Improving honey bee stock — that's what it's all about.

Noted bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis, will teach three advanced beekeeping workshops next spring at the Laidlaw facility, all geared toward stock improvement. Registration is now under way.

"Major advances in agriculture are due to stock improvement, and this also applies to honey bees," said Cobey, internationally known for her queen bee rearing and instrumental insemination expertise. "With the increasing challenges of beekeeping today, the selection of honey bee stocks that are productive, gentle and show some resistance to pests and diseases is critical to the future health of the beekeeping industry, agriculture and our food supply."

She will offer two one-day workshops on "The Art of Queen Rearing”"on Wednesday, March 31, and Wednesday, April 7, (each followed by an optional queen production tour to large-scale commercial queen producers); a three-day course on "Instrumental Insemination and Bee Breeding Workshop" April 14-16; and a two-day "Advanced Workshop on Instrumental Insemination" on April 21-22.

The "Art of Queen Rearing Workshop" filled up so fast last year -- within a week -- that this year she is offering two workshops: one for sideline beekeepers (March 31) and one for commercial beekeepers (April 7).

The workshop, a combination of classroom and hands-on beekeeping, is designed "to provide an understanding and appreciation of what it takes to rear high-quality queens," Cobey said. She will present basic biology and principles of queen rearing. Beekeepers will be involved in the various steps of the process, including setting up cell builders, grafting, handling queen cells and establishing mating nuclear hives or nucs. Also emphasized: the importance of drone production and establishing mating areas. Registration is $125 per class, with a sign-up deadline of March 15.

An optional queen-production tour, open only to class members, will take place the day after each class: the first one on Thursday, April 1, and the second one on Thursday, April 8. Each group will visit several northern California producers during their busy season to observe techniques and systems involved in commercial queen production. The tour fee is $50.

The three-day "Instrumental Insemination and Bee Breeding Workshop" is designed for commercial beekeepers involved in a breeding program and for laboratory personnel requiring the skill for research purposes. This is a hands-on course emphasizing individual attention. Cobey will show the students how to collect semen from drones and inseminate the queens. She will display and review various types of insemination instruments. A video camera and monitor will help facilitate the instruction. Registration is $425, with a sign-up deadline of April 1.

The two-day "Advanced Workshop on Instrumental Insemination" is designed as a follow-up to the instrumental insemination course. "The focus of this class," Cobey said, “will be perfecting insemination techniques and solving individual problems in the laboratory and field.” Demonstration materials, virgin queens and drones will be provided, while the students should bring their own insemination equipment. Registration is $375, with a sign-up deadline of April 1.

Cobey, who has taught the specialized classes since the early 1980s, draws hundreds of researchers and beekeepers from throughout the world, including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Costa Rico, England, Egypt, France, India, Indonesia, Israel, Jamaica, Korea, Kuwait, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Peru, Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia, Uruguay and Venezuela. By invitation, she has also taught several classes in the host countries of Argentina, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica Egypt, Jamaica, Mexico, Turkey and South Africa. Cobey, trained by honey bee geneticist and apiculturist Harry H. Laidlaw Jr., established the New World Carniolan bees more than three decades ago and has managed a closed population breeding program since then. Her bees are known for their high productivity, rapid spring buildup, overwintering ability, resistance to diseases and gentle temperament. More information is available on the UC Davis Department of Entomology http://entomology.ucdavis.edu/courses/beeclasses/index.html.