Posts Tagged: Eric Mussen
When do you start? What should you do?
Newly retired Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, continues to field questions. He's kindly agreed to respond to beekeeping queries until the new Extension apiculturist, Elina Lastro Niño of Pennsylvania State University, comes on board in September. (Actually, we expect to see Mussen buzzing around Briggs Hall and at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility quite a bit in his retirement years.)
Some questions come from 4-H leaders who organize the youth beekeeping projects.
Mussen is quite familiar with 4-H (head, heart, health and hands), a youth development program that emphasizes "learning by doing" and "making the best better." For decades, he's judged the annual California State 4-H Beekeeping Essay Contest.
Since 4-H'ers usually launch their projects in late summer or early fall, continuing through June, does a beekeeping project lend itself to that schedule?
No, not in the late summer or early fall.
"I won't tell you that you cannot start a colony of honey bees in the late summer or fall, but they will have a real uphill battle," Mussen recently told a 4-H leader. "The colony has to have enough time and food to rear a large enough colony population to make it through the winter. The harder part is having access to enough nectar and pollens to rear all the brood they need and still have enough extra nectar to store as a honey crop to get them through winter. They also need quite a bit of stored pollens to consume slowly during the winter and consume like crazy when brood-rearing starts for real around the end of December."
"Also, it will be a bit difficult to get a bunch of bees at this late date, unless you are in good with a beekeeper who will sacrifice a colony. And, if that is the case, I would take everything and overwinter it. Next spring you can split off some bees if you wish to raise a 'homemade' package."
Mussen says those who wish to reserve a package for next spring, should contact the bee breeder now. "They will be booked solid, due to winter colony losses this winter. You may have to hunt around for a smaller operation that will deal with “onesies.” The bigger producers sometimes do not like to ship less than 100 at a time.
"Otherwise, chase down a local beekeeping club and add your request (and dollars) to a larger order that the clubs put out in the spring. While packages can be obtained in late March, the mating weather can be pretty 'iffy.' A week or two into April sounds better to me."
So, bottom line: if you want to keep bees, contact the bee breeder now. Join a local beekeeping club and find a mentor; read beekeeping magazines, journals and books; and peruse back issues of Mussen's online newsletter, from the UC Apiaries and his Bee Briefs.
A drone (male bee) emerging. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This frame is buzzing with bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
These triple-digit temperatures make us all thirst for water.
Honey bees need water, too.
If you see them taking a sip from your birdbath or taking a dip in your pool, the "sip" means they're collecting water for their hive, and the "dip" could mean they're dying, says retired Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
"Like most other animals, the bodies of honey bees are mostly water," he points out. "Thus, they need to drink water routinely as we do. Additionally, water (or sometimes nectar) is critical for diluting the gelatinous food secreted from the head glands of nurse bees, so that the queen, developing larvae, drones, and worker bees can swallow the food. They use water to keep the brood nest area at the proper relative humidity, especially when it gets hot and dry outside the hive. Water droplets, placed within the brood nest area, are evaporated by fanning worker bees and that cools (air conditions) the brood nest area to keep the eggs and developing brood at the critical 94 degrees Fahrenheit required for proper development."
On extremely dry, hot days, all bee foraging except for water will cease, Mussen says. "Under those conditions it has been estimated that the bees may be bringing back nearly a gallon of water a day."
Unlike us, honey bees cannot simply turn on a faucet. "They will fly up to nearly five miles to find a suitable watering source," Mussen says. "Suitable to honey bees might not be suitable to us, but if it is moist, it may be visited. Suitable to the neighbors is a separate question. Honey bees can become quite a nuisance if they visit drippy irrigation lines or hose connections, birdbaths, pet water dishes, swimming pools, fountains, or wet laundry and the like. The water foragers become habituated to those sites. If you try to dissuade the bees by drying up the source for a while, it becomes evident that the bees will visit the site every so often so they'll be around quickly after the water is returned."What to do? "People have tried to use repellents in the water, but the bees are likely to use the odor as an attractant when attempting to relocate the water source," Mussen points out. "Some people have had success keeping bees and wasps out of their swimming pools with very lightweight oils or monomolecular films--their purpose is to prevent mosquitoes from being able to breathe. But, if the water is splashed very much, you'll require a new layer."
