I opened the door to the office. Unfortunately, I had gone into the wrong door, so the alarm screamed its fury at me, assaulting my senses.
At the exact same moment, a honeybee culminated her assault on me with a dive into my shirt.
Decision time: What crisis gets top priority?
I ran over to the center door, where the keypad was. The blaring of the alarm made it almost impossible to concentrate on the number I had to punch in to an unfamiliar keypad. And the bee was no less insistent that I pay attention to her, buzzing like crazy on my tender belly just under my ribcage. 5329, 5329, why is it not working, 5329, AAAGH, stop buzzing at me, AAAAGH the police are coming and I don’t have a safeword AAAAAGHHH!
5329-1. Alarm off.
Triumph! Alarm is now OFF and I can change the focus of my attention. Bee released from her prison and flying free, and now I can really get a look at my surroundings.
Every step of this job was like this.
The job started off with competing priorities. I currently have four different jobs pending. I generally prefer to take them in the order in which I was contacted, but a couple of them require resources that I don’t have (hydraulic lift), or the homeowner didn’t have the resources to contract the job. So it basically comes down to doing the jobs that I can get to and they can pay for. Ms Bonelli’s job moved to the top of the list.
This job was a “hot hive” from the start. A fellow beekeeper, Wade Grant, had also evaluated it, and found them to be a very aggressive bunch. The girls were very defensive of their position on a office building, and were very unwilling to let casual observers enter into their space. That’s understandable.
The bees were entering into a small crawlspace between the ceiling of the porch and the floor of the balcony. Right where the balcony met with the brick wall. My first task was to remove the fascia board, and see the extent of the colony.
Infrared imagery really hadn’t done a good job of showing me where the hive was located, and I’ve come to realize that that is a good indication that the bees aren’t where I think they are.
Knowing that the girls were uncomfortable with my presence, I suited up completely. Made sure that all of the gaps were covered, and I was velcro-ed, and all zipped up – doing exactly what I was supposed to do. I chose a thin pair of gloves, since I was expecting to do a little bit more finesse work. I fired up my smoker, blew some smoke, and climbed the ladder, prybar in hand.
As soon as I had gotten the prybar under the molding, the bees attacked me, focusing on my hand, and gave me enough stings to chase me down the ladder.
More smoke. A careful adjustment of the gloves, and I went back up the ladder.
The bees proceeded to give me a lesson in priorities. Either A) lose some time by going home and getting the thicker gloves, or B) continue to get stung at the rate of 10 times per minute.
I went home.
When I finally got the fascia board off, it was clear that the bees were not where I thought they were. Instead they had made their home somewhere in the walls or ceiling of the first floor office space.
I got the keys from Ms. Bonelli, along with the passcode, and we discussed the process of removing the bees. (It is at this point in the story, O Best Beloved, where I was forced to decide whether to address the alarm or the bee).
The inside view of the infrared showed more promise.
And so I suited up for battle once more. After removing the crown molding, I opened up a hole in the ceiling, and the bees began to enter the room at a rapid clip. Some even managed to sting me through my suit. Determined little guard bees…..
Then came the fun. Bees in the ceiling means that when you remove the comb, honey pours on your head. There is just no way around it that I have found. The space between the ceiling and the bottom of the second floor was considerable – about two and a half feet – and the bees had built the comb in a pretty inaccessible location. So they had a lot of comb to defend, and the first pieces I removed were just loaded with honey. Straight into the tupperware it went. More comb. Straight into the tupperware.
Then the next one was going to be a little harder to reach. I stepped up one more step on the ladder so I could reach, and…
Well, see for yourself.
The end of the video goes black because, yeah, I hit the camera.
As I stepped up to get a better purchase on the comb with my tongs, my foot slipped on the honey on the top step (the top approved step, not the apex). The change in my center of gravity torqued the ladder, and the legs twisted, sending me tumbling. I landed on my equipment and I landed hard, hitting the camera, the box for the brood, and the buckets with dry comb, as I fell.
After I landed, I just kinda laid there, taking inventory for a minute, and when it was clear that nothing was broken, I set the camera back upright and straightened and braced the legs. The blackout just lasts for a second, but now that you know what it is, you can tell in the longer version of the video.
At this point, I had a handful of stings, where the girls had found ways to sting through my suit. But it was about to get worse, as I moved from the honeycomb to the brood comb.
Bees are much more protective of their babies than they are of their food stores. Especially this time of year. And there were a LOT of bees on the brood comb. Careful not to overbalance or slip, I continued my task of cutting out comb and placing it, rubberbanded to the new frames, in the box.
At one point about 13 seconds into the time lapse, I flash a “31” to the camera. Because someone had challenged me on my count of the stings from the previous encounter with aggressive bees, I kept a running tally. At that point, I held up three fingers and one finger for three time-lapse frames. And then I got back to work.
IN a typical removal, I remove all of the bees I can, and encourage as many to go into the box as possible, and when I can no longer work my beewhisper magick, I use the beevac. Today, the girls were just too violent, and about halfway through, I needed to reduce their numbers, vacuuming them up and depositing them in the box.
At the end of the day, I was beat. Even walking a block away was not enough distance to avoid being followed, so drinking water was difficult and there was not really any opportunity for breaks. And the whole time, bees were stinging me through the suit. Final count was fifty four stings.
Vacuum, cleanup, remove the tools and ladder and insulation and boxes and ….
At this point my motions are pretty much zombie-rote-action, and I am still getting harassed by the bees. After clearing out the ladder and the tarp that I had used to protect the carpet, I sprayed the area with permethrin to discourage stragglers and to kill any remaining bees. I set the alarm and leave.
I recommended strongly that the office tenants take an additional day, so that I could come back and ensure safe entry. Unfortunately, they had to come in, so after a brutal afternoon, I returned this morning at 6:30 am to secure the space for work.
The bees in the hive had died, so most of the morning-after work was cleanup. Thousands of bees were piled against the wall, and my shop vac got a full workout before the day had started. I wiped down the floor, hosed down the deck, and removed the evidence…. except for some sticky residue on the carpet and a gaping hole in the ceiling.
After I was done, I had a nice little upside: 8 pints of honey. Not for sale – it was not from my girls, so I don’t have any knowledge of what they were accessing… but the light color and delightful flavor made for a nice gift for several people, including Ms. Bonelli.