Relocating a Wild Honeybee Hive

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Hank’s friend and fellow beekeeper, Nate Lindsay, cuts into a massive ash tree to remove a wild honeybee colony and repopulate the top-bar hive at Prairie Turnip Farm.
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Hank’s friend and fellow beekeeper, Nate Lindsay, cuts into a massive ash tree to remove a wild honeybee colony and repopulate the top-bar hive at Prairie Turnip Farm.

Early last spring, my beehive died quite suddenly. Lucky for us it was sufficiently healthy when the apricot and cherry trees were in bloom, because we had a record crop from both. A little deeper investigation revealed that the problem may have been a combination of the colony being low on food and an unexpected cold spell. I’ll take the experience into consideration when it’s time to stop feeding in the future. Since it was already past the optimal bee ordering date, I just figured that we’d be bee-less until procuring a new group of bees come spring.

A few weeks later, on a rare Friday with no Tough GRIT television episode to shoot, I took the day off to spend some quality time at the farm. I was at the pond closest to the house — and in the midst of landing my second or third largemouth bass of the morning — when my cell phone buzzed. Arghh. Why didn’t I just leave that thing on the counter at home?

Then I noticed that the missed call was from my friend and expert beekeeper Nate Lindsay. I’d been meaning to talk to him about my hive’s sudden demise anyway, so I rang him back. To make a long story short, Nate had been called upon by the municipal arborists in nearby Osage City, Kansas, to help “deal” with a huge “bee tree” that had to be cut down. Part of the reason that the huge old ash needed to come down was that it was largely hollowed out on the inside — which was also the reason it was so favored by several colonies of wild honeybees. Nate was looking for a home for one of the colonies and wondered if I had any room.

Within an hour, Nate had trailered a 20-foot length of hollowed-out ash trunk to my place. Wow, it was huge – and there was window screen stapled over all the openings. To say that the log was abuzz is an understatement. After rolling the log over with the loader tractor, we donned bee suits, fired up the chainsaw and cut into the largest cavities — whoa, we’re talking about honeycomb that approached 4 feet long by 2 feet wide — and yes, it was messy. My chainsaw is still sticky.

After a little smoke, observation, and Nate “scenting” the queen, we went to work gathering brood, bees and comb, transferring it all into my empty top-bar hive. Within about 20 minutes, the bees began to congregate at the back end of their new home – Nate looked at me and grinned. “Looks like we got her,” he said.

Now, several weeks later, that new honeybee hive is alive and well. And the wild honeybees are much gentler than the domesticated ones I had before. Next spring I am committed to keeping the feeders full for a few weeks longer.

Whether you live in town or on 1,000 acres, we’d love to know about the new projects you’re working on this season. Send us a short letter and a photo or two if you can, and we just might publish it in the magazine or on our website.

See you in September,


Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper’s Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.