Monday, March 24, 2008

Our New Beesness

by Rene Allen

At approximately 4 pm this afternoon, my husband, Dwight, will assume ownership of 24beehives. These bees will have just arrived from the almond fields of California and will be taken directly to a citrus grove in Mesa where they will discover they are in celestial bee heaven because the trees are blooming and there is nothing more wonderful than citrus blossoms.

Currently (it is 8:30 am Tucson time), the bees are on a semi-truck with dozens of other hives in route to Eloy which is where the southern Arizona bee depot is. From Eloy, beekeepers will claim their bees and return them to bee yards in the San Pedro valley and other places remote from concentrated housing areas.

This may seem like a lot of work, but the truth is every third bite of food we take depends on pollination from bees and almonds are 100% dependent. Bees are imported from as far away as Australia to pollinate California almond trees.

Bees are something I assumed always would be around, hovering over opened soda cans at school picnics and making their characteristic buzzing sound over rose blossoms. But there is a crisis in the beekeeping world and it has to do with dwindling numbers of this fascinating little insect. For a variety of reasons that include among other things disease and something called Colony Collapse Disorder where bees simply do not make it back to the hive with their loads of nectar and pollen, bees are no longer ubiquitious.

What are the consequences?

A couple of years ago, I planted zucchini hoping this prolific producer would give me some summer squash to share with the neighbors. The plants grew and bloomed. There were male and female blossoms and I figured nature would take its course, that soon there would be zucchini babies.

It didn’t happen and I wondered why until I noticed I hadn’t seen one bee, not a single one, crawling in and out of the zucchini blossoms. So, in what I call Sex Ed for Zucchini, I hand pollinated the plants and collected a handful of squash. That was the first time I realized how important pollinators are.

My husband is a couple of years from retirement. We had been thinking about something to do after he retired, a family business perhaps. He had beehives while he was in high school and loved beekeeping. It wasn’t a big jump to the 24 hives arriving today from California that will soon be divided into 48.

What is the down side? Well, our carport is ankle deep in sawdust because we have been making bee boxes. Then there is the time commitment. Tonight, after work, Dwight will drive with another beekeeper to Eloy to get the bees, then on to Mesa, and then home, arriving sometime after midnight. Shortly after that, we will make another trip to Mesa to add pollen boxes to each hive and divide them. There is always something to do, to check, to make, and we must squeeze these things into our already full schedules. Additionally, there is the bad reputation domesticated bees have gotten because of their more aggressive cousins, the Africanized bee. And theft and vandalism are also problems for beekeepers.

But, the thing is, it feels good. These bees are good for the planet, good for its food supply and good for its people. Working them is almost like a meditation. You move slowly and carefully. You watch, awed, the micro-environment of the hive. You learn about them and see benefaction in the creation of such fascinating creatures. You want to care for them, to preserve them as you would any truly good thing.

Stay tuned. I think we’re in this for the long haul.

5 comments:

  1. Good luck to you and your husband, Rene! I was once an aspiring beekeeper, but finally decided for the good of the planet and safety of the species to abandon that aspiration. I managed to kill two colonies in quick succession. The first, I neglected to start feeding soon enough, and they starved sometime during the winter. The next was in an unprotected place and lost their lid during a northeaster, and they froze. A cruel end to two undeserving colonies. However, I loved learning how, I loved planning and putting foundation in frames, wielding a smoker in my bee hat and coveralls, all the bee-type stuff. But, alas, my best intentions were not only for naught, they were for minus. Lucky for me I'm not still trying, or they might be blaming the Colony Collapse on me.

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  2. I applaud you and hubby on your commitment to a worthwhile endeavor. The worlds bee population is declining and endangered. So I wish the best of luck. Please take plenty of precaution for your personal health in preventing and having emergency treatment for stings on hand.
    Let us know how we can purchase your honey.

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  3. What a grand adventure, Rene! My husband took a beekeeping class many years ago. But we moved around too much to allow him to do more than rescue a few summer swarms from frightened home owners in Southern CA. Keep us posted!

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  4. My uncle used to take care of the bees for the church welfare program in St. David, AZ. I remember going with him and was especially fascinated with watching him work, that is until I got attack. (I was wearing gear). For some reason they took a nasty dislike for me and hammered at my hood until I dove for the truck. Thanks for bringing back that memory for me, it was fun.

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  5. I kept wondering which magazine this blog ought to be published in. Good job. We had a hive in our back yard for a while, and 'harvested' great honey. I even molded a candle of redeemed beeswax. As I recall, it was shaped like an owl.

    One thing I learned, and still remember. A beesting doesn't hurt much if you can immediately apply pressure and hold it until the hurt disappears. I tried it, and it worked. I was cleaning up after the extraction, and in reaching to unfasten a clothespin holding a cheesecloth strainer, a bee, unseen on the other side, stung my index finger. I thought her quite ungracious, but quickly realized she thought us more so. But I pressed my forefinger tightly with my thumb, and all I could feel was the pressure. When I finally eased it up, there was no longer any sting. I haven't yet had the opportunity to test the theory again, and won't complain if that opportunity never comes.

    We brought the beehive with us when we moved, but with cotton fields on two sides of us, it could have been the crop dusting by plane (fascinatig to watch) that lost us our bees. Or who knows? Anyway, our beekeeping stint was short.

    When I was twelve-fourteen, we delved deeply into learning about bees in MIA. We had several hives on our farm, too, and the owner paid us a five-gallon can of honey every year for the privilege of leaving them there. That opens up lots of memories. Thanks.

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