Bees buzz while vegetables snore

Late last year Stew and Félix checked our beehives and were alarmed. One hive was doing great, a second not so well and the third was totally kaput. A few weeks ago they checked again and found two hives buzzing with bees making honey, but the third was still empty.

So last week we took off for Aguascalientes, a state about three hours away from the ranch, to buy a “nucleus” of bees (several hundred, or perhaps thousands of bees) plus one queen bee to repopulate the inactive hive. 

The trip was brief but stunning. The capital of Aguascalientes is a beautiful, thriving town, worth far more than the thirty-six hours of our flash visit, plus we got to visit the facilities of a state-of-the-art supplier of apiculture supplies, including live bees. 

“Aguascalientes,” by the way, means Hot Springs, though we didn’t devote enough time to find out the origin of the name.

Have bees, will travel: Interior of a mobile honey-processing
rig, all in stainless steel and reminiscent of a Airstream trailer.
The unit is self sufficient (except for the truck to tow it): it
has its own electric generator and air-conditioning system. All
of it made in Mexico, one of the sales people proudly pointed out.  

How do you buy a thousand bees, maybe more, a queen bee and bring them all home in a car? Excellent question, one that I pondered on the way to Aguascalientes.

You start by cleaning out the “brood chamber” of your hive. The chamber is a wooden box containing ten removable frames, each with a pressed wax sheet with the familiar hexagonal pattern one associates with bee hives. Plus a lid. (Check out illustration below)

At the bee supplier they replace your empty frames (all beehive components are standard size) with theirs which are teeming with live bees, plus a queen. They replace the lid on the brooding chamber and—presumably—seal it tight so the bees don’t escape and begin buzzing around your head while you’re driving home.

A beekeeper loading new frames full of bees
into the brooding chamber
we brought to Aguascalientes. 

Presumably, I say, because during the three-hour drive home a couple dozen bees got out, forcing us to make a couple of unscheduled stops to shoo them out of the car. We finally put a piece of fabric over the traveling brooding chamber.

But there were no human fatalities or injuries and the new bees are now residing happily, or so it seems, in our third beehive.

Until the hive gets established Félix and Stew have to feed it a half-and-half solution of sugar water daily, using a special plastic feeder.

Unless something goes seriously awry, we expect a bumper crop of honey—fifteen gallons or so—like the one we had two years ago.

Stew spent quite a few pesos at the bee supplier buying fancy gizmos to make the extraction easier. Such investments are sure to push our honey operation finances further down into a bottomless pit of red ink from which it will surely never recover. Remember that Félix keeps any income from the honey business.

Call it an expensive hobby, or a Félix subsidy.

Our vegetable operation on the other is barely alive. We planted dozens of seeds (lettuce, tomatoes, radishes and other greens) and except for a few veteran heads of lettuce and Swiss chard, and two tomato plants we received a friend, the beds are barren and we don’t know exactly what went wrong.

It could be we started too early, when the ground was too cold to support germination. Or the seeds were too old. Or overnight temperatures cooler than the seeds could tolerate. Or the most promising  answer at the moment: Who knows?

We replanted the beds and also ordered a new batch of seeds from Johnny’s Seeds. This time I avoided the age-old gardening error of being swept away by all the glossy pictures of ideal vegetables, and ordering more seeds than we could possibly use.

This problem is equivalent to grocery shopping on a full head and an empty stomach, and getting home to find you bought a kilo of radicchio and a chunk of wormy Croatian cheese for an exotic Alice Waters creation you’re never going to make.

We’ve adjusted the timer and rechecked the drip irrigation hoses, and replanted the old seeds plus some new ones we bought locally. If those don’t work, Johnny’s seeds are on the way.

Now comes what has to be the worst aspect of gardening—waiting. For the seeds to germinate. For rain, because no amount of artificial irrigation can compete with a good rain. And to find out if, for once, the myriad  insects, rabbits and other vegetarian critters lurking nearby will give us a break this year. 

2 thoughts on “Bees buzz while vegetables snore

  1. Anonymous

    Guys, I don't know what your history of gardening is, but I'm reasonably seasoned, and have my small pot garden netted here. The tomatoes I raised from seed are now thriving; astonishingly 2 green pepper plants that I had to salvage from bugs, put in the house over the winter, now in their second year are producing peppers. I'm waiting for money to have a smallish greenhouse or net greenhouse frame. There's no way I wouldn't have lost everything if I hadn't. There is a dead lizard in the net already; last year I had to delicately extricated a bird (it lived), the mapuche died; the grasshoppers are already on their way. Rancho Trinidad obviously doesn't net their farm, but there's a lot there, and I think they lose a lot too. The Mexicans I know lost all the beans in their fields last year to the grasshoppers. I'm at a loss as to how you can garden here without protection. I couldn't in Colorado either…the bears….


  2. Anonymous

    When I read your blog I am aware of the reality that there are no generalizations that ring true in Mexico. Out where I live, the animals are all pretty well cared for, although some of the dogs are a bit thin. My neighbors let me have their dogs neutered. One self important gringo,driving too fast down a country lane, killed a family's herding dog. They went to him for repayment and he denied hitting it, even though we all knew he did it and was lying. It's always interesting to live in the country. I grew up on a farm in Illinois and also lived in the country in Colorado. I see the same stock rustling and bad behavior here that I saw there. I am happy to say, there are far fewer guns here and it's not as frightening from that standpoint.


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