Have I mentioned that we have a little bit of a bee problem? Not really a problem, but, let’s say, a challenge. As we’ve been restoring and fostering the native habitat here on our 40 acre spread, we’ve seen so many Northern California flora and fauna move in and declare the place their own. From Monarch and Checkerspot butterflies to Pacific Pond Turtles to Red Tailed Hawks and Mountain Lions, animals are finding Two Terrier Vineyards to their liking. So it seemed logical to invite a local beekeeper to park some of his hives here to add to the Peaceable Kingdom ambiance. We didn’t feel the place was particularly devoid of bees. Our policy is just “More Bees is Better.”
So the quite famous Hector Alvarez of Hector’s Honey brought about forty hives to our place for the duration of the lavender bloom. Bees were EVERYWHERE. Then came the day when Hector arrived to take his bees back to their winter quarters. We were sad to see the bees go. But they didn’t go. Bees were everywhere. Seems several wild swarms had taken up residence around the property. We counted at least three huge hives — one in a hollow oak down by Indian Leap, one in a Manzanita tree in the lower pasture and one out in the woods at the side of the vineyard. But we really noticed these bees liked to hang out at our barn. Then we noticed they were everywhere in our barn. By the time it dawned on us that the bees had found a way between the inner and outer wall of our barn and were actually in residence, you could put your ear to the wall and hear a humming like a buzz saw. We had one specialist come out who listened in and estimated the hive went from ten feet up the wall down to seven feet above the floor. In other words, we had the bustling Manhattan of Bees right in our walls. That “specialist” decided he wasn’t equipped to deal with a bee situation of that magnitude.
So we called the guy we should have called in the first place, Hector Alvarez. Like a true Super Hero, he needed nothing but his special powers and a really cool costume. And a side-kick, who turned out to be our ranch manager and Shaman of Seeds, John the Baptist. John was deemed qualified when he dropped this little tidbit: “When I lived on a commune in the Sixties, I was the beekeeper.” (And don’t you just know there is an incredible story that includes the words: “John the Baptist”, “Sixties”, “Commune”. I’ll see what I can uncover.)
The operation went like this: Hector pumped smoke into the entry hole in the walls to put the bees to sleep. Then some of the crew rushed in to rip boards off the walls and expose the hive. They all got stung while Hector and John sat unmolested as bees gently landed on their heads as if they were all in a Disney movie. At this point the hive was exposed as a massive bee construction project that may be about two feet high by about four feet long. (We won’t know until the bees are removed and we can take the boards off the wall.) Hector and John searched through the hive and located the Queen. She was then put into one of Hector’s hives which was placed up on a make-shift shelf. Hector says, in the space of a couple of days, the bees of the hive will relocate into the box to be with the Queen. Then, under cover of darkness, Hector will remove the box and take the swarm back to join his other bees for a productive life making some of Sonoma’s best honey and beeswax products.
And just another note: this would have been the time to have my Nikon and my long-range lens. I forgot it. So if you don’t like the quality of these pictures, just imagine me running into a cloud of bees and trying to snap pictures with my iPhone before being stung.
So now, we have the swarm inside my tackroom in the barn. For the next several days, we have to run in in the morning before they get too active, open the window and let them out. Then after dark when we think they’ve settled down, we run in and close the window to keep them in. Hector tells me that, probably by Friday, all the bees who were out on expedition during the big bee removal project will have returned and assessed the situation. They’ll either rejoin their Queen in Hector’s hive box or they will fly off and join one of the wild swarms on our property. Or maybe they’ll form their own new colony somewhere else.
In the meantime, there is honey everywhere — on all the doorknobs, on the floor, dripping out of the walls. But at least everyone on the property that day walked away with a pound of honeycomb for their efforts.
I’ve heard all about this Colony Collapse Disorder and we want to do our part. But so far, Two Terrier Vineyards is proving to be a clean well-lighted place for bees.
So how many bees do we have buzzing around here? Well, so many that a distant neighbor — obviously someone fairly new to the country — came storming up to me about a year ago to complain: “YOUR bees are all over my flowers!” Needless to say, she didn’t accept my explanation that I haven’t yet learned how to “curb my bees”.
That story would be an interesting post, but probably won’t be one that will ever be written. Sometimes, no matter how much you want to do otherwise, you just have Bee Cool.