Honeybee Update

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Sebastopol, CA - The good news is the bees are happy at Torrey Olson's Gabriel Farm, and when the bees are happy, we’re all happy. Bee Beat followers might recall that the original hives installed at Torrey's Asian Apple Pear orchard as part of The FruitGuys Farm Steward Project did not survive the winter. This year Torrey re-sited the hives and started them again with some new nucs from BeeKind, a bee husbandry specialty store in Northern California. He was also favored by the appearance of a wild swarm - right above the new hives. With deft and craft, Torrey was able to coax the wild brood into some new digs.

In September, we followed at a respectful distance as Torrey checked on the hives during a FruitGuys excursion. Suited up in safety clothes, just in case a guard bee should confuse Torrey for an intruding bear, Torrey moved calmly as he opened the hives. Hive Number One showed some growth but remained small, whereas the growth in Hive Number Two was much more robust. The bees in the middle frames were in full production, filling cells with pollen and honey. Torrey decided to wait on adding an extra box on top - adding a second story too soon could thin out the colony and endanger its health.

So why do bees swarm? Swarms are sometimes due to a problem such as overcrowding or starvation in the primary hive. About 60 percent of the workers, plus the old queen, defect en masse to find a new home. But it's never spontaneous: being highly organized, bees plan a swarm by getting new queen eggs ready. A swarm of bees is docile, since they still have no home to protect. Spring is peak swarm season, but if you happen upon a swarm anytime of the year, we recommend you call your local beekeeper, not the exterminator. Take it from Torrey, a wild swarm can be a productive lot. At a recent Farm Trails apple-picking event, Doug Vincent of BeeKind brought honey that he'd processed from Gabriel Farm bees and the swooning crowds snatched it up! Nothing is finer than tasting the honey and the fruit from trees you've gotten to know.

Bees’ list of things to do before winter:

* Clean up the hive
* Slow down egg laying
* Raise the winter bees
* Sup on late season Coyote Bush
* Condense stores toward the center of the hive
* Keep some honey for chilly winter mornings

- Heidi Lewis


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