Posts Tagged: Eric Mussen
Associated Press reporter Gillian Flaccus wrote that a man illegally keeping bees on the roof of his West Los Angeles home may not have to worry any more since the City Council voted Wednesday, Feb. 12 to allow backyard beekeepers to keep bees.
That's good news for our urban beekeepers.
What troubles some folks, though--and rightfully so--is that the council agreed that when at all possible, feral bee colonies should be hived instead of destroyed.
Los Angeles has been the home of Africanized bees since the mid-1990s and some of those feral cololnies are indeed Africanized. They look the same, but their behavior isn't. Africanized honey bees, which the media has dubbed "killer bees," are much more aggressive than our European honey bees, established here in California in1853.
Flaccus also quoted beekeeper Ruth Askren, who relocates feral hives to backyards all over the city, as estimating that only 10 percent or fewer of the colonies she collects are so aggressive they must be destroyed.
"Currently, most hives discovered in the city's public right of ways or reported by concerned citizens," Flaccus wrote, "are wiped out because of worries about their aggressive genetics."
Mussen, who just received a grant with UC Davis bee scientist Brian Johnson to research Africanized bees in California, is following the story closely. He pointed out that Africanized bees were first detected in California in 1994, just outside Blyte in Riverside County.
Fact is, not all bees (especially highly aggressive Africanized bees) are worth saving.
Mussen wrote in one of his Bee Briefs, posted on his website: "While it does appear that over the decades the Africanized honey bees in southern California have lost some of their overly defensive behavior, they still are not predictable. At times a colony population is no more apt to become disturbed and defensive than our normally kept EHBs (European honey bees). At other times they respond quickly to minimal disturbance and defend a very large territory around the hive location. Such behavior is not restricted solely to AHB (Africanized Honey Bees), however colonies of EHBs demonstrating such intensive defensive behavior usually are 'requeened' or killed by beekeepers. Requeening is a process by which the original queen in the colony is located and removed.
"Then, a young queen, mated outside the range of AHB drones, is introduced into the colony. Over a period of four to six weeks, the original workers die of old age and are replaced by daughters of the new queen. Defensive behavior becomes less intense as population replacement rogresses. Individuals and organizations in southern California are advocating collecting honey bee swarms and extracting colonies from buildings, etc., hiving them, and keeping them in backyards. The probability of hiving an AHB colony is relatively high."
Meanwhile, Mussen is fielding calls from news media, beekeepers and agencies.
One person wanted to know if Mussen's views are science-based. "No," Mussen said, "it's common sense."
Mussen offers two suggestions:
1. Beekeepers needing bees should order packages from an area outside AHB colonization, such as Northern California. Be careful about ordering from queen bee breeders in Texas, "as the state is covered with Africanized honey bees."
2. If feral bees are collected and hived, move the hive to a location where there will not be interactions with people and domestic animals. Allow the bees to fill the box and then conduct an inspection. It will take only a couple minutes to determine if the bees simply mind their own business or would likely cause problems for adjacent neighbors.
Mussen also warns that the new ordinance will be yanked if problems mount. If neighbors start complaining about swarms, or bees stinging people and pets en masse, or about scores of bees seeking water elsewhere (beekeepers need to provide for their colonies), that could happen.
Then, he says, beekeepers will have no one to blame but themselves.
This is a feral honey bee colony in a backyard in Vacaville, Solano County. Containing European honey bees, it was a joy to the resident before it collapsed. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This is the time of year when scores of prospective beekeepers contact Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology for advice on beginning beekeeping.
Many want to keep a hive or two in their backyards but don't know where to start.
It's not as simple as purchasing a queen bee off the Internet. You have to buy packaged bees or collect a swarm to start a colony.
"If you haven't started (beginning beekeeping) yet, purchasing a honey bee queen won't do it," Mussen advised a Northern California woman today. "You need 2-3 pounds (6-9,000 bees) of worker bees to get things going. So, the new beekeeper usually either buys 'packaged bees' or collects a swarm."
"Individual queens are purchased to replace queens in colonies that already are going, or to add to frames of bees and brood--not including the old queen--that are removed from a strong colony, later in the season. That is called 'splitting' or 'dividing' the colony to get a total of two.
Mussen, who joined UC Davis in 1976 and will be retiring in June, always advises newcomers to join a local beekeeping association and read magazines and books.
