After working with mean honeybees for a couple of weeks straight, I really wanted a nice, simple, friendly interaction with bees to restore my confidence. A sting or two is ok and expected, especially with a removal where you are taking the bees out of their home and away from their resources. It makes sense.
That is right, O Best Beloved; I returned to the scene of my most recent failure. In a previous post, I described the effort involved in removing bees from a height that just exceeded the length of my ladder, and vowed to rent a hydraulic lift to make it a safe removal. And I looked forward to it – every single time I had been up there – whether it was a brief climb to remove a piece of trim molding, or checking the entrance from above, the girls were docile. They were not bothering the occupants, but some pending renovations meant that they had to go.
After waiting for two weeks for the hydraulic lift to free up, I finally took delivery on a Sunday afternoon and hustled to put it into place and get my work done. The layout of the yard around the one entrance made access difficult. On one side is a brick column on the edge of a Civil War battery, and on the other, a bank of old-growth azaleas. I am not exactly known for my abilities for backing a trailer into a tight space. I was nicknamed Crash at the lumber yard for a reason….
A few miscues and at least one patch of torn up turf later, I had shoehorned my way into a tight space, and then maneuvered the lift into place, with my truck providing the downhill ballast needed to keep the lift in place.
Having learned his lesson from the previous exciting episode, our hero works the lift for a number of minutes before final liftoff, familiarizing himself with all of the controls. I was NOT going to get stuck in a panic trying to remember which button would extract me from the field of battle. It was hotter than 90 degrees, and with some reluctance I put on my suit. Even a vented suit makes for hot work in the direct sunlight.
Finally, ready to begin. I carefully moved the platform of the lift into place, and carefully pried off the fascia board.
See, when I did my initial assessment of the job, I used the infrared camera to see the extent of the hive, and the results were inconclusive. The heat signature I was seeking simply did not appear. (I am coming to the realization that any time I have an ‘inconclusive’ read from my camera, the job will be harder than I thought.)
Essentially, I had just successfully picked the lock to the hive, only to discover a safe behind Door #1. Instead of giving me access to the hive, prying off the fascia board simply exposed the joist behind the fascia board. A quick probe with a prybar revealed another 2×8 joist behind the first. Right. I exposed not one, but two layers of wood that separated me from the hive (it ended up being three.) Those crafty bees knew what they were doing when they hid here.
I hemmed and hawed, trying to figure out how to proceed. I even toyed with the idea of using a sawzall, which could punch through the hole in a matter of minutes. If only I was sure about whether the balcony would collapse if I did….
I finally made up my mind.
And I pulled up a flooring board on the balcony. After a moment of fright when I was not sure whether the floorboards extended into the house (they didn’t), I pulled up the board and pushed it to the side, and then another, to reveal…
The space was not enormous, and the number of bees was not particularly high. And they were, as before, remarkably docile. After exposing the bees, I found that that I could work in only a t-shirt and shorts. The bees, with their own task in front of them, simply took no notice of me as they gorged themselves on spilled nectar. Mrs. McMillin came out and took some photos, and Kathe came over and stood out on the balcony with me, in full view of the exposed bees. And not one sting among us.
I quickly transferred the brood comb into the file dividers, which I use to hold the comb temporarily until I can band it into the box. I then moved the beautiful, dripping honeycomb into a large tupperware. Spare pieces of comb were dropped into a bucket for rendering into beautiful wax (and some slumgum, if anyone nearby has chickens they need extra feed for…) .
Is it possible? Am I having a simple, easy removal, with docile bees? I mean, I had drunk more water than I could have dreamed possible on a late June afternoon. But it was simple, once I finally got it going.
After applying some ‘Honey B- Gone’ – an oil that makes bees want to be somewhere else, I put the now-strapped in comb into the box, and raised it with the lift into the space right next to the hive. Maybe they will move in.
I leave for the day, fingers crossed.
Next thing I know, it is Monday morning. A daily conference call with my office while we are teleworking in response to the epidemic shows up on my calendar. Even though I was not charging my time to the taxpayers while doing bee work, I called in while I was starting my work for the day. We discuss upcoming and ongoing projects while I take care of bee business. Simple multitasking.
The bees had not moved into the box I had left for them, but they were still as docile as I could have hoped for. No aggressive behavior at all. I chemically encouraged them to move along once more, and then got up in the lift with a bucket, and approached them to sweep them from their cluster location into a bucket….
“Discretion,” my dad used to tell me, “is the better part of valor.” Maybe I won’t need the full suit, but I should probably cover my face with a veil. Just to be safe.
Back down. Veil on. Back up. Take the brush over to the large cluster of bees, and SWEEP! They fall into the bucket, and explode at the bottom. But instead of being stunned and staying where they are, the bees came out ready for battle.
My co-workers on the conference call with me heard something like this:
“This week we have the RPRB… Ow! Ow! Ow, No, stop! No, OW! OK, I’ll back off, I SAID I’LL BACK OFF! OW!”
I had pushed them too far.
The cover on the bucket did not fit well or go on quickly, and suddenly I am trying to scrape 6 stingers off of my hands and arms while working the controls and cover as much skin as I can, all at once. Very different kind of multitasking than I had expected to be doing. I backed off, dropped down, and got out of the lift. And then came back, returning with the full suit. They were no happier this time around, but were far less able to gain purchase on my suit than they had on my bare arms.
A little bit of clean up, and I was done for the day, with only the return of the lift remaining.
Remember how I said getting the lift into place meant I had to maneuver the truck through a tight spot, and then work my way around and then back up the slope?
Yeah, so my truck does not have the power to push a 3200-lb trailer backwards up a grassy slope. And even if it did, I was disinclined to try and avoid damages to a 200-year old house and Civil war site.
Glen – the owner of the lift – brought a tractor and saved my bacon.
Leaving our hero to enjoy the bees, the honey, and to nurse a very few stings resulting from from a job well done.