Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Gardening Article: Appreciating Our Honeybees… and What to Do if You Need to Remove a Nest

I'm fascinated with bees. I've learned how important they are as pollinators, I fret over the colony collapse disorder that killed off nearly one-third of them in 2011 (the good news is that's less than prior years). But most importantly, I love to watch our local honeybees do their thing and encourage others to appreciate them.

I've written several articles on my website about them - see One is a six-month log of plants in our half-acre property in Southern California that provide year-round nectar - and assure pollination of our fruit trees and garden plants. Another goes into detail on live bee removal. We needed to remove a beehive in the eaves of our home in Southern California. But we didn't want to kill them and were happy to find a beekeeper who 'live removes' them. Ours got a plane ride up to a ranch in Central California where their offspring are living today. Below are some photos of the process.

For relocation in Humboldt County
The Humboldt Beekeepers Association keeps an annual list of beekeepers who will come and remove swarms or nests for free. Visit the website or please call Joy Thomas 707-444-1361 or Kathy Lee 707-822-6169. Visit Humboldt County beekeeping organization for more local information.

It was obvious we had a bee problem. 

The beekeeper who removed them was pleased with the quality of the numerous honeycombs.

What about Swarms?
About the same time as the bee removal, some bees built a hive in a date palm tree on our property, and I got to watch them swarm when they outgrew it. It's true what bee experts say  - that bees during swarms are docile as their goal is to protect the queen who is deep in the mass they form, while scouts locate a new home. If you can wait it out, they are usually gone within 24 hours. If you can't, call the phone numbers above.

The bees swarmed around a small tree about 5 feet from their original home and were gone the next morning. The queen is in the middle of the huddle.

In my observations and my reading, here are some  'aha' moments during my bee learnings:

Attract bees year-round by growing a large variety of flowering plants that bloom at different times. Although we tend to tout natives, non-native and fruit trees are all valuable - in fact, two non-natives, lavender and rosemary, have the longest duration of flowering and peak at different times of the year in our area. As Joy Thomas of the Humboldt Beekeepers Association says, if a tree is blooming, it's blooming because of bees nearby. She recommends blackberries and a variety of trees. 

For the garden, rosemary and lavender are great, plus the following. Without bees, our garden's flowers and the resulting fruit and vegetables are limited. 
  • Basil Ocimum
  • Cotoneaster Cotoneaster
  • Giant hyssop Agastache
  • Globe thistle Echinops
  • Hyssop Hyssopus
  • Marjoram Origanum
  • Wallflower Erysimum
  • Zinnia Zinnia
Pesticides kill!  Go Organic. Professional beekeepers have plenty of stories of losing hundreds of hives to pesticides and herbicides, A local beekeeper I know recently lost 350 hives due to the orchard owner of one of his beeyards spraying his fruit trees twice a year - at 20,000 bees minimum in an average hive, that totals up to 7 million bees. Research is showing that an insecticide neonicotinoid -the most widely used insecticide in the world (and in many commercial garden pest products) is a major contributor to colony collapse disorder. Also, the blossoms on GMO (genetically modified organism) crops are also killing bees. The best thing you can do is go as organic as possible.

Exhibit calm around them and teach your kids the same. I actually developed an allergy because I got stung several times within a couple years, and prior to that only got stung once as a child. But I haven't been stung for two years now though I have an epinephrine pen close by in case I get stung. I continue to observe them, fish them out of our pool when their attempt to drink goes amiss. Rarely, a bee colony can be taken over with killer or Africanized bees, which react more easily to noise.

For a good read, A Book of Bees is a classic by Sue Hubbell. It's obvious Hubbell loves her bees, which is evident in her success as a professional beekeeper in the Ozarks. She also wrote A Country Year.

Please support beekeepers. Joy Thomas said that backyard beekeeping in Eureka and Arcata is illegal according to the current laws. It's seldom enforced but please consider contacting city council members or the city manager to urge them to change the ordinance.

About the author: Linda Richards lives in Redlands CA. Her website/blog is dedicated to speaking for our natural world.

Flannel bush (fremontodendron) flower 

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