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Posts Tagged: honey bees

Honey: Nothing short of miraculous

A taste of honey: dipping fingers into the honeycomb. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
“Honey, please pass the honey!”

That simple request, prefaced with a term of endearment for good measure, means there's honey on the table.

And well there should be. As the daughter, granddaughter and great-great granddaughter (and beyond) of beekeepers, I grew up with honey on the table. (And on my fingers, face and clothes.)

My favorite then was clover honey from the lush meadows and fields of our 300-acre farm in southwest Washington. My favorite now is Northern California yellow starthistle honey, derived from the blossoms of that highly invasive weed, Centaurea solstitialis, which farmers hate (and rightfully so) and beekeepers love.

“Almost every honey has its own unique flavor-- even when it is the same varietal,” says Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center. “There are characteristics we learn to look for, but even within that variety, the honey will differ from each area collected. For instance: avocado honey is known for being very dark amber with a flavor reminiscent of molasses, licorice or anise. However, once you start tasting a selection, some will taste like blackstrap molasses and very black licorice. Others will have almost a fruity flavor like dried figs or prunes. Most folks can't tell the difference – and then there are the honey nerds, like me!”

A beekeeper at UC Davis holds a frame of honey. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

“My favorite all-around honey is one I keep returning to. I love sweet clover from the High Plains with its cinnamon hit —the spicy characteristic is just something I love,” Harris said. “My favorite ‘shock honey' is coriander. Collected near Yuba City, this seed crop gives us a honey that is like walking through a spice bazaar with hints of cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, coriander and — chocolate.”

The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, located in the Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science on Old Davis Road, periodically offers courses on the sensory evaluation of honey, as well as honey tastings. Next up: the center will host free honey tastings at its home base during the 105th Annual Campuswide Picnic Day on April 13, and at the California Honey Festival in downtown Woodland on May 4. Another popular honey tasting: California Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, based in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, hosts a honey tasting at Briggs Hall during the annual Picnic Day.

There's more to honey than meets the eye — or the palate. The Honey and Pollination Center recently hosted a three-day Sensory Evaluation of Honey Certificate Course last October, using “sensory evaluation tools and methods to educate participants in the nuances of varietal honey,” Harris said. Northern California public radio station KQED spotlighted the course on its “Taste This” program.

And we owe it all to honey bees.

Pollination ecologist Stephen Buchmann of the University of Arizona (who received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, studying with native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp), writes in his book, Honey Bees: Letters from the Hive, that each worker bee “may make four to ten or so flights from the nest each day, visiting hundreds or many thousands of flowers to collect nectar and pollen. During her lifetime, a worker bee may flown 35,000 to 55,000 miles collecting food for her and her nest mates. One pound of honey stored in the comb can represent 200,000 miles of combined bee flights and nectar from as many as five million flowers.”

Take a 16-ounce jar of honey at the supermarket. That represents “the efforts of tens of thousands of bees flying a total of 112,000 miles to forage nectar from about 4.5 million flowers,” writes Buchmann.

Of course, we primarily appreciate honey bees for their pollination services (one-third of the food we eat is pollinated by bees) but honey is more than just an after thought.

It's been described as “liquid gold,” “the nectar of the gods” and “the soul of a field of flowers.” Frankly, it's nothing short of miraculous.

And well it should be.

A honey bee sips honey from honeycomb. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee sips honey from honeycomb. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee sips honey from honeycomb. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee sips nectar from a lavender blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee sips nectar from a lavender blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee sips nectar from a lavender blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee health key to wellbeing of important species

Our friends the honey bees make it possible for us to devour an abundance of almond products. In 2016 the California almond crop totaled 2.15 billion pounds valued at $5.2 billion. Growing 80 percent of the world's almonds in California takes a lot of honey bees for pollination, roughly two hives for every acre of almond trees. It's estimated that California has 1.3 million acres of almonds, stretching 400 miles between Bakersfield and Red Bluff.

California is rated in the top five honey producing states in the nation. The U.S. per capita consumption of honey is around 1.3 pounds per year. Our buzzing friends visit millions of blossoms, making pollination of plants possible and collecting nectar to bring back to the hive. Lucky for us bees make more honey than their colony needs allowing beekeepers the opportunity to remove the excess honey and bottle it for us to enjoy.

