Monday, May 12, 2014

Dreams of dipping into a honey pot

Before this weekend, everything I knew about honeybees in trees I learned from Winnie-the-Pooh. I think the same was true for Maggie. In fact, she recently sent me this link to a Russian version of Winnie-the-Pooh that is definitely cute and worth watching.

But this weekend changed everything. Maggie came out on Saturday to help me plant my vegetable garden, but announced upon her arrival that she had responded to a request on the Kentuckiana Beekeepers Association website to remove a beehive from a tree that was recently cut down in Shelby County. She had agreed to meet the tree removal guy at 1:30 at the site. He was coming with his chainsaw; Maggie was coming with a truckload of beekeeping equipment, her able assistant (Ed) and her mom (the documenting photographer). Just before heading out, she watched a YouTube video that explained what she was about to get herself into.

Here is a series of photos that show what she and Ed undertook. I was impressed with their calm manner, their methodical extraction, and their willingness to try something so potentially dangerous and tricky.

Here's what we saw when we first got there: just a bunch of honeybees on the outside of a large maple tree trunk coming and going out of a small slit in the trunk.

William, the tree guy, starting chainsawing around the slit, while wearing Ed's bee hat and gloves.

Maggie worked alongside him, applying smoke to the bees, which makes them VERY sleepy.

Section by section, William cut an opening into the hive.

Maggie used a crow bar to pry each section off the trunk.

Each section was filled with hundreds of honeybees and bits of comb and honey.

Here's what the trunk looked like once William was done with the chainsawing. The hive was about five feet long and filled with thousands of honeybees.

William went off to work on some other trees and Ed took over as Maggie's assistant. With a knife, they cut large sections of comb out of the hive and placed them in frames, securing them with string and then placing them into one of Maggie's bee boxes.

Section by section, they made their way through the hive, always on the lookout for the Queen Bee (which is only a bit longer than a regular bee – not the easiest thing to spot).

They finished up an hour or so later, just before a big rainstorm hit.

We left the bee box near the tree and went home for a few hours. We were hopeful that the Queen had made it into the box and her loyal subjects would come into the box to be with her. But because these bees had never lived in a box and were not entirely happy to have their home chainsawed up, we weren't entirely sure that the experiment would work.

At dusk, Maggie, Mary and I went back to the site and loaded the bee box into the back of the truck. (Bees come "inside" once it gets dark – and we didn't want to leave any of them flying around looking for their home.) The bee box is now back at Farm Dover, along with Maggie's other hives. I can't say they are totally happy yet. This morning when I checked on them, they were flying all around the box in a rather agitated state. Ed is mowing later this afternoon and I warned him stay clear until they settled down.

Maggie, Ed and I each managed to get stung once – but just once. I think that a single sting is pretty good considering that thousands of mad bees were swarming around the tree trunk. Maggie is the only one who really paid the price; the entire right side of her face was swollen from the sting.

Like Winnie-the-Pooh, I'm looking forward to dipping into a honey pot once these wild bees adapt to their new home and start producing combs full of golden honey.

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