Posts Tagged: Amina Harris
"It is the middle of winter," writes Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center. "Pink and white buds are just peeking out on the burnished branches of the almond trees all over central California. It is just the beginning of spring. Bees come out to bask in the warmth of the afternoon sun following the dark, cool winter days of December and January. They gather pollen and nectar to begin building their strength and their colony for the coming year. Each evening they return to the warmth of their hives."
That's the setting. Then comes the glow. The Honey and Pollination Center has just announced plans for its second annual "Mid-Winter Beekeepers' Feast: "A Taste of Mead and Honey." The event, open to the public, is scheduled Saturday night, Jan. 31 in the foyer of the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, Old Davis Road, UC Davis campus.
The elegant green table event, sponsored by Les Dames d'Escoffier, San Francisco, will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. Organic food consultant Ann Evans of Davis is planning the menu; the Buckhorn of Winters will cater. Preceding the event will be a honey and mead tasting at 5 p.m. Registration is now underway.
The Honey and Pollination Center aims to become "the world's leading authority on honey bee health, pollination, and honey quality" and is well on its way. More information is available on the website or by contacting Amina Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Honey bee pollinating an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee foraging on guara. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
When the California State Beekeepers' Association, founded in 1889, meets Nov. 18-20 in Valencia for its 2014 convention, it will mark a milestone: 125 years of beekeeping. Not so coincidentally, the theme is "Celebrating 125 Years of California Beekeeping."
And to think that California's first honey bees are "fairly new" newcomers: they didn't arrive in the Golden State (San Jose area) until 1853.
The conference promises to be educational, informative, timely and fun. "We will hear about things going on in the world of beekeeping on the local, state, and national levels," said CSBA president Bill Lewis, who lives in the San Fernando Valley and maintains 650 colonies of bees (Bill's Bees) with his wife, Liane, and business partner, Clyde Steese.
Topics range from “Keeping Bees Safe in Almonds" and “Land Trusts Working with Beekeepers," to "Mead Making" and "Urban Beekeeping, Beginner to Advanced."
Among the hot topics: Entomologist Reed Johnson of The Ohio State University will speak on “The Effects of Bee Safe Insecticide" on Wednesday, Nov. 19.
Biologist Thomas Seeley of Cornell University will speak on "Survivor Population of European Honey Bees Living Wild in New York State” at the research luncheon on Thursday, Nov. 20. He is also scheduled for two other talks, "Honeybee Democracy" (the title of one of his books) and "The Bee Hive as a Honey Factory," both on Nov. 20. In addition, speakers will address such topics as forage, land management, queen health, genetic diversity, and pests and diseases.
One of the featured presentations will be the richly illustrated documentary, "Almond Odyssey," a look at California's almond pollination season, the world's largest managed pollination event. The state's 900,000 acres of almonds draw beekeepers and their bees from all over the country.
The gathering of beekeepers will include multiple generations of family-owned commercial beekeeping operations, bee hobbyists, and those hoping to start their very first bee hive, Lewis says. They're there to learn the latest about beekeeping from world-renowned researchers and industry authorities.
The University of California, Davis, is expected to be well represented. Extension apiculturist (retired) Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology serves as the organization's current apiculturist and parliamentarian (as well as a frequent speaker). He will introduce the new Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Nino in a Nov. 20th presentation titled "California Extension Apiculturist--Passing the Torch." (For a complete list of sessions and speaker biographies and to register for the conferene, access the CSBA website.)
CSBA's mission is to support and promote commercial beekeepers and pollination services in California's agricultural farmlands. Each year funds raised at the CSBA convention go to research. Researchers attend the conference and provide updates. They are in "the front lines of the bee health battle," Lewis noted.
The conference (as well as membership in CSBA) is open to all interested persons.
CSBA President Bill Lewis of the San Fernando Valley talks bees with Barbara Allen-Diaz, vice president of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) at the California Agriculture Day, State Capitol, in March. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bees pollinating almonds. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
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!
“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.
Jar of lavender honey rests next to the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center's Honey Flavor Wheel. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The jar of lavender honey, "miel de lavande," is from France. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Amina Harris sniffs the aroma. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
I managed to capture a photo of her and labeled the image "Golden Bee Nectaring on Lavender," because that's what she was doing. Nectaring on lavender. And she was golden, the most beautiful bee I've ever seen.
