It is the first job of the season, and it came about in the usual way – word of mouth. Quinton, Toyota salesman extraordinaire, listened for a long half hour as I nerded out about bees in the Toyota showroom last week. I talked and I lectured, and, impressive salesman that he is, Quinton managed to keep his eyes from rolling back into his head.
I gave him a jar of honey. He gave me his neighbor.
No, seriously. Later that week, he referred me to Rusty, one of his neighbors. Rusty, he explained, looks like a mountain man. But he has a heart of gold. And he has bees in his barn, and wants to get them out.
Sure. No problem. I’ll go on the first warm day and check it out.
Thursday came and it was warm – mid 60s – and I went to the other side of Talullah to take a look at the bees in a barn.
When I got there, Rusty was standing in the driveway. We traded names and talked about what was the likely approach for getting bees out. I explained that I had an infrared camera, and would use it to pinpoint the warmer spot where the bees were, and if appropriate, I’d set up a time to remove them.
We walked around the house to see a nice two-story barn. No paint, and a fair amount of clutter, but a decent-looking building. “My kids,” Rusty explained, “would just as soon see me push the building down. If you think that is the right approach, I’ll understand.”
We walked together to the edge of the overhang, and he pointed to the other structure. The one without a roof.
“My grandkids – well, some of them get too close and the bees have gotten them a time or two. If we can figure out a way to get them out, that would be good.”
Step one: get close. The building is surrounded by a thick stand of blackberry cane. Now there are effective ways of dealing with blackberry, and most of them address Satan’s Hedge in the best way possible: standing at the edge and reaching in to grab the occasional berry as it ripens.
Step one was elusive. I was going to have to get in. Lifted up my leg as high as I could, and stepped down on the cane, working hard to keep my face neutral – so as not to show what a wimp I was. Thorns everywhere, dislodging in my jeans and my shirt and jabbing me in all directions. And then I switched feet and did it again, this time with unstable cane underfoot.
“Time was that walking through blackberry was a regular thing for me,” I explained. “I have been driving a computer too long.”
He grunted a positive response, but did not follow me. After a few minutes of wobbling and crashing and grabbing at blackberry to balance and steady myself and some significant tearing of jeans, I made it through the stand, and looked back. I had progressed a whopping ten feet in a quarter hour.
There was no evidence of the bees. The weather was warm enough to where they should have been flying around a little bit. And then when I banged on the side of the building, anybody inside should have gotten their dander up and come out to demand an explanation from me.
No such demand was forthcoming.
That’s fine. I’ll just make sure. So I stepped back, and aimed my camera, which had, in a baffling move, decided to stay in my pocket for the voyage, at the wall.
Then I backed up a little further, because it was not clear what I was seeing from that close.
Then a little further, hacking down more cane in the process.
(I sincerely hope that Rusty had not been cultivating that cane.)
I finally got far enough to have a decent shot, and it was clear that what I had suspected was the case. No bee activity at all.
The bees had either died over the winter, or had taken off in the fall for something that was a little more to their liking. It is not an uncommon practice. Rusty explained that the bees had been there for eight years or more. The little bit of comb I could see through the crack confirmed that it was old brood comb in the wall. Very dark brown.
So no bees is good news. That means that I can draw them in with a box placed adjacent and give them a good alternative to swarming into the walls. I took a box of frames I had brought with me and placed it on top of the 8′ tall stump, and tied it down. In the coming week, I will take some expanding foam sealer and put it in the space. Rusty explained that this step was not necessary: “Crorey, it is already open to the air – you’re not protecting anything.”
“But the bees will move into the wall, unless we convince them that there isn’t enough space,” I explained. “By filling the space, we can get them to move into the box instead.”
Afterwards, I went around the building to see the hive from the inside. It was a little easier going. Or maybe the scratches just didn’t register like they did on untorn flesh.
I walked over to see if there was an easier approach from that side, and made the colossal mistake of stepping carelessly. The flooring was not nearly as sturdy as I thought.
I don’t think I screamed. (I might have.) My foot went straight through the floor, and I wrenched myself sideways to try and regain balance. I pulled myself out quickly, trying to react more quickly than any copperheads that might be lurking under the floorboards.
Quick check. Yep. Sure can see comb through the walls. Followed by a hasty retreat.
All in all, it served the purpose. I got a set of bee boxes in to use as swarm traps. I got a new acquaintance in Rusty. I got to check out some old bee haunts. And I failed to get stung or snakebit.
Success is sweet.