Tree trunk with feral bee colony delivered to botanical gardens in Ann Arbor

The Matthaei Botanical Gardens were abuzz with excitement.

A silver maple log containing a feral colony of honey bees was delivered to the garden’s community beekeeping area Thursday morning.


The bees themselves were kept quiet by the cold, but the gardens’ associate director and amateur beekeeper Karen Sikkenga were eager to welcome the new guests.

“Honey bees are actually domestic animals, but they sometimes swarm off and go live in the wild,” she said. ”

The plan is for the bees to stay in the trunk for the remainder of the winter and then be transferred into a langstroth — box — beehive in the spring.

“It’s actually going to be part of an intermediate beekeeping class that starts Sunday that I’m a part of,” Sikkenga said.

“Our instructor Meghan Milbrath is going to teach us how to get them from their feral environment into the hives. I think the key is to locate the queen and when you move the queen the rest of the hive will follow. I’m not exactly sure how that will happen though.”

Milbrath teaches a number of classes that are collaborations between the gardens and Ann Arbor Backyard Beekeepers. Beginner and intermediate classes meet weekly and are open to the public but have space limitations. There are also free monthly beekeeping workshops.

The hive that was delivered Thursday came from a tree that had previously been on Berkshire Road near Vinewood Boulevard in Ann Arbor Hills.

“We took most of the tree down at the end of September and the bees started swarming around so that’s how we know we were in there,” Bill Dale of the Ann Arbor Forestry Department said.

“So we left the stub and waited for the temperature to drop to come back and take it away.”

Dale said the department comes across about one feral beehive every year. The trunk that he and Susan Cowling delivered to the botanical gardens was about 10 feet long and three feet in diameter.

“There was actually a squirrel living in the top of it when we cut it down and it jumped right out and ran away,” Dale said.


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