Updated: Oct 12, 2020
In this buzzing interview, Captain John Shannon answers all the questions you've had about the Galisteo Bee Sanctuary and its busiest residents.
Tessa: How long has the bee sanctuary been in Galisteo?
John Shannon: The bee sanctuary as the “Bee Sanctuary” is really in its second year now. The idea started last year and we started with one hive, and we added another two because we caught a feral swarm of bees.
It was quite an experience, we were very lucky. We had one swarm land in a tree right behind our hive so we were able to get them very easily. And then what happened was our hive actually swarmed and we caught that and made a third hive with it. So we were very fortunate. So we sort of had an outer organic expansion of our existing bee stock.
T: Okay, I wasn't aware that there were feral bees roaming around Galisteo!
J: Oh yeah, absolutely. They're out there. But this year has been very different, it hasn’t been conducive to hives swarming. So we didn't see any this year, which you know, was a little disappointing. Because we would have loved to have caught some new ones, but no luck. But we're in our second year.
T: That's very cool to hear, unfortunate you couldn’t get any new ones this year though. So my second question for you is what was your inspiration for starting the sanctuary?
J: Oh, well, a couple of things. One, we have the hive right here on the property I live on, which is Denise Lynch's quarter mill farm, and I actually rent a piece of the property from her. So there was a beehive on the property I'm renting. This hive has been in Galisteo somewhere since 2007. So these bees, these are long time Galisteo residents. And so the motivation was we have the hive, we are really cognizant of how important pollinators are in regard to everything that we do. It's very important for food production in particular and with the die offs that we've been seeing of bee colonies, primarily due to the use of pesticides in everything, we decided to create an area where bees could thrive. And since we knew this hive had done really well in Galisteo, and we're right by Galisteo Creek, and we have an orchard on the property, there's an orchard across the street, there's an orchard up the hill, so the bees have plenty of pollen and opportunities to get pollen and water. We just said, okay, let's set up here and cultivate this spot for them. Let's make this their little sanctuary.
T: That sounds awesome. It sounds like the perfect place for it, which I'd imagine, knowing Galisteo.
J: Galisteo is good. It is. It's good for bees and I've certainly talked to other Galisteo residents about putting hives on their property, which it seems people are interested in and it’s something that we're gonna help folks do. It's nice that I have the honey that I do, but it's really good that other people are going to do this, not just for the honey, but for the pollinators themselves.
T: Yeah, it's amazing. Especially as you're mentioning with the bee population decline going on right now. Do you know approximately how many bees you have? Is there any way to track that?
J: So we right now, we're at one hive. Two of the hives, basically were abandoned. What I think actually happened was they ended up going over to our main hive, which is now a double stack hive. So it's essentially like two and a half hives itself. In that hive, I don't know, it's a large, large amount. An average hive can have anywhere from 10,000 to 60,000 bees in it, this one probably has more than that, and it's probably more than 60,000, probably more like a hundred thousand.
T: Oh, my goodness, that's a lot of bees!
J: Well, it's certainly 60,000, and the queen in this hive is very active. We just checked her yesterday, she's laying around 2,000 eggs a day. It's going to start slowing down a little bit as we get into the into the winter and they're putting up honey and they're getting their larva set for their winter. It's not really a hibernation, but they've definitely slowed down during the winter.
T: That makes sense. Lots of the plants are frosting over, so there's probably less food for them.
J: Yeah. Now one of the interesting things about the winter is that there are bees called heater bees that specifically are used within the hive to keep the hive and the rest of their hive mates warm. So they’ve adapted really well to being on Earth.
T: That's very interesting. I've never heard about that.
J: I mean, they're amazing. They're amazing little creatures.
T: What's your favorite part about working with these bees?
J: I think, initially people go, “Oh man, the honey, right,” and that's certainly a nice benefit, but just being able to have that connection with nature and that we're working together for a common cause. You could probably make the excuse that I've got these bees doing slave labor for me and they're producing honey and I take their honey, but the fact is, they produce more than enough honey for themselves with plenty leftover, and in the meantime, we provide them a nice place to live and they're going out and pollinating our orchards, for example. So I think just being part of that whole cycle is probably the best part of it, to know that what we're doing here is actually having a much greater impact than just taking honey from bees.
T: Yeah, absolutely. I was going to ask if you've noticed, locally, any changes in Galisteo since you're supporting such a large bee population there. And I know that there are a lot of orchards, as you mentioned, and some agriculture that some people are participating in there.
