Bee Tree

January 13, 2012 · 5 comments

Last Thursday, Henry got a call in the early afternoon from a contact (Wade) who works at the Thompson Sortyard (a distribution center where logs come in from the woods, are graded, get auctioned off, and then get trucked out to their final destinations). Apparently, Wade had been running a specially designed forestry excavator with grapples called a shovel (above) when he noticed honeybees flying around a log he had just picked up. Because it’s fairly common that bee trees will get harvested and brought into the sortyard with the colony still inside, Wade knew what was going on, so he put down the log and called Henry.

When Henry got the call from Wade last week, he was in the middle of trimming a barn full of horses. He had his veil, his smoker, and a hive box with frames in it (without a top or bottom board) in his truck, so he busted his tail to finish the horses while there was still some light left in the day and headed down to the sortyard.

Upon arrival at the sortyard, it was clear that the comb was fairly exposed and most of the main cluster of bees was clinging on to it inside a rotten cavity in the log. Some capped honey had broken off the log, but Wade had been kind enough to collect it in a bucket. This time of year, honeybee colonies don’t have any brood, so there was no risk of damaging or losing the next generation of bees.

Henry fired up his smoker and started pulling sheets of comb out with bare hands.

The comb released fairly easily without disturbing the bees too much.

At this point, his main motive was just getting bees out of the log and into the hive box, but when we looked at this photo later that evening, Henry spotted the queen.

Wade sawed off a chunk of the log to get better access to the main part of the colony.

The bees seemed surprisingly undisturbed by the commotion.

Henry pulled out one more impeding piece of fatwood (pitch infused tree heart). You can see bees clustered on the right.

In his truck, Henry only had a hive box with no bottom or top, so he improvised by using a cardboard box.

After getting most of the bees out of the log and into the box, he started looking for the queen and generally assessing the bees.

If the queen were killed or damaged in the fray, Henry would still gain a significant population of workers that he could join onto another one of his hives.














Still looking for the queen and checking things out.

Found her! Never in a million years could I pick out the slightly larger, slightly darker queen in the middle of a cluster of bees, but Henry seems to have an eye for it.

Henry spent some more time smoking them down into the hive, so he could get the lid shut.

Henry was pleased to see this characteristic in the hive called ‘provisioning of the brood nest’. Worker bees move watered down honey stores into the comb that was formerly occupied by brood to allow for rapid spring buildup of the hive population that will take advantage of heavy nectar flows later in the season.














Somewhere in the process, Henry took off his veil. He was only stung once when a bee was crawling on the back of his neck, and he accidentally squished it by tilting his head back.

He spent a little more time shaking bees off comb and into hive frames.

By this time, it was getting cold and dark, so he packed up the colony in his truck and headed home.

Fast forward to Friday early afternoon…

Henry opened up a hive he had at home that was having bee troubles. A few months back, Henry brought home a batch of highly aggressive bees that robbed a bunch of honey and killed the queen in this hive. The worker bees reared an emergency queen by floating a larvae in royal jelly. ¬†After she emerged, she either didn’t fly, or she flew but there were no drones to mate her.

The infertile queen was capable of laying eggs, but she could only produce drones, which would only lead to a failed colony. Above you can the raised drone cells.

Henry found the infertile queen and (sadly) killed her.

Here’s the hive from the sortyard.

After killing the queen, Henry performed a newspaper join by placing sheets of newspaper over the queenless hive and then puting the new colony of bees from the sortyard on top. Eventually, the bees chewed through the newspaper, and by that time, they were ready to adopt the new queen as their own and the workers joined forces. Mission complete.

Some of you may have seen a glimpse of this adventure on Twitter. If you want to keep track of homestead happenings, you can follow me on Twitter or Instagram @waywardspark.

If you want to read more about Henry’s beekeeping check out these past posts:

Preparing Bee Boxes

Hiving Wild Honey Bees


Bumblebee Colony

Bulldozer Bees

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

cynthia January 13, 2012 at 12:03 pm

as i sit in my northern michigan home, looking out at the 8 inches of snow we got last night (no school for my girls today and 5 more inches forecast, lol) i am transported to warmer times and sunnier days by reading and seeing your fabulous blog. thanks for the tutorial on a simply fascinating little creature. your henry is a brave, skilled soul who makes his work seem effortless. love, love, love peeking in on your life and am grateful to be given the opportunity to do so via your website. thank you. ;-)


catie January 13, 2012 at 1:53 pm

wow and wow.
henry’s bee expertise always just floors me.
this is natural history, magic, and serious know-how all rolled into one.
i think he needs a bee tattoo.


Heather January 13, 2012 at 5:11 pm

This is SO fascinating. Henry really is quite amazing.


Deb January 13, 2012 at 6:05 pm

This is so cool to read about! I worked for a bee keeper for one day, extracting honey from the hives. It was only one day because I wasn’t strong enough to move the stacks without help, but it was actually pretty fun. Most of the bees were removed from the hives, and I got stung a few times, but I was so fascinated by the entire process I never noticed until I was showering that night. :)


Kerry February 5, 2012 at 9:36 am

A happy ending, now that’s what I like. So cool.


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