"As for textbooks, it depends on how the bees are going to be kept. In what I refer to as 'normal' Langstroth hives, the book Beekeeping for Dummies is relatively good," Mussen told her. "If the bees are headed for a top-bar hive, then Les Crowder's book on that subject is reasonably priced. Smaller 'backyard' texts have recently been published by UC Davis emeritus professor Norman Gary (Honey Bee Hobbyist: the Care and Keeping of Bees); Bee Culture magazine editor Kim Flottum (The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner's Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden), and University of Florida emeritus professor Malcolm Sanford, who is the co-author with Richard E Bonney of Storey's Guide to Keeping Honey Bees: Honey Production, Pollination, Bee Health.
Mussen also pointed out that a newly revised rendition of the beekeeping bible, The Hive and the Honey Bee will soon replace the 1992 edition. "It is one of the most comprehensive texts out there," he said.
What about keeping bees along a busy street?
"Having a busy thoroughfare over your back fence will be problematic only if most of the bee-attractive water and flowers producing nectar and pollen are on the other side of the road," Mussen noted. "Then a bunch of the bees will become hood ornaments or windshield smudges. Be sure to have a good bee-watering set-up in place before the bees are moved in."
Prospective beekeepers also need to contact their local Cooperative Extension office for rules and regulations.
One very enduring part of being a first-year beekeeper: "The first year should be the smoothest," he said. "After that, pests and diseases become a concern."
Musssen writes a bimonthly newsletter, from the UC Davis apiaries, which can be downloaded free from his website. He also writes the periodic Bee Briefs and one includes Getting Started in Beekeeping.
This photo of beekeeper Billy Synk, manager and staff research associate of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, appears on the cover of the February edition of the American Bee Journal. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The event, hosted by the California Center for Urban Horticulture (CCHU), based at UC Davis, will take place at Giedt Hall, UC Davis campus, with a side trip to the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Garden, just west of the campus, on Bee Biology Road.
Registration is underway at on the CCHU website.
CCHU program manager Anne Schellman says that this will be an informative workshop where participants will learn:
- How to identify common bee pollinators
- How to make a landscape pollinator-friendly
- Which plants pollinators prefer
- The latest research about honey bee health and pollinator habitat
- How UC Davis helps honey bees at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Garden
Honey bee and native pollinator specialists with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology will be among the speakers.
Please pick up materials and enjoy coffee and a light breakfast
Dave Fujino, director of the California Center for Urban Horticulture, UC Davis
Edwin Lewis, professor and vice chair of the Department of Entomology and Nematology, UC Davis
8 to 8:40
The Buzz about Bees: Attracting and Observing Bees in Your Garden
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor, Department of Entomology and Nematology, UC Davis
Habitat Enhancements to Support Bees: Agriculture to Urban Research
Pollination ecologist Neal Williams, associate professor, Department of Entomology and Nematology, UC Davis
Honey Bee Health: Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, Department of Entomology and Nematology, UC Davis
Plants for Pollinators: Ellen Zagory, director of horticulture, UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, UC Davis
Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven Garden Update: What's New in the Garden?
Christine Casey, manager of Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, Department of Entomology and Nematology, UC Davis
11:30 Pick up box lunch
Open house at Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, Bee Biology Road (It's located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility)
Questions and answers with Robbin Thorp and Christine Casey
1 to 2
Special plant sale for Pollinator Workshop attendees
Arboretum Teaching Nursery, Garrod Drive
This is a great opportunity to learn more about the pollinators we see in our garden, ranging from honey bees and bumble bees to long-horned bees and metallic green sweat bees--and what to plant to attract them. Three of the speakers (Eric Mussen, Neal Williams and Robbin Thorp) were members of the "UC Davis Bee Team" that won the outstanding team award last year from the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America. The other team members were assistant professor Brian Johnson and professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology.
See website for registration and more information, or contact Anne Schellman at email@example.com.
Honey bee foraging on flowering quince. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
You've heard of late bloomers.
How about early bloomers?
A trip to the Benica (Calif.) State Recreational Park on Sunday yielded quite a surprise: a solo blossom on a bare almond tree.
Almonds don't usually start blooming until around Valentine's Day.
Almonds are big business in California. "The 2013-14 crop is estimated at 1.85 billion pounds from 810,000 bearing acres," wrote Christine Souza in the Dec. 11 edition of Ag Alert.
