City bees-ness: Pollinate the new Tupelo park

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – After spending several years under a sewage manhole cover, a thriving honeybee colony this week will move into new digs at Tupelo Creative Commons Park.
City officials, along with beekeeper Ken Pickens, spent two hours Tuesday trapping roughly 200,000 bees, which had built a large hive in a sewage outlet behind Hidden Valley Apartments off Harrison Street. They plan to transport the insects to the park today.
“We noticed them a couple months ago,” said Chris Foster, a water foreman with Tupelo Water & Light. “But we just let it go until we could find someone to get them.”
The bees had built large clusters of honeycomb on the underside of the sewage cover. Their colony reached into the depths of the sewage outlet, and buried somewhere deep inside was the queen.
Pickens said he needed the queen to successfully move the colony, which will take up residence inside manmade hives at the park, located downtown on Spring Street.
But because the queen is hard to spot, city officials will purchase another one from a nearby breeder – just in case.
To get the bees, Pickens first calmed them with wood-chip smoke blowing from a hand-held device. He then removed the manhole cover with a crowbar, revealing the honeycomb clusters swarming with the busy insects.
They immediately circled Pickens and city Environmentalist Sherrie Cochran, who assisted in the effort. Both received several stings.
Unfazed, Pickens powered a special vacuum and sucked the bees from the honeycomb and the air into a tube before depositing them into beehive boxes in the flatbed of his pickup truck.
The activity stirred the colony, which exited the sewer en masse. Pickens and Cochran maintained their cool, but several bystanders slowly backed away. Others flat-out ran.
“Don’t swat them,” Cochran said, as two or three people shooed curious bees from their faces. “They’re not aggressive.”
Maybe not, but master gardener and bee enthusiast Reginald Rose didn’t take any chances. He stood several yards from the activity, recalling a recent episode where roughly 100 honey bees stung him after he accidentally squashed one of their hive mates.
In the end, the crew collected nine boxes of bees, which they’ll take to the park this morning. Once established, the colony will pollinate a community garden planted recently at the park, Rose said.
“We need honeybees or butterflies to cross-pollinate the apple trees and blueberries and other vegetables we’ve planted,” he said. “And maybe we can get a little honey next year.”
The honey from the combs collected this week will be destroyed, Pickens said, because of its unsanitary location inside the sewer pipe.

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.