Today I visited several of the colonies that are living in Bee Tree Hives in my high mountain valley.
I live in a valley that is 80 miles long and ranges from 10,000' in elevation up at the headwaters of the Arkansas River, down to 6,500' in elevation where the Arkansas enters the canyon. This valley is classified as high mountain desert because, among other factors, we receive less than 10" of precipitation annually. (Of course, the surrounding mountain ranges get much more.)
I found some of the colonies I visited today to be more defensive than usual. And I consider that a good sign! In fact, I love to see that.
Over the past decades, commercial honey bee breeders, in their continued efforts to make beekeeping as convenient for the beekeeper as possible, have been attempting to breed defensive behavior out of honey bees so that they are more docile and easy to work with. But, as the earth and its creatures keep showing us, there are always unintended consequences when we try to "improve" upon nature.
I have read several articles lately in which the question is being raised, "By attempting to breed defensive behavior out of honey bees, have we inadvertently been breeding other behaviors out of them that are necessary for their long-term survival and vitality?" In other words, are gentler bees also less hardy bees? Some recent studies seem to be bearing this out.
Interesting. And, for someone with my worldview, not at all surprising.
But, back to the colonies I monitor in my valley. Why were they more defensive today? My best guess is that it is a response to the weather that we are having. Although we live in a region that is classified as high mountain desert, we are entering that period in the summer when we get some isolated afternoon showers; and this after several weeks of no measurable precipitation. So, the colonies - that are now in preparing-for-winter-mode (remember that we're past the summer solstice, and long past the window of opportunity for reproduction through swarming) - are realizing an opportunity for improving their odds of surviving this coming winter by taking advantage of the slight increase in nectar flow that these isolated afternoon showers are producing. My surmise is that their current defensive behavior is an urgent response to the opportunity to store more honey.
This seems to be borne out by the fact that I am seeing far fewer bees returning to the hive with pollen. Thus, the foragers are most likely focusing on nectar.
Do I know that this is, in fact, the case? Of course not.
I love this quote:
“The only time I ever believed that I knew all there was to know about beekeeping was the first year I was keeping them. Every year since I’ve known less and less…”
A Book of Bees, Sue Hubbell
Even so, I am constantly studying the bees to see what they might teach me. The bees know best what's best for the bees. We need to let the bees teach us.