Post date: Oct 05, 2016 7:49:25 PM

Years ago, when we lived in Atascadero, we had several - 3 or 4, if I remember correctly - beehives. Jim had kept honeybees before so they mostly were his project. At the time we only had one each of bee suit and bee hat with veil, so when he managed the hives he would wear those and I would stand off to the side to hand him things. Several times bees would get tangled in my hair and sting, which is a very sad occasion (for me and most especially for the bees). Eventually, we got busy with other things, a neighbor was afraid of bees, and that was also about the time the varroa mite moved into our area, and the colonies gradually died off.

When we moved to Blue Oak Canyon Ranch, the bee hives and other paraphernalia moved with us, but no bees of course. There was (and still is) a colony of feral honeybees living in an oak tree at the east end of the ranch. Also there was a rather irresponsible beekeeper who would bring lots of hives into the area, about a mile away, every spring. I say irresponsible because he didn't provide water for his bees so during the hot time of year they would come in huge groups to our livestock waterers, and make it nearly impossible for our sheep and llamas to drink from their own waterers. Just as we became fed up, after a few years of this, and were ready to lodge a complaint with the county, he stopped bringing his hives.

During the past few years, we tried 2 or 3 times to introduce purchased nucs (a bred queen plus a small colony of workers) and moved them into one of the hives which we had set up at the west end of the ranch. I believe the purchased bees were from the Central Valley. The first time was successful for about a year, stored huge amounts of honey, and we actually did get a little honey from the hive. But then, the colony mysteriously collapsed. The other attempts were not successful, and the colonies would collapse after a few months. We never could find any sign of disease or mites or any other pest, so we had no explanation, other than possibly the bees simply were not adapted to our local conditions.

Then last spring (2015), we were out at the west end of the ranch and - !! - there were bees busily going in and out of the hive. The only thing we can think of is that the feral bees from the east end swarmed, and the swarm moved into the hive, all on their own. So far, they seem fine - survived the winter and our very hot summer - perhaps because the feral bees are adapted to our environment. We are letting them have their own honey, not intending to harvest any this year, in the hopes that they will continue to do well.

If you look really close, you can see the bees as they crawl around at their hive entrance in these three photos.

And we put another hive body (cleaned up of course) with lid and stand nearby, in the hopes that in the spring, if either this colony or the oak-tree colony swarms, the new hive body will attract them.

This time of year, when most flowers have finished blooming, we are concerned that the bees have stored enough honey to see them through the fall and winter. There are a few winter-blooming plants but not many. And our winters can be fiercely cold. Not much is blooming now - the vinegarweed, and tarweed are winding down, there is only a little telegraph weed and mustard blooming, and a big daisy-like yellow composite (an Encelia?) also winding down and going to seed. We can feed the bees over the winter (as it is, bees come to our birdbaths in the yard and to the hummingbird feeder) and will do this if it seems necessary.