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BackYardHive Top Bar Hive Beekeeping Blog
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A Gathering of Bee Luminaries
(35 min north of Portland, OR)
Join Corwin and seven other speakers from the Natural Beekeeping community at this Northwest Beekeeping Conference!
'Explore the exciting paradigm shift underway in bee-centric, natural beekeeping. SpiritBee has assembled a magnificent host of bee-luminaries — national and international voices in the Natural Beekeeping community. Over three inspiring days we’ll go deep and far into the innermost world of the honeybee and learn to see the world from their perspective, using all your senses to listen deeply to the voice of the bees. Take home a bushel of new experiences and cutting-edge methods of caring for your bees and their hallowed environment.'
Conference Details and Registration
Northwest Bee Doctor Intensives with Corwin Bell
Aug 25-26 & 28-29
Bee Doctor Intensives information
Corwin Bell at new sustainable goods store, Lillie's, in Boulder, CO
Bee Question Q&A
Saturday, April 11th (Noon-1:30pm)
There is a new sustainable goods store in Boulder and they are carrying our hives and products. Lillie's , in the McGuikins shopping center.
Corwin will be there today answering all of your bee questions.
Noon until 1:30pm Come check out the new store, they have some REALLY cool, unique stuff! Local, sustainable goods. Bring your toughest bees questions for Corwin!
About Corwin Bell:
Corwin has been passionately working with bees for over 20 years.
He practices a holistic approach in caring for bees that focuses on enhancing
the bee’s immune system through attentive listening, meditative communing,
right timing and sustainable methods. In his courses he reveals a connection
between bees and humankind as symbolic of a broader interconnection
between humans and the natural world.
Corwin promotes a "backyard" hive method and philosophy in which he
encourages and inspires interested and willing individuals to connect with
bees through an altruistic Guardianship that goes beyond hobbyist beekeeping.
Bell travels widely giving lectures and workshops to raise awareness of
honeybee genetic biodiversity and to promote alternatives to conventional
Offering the most unique assortment of goods & gifts while practicing ethical and sustainable business practices. We strive to offer products that make a difference in the world, with the lowest possible impact on the environment and the highest possible impact on producer empowerment.
We can change the world if we change the way we spend our money.
by Corwin Bell
How they come and go and bless us
with their beauty and fragrance,
while we watch the bees
dance among their petals.
(Photo credit: Corwin Bell.) Bee Flower the Violets
One of the amazing things about being a Bee Guardian and keeping bees, is what happens to your senses and perception of the natural world. All of a sudden you now have bees in your yard and the sound of their humming fills your ears with their tranquil vibratory sound. Then somehow almost magically the scents of the hive and the flowing plants, even the resins and pitch from the trees seem to find our sensory system. Everything smells so good. Is it even possible to find a taste on the planet more luscious and amazing then a bite of fresh comb from a warm hive?
Why is it that our senses are magnified and tuned up when we bring bees into our places and spaces? I can't seem to answer this, but I have heard so many others tell stories of experiencing the same effect on their senses.
The first effect seems to be that of observing more flowers and more colors. This comes of course because we wonder what “our” bees are up to. Where are they gathering nectar? What is blooming? Is that one of “my” bee's on this flower in the park only a short distance from my hive? Soon the neighborhood and the hills seem to have bloomed into colors and flowers and smells that went unnoticed before the bees. We seem to experience a rapid change in our experience of the senses, BB and AB... that's Before Bees and After Bees !
It's like a treasure hunt to find what flowers are blooming each week and which ones the bees are foraging on. Each week some flowers reach their peak and begin to wither and others begin blooming in earnest. Each of these flowing beauties carry subtle scents and also unique nectars that contribute to the amazing variation of multi-floral honeys in the hive.
This year, I have decided to challenge myself to photo document this blooming show. Every week I will observe and photograph the plants that have bloomed in Eldorado Springs where my bees live. I hope this will be fun for you to follow along or join in and see if you can catch the show with your own camera or even get the kids out and see if they can find the flowers from my pictures. I will photograph as the Spring turns to Summer and Summer to Fall. So here we go!
Silver Maple and the stream side birch were the first pollen sources the bees found emerging from winter.
(Photo credit: Karen Sadenwater) Birch tree pollen for the bees
Violets blanket the forest floors and the bees are eager to slurp this first nectar source.
