-third of the American diet. They pollinate such specialty crops as apples, melons, cranberries, pumpkins, squash, broccoli, and almonds. However, annual honey bee colony losses are high due to a variety of environmental and biological causes, including bacterial diseases. Historically, beekeepers have self-prescribed antibiotics to control these diseases.
Funding for the development of the “Honey Bees and Beekeeping for Veterinarians” course was made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Specialty Crop Multi-State Program through an agreement between the California Department of Food and Agriculture and The Regents of the University of California, Davis (agreement number 17-0727-001-SF).
They're known for their creativity.
What they do, however, does not involve correcting social injustices, breaking ceilings in workplaces or pushing the latest fashions, as the descriptive adjectives might indicate.
It has everything to do with making award-winning mead or honey wine.
The event runs from 8:30 a.m. to noon each day.
"This course is for anyone who has experience making mead and wants to take their craft to the next level," says Amina Harris, director of Honey and Pollination Center, affiliated with the UC Davis Mondavi Institute and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
- Jeff Herbert, Superstition Meadery (Prescott, Ariz.)
- Carvin Wilson, a vocational meadmaker and mead promoter extraordinaire (Phoenix, Ariz.)
- Chrissie Manion Zaerpoor, Kookoolan Farms and Kookoolan World Meadery, and author of The Art of Mead Tasting and Food Pairing" (Yamhill, Ore.)
- Pete Bakulic, director of the Mazer Cup International Mead Competition and mead consultant
- Billy Beltz, owner of Lost Cause Meadery (San Diego.)
- Michelle and Jeremy Kyncl, owners of Hierophant Meadery (Mead, Wash.)
Yes, you read that last line right. Mead makers Michelle and Jeremy Kynci of Mead. You can sip mead in Mead at their Green Bluff Tasting Room. Mead is an unincorporated suburb north of Spokane, population under 8000, according to the 2010 Census. It was NOT named for honey wine but for Civil War Army General "Old Snapping Turtle" George Meade, 1815-1873, known for defeating Confederate General Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg. His name lives on despite an "e" that went MIA.
Curious what Hierophant means? As the owners say on their website: "The Hierophant is generally described as 'one who reveals/shows what is sacred or holy.' We believe that the honey bee should be revered as such, as the declining population of honey bees and wild pollinators most certainly reveal to us that change is needed in the way things are done in our food system. We therefore depicted the honey bee as the Hierophant by adding a kabbalistic tree of life in our logo representation. This tree of life symbol is associated with the Hierophant."
The last day to register for the UC Davis course (the fee for the two-day course is $275) is Wednesday, May 12. Register here. You can contact Elizabeth Luu, marketing and events manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
That's 127 years of working with the bees.
Master Beekeeper Jason Miller of Miller Honey Farms, Inc. of Newcastle, Calif., one of America's pioneering and foremost beekeeping operations, will speak on "Beekeeping through the Generations" when the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center hosts its online symposium on Honey Adulteration on Thursday, April 22.
Said Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollination Center, located in the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science on Old Davis Road: "Jason is following in the footsteps of his great-great-grandfather over 100 years ago. Through this lens, he will discuss the most important issues historically and in beekeeping today." A question-and-answer session will follow.
Jason Miller traces his beekeeping roots back to Nephi Ephraim Miller of Providence, Utah, who started his honey business in 1894. "With the help of his pioneer father, Nephi exchanged five bags of oats for seven colonies of bees. This was the beginning of Miller's Honey," according to the website. Miller's Honey Farms established its Idaho office 1917, when "Nephi Miller sent his son Earl into Southeast Idaho to seek additional bee pasture. In 1954, Earl's son, Neil took over the Idaho branch. Neil operated the Blackfoot, ID outfit until 1996. In 1996, he sold the outfit to his son John Miller."'
Miller Honey Farms opened a new branch in Gackle, N.D. in 1970 and it is now considered "one of the largest beekeeping outfits in North America. John Miller has managed or owned this operation since 1980. The Gackle operation annually harvests over a million pounds of high quality honey for markets throughout the United States."
In conjunction with California's growing almond industry, Miller Honey Farms opened the Newcastle branch in 1974. John Miller has managed or owned this operation since 1980. (See John Miller interview on bees)
Jason Miller is just one of the speakers for the symposium, titled Honey Adulteration: Understanding the Issues of Honey, Beekeeping and the Safety of our Food Supply, and set from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Keynote speaker is Professor Michael Roberts of the UCLA Resnick Center for Law and Food Policy. Registration, $30 per person, is under way here.
