|Deacon Mike Wilkins, Calvary Cemetery director, uses a chainsaw to bring down a hackberry tree that was split in half during recent storms. A large hive of wild honey bees was living inside the tree, and the fallen tree could not safely be removed without first relocating the bees. Bee keeper Russ Davis, right, looks on as the tree prepares to fall. To calm the bees, Davis had just pumped pine straw smoke around the tree. Photos by Theresa Laurence|
When strong storms knocked over several trees in the Diocese of Nashville’s Calvary Cemetery last month, a large hive of wild honey bees was discovered in a 110-year old hackberry tree in the back corner of the property.
After several weeks of monitoring the bees and working with a beekeeper and tree trimmers to find the best solution, Calvary Cemetery Director Deacon Mike Wilkins and beekeeper Russ Davis took action on Saturday, July 9.
“We did not want to exterminate the bees because we know they are beneficial,” said Deacon Wilkins.
However, it took some work to find the right person to safely remove the bees from the tree so that the tree could be removed and several damaged headstones in the cemetery could be repaired.
Deacon Wilkins tracked down his old friend Russ Davis, whom he knew to keep bees. Davis, who is preparing to retire from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, had recently gotten more serious about his long-time hobby of bee keeping.
Davis’ experience at Calvary was his first time working with a wild hive of bees. He had hoped that the bees would migrate from the tree into his domestic wooden bee boxes, and he would relocate them to his Lebanon, Tennessee, property, but that did not happen. “I’m a little disappointed, but I think they will be all right,” he said.
He guesses that the bees will move into another location inside or nearby the cemetery. “Apparently they like the view of the city better than the cedars of Wilson County,” he joked.
|A detail shot shows the honey bees and the honeycomb that was found inside the tree. Honeycombs were placed into a domestic wooden beekeeping box. Davis had hoped the bees would migrate into the boxes, but they did not. They left the fallen tree, but it’s not known where they are now.|
The wild honey bees, Davis said, “are not domestic animals. They’re not trainable,” so it was not entirely surprising they did not cooperate with the plan to move into the boxes. “I think it will work out good for the trees there,” at Calvary, having the pollinators remain nearby, he said.
After using a chainsaw to split the damaged tree open, Deacon Wilkins and Davis worked for hours to carefully transfer the honeycombs into wooden frames, secure them with rubber bands, and place them in domestic wooden bee boxes. Davis allowed two days for the bees to migrate from the tree into the boxes, but when he checked on the boxes, he realized they had not moved, most likely because he and Deacon Wilkins were unable to locate and move the queen bee.
Davis did take some of the honeycomb from the hackberry tree and plans to move it into one of his domestic bee boxes.
“We didn’t quite get the outcome we were hoping for, but it was a fun exercise,” Davis said.