- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Or you may have seen her volunteering at the annual California Honey Bee Festival in Woodland, an all-day program co-sponsored by the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center.
Or you may have seen her volunteering at the UC Davis Pollinator Education Program at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven and the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Facility, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
But if you enroll in the California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMBP) at UC Davis, you definitely will see her—and know her as Wendy Mather, the program manager.
CAMBP, based in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, educates stewards and ambassadors for honey bees and beekeeping.
Members of the program serve as knowledgeable ambassadors who disseminate science-based information about the importance of honey bees, preserving bee health, and responsible beekeeping, Niño said.
Mather succeeds founding CAMBP manager Bernardo Niño, who now heads bee research and development at UBEES Inc. He continues to works with CAMBP as its educational advisor.
“CAMBP is designed for beekeeping at the urban and homesteader levels, and small hobbyists,” Mather said. “We work with beekeepers and bee clubs throughout the state to ensure an ongoing interest in keeping bees healthy.”
In 2016, 56 participants successfully passed the Apprentice Level exams and became Master Beekeepers in the Class of 2016. In 2017, 40 more joined them. Next on tap is the Apprentice Level exam for the Class of 2018. The prospective members, who all pre-registered earlier this year, will participate in the CAMBP Apprentice Exam Review on Saturday, Sept. 15, with the exam set on Sunday, Sept.15. Both will take place in the Laidlaw facility on Bee Biology Road.
Mather, an El Dorado Hills resident, has been keeping bees since 2007. “I learned from the Tech Transfer Team at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, on the job from my former boss at Nature's Own Design (NOD) Apiary Products, the manufacturer of Mite Away Quick Strips, and from the many customers I have had the honor of working with in the field.” While at NOD, she also served on the Honey Bee Health Coalition. She holds a Journeyman Beekeeper Certification from the University of Montana.
Born and raised in Montreal, Wendy moved to the Toronto area in her late teens. “I've always loved bees,” she said. “I've always loved watching bees forage, but I never imagined becoming a beekeeper! I was invited to cover a leave of absence for a position that required some apiculture knowledge, and was given a couple of hives to 'bring me up to speed'! I've been keeping bees ever since.”
Active in eight beekeeping or bee-affiliated associations, Mather is a member of CSBA, Delta Beekeepers, Sacramento Area Beekeepers, Nevada City Beekeepers, Colorado State Beekeepers, American Beekeepers Federation, American Honey Producers Association and the El Dorado Beekeepers' Association (she is a past secretary).
Beekeeping runs in the family. Wendy and her husband, Darrell, kept an apiary with 24 colonies in Cold Springs, Ontario, Canada before they moved to California. "Darrell and our eldest daughter, Aislyn, and I all took the 'Introduction to Beekeeping' offered through the Tech Transfer Team at the University of Guelph," Wendy said. "Darrell and I took that course twice. Darrell has successfully raised queens, too!" The couple and their three daughters participated in the extraction, packing and labeling. "Extraction weekend was also a great time for the extended family to gather and enjoy fun times together during the sweet harvest," Wendy recalled.
California Master Beekeeper Program Grant
"Honey bees are arguably the most important managed pollinator and are used as the primary pollinator for over 30 crops in California many of which are considered specialty crops such as almonds," wrote Niño in her successful grant application. "Therefore, the food security of our state and our nation depends largely on robust and healthy honey bee populations. However, in recent years, U.S. beekeepers have been reporting annual colony losses of up to 45 percent. These losses are attributed to many pathogens and pests associated with bees, as well as pesticide exposure and lack of access to plentiful and diverse forage."
"Colony losses have also prompted those who have never kept bees before to try their hand at beekeeping in an effort to help honey bee conservation," Niño pointed out. "Currently, in California there are an estimated 11,000 backyard and small-scale beekeepers, with many of them belonging to one of 35 beekeeper associations within the state. While these associations often serve as hubs of information transfer, the information provided is not always accurate or supported by research findings. Considering the importance of California to the US agriculture and the fact that almost 80 percent of the U.S. colonies start their pollination and honey production routes in almonds, it is clear that there is an urgent need to develop a comprehensive, science-based, and state-wide apiculture curriculum."
The statewide funding that CAMBP received will enable the program to
- expand to the intermediate and advanced levels of the curriculum
- create partnerships with advisers in UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) offices throughout the state (UC Davis currently has collaborators in Fresno and San Diego);
- begin creating comprehensive web-based resources such as a library of online materials including an online classroom; and
- support the expansion of the program's educational apiary.
