Bees 2 -return of the swarm

Above is a swarm of bees gathered in Duvall proper loading in to a transport box. Once the queen is located and boxed up, the rest of the hive-to-be will follow after her into the larger swarm box. My neighbor gifted these bees to EEC Forest Stewardship, after moving the box into the trunk of her car and driving them over to our land for instillation in a hive box. We’re so happy to have a buzzing hive again, and hope that this time, we can adequately support the colony in establishing and surviving. Our last colony, in 2018, swarmed and ran off mid-summer after not sufficiently settling in our supplied hive setup. We may never know exactly what happened, but I think we waited too long to stack a second brood chamber on, causing too much crowding in the hive, which signaled the queen to move out to find a lager home. Lessons learned, and we have two extra brood boxes to insert if needed.

Our hives are Langstroth, 10 frame, supers- meaning they are bulky and heavy when full of honey. We do not stack them too high, but as honey bees (Apis mellifera) are struggling to survive in current industrial agricultural and suburban backyard chemical control agents. The bees also face many biological struggles, such as pandemics, parasites, and an extinction event. Human domestication has evolved this species to be productive, but sadly, with this genetic selection, the bees are susceptible to disease and predation. How you ask? Honey bees are exposed to many industrial chemicals in the pollen of treated plants, poison sprays in the air, and pollution of wild water and food sources bees have relied on for centuries. Then add in the docile nature of honey bees, really, they are chill compared to most wild bee species. I walk up to my hive and make changes in the stacked hives without too much worry (there are some exceptions at certain times of year when the been can be more aggressive). One particular behavior- swarming- is a great time to handle bees, though it may seem chaotic and rather aggravated. The bees are gathering, with all their attention on the queen. They want to mass up and find a good hive space, so if you gather them in a box and relocate them to a good hive with some food nearby, it’s possible to resettle them without being stung. Watching thousands of flying insects synchronize with a bee keeper in being rounded up and settled, usually with a car ride in between, is miraculous.

Keeping honey bees is a great endeavor, and EEC does not take it lightly that a swarm was gifted to this land. We’ll be taking on some ethical challenges in supporting this species on the land. We’re feeding the bees white granulated sugar- which is an incredibly tainted product both chemically (bleach and industrial ag pesticides) and ethically (history of slavery and local economic abuse). Not to mention world health effects (diabetes and obesity). We’ll also have to use drastic methods of chemical warfare against mites and viruses attacking the colony. Sterilizing all hives and tools is crucial in protecting established colonies, still, chances are, without several colonies established, you’ll end up loosing too many bees from one hive to keep it alive, especially in our wet, cool winters. Western Washington is a great habitat for honey bees, as far as floral abundance and diversity, as well as mild winters, but until recent climate change, this land remained too cold for bees to thrive. Now, with triple digit summer highs becoming a norm, the bees can make it year round. But Apis is not the only insect to thrive in these warming weather systems. Wasp species such as Vespa mandarinia (“murder hornets”) have made their appearance in Washington state two summers in a row now, and we think they will establish in future. That could be the final nail in the honey bee coffin, as Asian giant hornets specialize in destroying honey bee colonies by decapitation.

But hey, we’re always up for supporting entomological agriculture (insect farming) here at EEC- we’ve been cultivating meal worms since 2015. Bees are in their second “incarnation here on the land, and it’s hopeful we can learn much more about this species and hopefully slow the decline of this very important domestic producer. For now we’ll keep bees and be thankful for the additional pollination and system lessons here at EEC Forest Stewardship. The colony will also be a litmus for our land’s health, and possible surrounding ecological indicators we should be aware of, such as neighbor’s chemical use, pollen availability and diversity, and potential invasive hazards. We’ll give future updates on the colony’s health and success (or failure) as we attempt to again host these amazing animals at EEC.

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