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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 (4), Eric Mussen (174), honey bees (206)

The Strippers

We have strippers.

Not anything to do with that thriving business known as "The Strip Club" in Las Vegas.

The strippers we have are Gulf Fritillary caterpillars, which can skeletonize their host plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora) faster than you can sing "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" (Mary Poppins movie) forward and backwards ("Dociousaliexpilisticfragicalirupes").

Seems as if one minute the plant is bursting with shoots, tendrils, leaves, flowers and stems, and the next minute, nothing but lots of little larvae.

But we like it that way. The tiny reddish orange caterpillars will turn into glorious reddish orange butterflies, Agraulis vanillae. It's a tropical and subtropical butterfly with a range that extends from the southern United States all the way to central Argentina, according to butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, who has monitored scores of butterfly species in the Central Valley for more than four decades. (See his website.)

You probably remember the story. Back in September of 2009, the professor excitedly announced the re-appearance of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly in the Sacramento metropolitan area after a four-decade absence, and in the Davis area after a 30-year absence.

The showy butterfly colonized both south Sacramento and the Winding Way/Auburn Boulevard area in the 1960s but by 1971 "apparently became extinct or nearly so," recalled Shapiro, who moved to the Davis area in 1971. 

True, some gardeners don't like to see their plants reduced to a skeleton, something they think should appear only on  Halloween night.

But to us--and many others--passionflower vines are just food for the caterpillars. To be a butterfly, you first must be a caterpillar. 

Two Gulf Fritillary caterpillars meet on a stem after having munched all the leaves. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Two Gulf Fritillary caterpillars meet on a stem after having munched all the leaves. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Two Gulf Fritillary caterpillars meet on a stem after having munched all the leaves. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A trio of hungry Gulf Frit caterpillars. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A trio of hungry Gulf Frit caterpillars. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A trio of hungry Gulf Frit caterpillars. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Gulf Frit catepillar does an end run. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Frit catepillar does an end run. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Gulf Frit catepillar does an end run. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Two Gulf Fritillaries ready to mate. Note the decimated leaves around them. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Two Gulf Fritillaries ready to mate. Note the decimated leaves around them. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Two Gulf Fritillaries ready to mate. Note the decimated leaves around them. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, August 18, 2014 at 9:43 PM

Control of Willowherb in California's North Coast Vineyards (from CWSS Research Update and News)

Reposted with permission from the January 2014 issue of "CWSS Research Update and News", a semiannual publication by the California Weed Science Society.  Check out that issue for several other interesting research and extension articles.  Take care, Brad


 

Control of Willowherb in California's North Coast Vineyards

- John Roncoroni, UCCE Napa County

Biology and Background.

Epilobium brachycarpum C. Presl., most commonly known as panicle willowherb. “The willowherbs are ruderal natives that typically inhabit disturbed places. They are a desirable component of the vegetation in natural areas but can be weedy in orchards, vineyards, landscaped areas, nurseries, and elsewhere.” Willowherb belongs to the evening primrose family (Onagracea) of which only a few species (evening primroses and gauras) are listed as weeds and are almost always found in non-crop and rangeland areas. It is classified as a summer annual that germinates from mid to late spring but in the moderate climate of Northern California willowherb begins to germinate in late October or November when moisture is available. Germination will decrease as soil temperatures cool, but growth of seedling will continue slowly throughout the winter. Until recently willowherb was rarely considered a weed that needed special attention and many growers were unfamiliar with it even though it was probably growing in their vineyard. Willowherb was present in almost every weed survey I had ever conducted, but rarely in numbers to be considered a problem. Then how, or why, did it become such a major weed in North Coast vineyards?

Willowherb, more than any other weed in this region, adapted to the change in cultural practices from cultivation to no-till under the vines and a move away from long-lasting preemergence herbicides to the ‘Round-up only' regime accepted by many growers. Since grapevines here often retain green leaves until early December growers are hesitant to spray glyphosate until after leaf drop because of drift concerns, giving willowherb an opportunity to germinate and grow to a size of 2-4 leaves. Removing grape leaves from the ground before herbicide applications is practiced by very few North Coast grape growers. These large leaves can ‘protect' weeds from herbicide applications. I conducted the study described below to test this effect.

