"Honey Bees Are Superb Beekeepers; They Know What They're Doing."

Bug Squad    By Kathy Keatley     March 5, 2018

The Honey Bee Credit: Kathy Keatley Garvey"Honey bees are superb beekeepers; they know what they're doing."

So said bee scientist and author Tom Seeley of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., when he keynoted the fourth annual UC Davis Bee Symposium, held March 3 in the UC Davis Conference Center.

"EVERYTHING that colonies do when they are living on their own (not being managed by beekeepers) is done to favor their survival and their reproduction, and thus their success is contribution to the next generation of colonies," Seeley said in his talk on "Darwinian Beekeeping."

"And I mean everything."

 Seeley, the Horace White Professor in Biology, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, where he teaches courses on animal behavior and researches the behavior and social life of honey bees, visually transported the symposium crowd to his research site, the 4200-acre Arnot Teaching and Research Forest owned by Cornell University.

Located about 15 miles from the campus, Arnot Forest is a place where the honey bees live in the wild, that is, they are not managed by beekeepers, Seeley pointed out. They build small nest cavities high in the trees, about 25 feet high, and space their colonies apart by at least 750 meters.  They build drone comb freely, amounting to 15 to 20 percent of the nest cavity. They live as they did millions of years ago.

It's survival by natural selection.

"We can learn from the wild colonies," Seeley said. "I go into the wild areas and track down where bees are living and follow the bees home. It takes me about two days to find a bee tree."

Does the Arnot Forest have Varroa mites, the worldwide parasitic, virus-transferring mite that's considered the No. 1 enemy of beekeepers? A pest that arrived in the New York area around 1994?

Yes, they do. All the colonies in the forest are infested with Varroa mites. And they survive.

Seeley's research shows that before 1978 (pre-Varroa mite), the forest contained 2.8 colonies per square mile. After 2002 (post-Varroa mite), the forest still contained 2.8 colonies per square mile.

Honey bees typify the Charles Darwinian concept of evolution by natural selection, Seeley said. Indeed, "all bees living today are the products of natural selection."

Darwin, who described comb building as "the most wonderful of all (insect) instincts" and Lorenzo L. Langstroth, who invented the movable-frame hive, "both had important insights that can help us with our beekeeping," Seeley related.

"Darwinian beekeeping is allowing the bees to use their own beekeeping skills fully."

However, Darwinian beekeeping or "bee friendly beekeeping" is not for everyone, Seeley emphasized. "It's not for large-scale beekeepers, it's not for urban beekeepers. It is an option for small-scale rural beekeepers who want to avoid chemical treatments and who are satisfied with modest honey crops."

With Darwinian beekeeping, the emphasis is on the "environment of evolutionary adaptedness, "or the original environment in which wild colonies live," Seeley said. "Colonies are genetically adapted to their location."

How can beekeepers practice Darwinian beekeeping?

"Keep bees that are adapted to your location," he said. "Rear queens from your best survivor colonies, OR capture swarms with bait hives in remote locations OR purchase queens from a queen breeder who produces locally adapted queens."

"If the mite level gets high (more than 10 mites per 100 bees), then euthanize the colony; pour warm, soap water into hive at dusk," he said. "This does two things: it eliminates your non-resistant colonies and it avoids producing mite bombs. An alternative to euthanasia of the colony: treat for Varroa and requeen with a queen of resistant stock."

The issues of hive size and proximity are also important. Many modern beekeepers use "multi-storied wooden kits, super-sized like McDonald's," the professor said. "And managed bee hives are often a meter away from one another, as compared to 750 meters in the wild."

Seeley also said it's important "not to disturb colonies in winter: no checking, no stimulative feeding, no pollen patties, etc. Even a brief removal of the lid causes winter cluster to raise its temperature in alarm for several hours."

In his presentation, Seeley touched on nine Darwinian beekeeping tips, summarized here:

1. Keep bees that are adapted to your location 
2. House colonies in small hives and let them swarm 
3. Space colonies as widely as possible 
4. Line hives with propolis collection screens or untreated lumber to allow them to build a "propolis (antimicrobial) shield"  
5. Provide the most resilient (lowest mite count) colonies with 10 to 20 percent drone comb 
6. Keep the nest structure intact 
7. Use a small, bottom entrance
8. Do not disturb colonies in winter 
9. Refrain from treating colonies for Varroa

He lists 20 Darwinian beekeeping tips in his article published in the March 2017 edition of the American Bee Journal. (The article also appears on the Natural Beekeeping Trust website, printed with permission.)