Bees are animals too

Bees are one of our planet's most important animals. They produce honey and they are the primary managed pollinators for a majority of high value specialty crops grown in the contiguous states of California and Oregon, such as nuts, stone fruits, vegetables, and berries. A problem looms for our animal friends, the bees. 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.

Enter UC Davis and Oregon State University to aid beekeepers in addressing the problem of antibiotic resistance and antimicrobial use in the feed or water of food-producing animals, namely, protecting the health and safety of bees. The overall strategy leads to a safer food supply because the potential for antibiotic resistance is reduced.

The Western Institute for Food Safety and Security (WIFSS), UC Cooperative Extension, and UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine are partnering with Oregon State University in a USDA funded multi-state specialty crop project to develop CE training for veterinarians on bee health and antibiotic use — a practice that is now regulated under the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD). The project will offer a comprehensive bee biology online course and train-the-trainer practical training for veterinarians and apiculture educators. The ultimate goals are to protect the specialty crop — honey — from becoming contaminated with antibiotic residues; to protect the health and safety of bees, which are essential to California agriculture; and, finally, to support veterinary oversight in the use of antibiotics, which will lead to an overall reduction of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the environment.   

The $483,278 award will address the unique needs of the beekeeping industry that have been experiencing high colony losses since 2006. It will also focus on new rules established by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration on the use of antibiotics which are used to control certain diseases affecting bee colonies.

The principal investigator is Elina L. Niño, a UC Cooperative Extension specialist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Project leader is Bennie Osburn, director of outreach and training at WIFSS. Collaborating in the project is Jonathan Dear, from the Department of Medicine and Epidemiology at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, and the partner state collaborator is Ramesh Sagili from the Department of Horticulture at Oregon State University. A team of graphic and instructional designers from WIFSS will work with Drs. Niño, Dear, and Sagili, to translate the science into user friendly information for veterinarians and beekeepers.

Educating about honey bee health

Jonathan Dear, a small animal internal medicine veterinarian and hobbyist beekeeper, holds a frame after inspecting a hive.

Dear who is collaborating with WIFSS to produce an online and hands-on module to train veterinarians about beekeeping and honey bee health, points out that, “Honey bees are such an important part of our economy and, like any food producing animal, they can be affected by preventable and treatable diseases.”

He is enthusiastic about the project and says, “Our hope is that by educating veterinarians about honey bee health, they can play a key role in maintaining the health and wellbeing of this important species.”

With the efforts of extension specialists, veterinarians, and graphic and instructional designers, beekeepers and veterinarians will work together to navigate the VFD regulations, and consumers will continue to enjoy nature's sugar.

UCANR-Honey-400x300
UCANR-Honey-400x300

Posted on Thursday, October 18, 2018 at 7:47 AM
Tags: Honey (3), honey bees (7)
Focus Area Tags: Food

The fruits of their labors

Summer time...and the livin' is easy.

But not for the bees. Worker bees, which live about four to six weeks, literally work themselves to death gathering nectar, pollen, propolis (plant resin) and water to bring back to their colony.

So, when you sit down to summer meals, you can thank a bee.

Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, says one-third of the American diet is pollinated by bees. Without bees, we'd be eating such wind-pollinated grains as wheat and rice. 

Our gardens and orchards yield such favorites as carrots, cucumbers, onions, apples, grapefruit, oranges,  pears, cherries, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, lima beans, sunflowers and almonds.

All pollinated by honey bees.

Cole crops, such as cabbage, Brussel sprouts, collards, kale, kohlrabi, spinach, chard and broccoli?

All pollinated by honey bees.

Even milk and ice cream are linked closely to the honey bee. Cows feed on alfalfa, which is pollinated by honey bees (along with other bees). Ice cream ingredients usually include fruits and nuts, other bee favorites.

The ever-popular fruit salad features blueberries, apples, oranges and pomegranates.

All pollinated by honey bees. 

An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but without the bees, we'd have no apples.

Love apples and honey? Here are two recipes from the National Honey Board celebrating both honey and apples.

