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July 7th, 2011

Busy little bees.

All houses, old or new, have unexpected repairs, including the honey bees’ house we had to remove last week. In their case it was more of a relocation.

While working on the front shutters (see the post ‘Little touches’) and storm windows I noticed a small group of bees hovering near the corner soffit. On further investigation in the attic, I realized the bees had been there for more than a few days as there were dozens of dead honey bees. They were getting into the attic somehow, but likely by accident since there weren’t many live ones flying around. Outside was still their main means of entry to the hive.

Denise contacted the bee keeper at her office, the Howard County Conservancy, for help and she referred another local bee keeper, Charlie Hancock, to us. Charlie tries to relocate the hive and it’s inhabitants to start new colonies on his farm. He dropped off a bee suit for me so I could figure out where the hive was and then he would come back to move it once it was exposed.

All dressed up and no place to go…but up the ladder.

It was a little unnerving having bees check me out up close at the top of a ladder even with the suit on. Eventually I learned to trust the suit and ignore the bees, which was good because they started getting a little testy when I was hammering and prying the wood around them!

The first step was collecting as many of the bees as possible. This ensures two things: 1) most of the bees stay with the hive, and 2) there are less bees flying around to sting you while you work. I learned a lot about honey bees from Charlie in these couple days. One of the most interesting things was how you move a hive. Bees work up to 3 miles from the hive, and can find their way back easily. However, if you move the hive more than 3 feet in a day, they won’t know where it went. Weird, huh? They’ll come back and hover around the old location. So you need to move it more than 3 miles or less than 3 feet at a time.

Back to the task at hand, collecting the bees. There are several commercially made “bee vacuums” on the market, but the one Charlie was interested in was on backorder for weeks. We didn’t have that time because it was early summer already and the longer we waited the larger the colony would become. He improvised one with a shop vac and some other locking chest that I never did quite figure out. The airflow basically went through the chest and turned 90 degrees, catching the bees in a wood and wire box inside. In this pic, the chest is to the left.

Once it seemed like most of the bees were out of the way and safely contained in the vac, Charlie started removing the honey combs.

Next, he inserted the combs into these wooden frames that I think get inserted into the hive back on the farm.

I was amazed at how calm he was around the bees. You could see some bees still on the combs he was handling. They didn’t bother him at all, just kept going about their business. I realized their plan later…they acted calm and non-chalant so that I’d let my guard down. It worked. The only mishap we had all day was when Charlie checked on the cage inside the vacuum. We had all gotten sucked into this false sense of security and safety by those few straggling bees, and then he opened the chest top and I have no idea how many angry bees flew out! I started getting buzzed as did our two dogs, Charlie and his family who were there to help. Our poor pooch, Mason, thought she had a new favorite game catching bees until they started stinging in her mouth. While I was in the bathroom digging the stinger out of my forehead we heard a thump in the hallway and found Mason on her side in distress. Terrifying! We forced a Benadryl down her and rushed her to the vet. Thank goodness she was alright. By the time we got to the vet the Benadryl had kicked in and she started recovering. We still had a scary night watching all the hives develop but she made it through and by the next day was trying to catch bumble bees. Not the sharpest tool in the shed, but we love her. Let my mistake be a lesson…don’t trust the bees. Keep the dogs inside when you’re clearing any kind of bee/wasp nest.

As daylight was running out Charlie felt like he had collected all the comb he could reach, but we weren’t sure if there was more that couldn’t be seen. He also wasn’t sure if he got the queen. So far it was an easy repair, a little roofing and we’re done. Problem was there were alot of dead bodies in the attic meaning they had some sort of access inside the house. Charlie came back the next day with one of those infrared inspection cameras that lets you see around corners and inside walls. We couldn’t see anything significant and decided to go ahead and spray from inside the attic to behind where we thought the bees came in. At the very least maybe anything coming back in the next couple days would be stopped. It sort of worked…

After enjoying a cool, refreshing adult beverage and talking about Charlie’s farm, we went outside to take another look. Only a few bees were flying around the corner of the roof so we figured we got them. Then I noticed a small swarm of bees around the tree in our front yard. They were starting to form a mass on one of the tree limbs and slowly the swarm dwindled, leaving what looked like a “beard of bees.”

Charlie figured the queen must have still been in the roof when I sprayed and it chased her out. Another interesting fact about bees…the workers stop feeding the queen a few days before a swarm (when the seek to start a new colony) because she’s too heavy to fly. In this case, she probably tried to fly anyway and this tree was as far she could make it. The remainder of the nest followed her and piled on for protection overnight. One last chance at getting the queen and ensuring a successful hive relocation! Charlie and his son, Ben, came back late that night after dark. All of the bees had stopped flying and were on this limb now. He sprayed the bees with sugar water to keep them from flying and then basically knocked the whole lot of them into buckets with locking tops. It took a couple tries, but he got all but a few that had flown by me on the porch (I’m as bad as the dog.)

Through all of this I started realizing what I had been seeing behind these attic walls during the restoration. Old honey comb attachments. Lots of them.

I had the exterminators come out and dust the cavity where the nest was to further ensure no future activity. I sure hope it works.


One Response to “Busy little bees.”

  1. Rebecca Says:

    I am so happy that you guys are living your dream! AND congrats on your baby! We have been out of touch for too many years. Hopefully we will be able to stay in touch. I wish you nothing but the best!! – Rebecca Kennedy

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