Happy Garlic Ready for the Snow

Friday, April 9, 2010

How many bees in a pound?

I've been the official Camp Stevens beekeeper since I came back here 4 years ago. Having never kept bees before, it has been a challenging and at times frustrating road. Three days ago, two parcels arrived at our doorstep, each contained about 11,000 worker bees (3 pounds of bees) and 1 queen. This is "a nice fat package" - enough to start a new colony in a new world - in this case, our garden. The package bees are ordered in the winter and ship in the spring, right around the time that a wild hive might naturally swarm. Swarming is an amazing behavior and is the way that bee colonies divide and propagate. When conditions and nectar flows are good, a healthy established hive may choose to divide. The workers will make a new queen and half the hive will leave with the old queen, striking out to find a new location suitable to build a hive. Ideally they are successful in this endeavor, the old hive continues with its new queen, and new hives continue the legacy of their mother colony further afield.

Keep your eyes peeled because this is a very busy time for honey bees. In a year such as this when rains have been good, the quickly reproducing honey bee is likely to take advantage of ample nectar flows. We should have the opportunity to see plenty of swarms. When honey bees swarm they are at their most docile; in fact it is a great time to capture a wild hive, if that's your game. Often you will just see a cloud of bees flying together, when they are either leaving an old hive location or heading to a new one. Sometimes during the move they won't know exactly where they are going yet, so they find a spot to cluster and wait. In this case you may be lucky enough to see a giant ball of bees hanging from a branch or bench or bush. They are simply waiting, while scout bees go out and find a new place for them all to live, after which they will move in. If everything goes well, they will succeed in their new location, pollinate the wildlands and gardens in the area (a large area, say 5 miles), build lots of comb, raise brood, make honey and bee bread, and someday divide themselves.

The value of bees and other pollinators should be obvious to us, not only as gardeners, but also as people dependent upon ecology and the sutainence it produces for us. It is a shame that so much of the habitat essential for bees and other native insect pollinators and predators has been taken by development (us). I beg people to reconsider removing wild hives from their yards and from our communities. Most colonies are incredibly docile and focused on what they want to do, which is to harvest nectar and pollen from flowers. You might find that a wild bee hive is an easy and enjoyable thing to live with. It is amazing to watch these hard working ladies buzzing in and out of their home and foraging all over your yard and neighborhood. We too are a part of this system... let's try to remember this, and to appreciate it.

Gratitude and Humility as we wade into the water,
Ryan Wanamaker