Island Beehive Takes Two Days to Rescue

By JOANNA DETZ and FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff

JAMESTOWN, R.I. — Jon Nelson referred to it as a “monster hive,” and for good reason. It stretched more than 16 feet tall, from the basement to the second-floor ceiling. It took the “bee whisperer” — a nickname, as far as ecoRI News knows, just bestowed upon the Woonsocket resident — two days to carefully extract 35 pounds of bees and about 100 pounds of honey.

There were some losses. Nelson was only able to rescue about 120,000 honey bees. The ones he saved are now living in three different colonies in his backyard. Their brood included in their new homes.

“A lot of so-called beekeepers show up decked out in bee suits, but they’re just there to kill the bees and steal their honey,” said Nelson, owner and operator B.B. Nelson Apiaries. “They tell everyone they’re rescuing bees, but all they are doing is sucking them up with a Shop-Vac and taking off with the honey.”

Nelson uses a vacuum he designed and built himself to gently gather the bees without killing them. The wooden contraption is lined with propolis — a resinous mixture that honey bees collect from tree buds, sap flows or other botanical sources and use as glue to seal the hive — which keeps the bees calm. When filled, it holds 22 pounds of bees. Nelson noted that there are about 3,500 bees to a pound.

“They’re not pissed off and upset about being vacuumed up,” he said.

Nelson doesn’t wear a suit when he rescues bees. On this latest rescue, he said he was stung five or six times, when a bee was accidentally squished. “The bees were super nice,” he said.

This Conanicut Island monster hive was about a decade in the making. The caretaker of the Harbor Entrance Control Post of Fort Burnside in Beavertail State Park said he knew the hive had been there for nearly 10 years, but only recently had the “bees started to infringe on my lifestyle.”

He called his friend Nelson.

Besides rescuing some 120,000 bees and creating three new colonies, his two-day effort resulted in 100 pounds of “ocean rose” honey that Nelson said was “aged at the top and new at the bottom.” The honey will be given to friends and family.

The three rescued hives will eventually make their way from Woonsocket to a friends’ farm in North Smithfield, joining 35 hives already there.