Down South you can have a slew of tomatoes, a mess of fish, a heap of trouble, or a swarm of bees. In any case, you have a whole lot of something.
A swarm of bees looks intimidating but poses little danger unless disturbed, agitated or feel their queen is in danger. Their priority is to find somewhere new to live. Swarms are actually quite gentle because they have no hive to defend.
The swarming season is from April to July, but the unusually warm weather this spring confused the bees and made them swarm earlier this year.
In the latter part of March, Bart Grizzard and his young son Seth were working in the garden behind their house. A really loud humming sound – actually more like a roar – suddenly got their attention. What Bart saw frightened him.
Bart, a man of brawn and sinew, is not easily intimidated. He’s competed in bench press competitions lifting more than 400 pounds. As a contender in “toughman” contests in Savannah and Statesboro, he fought men weighing more than 260 pounds and won. But what he saw that warm afternoon made him run like a girl!
“I saw a dense black funnel cloud. It was swirling like a tornado and went all the way up from our back deck into the trees,” Bart said. “I thought was it was killer bees and I couldn’t tell where they were going.”
The bees were going into a big hole in the shade tree next to their deck. Liz, Bart’s wife, watched the mystifying scene from their back door.
“It was just unbelievable,” she said. “It took the bees over an hour to get in the tree – they went in by little groups.”
Bart and Liz called the unofficial Richmond Hill bee expert J.M. Sikes for help and found out J.M. could no longer do it.
“I got bees out of trees and houses years ago, but I’m not able to do that any more,” J.M. said.
J.M., a man born in a tent on the Ogeechee River 70 years ago, learned about bees from his dad, Mitchell Sikes.
“For as long as I can remember, my daddy had bees,” he said. “I’ve always like to mess with bees … I like the river, too … but I like to mess with those bees.”
J.M. “messes” with the bees very successfully. From his Georgia Department of Agriculture certified honey house, he sends tupelo honey as far as Iran. His tupelo honey has even found its way to the White House.
“It wasn’t easy getting the permit. Everything in our honey house is stainless steel,” J.M. said. “We can ship our honey anywhere.”
Interestingly, honey is the only food that will live forever.
When I asked J.M. about the danger of the bees being so close to the Grizzard’s back door, he tried to explain:
“Let me tell you about bees. You can set a hive of bees in your front yard near your door and walk through them everyday and they will get used to you and will not touch you,” he said.
“I say just leave them in the tree. I think they are fun to look at and see them going back and to.
“The swarm of bees knew what they were doing,” he continued. “The roaring sound was to keep them all together. It’s so loud you can hear it a long ways – they make a big fuss. They were trying to get the queen’s attention by swirling and roaring. Honeybees communicate with each other by ‘dancing.’ They wanted her to go in the tree hole and then they would all go in.”
Ultimately, the Grizzard’s called bee keeper Read Nichols, the go-to man to rescue a swarm of bees. Rescuing bees is a hobby he has enjoyed the past two years.
“When I was growing up, my dad and I had a lot of hives in West Virginia,” he said.
It’s no big surprise Read and J.M. know each other. They met at a Coastal Empire Bee Keepers Association meeting about a year ago.
“J.M. is knowledgeable and I’ve learned a lot from him,” Read said.
The afternoon Read came to rescue the bees, he had been to visit J.M. and his wife, Freida.
“I’ve got buckets of honey in the back of my truck from J.M.’s,” he said pointing to his vehicle. “This stuff is phenomenal.”
When Read arrived, he had two tools to remove the bees, a vacuum tank with a long tube, which was connected to two holding tanks, and a chain saw.
Once Read vacuumed out as many bees as he could reach, he cranked up his chain saw.
“With the right tools you can do anything,” he said. “I got the right tools.”
I had been observing Read’s operation from what I thought was a safe vantage point. But when he stuck the chain saw in the “bee hole,” I thought my feet were stuck to the patio. As soon as I could make them move, I darted inside the glassed-in back porch.
Ultimately, Read successfully removed the bees. He estimated there were around 20,000 bees in the tree.
“They were a normal hive of bees. It was difficult to cut open the hole in the tree to capture them,” he said. “I didn’t get all, as I had wanted. The hole was four feet deep –quite large and difficult for me to pull the comb and bees out.”
Read treated the area so the bees will not return and closed the hole with plastic.
“The bees are in their new hive and doing well,” Read reported from his bee farm on Wilmington Island.
Staying true to their friendly nature, the honeybees didn’t sting anyone.
For more information about J.M. Sykes’ honey, call 727-2015.
Hiers was born and raised in Richmond Hill.