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Posts Tagged: Eric Mussen

Better Statistics for the Bees

Eric Mussen
The bees. What about the bees? How are they doing?

Better, says retired Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who today published the last edition of his newsletter, from the UC Apiaries. Last? "Or, it's the last edition I'm solely responsible for."

Mussen retired in June after 38 years of service. Now it's "Welcome, Elina Lastro," who joined the department this week. 

"The summary data from this spring's suvey on winter colony loss is available for review on beeinformed.org, the public's entry to information from the Bee Informed Parnership (BIP)," Mussen wrote. "Since it is called winter loss, it does not necessarily  record the total losses in many operations because colonies are lost over the entire year, picking up considerably in fall and winter. Until recently the summer losses, often replaced using colony splits, were unreported. The good news is that the national average loss declined to 20.7 percent, the best in about a decade. Not many beekeepers blamed CCD (no logical explanation) for their losses, but mites and starvation were leading explanations." 

Mussen pointed out that "since the data was listed by state averages, I wondered if that data were placed on a map of the U.S., could we see some sort of regional patterns." So, he did just that.

"Using colored pencils and scribbling, I colored like a kindergartner (or at least like I did in kindergarten and still  do.), I did not see much of a pattern that stuck out. The states with the highest average losses (over 60 percent) did form a cluster (Illinois, Indiana and  Michigan). The states with losses in the 50 percent range were all east of the Mississippi River: Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, West Virginia, New York and New Hampshire. States with losses in the 40 percent range were spread equally all over the country: Oregon, Arizona, Nebraska, Texas, Minnesota, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Connecticut.

"States with losses in the 30 percent range filled in a swath of states just south of the 50 and 60 percent losses, as well as Washington, Utah, South Dakota, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine. States with losses in the 20 percent range included seven of our southeastern states: Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, and Kansas. California, Idaho, Oklahoma and Hawaii showed state average losses below 20 percent."

Be sure to check out his latest newsletter. His website also lists many of his other newsletters and the Bee Briefs he's written over the last 38 years.

 

A honey bee foraging on a zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee foraging on a zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee foraging on a zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A sip of nectar from a zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A sip of nectar from a zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A sip of nectar from a zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, September 5, 2014 at 6:17 PM

Will Hummingbird Syrup Harm the Bees?

It's no secret that honey bees like the sugar/water mixture in hummingbird feeders. If there's no bee guard on the feeder or if the feeder isn't bee-proofed, bees will sip the mixture. They also will lick the spills. A sudden gust that sways or upends the feeder is "bee happy time."

However, should we be attracting honey bees to our hummingbird feeders and/or providing them with sugar/water syrup?  Is the syrup mixture good for the bees?

Curious minds want to know.

One rural East Bay Area area resident who feeds the hummers and caters to honey bees in her garden asked that very question. Since bee guards prevent the short-tongued bees from reaching the food (hummers, as we all know, have long tongues), she hung "plant saucers from a tree with sponge in one and a terrycloth towel in the other so the liquid doesn't cause them to drown, and the bees swarm all over it to eat the sugar water. I can go through two gallons of sugar water a day.  Who knew bees could eat so much."

"Bees are in trouble elsewhere but not here," she shared. "I didn't intend to be a bee feeder.  I don't have hives for them or collect their honey."

The bees come to eat and she enjoys watching them eat. Her intention is to help the bees. "Walking into a swarm of bees to fill their feeders is thrilling.  I don't hurt them and they don't hurt me. And having them here is a simple way for me to educate people about the importance of bees and contrary to the common belief that we need to be afraid of them. People leave here with a different view of their gentleness and importance."

She makes a 3-to-1 ratio  (three parts water, one part sugar) for the hummers and bees. However, her neighbors wonder if she is harming them "because they need the protein from pollen" and the bees "might find the sugar water addictive."

Will it harm them?

Newly retired Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology has answered a lot of humminbird feeder/bee questions during his 38-year career.

"Feeding honey bee colonies sugar syrup has been going on since man determined how to refine sugar from beets and canes," Mussen said. "However, in most cases, we feed these syrups to honey bee colonies only when they are short on nectar at times when nectar is critically important, especially for brood rearing in the spring and for making sure there is enough food in the hive to get the bees through winter."

"Nectars contain very small amounts of numerous plant-derived micronutrients that are essential to honey bees," he pointed out. "We have known that all along, but recently some research has documented that components of honey make the honey better for bees than sugar syrup.  Honey-fed bees have more robust immune systems, they learn locations of food sources more rapidly, and they forage more quickly than sugar syrup-fed bees."

So, the question: Is she harming the honey bee colonies with the syrup feeders? 

"I doubt it," Mussen said. "Some beekeepers feed hundreds of colonies from open buckets of sugar syrup in southern U.S. beekeeping operations, and their colonies do just fine.  However, I counsel against such an approach, since the strongest and least needy colonies get most of the syrup, leaving little behind for the weaker, more needy colonies.  Each should be fed individually with a hive feeder."

