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May 27, 2024

My Summer of Bees

By Lydia Manx

In the middle of June I started noticing more and more bees in my backyard. I found it odd because so many people had been talking about a bee virus and how they were dying off in record numbers. The agricultural community was projecting huge losses due to the lack of bees.

I shrugged and continued to work my garden and ignore the bees. I have a healthy respect for bees. I have been stung only once that I can remember on the morning of my aunt's wedding a few summers back. I know bees go to the beach to die. It's not an urban legend but a tried and true fact. My dad swells up immediately when stung so that gave me the genetic predisposition to have a less than favorable reaction.

My reaction that morning when I stepped on a dying bee in the sand was to feel like a hot poker was jammed into the bottom of my foot to my heart. Knowing that wasn't a great reaction, I visited the lifeguard station while calling my brother to make sure someone could come rescue me if I had to head to hospital. The lifeguard was cute and helpful and gave me an ampoule of something green and gooey that stopped the pain. I gobbled a few Benadryl and by the next day wasn't dead so I figured I was good for a while.

Naturally I went to the Internet and read up on bees afterwards and found out each sting increased the odds of harsher reaction until you had an Epi-pen with something helpful and a tag on your car giving you handicapped parking because bee stings could kill. I am not one to overly panic, so I kept reading. I learned more and more about bees and that they seemed to react to certain colors, not that I wore bright colors, and fear. I truly am not afraid of bees. That little life lesson was drilled in this summer.

So by July I knew for sure we had a beehive in our yard. I have my own exit and entrance to my parents' house that is near the garden and the birdhouse. My dad got a birdhouse that actually looks like a house. One of my brother's friends builds them. We had to close up most of the entrances years ago due to an infestation of rodents (don't ask) and over the winters and summers the main entrance stretched and warped and gaps appeared.

The queen bee found her home. She quite readily set up her hive inside the large birdhouse and began honeycombing to her heart's content. The workers flew in and out and we all began to notice. At first there were attempts to actually remove them via manual efforts of my nephew and father that resulted in the bees laughing. They were quite happy with their new home.

I tried to call local colleges agricultural department and have someone come and remove the hive without killing the bees. Nobody answered because it was summer. August passed with me taking pictures and amazed at how cool the sound of bees humming and the comb grew. I wasn't afraid in the least -- but was accused of being mildly nuts when I took pictures with my cell phone and 35 mm camera. The bees didn't bother me and I wore shoes so all was good.

My mom called local bee removal services and found out they charged a hundred and fifty to a hundred and seventy five dollars to kill the bees. We figured out from my pictures and the net that these weren't the Africanized bees but basic good old honeybees. Nobody wanted to kill them. I kept calling up colleges and trying to figure out who'd take them. It became this odd quest. My nephew tried to Craig's List them but didn't get much response.

I then remembered that the local tack shop used to have bees behind them in the fields. I called the shop and spoke with a lovely woman who was fascinated by my tale. She said she'd talk to the owner and passed on that her owner had a bad experience the previous summer. They went to move some things in a shed in the field near the shop and were swarmed off by bees that had nested underneath the shed. They ended up having to destroy the hive because the bees weren't the honeybee sort of hive. She had my name and number and about ten days later I got a call from the Russians.

A Russian man had called the tack shop looking to buy bees. His daughter translated and was told about my hive. She called. I spoke with her and explained we were even ready to give up the birdhouse in hope of getting the bees somewhere they could be useful. She assured me they would be over in a few days. So I waited. The Russians were coming! I was delighted to hear I was going to be helping the local agriculture. Days came and passed. Nobody showed up or called. I was resigned. I was going to be dodging bees for a while but they were happy.

Labor day weekend we had a barbeque with our neighbors. It was blazing hot and sitting over on the complete other side of the house we were talking to them about our 'bees'. Fascinated a few of them went with me to see the hive. The bees were delighted by the hot weather and zipping in and out of the opening. I calmly took pictures while a few of my neighbors looked on in amazement. The honeycomb had pushed out nearly to the opening and the bees were very visible.

My nephew found some beekeepers in the north county who had an organic farm. Mid-September we got ready for the bees departure. I had by then done plenty of reading on bees and removal. Some local sites actually explained precisely how to remove them but given my dad's known allergy and my possible allergy neither of us were ready to risk the ER visit.

Midweek they showed up. A battered old truck was in my parking spot. And I made it home in time to watch the entire event. The two men, Barry and Dash to the rescue! Barry was the older of the two and was calm and happy to find such a great hive of 'gentle' bees. They had an organic farm with tons of bees and one of the colonies on the farm, Dash told me, weren't nice and were the Africanized bees. They were thrilled ours were sweet honeybees. Then they began to suit up. The traditional beekeeper's helmet was easily recognized. Their suits were cream-colored one-piece jumpsuits that reminded me of garage mechanic jumpsuits but lighter. Then I recalled how bees reacted to colors and saw the logic in their outfits.

They began to tape up minor holes in their suits with duct tape. Yep, good old-fashioned silver duct tape was deployed in the bee removal process. A small metal water can looking container was filled with newspaper and burlap and set afire. I exaggerate, as there was no visible flame, but lots of smoke. Aromatic and musty and they covered themselves with the scent while beginning to put the smoke into the hive.

I thought this whole operation would be done at dusk. Nope, they started around three in the afternoon and within an hour were done. Because we'd heard bees scent their hives, we knew that we couldn't keep the birdhouse without risking another hive. So Barry and Dash were moving the entire house. Dash used the duct tape and smoke a bit more frantically than Barry. Barry was relaxed and happy to get a lovely honeybee hive.

The birdhouse was stationed atop an old tree stump. My dad had bolted the house down with huge bolts and tightened down so the house didn't fall off the stump. Barry and my dad were ready to saw off the tree if need be. Then Barry took off his heavy gloves and calmly unscrewed the retraining bolts atop the screws. The bees crawled over his hand and Dash flooded the house with smoke. They had made sure to cover the openings with duct tape and soon carried the entire house to the back of their truck.

They drove off and my summer of bees was done.

Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-06-21

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