"With a focus on keeping our food system healthy, presenters will address issues of pollination, economic adulteration, and how beekeeping, a mainstay for this system, is being threatened," Harris says. A panel of specialty food retailers will discuss how they source and select products and educate and inspire their customers. Professionals in the field will address steps being taken to mitigate the adulteration of honey in the United States.
9 a.m.: Welcome and Introductions
Amina Harris, director, UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science
9:10 a.m.: Keynote Address
Michael Roberts, Professor, UCLA Resnick Center for Law and Food Policy
9:30 a.m.: Retailer Roundtable
Retailers will discuss how they educate their clientele, earning respect and allegiance while guiding their food choices. A question and answer session will follow.
- Moderator: Jessica Zischke, Good Food Foundation, San Francisco
- John Antonelli, Antonelli's Cheese, Austin, Texas
- Ari Weinzweig, Zingerman's, Ann Arbor, Mich.
- Danielle Vogel, Glen's Garden Market, Washington, D.C.
- Raph Mogannam, BiRite Family of Businesses, San Francisco
- Amelia Rappaport, Woodstock Farmers' Market, Woodstock, VT
10 a.m. Beekeeping through the Generations
Jason Miller works in one of America's older beekeeping operations, Miller Honey Farms, following in the footsteps of his great-great-grandfather more than 100 years ago. Through this lens, he will discuss the most important issues historically and in beekeeping today. A question-and-answer session will follow.
10:30 a.m.: Testing Development at the USDA
Roger Simonds, USDA researcher, will explain some of the new techniques being developed to help deter adulteration in the United States, today. A question-and-answer session will follow.
10:50 a.m.: What IS the Government Doing?
In response to repeated demands from the industry, U.S .Customs has now implemented a program of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance to scan every honey entering the U.S. from abroad. What does this mean for our national honey supply? Chris Hiatt, vice president of the American Honey Producers Association and owner of Hiatt Honey, Madera, Calif., a third-generation beekeeping operation, will discuss the situation.
11:15 a.m.: What Can we Do?
Attendees will be assigned to chatrooms to discuss action items and idea that could be promoted and pursued by the American Honey Producers, the Honey and Pollination Center and other honey and beekeeping related groups. Ideas will be presented in the wrap up session.
11:30 a.m: Wrap Up and Closing
Follow-up on selected action items to be conducted by the Honey and Pollination Center
When honey bees swarmed last week at the entrance to the Epiphany Episcopal Church in Vacaville, the site seemed quite fitting.
Biblical references to bees and honey, such as "the land of milk and honey," abound.
Blessed are the bees.
Bees, responsible for pollinating one-third of the food we eat and renowned for their intelligence and industriousness, figure prominently in religion, mythology and folklore. Roman Catholic Bishop St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) of Geneva viewed a bee's work as "pure," writing that “the bee collects honey from flowers in such a way as to do the least damage or destruction to them, and he leaves them whole, undamaged and fresh, just as he found them.” (The bishop, later honored as a saint, apparently did not know that worker bees are female, not male.)
So enter Epiphany Episocol Church congregation member and music director Carlyn Crystal of Vacaville, the "junior warden" or "people's warden" who helps coordinate issues with the facility and grounds. She heard the buzz, saw the small cluster (about the size of several baseballs) 12 feet above the church entrance, and on the third day, contacted the Craig Hunt family, a Vacaville family of beekeepers.
Swarming, mainly a spring phenomenon, is the colony's means of reproduction as scout bees search for a new, permanent home. The swarm usually moves within three days.
Craig, his wife Shelly and daughters Alyssa, 13 and Emma, 8, arrived in the early evening of March 22 with a ladder, a smoker and a bee box. The family keeps some 50 hives at their residence on Meridian Road and were active in 4-H beekeeping projects before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Craig has taught many a 4-H'er, including his daughters, about bees.
"The bees may have swarmed to a nearby location," Craig said.
But there they were, the social insects congregating at the entrance to Epiphany, forming their own choir and social center.
Yes, 4-H projects have long included beekeeping. The Solano County 4-H Program, comprised of 10 clubs (as well as the military 4-H programming at Travis Air Force base), currently has one beekeeping project, according to Valerie Williams, Solano County 4-H Program Representative. The beekeeping project, offered by the Suisun Valley 4-H Club, includes 11 youth and two adult volunteer project leaders. (News flash: James "LJ" George gave an illustrated talk on beekeeping at the Solano County 4-H Presentation Day, held March 13 on Zoom and won a gold award.)
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Solano County 4-H Office is temporarily closed and meetings, programs and workshops are under restrictions.
Bees, however, know neither boundaries nor borders as they go about their bees-ness.
Church grounds are just fine with them.
Blessed are the bees.
(Note: Beekeeper Craig Hunt can be reached at 707-637-7221)