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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Post #64: My First Cut-out, Part 3

Friend, Homeowner, and I had worked for several hours on the day before, trying to get a hive of bees that had taken up residence in Homeowner’s rafters.  We had ripped apart the soffit of his house, sucked up a ton of bees, and installed the honeycomb and bees in a new hive that Friend could manage.  All that was left was to hope that we had captured the queen and that the remainder of the bees had left the building, and were now making a new home for the queen and her brood.

The question was, is the Queen still in the rafters, or did we suck her up into the vacuum?

We showed up the next afternoon at Homeowner’s house.  I had wanted the bees in the rafter to crawl out of the rafters and fly into the hive we’d placed under their former home.  Unfortunately, most of the bees had left the hive and had flown back into the house.

So, I vacuumed some more.  Friend was like Scotty on the Enterprise in Star Trek:  “We need more suction, Captain!”  Friend pulled several things off of my vacuum in the belief it would help, including the filter.

I was down to the last cluster of bees when the vacuum quit sucking.  Friend checked, and the motor was full of bee guts.  Since there was no filter to keep the vacuum from sucking up the bees, the motor had torn apart the bees and let their little bee guts clog up the works!

It was getting dark by this time, and we could no longer see what we were doing.  We poured the bees that had survived back into the hive and put a screen across the front so they couldn’t abscond overnight.

Friend and Homeowner would not be available until late the next day, a Sunday.  Friend wanted to wait until after church to take his hive to its new home on his Dad’s property.  Friend called me Sunday afternoon to tell me most of the bees were dead.  I suspected they died from the trauma of getting vacuumed up twice.  He thought it was because it had become too hot in the hive.  We were probably both right.

Friend took the surviving bees to his dad’s place out in the country.  Later in the day, he called to let me know there was a fire ant problem.  He was going to put down some fire ant poison.  The next morning I got a call from Friend.  His Dad’s neighbor was complaining about a swarm of bees in a tree on his property.  Friend had told his dad they couldn’t be his bees.  I asked if he was sure they weren’t his bees.  He assured me the swarm was too big to be his bees, but he was going to go back and capture the swarm, anyway.  Friend had already asked Homeowner to build him an extra hive.  So now he had something to put in his new hive.

The following morning, we showed up to vacuum up any bees that might be lingering.  I didn’t expect to find any bees.  I was right, the bees had enough of our antics and moved out of the home.

While talking things over, Friend got a call from his Dad.  The fire ants had taken over the hive.  There were no bees left in the box.  So now Friend had two hives and no bees.  He decided to drive to his dad’s property to retrieve the swarm.  What he didn’t realize was that the swarm was 40’ up a tree.  He didn’t get the bees.  I didn’t know trees grew 40’ high in South Texas.

I’m pretty sure they were his bees, and we had caught the queen.  She was just smarter than we were.  Homeowner was happy to have the bees removed and that the family had fresh local honey to enjoy.  Friend was frustrated because he now owned two hives, but had no bees. I was disappointed that we had not managed to save the colony.  Despite my suspicion that the bees swarmed into the neighbor’s yard, I don’t know for sure what happened to them.  That is probably more my fantasy than the reality.  It is possible that we killed the colony.

We all learned from the experience.  There was satisfaction in trying to solve the puzzle of the best way to remove the bees without excessive damage to the house or the bees.  Despite losing the colony, the adventure was exciting.  We worked as a team to eliminate a problem Homeowner had.  And that was really the number one priority.  Saving the colony was secondary.  If we had managed that piece of the puzzle, I probably would have gotten myself in trouble by offering my bee swarm removal services to others.

We all got to experience something new.  The bees were amazingly calm.  The yard was alive with the sound of flying, buzzing bees.  The bees were landing on us and staring in at us through our veils.  We all were wearing protective equipment, and no humans got stung.  We were destroying their home, and there was little the bees could do about it.  Sadly, Homeowner’s dog was stung multiple times as the dog was the only available target.  Dog had to be taken to the vet and treated for her injuries.  Fortunately, Dog survived and is doing well.    

An update: 

Remember that I had agreed to tear apart, but not rebuild?  And remember how I was assured that would not be a problem, because both Friend and Homeowner were experts in the rebuilding field?  Well, I ran into Homeowner’s wife recently.  She was happy to see me, which was a relief.  It was also a surprise considering that the corner of her house we had destroyed had not yet been repaired.

Yes, the bees were smarter than I.  They are also much better carpenters.  I imagine in my mind that the swarm that left Friend’s hive are now living in a nice cozy attic they found near Friend’s father’s property.  I can see them buzzing in and out of a tiny hole in the soffit, and deep inside there is precisely built eight sided cells housing the new eggs and larvae, with nectar and pollen stored nearby.  The comb is all lined up in neat rows, attached to the underside of the room.  The queen is busily laying eggs and a new generation of bees are out pollinating the farmer’s crops.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Post #63: My First Cut-out, Part 2

Friend had enticed me to help remove a colony of bees from his friend’s house.  It took about a week to prepare things for the removal.  Friend had his new bee equipment.  I’d built a make-shift bee vacuum from a cheap shop vac and spare plywood, and homeowner had braced himself for the onslaught of our good intentions!

We got to the house early one morning with all of our equipment on hand.

The home owner didn't think there were many bees.  I knew better and told them so.  No one believed me.

When we peeled off the wood, Friend and Homeowner believed me.  There was a lot of uniformly built comb going back deep into the house between the rafters.

I began to scrape the comb off of the underside of the roof.  Friend cranked up my make-shift bee vacuum and began to suck up the bees.

Things were going slowly, and Friend thought there wasn't enough suction.  He got off his ladder and kept fiddling with the bee vacuum, despite my protests.  He was patching up holes and making other minor improvements to increase the power of the suction.  While he was doing this, I couldn't help but think of Tim Allen in the old “Home Improvement” television show, where Tim was always looking for “more power.”

We managed to recover all of the comb.  We used rubber bands to hold the comb in place on the frames for the beehive.  We added comb with young larvae as well as comb with honey into the new hive, where we hoped the bees would make a new home for themselves.  Some of the comb honey remained in an ice chest for Homeowner and his family to enjoy.

After getting the comb squared away, I went back on the ladder and began sucking up the remaining bees.  We had sucked up a lot of bees.  But there was a cluster of bees way in the back that we couldn't reach with the vacuum.  The space was over a sauna someone had built, and Friend wanted to rip the ceiling boards out of the sauna to get to the bees.

I didn't want to see that much destruction, so I suggested we stop for the afternoon, and see whether or not we caught the queen.

We poured the bees out of the vacuum into the hive that we had prepared.  The hive was set on a ladder close to the old colony.  If we had the queen, then all of the bees that were still in the house would fly into the hive.

It was getting late and it was time for supper.  We decided to leave for the day and finish things up the next afternoon.  If all went right, four things would happen:

1)      The queen was in the hive and the bees left in the rafters would find their way into the hive with the queen. 

2)      We would then have a working hive that Friend could manage on his father’s property. 

3)      Homeowner would be bee free.

4)      Homeowner and Friend could rebuild the corner of the house that we had destroyed.