And all those bees struggling in your swimming pool? "Not all moribund honey bees in a swimming pool are there because they were trying to get a drink. Every day, approximately 1,000 old honey bees from each colony die naturally. This normally occurs during foraging, and the bees just flutter down to the ground, sidewalk, driveway, parking lot, or whatever they were passing over. Some flutter into swimming pools. They are not dead, yet, so they can and do inflict stings on people who bump into them on the surface of the water. "
Beekeepers should make sure there's a watering source on their property so the bees won't hunt for water elsewhere, Musssen says. It should be available all year around. "Once the bees are habituated to the site, most of them will use that source."
One good thing to know: Bees don't like to get their feet wet. In the Garvey birdbath, we have floating wine corks just for the bees. They can land on a cork to sip water or simply sip from the edge of the birdbath. Besides wine corks, you can also use a stone, a twig or a flat chunk of cork. The Melissa Garden, a privately owned garden in Healdsburg that was designed by internationally distinguished bee garden designer Kate Frey of Hopland, includes a flat floating cork in a fountain. On any given day, you'll see bees claiming it as their own.
Honey bees find water where they can. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A flat floating cork in the fountain of The Melissa Garden, Healdsburg, is great for bees to buzz down and safely take a sip. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The Extension apiculturist, aka "honey bee guru," officially retired at the end of June after a 38-year academic career. A native of New York, he joined the faculty of the UC Davis Department of Entomology (now the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology) in 1976 after receiving his doctorate in entomology from the University of Minnesota.
He's known not only as the "honey bee guru," but “the pulse of the bee industry" and as "the go-to person" when consumers, scientists, researchers, students, and the news media have questions about honey bees.
Mussen was just named the recipient of the 2013-14 Distinguished Service Award for Outstanding Extension from the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR), a well-deserved honor.
For nearly four decades, he has devoted his research and extension activities toward the improvement of honey bee health and honey bee colony management practices.
His nominators wrote that what sets Dr. Mussen apart from his Extension-specialist peers are these seven attributes:
- His amazing knowledge of bees
- His excellent communication skills in a diverse clientele, including researchers, Extension personnel, legislators, commodity boards, grower organizations, pesticide regulators, students, news media, and beekeeping associations at the national, state and local levels,
- His eagerness to help everyone, no matter the age or stature or expertise, from an inquiring 4-H'er to a beginning beekeeper to a commercial beekeeper
- His ability to translate complicated research in lay terms; he's described as “absolutely the best”
- His willingness—his “just-say-yes” personality---to go above and beyond his job description by presenting multiple talks to every beekeeping association in California, whether it be a weekday, evening or weekend, and his willingness to speak at a wide variety of events, including pollinator workshops, animal biology classes, UC activities and fairs and festivals
- His reputation for being a well-respected, well-liked, honest, and unflappable person with a delightful sense of humor; and
- His valuable research, which includes papers on antiobiotics to control American foulbrood; fungicide toxicity in the almond orchards; the effect of light brown apple moth mating pheromone on honey bees; the effects of high fructose corn syrup and probiotics on bee colonies; and the invasion and behavior of Africanized bees. He is often consulted on colony collapse disorder and bee nutrition.
"Without question, Eric is the No. 1 Extension person dealing with honey bees in the nation, if not the world," said MacArthur Genus Awardee Professor Marla Spivak, Distinguished McKnight University Professor Apiculture/Social Insects at the University of Minnesota. "Research colleagues, beekeepers and the public are all very lucky to have him.”
"I am basically all pro-bee,” Mussen told the American Bee Journal in a two-part feature story published in September of 2011. “Whatever I can do for bees, I do it...It doesn't matter whether there is one hive in the backyard or 15,000 colonies. Bees are bees and the bees' needs are the bees' needs.”
That says it all in a nutshell--or a bee hive.