Seely is the author of Honeybee Ecology: A Study of Adaptation in Social Life(1985), The Wisdom of the Hive: the Social Physiology of Honey Bee Colonies (1995), and Honeybee Democracy (2010), all published by Princeton Press.

The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology sponsored the event, which drew a crowd of 250.  Amina Harris, director of the center, coordinated the event.

In introducing the keynote speaker, Professor Neal Williams of the entomology faculty and the faculty co-director of the Honey and Pollination Center board, described Seeley's work as "innovative and insightful. He is truly a gifted author who blends science and philosophy."

"Honey bees are superb beekeepers; they know what they're doing," keynote speaker Tom Seeley tells the fourth annual UC Davis Bee Symposium. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey“EVERYTHING that colonies do when they are living on their own (not being managed by beekeepers) is done to favor their survival and their reproduction, and thus their success is contribution to the next generation of colonies,” Cornell bee scientist Tom Seeley pointed out. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)“Darwinian beekeeping is allowing the bees to use their own beekeeping skills fully,” keynote speaker Tom Seeley says. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)Professor Neal Williams (left) of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, shares a laugh with keynote speaker Tom Seeley of Cornell. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=26525

Show Me The Honey From Your Bees

Bug Squad    By Kathy Keatley Garvey     July 26, 2017

(There's still time to fill out the forms to enter your honey in the next Good Foods Awards competition; the deadline is Monday, July 31, 2017.)

A honey bee foraging on star thistle, Centaurea solstitialis. It’s an invasive weed but makes great honey, beekeepers and honey connoisseurs say. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey) Imagine watching your honey bees gathering nectar from star thistle--which some beekeepers claim makes the best honey. (Yes, Centaurea solstitialis is an invasive weed. The love-hate relationship runs deep; farmers and environmentalists hate it; beekeepers love it.)

Then imagine you picking up one of the top prizes in the country for having the best honeycomb--made from star thistle honey.

That's what happened when Miss Bee Haven Honey of Brentwood, Calif., entered its honey in the national Good Foods Awards competition and won one of the top 2017 awards. Their bees, based in numerous locations, primarily forage in the San Francisco Bay Area and along the Delta.

Fast forward to today. There's still time to fill out the forms to enter your honey in the next Good Foods Awards competition; the deadline is Monday, July 31. Only the form--not the honey--is due July 31. The honey can be the August harvest, as the judging won't take place until Sept. 17 in San Francisco, said Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, who coordinates the contest. She announced that awards will be given in four subcategories: Liquid and Naturally Crystallized, Creamed, Comb, and Infused Honey. 

Dates to keep in mind, in addition to the July 31 entry deadline (see entry information and the full criteria for honey) are Sept. 17 when the blind tasting takes place in San Francisco (entrants will be asked to ship their product a week in advance; and October 2017 (high scoring products undergo sustainability vetting) and November 2017 (when finalists are announced).

Harris says there are more than 300 unique types of honey in the United States. "The Good Food Awards," she said, "will showcase honeys most distinctive in clarity and depth of flavor, produced by beekeepers practicing good animal husbandry and social responsibility." 

Harris and master beekeeper/journalist Mea McNeil of San Anselmo are coordinating the honey committee, which also includes

Emily Brown, Owner, AZ Queen Bee

Mark Carlson, Beekeeping instructor and entomologist, Round Rock Honey Beekeeping School

Kim Flottum, editor,  Bee Culture Magazine

Marina Marchese, Founder, The American Honey Tasting Society and co-author The Honey Connoisseur

Terry Oxford, Owner, UrbanBee San Francisco 

The 2017 winners who took home the bragging rights:

Bee Girl, Bee Girl Honey, Oregon

Bee Local, Bee Local Sauvie Honey, Oregon

Bee Squared Apiaries, Rose Honey, Colorado

Bees' Needs, Fabulous Fall, New York

Bloom Honey Orange Blossom, California

Gold Star Honeybees, Gold Star Honey, Maine

Hani Honey Company, Raw Creamed Wildflower Honey, Florida

Mikolich Family Honey, Sage and Wild Buckwheat, California

MtnHoney, Comb Honey Chunk, Georgia

Posto Bello Apiaries, Honey, Maine

Sequim Bee Farm, Honey, Washington

Simmons Family Honey, Saw Palmetto Honey, Georgia

Two Million Blooms, Raw Honey, Illinois

UrbanBeeSF, Tree Blossom Honey Quince and Tree Blossom Honey, Napa, California

The Honey and Pollination Center is affiliated with the UC Davis Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. For more information contact Amina Harris at (530) 754-9301 or aharris@ucdavis.edu.

