Next spring, Mussen said, could be a challenge for California’s almond growers. “Several years ago we had 700,000 acres of almonds in the state but now we have about 740,000 acres and growing. We need two hives to pollinate each acre. That’s way over a million colonies of bees we need.”

Mussen told the attendees that they can do their part in helping the bees stay healthy by planting bee-friendly plants, especially plants that bees can forage on in the late summer and fall when food is scarce. It’s important to provide water, such as in a birdbath. “Otherwise, bees will go for water in the dog dish or wet laundry hanging on the line,” he said.

He cautioned them against using pesticides in the garden.

Another way to help the bees “is to become a beekeeper,” he said. “If you start keeping bees for a year or two, you’re probably going to enjoy it and stay at it.”

Many beekeeping organizations sponsor beekeeping courses, and the veterans will take you under their wing, Mussen said.

Mussen teaches intermediate courses to the Sacramento Area Beekeepers’ Association and does research.

Turning to honey—which pastry chef Elaine Baker called “magical”—Mussen said this year’s honey crop is better than normal, and he said he is “optimistic” that honey bee health may be better this winter than the winter before.

When asked about Africanized bees, he said beekeepers in southern California must be careful that they don’t collect Africanized bee swarms. The bees may look fine at first, but can get very defensive, he said.

The farthest county north where they’ve been found is Madera County. “Beekeepers believe they’re in Fresno County, but officially only Tulare County is considered ‘colonized’.”

Mussen pointed out that Africanized drones can mate with European queens and the colonies may become aggressive. A microchrondial (DNA) test is used to classify honey bees in California as Africanized.

Speaker Stephen "Steve" Covey of the Covey Family Apiary keeps bees in Lake County and the San Francisco Bay Area. "I have honey running through my veins; we have four generations of beekeepers in our family," he said. He kept bees in his youth, and beekeeping — including collecting swarms — helped pay his way through college.

Beekeeping is timeless,” he said. “It’s a mind set, a frame of mind. It’s connecting with the earth and helping the overall cause of protecting pollinators. It’s learning about the science of bees and the natural mystery of bees.”

To keep bees, you need space, time, money and understanding of bees, he said. Covey, a full-time landscape architect who considers beekeeping a personal passion rather than a money-making venture, said that most years he doesn’t break even but “it’s a great hobby.”

“How do you start?” he asked. He advocated purchasing a beginning beekeeping book, planting a bee garden, joining a beekeeping organization and attending bee conferences. “I’m still asking questions,” he said. “You learn things like not opening the hives in the middle of winter. It’s like learning to drive.”

If you want to set up beekeeping in your backyard, it’s important to know the city, county and state regulations, Covey said. “And talk to your neighbors before you do it.”

“Honey is an excellent bribe, especially if you can do it regularly,” quipped a fellow beekeeper.

For the “Bee Informed” event, pastry chef Baker prepared mini-desserts made with honey, obtained from area beekeepers. Also served were drinks laced with honey.

“It was a great success,” Baker said. “Fantastic speakers, terrific vendors, delicious cocktails and desserts, not to mention all the beautiful honey.”