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Beekeeper rescues bees from hive in fallen tree at the Times

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Thursday, January 10th, 2008 at 8:44 am in Uncategorized.

Beekeeper Mike Stephanos of the Mount Diablo Beekeepers Association (http://www.diablobees.org) responded to my distress call and came by the Times on Wednesday. He was going to try to rescue the honeybees from the large nest that had been exposed when a 60-foot tall redwood tree split in a windstorm on Tuesday morning and crashed into our building. (See “The sky is falling!” entry below.)

Wednesday, I was out checking the bee nest/hive at first light. A large mass of bees had obviously spent a very cold night “huddled” together in one spot over the exposed honeycomb. They were dormant from the cold and hardly moving.

Mike arrived a little after noon and I took him out to look at the bees. It was warmer and the buzzing insects were getting more active, zipping past our heads. Bees are gentle creatures — unless they catch you messing with their nest. (“Stay away from our hive, Dude!”)

Mike had a large rectangular wooden box he was going to use to transport the bees. He planned to place a bunch of the brood comb (comb where the queen bee lays her eggs) and honeycomb inside the box, along with as many live bees as possible, then leave the box sitting up in the hive area where the tree had broken for two or three days. He wanted to get the bees to relocate into the box so he could take them home with his other hives.

He was also going to remove as much of the exposed honeycomb as possible from the tree to motivate the bees to seek out the smell of the other brood comb and honeycomb in the box and move inside with it.

The beekeeper then suited up into the classic beekeeper’s uniform: a white jumpsuit, boots, gloves and a white hat and mesh hood. That would keep the angry bees from stinging him when he started messing with them.

Once up the ladder, Mike started removing the comb with a metal pry-bar. He placed some of the comb in the box and the rest in a large white plastic bucket so he could take it home and use it to feed his other bees. The bees buzzed in a large cloud around his head. Several angrily bounced off my face and chest. One bee stung Times’ multimedia reporter Karl Mondon on the lip as he was filming Mike’s activities with a video camera.

“Back up about 10-feet, guys,” shouted Mike. “Too late,” moaned Karl.

I started tossing questions about the bees up to Mike:

How long has the nest been there? “Maybe 10 years, a decade. A lot of old black comb here.”

How many bees do you think there are? “About 5,000 to 10,000.”

How much honeycomb is there? “At least 50 pounds, probably more.” (Mike eventually removed about 25 pounds of honeycomb from the tree.)

After he dislodged as much comb as possible, Mike took out a wide, soft brush and gently started brushing bees from the tree into his portable hive. Then he put a top on the box and braced it firmly on a ledge by the destroyed hive area. There was a hole in the top where the bees could come and go. He’d close that hole and confine the bees inside when he was ready to move his little porta-hive.

Then he climbed back down from the tree.

“I’ll stop by regularly over the next few days to check on the box. I want to get as many of them inside as possible before I take them home. I want them all to survive.”

We shook hands and I thanked Mike for coming to save our bees.

“Reporters and editors in the news room has been asking me if you’ll be able to save the bees,” I told him. “They’ll all be happy when I tell them what you’ve done.”

“My pleasure,” Mike smiled. It was obvious he loved his work and his little friends.

You’ve probably been reading lately that honeybees all across the country are in trouble. Disease, colony collapse and a lot of other problems too numerous to mention here. But that’s another story Karl and I will get back to later.

For now, it’s just really nice to know that this particular distressed hive was able to get a little help from its friends. /gary

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