This past April and May, I made the journey to the western coastal mountains in northern California to collaborate with a couple of beekeeping families to select and rear the queens we would need for this oregano project. Normally, I produce all my stock in state…but being that the bloom of monarda occurs prior to when I have my first batches of NM bees and queens ready, I decided to collaborate with some quality beekeepers that I’ve been working with for 5 years.
On April 4, 2017- I flew into San Francisco and got a rental car to drive up to the Santa Cruz mountains on the south Bay. I arrived at my Wingsofnaturebees.com home farm in Los Altos Hills, CA in pretty bad shape as I had just contracted the flu…or something very near it. Proprietor Aiden Wing and his family were quite good nurses and despite the inclement weather, Aiden and I were able to get a few grafts in off of select breeders which had originated in New Mexico. We grafted virgin queens from mother breeder survivor queens that I had sent him in previous years.
We conducted the grafts in his partner Audra’s super cool yurt on a drizzly day. While most beekeeping occurs during good weather, doing a graft, making splits, stocking mating nuclei and moving bees actually works well in inclement weather- to a certain degree. In cooler weather, the bees stay put so they tend to the developing grafts well.
I just so happened to teach a class in Gilroy, CA that following weekend so I left the developing queen cocoons in Aiden’s cell-builders to cure. A week and a half later, he moved them each into their own proper mating nucleus hive and we waited 3 more weeks before I returned to harvest them.
On May 6th, a month later, I drove to NorCal with my sister Kelly- who is a most excellent driving companion. It definitely helps that we are both not in gradeschool anymore. We jammed out to good tunes in the Enterprise cargo van I rented. We arrived at Wingsofnaturebees.com late Sunday night so we spent the night in the Struggle Mountain spare guest room (Aiden and his family live on what was once a commune started by Joan Baez, called Struggle Mountain).
On Monday, May 8th- we headed out to a new mating yard overlooking the hills and giving us a glimpse of the Santa Cruz to Half Moon Bay coastline. The catch wasn’t as well as Aiden or I had hoped but they had had a series of bad weather days which can adversely affect mating. But no worries- Aiden is a professional and he had some additional mated queens he had recently harvested in his queen “bank” which were also derived from ZQB-NM breeding stock.
I left Aiden’s on Tuesday with 33 mated queens in tow- and went to visit my French queen breeding friend Quentin Geant of BeeOpic who had recently relocated to Martinez- near Oakland, CA. I got to see his new base and he repackaged the queens for me as they were going to need more food before I could get them back to NM. That afternoon- we crossed the bay bridge and my sister and I stopped in to visit M.E.A. McNeil-Draper who is one of my writing muses. M.E.A. writes regularly for both The American Bee Journal and Bee Culture magazines. She interviewed me for a story on survivor stock breeding back in 2007 which helped to launch Zia Queenbees aspiring bee breeding efforts and projects. We left her with a jar of honey and a bottle of mead!
We then headed north, towards Sacramento for the night as I needed to stop in at Mann Lake, ltd Beekeeping Supply outlet in Woodside, CA before going to our final stop in Orland, CA to pick up 45- 3# packages of bees. While at Mann Lake the next morning, we loaded up beekeeping equipment for the oregano project- got new veils for Rob and co. and frames and packages for shipping live specimens for analysis. It took from 3pm til dinner time to get all that loaded. Then we headed to CanAm Apiaries- in Orland, CA where we spent the night with multi-generational beekeeper Brad Pankrantz’ family.
The next morning, we met them at the bee barn and they Brad and his dad Leonard loaded the packages into the back of the rental van. They stapled and strapped it down just right- and wished me and my sister luck on our journey back to NM. After stopping only briefly to buy some local olives- yum!!!, we then headed into the night through the Mojave desert to avoid high daytime temps. I stopped a few times for fuel and bought a few bags of ice along the way to place on top of the racks of bee packages to keep them cool. Which worked well!!!
Again, my sister and I jammed out to all kinds of music on the way home to NM. Though I was very tired when I got back, I was able, with my farm partner Mark Spitzig’s help to unload the bees and get them situated for the night. The next day- which is now Saturday May 13th- the day before Mother’s Day, we had a few folks come to pick up the extras and we moved the rest into new transport boxes with feeders and gave them a round of feed (sugar syrup made with nonGMO, unbleached raw sugar – brand name Zulka) to revive them from their travels.
Then early in the week of May 15th, Mark and I delivered the bees to NMSU-Alcalde. Rob had awesomely prepared their new boxes already and so together we three tranferred them from their transport boxes into their new woodenware. Rob fed them 3 times and voila- we had 10/12 establish well.
I will upload pictures early this coming week! Lots of field wordk so computer time is midnight oil burning hours 😉