🐝Evacuating 25,000 Honey Bees Out My House🐝

After they entered the kitchen, they had to go

Photo by City Church Christchurch on Unsplash

There have always been birds and bees in my house. Since I was little, they lived in the corner of the third floor, entering into a chewed out hole in the soffit where it meets the brick on the corner facing the morning sun. It’s also the corner closet to the back door and the kitchen.

This is important.

The bees never bothered me much growing up. We knew they were there, high up, doing their thing. They never came down. Never swooped around. Then one year they were gone, replaced by angry hornets that would attack every time we went to the back door.

Those hornets were eventually killed. Not evacuated, but sprayed to death in my teens. I don’t recall who my father had to go up there and get them. But the hornets had gotten into the attic so enough was enough.

The corner went dormant for a while. Then the squirrels moved in. We evicted only for them to be replaced by several raccoons who often had drag out midnight fights with ‘possums. I live in Chicago, and my neighborhood is super close to Indiana, so I called Bob the Varmint Trapper in the Hoosier State and he did a stake out, and got them. Commented on how fluffy and full they were. Claimed to re-home them. I hope he did. The foxes moved into the yard a few winters ago, probably to eat the rabbits in the shrubs. Coyotes too. As for this year, we used to have a bunch of squirrels until I started seeing this eagle (and yes Karen, I’m a lifelong Girl Scout and know what an eagle is. It was an eagle, not a buzzard. Eagles often frequent the rivers that ring the Chi and flow into the Mississippi, and I live near several such rivers.) Anyhoo. I digress.

The honeybees moved back in to the soffit.

A year or so after that I noticed a handful of dead bees in front of the door one morning. I swept them up. Tossed them out. The next day there were 20 dead bees.

I figured they were dying of whatever mysterious disease was killing the honeybees around the world. Yet… and yet… the bees were still flying in and out of that top corner. You could hear them buzzing — late at night when no cars were roaring by — from inside my son’s bedroom if you put your ear to the wall. I figured something weird was going on. They clearly were no longer just outside the attic.

About a week later I was cooking spaghetti and a bee dropped out the exhaust above the stove and landed in the pot.

Plop!

I didn’t quite know what to do with the sauce. Did bees carry viruses? Diseases? Could we eat spaghetti sauce after I plucked out the bee? It was homemade too, from the tomatoes I grew myself in the garden. Damn. Even if Dr. Google says bees don’t carry diseases, I couldn’t eat bee spaghetti sauce. I tossed it and found some Ragu.

The next day while cooking, a few more bees plopped out the exhaust.

I went outside and looked up. Saw some hornets in the corner. Saw lots of bees. Saw a full on bee hornet battle.

I figured the hornets won — hence the dead bees. So I called pest control to have them spray the corner full of hornets. Pest control company A came out and confirmed that the buzzers had won the battle. But now they looked…. Agitated. Their lazy air dance was frantic. They swooped down toward the door. So we ran.

Pest company said they can’t move them. Against the law.

Meanwhile bees were now flying out my exhaust and into the kitchen. We found bees on the couch in the tv room, in the basement, in the boy’s bedroom closets and even in the bathtub.

At the time I had a toddler who was allergic to even mosquito bites. I couldn’t take a single chance on a bad reaction to a bee sting. I called bee farms, bee keepers, urban bee sanctuaries, the state of Illinois, the city, meaderies, wineries for help. They all said send a picture of your house. Then they all said: too high. 3rd floor. On a hill. In a brick house. Is that a historic district? Impossible.

And then one bee person in central Illinois said to call the bee dude, an old-head, someone who’s been removing bees for a long ass time. I called Bee Dude, who said send me a picture. He came to my South Side of Chicago house, promised nothing. Had to sleep on it. Came back with a radar gun. Some sort of a heat tracker that looked a lot like that ghost busting gun from Ghost busters.

He aimed at my house and walked around it. It beeped and showed a digital temperature. 70 degrees over there. 88 degrees over here. Hmm.. 89 degrees. 90 degrees. He walked closer to the exterior of my kitchen. 92 degrees. He pointed his radar gun up to the second floor. 93. 94 degrees. When he got to the third floor, bingo. Exactly 96 degrees.

He went into my attic and dug through spider webs and hornet carcasses to that one corner and he took one fingernail and scraped the wood. It had a golden substance on it. He licked it.

