The Great Invade

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DSC_5344I was on my way outside through the basement sliding glass door with my youngest daughter when I noticed a lot of bees buzzing around just outside the door. "That's odd" was followed rather quickly with "That's not right". I had my daughter wait while I went out through a different door.  I walked around the house to where the bees were buzzing and saw a bee swarm on the corner of an overhang hear the sliding glass door.

Cool, a swarm of bees. The kids will get a kick out of watching a bee keeper collect them. When I was a kid, I was always running around in the woods and swamp near our house and I was also an active Boy Scout. I have always been fascinated by nature. Most people never get introduced to nature and as a result, they don't understand it and sometimes even fear it. I try to introduce my kids to nature, plants and animals so I saw this as a great learning experience. So, I go back inside and tell the family about our visitors. I bring everybody out to see the swarm with bees buzzing everywhere.

Honey bees are pretty docile. Each bee can only string once and stinging kills them so they don't really want to do that but they will guard the nest. They will also sting if trapped (like inside a shirt). Swarms are also pretty tame and you can get very close before they consider you a threat. I've seen keepers collect swarms in short sleeves and goggles and not get stung.

I wasn't worried about getting close to the swarm but at the same time, things happen and it would be bad on several levels if one of the kids got hit. I’ve been stung several times by bees and wasps and yellow jackets (oh my) without reactions but I don’t know if the kids are allergic of not. Either way, stings hurt a lot and I want to instill respect for bees, not fear. So we all stay about 15-20 feet away.

Even though I’m not afraid of the bees, I really need them out of there. After we go back inside and start dinner, I start hitting the web looking for swarm removers. There are several lists that cover the local area. I leave a voice mail for one that is closest (She did get back to me later that night). The next call I make is further away but he answers.

David Wright is a full time firefighter and bee keeper on the side. He was working and couldn’t come out for a couple days. Also, he wasn’t convinced that it was a swarm. He thought we had a hive in the house and this was just the first time we noticed it. He described a condition called “bearding” where bees will go outside of the hive to help cool it (not the first thing that comes up when you Google “bee bearding)”. Although he was not able to come immediately, he put out the call out on the beekeeper underground and Tim called a little later.

DSC_5344Tim got there just as the kids were going to bed. Tim said that if that was a swarm, it was very small. We looked and decided they were going into the siding of the house and probably into the house itself. To get rid of them requires a process called a cut-out. That involves cutting one or more holes into the structure to find the bees, then expanding the hole to get to the hive and finally removing the bees, hive, and honey. Tim said he doesn’t do that but David does and he charges $400-$600 or so depending. Ouch. Oh, and the people who do cut-outs aren’t repair guys so they don’t repair whatever holes they make in your walls. Ah.

The next day I go into the basement for something and freeze when I hear buzzing and look up to see bees. Not a lot, but they are inside the living space of the basement. Damn. The urgency of the problem just went up a few points. I investigate a little and can tell they are coming through the recessed lighting fixtures. OK, they are between the basement ceiling and main level floor. There are also a lot of dead bees next to the sliding glass door. When they are in my basement 20-30 is a lot!

I call David again. Tim had filled him in about what he saw. I’m still thinking this is a new small swarm. He emails me a pic of a hive in a ceiling. With a lot of hive. And a lot of bees. And a lot of brood. And a lot of honey. A nest like that is not something I can deal with myself. I had considered hosing them down with soapy water (the recommended method of killing bees) but if I have a mass like that in my house, it will be a huge mess, smell, and invitation to other pests. I may have a huge problem that I do not have the knowledge, tools, or time to deal with.

I tell David I want to hire him to do a cut-out. I understand the cost. I understand the mess. I understand it may be a tempest in a teapot. He is slammed but he has time in a couple of days. Cool. A couple days is not going to be enough time for the situation to get much worse. We set up an appointment.

He arrives at the appointed time. He brings some show and tell with him: a piece of honeycomb. He says it is one days production for a new hive. Pretty cool.

DSCN2157rDSC_5346DSC_5347DSCN2158rHe sets up, suits up and gets to work. A bee drops out of the first hole he cuts. Must be the wrong spot because he was expecting more. Move over, cut again and more bees. OK, found the right place. Cut a bigger hole. There is a small mass of bees. He vacuums them out. No hive yet. There a hole to another area. He has to cut into there as well. Jackpot there’s the hive. It’s small, so it is a new hive. He vacuums out all the bees he can, pulls out the comb, and cleans up. The whole process take about 3.5 hours. He pulled out about chunks of comb about two soda cans in size total. About 7 days effort for the hive.

By the way, I had been moving around close to the work and bees for most of that time without them paying me any attention. David get stung twice from bees that wandered into his clothing. That's why I work with computers.

I help him pack up and then get the bill. A lot less than I had prepared myself for. Excellent!

I forgot to cover the access holes he cut in the basement ceiling so the next day I go down to be greeted by some clumps of orphans. Seeing 4-5 fist sized clumps of bees hanging in the corners was a little surprising. Alright, no kids in the basement for a few days. The orphans will die off and then it will be safe for me to work without having to watch for bees where I sit or put my hands.

David Wright was a God-send. He provided information, quickly got a knowledgeable beekeeper to check things out, and finally removed the bees at a reasonable cost. His contact info is available on the web but I will provide it here as well.

David Wright
Manassas, VA

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