Those interested in enrolling in the California Master Beekeeper Program can find more information about the Apprentice Level at https://cambp.ucdavis.edu/levels/apprentice.
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
As an undergraduate at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, he enrolled in an introductory entomology class. “I remember seeing the research technician standing in and indoor flight cage, surrounded by bees,” Nye said. “They were flying from the hive to a feeder stand and completely ignoring her. We covered the long history of beekeeping in that class around that same time and I was just amazed at how much knowledge had been collected. I applied for a job and started working as an assistant to the research technician I saw that day that spring. I spent the next three summers working for the lab of Dr. Gene Robinson and learning as much as I could.”
He went on to spend eight years in Illinois working with the bees—three as an undergraduate assistant and five years as the facility manager and research technician. He joined UC Davis in December 2015.
“Adapting to the California ecosystem has been a bit of an adjustment,” Nye said. “A big part of beekeeping is understanding the ecosystem you live in. If you've got a bee yard that doesn't have a water source close, you may need to move water in during dry periods. Different flowers provide nectar and pollen at varying quantities, so being aware of what's going on in the environment can give you some insight into whether or not you might need to assist your bees with some sugar to make it until the next bloom. That has honestly been my favorite part of moving here, learning about all the trees and shrubs and wildflowers and when they bloom. It's a constant process through the year, and being my first year here it's been really enjoyable to watch the seasons progress."
Nye welcomes the worldwide interest in bees and the crucial role they play. “I think people are starting to understand the complex role bees play in our food system, and I hope in the future we could help educate people about how the agricultural system is helped by natural areas,” he said. “Here in the Central Valley, there is very little unused space. We are able to bring in honey bees on trucks from distant areas to pollinate our crops, but it's a very precarious system that we are relying on to make that work. Having some natural corridors for pollinators year round would really help increase the population of native bees, help the health of honey bees, and keep us from worrying about losing the delicate balance we are keeping between honey bees and agricultural production.”
"I think the general public's knowledge of bees has made amazing advances in recent years. The shortage of bees for agricultural purposes here in the Central Valley really brought beekeeping into the news, followed by a lot of documentaries and things that made people want to be beekeepers or at least plant pollinator friendly gardens. Lots of people bring up beekeeping documentaries they've seen, and I don't think beekeepers were experiencing that 20 years ago. Overall, I'm mostly impressed with the amount of bee related knowledge out in the world right now.
Myths and misconceptions about bees? Often people associate bees with stinging, and falsely claim they have an allergy. “I've been doing this long enough that I don't laugh at people when they tell me they are allergic, but I think people don't completely understand what allergic means,” he said. “Only one or two people out of 1000 are actually allergic and have a life threatening reaction--most people just experience pain and swelling. I try to point out to people that when it hurts and makes their hand swell up, that might not mean they have a bee allergy, but most of the time I just nod my head and move on. I worked a booth at a local fair and half my conversations were people telling me they were allergic because it hurt. I get stung every day, and I can attest that at no point does it stop hurting.”
Nye divides his time with the labs of Extension apiculturist Elina Niño, pollination ecologist Neal Williams, and Brian Johnson, who studies the behavior, evolution and genetics of honey bees. “My responsibilities are pretty spread out,” he said. “The majority of my time is spent keeping the bees healthy enough for experiments.” In peak season, “it's pretty common to just have a few weeks' notice that we need any number of healthy full sized colonies, and like other animals, you can't grow a calf to a full sized cow with any magic tricks, so we try to buffer that by keeping a tight schedule for disease monitoring and making sure all our colonies are as robust as possible.”
What does he like the best about his job? The least?
"My job has a great balance between working out in a natural setting going through bee hives, and coming back to the lab and getting involved in research," he said. "I think doing either one of them by themselves would get a little tedious for me, so I feel really lucky to be able to split myself between the two. The least? It might be kind of a strange complaint, but foxtails. I spend a lot of time walking through tall grass and those foxtails burrow into my shoes and make me crazy. And I'm told I have to worry about them going up my dog's nose? I would say it's an urban myth but the seeds ability to get into my shoe and under my sock is practically magic."
(Editor's Note: For a list of the 2017 apiculture courses that the Niño lab is offering and teaching, see this page.)