Friday, February 10, 2012

Wild Hive

For over eight years, I’ve been visiting a wild hive of honeybees (Apis mellifera scutellata) that I found nestled in a crack in basalt cliffs just a ten-minute walk from our house. The comb is dark and gnarled, with several lobes hanging in layers between the rocks. Bees are constantly zooming in to deliver pollen and nectar, and zooming back out to collect more. Although we are warned that these bees are most likely “Africanized” and thus more aggressive than other breeds, I have never been chased or stung since I’ve been observing this hive. Then again, I have never tried to steal their honey or poke the hive with a stick.  I am also careful not to stand directly in their pathway. Or, maybe they just recognize me as a friendly neighbor whose garden they come down to forage in every day!
These wild bees are the same ones that are at work daily in our neighborhood, gathering nectar and pollen from our landscaping plants. If you have fruit trees and vegetables in your yard, they may be helping you realize a harvest. One way to find out where your garden bees live, is to follow them as they make a “bee-line” back to their hive once they are loaded up. On their way home they will fly the most direct route, in a relatively straight line, to conserve energy.
Local beekeeper, Scott Clark, enjoys the practice of “bee-lining,” which is the art and sport of tracking bees to their hive. “You can tell how many different hives are in an area by watching bees as they leave the plants they are foraging on,” he says. “Sometimes you’ll see several different bee-lines moving to and from a large rosemary plant, which is one of the most abundant nectar producing flowers during winter months in the Phoenix area.”
According to Scott, honeybees will travel up to five miles to find good sources of nectar and pollen, so finding a hive can be a pretty good work out.  This is also something to keep in mind if you are someone who would like to avoid encounters with bees. Mesquites, palo verdes and rosemary are some favorites for desert honeybees, so if you plant them in your yard, you’re sending an invitation to the local hives for five miles around.
If you are someone who appreciates bees and all the products and services they provide, having them visit your garden can be a great source of entertainment. “Bees have a kind of intelligence beyond other insects,” observes Scott, who became addicted to beekeeping at the age of twelve. “They work together, they communicate with each other, and they even argue with each other about the best place to build a hive!”
A few requirements for a wild hive include great foraging nearby, a reliable source of water, protection from predators, and shelter from wind and weather. All of these things make high vertical crevices in cliffs near irrigated landscapes in the suburbs the “bee’s knees” for a honeybee queen and her brood.  These traits are also why buildings sometimes seem like excellent sites for wild hives.  Unfortunately for the bees, most humans don’t like them living in their houses, so that is not usually a great choice!
For lots more info on honeybees, or resources to remove troublesome swarms and hives check out any of these websites. An experienced beekeeper will always do their best to remove the bees alive and help them find a safe home away from yours!

Beekeeper Scott Clark of Cave Creek
Beekeepers Association of Central Arizona
Swarm removal for every state

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