(Photo credit: Corwin Bell.) Bee Plant - Violets
The violets are still blooming but are slowly coming to an end.
The fragrance of Oregon Grape cascades off the warn southern facing slopes of the front range. The Bees have been active on the bright yellow flowers since they began blooming a week ago.
(Photo credit: Corwin Bell.) Bee Flower Oregon Grape
(Photo credit: Corwin Bell.) Bee Pollinating Oregon Grape
(Photo credit: Corwin Bell.) Bee Pollinating Oregon Grape- Can you see the bee?
Why yes, here comes the Dandelion's and we all hope that the neighbors don't spray them, because they are to tempting for the bees not to want to collect from.
(Photo credit: Karen Sadenwater) Bees collecting pollen from dandelions
These wild plum blossoms, although eager to open their flowers, must wait for this weekend storm to pass. If all goes well there will be bushes white with these flowers and under the full moon that is coming soon, the flowers will seem to glow at night. Don't miss this !
(Photo credit: Corwin Bell.) Bee Plant Wild Plum Blossoms
We have announced our 2015 spring Bee Guardianship workshops in Colorado!
April 25, 2015 = Session I
April 26, 2015 = Session II
May 16, 2015 = Session I
May 17, 2015 - Session II
You can register for the classes and find out more information,
at BackYardHive Natural Beekeeping Workshops and Classes
Corwin Bell teaching a top bar hive workshop in Colorado
Wow, it's been cold in Colorado and it's only November! The temperatures dropped below zero a few days ago. This is like weather we have in January. The cold weather makes it challenging for normal activities like, walking the dogs. Taking them for a walk in the cold will often result in frequent stops where they stop, hold their paws up and "say", "please come warm my little puppy paw!" So with all the cold temperatures I was staying a little closer to home for walks and decided to take a loop in the forest near the house.
The dogs were having fun romping around and sniffing the fresh rabbit tracks that were abundant in the newly fallen snow. It is always so fun to see where those little bunnies hop around seeing their tracks coming out of the bushes into the sunlight nibbling on a few frozen apples that were on the ground. This forest is FULL of apples trees. It's even an abundant source of food for the local bears in the area as well.
We were having fun, getting some exercise and checking out all the tracks. As we were cruising around the dogs really started sniffing intently at some tracks. Hummmm could they be smelling mountain lion? They are big tracks.... but those aren't from a mountain lion, what they discovered are bear tracks!
What is the bear doing out in sub-zero temperatures? They are suppose to be cuddled up in their caves when it gets cold. They do hibernate during the winter I hear!
The dogs keep sniffing and sure enough they find some more tracks.
And then the dogs find a place in the bushes where he had carved out a nice area to take a nap!
This must be where he hung out last night... we keep walking. These dogs are use to smelling the bear when he is in the forest during the fall eating apples. Even our littlest dog chases the bear off and has even tree-ed a bear more than once in his career. He knows bear smell and it doesn't seem like the bear is still around (thank goodness :-)
So with the non-alarming feedback I'm getting from the dogs, it becomes a fun mission to find more evidence of where he was roaming around in the forest.
As we are cruising around I remember I haven't turned on the electric fence around our bees hives since the temperatures dropped. And the bee hives aren't far away.
Our bee hives behind the electric fence and some extra insulation from the snow.
So we hustle out of the forest, on our way out we loop through a path where we continue to see tracks and most of those tracks going right up to the apple trees.
There is no denying those are bear paw prints
We cruise the rest of the path and come out near the house. We quickly head over to where the bee hives are in a fenced area. Normally this fence is electrified but you have to keep it plugged in for that to happen ! :-)
Much to my relief, not a bear track in sight by the bee hives. That bear has tried to go through the electric fence before when it was plugged in and learned he didn't want to come back. So the story ends with a happy ending. We had a fun adventure discovering tracks in the snow and I learn a big lesson, if there are apples still in sight you better believe that bear is going to chomp up every calorie he can before laying down for the winter!
The Bee Guardians from BackYardHive.com present at
Boulder's local food restaurant, Shine Restaurant & Gathering Place!
Come join us and learn what is really going on with the state of the honeybee and how you can help be part of the solution! Eating organic food, understanding pesticide use on lawns and gardens, saving honeybee genetics by calling your local bee guardian if you see a swarm this spring... this is all a part of the solution. Come and learn more and meet some local bee guardians!
