Thursday, February 9, 2012

Here come the bees, honey

Ready for occupancy
Unless the vagaries of Mexican Time interfere, later this week we should be getting a three-pound package containing approximately 7,000 bees, ready to buzz under the direction of a queen bee. The latter is traveling from Veracruz in her own separate little jewel box-like container, while the rank-and-file bees are coming from a beekeeper in San Luis de La Paz, about an hour from here.

One of the wonders of San Miguel is the plethora of organizations, causes and hobbies, from bird-watching to midwifery and photography. No doubt a large part of the reason is that so many foreigners here are retired, with time on the hands to pursue new or long-postponed avocations. But it also reflects the expats are an active, clever and curious bunch, not the stereotypical geezers in rocking chairs waiting for the sun to set.

Robert Lewis, the head of the local  beekeepers
 group, attaches a wax sheet to one of the frames 
that will go in the beehive. The frames have very 
thin wires running across that are heated lightly 
by connecting them to a car battery. The heated 
wires melt the wax sheets slightly which then
 become attached to the wires.  
So several weeks ago Stew joined the local bee-keepers group, which meets regularly to discuss plans, order supplies and solve problems. Happily, some of the members are Mexican locals, a departure from the all-gringo membership typical of so many local organizations.

Although beeswax and honey are supposedly the ultimate outcomes of apiculture, Stew says that's not his motivation. It's got to do with plain curiosity and bringing more bees to our land to help pollinate the fruit trees and other plants that are just beginning to flower. That's a good thing. I don't see Stew and Felix setting up a roadside stand to sell jars of honey, or donning granny outfits and making candles in the garage.

For now the arrival of the bees is shrouded in considerable mystery, like an occult science, which may be  largely the  result of, hmm, lack of knowledge. Stew bought a copy of  "First Lessons in Beekeeping," a slender book first published in 1917 and still considered the most authoritative on the subject, and got a copy in Spanish for Felix.

Problem is neither one has finished reading the book and 7,000 bees, and the queen, are due here in a couple of days. I imagine the bees' arrival being like thousands of hyperactive little Martians--which have to be fed and housed--landing on our ranch.

Just in case, Stew also has ordered a beekeepers hat and a smoker contraption to help resolve any misunderstandings, though he's been assured that the bees come on in peace: They are not prone to sting unless provoked because they die as a result.

Bees landing on the flower of a
prickly pear cactus
Stew and Felix already installed the beehive, including slide-in wooden frames with wax panels. The cost of this project so far is US$100 for the wooden box, made by a local carpenter; $110 for the nucleus swarm of bees about to arrive, plus $7 for the queen bee and five "nurse bees" to help the queen launch this incredibly complex colony.

The box carrying the queen and its "court" will come with a lump of sugar "candy" for food during the trip from Veracruz. The other 7,000 schlepper bees come attached to four of the wooden frames which are inserted into the beehive.

Upon arrival they have to set up a feeder  with a high-octane mix of half sugar and half water, to help the bees survive until flowers and other sources of nectar start blooming in our ranch. The prickly pear and organ cacti, and peach and apricot trees already have flowers and are being dive-bombed by the local bees. Next the huizaches are supposed to bloom, followed by the mesquite trees. With each wave of blooms the bees produce a different type of honey, with Mexican mesquite honey the most prized of all.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. The queen is supposed to start laying eggs right away, triggering a constant cycle of life and death in the hive, as the original bees die off and are replaced by new ones. We're not likely so see either honey or wax for about a year.

By then we will need another container above our hive to collect the honey, in addition to having to exchange the original frames and beeswax panels for new ones. Someone in Dolores Hidalgo is supposed to extract the honey for us.

Questions abound and they will be resolved only playing along with the queens, the nurses and the worker bees. This is a Stew and Felix project which I'm determined to watch from a safe distance-- though I admit to being extremely curious.

Check out the amazing UTube we received from Bill Barnes:
Post a Comment