Other bees have almost lived up to the "gold standard," but not quite.
So when Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollinator Center, located in the Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science, today announced the publication of the Honey Flavor Wheel, I immediately thought of my favorite golden bee and my favorite honey varietal: starthistle. The starthistle is an exotic, invasive weed that farmers hate (and rightfully so) and beekeepers love (and rightfully so).
The flavor is exquisite. And the color is golden.
What's the Honey Flavor Wheel? Well, have you ever sampled wine and overheard the comments about it? You'll hear about the color, the clarity, the swirl, the aroma, the taste and "the finish."
I've heard folks comment "I taste a little corn...Oh, that's a puzzle to my palate."
A puzzle to me, too. I've never tasted "a little corn" in any glass of wine.
Now with the UC Davis Honey Flavor Wheel, you can describe the honey you're sampling.
“I have always been astonished by the range of flavors in honey,” Harris said. “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.
“This gives a huge lexicon to the tastes and aromas we find when tasting honey,” Harris said.
The Honey Flavor Wheel production involved 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 said. “This wheel will prove invaluable to those who love honey and want to celebrate its nuances.”
“I had one wonderful surprise during the tasting series. 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!”
Harris' favorite honey? Sweet clover, not to be confused with clover. “Sweet clover is a tall, five-foot wildflower that grows in profusion in Montana, the Dakotas and elsewhere in the high plains of the United States,” Harris said. “It is light in color, spicy with a wonderful cinnamon hit!"
“When we tasted it, one of our analytical panel members said: 'There is really only one word for this. Yum!'
"And that is how I feel, too!” Harris said.
The front of the colorful wheel shows 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 can opine that your honey sample reminds you of a barnyard.
Retired Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who has coordinated and conducted the annual honey tasting at the UC Davis Picnic Day for 38 years, remembers tasting buckwheat honey in Oregon that reminded him of “goat.”
“Maybe the honey bees drank goat pee,” he said, smiling. “Actually, the environmental conditions where the plants are growing can have quite an effect on the odors and flavors of some honeys, while others just seem to be the same everywhere. The ‘goat' honey that I tasted was buckwheat. In many cases, buckwheat honey seems more similar to blackstrap molasses than anything else. It is normally quite robust, but can be mild. In some cases it has been described as having a ‘barnyard' odor and flavor--goat? A search of websites suggests that the mild-tasting samples can become more pungent, with off-flavors developing if it's left sitting around for some time or if it's been heated.”
The back of the Honey Flavor Wheel relates 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.
The Honey Flavor Wheel, measuring 8.25 inches, sells for $10 each with all proceeds benefitting bee research at UC Davis. The wheel is available at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science and soon will be available online, at the UC Davis Campus bookstore and at the downtown Davis Campus Bookstore.
This will be a definite conversation piece for all honey enthusiasts.
However, when I taste wine, I don't get "corn." When I taste honey, I don't get "goat."
Now what if a honey enthusiast tasted both corn and goat...and a wine aficionado tasted both honey and goat?
And maybe a little starthistle thrown in for good measure...
A golden honey bee (Cordovan of the Italian subspecies) nectaring lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee sipping nectar from lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Did you count pollinators on Thursday, May 8?
That was "Be a Scientist Day," sponsored by the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Day of Science and Service to commemorate 100 years of Cooperative Extension.
UC ANR asked that you take three minutes out of your day and count the honey bees, bumble bees and butterflies and other pollinators.
Amina Harris and Art Shapiro did.
In the Good Life Garden.
It's a little treasure located in the courtyard of the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science on the UC Davis campus.
The Good Life Garden's ever-changing edible landscape features lots of organic and sustainably grown vegetables, herbs and flowers--all for the faculty, students, staff, and visitors to enjoy.
And for pollinators, too.
Harris, director of the Honey and Pollination Center, and Shapiro, a butterfly expert and distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, happened to be enjoying the garden at the same time.
The count: 150 honey bees, two yellow-faced bumble bees (Bombus vosnesenskii) and one skipper butterfly. Most of them were foraging on the lavender or the catmint.
As a bonus, they saw dozens of lady beetles and immature lady beetles.
A good life. A very good life. A very good life in the Good Life Garden.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, talks pollinators with Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollination Center. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee foraging on lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii) on catmint. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Skipper butterfly on lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)