I took up beekeeping in July of 2016. We started with a single hive, and it was hit by varroa so badly that I thought it wouldn’t live. I cut out all the drone brood and prayed, unwilling to treat with things that might kill an already weakened hive. It worked. Something worked.
A single hive is a tenuous thing, and you can’t manage your bees so much as you can observe and hope on their behalf. Resources from other hives might be used to intervene in an unhealthy hive. So, I purchased three nucs with bees from rescues that had been requeened with queens from a local queen breeder. Then came spring, and I learned that if you have a bee suit, there are free bees everywhere for the taking. We settled in at six hives, and subsequently lost two to ants, including my precious very first hive.
Working bees in Southern California is hard. A significant number of bees in San Diego carry Africanized genetics. This does not mean that they are going to try to kill you, but it may mean that they are more defensive, less productive, more prone to swarming, and hardier than the European bees that I remember from my childhood. They buzzed, fairy like around my uncle Gene’s place, and disturbed no one. These bees are wilder, spicier, and seem to be more aware of, and less pleased by, our presence and intervention.
Here it can be hard to know if your bees are having a bad day or if you need to requeen them with a calmer queen. The last thing we want is to have unmanageable, aggressive bees breeding in the wild. Well, that might be the second to last thing we want – the last thing we want is bees who are weak against disease spreading their genetics in the wild. When Europeans came to this continent, we brought our own crops and our own pollinators. We were doing what birds and wind do – even if we believed in natural borders for plants or crops, nature doesn’t. But now we’re reliant on those crops and those pollinators, so studying bees and promoting their health and growth is important business.