The Celebration of Life and Legacy of UC Cooperative Extension apiculturist emeritus Eric Mussen, held Aug. 28 in the Putah Creek Lodge, UC Davis, drew a standing-room only crowd who shared and applauded the many facets of his life: family man, bee scientist, athlete, angler, birder, photographer, humorist and a singer (doo wop).
They all remembered that engaging smile, a smile that could melt frozen ice cream (a dessert he loved).
Members of California's beekeeping and almond industries--Team Eric--came out in force to honor their hero, their mentor, their confidant, their friend. Some traveled from as far away as Washington state and Idaho.
UC Davis distinguished professor Walter Leal live-streamed the event and posted it today on YouTube at https://youtu.be/Kj5NuQ_rBuo.
Dr. Mussen, who preferred to be called "Eric," was an internationally known 38-year Extension apiculturist and an invaluable member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty since 1976. He died Friday, June 3 in his Davis home at age 78 from aggressive liver cancer.
Although Eric retired in 2014, he continued his many activities until a few weeks prior to his death. For nearly four decades, he drew praise as “the honey bee guru,” “the pulse of the bee industry" and as "the go-to person" when consumers, scientists, researchers, students, and the news media sought answers about honey bees. Colleagues described him as the “premier authority on bees and pollination in California, and one of the top beekeeping authorities nationwide,” “a treasure to the beekeeping industry," and "a walking encyclopedia when it comes to honey bees.” Among who sought his expertise: The Lehrer Hour, BBC, Good Morning America, National Public Radio (Science Friday), The New York Times, Boston Globe, and The Los Angeles Times.
The Aug. 28th celebration opened with a welcome by Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, who introduced Chancellor Gary May.
"Eric was a cherished friend to everyone here, to the UC Davis community, to his colleagues, to scientists and researchers, to agricultural growers and 4-H-ers, and to beekeepers and bee enthusiasts everywhere," the chancellor told the crowd. "He meant so much to the university and his work benefited us all. He represented the absolute best of UC Davis. He was an internationally recognized expert, dedicated to his work, and passionate about helping others and making the world a better place to be. His legacy will endure. It will endure through his research contributions and extension activities that served beekeeping operations across California and the nation. It will endure through the practices he helped put in place, sharing information with beekeeping groups. It will endure through the next generation of apiculturists he helped inspire. We'll remember his impact as the 'honey bee guru.' Much more than that, Eric will be remembered for his generosity, his kindness and his passion."
Emcee Gene Brandi, an icon in the bee industry and a family friend, served with Eric for 37 of his 39 years on the California State Beekeeping Association's Board of Directors. He currently chairs the Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees, Inc., and also served as president of American Beekeeping Federation and chaired both the California Apiary Board and National Honey Board.
One of Gene's many memorable comments: “To paraphrase a good friend of mine, (beekeeper) John Miller, “The people who really make a difference in this life are those who make things better. Eric Mussen made things better for the honey bee, beekeepers and the entire beekeeping industry and for that we are very grateful.”
There were scores of memorable comments from the speakers:
- Robert “Bob” Curtis, Carmichael, former director of Agricultural Affairs, Almond Board of California
- Ettamarie Peterson, veteran 4-H beekeeping project leader of the Liberty 4-H Club, Petaluma, a past president of the Sonoma County Beekeepers' Association, and a close friend of Eric's.
- Glenda Humiston, vice president of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Helene Dillard, dean of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (virtual eulogies)
- Elina Lastro Niño, UC Extension apiculturist who also read the text of UC Davis emeritus professor Norman Gary, who was unable to attend
- Diane Ullman, professor and former chair of the Department of Entomology and Nematology
- Mary Lou Flint, an emeritis associate director of the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management (UC IPM) Program, and an emeritus Extension entomologist, Department of Entomology and Nematology
- Walter Leal, UC Davis distinguished professor and former chair of the then Department of Entomology
- Michael Parrella, dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Idaho, and a former chair of the Department of Entomology and Nematology
- And so many more...
