The world is full of famous proverbs. Like “No use crying over spilt milk” or “Laughter is the best medicine”. Beekeeping is no different. Two of the most common I’ve heard over the years are “Ask 10 beekeepers and you’ll get 11 answers” or “It’s not a matter of if but when bears find your hives”. Well, unfortunately one found our hives in Newtown, CT this past month. We hoped that, due to their location, this would never happen. However, when it did, it set off a series of events and decisions to be carefully executed if we wanted to save them. In this months’ “Chronicles from the Hive” come along and see what it’s like when Winnie the Pooh sets foot in your bee yard….
Receiving the news
The family in Newtown that allowed me to place hives on their property have been great partners. It is such an incredible spot on over 20 acres of grasses and wildflowers. They love seeing the honeybees buzzing around and I even had an opportunity to teach their kids a couple things about bees.
One morning they were out and noticed that something didn’t look quite right. Where there were previously three hives now only stood two. Approaching, from the safety of their car, to get a better view they saw a hive on the ground and broken apart. A few pictures were snapped and sent to me. As soon as I saw them, I was fairly certain it was a bear…
Assessing the situation
As soon as I could I packed up my gear and headed over to check things out. On the 20 minute drive over, I kept thinking I should’ve installed an electric fence, I should’ve installed an electric fence on repeat. I have a fence in Southbury and no bears have broken through (fingers crossed I didn’t just jinx myself). As the proverb says, “There’s no use crying over spilt milk”. Can’t change what happened, can only rescue the hives that are there and do my best to make sure they survive.
Arrived to a scene straight out of the three little pigs. One hive knocked over (Straw), one with the top off (Sticks), and one still intact (Bricks). Bees from the other hives trying to find new shelter where they could. Unfortunately, honeybees don’t play nice like that. The guard bees from that hive will do what it takes to defend the hive from what it sees as invaders and this looked like a war zone.
Staying a few feet further back than usual, I suited up and went in. Smoker in hand, I approached the hive on the ground. The bottom box was still whole with all 10 frames in place. A couple quick puffs of smoke to refocus their attention and I picked it up and placed in back on the stand. The second box was not so lucky.
Six of the frames were laying on the ground with the honeycomb broken out or scraped off. The tall grass behind the hives where they were found was trampled from what I can only imagine is a black bear rolling with a face full of bees. Further, I could see a gap in grass where it no doubt ran away as fast as it could.
What are our options?
Once a bear finds a hive, they are likely to return, even though it means another face full of bees. When a bear got one of our hives in Southbury a few years ago, it took two days to get the parts and build it. During those two days the bear came back. Thankfully, we had put ratchet straps on the hives to keep the boxes together as a temporary measure, so it was able to knock it over but not get inside We were lucky. Not so sure we would be as lucky this time around. Ratchet straps would hold the hives together, but not necessarily hold from a determined bear. If it came back that would likely be the end of them.
The bear situation, the health and safety of the hives, and the fact that we are getting closer to the end of the season for honeybees, really meant only one logical plan. Move the hives from Newtown over to Southbury.
How difficult could it possibly be to move 50,000 angry bees?!
During the day a good percentage of the bees are out foraging for nectar and pollen. Some travel as far away as three miles from the hive. If I picked it up at noon and moved it, by the end of the day, tens of thousands of bees would come back to no home. Plus, given that there were thousands of bees all over the front of the hives, they needed some time to calm down. So, I packed up and planned to come back during the night. This would help ensure that all of the bees were in their respective hives and not foraging or trying to get into another hive.
I returned at about 8:30 that night with my daughter, THE Little Bee of Little Bee of Connecticut, to pick them up. When we arrived, we were both happy to see that there was no longer any activity outside of the hives. Now we still can’t just pick them up and leave. The entire colony is inside. Over 50,000 bees in one hive ready to defend their home if necessary. One slip and they’ll start pouring out. Stinging the closest thing they can, which would be us. That would be bad and then we’d have to wait for them to get back in the hive again. The hives need to be sealed up before moving them. An entrance reducer with duct tape over the holes was put over the front of the hive and tacked in place. Short of dropping the hive, this would ensure that everyone stays inside for the next hour.
The two of us got in position on either side of the first hive. Placing one hand each under the front and back of the hive we grabbed hold of the bottom board. Slowly lifting it off the cinder block base and into the air. You could hear the sound of the bees change as soon as the hive started moving. The low buzzing got much louder as the collective just inside sensed a disturbance. Carefully walking towards the truck being sure not to trip or move faster than the other, we gently placed the hive on the tailgate and slid it into place. The concerned buzzing quickly died down. We then repeated the same process for the other two hives. No hives dropped and no bees escaped. WHEW!
Picking up the cinder block hive stands was the last step and honestly harder than moving the hives themselves. Now it was time to drive them back to Southbury.
Release and reorientation.
Got back home about 9:30pm and set out to put the hives in the bee yard inside the electric fence. Plugged in some additional work lights to help illuminate the area. Since “Laughter is the best medicine”, my daughter and I commenced with shadow puppets on the trees.
After placing the blocks in position, it was now time to move the hives to their new home. You could hear their agitation inside the hive after the drive which included winding roads and highways as well. Just as carefully as we loaded them we removed them from the truck. Gently setting them down on the hive stand.
Once all three were unloaded and in position for a couple minutes, it was time to open the entrances. Standing to the side and slightly behind, I removed the reducer. Only a few bees darted out, but none of them were trying to sting us. A larger group slowly emerged and stood on the front entrance. Curious about their new environment. Since it was dark out exploring and orientation would need to wait until the morning. And that they did. Lots of activity in the morning outside each hive as they soaked in and adapted to their new surroundings
The Little Bee and I hope you enjoyed reading about our adventure and a side of beekeeping that most outsiders don’t really know about.
Thank you for supporting Little Bee of CT and the passionate beekeepers around the world.