Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

September 25, 2013

Enjoying Nature: Honey bees rescued from fallen tree

By Don Hazel
Sun contributor

CROSSVILLE — If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? I remember that question from a philosophy class in college. I am sure that I had the wrong answer then, but I think I know the answer now. A few weeks ago a hollow chestnut oak tree fell directly over one of our local trails. This time, someone heard it ... the bees that were living in that tree surely heard it.

I received several reports of the fallen tree. One of our trail volunteers went out to cut it and clear the trail, but he found that he couldn't get near the tree because it was full of honey bees, and we didn't want to have to kill the bees to open the trail. But then, I remembered that I had the name of a beekeeper, so I gave Keith Garrison a call. He didn't necessarily need the bees or the honey but he didn't want to see the bees harmed, so he called another beekeeper, Jeff Dayton, and together they agreed to save the bees.

It wasn't an easy task. The tree was a mile from the nearest trailhead and chainsaws, bee suits, a beehive and other equipment would need to be hauled in. Then, the tree would have to be sliced open from end to end without harming too much of the nest. It was a four hour operation in the hot sun, and bees aren't real happy having their nest sawed in half. The beekeepers estimated the size of the hive at 30,000 – 40,000 bees.

Bees don't like folks messing with their stuff ... they swarmed around in defensive clouds. Even with bee head nets and bee-proof jackets and gloves, both men got stung once or twice. I read a book once about a beekeeper who would teach her hired helpers how to get used to stings, by first numbing their forearm with an ice cube, and then holding a bee and stinging them on purpose.  After a while, a few stings become tolerable (or so I'm told).

Some people use injections of bee venom to reduce the pain of arthritis; a few folks even use live bees to deliver the venom. One lady that Jeff knows says she doesn't know if bee venom helps arthritis, but her knees sure feel better after the pain of the bee stings fades.

After Jeff opened the tree, he sliced out the honey and the brood cells to put in a special, temporary hive, for transportation back to his apiary. Then he left the hive, with the contents of the hollow tree inside, overnight, in the exact spot where the tree had fallen.  Bees don't like to leave their honey, their babies, or their queen, so they would all reunite in the new hive.  The beekeepers searched through the thousands of bees for the one queen. They didn't find her, but the next day, at dusk, when most of the bees were in the hive they knew that she was in there too.

You may have heard that honey bees have been declining at an alarming rate recently. A condition known as Colony Collapse Disease (CCD), has some beekeepers losing as many as 40 or 50 percent of their hives each year. CCD seems to be caused by a combination of issues, including parasites, pesticides, and other factors. By actively monitoring and managing hives, beekeepers can keep their colony losses much lower, and new reinforcements from wild hives are welcome.

Here are a couple things I learned about bees that you also, might find interesting:

You can find a wild hive by putting a little cup of honey in your yard and watching the straight line the bees take after they leave the honey and spiral upward for a few yards. Point your compass in the direction of flight and you will eventually run into the bee tree. However, bees sometimes fly long distances to find food, so their hive might be as far as 2 miles away.

The beekeepers waited until a sunny day to capture the bees. They said on a cloudy or rainy day, more bees are home, and they are often more aggressive.

Fairfield Glade isn't a great spot to place a hive because of all the homes and golf courses that use lots of chemical pesticides, fungicides, and fertilizer – old fields are better.

If you want to learn more about bees, you have a great opportunity coming up. Jeff and Keith plan to be at the Hit the Trails festival in Fairfield Glade on Saturday, Oct. 5, representing the Cumberland County Beekeepers association. They will be one of many outdoor organizations at the second annual festival. Watch for more information in the coming week.

The bees that Jeff and Keith rescued probably still have their ears ringing from the crash of that hollow tree, but at least they are safe. Wait a minute ... do bees have ears, and if they don't, did that tree make a sound? Darn it, I knew I should have paid more attention in philosophy class. If you know the answer, send me an email.

Comments, questions or suggestions for future nature articles are welcome at don.hazel@gmail.com