Early in April, a dramatic example of the biodiversity of Frey Vineyards played out in my front yard. A bear paid a nocturnal visit to the beehives that are 20 yards from my house. Three of my four hives were knocked off their stands, opened up, and scattered in all directions. Everything you learned about bears and honey from Winnie the Pooh is true. But this bear not only devoured all the honey, he or she feasted on the unhatched bee brood, as well.
I was shocked at the devastation and also puzzled that it happened now, after 4 years of successful beekeeping in this location. Then I realized that my 16-year-old border collie, Chester, who died in December and neighbor Tamara Frey’s old dog, Madrona, who died last month had not only been good dogs, but were also apparently maintaining a bear-free zone around our houses. Googling the California black bear, I learned that bears are diurnal, but will adjust their schedules to the challenges of their surroundings: in this case, foraging at night to avoid the humans. (Note on the California State Flag above: it depicts a grizzly bear, which no longer roams the state. But its smaller cousin, the black bear, still thrives.)
Back at the scene of the crime, my son Johnny and I scooped up pathetic clusters of stranded bees and patched the hives together. A few days later, our new intern, Keith Gelber, who has had the privilege to work with the famous Biodynamic beekeeper, Gunther Hauk, showed me how to cut out sections of comb with newly laid eggs and unhatched brood from an undisturbed hive. We rubber-banded them onto frames and placed them in the bear-attacked hive. We also combined two colonies into one. Now, a few weeks later, one of the colonies is alive and well. The clever bees transformed a newly laid egg into a queen. If all goes as nature intends, she will soon hatch and fly off for her virgin mating flight. She’ll return well fertilized from the neighborhood drones and begin her egg-laying career -- laying an astonishing 1500 eggs per day.
The other hive gave up the ghost. Their population was probably too decimated to carry out all the tasks necessary for colony survival. I guess it’s time to get another dog.