Corwin Bell from BackYardHive.com has been working naturally and holistically with honeybees for over 17 years. He has taught numerous classes and given presentations all over the world. One focus for Corwin is to continually design non-traditional bee hives that nurture and respect the honeybee. These hives are non-invasive and encourage a symbiotic experience for the bee and the bee guardian. Check out his current designs.
Be Part of the Mission
Our mission at BackYardHive.com is to educate people about the importance of improving bee ecology and using beekeeping methods that respect the honeybee. Our hope is that by introducing new hobby beekeepers to the rewards of beekeeping that there will eventually be backyard beekeepers worldwide that will help bring back the feral bee population and improve the genetic diversity of the honeybees. This diversity is critically important to the survival of this most precious natural resource. Come join over 600 bee guardians from the front range and Colorado in this mission!
To make the connection with bees, pollination and local organic food we chose Boulder's Shine Restaurant & Gathering Place. The perfect fit! They serve organic local food from local farms and their food is fantastically healthy! Come and enjoy some eats from their local food menu.
Shine Restaurant's Menu
Date: Tuesday February 5, 2013
Location: 2027 13th Street, Boulder, CO 80302
Directions to Shine Restaurant & Gathering Place
Parking: Metered Street Parking or 11th & Spruce Parking Garage
Admission: $5 (Proceeds go to swarm dispatch 2013)
Natural Bee Guardianship Classes at BackYardHive.com
See our video and mission at BackYardHive.com
Any questions, email karen (at) backyardhive.com
See you soon!
We are excited to offer beginner, intermediate and advanced classes in
Boulder, Fort Collins, Carbondale, and Paonia.
You can register for the classes and find out more information,
We were fortunate enough to attend the presentation in Denver given by Cornell University professor and bee researcher, Thomas Seeley. Seeley has been researching bees for the past several decades and in particular the communication of bees in a swarm. He calls it "swarm intelligence" and
Here is a link to his presentation:
((he starts his presentation about 1/4 way into the video))
This presentation was not as relaxed as the presentation we saw in Denver as the crowd was asking questions and Selley was telling funny stories along the way. What an inspiration to see such positive enthusiasm towards the bees!
Seeley has written several books we recommend:
Honeybee Democracy - a great read, fun and interesting comparison to human democracy, but also fascinating information about bees communicating in a swarm
The Wisdom of the Hive -this is much deeper read, really delving into the details of his studies
Here is a great synopsis of his work studying bees swarms:
Thomas Seeley's work
Journaling about your hives is a great way to take note of how the hive is doing and a good way to keep track of things that need to be done with the hive as well as a fun way to refer back to what the hive was like during different stages and over several years.
For me, I always think that I'll remember everything that goes on with the hives but when I don't journal about it, I sometimes forget those little important details about the hive and then 3 months down the road I notice the hive is doing exceptionally well or maybe they're not doing as well as they were the year before, than I can refer back to the journal as to weather patterns, what the hive is doing, how the bees seem, what I did with the hive in the past year, etc. It definitely comes in handy and is very informational to be able to refer to each time when going into your hive/s.
I also like to take pictures of the hive through the window before and after going into the hive as another way of observing the bees and overall hive view. Hive journals definitely become very fun and interesting scrapbooks years down the road as well!
Here is a list of some things to include in you bee journal:
~Date bees where placed in the hive (or year of the hive) ~Overall temperament of the hive and where the bees came from: local swarm, package of bees, nuc, etc. (Include as much information as possible about where the bees came from including hive type and age of hive)
~Date of first pollen coming in and the source if known
~Date of first dandelions blooming
More things to keep in mind and journal about each time visiting your hive:
~ Date, weather, temperature, time of the day, overall mood of bees, clenliness of landing board, drone population and any other observations you notice.
~If opening the hive, it's helpful to also include reason for opening hive and your observations while working the hive, what you accomplished or hoped to accomplish, note anything that needs to be done in the hive, prospective date and check it off when completed. Any observations about your hive or the local environment and weather.
~ It's always fun to take before and after pictures as well as photos through the window at different times of year and stages of the hive.