What next? Eric Mussen will be around the UC Davis campus--his office in Briggs Hall and the bee lab at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility--to help the new apiculturist, Elina Lastro Niño of Pennsylvania State University get adjusted when she arrives in September. She's known for her expertise on honey bee queen biology, chemical ecology, and genomics. (See news story on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website.)
We rather expect that Mussen will continue to be involved with the bees. Maybe he'll write a book on California beekeeping, or update the one he co-authored years ago.
That could very well "bee."
Great job, Eric Mussen! A tip of the veil!
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen in front of the apiary at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Eric Mussen with his outstanding service award from UC ANR. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Visiting entomologist May Berenbaum, professor and head of the Department of Entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, this morning stopped by the haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis, to see the bee activity.
Joining her were Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen; bee scientist Brian Johnson, assistant professor of entomology, and native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology, all of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
The garden, planted in the fall of 2009, is located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. It is open year around, from dawn to dusk and maintained by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Berenbaum, who will become the fifth woman president of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America in 2016, saw honey bees foraging on pomegranate and flowering artichoke blossoms and other flowers. Thorp pointed out the Valley carpenter bees, mountain carpenter bees, European wool carder bees, yellow-faced bumble bees and black-tailed bumble bees.
Thorp, who monitors the garden for bees, has found some 85 different species of bees--"and counting"--over the last five years. He began forming baseline data a year before the garden was planted.
The key goals of the garden are to provide bees with a year-around food source, to raise public awareness about the plight of honey bees and to encourage visitors to plant bee-friendly gardens of their own. Häagen-Dazs, a premier ice cream brand, generously supports the garden.
The garden design is the work of a Sausalito team which won the international design competition using a series of interconnected gardens with such names as “Honeycomb Hideout,” "Orchard Alley,” "Growers' Circle," “Round Dance Circle” and “Waggle Dance Way." The team: landscape architects Donald Sibbett and Ann F. Baker, interpretative planner Jessica Brainard and exhibit designer Chika Kurotaki.
The art work in the garden is by the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program, co-founded and co-directed by entomologist/associate dean Diane Ullman and self-described "rock artist" Donna Billick. Billick also created the six-foot long worker bee sculpture that anchors the garden. The sculpture, which Billick cleverly named "Miss Bee Haven," is of mosaic ceramic.
Berenbaum visited the UC Davis campus May 20-21 to deliver two presentations as part of the Storer Lectureships: "Bees in Crisis: Colony Collapse, Honey Laundering and Other Problems Bee-Setting American Apiculture" on May 20 and "Sex and the Single Parsnip: Coping with Florivores and Pollinators in Two Hemispheres" on May 21. (Click on this link to watch a video of her talk, "Bees in Crisis.")
Berenbaum, a talented scientist, dedicated researcher, dynamic speaker, creative author, and an insect ambassador who wants people to overcome their fear of insects, focuses her research on the chemical interactions between herbivorous insects and their host plants, and the implications of these interactions on the organization of natural communities and the evolution of species.
As as a spokesperson for the scientific community on the honey bee colony collapse disorder, Berenbaum has conducted research, written op-ed essays and testified before Congress on the issue.
The Bee Team: In front are bee scientist Brian Johnson of UC Davis and May Berenbaum, professor and head of Department of Entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In back are native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology, and Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of UC Davis. The sculpture is by Davis artist Donna Billick. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen points out a honey bee on a pomegranate blossom as entomologist May Berenbaum takes a photo with her cell phone. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Entomologist May Berenbaum moves in for a photo of honey bees on a flowering artichoke. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Barbara Allen-Diaz, vice president of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) vowed last year to wear bees if she received at least $2500 in donations for UC student scholarships through the "Promise for Education" fundraising drive.
She did and she will. Wear honey bees that is. This week. Bee-lieve it.
Allen-Diaz chose her project to highlight the importance of pollinators to the health of agriculture and the planet.
Professional bee wrangler Norm Gary, emeritus professor of entomology and retired bee research scientist at UC Davis, will train bees to buzz into her open hands to sip nectar.