Adding to the celebration: a memory table from the Mussen family; bee pins to all the guests from the National Honey Board; a bee observation hive display from UC Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, director of the California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMPB), and Wendy Mather, program manager of CAMPB; honey straw donations from JoshuaZeldner, Amina Harris of Z Specialty Food, LLC; and ice cream donations from Haagen-Dazs (HD). Eric worked closely with HD especially during the colony collapse disorder phenomenon and the installation of the UC Davis Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis.
Olive and Vine of UC Davis catered the event. CreaTions N' Events of Sacramento provided a bee-themed cake, complete with a skep and honey bees.
"The world," said Dr. Leal, a former chair of the Department of Entomology who knew Eric well, "is a lesser place without Eric."
Eric is survived by his wife, Helen Mussen, sons Timothy Mussen (Noelle) of Rancho Cordova, and their children Amber and Alex; Christopher Mussen (Jacqueline Silva), of Davis; his younger brother Alan Mussen (Lynda) and their daughter, Allie and husband, Nick Arnold, all of Peru, N.Y.; and other relatives in New York and Michigan.
Memorial contributions may made to the California State 4-H Beekeeping Program, with a note, "Eric Mussen Memorial Fund." Checks may be be made out to:
California 4-H Foundation
Attn: Development Services (Eric Mussen Memorial Fund, California State 4-H Beekeeping Program)
2801 Second Street
Davis, CA 95618
It's NOT because they're unnecessary. She supplies them.
“I tell them when they join not to buy bees or equipment because I catch swarms for them and I have a lot of donated equipment including suits of all sizes,” said Ettamarie, widely known as Sonoma County's Queen Bee. “I give the parents and big teenagers the adult suits. It is important for at least one parent to have a suit because they are always there when we open the hives and I try to encourage parents to get involved. That is not hard to do because it isn't unusual for the parent to be the one pushing the child into the project because they want to know more about beekeeping!”
During the past 4-H year, September to June (similar to a traditional school year) she caught 19 swarms in the area and gave 17 to the 4-H'ers.
“I had to replace some colonies when the swarms failed to thrive,” she said. ”These young people are really understanding of all the things that can cause a colony to crash. We do forensics on failed colonies at some meetings. We discuss what can or did go wrong. I am always so pleased to hear them use great bee vocabularies. Even the little ones surprise me by their great questions and responses to my questions! It always puts a smile on my face to see them work with their colonies. Young people seem to be more calm around their bees than most adults. Once in awhile, I have even seen them pet their bees when they land on their gloves or arms.”
A retired 37-year school teacher, a 28-year beekeeper, and a 22-year 4-H beekeeping project leader, Ettamarie is a longtime member, a past president of the Sonoma County Beekeepers' Association (SCBA) and the current newsletter of SCBA's The Monthly Extractor.
Although the 4-H year runs from September to June, beekeeping is a year-around project. “It's a summer endeavor, too, so I do visits to their homes to check on their hives during the summer, of course.”
Teaching youths about bees comes naturally for the retired school teacher. She launched her 4-H beekeeping project in 2000 when her son Lew wanted his daughter, Kasey, “to take beekeeping because he wanted the local honey,” Ettamarie recalled. “Since I had been beekeeping since about 1994 or so they asked me to take on the project as leader. There was no other beekeeping project in the county at that time.” Today there are two in the county, and she generously supplies them with how-to literature.
Ettamarie doesn't follow a 4-H beekeeping manual. “I use an older manual, but to tell you the truth I have just used a bit of this and that together to run the meetings and give the young beekeepers a collection of worksheets that I have found useful,” she said. “For example, one page tells the life cycle and stages with days of the queen's, workers' and drones' eggs, larva and pupa. One page tells which days the workers do each job starting with cleaning house. One page describes diseases. One page shows all the hive parts.”
