Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Saving Bees, One Swarm at a Time

Every once in a while, you get the satisfaction of doing something right. Today was one of those days. Today actually started a year ago with an idea. An idea on how to live more compatibly with the bees and save these threatened creatures. An idea that was finally realized today. Last year, I worked with a local resort property, Carmel Valley Ranch, to develop a program to relocate bee swarms safely (for the bees AND humans). Today, that program paid off!

Photo of Beekeeper JohnSome of you may know me as the founder of Carmel Lavender. And some of you may also know me as the resident beekeeper at Carmel Valley Ranch, a beautiful resort property in Carmel Valley, California. Many years ago, I began working with the Ranch on their lavender fields and apiary. The owners had a wonderful idea to return some of the unused space at the resort to agricultural production. And more, they wanted to involve the guests in the daily activities of managing a farm. And so I planted 7000 lavender plants, and established the Carmel Valley Ranch Apiary. To engage visitors, I began taking guests on tours of the apiary, suiting up, and paying visits to our 60,000 fuzzy friends that spent the day pollinating those lavender plants and making honey. I have developed these tours into the Bee Experience, which has become a signature program for educating guests of the Ranch about the wonders of these fascinating creatures.

You cannot experience bees without experiencing the society in which they live, which is really inseparable from the bee herself. And seldom a visit to the apiary passes without some question and discussion about how colonies replicate: the swarm. One of the magical things about experiencing bees in a setting like Carmel Valley Ranch, is that miracles happen daily. And while I manage an apiary, created by we mortals, the bees themselves are a natural phenomenon, just like the 500 acres that surround them. And this week, while giving a tour, we were blessed with a natural swarm that thundered over the apiary as we were tasting honey.

For those that have never experienced a swarm, it is an amazing thing. Part of a reproductive process that most likely began two weeks earlier. To understand where my thoughts were as the swarm passed overhead, we have to go back a year, to an incident that occured on a similar spring day in May, when a similar swarm visited the Ranch...

Photo of Active Swarm BoxOn that day, I was not present, and a thunderous cloud of thousands of bees descended on River Ranch, one of the athletic facilities at the resort. I wasn't present that day, however, and the sound that swarms make can be quite intimidating, even though the realities of the swarm are reproductive, and not aggressive. I received a panicked call for assistance. This incident eventually lead to a discussion with principle and General Manager, Dan Korn where we crafted a plan for dealing with future incidents. In many properties, the prevailing protocol would have been to exterminate the bees if they tried to move into the occupied areas or structures. But the bees had become such a valued and respected part of the property, this would be unimaginable. We needed a more enlightened protocol. So we agreed on a plan that included guest education, marking affected areas, and I constructed and deployed swarm boxes, to lure swarms into safe zones that could be relocated to more compatible areas in Carmel Valley.

So I constructed several of these swarm boxes, and deployed them around the property. However, by then, it was late in the season, and the swarms had mostly passed, so I had to wait until Spring.

Photo of Bees in New HomeWell, Spring is definitely here at Carmel Valley Ranch. So when that swarm passed over my head the other day, I knew there was a good chance they were headed for the River Ranch area. After my tour, I drove over and started looking around and asking if anyone had seen "a swarm of bees" anywhere. No sign of them. But yesterday, I received the call, there was a swarm all over the swarm box by the Activity Cottage!

Today I checked the swarm box, and we had some new check ins at the Ranch! You can see a photo to the right with a red arrow pointing to the entrance. If you look closely, you can see some of our new temporary residents arriving home with food for their queen inside.

In fact, I didn't have just one surprise, but TWO! As a matter of course, I checked the other two swarm boxes in the River Ranch area, and there was one other active box, so we had two swarms move in this week. All that remains is to transport the new arrivals to their permanent home in the fields away from the occupied areas. So they'll be moving soon. But if you happen to pass by the activity cottage at River Ranch, look up, you'll see our bees enjoying their temporary stay at Carmel Valley Ranch.

It took a year to see success, but this week we saved two swarms and will be able to relocate them to a suitable location. That makes it all worthwhile.

For more information about Carmel Lavender Apiaries, visit http://www.carmellavender.com/apiary.htm or for more information about Carmel Valley Ranch Bee Experience, visit http://www.carmelvalleyranch.com/bee_experience.aspx

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Well, it's Thanksgiving. Very interesting year. I was out in the garden the other day marveling at the tomatoes. Almost December, and still growing. Of course, the vigor has been much subdued this year. Who knows, maybe they still grow on Christmas? I hope not actually. It would not be natural. The bees were certainly taking advantage of the 75 degree weather today. See them fly!

It's been awhile since my last post here. I caught a slight cold last week. Aster a couple of days, I decided to raid the hives for my remedy. Here you can see a nice chunk of honey and pollen laden comb I scraped out of one of my Carniolan colonies the other day. Chewing on it as I write. Well my cold is gone. Coincidence or bee medicine? You tell me.

Of course that does not fully explain the gap in posts. Actually, I was trying out this new Facebook thing. Posting to my page at http://www.facebook.com/CarmelLavenderFarm link. Nice, but I think I prefer the free form flow of the blog over the sound bite format of Facebook. Must everything be reduced to a two sentence sound bite? I mean seriously, how can any meaningful dialog happen like that!

