Did you know that the flowers on grapevines are self-pollinating? So why are there bees in the vineyard?
The flowers on my precious grape vines are self-pollinating: I learned that from Antonio Reyes Blake, who is an engineer/architect and, of all things, a beekeeper…go figure! Antonio is helping with the permits for my new cava (I am building a wine cave in the Valle de Guadalupe!) but I found out in our first meeting that his true passion is bees. We ended up talking about the fascinating world of these busy buzzers — how they safeguard the Queen at all costs. When they move to another location, her ‘ladies in waiting’ surround her to protect her and to clone her in case of her demise. If she makes it safely to the new destination, the others are suffocated. Only one Queen allowed! Upon learning I had bees in the vineyard, living in old wooden crates on the ranch where my wine cave is being constructed, Antonio suggested we visit them to see what was going on with them.
How did the bees come to be there? This rancho in Ensenada‘s wine valleywas purchased eight years ago (not by me but by another party). The original owner came to take away beehives that were on the property. This caused the remaining bees to establish a new residence in our old wooden picking crates. Upon learning that I didn’t need the bees to help me out with my winemaking, it seemed to be the right thing to do to find new homes for these important contributors to the environment. Antonio was ready to help. After first inspection of the crates, Antonio pulled out two ‘bee suits’ and gave one to me. I, bravely I thought, donned the suit and we headed off to the vineyards with a bucket of sponges and scrapers and, of course, the smoker.
The first thing Antonio did was to fill the smoker with pine needles and, after getting a perfumey waft going, he sprayed the smoke into the boxes to get the bees to move into another area of the box (their hive, now). The smoke doesn’t harm them but leads them to believe there is a forest fire. Result? They immediately eat as much honey as they can and then surround the Queen to protect her. When they are sufficiently distracted by the smoke, Antonio gently opens the crates and to my amazement there is an organized bee world happening within the honeycombs — a lot of honey and many, many bees clustered and focused on their job.
The honeycombs are gently removed and put into new frames and then inserted into the new house Antonio has constructed. Not only is he an architect of things like cavas, but he engineers bee houses! The honeycombs that contain the bulk of the honey were removed and set aside for me to take home and conquer. That would be the next day’s work (and I had no idea how disastrously messy it would be!), Antonio and I took our crate of honeycombs, removed our bee suits and headed back to the proverbial ranch . I immediately open a bottle of “Solo Tango,” my Zinfandel, and happily toasted to only being stung once.
Here’s to no more bees in the vineyard, but to bees being happy, and to self-pollinating grapevines! And here is to Antonio, as well…he is opening Mundo Abeja (World of Bees) in Ensenada, 646-135-3734, and there you will be able to find everything needed to set up beekeeping, should you so desire. He will also have honey to purchase and there is going to be a beehive behind a glass wall so you can see how they work;l On Sundays, children are invited to come and learn about bees, as well.
No more bees in the vineyard…time to get back to working on my wine!
Jo Ann Knox Martino, the American Woman who is a regular contributor to Baja.com, is a former film producer, now winemaker, living in Baja’s wine country. Stay posted to read her occasional blogs about an American woman-winemaker living in Baja.
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