Of her current students, “two of the families are cousins and they have been in the project for three years. Their grandmother was my grandchildren's dairy project leader years ago so I feel like I am paying her back for all the years she helped them! She has gotten very interested in bees, too!”
One mother enrolled in a free online Pennsylvania State University beekeeping course the first year of the COVID pandemic lockdown. “She is great and has even helped catch one of her daughter's swarms!”
At every meeting, her 4-H'ers examine the bee activity in her observation hive. She also uses her own colonies to teach hive inspection, “and it is good for them to see the differences in each colony. Since I have experienced beekeepers every year, I am able to use them to demonstrate what to do. One of things I love about 4-H is that several older 4-H'ers can get teen leader experience and help the younger ones.”
“I think it is exciting to see young people get so involved with bees,” Ettamarie said. “Most of them stay in the project at least three years or more!”
What fascinates her about bees? "The bees are so fascinating because they work strictly by instinct and as one organism. They are so organized and teach us so much. I love watching how they approach various flowers, some they just land on, some they burrow down into and some they seem to nibble the part they can suck nectar from. I am also fascinated by how they have their favorite flowers. I say some flowers are equivalent to chocolate in my world! I have learned so much about flowers since I started keeping bees. They teach me to open my eyes and pay attention to the world! When my granddaughter and I started off on our trip to Italy this summer, she told me her mother warned her about me. My daughter told her grandma will stop at every flower to see if there is a bee on it and take a picture if she spots one! How well she knows me!"
In 2011, the Sonoma County 4-H Office presented her with the "Friend of 4-H Award" for her Liberty 4-H project leadership in beekeeping and her previous 4-H activities, including leader of sewing and poultry projects, when her children were enrolled in 4-H.
This year the Petaluma resident will be honored as the 2022 recipient of the Youth Ag and Leadership Foundation's 4-H Alumni Recognition Award for her many contributions to Sonoma County 4-H. The event takes place at a barbecue on Sept. 24 at a vineyard in Windsor “and I get a table for 8 at the barbecue!” she said. “My children and their spouses will fill the table!” Her three children are Karen Nau, a preschool teacher; Margie Hebert, a second-grade teacher, and Lew Peterson, an electrician and pilot.
The Petaluma Chamber of Commerce honored her several years ago but the COVID pandemic cancelled the ceremony. “I think I am getting a fat head with all of this recognition but I really love it! I taught for 37 years and didn't get this much appreciation!”
Ettamarie credits husband Ray with introducing her to agriculture. In the late 1960s he purchased 20 head of Angus cattle for their Potter Valley ranch. In 1972 the Petersons moved to their six-acre Petaluma farm, where they raise cows and chickens, grow vegetables, and keep bees. She currently maintains four bee colonies and an observation hive.
"My husband is not a beekeeper and loves to tell my friends beekeeping is addictive and there is a 12-step program to recovery!" Ettarmarie quipped. "He is all talk, of course! He really enjoys the honey and that I have something to keep me busy and happy, besides our six-acre farm and the huge family!"
"None of our children are beekeepers but our son, Lew, has had fun helping me catch swarms," she said. "His daughter, Jessie who is now an ag teacher at Tokay High School in Lodi, went to the Irish Beekeeping School one year and another granddaughter (now a special education teacher in the Santa Rosa School District) went with me another year. A side note about Jessie, she and her husband Lucas Chaves are buying the house in Lodi that is on property that my great-grandparents bought in 1900. The house on the property was built in 1948 by my grandfather for his sister and brother-in-law so I am very excited about that! It was a very small dairy farm originally and Jessie showed dairy cows in 4-H and FFA!"
Ettamarie says that "our California roots are very deep!" Her husband's family settled in Sonoma County in about 1850. "They were ranchers of course. Ray was born on his uncle's prune ranch in Healdsburg."
Always the teacher, Ettamarie takes her observation hive to school and other interested groups “to teach students and adults about bees.”
