Bees move in … and right back out again
The honey bee swarm swooped into our lives on a Friday afternoon.
We didn’t see it arrive. Our neighbors across the street did. They told us about a huge swarm of bees, first massing around my car in the driveway, then having a big old jamboree under our air conditioner.
One neighbor was so amazed he came over and took pictures.
So on Saturday my husband and I went out to see what was going on. We saw dozens of bees buzzing in and out of an opening in between some siding slats and right under an air conditioner, sheltered by a bush. We had no idea there was an opening before this.
The swarm — and we’re talking tens of thousands of bees — had moved in and set up shop that fast.
We never felt particularly threatened by these bees. They obviously weren’t aggressive like yellow jackets — the nastiest little jerks of the insect world. Our honey bees just went about their business, even when we got close to them. And they weren’t in a spot that was going to be an issue for anyone trying to hang out in the front or back yard.
Even so, we were a little concerned. I mean, maybe having a swarm of bees living in the walls of your house could cause a problem of some sort, right? So we tried to find somebody who knew something about our uninvited new house guests. Of course, neither my husband nor I had a handy beekeeper listed among the contacts in our phones.
So my husband contacted someone he thought might know somebody else who could help. That somebody else recommended another somebody, who then recommended another somebody…. It took quite a few calls to find Romulus beekeeper James Lee.
It was worth it.
We talked to him over the phone, and he popped over on Sunday, two days after the swarm had moved into our wall.
We were lucky to stumble onto James, who is a clinical social worker at Reliance Counseling LLC in his day job. Bees are his hobby and his passion. He tends a handful of hives and has a Facebook page called Bee Benevolent Swarm Removal. Feel free to check it out.
James had a look at our bees, and was pleased with them — lovely, docile honey bees, the beasties who are super pollinators of flowers and vegetables and fruit and thus essential to our food supply. He wanted to take them home.
What if we just leave them, I asked. What harm will it do?
Probably none at first, he said, but when they leave or die, your walls will be full of honey. And then they’ll likely be full of ants.
Ants? No way. I already have a small war going with pesky ants periodically invading a bathroom. No ants. The bees had to go.
How will you get the bees out of the wall, I wanted to know. It seemed like a logical question. So he showed me, explaining everything as he went along.
James set up a man-made beehive — a square, wooden box filled with sliding removable frames of hexagonal cells, some already filled with beeswax, some containing nectar and a little honey — in the bush right next to the “doorway” to the swarm’s digs under our siding.
He wore no protective gear while he did this, working inches from our buzzing bee buddies.
He was unworried and never got stung, but we kept a respectable distance away, and not just because of the coronavirus. A bunch of potentially pissed off bees makes social distancing a pretty easy decision.
The bees, he said, might just decide to move out of the space under the siding and into the box. He told us they’d definitely be curious and check it out. We were to watch for activity, and if we saw bees with pollen on them going into the box, we’d know his plan was working.
With the bee box set up to his satisfaction, James got ready to go home, and told us he’d check on the bee box in a few days.
But he called the very next day.
I had an idea last night, he said, and I’d like to come over with a smoker and some other gear. So later that day, James came back. He put some wood chips into the bottom of a small metal bee smoker — basically a can with a spout — lit them on fire and aimed the smoke at the bees.
The smoke, he said, distracts and calms the bees in case they get agitated. Then he got to work with duct tape, attaching a mesh funnel to their opening between the siding slats. The fat end of the funnel was taped over their “doorway.” They would be able to leave their nest via the hole, but they wouldn’t be able to figure out how to get back in through the skinny end of the funnel, James said.
When enough foraging bees left the hive without coming back with goodies for their queen, she’d come out to see what the heck was going on, and maybe decide the bee box would make a fine alternative home. That was the hope, anyway. James explained everything as he worked. This time, he wore protective gear, but not gloves. He never got stung.
This took a while, and by the time James was done with his work, curious neighbors and a couple of family members were all standing — and social distancing — in the driveway watching.
James, by now a bit of a neighborhood celebrity, went home and said he’d check back in a day or two. If we had any problems at all, we should call him, he said.
So we watched. By Tuesday afternoon, thousands and thousands of seemingly confused bees were hanging out on the side of the house. They were loudly humming, but still perfectly gentle. We thought they were waiting for the queen to come out so they could all move into their nice new mobile home. We were wrong.
By Wednesday afternoon, they were gone. My neighbors reported seeing the swarm fly through their yard heading to parts unknown.
James never got his new hive, despite his hard work. He came to get his empty bee box and shrugged. Bees are capricious, he said.
The excitement is over. I didn’t want the bees living in my walls, but I am weirdly sad now that they’re gone. Never once in the six days that we had the swarm did anyone get stung.
Goodbye, bees. Happy trails.