The Buzz About Bees by Justine Amodeo
Published Date: 06-18-2015
“I’ve fallen in love with bees,” buzzed Bluebird Canyon Farms first Beekeeping Intern, Pamela Henrickson, before an audience of 24 in the spacious main lodge of this dynamic urban farm. Nibbling on artisanal cheese and crackers covered with organic farm raised honey and sipping California wildflower honey infused mead from Golden Coast Mead of San Diego County, guests learned about the farm’s experimental Hobo Camp apiary, where workshops for beginning to advanced beekeeping start again in September, including a one year “Bee Camp” internship for up to six people.
Hobo Camp, a research apiary owned and managed by Bluebird Canyon Farms, is nestled within the coastal chaparral clad hills above the farm and surrounded by thousands of acres of open space. The apiary focuses on raising hygienic, genetically diverse honeybee variants that are based on local, wild varieties and several European strains. Cared for naturally, Hobo Camp Honeybees support the farm by pollinating its fruiting plants and providing the local community with honey, wax and propolis. Hobo Camp apiary products are available in local farmers markets and in select local outlets.
Henrickson described the magical mysteries of the honeybee, their colony and queen, explaining that a virgin queen when ready to mate goes on a “nuptial” flight where she couples with numerous male or drone bees. Mating occurs while in flight and the queen may engage with 10-20 different drones collecting millions of sperm from multiple drones and storing these in her spermatheca organ. She selectively releases sperm from this organ in order to produce fertile eggs during the next 3-5 years of her life. Drones must make the most of their “single shot,” for the act of copulating with a queen leaves them mortally wounded and they plummet to their death after mating.
The queen may lay 1,000s of eggs each day which she places deep into brood cells in the hive. After hatching, larval bees are fed a rich diet of royal jelly, nectar and pollen for about 7-10 days and sealed into the brood cells with a waxed cap to form a pupa. After 15-25 days the newly formed juvenile honeybee chews through the wax cap to begin its busy life, which typically concludes 45-50 days later.
Honeybees are one of the only insects producing food consumed by humans and are threatened by numerous global and local issues. Honeybee populations in the United States have declined at a steady rate during the past 50 years. Alarmingly, this declination rate has nearly doubled in the past decade as honeybees continue to face numerous threats to their survival. These threats and challenges are daunting and a multi-faceted approach is needed to strengthen honeybee habitat, improve overall hive health and increase genetic diversity.
Threats include pesticide, herbicide and fungicide use, habitat loss due to land-development, agricultural mono-cropping and other impacts such as those related to global climate change. Genetic factors may also be playing a role as large scale migratory beekeeping practices coupled with the unrestrained mating habits of honeybees, exposes wild subspecies to introgressive hybridization from commercial bees which may lead to a loss of valuable traits that have been shaped by natural selection. This threatens honeybee biological diversity and places their population at further risk.
Additionally, in their effort to create hybrids with commercially advantageous characteristics, beekeepers may inadvertently be contributing to an overall weakening of honeybee stocks by breeding out so called undesirable traits and in doing so may make them more susceptible to certain pests, pathogens or other environmental conditions.
Threats to honeybees are a concern for all of us. According to Scott Tenney, Bluebird Canyon Farms Operations Manager, insect pollination contributes significantly to the world economy and is integral to food security keeping fruit and nuts in our diets. Numerous crops grown in North America rely upon insect pollination and some crops, such as almonds, are almost exclusively pollinated by honeybees. In California alone, honeybee pollination services are valued at nearly $5 billion each year.
To encourage support for honeybee and other pollinators Bluebird Canyon Farms has created “Bee Wise” a simple guide to help the public make informed decisions. These include:
• Bee Native – support wild honeybee populations by planting endemic native plants.
• Bee Showy – flowers should bloom in your garden throughout the growing season
• Bee Bountiful – plant big patches of each plant species
• Bee Diverse – plant a diversity of species to supply abundant pollen & nectar.
• Bee Chemical Free – eliminate use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides.
Additionally, members of the public who are interested, physically fit and can safely and legally keep honeybees on their property are encouraged to become beekeepers. With a negligible amount of space to “board” the hive, an adequate pollen and nectar source to provide food for the bees, an insignificant amount of basic equipment and protective gear, and a package of bees and a queen individuals can get started on their beekeeping adventure. Tenney estimates a beginning beekeeper will need to invest approximately $300-$500 for equipment and gear.
Check back frequently with Bluebird Canyon Farms to learn more about their work and what we they are doing to support honeybees. To request some information about our beekeeping internship program please email Bluebirdcanyon@gmail.com with “Bee Camp Information Request” written in the subject line.