Lots of very busy bees
14 April 2014
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
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
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.