Souza, who covered the 41st annual meeting of the Almond Board of California, wrote that "Near-record production, higher prices and room for increased export opportunities lead leaders in the almond business to forecast continued growth, with optimistic trends outweighing concerns about water supplies, increasing production costs and onerous government regulations." Read her full article.
Meanwhile, while buds turn to blossoms and blossoms turn into food for hungry honey bees, Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, keeps busy answering bee/almond questions. This year marks his 38th year as an Extension apiculturist. He will be retiring in June.
One of the questions recently posed to him: "Do most commercial beekeepers in California specialize in a certain area of beekeeping such as honey production, pollination services, queen bees, etc., or do most do a little of all of these things?"
"Most commercial beekeepers in California try to place as many of their colonies as they can in almond pollination," Mussen responded. "That $150 or so makes up a large portion of the total costs of keeping a colony alive for a year--about $220. After almonds, most of the commercial beekeepers (bee breeders) in the Sacramento Valley turn to raising queen bees and bulk adult bees for the most part, with some further pollination contracts to keep their 'spare' bees making some income. The northern California beekeepers will hardly ever produce an income-generating honey crop, unless they move their colonies out of state, which some do. Most of the bee breeders produce no reportable honey."
On the other hand, the San Joaquin Valley commercial beekeepers do attempt to earn their income after almonds from various honey sources and pollination contracts, Mussen says. "Before most crops are ready to be pollinated, the beekeepers swamp the San Joaquin citrus belt to make some honey and not have to feed their bees. There are so many resident and visiting colonies down there that the honey crop has become very small. Except for alfalfa seed pollination, most commercially pollinated crops do not produce honey. Beekeepers do place their colonies near cotton, sometimes, for a honey crop, but it is risky. The central valley beekeepers can attain the state average of 60 pounds of honey per colony, if the rains promote growth of the sage and buckwheat plants growing in the hills around the valley.
"The southern California beekeepers usually average the best honey crops--closer to 100 pounds per colony. There still is a significant amount of citrus down there, and quite a few wildflowers. Rainfall remains an extremely important factor."
And declining bee health? What about colony collapse disorder (CCD)?
"CCD seems to be a combination of stresses that, sometimes, becomes overwhelming to the bees," he says. "These are the contributing leading factors: malnutrition, parasitism by Varroa destructor, infections with Nosema ceranae, infections by one or more of the 22 known honey bee viruses, exposure to pesticides, and vagaries of weather, especially cold weather. Commonly, colonies that are collapsing are heavily infected by Nosema and one or more of the viruses."
A solo almond blossom blooming Jan. 5, 2014 in Benicia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It will be a few weeks until we see scenes like this. This photo was taken Feb. 11, 2013. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
With all the rooftop beekeeping underway throughout the world, Santa may have some serious issues to consider tonight.
The “ho, ho, ho” may turn into a “ho, ho, ouch!”
What if Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer trips over a bee hive on a rooftop? Honey bees are rather grumpy this time of year, you know. The queen bee, clustered inside the warmth of the hive, surrounded by worker bees, is not likely to issue a royal pardon. Guard bees will buzz out to defend their hive.
And they won't be just "pollen" Santa's leg.
Before jolly ol' Saint Nicholas can say "On Dasher, on Dancer, on Prancer, on Vixen, on Comet, on Cupid, on Donner, and on Blitzen," the Big Guy in the Red Suit (not an appropriate color for beekeepers) isn't feeling so good. Neither are the eight reindeer and the Red-Nosed One (now the Red-Nosed-Bulbous-One-That-Got-Stung-by-a-Bee.)
Indeed, this may prompt scientists to issue a white paper on "Santa Claus and the Pitfalls of Rooftop Beekeeping."
So, Santa, it might be a good idea to leave the red outfit at the North Pole tonight and don a professional bee suit with a zippered domed hood and leather gloves.
Might also be a good idea, too, to tuck a smoker in your sleigh.
The San Francisco Chronicle engages in rooftop beekeeping and maintains two colonies and a fruit and vegetable garden. Journalists Deb Wandell and Meredith May are the beekeepers. Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and Queen Turner, head of the beekeeping Section, Ministry of Agriculture, Botswana, inspected the hives last June. From left are Turner, Wandell and Mussen. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
San Francisco Chronicle journalists/beekeepers Journalists Meredith May (left) and Deb Wandell inspect a frame of honey on the Chronicle's rooftop. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)