Wilding in Vineyards with the Apis Arborea TreeNest

While discussing their Regenerative Farming practices at their American Canyon Vineyard at Grgich Hills Estate, Luke and Ivo Jeramaz showed us the most interesting bee hive. It was cylinder tree log, covered with bark, and located a dozen feet above our head. This TreeNest was designed by the  nonprofit organization Apis Arborea in order to promote wild honeybee populations. Seeing the hive immediately raised two insights. (1)  Yes, wild bees do exist and (2) the TreeNest seemed so nature – as opposed to the boxed nature of commercial bee hives. 

While showing us the TreeNest, Luke described how the bees assist in the general bio-diversity of the American Canyon Vineyard and the surrounding land. The bees can forage up to 8,000 acres assisting in cover crop pollination and as stewards of the landscape, Grgich Hills has a responsibility to make it as natural as possible. 

He also introduced me to Michael Thiele, Founder and President of Apis Arborea.  During our call, Mr. Thiele described the history, challenges and ecological impacts of contemporary beekeeping and why he founded Apis Arborea — to shift the focus from thinking in terms of commodities (Apis Mellifera) to that of their natural, historical habitat in trees. — preserving the life and resiliency of honeybees through wilding.

During our exchange, I learned that the modern techniques of beekeeping are modern conventions that force the bees to utilize un-natural processes. In the distant past, beekeepers used egg shape hives or woven skeps — mimicking how bees nest in nature. However, the “bee box” method employed almost universally today stresses the bees. First according to Thiele, “thermodynamics shows that the walls are too thin to protect the bees”. Second, the combs implanted into the wooden frames are artificially sized to maximize output and are not the same size as combs that bees create naturally in the wild. Third, bees prefer to live high in trees — away from predators; in smaller homes with smaller entrances.   And finally, commercial bee colonies are much more prone to long term extinction by disease as bees from neighboring hives mix easily within the colonies. On the other hand wild hives are much more likely to bounce back after a disease crisis. 

Thus Thiele sees wilding and TreeNests as a more ethical choice and allows bees to create a “self-willed ecological process”. And he sees vineyards as a refuge for wild honeybees to recover their health and strength and to live freely — not in square boxes. 

Like Grgich Hills Estate, Spotteswood Estate is another Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) winery that hosts wild bees through TreeNests. According to Aron Weinkauf (Winemaker & Vineyard Manager), “as they forage to nurture future generations in their hives, bees help to propagate cover crops that enrich the soil in our vineyards and flowering plants that attract other beneficial insects that keep our vines pest free. And as they range up to a mile and a half from their hives, they pollinate our neighbors’ gardens and fruit trees in every direction as well. “

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