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Lots of very busy bees
14 April 2014

Hives

Flower Despite some of her past not-so-positive experiences with bees, Valerie has still been wanting a bee hive for quite some time now.  On several occasions we have had swarms of bees flying around the farm looking for a new home.  One time they stopped in the tree right outside our front door and hung out there for several hours.

A swarm of bees looks scary but is usually quite harmless.  The bees are busy looking for a new home and not so concerned about defending their territory.  The swarm will settle some place, like the tree outside our front door, while the scouts go out and look for suitable homes.  As the scouts come back they report what they found and the bees all vote.  Sometimes it takes a couple hours to reach a decision but when they do the entire swarm will fly off and get busy making their new home.

It's sometimes possible to catch a homeless swarm and give it a not-so-subtle hint about where their new home should be.  Basically you just scoop up the swarm (a shop vac works well), put the bees into the new hive and hope they decide to call it home.

Of course once we got our hives built and ready, there were no swarms to be found.  We tried to be patient but there was nothing.  That's when Valerie got in contact with one of the island's largest bee companies.  They came out for a visit and immediately decided that our property would be perfect for their hives.

This company focuses primarily on raising queen bees.  That a very important business, especially here on the Big Island, because mainland bee colonies are having a difficult time.  Overuse of pesticides, loss of natural habitat, introduction of invasive species and stress from commercial farming are probably all to blame.  Whatever the cause, queen bees raised on the Big Island, then shipped to the mainland, help keep U.S. agriculture alive and healthy.

Boxes
There So now we have gone from zero hives to 64 hives, and that's just the honey-producing hives.  The queens are raised in much smaller hives.  That's what all those little boxes are.  When the time is right the beekeeping crew will go through the boxes, catch some of the queen bees, and give them a one-way ticket to the mainland.  I'm eager to see how that process works.

My other question was, after flying all over the island looking for flower, how do the bees find their way back to the correct box? They can't read street addresses or GPS coordinates.  The answer is in how the boxes are laid out.  They hives are put in a specific pattern, rather than a straight line, so the bees can know which one is theirs based on how their hive is oriented relative to the sun and nearby landmarks.

Another issue is water.  Bees need lots of water.  This crew brings up a tub of water just for the bees.  If they don't, the bees will soon find their way to our house, swarming over any dripping faucet or tiny puddle they can find.  That's not so good if the water they find is near an open window or door.

So far the bees have been nothing but pleasant.  Their arrival was coincidentally timed with the year's biggest coffee bloom.  Every tree on the farm was loaded with flowers and every flower was being constantly visited by bees.  Pictures don't do it justice, to really experience it you have to sit quietly in the fields and watch.  It's amazing how busy those little guys are.  The entire farm is buzzing like some kind of gigantic factory.  I think it's safe to say that we'll end up with some honey.

Truck Queens




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