Local beekeeper Leandra Hale tackles high elevation bee research
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Honey bees are such a ubiquitous part of life for many Californians. So, people might not think twice seeing them around the Lake Tahoe Basin.
However, Lake Tahoe is a harsh environment for the bees, with the short pollination season and the cold winters.
How did they get to Lake Tahoe? Are they overwintering in the Basin? If so, how and where? These are mysteries that bee research Leandra Hale is trying to answer, through her research at UC Davis.
Hale first became interested in bees in 2019 and opened her apiary in 2020 in Fiddletown, Calif.
“I originally became interested in bees for the fun of keeping bees,” said Hale.
As her interest grew, she joined the board of the El Dorado County Beekeepers Association.
In 2023, she took up studying the bees more in-depth through the California Master Beekeeper Program through UC Davis.
Her area of focus is high-elevation bees. Honey bees typically live at 2,500 feet down to sea level.
The average honey bee can travel about five miles.
“If these bees were to be migrating to this area, it’d be quite a trek for them,” said Hale.
While she’s known beekeepers who have successfully overwintered bees in the Basin, she does not know if those bees have come from other hives or have started a migration from lower elevations.
Overwintering is when bees form a cluster to keep their brood and queen at above 92 degrees by continually flapping their wings. To overwinter, they need a lot of resources. Hale said in the bees’ normal climate during winter, they need about 60 lbs of honey to overwinter.
“Up here, in the Basin, the floral supply will cut off pretty early so the bees can’t collect nectar, they can’t collect pollen,” said Hale.
Under the mentorship of D.W. Schwartz, Hale has learned about humanely removing bees. She’s rescuing those bees and bringing them to her apiary.
During the removal process and when she brings them to her apiary she is documenting their genetics and size of the colonies and their level of stored resources.
She is also testing them for varroa mites to record their infestation rate and to get a better understanding of if they are survival stock that can successfully overwinter with varroa mites without treatment or human intervention.
“This research is important to see what is happening with the change of our pollinators, to see their ability to overwinter,” said Hale. “For research, to know if they’re up here in the Basin is really just to know.”
Hale is asking community members to reach out to her with information on if they’ve seen bees on their property, if they are building homes in the walls, at what point in the season they’re seeing them, and if they are overwintering.
People can reach out regarding honeybee interactions at BeezelmyKneezel on Instagram or Beezelmykneezel@yahoo.com.
In addition to studying the bees, Hale uses her apiary to sell honey through her business BeezelmyKneezel or her store, The Buttermuffin.
She is sold out of honey for the 2023 season but will have spring honey available 2024 at http://www.beezelmykneezel.com as well as at The Buttermuffin.
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