Susan Vaughan here. Yes, it’s Columbus Day! Thank you, Chris, for “discovering” this New World. But I’ll leave the celebration to others.
Today I want to share an extraordinary experience. I’ve promised not to name the location and identities to protect privacy, and I hope commenters who recognize this series of events will keep that in mind. This a tale of neighborly and family support and caring by expert volunteers.
Most warm days I walk my dog Sasha on a path mowed around my neighbor “A” ’s field. In mid-September I noticed a hanging “growth” on a tree limb that I at first thought was a hornet nest.
Wrong. It was a bee colony. Honeybees, to be specific. I notified A about what I’d seen, and she and a couple of other neighbors investigated. A beekeeper friend of A’s came to study the colony (not hive). He suggested these weren’t “wild” bees but probably swarmed from a hive not too far away. Honeybees cannot survive in the wild in a state this far north. The bees would die, he said, by the second frost. This late in the season, an attempt to move a well established colony would distress them too much.
Oh no! We were all horrified. Honeybees are endangered, and we were just going to let these little pollinators die? But don’t despair. The “Bee Man” decided to give it a go. (Bee Man is my term, but I’ve learned that some beekeepers call themselves “beeks.”) If it didn’t work, at least we tried. The colony had settled on the south-facing side of the field, which he said was a very good “bee field,” with lots of wildflowers and no pesticide contamination. Moving the colony might work if the mild autumn weather held and if the bees could remain in that field, but in a hive.
Before I continue with the story, a few facts about bees. Different kinds of bees have different homes. Honeybees are the only bees that make honey and thus need a large “nest.” A “hive” is a human-made container for honeybees, with combs on frames inside the hive. In the wild, honeybees create a nest of pods with chambers for the queen, the workers, a nursery, and honey to get them all through winter. A colony can number as many as 60,000 honeybees.
The Bee Man brought a hive to the field, and a group of family and friends set to work. Slowly, gently, so as to disturb the bees as little as possible.
With ropes and help from many hands for leverage, he sawed off both sides of the branch.
The colony came down to the ground without incident until they moved the log into position on the hive. The bees and their honey were heavy, and three combs broke off and fell to the ground. Luckily, no stinging.
The next day, the bees removed the honey from the broken combs, which were only partly filled. While we waited for more of them to move inside and a larger hive box to arrive, the Bee Man placed the lid on top as rain protection.
Several days later when the larger hive section arrived, he carved off the rest of the wood and lowered the colony inside. A friend of his donated frames of honey and screens for comb support. Immediately the bees began to remodel their new, larger home and eat the new honey.
The Bee Man said these were the gentlest bees he’d ever seen, very calm and not bothered by the human activity. No one was stung in this entire process. Now our neighborhood honeybees have plenty of food until the cold.
A has a recipe for nectar to keep them fed during winter and has ordered protective gear. She’s a champ. Everyone feels the colony has a good chance of survival. In the meantime, things are humming.
*** I’ll gift a copy of PRIMAL OBSESSION (Print or digital in the U.S.; digital only elsewhere) to the first commenter who can tell me how/why honeycomb chambers are hexagonal. You can find more information about PRIMAL OBSESSION and my other books at http://www.susanvaughan.com.