The event, dubbed "Operation Pollination," also will be his last professional bee stunt. "This is absolutely my last performance as a professional bee wrangler," said Gary, considered the world's best bee wrangler. "The remainder of my retirement years will be devoted to music, not bees."
Photos and/or video from the event are scheduled be posted on social media sometime Thursday, May 1.
So last week, the "B" Team did a buzz run. The "B" Team, led by Gary, included Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, yours truly and three members of UC ANR:
- Pam Kan-Rice, assistant director, News and Information Outreach Communication Services and Information Technology
- Ray Lucas, senior producer/director, Digital Media, and
- Evett Kilmartin, digital media librarian.
Was Kan-Rice a little apprehensive? Not at all. A former ag reporter based in Fresno, she felt quite comfortable around them, as Gary assured her she would. "They felt fuzzy, wuzzy and warm," she said, adding matter-of-factly: "I've never been stung by a bee."
The artificial nectar? "I make it with ordinary table sugar … about half sugar and half water," Gary said. "Then I add one tiny drop for flavoring, such as anise, that provides a fragrance that attracts bees. Almost any flavor will work fine … peppermint, lavender, etc. My artificial nectar is as good, maybe better, than natural nectar. At least the bees respond 100 percent! People don't realize that table sugar (sucrose) is perhaps the purest natural product on the market. It is identical to the sucrose found in natural nectar."
Gary retired in 1994 from UC Davis after a 32-year academic career. He is the author of numerous peer-reviewed research publications and most recently wrote a book, The Honey Bee Hobbyist: the Care and Keeping of Bees.
During his professional bee wrangler career spanning four decades, Gary trained bees to perform action scenes in movies, television shows and commercials. His credits include 18 films, including “Fried Green Tomatoes”; more than 70 television shows, including the Johnny Carson and Jay Leno shows; six commercials, and hundreds of live Thriller Bee Shows in the Western states.
He once trained bees to fly into his mouth to collect food from a small sponge saturated with his patented artificial nectar. He holds the Guinness World record (109 bees inside his closed mouth for 10 seconds) for the stunt. He is well known for wearing a head-to-toe suit of bees while "Buzzing with his B-Flat Clarinet."
So, come Thursday, the social insects in the hands of Barbara Allen-Diaz will be on the social media.
"Foraging bees do not react defensively to color whatsoever," Gary said. "Beekeepers wear white because bees can be defensive during hive manipulations and tend to react to darker colors...bees away from the hive during foraging and pollination normally do not sting unless physically molested, such as picking them up. Most stings are from yellow jackets and wasps but lay people think they have been stung by a bee."
Said Mussen: '"The few 'trained' bees that Norm will be using won't even be around a hive. Their likelihood of stinging anything or anyone is as close to zero as it can get, as long as we 'beehave.' No jerky movements. No swatting at bees around the face; no blowing the bees away from your face."
After Gary's last bee wrangling stunt, he will be totally focused on his music. He's in a duo, Mellow Fellas, and plays clarinet, alto sax, tenor sax, and flute.
"For the last two years I have also been performing in a Dixieland band, Dr. Bach and the Jazz Practitioners. We are playing lots of gigs in every imaginable venue. Our most notable performances are at the Sacramento Music Festival, a four-day event held each Memorial Day weekend. We also perform at pizza parlors, senior retirement organizations, etc. We play swing-music style, too. "
Gary also performs with a quartet, Four For Fun, that has eclectic tastes, but most tunes, he says, have a Dixieland flavor. "We'll perform for the Monterey Jazz Society on May 18. Our bass sax and trumpet players are extremely talented ladies who live in Eugene, Ore. Our banjo/guitarist/vocalist lives in Sonoma. I still play duo gigs with several piano/keyboard professionals. And I play clarinet occasionally with the Sacramento Banjo Band."
That would be the "B" flat clarinet.
Honey bees in the hands of Pam Kan-Rice. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Making a beeline for her watch. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Bee watch. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Bees are drawn to the special artificial nectar placed on a plastic plant. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)