Wrapping a feral colony for winter
This past spring, in a remote little outpost in the high desert of Oregon, a feral swarm of honey bees decided to nest. They chose a massive cottonwood adjacent to a popular campground and hung their combs from its aging limbs. With no protection other than a nearby garage and a canopy of leaves, the bees spent the summer raising brood, expanding their nest, and ignoring the flux of campers playing on the Deschutes River.
But as fall approached, the property owner began to wonder about the coming winter. Would the colony be able to survive a central Oregon winter with no protection from the elements? It didn’t seem likely.
In mid-September, the homeowner asked his friends, Rob Deez and Alicia Taylor of Smudgie Goose Farm, to look at the colony. Can it survive? Enthralled by its beauty but unable to say, they in turn contacted beekeepers Larry and Naomi Price and asked them to have a look.
A few days later, Naomi and Larry arrived at the scene with a truckload of tools ready to remove the bees. But after one glance at the fully-exposed colony, they scrapped their initial plan and several alternatives as well. In the end, they covered the colony with a tarp to protect it from the expected rain.
Back home, Naomi contacted Dewey Caron (author of the popular textbook Honey Bee Biology and Beekeeping) and asked for advice. Dr. Caron came up with several suggestions:
- Cut the combs from the tree and tie them into frames
- Cut out the piece of tree they are clinging to and put the whole thing in a box
- Leave them alone, but improve their chances by providing some rain and wind protection
After hours of discussion during the next three days, the four of them—Alicia, Rob, Larry, and Naomi—came up with an ingenious plan. They agreed it was too late in the year to cut the combs and expect the bees to patch things together. So instead, they elected to provide a temporarily shelter to help the colony survive the winter.
Using electric-fence wire, they planned to construct a framework that would support a multilayered canopy of canvas, insulation, and waterproofing. Once the colony was covered, it would be on its own till spring.
The plan proceeded without a hitch, and the Maupin, Oregon colony is now tucked in for winter. In the following series of photographs, taken by Naomi Price and Shannon Taylor, you can see the story unfold. If the colony survives the winter, it will be removed to Smudgie Goose Farm in Prineville to be used as an educational tool. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for the bees.
Click on any photo for slides and captions.