Unlike the past half-decade, this winter in California has begun surprisingly rainy. Severe flooding has not been a problem, yet, but local streams are reaching their banks (many are dry during the summer). From a beekeeper’s point of view, we welcome the rain. If the rain recharges the soil adequately, then the plants that we depend upon for nectars and pollens can bloom well into the year. Otherwise our beekeepers have to begin feeding their colonies as early as April, and periodically throughout the rest of the year.
I came into this presidency rather abruptly, so some decisions had to be made quickly. I have reserved a spacious room on campus for housing the general sessions, vendors/exhibitors, and banquet. I am completing the process of appointing various folks to help with the committee work. I also appointed individuals to fill the vacancies of state directors.
Now I am beginning to develop a presentation schedule that will include a little something for everyone. On our Entomology Department faculty we have three individuals working directly on honey bee-related topics: Dr. Brian Johnson who is working on molecular studies; Dr. Elina Niño who is conducting research on Varroa control products and some pesticide issues; and Dr. Rachel Vannette who is following the succession of microbial turnover in flower nectars as the bloom period progresses. I find those studies intriguing, since I tend to think that honey bees can pick up all the microbes of importance to them while foraging for water, nectars, and pollens. Besides obtaining major and minor nutrients, that is one of the reasons why a substantial mix of different pollens is so important to bee health.
And speaking of bee health, we have a very active native bee program in place, sharing the Bee Biology Facility with the honey bees. Dr. Neal Williams has been very adroit as a grants man, and has built up a really strong program geared toward determining which bee species may be of assistance (or become the pollinator of choice) for some California crops. Commercial use of those bees would require the establishment of specific habitats on a substantial portion of a grower’s property. To keep the native bee populations stable also would require conversion of large spaces to native bee habitat, as well. Since honey bees tend to willingly “share” many nectar and pollen-producing plants in an area, native bee plantings should help honey bees considerably, too.
You cannot catalog useful information about bee-plant interactions until you are sure of which bee you are watching. Dr. Robbin Thorp worked tangentially on native bees when hired as an apiculturist in the 1960s. Once retired and granted Emeritus status, Robbin plunged into native bee work with a vengeance. He identifies bees for the local native bee studies and also for researchers around the world. He is particularly interested in bumble bees and just co-authored a couple books in that area of expertise.
I anticipate that most of those faculty members will be participating in the upcoming conference. I will leave what they will be presenting up to them. But, I have already cemented down our leadoff speaker. Serge Labesque originally kept bees in France. When he came to the U.S. he sought a location that would be similar to that which he left, and settled down in Glenn Ellen in California’s wine country. Serge is an immaculate beekeeper – everything clean, neat, and tidy. He and I are good friends, but we have a few differences of opinions about beekeeping. I respect his opinions for desiring to select from local stocks of bees that can handle all the problems we throw at them. And he reluctantly admits that commercial beekeepers do need to do certain things to keep their bees alive. However, Serge has organized a terrific presentation on the natural, seasonal growth and decline of a healthy honey bee colony population living in a hollow tree. Please pay attention to all the details in his presentation. They will help you do a much better job of keeping bees, no matter how you do it.
My plans include having the group off the central campus for a couple half days. We will need to form a caravan of personal vehicles to move everyone around. Also, those without wheels will have to find some empty passenger seats to get to the events. Don’t worry! All beekeepers are slow, cautious drivers – at least when they are hauling bees.
I am looking forward to seeing you early in September.