About a month ago, I moved to a rural area, horse country. Neighbors on both sides have horses. I've got 7 hives near an arroyo at the edge of our property. Because of several things--moving house, breaking my toe, and being scared by a systemic reaction to stings--I hadn't done very well at swarm prevention with my two established hives, and I know that they both swarmed, because I found queen cells in both and caught two swarms. I know that it was irresponsible of me not to manage them better, but I could hardly walk, was trying to get things hauled from one house to the other, and was scared of having another sting reaction. I'd figured if they were going to swarm, a rural area was the best place to do it.
One of my horse-keeping neighbors was riding about a quarter mile from my place, a few weeks ago, and encountered a swarm in the air. She assumed that the bees would move around her, so she kept riding forward--at a walk--and crossed paths with the bees. A number of bees momentarily alighted on the horse's head and then reoriented and kept flying.
At the time, she thought she'd be killed, but the horse didn't really react, and soon the bees were gone.
She approached me wanting assurance that such a thing would never happen again, and seemed to suspect that these had been my bees. Perhaps they were--I don't know how many swarms those hives put out before I finally got both hives organized. But the swarm was moving toward my place, not away from it--I'm not sure what to make of that. Maybe they had come from someone else's hive, or maybe they'd come from mine and then made several moves before they found a home, but that seems unlikely.
So I explained to her what swarming is about, and that swarming bees aren't agressive and won't pursue, and that they can't really steer around a horse's head or some other moving object. So now she knows (if she encounters another swarm) not to keep riding toward it. Part of her fear had come out of her assumption that there might be belligerent roving swarms perpetually looking for horses to run into. So the lesson in basic bee biology helped her feel more safe, but the whole episode made me wonder whether--beyond practicing responsible swarm prevention in future seasons--I need to have any special concern about keeping bees in horse country.
Again, I don't know that this swarm was mine, but I do know that I wasn't as thorough as I should have been in preventing swarming. My question is whether any really bad horse/bee interactions are likely. For example, many people ride their horses up the arroyo which borders my property. Those horses are passing maybe 30 feet from my hives. The concern is that a horse or rider could get stung, and as a result a rider could get thrown, or a horse injured.
I'd figured it was fine, since I'd kept the same bees in the city very close to people without incident. But now I wonder. I don't believe I'd have any legal liability, but I'd really hate for anyone to get hurt. And my neighbor emphasized how valuable some of these horses are.
Any thoughts? I'd especially like to hear from those of you who are both horse people and beekeepers.
(As I think more about it, it seems quite reckless to continue riding toward a swarm of bees, rather than waiting for them to pass. I don't think many riders would do that, keep going. But again, she seems to have thought they'd wait for her to pass.)
dmcdonald, My bees are in the remnants of a horse stall with roof and plywood back wall with open front and sides with the horses just on the other side of the plywood. We ride past them, the bees, when we ride around the place, have not had a problem. If you think you might have a problem you might put a barrier in front of the hive so the bees have to develope altitude away from the horses. Good luck being a Bee Cowboy.
And come on, what are the chances that a swarm encountered 1/4 mile away from your bees were actually YOUR bees. Even before I kept bees here, there were bees foraging in the area, I have seen them plenty of times. As far as I know, and I have looked and done the research, I am the only beekeeper within a 6 mile radius.
My horses can, and do, graze within two feet of my hives. But they can also run to the other end of a 2 acre pasture. Not a lot of room but enough to get away from the bees.
My horses eat right up to the fence around the hives, but if the electricity goes off the electric fence then they knock over all the hives.
It's been hard on the bees when they do that, but the horses have never had a problem.
BTW I don't know why everyone feels that a swarm is a sign of failure. It's nice to keep your bees from swarming when you can, but if you have booming sucessful hives, you will have some swarms. It's part of beekeeping.
Are you in an Africanized area?
No, no Africanized bees here.
You know how horses use their tails to get rid of annoying insects? I suppose a bee COULD take offense. A barrier of bushes or a plywood fense might not be a bad idea.
"No, no Africanized bees here."
Now, tell the truth. There are Africanized bees in Santa Fe, but they just behave a little differently. Once they arrived in the City Different, they quickly became absorbed into the Santa Fe way of living. They became completely docile, and now spend their days on the plaza watching the touristas. They live in little pueblo-style adobe hives with ladders leading from one level to the next. In the fall, after the harvest, they build tiny little Zozobras out of wax and set them on fire during Fiesta. They produce both red and green honey which is for sale at the Palace of the Governors. Many evenings you can find the colony ensconced in their boxes at the opera.
"Well, it depends..."
You're right that my bees do the things you mention--they're especially avid opera fans, and the hives are indeed built of adobe--but I still deny they're Africanized. For one thing, they claim to have come over with the Conquistadors.
I've actually had trouble marketing the red and green honey. Except to a few restaurants, which use it on sopapillas.
I should add that with the rise in the housing market here, the value of my adobe hives (without the bees, of course) is approaching $300K each, even though the square-footage is minimal. I'm thinking about quitting beekeeping and just selling the hives to real estate investors. They've got all the architectural details people want these days--vigas, kiva fireplace, saltillo floors, coyote fencing. Since you're fairly local, let me know if you'd like to stop by and make an offer. You'll have to be extremely small to live comfortably in them, but with a little remodelling they might work for you.
[This message has been edited by dmcdonald (edited June 01, 2004).]