The curious case of the missing bees

PARK CITY, Utah. – Earlier this month, Sloane Johnson, executive director of Summit Community Gardens (SGC), went to check the garden’s beehive and found a mismatched set of tools and supplies, no bees and no honey.

“I walked up to the bees, and everything was totally different,” said Johnson. “There were different pieces of beehives put together. They were all assembled wrong and backward, and I opened it up, and there were brand new hive sections, where the bees make their hives in their cone. They had classic ones that were brand new, and there were no bees.”

Her first instinct was to call police and report the hive stolen. Instead, she turned to the online community and posted on multiple beekeeping forums.

“And finally, we got a reply from the guy who had essentially donated the bees to us three years ago. He believes they were his, so he took him back, is what ended up happening.”

The bees were believed to be donated in March of 2019 by beekeeper Jeff Bridgeton, who offered bees in exchange for filming rights on the Summit Community Gardens property.

“He was creating a web video about honey and having bees in your gardens,” Johnson said. “And he wanted our permission to film him inspecting beehives in the Summit Community Gardens. In exchange for permission to film in the gardens, he said, ‘I’m happy to provide these [bees] for the garden.’ That’s the last email we had from him.”

Bridgeton was not available to comment for this article. According to Johnson, Bridgeton offered to replace the taken bees with three new hives. Johnson declined the offer stating SCG will be purchasing their own bees and accepting donations to sponsor the new bees, in order to avoid future confusion on bee and hive ownership.

The queen bee is marked with blue to distinguish against any foreign queen bee that may have entered the hive.

Johnson assumed the executive director role in March of 2020. Upon starting the position, the bees were there with no appointed primary beekeeper. Because the bees were acquired the previous year, Johnson had no prior correspondence with Bridgeton.

“When I started, I tried to figure out who was responsible for the bees,” said Johnson. “I had [Bridgeton’s] email…I reached out to him to see if they were his bees. He never responded to me. I was trying to find out because there was a gray area with the responsibilities for the bees. So, I worked hard to try and figure out are they somebody else’s bees? Who’s in charge of the bees? I did that research with no response…. We decided to take over the care for the hive.”

With no previous beekeeping experience but a lifelong interest in bees, Johnson brought the hive back to health with help from garden supervisor Natalie McHale, board member Jules Angell, and other community members.

“We put a lot of effort into taking care of them and bringing the, you know, making it a healthy hive,” she said. “When I got there, the hive was overloaded with honey. And the bees couldn’t even fit. So, they swarm because there’s no room in the hive. So, we harvested the honey, and we got a new queen. We rebuilt our colony of bees, and we had a treatment for k-wing [caused by mites].”

The garden’s bees help with the pollination of its plants and flowers. SCG holds pollination classes for adults and children. SCG also hosts a beekeeping support group where local beekeepers troubleshoot issues and discuss news and other topics.


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