When Christine Anderson looked out her kitchen window last spring, the sight didn’t make her very happy. One branch of her young maple tree looked like it was covered by a heavy jacket, carelessly tossed and forgotten. Scowling, she went to liberate the drooping branch. But what she discovered wasn’t a jacket at all.
“When I got closer, I realized thousands of bees were piled on top of each other, coating the branch,” Anderson said. “I remembered a good friend and coworker at Xcel Energy was a beekeeper and called her right away.”
That friend was Melody Imholte, and without her quick thinking and advice, not only would the bees have dispersed and potentially died, but Anderson wouldn’t have known what to do next.
Imholte confirmed through pictures Anderson texted that this was a group of honey bees taking temporary refuge in Anderson’s back yard. With daylight fading, Imholte didn’t have enough time to make the trek from her farm in Annandale to Anderson’s home in Woodbury to rescue the pollinators.
“I didn’t know when the bees arrived, and Melody knew they’d only stay a day or two. I set my alarm for four a.m., and hoped they’d still be there.”
The next morning, Anderson shined her flashlight on the tree. The bees hadn’t moved.
“I was as excited as Christine to see the bees,” Imholte said. “I also was nervous about getting all of them into the beehive box. I’d never rescued a swarm, and I really wanted to save those bees. Transporting them to my farm was the easy part.”
After sunrise, Melody placed a simple beehive box called a Nuc below the branch. She gripped one end of the branch, cut it off the tree, and shook it hard a few times over the wooden hive.
“Most of them dropped into the Nuc right away. Then it was a waiting game to see if the rest followed the queen into the box,” Imholte said. “I also sprayed them with syrup to calm them during the process.”
That one beehive box has grown into three over the summer. The bees are thriving and show great potential to survive Minnesota’s unpredictable winters.
Recently, Anderson visited the colony she helped save. “I was very happy to see them doing so well,” Anderson said, all smiles. “Every time I talk to Melody I ask about ‘her girls’, as she calls them. Seeing them prosper under her care was gratifying.”
Imholte is definitely a beekeeping enthusiast. Her excitement shines through as she explains the process of caring for and cultivating bees.
“I love being a beekeeper,” she said. “The swarm Christine and I rescued is one of four hives at the farm, and each one is unique and special.”
Imholte is helping perpetuate Xcel Energy’s long history of promoting pollinator habitats. In the 1970s, the company donated more than 23,000 acres to the federal and state government, helping to create the National Upper St. Croix Riverway. The company signed the Pollinator Pledge in 2015 to reverse the decline of pollinators in the St. Croix Valley, and has identified additional ways to become involved with the nation’s Pollinator Initiative.
It returned seven acres to native prairie with pollinator-friendly wild flowers at the High Bridge Generating Station in 2015. Beehives cared for by an Xcel Energy employee share the space. A seven-acre habitat at the First Lake Substation in Monticello was commemorated in June 2016. Twenty-six acres are being returned to native prairie at the Monticello Nuclear Generating Station in a cooperative effort with Wright County and the City of Monticello.
Christine Anderson is Nuclear Business Support Services manager and Melody Imholte is the Facilities supervisor at Monticello Nuclear Generating Station. Although their offices are now miles apart, clearly the bees benefitted from their close friendship.