Apple honey crisp

2 lbs. apples, quartered and sliced (1-1/2 quarts)
1/2 cup plus 1/4 cup  honey, (separated)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup flour
1/4 cup butter, softened
Warm Nutmeg Cream, (recipe follows) or ice cream

Toss apples with 1/2 cup honey, cinnamon and nutmeg in bowl. Turn into 2-quart baking dish. For topping, beat flour with butter and 1/4 cup honey until crumbly; sprinkle over apples. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes or until apples are tender and topping is golden. Serve with warm nutmeg cream or ice cream.

Warm nutmeg cream

1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg 

Combine all ingredients in saucepan and bring to boil. Simmer, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until mixture thickens slightly.

 Honey apple cake

1/3 cup butter or margarine
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon  ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon  ground allspice
1/4 cup water
1 cup (1 medium) pared, cored, & chopped apple
1/4 cup  chopped walnuts
Honey Apple Topping

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time; beat after each addition. Beat in honey and lemon peel. Combine flour, baking powder, soda, spices and salt; mix well. Add to creamed mixture alternately with water; begin and end with dry ingredients. Stir in apples and nuts. Turn into greased and floured 9-inch heart-shaped or round cake pan. Bake at 325 degrees F. for 45 to 55 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes and remove from pan. Cool completely. Brush top of cake with sauce from honey apple topping; arrange topping on cake.

Honey apple topping

1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons rosé wine
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 medium apples

Heat honey, rosé wine and lemon juice. Core and slice 2 medium apples; add to honey. Cook until tender and glazed; turn slices halfway through cooking. Makes topping for one 9-inch cake.

Honey bee pollinating apple blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee pollinating apple blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee pollinating apple blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Gravenstein apples ready to be picked. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gravenstein apples ready to be picked. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Gravenstein apples ready to be picked. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Gravenstein apples ready to eat. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gravenstein apples ready to eat. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Gravenstein apples ready to eat. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, July 16, 2013 at 8:21 AM

Did you catch the buzz?

Did you catch the buzz?

It's still a troubling scene for our nation's honey bees, but it appears that the total losses for the 2011-2012 winter aren't as bad as they could be.

In other words, managed honey bee colonies appear to be holding their own. Overall, they didn't take a sharp dive last winter.

The annual survey, conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Bee Informed Partnership, and the Apiary Inspectors of America shows that the honey bee colony losses averaged 30 percent for the winter of 2011-2012.

Compare that to 34 percent for the 2009-2010 winter, 29 percent for 2008-2009 winter; 36 percent for 2007-2008, and 32 percent for 2006-2007.

Kim Kaplan of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) of USDA wrote in a May 23 news release that 5,572 beekeepers responded to the survey, which covered the period from October 2010 to April 2011. These 5,572 beekeepers, he said, manage more than 15 percent of the country's estimated 2.68 million colonies.

As ARS entomologist Jeff Pettis, who helped conduct the study, said: "The lack of increase in losses is marginally encouraging in the sense that the problem does not appear to be getting worse for honey bees and beekeepers."

Pettis is a familiar name among scientists, beekeepers and the beekeeping industry.  He leads the USDA's chief research agency, the Bee Research Laboratory, in Beltsville, Md. 

ARS plans to publish a complete analysis of the data later this year, Kaplan reports, but  for now, we know that the average losses didn't fall below 30 percent. Some beekeepers, however, recorded much heavier losses. 

Why care about the declining bee population?

As author Norm Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, says in his book, Honey Bee Hobbyist; The Care and Keeping of Bees, "Bees play a fundamental role in food production. About one-third of the food we eat, at least in the United States, can't be produced without pollination by honey bees. Fruits, vegetables, berries, some fiber crops, domestic animal feed, and oil seed crops would be in extremely short supply without honey bee pollination."

And almonds. California, the world's largest producer of almonds, has some 800,000 acres of almonds and each acre requires two hives for pollination. Without bees, no almonds.

"Can you imagine the impact on our food supply and diet if honey bees weren't available for pollination?" Gary asks. "Without them, the human diet would consist mostly of grains and fish."

Think wheat, rice and fish.

No honey, either.

Speaking of honey, you might like to try this Cranberry Oat Bread recipe provided by the National Honey Board. It hasn't been a honey of a winter for the nation's bees, but this is a honey of a recipe.

