“We have some bees, and need them to get out. You can have them, if you want to come and get them.”
That is how the conversation began last week. I have been catching swarms the past couple of weeks, and so free bees always sound good. But I had a suspicion.
“Are they in a swarm, or have they already moved in?”
“Oh, they’re located in a few places across the warehouses. We can let you have them, if you want.”
“I’d be glad to come and give you an estimate for their removal. I will pick up a swarm for free. But the work associated with a cutout is something I charge for.”
“Oh. OK. I guess we can ask the owner of the property.”
And so started one of the more taxing removals I have ever done. Bees in four different buildings, one of which had three entrances – either an enormous hive, or three hives to be removed.
The warehouse complex on Levee St in Vicksburg is enormous, and the renovations had included new siding. The metal guys had gotten wind of the presence of bees while they were up in the hydraulic lift, when a couple of the girls took exception to the work they were doing.
As I have mentioned before, the confines of a hydraulic lift are not an ideal location for fighting off a bee attack. The siding guys were keen to get them gone.
I looked the job over, and three of the hives were in small pump houses. I was not certain, but pretty sure that they had taken advantage of some space between the metal roof and the plywood ceiling. My two options were to remove the metal roof, and take the comb out, or to cut the ceiling plywood and remove them from below.
I chose the roof. The spiderwebs convinced me, I think. I climbed up to the entrance, set all my equipment within easy reach, and started to work.
An hour later, it was clear I had made the wrong decision. Not only was the metal impossible to unscrew (I worked for an hour before finally giving up and prying the thrice-damned screws loose. And when I peeled the tin back…
I could see the comb, extending down the WALLS. Not in the ceiling at all.
Fortunately, the girls had been pretty docile up to this point. Cooler weather, calm genetics, whatever it was, it had made for an easy morning.
Back to the drawing board. Sawzall introduced to plywood, and a little of the comb was exposed. And then some more. And then some more.
Well, now that I have the patterns, it should be smooth sailing. March in, cut the wall, expose the bees, vacuum them into the bag, cut out the comb, put the comb in the box, take everything to the house, drop the box, dump the bees, and Bob’s your uncle.
At some point here, the girls decided that I was doing something they did not like. So they turned their attention to me. First a couple of stings on my hands, because I was wearing gloves that did not meet the sleeve. Then a few more.
Next pump house, with three entrances, and I open the first one, and the hive is, again, huge. It takes the rest of the day to clear the hive of its occupants and move them to their new home.
Pretty sure that at this point, I smell like a bee murderer. I explain to the guys around me – as I am getting dive bombed – that getting stung puts the scent equivalent of a dye pack after a bank robbery… every bee out there can tell that YOU had something to do with the bad stuff that just went down.
After I finished removing the 30,000 bees from this hive, I then moved to check the other two locations. Sure enough, there were TWO more hives in the walls of the 6’x6′ shed.
And none of them were happy to see me. After two hours, I had gotten less purposeful with my motions, and the bees were taking notice. After eight hours, I was downright sloppy.
Every time I would step away and take off my veil, I would get stung – eye, chin, scalp. Every time I would move in to remove more comb, they would exploit rips and tears in the old gloves. Best estimate was fifty or so stings. Fingers swollen, red splotches on the face… and still four more hives to remove.
At this point, it was late, and so I opened the wall enough to expose the bees, and called it a day. That would make the removal easy.
It would also make the bees mad so that when I returned, I would be open game.
I took a day off. I had to. My day job had some things to do, and they expect me to show up from time to time to do them. So I took Friday off from my bee job. But Saturday morning, I showed up in the cool early morning hours….
….only to discover that there was a gate locked. The gate only prevented vehicle traffic – I could go and retrieve the equipment I left behind – the smoker and the bee vac – but I could not carry the generator to the place where I had left off working.
Fortunately, there was another part of the job I could do.
One of the hives was located in the corner of a building they were in the process of tearing down.
Tearing down buildings that bees are in does not make them more receptive to visitors. Bees, already not known for their hospitality, are eager to make a point with me on an early Saturday morning.
I was not fully suited up before some girl decided she needed to chase me off, and she popped me in the scalp. As I began to work with the generator and the bee vac, they got more and more excited, and when I started pulling out – ow – pieces of comb – ow, ow – more and more of them – ow – joined in the fight.
Smoke didn’t touch them. They were just mad.
Normally, smoke gives bees a job and a distraction. The job is a good one – for a species than normally lives in hollow trunks of trees, the idea of a forest fire means that when there is smoke, they have to be ready to grab up all of the available food, documents, and picture albums out of the hive so that they don’t get burnt up. Their job is to suck as much honey as possible down, so that if they have to move, they are supplied. If it isn’t needed, they just put it back.
The distraction of smoke is that it interferes with their ability to smell the fact that dye packs had hit me over and over from multiple bank jobs in the past few days. The pheremones released are not as clearly sensed when there is smoke.
But guess what? As I kept reaching further into the void to get more bees, they didn’t seem to notice the smoke at all. But every crease in my suit got a sting. Every hole in my glove got tagged. Every time I would step away from the hive and remove my veil, several would follow me and chase the veil back over my head.
Twenty stings. Thirty.
IN the process, I realize that this is not a small hive in the corner of the building. The hive extends from the gutter to the top of the roof.
Two hours later, I have cleared out the bees, the comb, and I have saved enough brood to anchor the bees to the new box. Quick trip to the bee yard, and then back.
By this point, it is late morning, and I still have three hives left to go. I come back and make quick work of both of the ones that I opened up on Thursday, spening – OW – a minimum of OW, OW, DAMMIT, STOP!
At this point, I am watching bees inexplicable trying to go under my watchband because of something they smell down there.
The smaller of the two was a beautiful, bright yellow comb where the bees were recent immigrants to the property. They had only moved in a couple of weeks before, and the queen had immediately started laying eggs to raise brood. The entrance was at ground level, but they seemed unconcerned. Afterwards, when I put the vacuumed bees into the box, the queen came out to have words with me. She was NOT happy, and was one of the two colonies that did not stick around in my yard.
At this point, it is three in the afternoon, and I still have a large hive to go. There are a huge number of bees hanging around outside the entrance, and I am nervous about what I am getting into. At this point, I have at least 50 stings, and I have been working at it all day… I am beat.
The removal goes pretty quickly. By this point, I have it down to a smoky rhythm, and I am no longer counting stings. I am just trying to get done.
The hive is lovely, but there are surprisingly few bees present. For what was one of the largest digs, the numbers were discouragingly small. I suspect the queen had recently left with her entourage, leaving behind a virgin queen and a diminished host of subjects.
They didn’t mind taking a stab at me.
Over the course of three days, I received well over a hundred stings.
But at the end of the process, there were four of the six colonies that had been re-homed, and were building new homes in their new yard. And my privet, which is just coming into bloom, is just humming with activity.
They like the new space. I hope they will be happy here.