Honey comb being processed. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey) The colors of honey sparkle in the sunlight. This photo, taken in 2009, shows former UC Davis bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey (now of Washington State University) and her then assistant, Elizabeth Frost (now of New South Wales) at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=24761

Keeping Bees Healthy: Bee Symposium on May 9th at UC Davis Center

Bug Squad    By Kathy Keatley Garvey   January 16, 2015

Distinguished McKnight Professor and 2010 MacArthur Fellow Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota, will keynote a University of California, Davis symposium on ”Keeping Bees Healthy," hosted May 9 by the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.

Spivak will speak on "Helping Bees Stand on Their Own Six Feet." The symposium, set for m 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., will take place in the UC Davis Conference Center on Alumni Drive.

“This educational program is designed for beekeepers of all experience levels, including gardeners, farmers and anyone interested in the world of pollination and bees...

Read more... http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=16497

Update: 2/4/15: If you're planning to attend the #ucdavis bee symposium featuring Marla Spivak, you ought to hurry. Just head that tickets are going fast. Student tickets discounted. 

A Taste of Honey!

Bug Squad - Happenings in the Insect World!  By Kathy Keatley Garvey    August 14, 2014

Honey connoisseur Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, opens the jar of lavender honey from France and sniffs the aroma. She breathes in deeply. 

The "miel de lavande" produced by "apiculteur Marc Agnel" is creamed, as most lavender honeys are, she says. It arrived in San Francisco from France last week via my relatives (who love it).

"Honey from a specific plant doesn't always taste like the plant," Harris is saying, as she turns the wheel of the center's newly published Honey Flavor Wheel, a project benefitting bee health research at UC Davis. "Sometimes there is a bit of a surprise."

"Have the honey at room temperature, or slightly warmer, and covered," she advises. "This keeps all the volatiles inside the jar or cup."

Her observations about the honey and the procedure:

Aroma:  The first scent is very floral with a touch of lilac. The next, overwhelming smell is fruit! Something very juicy.

Next: take a taste. Let the honey sit on your tongue and dissolve slowly. Try to assess all the flavors that might be occurring. floral – lilac; fruity – cherry

Primary taste: This honey is simply sweet.

Texture: This is a smooth and creamy honey. Quite unusual.

Finish: Notice how the taste lasts. This honey is delicate – that is, it has a very light and very distinct flavor. It has a short duration with a lasting aroma that is filled with a bit of cherry, lilac and the first taste of lavender!

The Honey and Pollination Center produced the Honey Flavor Wheel after six months of research and development. “We brought together a group of 20 people--trained tasters, beekeepers and food enthusiasts--who worked together with a sensory scientist to come up with almost 100 descriptors,” Harris recalled.  “This wheel will prove invaluable to those who love honey and want to celebrate its nuances.” 

“I have always been astonished by the range of flavors in honey. And its aromas, too. Developing the wheel has been an astonishing learning experience at all levels. I now truly pay attention as I taste many different kinds of foods. I notice flavors from beginning to end.  

“I had one wonderful surprise during the tasting series," she recalled. "The sensory scientist we worked with, Sue Langstaff, had been to New Zealand and brought back several honeys. One was a wild flower called Viper's Bugloss. What an amazing aroma! Imagine sitting in a garden. The sun has just set. And the heady aromas of jasmine and  orange blossom together crowd the air. This is the scent of Viper's Bugloss. An astonishing honey. Now I want more!” 

The front of the colorful wheel lists the descriptors, including fruity, floral, herbaceous, woody, spicy, nutty, confectionary, caramel and earthy. No longer can you just say “sweet” when you taste honey or “sour, salty and bitter.”  If it's fruity, can you determine if it's berry, citrus, dried fruit, tree fruit or tropical fruit? If it falls into the confectionary category, can you pinpoint marshmallow, vanilla, maple, butterscotch, toffee, molasses, cotton candy, crème brûlée, burnt sugar or brown sugar? There's even an “animal” category” where you may opine that your sample of honey reminds you of a barnyard.

The back of the Honey Flavor Wheel tells you how to taste honey and shares four honey profiles (Florida tupelo, California orange blossom, Northwest blackberry and Midwestern clover) “so the consumer can get an idea of how to use this innovative product,” Harris said. 

(Check out the Sacramento Bee's YouTube video on Amina Harris's demonstration of the Honey Flavor Wheel.)

The Honey Flavor Wheel, measuring 8.25 inches, sells for $10 each, with all proceeds supporting bee health research at UC Davis. The product is available online and at several locations: the Honey and Pollination Center, located at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science on Old Davis Road; at the UC Davis Campus Bookstore and at the downtown Davis Campus Bookstore; and online.