Thursday, February 19, 2009

Feral Bees

The expression "feral bees" is a little deceiving. All bees are feral, or wild. Giving them a box to live in does not make you their friend, inspire affection or loyalty on their part or otherwise mediate innately defensive behaviors. The process of domestication and "taming" makes animals dependent on humans and forces them to sublimate some of their self-preservation instincts as well.

But bees do not need us. They feed themselves. They find or build their own shelter. Bees will attack us if they feel threatened, even knowing it means their death. These are not tame, domesticated critters. They are wild, feral. They have become an integral part of our agricultural system because their production can be managed and because they don't care about whether or not they "live free."

So this website where people can register feral bee colonies might at first glance make us think romantic notions about the liberty of wild creatures. What it is really about is the idea that there may be apis genetic material out there that thrives in spite of varroa mites, nosema, tracheal mites, artificial chemical pesticides and the many other possible individual or collective causes of colony collapse disorder. It may be the salvation of the honeybee - biodiversity in action.

A couple of years ago, I found and bought on line a booklet that explains how to find feral (that is non-managed) bee colonies. Called Bee Hunting, it was published in 1936 by John R. Lockard. I have intended for years to study the book and give up paying for bees for the rest of my beekeeping life, instead capturing these free-bees.

Apparently there are special procedures for hunting bees from sumac and hunting bees from buckwheat. Now, the feral bee registration site claims that "bee-lining" refers to the practice of bee hunting. I have heard and prefer the explanation of bee-lining that it refers to the expedited flight behavior of bees racing back to the hive in front of an air pressure change that signifies a fast moving weather change. They zip towards and into the hive entrance very quickly. None of the dithering that otherwise can characterize their flight is in evidence.

I think this might be the year I finally pull out this little book and look for some feral bee colonies. I'm still open to collecting swarms, as well. Swarms are not the same as feral colonies. Managed colonies swarm. Feral colonies swarm. It is how bee colonies reproduce. The bees raise a second queen and she takes part of the population and goes elsewhere to start anew.

We are looking for new digs. Someplace to start anew. Probably another interim spot where we can contemplate where we want to buy next. The climate is good for buying. Ideally, I would like a place where I can keep bees. And where I can have some chickens. And a kitchen garden. And plant fruit trees and mountain ash and basswood and redbud and magnolia. And we would like to be near water. I would like to be some place where I can hear a train whistle from a distance. I suppose there should be a house.

Maybe I should spend the summer sitting outside some hives just taking in the bees' ability to match their housing needs to a wide variety of locales. But while we anguish over moving farther from our parents, sibs and friends, the bees can bring their loved ones with them. That is the primary factor for us right now - proximity and affinity.

Somewhere there are some bees being raised, some where there are queens being groomed, some time they will be forced into screen-sided boxes and shipped out to me. I'll do my best by them, to give them a clean home with access to water and forage. But you know, really, I won't be all that upset if they desert me. I'll be looking for them, newly feral bees, close to where ever I am at home six months from now.


twinsetellen said...

Our high school mascot was the honey bee (Medina, Ohio - home of the A.I. Root Co.). The drill team was called "The Beeliners". One more definition for you.

I'm looking forward to seeing you and hearing more about this wanderlust you express. Or perhaps it is just lusting to be closer to the earth.

Eryka Jackson said...

Hi Kathy,

I never knew bees were so facinating, thanks for introducing me to this whole new world. You know, I met a guy who described himself as a "bee charmer" and I automatically thought of you and your bees. When I asked if he kept bees, he said "no silly, no one does that." needless to say I did not go out with him again!

I would love to meet your bees some time!

pbird said...

So....ever since I read this post, I've been obsessing about a tree stump out back that with a little hollowing out, could make a perfect feral hive! My bee partner looks at me and shakes his head: he thinks I'm nuts. That just makes me want to do it even more!!

That's mind is made up. I'm going to put my order in for another box of carniolans today.