Thought Beesource readers would enjoy this story… I travel to the highlands of Ecuador near Quito a few times a year to teach. Early on I noticed honeybees on blooms in the town where we stay and eventually located a hive located in the head of the Statue of Michael that overlooks the city at an elevation of 10,000 feet or more. My friend (from an indigenous people group) there got interested and decided that he wanted to start keeping bees. I was really curious about how the bees would do in a climate where the daily highs rarely reach more than 65 degrees but there are always blooms. I was surprised when I arrived one season and he had purchased all the equipment he needed to get started besides a smoker and suit. This past may he got word to me that he had found a swarm in a cornfield, successfully boxed it and walked more than fifteen miles to his home where he hived the swarm. The bees stayed and went to work so when I was traveling down in July I threw in two bee suits and a smoker with plans to show him how to do a hive inspection.
I was a bit apprehensive when the day came to do hive inspections knowing that these bees were undoubtedly Africanized and I had space for a jacket and not a complete suit. After a good deal of effort we got decent smoke (You should try to start a fire at 10,000 feet) and began prepping the hive. The bees shocked me being as gentle as any among my 100 plus hives although there were only 4 frames or so of bees and brood to go with a nearly black queen. They only had a small bit of honey that had the aroma of a type of soybean that they grow in the highlands.
We travelled back down a couple of weeks ago anticipating the opportunity of checking progress of the have and potentially harvesting some honey. When I saw the activity at the entrance of the hive I knew the bees were dramatically stronger than they had been in August and I knew better than to trust them. I smoked them thoroughly and popped the lid. I was encouraged to see all the frames in the supper completely drawn and capped and was more encouraged that it wasn’t boiling over with bees. As I began lifting frames the bees got hotter. The more frames I pulled the hotter they got. Smoke didn’t seem slow them down too much and then the smoker died. I would have been fine except that bees started penetrating my jacket and were entering my hat. At that point I pulled the rest of the frames shaking the bees off each one and stacking them on a piece of cloth. I quickly wrapped up the cloth and took off for the woods. Those bees were chasing folks who were standing 35 or 40 yards away. Thankfully the hive didn’t have near the population our hives do during a nectar flow.
You have never seen anyone prouder of a honey harvest than my friend was as we cut the comb and squeezed the slightly eucalyptus flavored honey from the wax. Seeing his excitement made wading into a hive of Africanized bees worth the pain. Faring better than I did, my friend is ready to expand his beeyard and I suppose my next trip I will teach him how to make walk away splits. I will also make sure that I have lots more dry fodder for the smoker and a tighter bees suit.
I know there are some people around here that keep bees over 8000 ft, and I would be surprised if there are not several over 10,000.
Getting a fire going at altitude is tougher than at sealevel. Around here pine needels work well for starting fires, but I suspect you do not have that easily available in Bolivia. Dry newspaper also burns well, but it does not burn for very long.
Any time I am cooking in the mountains with charcoal in a dutch oven I have to add extra briquets due to the lack of air. The charcoal keeps going, but it does not burn as hot.