Bees bearding (or clustered) on the front of the hive is normal and occurs when the hives are all brooded up (increased colony size) to take advantage of the nectar flows that are happening in the spring and summer. This time of year is the peak time the bees have the opportunity to collect nectar to make honey stores for the winter so they need more worker bees that can forage during the nectar flows.
You may see large clumps of bees hanging on and around the entrance of the hive to keep cool and let more circulation of airflow into the hive. Bearding is normal as the colony's numbers have increased creating an overflow. The hotter weather also causes some of the bees to hang out at the entrance of the hive. Also during a rainy day you may see more bearding on the front of the hive as some foraging field bees will stay out int he field all night. But when it rains they are back at the hive and you may see bearding on a rainy day.
During the late spring and summer months when the temperatures increase, be sure to check that there is adequate airflow around your hives and your hives are well shaded for a good portion of the day. If your hive is not getting shade in the heat of the day around -4pm, you may want to put up a shade cloth or an attachable umbrella on the hive to shade the colony from the heat. You can also lean a large piece of plywood on the side of the hive that is getting the most sun to help protect the hive from the heat.
A ventilated roof is critical if you live in a climate where temperatures reach the 80s and 90s. See our Ventilated Roof on Shop page. Also be sure to keep replenishing the source of water for the bees as they can go through a lot of water on those hot summer days!
When bees first swarm they usually collect on a branch or bush to recollect while sending out scouts to search for a new hive. This is a great time to hive a new colony because in addition to having a stronger genetic knowledge of the area (having overwintered in the local area) through the swarming process, they are also determined to find a new home and are on a mission to build up a new hive starting from scratch.
For more info follow this link to the BackYardHive website Read More....
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Scientists working for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported Thurdsay that the collapse of honey bee colonies is becoming a world wide phenomena and will continue unless humans work to restore habitats for bees. The insects are necessary for pollinating crops and the report calls for profound changes in how humans manage the planet. The decline in managed bee colonies, first noticed in Europe and the U.S., is now seen in China and Japan, and there are signs of colony collapses in Egypt. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, honey-producing colonies in the U.S. have declined from 5.5 million colonies in 1950 to 2.5 million in 2007. A co-author of the report, Peter Neumann, said changes in rural areas during the past 50 years have contributed to decline of wild bees and other pollinators. Additional factors include the declines in flowering plants, the use of harmful chemicals and insecticides, the increase in air pollution and a worldwide trade system that spreads bee pathogens and pests.
The world's growing population means more bees are needed to pollinate the crops to feed more people. According to the U.N. report, of the 100 crop species that supply 90 percent of the world's food, bees pollinate more than 70 percent. Noting that humans seem to believe that they can operate independent of nature through technological innovations, Achim Steiner, the executive director of the UNEP said, "Bees underline the reality that we are more, not less dependent on nature's services in a world of close to 7 billion people."
The report calls for such measures as incentives for farmers and land owners to encourage them to restore habitats that are friendly to pollinators.
Michael McCarthy "Honey bee decline now global phenomenon" — Independent Online, March 10, 2011
...collapse of honey-bee colonies is becoming a global phenomenon, scientists working for the United Nations have revealed.
Declines in managed bee colonies, seen increasingly in Europe and the US in the past decade, are also now being observed in China and Japan and there are the first signs of African collapses from Egypt, according to the report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
“The way humanity manages or mismanages its nature-based assets, including pollinators, will in part define our collective future in the 21st century,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director.
The Associated Press "World’s bee hives to decline without human changes" — Las Vegas Sun, March 10, 2011
"Human beings have fabricated the illusion that in the 21st century they have the technological prowess to be independent of nature," said Achim Steiner, the executive director of the U.N.'s environmental program. "Bees underline the reality that we are more, not less dependent on nature's services in a world of close to 7 billion people."
The bees are needed to pollinate crops that feed the world's growing population. Of the 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of the world's food, more than 70 are pollinated by bees, the U.N. report said.
Where: Boulder Public Library
1000 Canyon Blvd., Boulder, CO 80302
When: Oct 27th -Wednesday
Time: 6pm doors open,
Film Starts: 6:30pm promptly
Cost: $10 donation
Why: Because we LOVE the bees!
All admission fees go directly back to
supporting the honeybees through a public outreach program
to bring awareness to pesticide spraying (residential
and commercial) that is adversely effecting the bees.
