Gator’s Dockside in Baldwin Park recently had a massive exposed bee hive on premises that was making guests uncomfortable. Usually when these situations occur the first instinct of the business owner is to call pest control. Kudos to Gator’s for opting to allow a more responsible approach. I got a call from Carrie & Jeff Coco, the latter an entomology student at University of Florida, asking if I knew any beekeepers who could help rescue the hive. Jon Andrews of While The Sun Shines Apiary, an urban beekeeping operation with focus on rescue and proliferation, made himself available for the task.
The Coco’s sent a text message with some photos of the hive, and at first glance we suspected that the hive was actually a swarm with scout bees searching out a more suitable home. Upon arrival, we found an exposed hive, something more common in the tropics, where bees don’t need insulation from the cold as much. They would likely perish in the winter this far north (if not at the hands of the pest control unit).
The hive was approximately fifteen feet above ground and attached to a wrist–thick branch. After trimming away some smaller branches, I positioned my truck underneath the hive and stood on the roof holding one side of the branch while Jon sawed at the other. The hive and branch probably weighed sixty pounds. The real concern for both of us was that the motion of the saw would agitate the bees. Worst case scenario is us shaking loose the hive. At first, I downplayed the risk associated with the job. But when standing on the Land Rover’s roof with my face less than two feet from 40,000 bees, the adrenaline became tangible.
Once the branch was cut on both sides, we lowered the hive down and rested it on two rungs between the ladders. Jon placed one of his own hand-crafted bee boxes under the hive in case it fell off of the branch. He then began methodically working away at sections of the hive and securing them to frames. Once the frames were full of honeycomb they were inserted into the box.
Throughout this process there is a hunt for the queen. The queen lets off a scent that the rest of the bees are attracted to. Once you have the queen safely inside a small cage in the new hive, the rest of the bees will follow.
We left the box in place overnight. Bees that are out doing the busy work that bees do still had a home to return to. Jon returned the following day and loaded it into his car (his truck is in the shop). He then proceeded to drive it down the road wearing a full beekeeper suit.
The hive has taken well to its new surroundings. Jon’s crafted a new box to sit on top of the one that we transferred the bees to. In his latest text the enthusiasm is palpable, “Box added to rescue hive. Queen will be released into top box with excluder underneath, so once all brood in original rescue box hatch, I can remove it and harvest the wax and put a regular brood chamber in its place”. That’s bee nerd talk that basically says, “You’re going to have rescue bee honey that you can use to cure hams and bacon in a very short time”.
There’s a lot of “feel good stories” here. But above all is the dedication that goes into responsible urban beekeeping. Thanks to Gator’s for calling the right people in. Thanks to While The Sun Shines Apiary for being the right people. And thanks for the opportunity to use this honey as a renewable resource in making great bacon in the years to come.