Saturday, June 7, 2014

Bees, please.

For Rent - 10 owners, comes furnished

In taking my coffee and laptop out on the deck this morning, I almost sat down in the chair with the cold, sleeping bumble bee in it.  Being raised around honey bees, I just turned the chair into the sun, and pretty soon she warmed up, stretched, had a quick spit bath and zoomed off to find her coffee without causing any drama or silly waving of arms.

I like bees. As my dad is a retired biologist/entemologist we had lots of interesting stuff around growing up. Honey bee hives were one of them, and I have pretty vivid memory of helping my dad capture an escaped colony that swarmed into a tree. They didn't have Haz/Mat suits then, but the pith helmets were pretty cool. I was about 10 and my job was to puff the smoker on them and make them dozy while Dad pulled the lids off and checked the hives for diseases and mites.

Over this past freakishly long winter, Netflix was under heavy rotation. We watched "More Than Honey," which I highly recommend. When you get to the section where you see people in China hand-pollinating their fruit trees because the pollution has killed all of the insects, you start to see the problem on a grander scale.  We live in the fruit belt along Lake Ontario and around the corner from a commercial honey producer that's lost most of his stock.  I looked up the local honey group in Canandaigua, ordered catalogs of bee keeping equipment and a video on Organic Beekeeping (not worth the investment) and investigated plot planting on a grander scale.

Fast forward to this spring where I finally ordered my bees. Mason bees. No sticky mess, uber-pollinators. Perfect! Mason bees are friendly little guys that look sort of like a cross between a bee and a fly. I ordered 10 and as well as a little bee house. They came in a very tiny box of very tiny brown cocoons which I stuck in the fridge until it warmed up outside into the 50s. Felt like a kid with a science experiment, which was admittedly pretty cool. Most of the little guys found their way out into the world, but there were two that needed c-sections. Yes, I actually had to look up a video on how to open a cocoon with a pair of sharp scissors.  I highly recommend reading glasses during that part, along with some yoga breathing when they start to vibrate in your fingers when the top is cut off. They are alive but too weak to break open the package. Happy, brand-new bees stretched out, got a drink of sugar water and zoomed off within 10 minutes.

Lots of dandelions here, no bees. 
My mothering instinct is nil, so all of my new friends took off for warmer, more flowery places. Probably California or possibly Hawaii. I think I got too excited and put them out too early when there wasn't enough blooming yet to support them.  The project is a bust. Never saw any of them again, the house is empty and I just took it down. Sadness.

We have wet property with lots of willows and birch trees. Normally the willows are literally humming with bees when they bloom out. This year, nothing. Eerily quiet. I've seen quite literally three honey bees so far. That's it.  The orchards next to us are constantly spraying and spraying. Not sure if this is the sole cause, but if it's black and white and looks like a zebra...

Email the nice folks at Crown Bees if you are interested in setting up a few gentle hives in your back yard.

I'll try this again next year, and be more patient about waiting a bit longer. Do any of you have bees and what have you noticed?

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