Friday, June 4, 2010

A Bee In The Life

A couple years back, after innocently turning a nearly hidden corner behind the demonstration garden at the LA county fair I ran smack into the LA County Beekeepers.
For the next couple months all James heard were details of people I'd met with bee hives in their back yards and passages read loud from Beekeeping For Dummies. The more I read the more interested I became, bees have a fascinating, orderly life working for the common good and making our gardens possible along the way. When Christmas rolled around, the poor big man, worn down by incessant buzzing, gave me a beautiful garden hive complete with decorative copper cover, smokers, bee suits, gloves and everything a girl needs to make friends with the honeybee.
After a few months --hive all painted (thanks honey) and one very frightened postman in the recent past, our package of bees arrived. 3 lbs of buzzing Italian honey bees along with their future queen encased in a sugar capped cage. The "girls" would literally eat their queen free. At first we placed the hive up by James' cabin in the Angeles forest. Tucked away where they wouldn't bother anyone. We were in the midst of a terrible drought and there was little for the bees to drink and even less for them to eat and I made regular trips up into the hills to feed them sugar and water syrup. They were hungry and far away.
Midway through the summer we decided to bring our girls home.
Under cover of night, along with a beekeeping friend, we screened up the hive, closed in the girls and drove them home to a sunny spot in the corner of our newly replanted backyard garden. After a few stings (James is allergic), some tears, one trip to the hospital (that's a long story for another post) we moved the girls to their own screened enclosure (thanks again honey) at the end of our yard perfectly situated to have the bees fly up and over our heads onto their day's work. Success. Our hive thrived (and expanded -- I had to split a couple times with help from more friendly beekeepers) and grew crowded. We even collected and bottled our backyard honey and shared it with friends.
This picture was taken when I forgot to put a few needed frames in and the girls built this lovely free comb full of babies and honey.
Then last summer things went from bad to worse. We lost a queen. The girls rejected two new ones. I thought we were finally back on track when I got a call from James as I was out of town on a job.
"The bees are dead," he said. They weren't buzzing about as usual and James, in spite of his allergy, went down to check on them. The whole hive dead in the frames. Not Colony Collapse Disorder that everyone has read about by now. These girls didn't leave and not find the way back, they died in their home. In our yard. We searched for explanations, theorized, quizzed other beekeepers and finally settled on pesticides. Someone had sprayed something near our girls. The worker bees brought the poison back to the hive and now they were gone.
We spent the winter without girls flying around the yard. No buzzing in the neighbor's avocado tree. And then started to plan for the return.
I've repainted the hive, scraped it clean, changed the wax in the frames and am now, as an expectant mother, awaiting the delivery of 50,000 or so buzzing children . . . tomorrow.
Updates to follow.

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