It’s been a bit over a month since I’ve posted about the bees. It’s not that there isn’t anything interesting happening; au contraire! I’ve been busy with them, whether mine or someone else’s, nearly every weekend. I simply have not taken the time to organize my thoughts about what to write.

Since I began learning about beekeeping, I find myself questioning my own motives, as well as those of other well-meaning folks who want to help “save the bees”.  Non-native honeybees, as far as I can tell, are not the pollinators desperately in need of our help.  Humans generally recognize the importance of honeybees in pollinating our food crops and, since they are useful to us, these bees tend to receive the attention they need. Plus, the increased attention on honeybees has been instrumental in conversations to limit pesticide use, which helps far more species. So I’m not completely knocking the honeybee; rather, I am simply cautioning that there are native bee species who may need our care more.  What about species that aren’t as charismatic as our sweet little honeybee?

The diverse array of native bees, of which there are 1600 species in California alone, are left mostly to their own devices. Fitting, I suppose, since many are solitary bees.  However, to compound the issue, not only have we eliminated much of the native habitats and open spaces these species depend on for nesting and foraging, but the landscape is swarming in non-native honeybees who out-compete these locally-adapted species. Native bee species tend to be specialists that are evolved to forage on plants local to their environment. Non-native species, like honeybees, can take advantage of a wider variety of species, and in better pollinating them, help those to spread even wider.

So where does all this leave me and my wee colony of bees? Well, they are growing well. So well that I needed to buy an emergency extension when the equipment order did not arrive in time (a local beekeeper was generous and offered me a loan, but I was pretty sure I’d need the gear eventually). I don’t want to be a beekeeper who is casting swarms about willy-nilly and adding to the problem; I don’t think it’s particularly neighborly to do so when living in a residential area.

In my last hive inspection, I did a sugar roll to count the number of mites and found two, which equates to less than one mite per hundred bees and is in the acceptable limits. I’ll do another count in a week or so as part of Mite-a-Thon, a citizen science project to track mite numbers across North America.  I sent the inspection video to a few family members as a preview, and my mum supplied me with some questions that I’d like to answer here for her and others. I think my mum asks some pretty great questions about things that I tend to go over quickly or ignore assuming everyone knows what they are. Anywhoo, I hope you’ll find these interesting:

  1. Q: Did I ever find the queen? A: That day, nope, I don’t think I did; but there were other signs of her somewhat recent presence through young larvae.
  2. Q: What are those two cups for that were on the first few frames? A: Those are the start of queen cells, signs that the bees might be feeling a little cramped for space or that the queen isn’t doing an adequate job. Not things one wants to find in the colony, and signs that make finding either the queen or eggs important.
  3. Q: What was that white looking screen for? A: That is a queen excluder. The spacing is such that the larger-sized queen can’t get past it, but the workers can. It’s used for limiting where the queen can go and lay eggs.
  4. Q: Every time you inspect the hive, you have casualties? A: Yes, unfortunately. It’s one of the reasons to not inspect too frequently. Every 2 – 4 weeks is recommended, depending on timing and other considerations.
  5. Q: What do you think the bees think when you put all the sugar on them? A: “WTF, lady? Get this shit off of me!”
  6. Q: What happens with all those bees flying around afterwards? A: They all go back home. They know exactly where it is and will go back to their home with their queen, who is the only one that can reproduce. An individual bee can’t survive by herself. She needs the hive and her sisters for food, warmth, and protection.