The other day... well really June 25th, my phone rang at about 6:00pm just as I was sitting down to dinner. It was Margaret. "Guess what?!" she exclaimed. I took a wild guess: "your little hive bees swarmed?" "Yes!" she said. "Want to go on a swarming adventure and catch them?" so about 10 min later when I had finished eating, I gathered my bee supplies and headed out to catch a late swarm of the season.
It was quite the adventure of the day! David and Simone (Margaret's son and his partner) were there to watch and take pictures and Billy witnessed the excitement from the kitchen window with his binoculars. There they were, thousands of buzzing bees all clumped up together hanging from the branch of an apple tree. Margaret cut the branch the bees were on while I held it and gently lowered the whole cluster of bees and branch into the box and put on the lid. Hardly a buzz to be heard... it was a very smooth swarm catch!
We secured the box onto the top of the ladder to let all of the bees get in and later that night Margaret closed the box and moved them into a sheltered place under a russian olive tree waiting for us to install them into the hive the following day.
We carried the box over to the new hive location after the evening goat milking. With the false-back just after the 11th top bar toward the front, we removed 9 of the bars leaving on each end to serve as a sort of lip for the bees to get into the hive. "Vhooom!" They were in with a bustle of energy. As the bees crawled up to the top of the hive, we replaced the top bars and sat by the hive, waiting for a bit to make sure they seemed content and satisfied with their new home. Everyone was crowding on the landing board sticking their butts up in the air "fanning" to let the other bees- and the world- know where their new home is. We watched as they all slowly made their way into the hive until only a few bees remained on the landing board. What a late season adventure it was!! Ironically, this very group was the one Margaret and I caught in mid April from one of my hives that had been hers the previous year. Hopefully these girls will be happy in their new home and find lots of nectar to keep them through the winter safe and strong. What a great swarming season it was!! All in all, backyard hive and bee guardians around the area caught about 70 swarms this season. Whew!!
~Photos courtesy of David Hollander~
I've been thinking and reading a lot about honeybees lately and it makes me wonder about when beekeepers use smoke and the effect it has on the entire hive. We top bar people have it really easy in the way that smoke isn't at all necessary to use because only one or two combs are exposed at a time in the hive so we're only aggravating about 1/8th of the bees in the hive at a time and as we file through to the next comb, the last one is closed with the previous one again. It's a great system in so many ways and for me it's easy to say "oh, smoke isn't necessary!" "why stress them out more by causing a fake fire for them and wasting all of that energy they put forth to evacuate and gorge honey when it could be used for cleaning the hive, dealing with pests and collecting food?""Smoke messes up all of the hive's pheromone sent and ways for communication... it's hard to get the smell of smoke out of things after being around a campfire and so on... imagine how much smoke residue would be in a hive if it's been smoked every week for even just one year!"
While I do agree completely with all of the reasons and questions I ask for not using smoke, maybe I'm missing some crucial point about why Langstroth hive users and especially commercial beekeepers tend to use smoke. It could be that the Langstroth hive is designed for speed and to work the hive by quickly being able to take out frames and both because of this and that taking off the lid exposes so much of the hive. Even the organic beekeepers who use langstroth hives use smoke! I wonder what the theory is behind it because it seems so unnatural and rude to just smoke the bees out so blatantly. It could be too that the smoker is a bit of an emblem for the beekeeper and as Corwin has mentioned, maybe we need a new one. Perhaps the artistic hive tool or a grass brush... Any ideas??
The lemon balm swarm hive (transfer nuc) is doing really well and they've already built pearly white comb on several of the bars toward the front of the hive! I'm hoping that they'll be ready for the Linden tree bloom coming up here. There is a beautiful linden tree about 100' from this hive and every year the bees go wild with excitement over this mid summer treat.
Mmmhmmm..... I can't wait to taste the lovely linden flower honey this year! Yummy!!
The other day Karen and I got up bright and early and met at 8:00 am in Eldo. to harvest honey from a totally full and very large custom built hive. We met early to beat the heat but at 8:00 am it was already 75°. Whew! We could tell it was going to be a hot one that day! As we opened the hive we realized they had built all the way to the back of the hive and were actually attaching to the false-back of the hive. We came just in the nick of time. What a vibrant colony of bees!!
As we worked through the hive, the bees stayed pretty mellow despite the heat. While working in an efficient yet calm manner, we were able to successfully harvest a few bars of honeycomb with very little stress or agitation to the bees.
