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!
Some 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...
On 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.
Well, 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