Bees in the Vineyard

Two photos taken by DCV co-owner Adam Forni on Earth Day 2020 – showing a swarm of bees on a vine at our Old Stake 1901 Vineyard and beehives next to the barn at our Dancing Crow Sauvignon Blank vineyard.

What is the role of bees in a vineyard when grapes are self-pollinating?

Thanks to Keith Brandt, part of the team at Bella Vista Farming Company who take great care of our vineyards, for helping answer our questions.

“Yes, grapes are pollinated by wind – so in a sense self-pollinating – but the bees are good to have around because they pollinate many of the cover crops (such as mustards) and native plants used in and around vineyards. They’re definitely great partners in the sustainable farming practices, which we use for all of Dancing Crow’s vineyards. During their natural foraging, the bees also visit the vines when they flower, no doubt helping with some additional cross pollination and they are also an asset to the neighboring pear orchards, for which Lake County is justly famous.

The swarm on the vine at Old Stake is in transit. Hive colonies do separate and a portion will swarm in search of a new home.  The swarm will typically rest in a location such as this for 1-2 days and then move on. We have had 4 such swarms in the redwood tree outside our offices over the past 4-5 weeks. The beekeeper, who placed the hives at Dancing Crow vineyard, has come and collected all 4 swarms – which were given a new hive to set up home in, along with food and water. Happy bees….indeed.

Of course, at Dancing Crow vineyard we also have barn owls residing in the owl box placed there to attract them – another common practice in sustainable farming. Some have voiced concern about bees taking over these nesting boxes. However wild bee swarms are the usual culprit in such cases – likely “africanized’ colonies – which can be very aggressive and opportunistic. This type behavior is not normally observed here in N. California as the “africanized’ colonies have not yet moved this far north due to the differences in climate. By contrast, the typical honeybee is usually quite docile and not prone to aggressive activity.

The hives, which have been placed at Dancing Crow, are “starter” hives – set up with food and water and not every hive has a resident colony yet. The empty hives are to encourage swarming colonies to set up housekeeping (as discussed above with the swarm at Old Stake). With the starter hives in place there is little-to-no incentive for a swarm to want to set up house in an owl box.

The thought here is – why live in a drafty barn (owl box) and have to build your own housing when you can have a beautiful new “condo” (hive) with food and water already provided? In conclusion – we believe co-existence between bees and owls will be the order of the day at Dancing Crow vineyards.”

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