What’s the most unusual hobby you can think of in Las Cruces? How about bee rescuer?
Long-time Las Cruces Potters Guild member Jan Archey and her husband, James, work with Dr. Chris Cramer, a professor in New Mexico State University’s Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, and his wife, Krista Michael, to rescue bees.
“We have been doing bee rescues since 2014,” Cramer said, including a total of 65 rescue attempts. That includes working with the NMSU Grounds Department to rescue bees found on campus. All the rescues are European honeybees (Apis mellifera), he said.
“It takes three or four people to gently vacuum up the bees into a travel box that can be placed on top of an empty hive box,” Archey said. “The hope is the bees will take up residence in the hive and will thrive and can be used for Dr. Cramer’s onion-breeding program. The bees are necessary to pollinate the onion blooms to develop new onion varieties.”
“It takes some time for the bees to adjust to their new home,” Cramer said. “If they stay, the bees will build comb, produce honey and hopefully, if the queen is present, produce the next generation of bees in the hive. We keep the bees at our home or at the homes of other individuals, like the Archeys, until the bees are needed for pollination. Pollination of onion flowers occurs during May. The hives are taken to the Fabian Garcia Science Center where our onions are located. The bees remain there for a month during the pollination season.”
“This past year, we had six hives that we used for pollination,” Cramer said. “As a comparison, our onion breeding program had to rent 55 additional hives from a local beekeeper for the rest of our pollination needs.”
Archey said water-meter boxes and irrigation-valve boxes are two popular bee rescue sites, “because no ladders are involved.”
“Sadly, bees will take up residence in the canales (decorative drains that stick out from the roof on adobe-style architecture) of homes or in a wall and are difficult to successfully rescue,” she said. “Because the group rescues bees that are swarming and trying to find a new place to build a hive, very seldom will they find honey. The best thing to find is good honeycomb and brood (the eggs, larvae and pupae of honeybees). These pieces of honeycomb and brood are put into the empty hive with the hope that the bees find it familiar and they will stay in the hive.”
“Often times, you remember the bee rescues that do not go well rather than those rescues that are fairly straightforward,” Cramer said.
He remembers one rescue, involving the Archeys, that involved taking bees from the roof of an NMSU building. “The rescue was quite precarious as the bees were located in a wall at the outside corner of the roof,” Cramer said.
Jan had one bee get into her bonnet “and her lip swelled like Marge Simpson,” she said. “The others have also been stung on occasion, but most bee recoveries are calm.”
Archey said she and James enjoy bee-rescue outings, “and pollination is essential to the work Dr. Cramer is doing. We would much rather try to rescue bee swarms than have people spray them.”
Bees “are very helpful for our breeding program,” he said. “Sometimes they are considered a nuisance, but they are very beneficial. Honeybees are extremely important for their pollination. Much of the food that we eat would not be possible without pollinations. Honeybees are used extensively for seed production.”