So bottom line, "If you wish to continue feeding the bees, they will keep taking the syrup.  However, since it is not nectar, the bees will be 'robbing' the syrup from its source.  The problem with that is that once robbing gets started, bees from one colony begin to try robbing from neighboring colonies.  The bees fight at the entrances and many are killed.  I am sure that we can say that many colonies are benefitting from your syrup in one respect--just like the hummers--but there are downsides to the practice."

In addition, beekeepers may find their honeycomb tinted red or polka-dotted. It's not honey; it's syrup.

A honey bee sipping syrup from a hummingbird feeder. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee sipping syrup from a hummingbird feeder. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee sipping syrup from a hummingbird feeder. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A hummingbird pauses in between sips. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A hummingbird pauses in between sips. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A hummingbird pauses in between sips. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, September 2, 2014 at 5:53 PM

Eric Mussen to Keynote WAS Conference

Honey bee nectaring lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee guru Eric Mussen is retired but the "R" word isn't stopping him.

Mussen, who served 38 years as California's Extension apiculturist, based at the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, has changed the "R" word into a "K" word.

"K" for keynote speaker.

Mussen will deliver the opening keynote address at the 37th annual Western Apicultural Society (WAS) conference, scheduled Sept. 17-20 at the University of Montana, Missoula, Mont.

Mussen, a five-time president and co-founder of WAS, will discuss "Changes in Beekeeping Over Three Decades" from 8:45 to 9:45 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 18 in the University Center.  

The conference will take place in conjunction with the 2nd International Workshop on Hive and Bee Management, Sept. 17-21 and the Missoula Honey Harvest Festival, Sept. 20.

The WAS conference,  themed "The Path of Discovery to the Future," will be conducted by president Jerry Bromenshenk, a professor at the University of Montana and the state director of the U.S. Department of Energy's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (DOE EPSCoR).

Sept. 17 is the 2nd International Workshop on Hive and Bee Monitoring, sponsored by WAS and the Bee Culture magazine.  Jerry Hayes will discuss Monsanto research and scale hives, and Dick Rogers, Bayer CropScience research and scale hives.  Other topics include wide-scale scientific experiments that can be conducted by beekeepers; interpreting hive weight and temperature; and  acoustic scanning of bee pests, diseases, pesticides, molecular genetics for queen production.

The Sept. 18 WAS agenda, with the keynote address by Mussen, includes talks on honey bee health in Canada; bees in Northern Ireland; bee health and treatments; critical issues for bees and beekeeping; and bees and bee breeding in New Zealand.  One of the speakers is virologist Michelle Flenniken of Montana State University and the former Häagen-Dazs Postdoctoral Scholar at UC Davis. She will speak on "Honey Bee Virology and Diseases" from 11:15 to 11:45 a.m. 

The Sept. 19 WAS agenda will include a keynote address, “Let Me Tell You About the Birds and the Bees: Neonic Pesticides and the Prospects for Future Life on Planet Earth” by G. Philip Hughes, of the White House Writers' Group. (Already that has people singing "Let Me Tell You About the Birds and the Bees"--Jewel Aken's 1964 hit.) Among the other presentations will be  “Working Bees” by Randy Oliver of Scientific Beekeeping; critical issues for bees and beekeepers;  adapting bee management to climate change; and honey producers.

The Western Apicultural Society, founded in 1978, is a non-profit, educational, beekeeping organization for beekeepers throughout western North America.  Membership is open worldwide. However, the organization was designed specifically to meet the educational needs of beekeepers from the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming; the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and the Yukon; and the states of northern Mexico.

There's still time to register for the conference, according to Fran Bach, WAS newsletter editor.

See schedule

 

Eric Mussen, who retired this summer as Extension apiculturist, will be the keynote speaker on Thursday, Sept. 18 at the Western Apicultural Society conference at the University of Montana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Eric Mussen, who retired this summer as Extension apiculturist, will be the keynote speaker on Thursday, Sept. 18 at the Western Apicultural Society conference at the University of Montana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Eric Mussen, who retired this summer as Extension apiculturist, will be the keynote speaker on Thursday, Sept. 18 at the Western Apicultural Society conference at the University of Montana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, August 27, 2014 at 9:12 PM

Keeping Bees

Eric Mussen
So you want to keep bees in your backyard...

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)
A drone (male bee) emerging. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A drone (male bee) emerging. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This frame is buzzing with bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This frame is buzzing with bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This frame is buzzing with bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, August 19, 2014 at 9:59 PM
Tags: 4-H (1), beekeeping (2), Eric Mussen (177), honey bees (50)

Honey Bees Need Water, Too!

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)
Honey bees find water where they can. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

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)
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)

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)

Posted on Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 10:33 PM
Tags: Eric Mussen (177), honey bees (50), Kate Frey (1), The Melissa Garden (1), water (3)

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