Here at Vi, as I walk the halls and dining rooms I am often asked “how are the bees doing?” Of course, this refers to the bees we keep on the roof for the fourth year in a row now. As far a I know we are the only senior living facility in the area with any beehives of our own and we are of course very proud of them. Last year, we started the spring with three hives, but by early summer we had expanded to six, as our bees decided to form swarms in a tree at the front of the building. A swarm is when an established hive decides that for reasons only known to them (usually overcrowding) that they will split into two hives. A new queen is born, goes out on her “virgin flight” and then comes back to the hive no longer a virgin, ready to lay eggs and continue the hive. The old queen, meanwhile, assembles with a sizable number of bees and finds a new home to start a new smaller hive. This is the natural way that bees propagate in the wild, but it was a little disconcerting to gather bees by hand, scooping them into a box and carrying them in the resident elevators to the roof to start a new hive.
By the end of the summer we had a total of six hives, and harvested about twelve gallons of honey. Much of this honey was put into jars for sale at the Farmer's market in August, some was used on various menu items, and a gallon was set aside to be used in our microbrewery that we will be starting in April. Two of our hives are very crowded, I have attempted my first "split", which is taking about five frames of bees and placing them in an empty hive so that they are encouraged to make a new queen and ease the overcrowding. I will let you all know how that goes. Failing that, I did buy a new piece of equipment that I am itching to use, we now have a Bee Vacuum that will literally suck up the bees from a swarm for easier transport. I really want an excuse to use this thing...
In the beginning of the year, the bees are kind of vulnerable, their food stores are almost empty right now and flowers are really not blooming yet. In Colorado, we feed the bees a sugar solution as a supplement until the bees are able to gather enough nectar on their own. by May, the hive is in full production and the queen is laying in earnest-as many as 1500 eggs a day.
Honeybees are perfectly adapted to pollinate, helping plants grow, breed and produce food. They do so by transferring pollen between flowering plants and so keep the cycle of life turning. A colony of honeybees ranges as far as six miles in all direction and can pollinate millions of flowers. They feed on honey and pollen which is provided by flowers that have evolved with them for this purpose. When you buy just 16 ounces of honey, there are a thousand bees behind it that traveled over a hundred thousand miles and visited more than 4.5 million flowers. It is no wonder that many great men and women have been inspired to study these beautiful creatures and write amazing phrases, poems, and songs on them. It is not just about their beauty and inspiring hard work; bees are also essential for the human existence.
Yes, bees do sting. It is true, but only rarely and when provoked. Honeybees are interested in pollen and nectar and can sting only once which is fatal to the bee. If you are not near the hive, they have little reason to be aggressive. Since the hive is on the roof, there is little danger of that. I personally manage to get stung about a dozen times every summer, but of course I am opening the hives, poking around and generally annoying them.
Nearly everyone has had a sting or two in their life, but are we sure it was a honeybee? Omnivorous species such as wasps, yellowjackets and hornets are the real culprit of most unpleasant human encounters as they are more aggressive, can sting multiple times and are more likely to be interested in human activity such as picnics or outings. .
Most plants we need for food rely on pollination, especially by bees: from almonds and vanilla and apples to squashes. It is estimated that every third bite of food we eat is provided by the labors of the common honeybee, but bees are in trouble. There is growing public and political concern at bee decline across the world. This decline is caused by a combination of stresses - from loss of their habitat and food sources to exposure to pesticides and the effects of climate change. Bees in Colorado face further challenges of short growing seasons, long winters and the varroa mite which has been known to wipe out hives trying to overwinter and waiting for spring. Our friends the bees need our help.
More than ever before, we need to recognize the importance of bees to nature and to our lives. And we need to turn that into action to ensure they don't just survive but thrive. My thanks to the residents who have already reached out to me with their own rich experiences with these fascinating animals. I have heard from many of you and very much appreciate your support. If you have questions or concerns about our bees please feel free to call the chef at 720 348 7810 or just drop by so we can chat. I am happy to discuss ideas as always and would love to hear from you.