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Helping the honeybee

Beekeepers, farmers, ranchers, scientists and now even ice cream makers are working hard to get the word out about bees.



In the quiet countryside of the Central Valley town of Hughson, there is a buzz of activity going on. This is headquarters for a 70-year-old family business--Beekman and Beekman bees and honey. Bruce Beekman has thousands of beehives all over California, from Butte County to Orange County, and if that didn't keep him busy enough, he also is in charge of keeping up with the byproduct of all of those bees' work--honey. Bruce and his wife Ann make, sell and market honey at their farm where nearly everything that has to do with bees and honey can be found.

Working just as hard as all of those bees is Bruce's nephew Brian, who is headquartered in some of the richest and most productive farmland in the country, along California's famous blossom trail in the San Joaquin Valley. Bees are hard at work turning blossoms into the fruits and nuts we enjoy every year.

Besides an occasional bee sting, beekeeping in this neck of the woods is fairly steady, stable and profitable. Which was all true until a couple of years ago, when something mysterious started happening.

"What's happening is we're not finding dead bees at all, just small amounts of live bees with aqueen about and a softball size of bees. It's a very scary business to be in right now," Bruce said.

In a normal year keepers may lose some bees, but beginning in the fall of 2006 entire hives started disappearing with no obvious explanation. Scientists started referring to it as colony collapse disorder (CCD).

"Colony collapse disorder is a name they give the phenomenon where basically all the adult bees, except for the young ones, fly away from the hive and just disappear somewhere," apiculturist Eric Mussen said.

Eric and other scientists are hard at work, trying to find the answers to this phenomenon at the revitalized Harry Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the UC Davis Department of Entomology.

Concern for the honeybee is so widespread that even Haagen Dazs, a premium ice cream company, is doing its part to help. Its "Help the Honeybees" campaign is educating ice cream lovers of all ages about the importance of the insect.

Funds from the Haagen Dazs efforts go directly back to UC Davis. Encouraged to do more, the department contacted beekeepers across the country, like Randy Oliver of Grass Valley, to get the word out about what was happening and how people could help.

"Everyplace I go now, people always ask 'how are your bees? It's really nice to see they care like that," Randy said.

With beekeepers, farmers, ranchers, scientists and now even ice cream makers all working hard on this special 'honey-do list,' honeybees are getting some much needed help as people who once were afraid of seeing bees are now more concerned about not seeing any bees.

For more information about Beekman and Beekman honey, visit www.beekmanandbeekman.com.

For more information about the help the honeybee project from Haagen Dazs, visit www.helpthehoneybees.com.

Tips to help honeybees

By Eric Mussen, UC Davis Apiculturist

  • Keep a backyard bee garden. With urban development limiting their foraging habitat, backyard gardens can offer a welcome supply of nectar and pollen for honeybees.
  • Cultivating plants that will attract bees is the most important task of a bee gardener. Choose flowers that bloom successively over the spring, summer, and fall.
  • Plant flowers in close proximity to each other to improve bee visitation.
  • Plant a variety of flowers for the bees to buzz around in.
  • And above all--bee friendly! "Bees aren't out to get you, just stay calm and they will lose interest in you," Eric said.

For more tips, visit entomology.ucdavis.edu or www.pollinator.org.


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