The petite Missouri University of Science and Technology blonde was cooking a pancake as I walked through the kitchen to the laundry room. Her roommates scattered around a kitchen table discussing the best way to remove a bee sting.
Her landlord, Minister Dale Wands, had called me earlier in the week to get a honeybee colony off his rental property.
Hundreds of honeybees were gathered around the cable junction box and disappearing – it could be into the junction cable box area or all through the building wall.
“Well, let’s find out where they are” said Sam Elia. With his electric jigsaw, Sam started to cut a hole in the closed off laundry room drywall, located behind the outside cable box.
Sam is a beekeeping friend of mine from Meramec Valley Beekeepers Association, of Bourbon, who does “cut outs,” or removes honeybee colonies, provided he can get to them. He never knows what he is “getting into” until he visits the property and literally follows the bees.
Removing the drywall revealed the most amazing white honeycomb hanging sideways from the wooden support beams. The space was densely-packed, which from a distance looked more like insulation than the inside of a bee colony.
One of the property managers stopped by while we were working and said the bees had been around for three years. It was possible the honeybees had more honeycomb stored elsewhere but the challenge was how far to remove the drywall, and possibly siding.
Periodically there are sensational stories that make national news about bees taking over a house. Africanized honeybees notwithstanding, regular honeybees are not predisposed to harass anyone. They want to build honeycomb, raise bees and store honey for winter. As their possible habitat continues to be reduced, they are going to try to make alternate housing arrangements.
Honeybees were brought by European settlers to North America in 1622. Today they contribute about $15 billion to U.S. agriculture's efficiency through pollinating services. Every third bite of healthy food we eat is pollinated by bees - mostly honeybees.
“I heard a radio show a few weeks back about how important they are to our food supply,” Wands said. “I hope you can save them.”
With a modified shop vaccum, Sam and his wife Nora tackled corralling the outside bees. When the screened box that served as a bag was full, we dumped the bees into the small portable hive with a comb I held on frames with rubber bands and waited for the bees to return to the junction box before gently vacuuming them again.
The key is to get the queen, although it’s hard to see her among agitated bees. At one point, Sam spotted a bunch of bees huddled in the box corner, a sign that bees might be protecting the one queen.
Page 2 of 2 - When only a handful of bees remained, I - ve-ry care-full-y – drove my car with a box full of frazzled bees home and waited for Sam and Nora to join me.
We found a good spot in the garden and pick-axed a flat area. Once it was stable, I moved the frames of honeycomb into the hive and dumped the screened box full of bees.
“Nurse bees will quickly go to work carrying for the larvae,” Sam said as I watched some bees fly off. The rest seemed to scurry down into the hive frames so I quickly shut the hive and let them find their way around their new home.
If the queen bee is with them, they will settle in quickly. If we missed capturing her, they will grow a new queen in a month. In either case, they will spend the rest of this season remaking the honeycomb that was destroyed in the junction box and hopefully saving honey to eat over winter.
I double-checked the property a couple of days later, hoping my garden was not within the bees' two-mile flying radius. I only found a couple dozen forager bees hanging out at the property corner.
And the renters? At least one is disappointed.
"I didn't mind the bees," the pancake cook told me. "They gave us free cable."
Charlotte Ekker Wiggins is a certified gardener sharing gardening tips in a changing climate at http://www.gardeningcharlotte.com. Copyright 2013 used with permission by Rolla Daily News - St. James Leader Journal - Waynesville Daily Guide. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Contact Charlotte at firstname.lastname@example.org.