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Newest Residents at Old Hill Ranch

July 12, 2011

Welcome honeybees!

While I do not dare suggest that I am a true “beekeeper” yet, I have undertaken caring for a colony of honeybees here at Old Hill Ranch. They—“they” being a new Queen and some brood, otherwise known as a “nuc” or nucleus colony—arrived Memorial Day weekend, Will’s and my 4th year wedding anniversary. But it was an inauspicious weekend for the bees, as the weather was terrible their first 2 weeks. And I hadn’t set up my hive appropriately for such a young colony!
The first thing people say to me when I tell them about my newest venture is “Cool! I love honey, when will you get some?” Let me tell you, honey is the LAST thing on my mind right now! My goal this year is simple. To not kill the bees! Sadly, I’ve come close already. All those books and beekeepers out there that might tell you, “Keep bees! It’s easy! Even a child could do it!” HA! There is actually a lot to know. In retrospect, I wish I had mentored with a keeper for a year or two prior to taking this on. But, here I am, watching our worker girls buzzing about the vineyard! Right now, they are feasting on mustard, lavender, calendula, bind-weed-aka-morning glory, wild radish, and squash blossoms from our zucchini plants.
I’ve been logging hours sitting beside the hive, trying to stay out of the line of the bee flights while observing their “bee-havior.” I love it when the girls enter the hive with colorful sacs of pollen on their legs—white, yellow, orange, red. Some are so loaded down it looks like they have trouble landing! They sort of zig-zag in and plop or roll in with a teeny tiny, bee-sized ‘thud!’ My darling Will planted buckwheat, which blooms in the Fall—more bee-food for when there is usually a dearth of nectar. What a sweetheart! Will jokes that he’ll never buy me flowers (he doesn’t,) but he’s planted an acre of buckwheat for our bees. You decide which spouse you’d rather have!
My beautiful colony is behind in numbers, but growing steadily and seemingly healthy despite the early setback. We’ll see how they do over the Summer and Fall months as they begin to feed and store up for Winter. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hope my Queen hangs on. Since they won’t have enough honey for the cold weather, I’m going to have to feed them, which is something we hope not to resort to in “natural beekeeping” practice.
Four years ago, when Will and I got hitched, we had to relocate some established hives from our idyllic wedding spot under the Oaks and a big blooming Buckeye tree. Our local beekeeper, Serge, probably the most well respected beekeeper in Sonoma, graciously relocated his hives for us—for some reason, we thought 140 wedding guests sitting amidst the beehives might make for too adventurous a nuptials. I’ve felt guilty about that ever since. Imagine coming home from work one day and finding a big empty spot where your home had been, and no note or clue as to where it up and went to. Yup, an awful thought. Hives have to be moved at night when, hopefully, all the girls have made it in. Anyway, I’ve wanted to get into beekeeping ever since.
The more I learn about honeybees, the more enchanted by them I am. Basic facts everyone should know: One half to two-thirds of our food benefits from the honeybee. If honeybees weren’t around, we’d starve. Worker honeybees are all female, of course! Honeybee gals ONLY sting if they feel threatened, and will die after stinging. (So don’t “bug” them!) If stung, scrape the stinger out with your fingernail quickly so less venom gets in. An average colony of bees consists of 20,000 to 60,000 bees, plus 1 Queen. Wow! Cool, right?
Colony Collapse Disorder is still not 100% understood. But according to Serge, and let’s face it, common sense, it has a whole lot to do with us humans and our intrusive intervention: the homogenizing of Queens and colonies (as opposed to diversification of bees), overly intrusive beekeeping tendencies, especially by commercial beekeepers, pesticide/antibiotic usage, and on and on. These habits weaken colonies so they are less able to fight off diseases naturally, plus it makes the bees dependent on the beekeepers.
“Natural” beekeeping may mean different things to different folks, but in Sonoma, Serge promotes a few basic, simple things: Keep the bee population local by not importing Queens from afar, NEVER use pesticides or any medications in the hive (this allows for ‘survival of the fittest’ or, the survival of the strongest colony), and manage the colony without over-intervention. So, here I am, “newbie beekeeper” trying to “think like a bee.” Wish me luck.
You can support the world’s honeybees by buying honey only from your local beekeepers and by joining a local beekeeping organization. Your minimal yearly dues will help these organizations do good work at the local level through education, swarm management, and stewardship of the local bee populations.

I’ll ‘bee’ seeing you around! And if you ever visit Old Hill be on the lookout for our newest residents.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Steph C. permalink
    July 14, 2011 4:22 pm

    An acre of buckwheat is infinitely more romantic, I agree.
    Thanks for all the excellent insider bee info! I will refrain from asking you when to expect honey. I can’t say that the thought hadn’t crossed my mind.

  2. Ellen Gill Pastore permalink
    July 21, 2011 3:25 pm

    Well, now I am very excited to see the bees!


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