Effect of grape leaf litter on weed control.

Method.  I conducted a trial in a mature merlot grape vineyard in Rutherford, Napa County, CA during the winter of 2007. Seven sets of contiguous paired plots were established in one row. Each plot was 4 vines (24 feet) long. Leaves were removed in raked plots by hand, using a standard leaf rake before treating the plots on December 12, 2007. An application of 10 oz./ac Chateau (flumioxazin) plus 24 oz./ac Roundup Pro (glyphosate) and BroncPlus (ammonium sulfate + surfactant mix) was made by two ATV sprayers, one from each side of the row using a single OC04 nozzle. Just prior to application a visual evaluation was made to determine the amount of grape leaf cover (percent) in each of the unraked plots.

Evaluations. (See table 1) Filaree, predominantly whitestem filaree (Erodium moschatum) and some redstem filaree (Erodium cirutarium), was evaluated at 72 DAT. Evaluations were made on a percent cover basis using the average of two 0.5 meter by 1 meter quadrats to determine the effectiveness of the treatment. The subsequent evaluations were made on the entire plot using a visual evaluation of weed control. A visual rating of 1 means that the weed was not controlled; a rating of 10 means complete control of the weed. Weeds evaluated in the ‘weed control' rating at the 93 DAT rating were whitestem and redstem filaree, willowherb, common groundsel (Senecio vulgaris), annual sowthistle (Sonchus oleraceus), spiny sowthistle (Sonchus asper), and prickly lettuce (Lactuca serriola).

Results and discussion. The data in Table 1 show that removing grape leaves before making the herbicide application in this trial had a dramatic effect on the amount of filaree remaining. The greatest difference in control was seen at the highest amount of leaf cover. Willowherb control was affected, even at the 176 DAT rating. There does not appear to be a relationship between the amount of leaf cover and the effect on willowherb control, but all levels in this test resulted in what would not be considered unacceptable control by growers.

The leaves that covered the ground and interfered with weed control will often breakdown or blow away allowing the weeds to continue to grow. A second glyphosate treatment in the late spring or early summer (before verasion) is a standard practice in many vineyards. This will control many weeds but willowherb is very tolerant of glyphosate (Kassim al-Khatib, UCIPM director, personal communication) and will not be controlled. These plants continue to grow but often take on an appearance of being mowed, with much of the growth now being done through the lateral buds. Willowherb like some other weeds leaves a skeleton when the plant senesces in the late fall. This skeleton holds grape leaves that fall from the vine, restricting the wind from blowing them away, perpetuating the cycle of growth.

Willowherb control.

Methods. We initiated a test on January 9, 2013 in American Canyon, Napa County, CA. Several herbicides and combinations were tested for control of vineyard weeds, primarily willowherb. All treatments were applied at 30 GPA with a CO 2 backpack sprayer using a single 8004E nozzle. All treatments (except untreated control, UTC) contained 3 pints/ac Roundup WeatherMax (glyphosate) and ProAMS at 0.25%. All grape leaves were removed from the trial site prior to herbicide applications.

Evaluations.  A visual rating of 1 means that the weed was not controlled; a ratingof10 means completecontrol of the weed. Willowherb was the predominant weed present in this study while whitestem filaree and broadleaf filarere (Erodium botrys) were the next most prominent, but in much lower concentrations.

Results and discussion. (see Table 2) This test was conducted under less than desirable conditions. The current California drought began in January 2013. This site received 10 inches of precipitation prior to application, a rain event of 0.23 inches occurred 13 days after application, but only a total of 2.17 inches of rain fell between application and the end of the growing season. This lack of precipitation caused a high degree of variability in the results.  Matrix (rimsulfuron), Alion (indaziflam), Chateau (flumioxazin) (all combined with glyphosate) and combinations of these treatments provided very good season long control. Trellis (isoxaben)and Surflan (oryzalin) did not perform as well under these trial conditions for the control of willowherb.

