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Friday, June 4, 2010

Trees & Bees!

So what was supposed to be routine tree trimming and removal, turned into a lesson in Apiculture!  See we had this 130’ tulip poplar that had started to look a little rough a few years ago.  Then last year it started to lean in the direction of the house. so much leaning in fact that the roots heaved from the ground some.  Well when I called our tree guy Will over at Oak Hill Tree Service saw the tree and said that it really needed to come down as it was taking aim at the house.  I agreed and scheduled the removal, much to my dismay.  Even though I live in the woods and I am surrounded by trees I hate losing any of them.
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I’m always concerned about who is living in the trees and this one was no different as there was actually a hole in the tree.  I figured bird, squirrel maybe even an owl but I never really saw any activity going on around the hole, so I thought that it was empty.  Will and his crew began the process of taking the tree down, I couldn’t watch.  I did however go out every so often to check the progress and snap a picture.
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I realized that the next section they took would have the hole in it and being curious I wanted to see it up close.  So I went back in and then came back out once it was down.  What I saw in that hole excited me and broke my heart at the same time…
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It was an honest to goodness honey bee nest (they aren’t called hives when they are in the wild!) The girls were busy buzzing and trying to figure out why they house was now on it’s side.  I asked Will not to do anything more with that section of tree and rushed into the house to call for honey bee help.  I know enough about how these wonderful bees are dying off from Colony Collapse Disorder and have problems with mites to know that a wild colony is a super, super gift and that just letting them die would be criminal!  I went to the Howard County Bee Keepers and called every contact on the list till I got in touch with someone.  The man that I talked to contacted a lady and she and her husband came to save the bees.  They asked Will to cut the log in half so that they could access the inside of the nest.  He wasn’t keen on it, but it did it.
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They under estimated the size of the honeycombs and they actually got cut in half.  This picture shows one half.
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This is the other half of the honeycomb.  It wasn’t a huge nest, but they estimated it to be about 4 pounds of bees.  Janice said that she thought it was a relatively new nest because it was very clean and that they had most likely come from a bee keeper within a four mile area. Apparently the queen and her court don’t travel too far when they go off to create a new colony.
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Maurice set about cutting the honeycombs out of the tree very carefully as Janice fashioned frames to put them in.  They assured me that once they had the queen all the others would follow where she went. Janice also remarked many times how gentle and calm they were and said that was a direct reflection on the queen. I know that I stood among those bees in shorts and a t-shirt and never once felt like they were aggravated or anything, it was amazing!
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It took quite a while to get all the honeycombs out and attached to the frames. Janice brought a piece over to me to show me what a ‘capped’ piece looked like and what a larva that had not been capped yet looked like! Later she even gave me a small piece that contained nothing but pure honey.  She told me that I could chew the wax like gum and of course the honey itself was delicious!. Once they had finished collecting all the honeycombs, they sat the box next to the logs and waited to see if the bees would head for the box.  After just a few minutes they all started to line up and crawl into a small opening.  They had the queen and she was releasing her pheromone to let everyone know where she was. 
Janice and Maurice left the box here for a few hours and came back when it was near dusk and had to started to rain to collect it.  They had almost all the bees and they were taking them to their new home.  I have to admit that I was sad to see them go.  I checked last night and there were maybe 12 or 15 ‘girls’ left around the logs, I felt awful that they got left behind,  Randy reminded me that I had saved the colony and that if I hadn’t been here it could have ended differently.  I know all that, but still I hate that they lost their family and home.
I learned a lot more about honey bees and now I’m going to look into adding a hive or two to my gardening.  I want to do more to help these amazing little pollinators and what better way, than to give them a home!

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