Rescuing a Downed Bee Tree

A logger cut down a douglas fir a bee hive had a home in. No one knew it was a bee tree until he chainsawed the hive in half and bees bloomed up out of it. That’s when I got a phone call asking if I could come and rescue them. Nice folks, they didn’t want to hurt any bees. When I arrived an hour later, I found a hundred foot length of logs on the ground.

Inspecting tree    IMG_0092

It was sunny and warm, nearly 60 degrees with no chance of rain — the most perfect January day for this to happen. Many bees were flying, wondering how they were in their hive high in the airy branches an hour ago and now down on the ground. I decided to move them the next morning when I knew they’d all be back in the hive before the day warmed up. Once I made sure the bees had an access hole, I stuff fir branches into the crevices so they could stay warm that night. Joseph and I came back in the morning with our crew: Craig had come up from Cannon Beach to take a bee class with me (and got more experience than he’d imagined); Robin brought her camera and filmed; Jessica and David are the kind landowners who called for the rescue

. IMG_0095   JQ with tree We determined the hive was contained in three sections. We marked the north side of the tree so we could place it with the same orientation when we got to the farm. The top and middle sections held bees and comb, but most people wouldn’t think the empty bottom-most log was part of the hive at all. It has a small indentation filled with crumbly wood. The detritus in the bottom of feral hives is an important part of their environment, so we brought it along, too.

When put the logs back together, the middle log has a short empty area at its bottom, right over the loose pile in the bottom log. Bees call this the “fallaway,” where things they don’t want in the hive are dropped. It’s easy to imagine bees don’t want old comb or mites and those are often a part of a fallaway, but the fallaway also contains quite a bit of other stuff as well, like bugs that hang out in sawdust and an entire intricate microbial community. I suspect we’ll some day learn that the duff beneath feral tree hives contributes greatly to maintaining health in the hive.

To keep anything in the logs from falling out while we transported them, I brought a bunch of foam poster boards that I stapled over each side. I razored off the edges so they wouldn’t get caught on anything. I made images in my mind telling the bees what we were doing, that would be careful and keep them safe. Inside the bees sounded calm.

IMG_0105   Truck ramp hay

Next we filled the truck bed with two bales of hay to minimize vibration so the delicately held combs stood a better chance of staying in place. Now we were ready to move the logs. David contributed a sheet of plywood for a ramp. We gently rolled the heavy logs up the ramp and into the truck. Once loaded, Joseph drove the truck home while I followed to make sure everything in the bed was secure all the way home. Rolling hive log onto truck    IMG_0101

A half hour later we were back at the farm. We found a great location for the hive, in full sun and near a row of fir trees that would protect it to the north. I listened to the bees and they were still calm, though quite curious and ready to come out.

IMG_0123   Listening to tree hive

In the middle log the chainsaw had cut through all the  long combs and many had fallen down into the opening. I pulled up as many as I could reach, sorted raspy ones from functional combs, and added a few combs I’d saved from another hive. They’d had some comb loss so I added a few honeycombs to the lower section, pressing them into place as neatly as I could. Here the second log is in place.


When I opened the top log, clouds of bees flurried out, all curious about where they were. The upper log seemed fairly intact, all the combs were still attached and most of the bees were there. We wore bee suits for this part because we thought we might do a lot of bumping while moving the hundred pound logs around, but it went pretty smoothly. I don’t think a single bee was harmed. Early on three bees flew near my ear and made the sound of concern, but not a one of them gave threat. We just moved slower and I reassured them they were safe. I made images in my mind of the logs moving easily, the hive safe and secure, and all the bees surrounded by love. Here’s the top log seen looking up from the bottom

. IMG_0149

With two logs set upon the ground in right north-south orientation, we carefully positioned the third log on top. I asked all the bees on the surface to move down inside the hive so they’d be safe while we fit the top on. When I say “I asked,” I mean that I made pictures in my mind of what we intended so the bees could also see what would happen and easily move out of the way. In my book I talk about the hive being a UNITY, where all the bees have access to the thoughts of each other. When we interact with the bees, we also have the opportunity to become part of that Unity. When I saw how cooperative they were being, I took off my bee jacket and they immediately landed on my hands and arms in a way that made me feel connected to them.

IMG_0180    IMG_0202

Once all three logs were in place and secure, the bees commenced coming in and out of their main door, a cleft in the lower part of the trunk. Joseph nailed a sheet of clear corrugated polycarbonate over the top of the hive to keep it dry. The top-most wood is already slightly soft. In a few months, once the hive starts to build up, I will remove that soft wood and place an empty wooden hive on top. While I’d love to leave them in the trunk, I also know the tree is rotted inside and at some point will fall apart, though we’ve got years before that happens. The process of moving them into a new structure will take awhile and giving them an empty wooden hive attached to their home ensures they have a safe and sound place to move into when they are ready to expand.

We set them up and all looked fine, but I kept getting the idea that the hive entrance was too low and not in the right location. The entrance was a mere 18″ above the ground and this hive had been 60′ in the air all their life. It was just too short. So the next day Joseph drove back over to the Thornton’s place and found the two logs that would go below this and brought them home.

We invited Tel Jensen and Barry Malmanger to give us a hand. Barry brought a truckload of gravel. The guys dug out an area in our front yard, leveled it with gravel and made a french drain so the water wouldn’t pool under the log and make it rot faster. They placed the two new lower logs on the gravel and then we went up in the field to gather up the hive. Once we covered the openings and got them back in the truck, we left a small hive box with a chunk of their comb in it so any stragglers who were out foraging had a place to come back to. (At dusk I found about 20 bees in the box and we returned them to their moved hive.)

5 leaving bait hive

Down in the front yard we got the logs moved into place.

      7 stacking logs 2   6 moving logs

More moving and stacking. The bees were quite sweet and gentle during the entire process.

6 logs to stack      6 placing logs atop

And at the end of the day, the five sections were put back together again. Joseph put the polycarbonate roof on top to keep it dry and the bees were once again happy. They have a lot to do inside the hive to repair damaged comb, but with the few combs I added, I think they will be okay.

10 log hive stacked        Click here to go back to our HOME PAGE     

(thanks, Robin and Alycia, for the photos!)

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