Propolis! He exclaimed! It’s quite valuable and will heal nearly any darn thing.

That confirms it, he told me.

You have a lot of bees. And, they can fight.

It took the Bee Dude several days to come up with a bee evacuation plan.

He needed an assistant, smoke, two separate cranes. City permits. A place to send the bees. Replacement wood for my soffits, a special grinder to remove the mortar between my 100-year-old bricks, special insurance. And a lot of money.

I’ll be honest. Removing those bees cost more than a few mortgage payments. I even asked the alderman if there was a city money pot for bee removal . After all, I want to save the planet too, and I enjoy eating all the fruits and veggies, but shouldn’t there be someone out here to help subsidize removing a colony if the colony can save the planet?

But there wasn’t. I was ass out and on my own.

Now.

It was to begin at sunset in October, after the frenzy of summer had died down and the bees were supposedly getting ready to cozy in for the winter.

The crane driver parked two cranes on my street two days before the extraction.

The Bee Dude and assistant Bee dude came by the day of the extraction to set things up. Bee Dude didn’t wear a bee suit; he said he smelled like bees, so they liked him. But assistant Bee dude did wear a suit. This was his second extraction.

People by now had stopped to watch, many of them getting off the Metra train and wondering aloud at the two cranes and man in white suit crawling on the roof. I had a whole audience in my back yard by the time the deed was done.

The Bee Dude smoked out my house and attic and then smoked the outside, for about 40 minutes as he assembled his wood working tools. We put a plastic bag around my exhaust inside the kitchen. He took the outer wall of my house apart. The soffit was gone, each piece labeled for a return. He drilled into the mortar and pulled out bricks. He worked around the gutters — didn’t touch them. he finally asked for “the bucket.”

The sun was down. And he straight up started scooping sleeps bees — by his bare hands — into a mop bucket. He kept sending the bucket down. He and the assistant adjusted the crane location, peeled more brick or wood off and scooped for hours.

I brought them lemonade and chicken for a work break. The audience in the lawn grew larger. The night got darker. I’m pretty sure the police stopped by too.

The Bee Dude informed me the colony had evasive maneuvers and had moved the queen further inside the house. Did he have permission to go get her.

Fuck yea! Bees be gone!

And he went and got her. She got her own special case, a white box. And she was huge! She also cuddled him. He wondered aloud if she had swarmed away from a human-installed hive. Then Bee Dude attached a vacuum apparatus to some holes and sucked out the stragglers.

But he wasn’t finished. Dear God there was more.

He removed 25,000 honeybees from the side and roof and soffit of my house.

He then removed the honey and the honeycombs. He left at around 2 or 3 a.m. and spent the next week or two repairing what he had torn up.

I no longer remember how much honey was present but he said most of it needed to stay with the bees so they can live through the winter. Yet and still, he gave me several jars.

My honeybee colony went to the Assistant Bee Dude, who turned out to be a pilot for Southwest Airlines. He also gave me some jars of propolis. Not exactly rent, but damn that propolis has healed plenty bicycle scraps.

I learned a few things during this process.

  1. Bees keep an even hive temperature of like 96 degrees rain or snow or even in the blazing heat. They have their own air conditioning and heating system. You could feel the brick to find them.
  2. Bees can whup a hornets ass if they organize it right.
  3. Removing the honey comb and propolis is essential, as is also scrubbing out the location with anti-varmint soap and repainting it with something toxic on the inside so that hornets, some creature the Bee Dude called a bee-rat and raccoons that follow a bee removal — to eat the honey — don’t then move inside the house.
  4. Illinois requires registration of apiaries and backyard hives.
  5. A lot of folks don’t register.
  6. Within three blocks of my house are at least 17 on-the-roof or in the backyard urban bee colonies put there by my neighbors. One person told me she was working on installing her 5th beehive on her roof. She told me the location of several other hives too. I had no idea — until then — so many people had bees in such a small area of city, nowhere remotely close to a farm.

And then another neighbor asked me could she see my queen. Why? I asked. And then she told me something super interesting: One of her queens had gone missing quite some time ago and never came back.

Hmm. Imagine that.

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Adrienne Gibbs

Adrienne Gibbs

Director, Creator Growth @Medium. Editor of ZORA and MOMENTUM. Writer. Mother. Proud recipient of an official Beyoncé shout out.