The Great Bee Hunt…Searching For Wild Honey Bees

Searching for wild honey bees…

is a springtime endeavor and spring is just around the corner.  We have high hopes in enticing the wild honey bees into living in more of our small, top bar hives this year.  Last year we were surprisingly successful in starting up a hive in our apple orchard on our property in town.  We didn’t really have to go searching for the bees.  They came to us.  It was probably a swarm venturing off from someone else’s hives nearby.  My husband just nestled his starter hive in the apple trees and dressed it with a few drops of lemongrass oil.  The apple blossoms and lemongrass scents were enough to lure them in.  We now have a growing colony of bees, madly producing delectable honey for next season.  (We’re skipping the first season’s harvest to make sure that the bees have more than they need through the winter.)

wild honey bees in apple orchard
Searching for wild honey bees has paid off. Here’s the new bees enjoying their home in the apple trees.

This year, I’m wishfully thinking that we’ll also garner a hive, or two, on the ranch.

I’d like one near the veggie garden another one at the flower cutting garden, near the house.  We now have new, starter hives are set up in each location, waiting for the bees to get busy and make homes in them.  There are still bees buzzing around in what’s left of the flower garden, which I find amazing, since it’s getting down below freezing at night.  I keep wondering where their hive is and how much happier they would be in a warm, cozy, new hive that’s closer to their pollen source.  It’s time to go on a bee hunt.

swarming bees
Following the swarming bees

Our past attempts a bee hunting have been miserable failures.

Now, we have a book to guide us and give us hunting tips: Following the Wild Bees, The Craft and Science of Bee Hunting by Thomas D. Seeley.  I got the book as a Christmas gift for my husband, but I’ve picked it up a couple of times out of serious curiosity.  I also receive updated reports from the hubby as to what he’s learning about finding wild honey bees.

We’re not done reading the book yet.  So far, we’ve found out that offering a couple of bees a, “three martini,” sugar water lunch can pay back in a mutually profitable, business arrangement between us and the bees.  Basically, what this amounts to is gently capturing a couple of bees in a small, wooden box that dishes up sugar water, allowing them feast and then letting them go.  Hopefully, they will make a “bee line” straight back to the hive to tell the others about their newly found, sugar treasure.  They will then bring back some of their friends for a second helping.  Once we get a parade of bees coming back and forth, we can start following their flightpath back to their hive. This could take many days.  Bees move fast and my eyes move slow.

Once we find the hive, we can start watching it for signs of swarming.  Then, we’ll move our own hive into closer proximity, in hopes that they will choose our starter hive for their new digs.  I suppose that we could also capture the hive and force the bees to live in our space.  We prefer that they set up housekeeping in our top bar hives by their own free choice.

honey bee on flower
Honey bees in the flower cutting garden

Now, you may ask why a mostly vegan like me would want honey bees around.

First and foremost, they are the great pollinators of the world.  I also want to help save the bee populations from a severe die off that has been happening for the last few years. Plus, I want more flowers, fruits and veggies in my garden and their pollination process will make that happen.

Bees in hive
Bees keeping busy in the hive

I also want to raise bees in a more natural and responsible way, than the exploitive, commercial operations.  I feel that it’s better to allow the bees to make their own homes in our hives voluntarily and survive off of their own honey.  We will only take what honey they can’t possibly consume in a season.  We want them to be our friends, not our livestock.  IMHO, if done right, it does not conflict with our own, vegan values.  Besides, we just want a small amount of honey for our pantry.  We’re not trying to get rich off of the bees.

So, I’ll keep you posted on how our bee hunt goes and the growth of our bee colonies.  If you would like more information about beekeeping with top bar hives, please visit: Mother Earth News

~ C