J: I wouldn't say so.I haven't really noticed anything different agriculturally, and there are a couple other people in town that I think have hives. But even so, the bees I have will travel up to two miles to pollinate, and with a significant army as big as that hive they get a lot of work done here locally. So I think what's happened in the background is they've been a consistent presence here. It's hard to say because last year we had so much fruit on all the trees everywhere, I'd love to say it’s because of my bees, but it really had to do with the fact that we had a favorable weather system last year, as opposed to this year where we had an early frost that pretty much killed off a lot of the blossoms. So that had an impact on how much fruit that we have on trees locally right now. Last year was outrageous in terms of how much fruit there was. And this year it's just sort of like, “Oh, I guess the trees are taking a rest.” So in terms of what the bees are doing, I think they've just been consistent in making their contribution this whole time, so I wouldn't say there's anything radically different.
What's radically different is we're paying attention to their needs, as opposed to, “Hey, there's a bee hive and we get honey out of it, who cares, how they make it.” They're there definitely hitting all the fruit trees. They're definitely hitting the Chamisa when it comes out. They're definitely getting the Juniper when it's out. So not only are they making really wonderful honey, they're pollinating all these trees. They're making great honey. And that honey is really good for anybody who lives here locally and has allergies, for example. It's really good, unique, honey. And I say it's unique, this honey has a very distinct flavor that I haven't found in any other honey. It's almost like a cinnamon aftertaste to it, which I haven't quite figured out what's doing that. But just the really wonderful combination of the fruit trees and the desert plant life here has created something that is truly wonderful.
T: Absolutely, the honey is amazing! I had it when I was in Galisteo visiting my parents last month. That's when I heard about this because they had a bunch of your honey and they actually got a bunch to send for gifts for Christmas and the holidays because it’s so delicious.
J: Smart move!
T: Is the honey pretty popular around Galisteo? I would imagine it would be.
J: We sold out in 30 minutes after making an announcement, so I'd say it's pretty dang popular. And then I made a waiting list after that. So yeah, it's very, very popular. Now, this honey has also made it all the way to the East coast, because I've sent some to my family out there and sent some to friends, it's gone as far north as Montana. And an earlier iteration of this hive had honey go to Greece where it won a taste contest on a Greek Island. That was some years ago, actually before I was caring for these bees, but it's the same hive. And this is, you know, Greece! They all have wonderful beekeepers, and the previous caretaker brought it over there and basically everyone said, “Yeah, this is the best tasting honey.” In Greece!
T: Wow, that is pretty impressive.
J: It was very different. Very gratifying to know that. And it's been consistent. These guys have been here for a long, long time and we're fortunate because not all hives survive that long. But these guys have really hung in there and they're a very strong hive.
T: It sounds like they're in the perfect location, too.
J: They're in a great location. And like I said, it's really a double stacked hive system. So it's like two really strong hives at the moment. At our high point last year, we had six hives going, and we were working with a guy in Santa Fe who had bees that he was cultivating in the city. We brought those out here to the country for a little while, and then he took his back. And then these two just sort of abandoned their hives and ended up going to the stronger hive. Right before we double stacked it, we saw that we were really having an enormous amount of bees in the regular hives. So we stacked it and then they filled in very, very quickly. It’s like they said, “Hey, these guys know what they're doing, we're going to go work with them.” Sometimes bees will come from another hive and they'll just get killed if they go into an unfamiliar hive, especially if they go in mass, it'd be like a little war. But they made their way over. I'm pretty sure because our numbers just went crazy in terms of those hives and the production has just been off the scale.They've really been busy bees.
T: I love that. Well, that is all incredibly interesting information, I have learned a lot in this interview. Is there anything that we haven't covered that you would like me to include about the bee sanctuary?
J: Just that we really are interested in making sure that pollinators have a safe environment to operate because they're so important to the human life cycle in many, many ways. I encourage people to keep bees, if they need help doing that, I'm happy to talk to them about what they can do, what they can plant. Lots of flowers, anything they plant that blooms is something that these bees are gonna want to take part in helping them with.
But yeah, we're here to support the pollinators as much as to provide what is very uniquely Galisteo honey. It's been definitely recognized as something unique in terms of a flavor, and for those of us that live right here, it's probably a good medicine too. We're part of this whole cycle together and that's one of the most enjoyable parts of beekeeping. Oh, and eat honey!
More questions? Want some honey? Contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org