Well, I am thankful today my cold is gone. I think this natural therapeutic qualities may be one of the reasons I've sold so much beeswax hand balm this past year. The honey and wax are gentle on the throat, and the balms sooth the hands. I love that you can make something so natural from these three simple locally produced ingredients: olive oil, wax, and lavender.

You can purchase this in my online shop if you wish at http://www.carmellavender.com/shoppe.htm

Today is the last day of my shop local campaign. Enter coupon shoplocalforholidays and get 10% off. Someone asked why the deadline of today? Well I have a new field to prep next year. Any purchases up to today I can plan on for my new field. After that, well, I'll have to wait another year... And so you! ;)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Foraging For Bees

Today was a busy bee day in Carmel Valley. Last night I was previewing the film 'Vanishing of the Bees' for a screening this weekend. Today, I had two calls to check swarms in Carmel Valley. With all of the problems bees have been experiencing, a two swarm day is a good bee day for sure.

In case you are wondering, a swarm is the way a colony reproduces itself. So lots of swarms mean lots of healthy expanding bee colonies. Usually swarms mean there will be two colonies where there was only one before. So... this is good. Really good.

Call #1

Look at that beautiful ball of bees on the eve of this log house. I feel it is a privledge to be able to climb a ladder and get your face 12 inches away. There is a beautiful scent when they swarm like this. A sweet scent. Absolutely amazing.

Call #2

Okay, this one is going to take some thinking. The bees landed on a branch high in a live oak tree. But the branch was dead. So it broke off, and the bees are all over the ground now. There was a primary swarm ball, which I was able to pick up and put into a box. But there are hundreds of bees dispersed on the ground.

After spending 30 minutes covering up the clumps with cardboard until they climbed on-board and then brushing them into a box, I had an idea! I got a bigger box, put the box with the primary swarm ball into it, and just wait for the bees to climb on-board. Here kitty... kitty...!

Success, look how they all just climbed into the box by themselves. Good bees. Here's a treat.

Finally, back at the farm in the evening, I set up the new hive boxes which are to bee their new home. The first swarm was mighty big. So this will be a strong hive. Assuming they don't all fly back to that log home eve. It is about 1.9 miles away, so just inside their flight zone. Let's see if they stay put. I put a large box of cane syrup on top to entice them to stay put. The second swarm was very small, maybe no more than 2000 bees. Time will tell.

But if they do fly off, at least they will be out here, in the serenity of Tassajara. Free to find a new home in a beautiful white oak.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Which is the bee?

In the bees I find a mirror.

Which is the bee? The individual or the colony? Watch them perform their tasks, there is no self. To separate the individual from the whole is death. Each bee bears the scent that defines the organism. The colony.

As with us.

I started farming with a vision of independence. But as with life, I learned the opposite. The Earth herself taught me that independence is pursuit for Ego. For perfect harmony, we must be tied to those around us, as well as to the Earth. That was clear with the first stroke of my shovel against the ground, when it bounced back at me laughing. My will too is strong, but I am nothing without the whole.

And yet, the closer I get to Mother Earth, the less familiar the scent I wear. Until it is unrecognizable. And the more comfortable I become with the scent, the further I am pulled from the Earth. Dissonant dilemma that is my condition.

I love to watch the bees. Each seem to possess a profound belonging. A wisdom.

One bee cannot change the colony. But a bee removed, and placed in a new colony, can change the bee. She takes a new scent. A new identity, and becomes a part of a new whole. But they must be protected during this process, or the others will destroy them.

Humans are not bees. In us, are belief and creed. Yet we must wear the scent of our colony. And if it is not in harmony with our self, we must live with the painful awareness of isolation.

A wish burns, to someday wear a scent in harmony with the individual self. With the Earth.

A bliss of true belonging as yet not found.

Thursday, December 30, 2010


This morning I got up at 7am to check if things dried out. It was 30 degrees, and all was frozen. All went much smoother today! So I got my ice-nine after all. And it didn't freeze the oceans!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Cat's Cradle

Got ice-nine?

I could have used some today. I was trying to get a three day irrigation project completed today, but the rain last night turned everything into a slurry.

Even the tracks on this baby were getting gummed up. I can see why the military in Kurt Vonnegut's novel wanted to find something to solidify the mud. If only it didn't freeze the oceans!

I tried trenching the cave-ins by hand, but the pea soup that used to be earth just stuck to the shovel and turned them into 50 lb weights on poles.

As if the hip deep mud weren't enough, I think it was the hail that finally caused me to call it a day. The rain was supposed to peter out by the afternoon. But it's after 2 and still raining sideways.

Sigh... Wish I didn't have anything to get DONE today!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

These last few weeks, Carmel Lavender has been working hard bringing more lavender to Carmel Valley.

Here in the photo is foreman Alfonso, Jose, Nick, Jay, Nico, Charlie, and Eliodoro standing in the new median field. In a couple of months the hundreds of plants will begin spiking lavender turning this avenue into a purple dream.

This field was prepped by ripping to a depth of 2 feet, which brought up a lot of the roots. And then disked. But each plant had to be hand placed. Drip irrigation lines were run down the rows subsequently. But lately irrigation has not been necessary. Mother nature has been taking care of that quite handily.