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Encouraging Feral Bee Colonies

Unseasonably high temperatures have made for lovely fall weather. You may also see bees, which unbeknownst to many, can stay alive year-round. Program Director, Deb Crockett, wrote this delightful & informative post about how to approach a feral bee colony, should you encounter one. You can also sign-up for Introduction to Beekeeping on January 23, 2016 or Advanced Beekeeping on April 30, 2016.

By Deb Crockett 

This summer, a windstorm brought down two trees on our oak savanna.  Both broke a section of fence, freeing some pigs and requiring repair work. One of those two trees broke something more significant, as a colony of honeybees had set up their home in a hollow of the tree.  

The storm basically cracked open their cavity and inverted it, also changing the location and size of their entrance. Understandably, they were disoriented and agitated for some days. But, in true honeybee fashion, they got back to work: rebuilding honeycomb, raising their young, and gathering food for the season ahead.  

I was delighted, after we’d lost both of our top bar hives to winter stresses, to discover that a feral hive was thriving on the land. In a time when bee populations (and hence our food supply) are threatened by environmental change, it seemed important to support this colony of bees in whatever way we could! So, the tree remains over the fence, the colony has vigorous activity, and the pigs and cattle graze freely around.  

Should you find feral bees where you live:

  • Enjoy them! They are fun to watch. Look for pollen on their back legs, and see if you can tell where they are headed when they leave the hive.  Just avoid their flight path, and you’ll happily coexist with them, just like our pigs do!   
  • Support them! Avoid using chemicals. Put out shallow trays of water with stones or sticks as landing pads. Plant bee friendly flowers and perennial shrubs that provide the kinds of nectar they like. The Honeybee Conservancy is one of many websites with bee-friendly landscaping suggestions.  
  • If they are in danger to themselves or people or in the wall of a building, go to a beekeeper who will rehome the bees, rather than an exterminator. See for a state-by-state list of people who will remove and re-home bees.  Some will catch swarms, and others will help extract them from buildings.