We had a large clean metal pot with a lid to place the clean comb into that we wanted to harvest, a crate for resting bars with bees on them to give us extra space while working in the hive (we would put these combs back into the hive when we closed it up) and a few empty bars and spacers. After herding the bees off of the false-back with the hive tool (slowly moving the flat side of the hive tool over the comb and into the hive), we cut off the attachment comb into our metal pot making sure to scrape off any pattern they created from the comb on it so they won't have an incentive to build comb on the false-back in future. Then, we went through the hive as if going through a filing cabinet, detaching the brace comb and inspecting the honeycombs for harvesting.
After setting the first few (smaller) combs in the crate to give us space to work in the hive, we got to the first fully built comb with about 80% capped honey. We decided to leave this one in the hive and go back to it later if we decided to harvest it. It was such a perfect comb that we thought it might be good to leave for the bees because of how straight it was. This turned out to be a good call because as we suspected from looking in the window of the hive, the combs started to get a bit wonky and not necessarily straight on the bar. This hive has the older style top bars with only a small notch in the wood as a guide for the bees to build their comb and many of the hives with these bars (rather than the triangle bars) didn't stick to the part of the bars we would have like for them to build on. They built their combs across several bars making it harder for us to work in the hive without braking any comb as we worked. The triangle bars solve this problem by giving the bees a very clear indicator as to where the best place would be to build their comb. We worked our way through a few more bars bit by bit and chunks at a time to prevent any of the crossed comb falling into the hive. The comb was getting a bit melty at that point because of the heat. We knew we should finish up fairly quickly.
As we continued to work through the hive, we ended up harvesting quite a few of these little honeycomb sections, making sure to scrape off the old (crooked) pattern on the bars. When we started to see brood and the temperature kept climbing, we decided it was time to close up the hive and to put the combs we didn't harvest back into the hive making sure to keep the combs in the correct order they were in the hive and the same orientation (front-back facing) they were in before we took them out. We harvested the equivalent of 4 top bars from a custom size hive similar to the golden mean hive but longer.
As we closed up the hive, we replaced the 4 bars we harvested with 3 empty tri-angle bars near the outskirts of the brood nest and 1 in the very back leaving all the other comb with bees on them near the same place they were in the hive originally. We also added spacers in between all of the honeycomb bars in the hive to help them keep in line with their natural "bee space" (1.38ths for brood and 1.58ths for honey).
Hopefully these bees will start building straight comb on the new triangle bars and have a great rest of the summer season.
Karen and I brought up the pot filled with honeycomb and crushed what we weren't using for comb honey with our clean hands feeling a bit like wine makers as the comb and honey squished through our sticky fingers (what a treat licking our hands was afterword. Yummy!). We then poured the mashed up honeycomb into a strainer secured over the top of another stainless steel pot with the lid over it so the honey could strain down into the pot without attracting more bees.
We were both totally sweaty and hot by that time as it was nearing 11:00 am and with a mutual unspoken need to get cool, we jumped in the river (ah, the cool relief) before venturing forth to the next honeybee endeavour of the day!
(Written and photos by Claire Anderson)
This is a story Una Morera wrote about her recent trip to Mexico, difficult decisions and her encounters with honeybees and humans in Tecate, Baja California, Mexico. Enjoy! Claire
At times we are asked to reflect about the qualities we like about ourselves. We come up with list in our head, we look in the mirror at ourselves, we contemplate on our meditation cushions, or we discover it in a meaningful conversation with someone we barely know or someone we know really well. One of qualities I really like about myself is my ability to love and care for honeybees. It’s a deep concern and profound love I have for these amazing insects. I am always in awe when I meet others who share this love, or at the very least, this respect. Currently, my boyfriend and I are the proud guardians of two top bar hives. These hives not only provide us with honey but also relaxation, curiosity and the kind of pride that happens when you know you are doing something right. We both feel that it’s improper to try and make money from the honey or even mess with the honeybee’s way of life. We take a truly hands-off approach.
