How Are the Bees?

In a word, non-existent. It’s winter after all. Duh.

I’ve been debating over how to obtain my bees. The options are to purchase bees, contact a swarm catcher or try to lure my own swarm.

I’m a bit concerned about shipping bees up from California just to fill my hive. This doesn’t sound like a very sustainable idea (big trucks driving hundreds of miles and all) and stressful on the bees. However, it does sound super easy to just dump a box o’bees into my hive and be done with it…which is probably why many people choose to go this route. I’ve also got the problem that bee packages arrive in April…Unfortunately, I’m taking a vacation in April and would hate to plunk down an $80 deposit for bees I wasn’t around to take home. So, for this year’s experiment anyway, I’m going to stay away from package bees.

For now I’m opting to lure a swarm on my own because, well, to put it bluntly, I’m cheap. I bought a $5 bottle of lemongrass oil from my bee supply place and this is supposed to be a super attractive scent to honeybees. My plan is to leave the scent in the hive while I’m away. Hopefully when I get home, a swarm will have taken up residence in my super cute hive (I’m not sure how my mom, who will be house sitting for us will feel about this, but…). Many beekeepers say this won’t work well, but my science background and miserly way spurs me to experiment when I can.

If this fails, I’ll be contacting a swarm catcher in May. So any swarm catchers in the Portland area should send me their info to be first on my list!

Attracting bees and taking local swarms is sort of like planting a native plant in your yard. The bees are already adapted to local conditions and have (hopefully) shown resistance to common local diseases and pests. After all, swarms happen when a hive gets too full of bees. Unhealthy bees (unless hive conditions are really bad) don’t breed strongly enough to swarm. This means, for the most part, swarming bees are  successful bees.

Package bees on the other hand haven’t proven their worth in a local environment. This isn’t to say they’re bad bees for the area, but they haven’t had their metal tested, so to speak. They could be susceptible to disease; they may not tolerate cold, rainy weather (which we have plenty of here). All you do know about them is their breed and that they were hardy enough to survive a truck ride. Still, I don’t want to rail too hard against package bees in case I end up buying them next year if this year’s experiment is a dud!

And yes, I did say breeds of bees. The honeybee lives all over the globe except frozen landscapes like Antarctica. To survive in various climates, bees have adapted to local conditions. Like different breeds of dogs, different breeds of honeybees differ in color and temperament. Unlike dogs, different breeds of honeybees have differences in honey production and tendencies to swarm (if you have a dog that makes honey, please contact me!).

For more on honeybee breeds, check out The Different Types of Honey Bees from North Carolina State University. It’s a nice little PDF that covers the most common type of honeybees in hives today.

If you missed out on seeing my hive, here it is again:

Hive cover - up close

Hive cover – up close

My hive - front panel is an observation window.

My hive – front panel is an observation window.

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