Cranberry Oat Bread

3/4 cup honey
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2  teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup chopped nuts

Combine honey, oil, eggs and milk in large bowl; mix well. Combine flour, oats, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in medium bowl; mix well. Stir into honey mixture. Fold in cranberries and nuts. Spoon into two 8-1/2 x 4-1/2 x 2-1/2-inch greased and floured loaf pans.

Bake in preheated 350 degrees oven 40 to 45 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 15 minutes. Remove from pans; cool completely on wire racks. Makes 2 loaves.

Honey bee heading toward pomegranate blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee heading toward pomegranate blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee heading toward pomegranate blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee packing pollen while foraging on almond blossoms at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee packing pollen while foraging on almond blossoms at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee packing pollen while foraging on almond blossoms at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 8:02 AM
Tags: honey (3), honey bees (7), Jeff Pettis (1), Norm Gary (1), winter (2)

December farm stories

Davis Wednesday afternoon farmers' market can be quiet in December, so what better time to learn a little about what's going on back at the farms? Every farmer I talked with today had delicious treats to sell and a story to tell. Here are a few:

Did you know that Gridley is the kiwi capital of America? There used to be a kiwi festival and a kiwi queen, but that all got too expensive for Gridley's kiwi farmers quite a few years ago, Frank Stenzel reports. He's getting ready to start pruning his 14 acres of kiwi vines next week; pruning will take a crew of 12 about two weeks. After pruning, each of the 25 or 30 canes on each kiwi vine will need to be tied to a trellis, very much like grape vines, to be ready for next year's growth.

The fuzzy green fruit for sale today from Stenzel's Kiwi Farm was harvested late in October and has been held in cold storage at 32 degrees since then. The fruit will last about six months stored this way, allowing Stenzel to bring out what he needs, grade it by size, let it ripen a little, but sell it while it's still firm. When you bring your kiwis home, let them ripen three or four days more for the best flavor.

Now that the weather is getting colder, the older chickens at Annette Jones' Islote Farms in Esparto have started molting. For a few weeks, they will lose feathers and stop laying eggs. But Jones isn't worried; in fact, she planned for this. Younger hens are picking up the slack because they hatched later in springtime and are just starting to lay eggs in December and January. The older hens can take their much needed break while the youngsters get busy.  The fresh eggs from the younger hens are available at the market today in small and medium sizes. When springtime comes, all the birds will be laying again and eggs will be plentiful.

On Federico Toledo's Toledo Farm in Lodi, his son, brother, brother-in-law and other family members are busy planting this month - cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, beets, cilantro, carrots, onions and curly parsley. What they're planting now will be at the farmers markets in March, April and May, if the weather cooperates. The 20 long rows of onions going in now will yield green onions in February and March, full-size fresh onions in April and May, and then dry onions in June and July. Today's market table has stories too: The last red tomatoes of the year are for sale today; they were picked green in November and ripened with a heater. The winter squash was actually grown in summer and harvested in August - it gets sweeter over the months and keeps well in winter. The persimmons, grapefruit, lemons and apples were all fresh-picked by the farm family.

All the rice has been harvested now at Robin Harlan's Bullfrog Farms in Winters, and the 3,000 hives of Bullfrog Bees are getting pollen patties to make it through the winter since there aren't enough blossoms to keep them fed without help this time of year. There's time now for bottling the honey; it's been stored in big stainless steel barrels since the Harlans harvested it in the summer. Bullfrog Farms grows more than 200 acres of almond trees which start blooming in January, so the bees will have blossoms very soon to pollinate and pollen to gather for more honey. After working in the Bullfrog orchards, they'll go to Blue Diamond almond orchards, and then to orange groves in Winters. Local honey is the sweet result of these hard-working bees.

Todd Evans works at certified organic Mount Moriah Farms in Clements. Today he's selling crisp Fuji and Pink Lady apples. Up until two days ago, Evans, farm owner Steve Smit, and a couple of other guys were harvesting apples. Now they're getting ready to prune all the trees, which will take the four of them about a month. The apples should last in storage until about May, just long enough for the cherries to be ready.

Give it a try - visit your local winter farmers market and learn some new stories!

To find farmers' markets in your community, visit the UC small farm program's California Agriculture Tourism Directory.

Posted on Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 8:12 AM
Tags: chickens (1), Davis Farmers Market (1), eggs (1), Honey bees (7), kiwis (1), onions (1), winter (2)

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