I am a filmmaker and also a film addict. I love film. I love watching films. I was working for Gaiam for five years and was recently laid off. I took this moment in my life to redirect myself and start a small web video production company (please see www.unamorera.com). One of my recent clients is Fundacion La Puerta, the foundation wing of Rancho La Puerta (RLP) (see www.rancholapuerta.com for more). RLP is located in Tecate, Baja California. It’s a 70 year-old, 3000-acre campus of botanical gardens, buildings and living quarters. In one word, it is spectacular. To see what the Mexican gardeners have done with the place is epic. You drop your jaw with wonder and feel the peace that a botanical garden can provide. The gardeners are instructed to stop what their doing when the guests pass and say “Good Morning” or “Hello” or if you beat them to it, “Hola!” The gardeners, maintenance and security people silently keep the spa running.
I went to RLP in early June, not knowing that swarm season had just started. When I got there, it was announced that the nearby park where we were doing our first shoot, had a number of bees and approximately 5,000 people arriving the following day for World Environment Day. They had to do something but didn’t know what. Having caught a few swarms, I thought maybe I could help. I called Corwin before I left for the park. He told me that south of Arizona, it was difficult to tell whether the bees were Africanized or not. He told me to err on the side of caution. I decided to go to the park anyway to take a look. It’s very difficult to tell an Africanized bee from a honeybee. One characterization is the frenetic energy of the Africanized bee, they move quickly and are much more zippy.
Assuming the bees were still in swarm stage, I was dismayed to see that they had already made a home and there was nothing I could do. They had lodged themselves in the beam of the women’s bathroom, a good 12 feet up from the ground. Then the head gardener of the park, Sergio, said he wanted to show me the other hives. Other hives!!! Yes! Of course! We walked a short ways into the Chaparral. He said they had been there about three years. The bees were living in an old drainpipe or recess box in the ground. I stood about three feet away…with the thought that they didn’t know me. And sure enough I got stung in my cheek! I wasn’t scared but realized that I would swell up. It was too bad I left my sting kit at home! I vowed then to always carry it with me, especially in the May and June months.
Sergio then walked me over to ANOTHER hive that had just arrived. They were living in a recess behind a much-used door of a building called Las Piedras. The park offers environmental awareness classes to the school children of Tecate, Tijuana and other parts of Baja, California. It’s a vital and evolutionary model for this region and there is none other like it. Las Piedras is the classroom they use and is shaped like a huge boulder, as the region is known geologically for these immense formations that litter the landscape.
So the bees had lodged themselves right behind the exit door of Las Piedras and there were 5,000 people arriving the next day, including large groups of children! As we went to see the bees, me with my stung cheek and the others a bit frightened, they came to us first. They chased us away from their new home buzzing all around our heads and following us as we turned around and walked away without over-reacting. Sergio said that he had seen the swarm come from the direction of the sea in a huge black cloud and then land in this recess. He didn’t want to exterminate them but they had chosen such a bad place to make their new home. I contemplated and finally told him, with a very heavy heart that he had to get rid of them. There was no way to use a swarm catcher or shake them down. They had chosen to cloister in the worst possible place, where children pass. Sergio agreed with me and said he would do something about it.
As the party I was with drove back to RLP we discussed the situation. The park is a place of preservation and education; it didn’t feel good or right to make such a call. I was the only one who could say yes or no because I understood so clearly what the danger was.
A moment that redeemed me that evening...I was walking back to my room from dinner and on the path was a single bee. She had flown her wings to pieces, unable to fly. She was going to get stepped on..So I took an old dead stiff leaf and had her walk onto it ...lifted her up and put her on a flower...she was slow, like she was drugged...but at least I was able to help her die in a better way.
I lay awake most of the night feeling awful about telling Sergio to exterminate the bees. It's a call I would never have wanted to make in my life. I had an insight, also in the middle of the night, to have them spray water from a hose, drown them a bit but scare them mostly into leaving. Which is exactly what they ended up doing. The firemen came the next morning and attempted to drown them out.
When I went to the park the next day for my video shoot, I visited Las Piedras and realized that they were not successful. The bees were still there. But I observed something remarkable. Although the bees were buzzing like mad around the children and following them as they walked and climbed and ran around Las Piedras, the children completely ignored it. I realized that these people were so used to insects buzzing around them that it was nothing! They were not over-reacting! The bees could still do great harm in this spot but for the moment there was a wonderful synergy happening. I had been wrong. Perhaps they could harmonize and live together? I don’t know.
There were two other incredible encounters with the bees at RLP, but I’ll save those for another day.
(All photos, writing and video by Una Morera)