Tuesday, March 13, 2012

About the birds and the bees

If the level of partying and fornication--and the number of stings inflicted on nearby humans and animals--reflect the health of a beehive, then Stew's is a doozy.

He had installed the bee box, custom-made by a local carpenter, six weeks ago but the actual bees, about seven or eight thousand of them, didn't arrive for another two weeks, along with the queen bee and six "assistants" in a separate container about the size of a matchbox. The dimensions of bee boxes are pretty much standard the world over with the exception of Mexico, which uses its own measurements.

The queen bee and her attendants travel
first-class from Veracruz.
Following that, the tiny chamber with the queen bee and her cortege went into the beehive. One end of this "queen cage" had a three-eights-inch hole plugged with a sugar putty that kept this group alive while in transit by bus from Veracruz. Once in our beehive, the other bees would gnaw at the putty until it was gone and the queen was able to get out and mingle.

Bob Lewis, or Bee Bob as Stew calls him, replaced four empty panels in our box with others already covered with thousands of agitated bees. Then Stew filled a container in the beehive with a solution of half-water half-sugar, almost like asyrup, to feed the bees until the landscape had enough flowers to sustain them.

Bee Bob replaced the top and that was it, until a week later when the sugar syrup container had to be refilled.

Armed with his smoke gun, filled with smoldering pine needles, his bee bonnet and elbow-length gloves, Stew hesitantly approached the beehive, lifted the top and pumped a few shots of the aromatic smoke at the bees.

It turns out that the amount of smoke makes a difference: You need to pump just few whiffs of smoke to mellow out the bees a bit while you futz around with the bee box. Add too much smoke and you have one pissed off bunch of bees.

The other bees travel steerage. 
Guess which happened. Yes, ma'am, an angry swarm of bees buzzed threateningly enough to send Félix and me, and one of Félix's dogs, running in the opposite direction, with bees flying all around us. By the end of this initial experiment, Stew had been stung on an arm, me on the ring finger, Felix on the nose and his dog, Palomita, right on the butt.

So Stew called Bee Bob for an emergency consultation. He arrived the next day in his tired VW Beetle, which has a large decal of a bee on one of the side windows, and the back seat filled with a chaotic heap of beekeeping paraphernalia. Bee Bob doesn't take his trade lightly.

He usually travels with Pepper, a four- or five-pound schmoozadoodle mix which is a show all by herself. Bob picked her up as a puppy after she had apparently survived a bout of distemper which left her with a unique waddle: Instead of her rear legs moving parallel to each other they crisscross, which creates a rear-end wiggle reminiscent of a Brazilian samba. Ask her to sit and she will comply but promptly fall over because she can't quite get those darned rear legs synchronized.

If you're going "awww!" and feeling sorry for Pepper, don't bother. She dances through life quite merrily with a self-esteem that's beyond delusional. She snarled at our dog Lucy, who's about 12.3 times larger, and the day before had picked a fight with a pit bull.

Bee Bob determined Stew's beehive to be very healthy, damn near exuberant. The drones apparently had been mating with the queen quite a bit, which he could tell by some pattern left on one of the panels inside the hive. The queen also had been laying eggs, which is all good.

In its division of labor according to gender, a beehive can be eerily similar to traditional human societies. The male drones sit around the hive for the first half of their month-long lives doing nothing. Then they fly in large groups, called "congregations," to loiter around a cactus or some other interesting place, like dopey teenagers hanging around a shopping mall, shallow-dragging on Marlboros and talking jive.

Then the queen buzzes by and a couple of dozen drones may mate with her before she returns to the hive. The drones--many of them now grinning, sucking deeply on their Marlboros and comparing notes--go back to doing nothing.

Meanwhile the worker bees, all females, are flitting around frantically around the ranch, collecting pollen, nectar and generally doing all the work, like Betty Crockers on speed.

Bee Bob rigs up panels for the "super" to 
go atop the main hive. 
Stew's beehive is doing so well that this morning Bob brought a "super", a half-height extension, with its own set of panel inserts with wax honeycombs, which is stacked on top of the original beehive. Presumably the bees, already cramped below, will readily move into this extension. On Thursday, Bob and Pepper will bring another super.

If the hive continues to thrive, the bees will begin to feed on the flowers that are popping up all over the ranch, on the fruit trees, prickly bear cacti, huizaches, aloes, lavender, and some early wild flowers. The mesquites, which produce the bees' favorite flowers, also are getting ready to bloom. At that point Stew will quit feeding the bees and they will be on their own, feeding on flowers within a three-mile radius from the hive.

Wish I could bring you more astonishing close-ups of the latest activity in the hive, but after the last altercation Felix and I had with the angry bees, I've decided to stay clear away. I don't have a telephoto long enough for that kind of up-close coverage.

3 comments:

  1. Ah. To bee or not to bee. I guess that is the question.

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    Replies
    1. Ah, Steve! I say "boo" to that pun.

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  2. smart to keep away! so what is a shmoozadoodle-i think i go that right. some kind of schnauzer and poodle, what's the other?

    doing a little better but still a long way from these ribs healing.

    take care,

    teresa in nagoya

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