Selby Apiaries in the Chico area in Northern California has started an interesting little project, literally off the back of a truck. They, of course, demo the project, but if you want a quick peek, you can talk to the very pleasant beekeeper truck-side. And I did just that in March of this year.
There had been an ad in the local paper about a little workshop event, but there was also some active in-person marketing at the Chico Farmers’ Market (one of my favourite markets) the day of.
Community and food system activist, Richard Roth, and I trundled down to check things out.
So what was the project, you might ask? Well, with the aim of getting more home garden action going, you can buy ‘nucs’ – a queen bee and a small entourage of workers. Normally, people buy nucs to start up a normal-sized hive, which can range from 20,000 to 100,000 bees. Bees multiply very quickly once they are housed safely in a place they feel comfortable.
With this project, however, the aim is not to create full-sized hives. You buy the tiny bee box (basically a crafted, styrofoam container with 3 appropriate mini-frames, queen excluder, and bee entrance), hang it up in a tree out of harm’s way, and let the pollination begin. Safe and educational for kids.
While an admirable endeavour, I have three major issues.
1) The materials. Styrofoam. I just can’t get on board with that for all the obvious reasons.
2) The swarm factor. Honey bees don’t cluster in small groups for long. Their tendency is to build in size, and once they become over-crowded, they leave to find a new home. How long will you have a sweet little nuc in your backyard?
3) The most serious concern for me, actually, was the one-season-only approach. Before even going out to see the set-up, I asked the person marketing at the farmers’ market a few key questions. When I asked about over-wintering mortality rates, she made it clear that there was no over-wintering attitude/attempt. She said, “We’re commercial beekeepers.” My answer was, “Yeah, so? There is no reason not to over-winter as a commercial beekeeper.” End of season doesn’t have to mean death to all your lovely bees. If you don’t completely deplete the hive of honey stores, you can have a strong hive come spring. Saves money (although this apiary believed it cost them more), and more importantly, it saves thousands of lives.
Anyhow, while I approve of the movement to bring bees into backyards and community gardens, I think there are some issues to be worked out with this set-up.