Conclusions.  After six years of testing herbicides for the control willowherb several trends became evident. Glyphosate alone is not effective on willowherb, especially those four inches or larger. Rely (glufosinate) has been very effective on willowherb, but it's availability to grape growers has been limited in recent years. The herbicides that have been the most effective on willowherb in several tests are Chateau and Matrix. Under ‘normal' winter conditions both herbicides control willowherb effectively. Other herbicides such as Goal (oxyfluorfen), Prowl (pendimethalin), Surflan and Trellis are effective on many broadleaf weeds but have shown variable, though less than complete control of willowherb in the north coast when used as a single preemergent herbicide when mixed with glyphosate. The realization that many weeds are tolerant, or have developed resistance to glyphosate has demonstrated that the dependence on any one herbicide will lead to decreased weed control.

Reference: Weeds of California and Other Western States, 2007 J.M DiTomaso and E.A. Healy, University of California Press.

Posted on Friday, August 15, 2014 at 3:47 PM

Celebrate the Bees on National Honey Bee Day!

Worker bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
If you appreciate honey bees--particularly their pollination services--then you should thank them.

Not just on National Honey Bee Day, which is Saturday, Aug. 16, but every day.  

This year's theme is “Sustainable Gardening Begins with Honey  Bees.”   

Some grassroots-minded beekeepers established the day in 2009 "to build community awareness of the bee industry, through education and promotion," according to their website. "Our commitment is to continue that philosophy."

"Oh, but I'm just one person!" you say. The NHBD's response to that is a quote from Edmund Burke (1729-1797): "No one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little."

Here's what we did: We removed our lawn: no lawnmower, no edger, no lawn. Our garden is a bee garden.  We planted lavender, artichokes (and let them flower), catmint, alyssum, cilantro, cosmos, tower of jewels, zinnias, guara, blanketflowers (Gallardia) sunflowers, Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), lantana, California golden poppies, honeysuckle, salvia, oregano, African blue basil, sedum, peach, tangerine, pomegranate, lemon and other bee favorites. A drip irrigation grid system, timed to turn on at 4 in the morning,  keeps the plants healthy, and the nectar and pollen flowing. It's a veritable oasis. It's a welcome mat. It's a pool of floral resources. C'mon in, the flowers are fine!

It's also important to select seasonal plants, especially for late summer and fall, when food resources are scarce. Avoid pesticides. Buy local honey. Support the bees. Support the beekeepers.  Become a beekeeper or let beekeepers maintain their hives on your property, if you can.

Get involved with bees! 

If you're like me, you love to photograph them. I can sit for hours in our bee garden and just watch them go about their bees-ness.  Here are several of my favorite images: 

Honey bee heading toward tower of jewels, Echium wildpretii. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee heading toward tower of jewels, Echium wildpretii. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee heading toward tower of jewels, Echium wildpretii. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

Golden bee (Cordovan) on lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Golden bee (Cordovan) on lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Golden bee (Cordovan) on lavender. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee on a California golden poppy. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee on a California golden poppy. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee on a California golden poppy. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee on pomegranate blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee on pomegranate blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee on pomegranate blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, August 15, 2014 at 3:27 PM

What's that sticky mess under the hackberries?

Whitish wax and sticky honeydew from Asian woolly hackberry aphid on hackberry leaves.

The hackberry woolly aphid (Shivaphis celti), sometimes called Asian woolly hackberry aphid, infests the widely planted Chinese hackberry (Celtis sinensis) and other Celtis species. Often, the first observed sign of a hackberry woolly aphid infestation...

Whitish wax and sticky honeydew from Asian woolly hackberry aphid on hackberry leaves.
Whitish wax and sticky honeydew from Asian woolly hackberry aphid on hackberry leaves.

Whitish wax and sticky honeydew from Asian woolly hackberry aphid on hackberry leaves. [Photo by J.K. Clark]

Posted on Friday, August 15, 2014 at 2:04 PM
Tags: aphid (6), hackberry (1), honeydew (1), Pest Notes (17)

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