Beekeeping Manual. And the proposed California 4-H Beekeeping manual that she would love to work on? She would like it dedicated to the late Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist based in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Mussen freely gave of his time and expertise to beekeepers throughout California, not only during his 1976-2014 career but during his retirement. He died June 3, 2022 at age 78 under hospice care at the family home in Davis.
Ettamarie wrote in the current edition of The Monthly Extractor that although Eric Mussen retired in 2014, he “never really left his job at UC Davis…and was, always ready to answer our questions… We were fortunate to have him almost annually as a speaker at our meetings. His talks were always straight-forward and honest and laced with humor. I remember the year he told us about the new product to fight mites, Check Mite +. This was made with Coumaphos, an organophosphate pesticide that is highly toxic. He told us all the problems. I remember asking him if he would use it and he looked me right in the eyes and said, ‘No!' This is just one example of his integrity.”
They also recalled that Mussen was a co-founder (and six-term president) of the Western Apicultural Society (WAS). “He supported a diverse group of beekeepers and worked hard to give them a speaking platform and have some fun coming together during those yearly gatherings,” they related. ”We will always remember him as a brilliant beekeeping teacher who educated so many of us.”
Pro-Bee. Mussen considered himself “pro-bee,” from helping a 4-H'er with a single colony to large scale commercial operations.
The Mussen family suggests memorial contributions be made to the California State 4-H Beekeeping Program, with a note, "Eric Mussen Memorial Fund." Checks may be made out to the California 4-H Foundation and mailed to:
California 4-H Foundation
Attn: Development Services (Eric Mussen Memorial Fund, California State 4-H Beekeeping Program)
2801 Second Street
Davis, CA 95618
Or, online donations may be made to the California State 4-H Beekeeping Program by accessing the main donor page and then clicking on the drop-down menu to "Beekeeping Program Scholarship."
Bees, butterflies and beetles will be well represented at the 145th annual Dixon May Fair, which opens Thursday, May 5 for a four-day run (May 5-8) after a two-year hiatus.
They're among the insects depicted in photographs and other art by Solano County 4-H'ers and other youth in the Youth Building, Denverton Hall. The work includes that of Matthew Agbayani of the Vaca Valley 4-H Club, Vacaville, who entered a color photograph of a honey bee and a syrphid fly (aka flower fly or hover fly) foraging on a sunflower.
The judging is done, the ribbons are hung and the doors will open at 4 p.m. May 5.
Chief executive officer of the fair since 2012 is Patricia Conklin, a member of the Western Fairs Association Hall of Fame and a 4-H and FFA alumnus who grew up in Dixon and exhibited at the Dixon May Fair in her youth. Her daughter, Leta Myers, a marine biologist, assisted with the clerking during the recent judging. Like her mother, she, too, is a 4-H and FFA alumnus, but in Gridley, Calif., where Mom served as CEO of the Butte County Fair for 10 years.
The Dixon May Fair, the 36th District Agriculture Association, is the oldest district fair and fairgrounds in the state. It traditionally ends on Mother's Day. This year's theme is "Super Fun.”
The fairgrounds are located at 655 S. First St., Dixon. Fair hours are noon to 9 p.m. on May 5; noon to 10 p.m. on May 6; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on May 7; and noon to 10 p.m. on May 8. General admission is $15 for those 13 and older; $10 for children ages 5 to 12; and free for children 4 and under. Seniors over age 65 and military members with active duty cards will be admitted for $10. Special days include Thrifty Thursday, when general admission for those 5 and older is $5, and Kids' Day Friday, with free admission all day for children 12 and under. See Dixon May Fair website and fast facts for more information on entertainment, exhibits, livestock shows and parking.
Nematologist and plant pathologist Shahid Siddique, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and coordinator of the department's seminars for the 2021-22 academic year, has announced the list of fall quarter seminars, which begin Sept. 29 and conclude Dec. 1.
