After Work Adventures in Beekeeping

Usually our bee blog follows the escapades of the honey bees of Dow Gardens and their beekeepers. This edition, however, is brought on by a rare opportunity provided by social media.

We see it all of the time, people trying to figure out how to co-exist with ‘creatures’ great and small. Of late, there have been NUMEROUS bear sightings in the outlying areas where we keep our personal bees. But there are other interesting posts out there related to ‘bees’. I use the term ‘bees’ in quotation marks because that is, dare I say, rarely what they are. But sometimes there is a swarm hanging from a tree or one that has made its way into someone’s eves and needs to be removed. Sometimes a group of insects that are NOT honeybees that need to be evicted from an inconvenient or dangerous home. Elly appreciates that her friends think of her, and finds herself tagged in posts regarding mid-Michigan insect dilemmas and questions frequently.

Last night while watching Stranger Things with my family, I received a cryptic text message from our (literally) fearless leader. Here is how that went:

Elly: “Up for a spur of the moment adventure? Maybe 45 minute commitment and promises to provide content for our blog”

Me: “Sure, what’s up? Shorts or long pants?”

Elly responded:

In Elly speak, this means a LOT…our fearless leader tends to bee keep in whatever, including shorts, t-shirt – we have gotten away from the flip flops though. So now I was curious!!

Turns out a homeowner was mowing and weed whipping and uncovered a bumble bee hive under some brush. I know little to nothing about bumblebees, but this wasn’t Elly’s first Bumblebee Roundup!

I was astonished by how easy this task turned out to bee…(haha).

We scoped out the site and then went back to the vehicles to don the appropriate safety gear and arm ourselves with a variety of tools to accomplish this removal. We wore lots of protective gear and lit the smoker just in case. The smoker may have been a bit extra because the purpose of smoke is to interrupt the communication between the bees that warns of danger. It may have less of an impact with these bees, but better safe than sorry. We also have a bumble bee observation hive box that a dear volunteer made for us years ago, a hive tool for prying the nest from the ground and THICK leather gloves to protect our hands from stings. Finally, we had a net to try to capture the bees flying around, hassling (aka attacking) the person removing the nest. I felt a little silly swinging around a net during the process, but hopefully it helped.

Bumblebee nest in the ground, accidentally uncovered by a weed whip.

Here is a video of the main part of the removal – I hope you enjoy!

Bumblebee hive safely tucked into the observation box (right side), entrance front yellow hole, clear plexiglass top for observing activity. The small divot in the ground below the yellow entrance was the location of their original nest.

The box will remain in this location for a day or two to make sure they have settled in and then we will relocate them to Dow Gardens (likely near our apiary). If they survive long enough, we will showcase them at our Pollination Celebration: Viva la Pollination on August 12th.

During this adventure, I realized how narrow my knowledge of ‘bees’ is. I wondered, why does the nest look like this, will the bees overwinter like honeybees, etc.

These bees are the species Bombus impatiens, Common Eastern Bumble Bee. They are NATIVE to Michigan and can be found from Maine to Florida and west through Ohio. They are essential pollinators and are very successful at pollinating fruit.

Here are some more facts to further your knowledge and appreciation of the humble Bumblebee. (from University of Wisconsin – Madison, Bumblebees of Wisconsin website)

  • Bumble bees are essential an annual bee, unlike honeybees, they do not overwinter as a colony.
  • A newly mated queen hibernates over the winter in loose soils and thatch.
  • The queen emerges in April or May (a good reason to practice no-mow-May). She finds a suitable nest sites and provisions it with pollen and nectar. For the first round of eggs, she is a single mother…foraging for food, incubating the brood clump and defending the nest. Ones the first workers emerge, they take over these duties and the queen remain inside the colony laying eggs and caring for brood.
  • Male bumblebees are smaller than females – opposite that of honeybees.
  • Once the population of workers is sufficient, the queen begins to raise the next generation – Drones (the males) are reared first, followed by gynes (future queens). These leave the nest and mate. The founding queen and workers will die out naturally, leaving only newly mated qynes.
  • Typical colonies will range from 30 to a few hundred individuals.
  • The gynes build fat reserves (a bit like winter honeybees) and synthesize alcohol molecules similar to antifreeze to protect their cells and organs from freezing.

While we are honeybee keepers, the chance to help other pollinators is ALWAYS jumped on. It is worth mentioning that the past couple of springs we have partnered with a local scientist and hosted some native solitary bee housing. These opportunities are always enlightening and worth the time.

We encourage you to keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to encourage and conserve pollinators in your yard even in small ways. Thanks for following our adventures!!