All will be held at 4 p.m. on Wednesdays, Pacific Time, and will include both in-person and virtual seminars.
"We we have an exciting list of seminars that includes both national and international speakers," Siddique said.
The in-person seminars will take place in Room 122 of Briggs Hall, located off Kleiber Hall Drive. These seminars will be recorded for later viewing.
Three of the seminars will be virtual. "Virtual seminars will be accomplished using the Zoom meeting software package," Siddique related. A Zoom link will be provided a week before the seminar.
First on tap will be the exit seminar of doctoral candidate Hanna Kahl of the lab of UC Davis distinguished professor Jay Rosenheim. She will speak on "Herbivory of Citrus Fruit by European Earwigs in California" at 4 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 29. This will be an in-person seminar.
No seminar will be held Nov. 3, which conflicts with the annual meeting of the Entomological Society of America (ESA), set Oct. 31-Nov. 3 in Denver, Colo. Many faculty attend the annual meeting.
The seminars are open to all interested persons.
Siddique joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology in July 2019 after serving as a research group leader for several years at the University of Bonn, Germany. Research in the Siddique lab focuses on basic as well as applied aspects of interaction between parasitic nematodes and their host plants. "The long-term object of our research is not only to enhance our understanding of molecular aspects of plant–nematode interaction but also to use this knowledge to provide new resources for reducing the impact of nematodes on crop plants in California."
For further information on the seminars, contact Siddique at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The two postdoctoral scholars, Jacob "Jake" Francis and Jacob "Jake" Cecala, have just received prestigious federal research fellowships. And well-deserved!
Francis, a member of the Vannette lab since 2020, received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biology (PRFB) to study secondary metabolites in nectar and their consequences for microbes and pollinators. His project is titled “Genetic Signal and Ecological Consequences of Toxic Nectar in Plant-Pollinator Microbe Interactions.”
Cecala, who just received his doctorate from UC Riverside, will join the Vannette lab this fall to study the effects of water availability and pesticide use on bees and bee-microbe associations.
We wrote more about them on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website. These are two amazing young scholars and we expect great things from them.
Francis received his doctorate in 2020 from the University of Nevada, Reno, working with advisor Anne Leonard of the Department of Biology's Program in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology. He holds a bachelor's degree from the University of North Carolina Asheville (2011) in ecology and evolution, summa cum laude, with distinction as both a research scholar and an honors scholar.
Cecala, who holds a doctorate in entomology (2021) from UC Riverside, was advised by associate professor Erin Wilson-Rankin (formerly of the Louie Yang lab, UC Davis). His dissertation: “Commercial Plant Nurseries as Habitat for Wild Bees.” He holds a master's degree in biological sciences (2015) from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, where he completed his thesis, “Bee Visit Frequency and Time of Day Effects on Cumulative Pollen Deposition in Watermelon” with professor Joan Leong, who was a doctoral student of the late Robbin Thorp, UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor. Cecala was awarded his bachelor's degree in biology, summa cum laude, with a minor in French, also from Cal Poly Pomona.
Cecala is also a 2013 graduate of The Bee Course, sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History, held annually at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz. Professor Thorp served as one of the longtime instructors; his legacy lives on in the next generation of dedicated bee scientists.
The Vannette lab projects are in full force. Vannette, a former postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University, explains on her website, "the Vannette lab is a team of entomologists, microbiologists, chemical ecologists, and community ecologists trying to understand how microbial communities affect plants and insects (sometimes other organisms. too). We often study microbial communities in flowers, on insects or in soil. We rely on natural history observations, and use techniques from chemical ecology, microbial ecology and community ecology. In some cases, we study applied problems with an immediate application including pathogen control or how to support pollinators. Other questions may not have an immediate application but are nonetheless grounded in theory and will contribute to basic knowledge and conservation (e.g. how can dispersal differences among organisms affect patterns of abundance or biodiversity?)."