uninvited guests

Bees in almond tree. (Photo courtesy of Allison Bean)

We had a case of hives here. Or hive. I came home Friday evening with my arms full of groceries to discover that my kitchen was full of bees. (Full is a relative term.) One bee is slightly alarming in the kitchen. There were about 50 bees. And when I went into the living room, there were about 50 more in there. The kitchen window was open and I know it’s swarming season (when a hive has grown too big,  splits and half leaves with a new queen to find a new hive). I could see bees outside the window, too, so I assumed there was a swarm outside the window and that some had come in by accident.

Silly me.

First order of business was to wave the bees outside.  Although I’m the last person to want to get stung, the chances are actually slim when they’re swarming. Bees sting to protect their hive, and without a hive, they’re not on the defensive. So we gently ushered them out with manila folders and a soft whisk broom (it’s not unlike the bee brush I’ve used when brushing bees off the honey frames). But as soon as we got the last bees out, more appeared. We finally discovered that they were coming from under the sink — from out of the wall. That was bad news, for us and the bees. We were in a bit of a panic — not only did I have a kitchen that was still full of bees (and full means 20 or more at a time), I had a houseful of family coming for dinner in an hour. And it was a Friday at 5 p.m. Not good if you want to call for professional help.

There’s a horizontal pipe under the window
where the bees were happily moving in.
That’s my kitchen window up there.

We managed to use duct tape to cover the hole under the countertop, and kept all drawers and cabinets closed. I called the landlady, the property management and my husband in short order. After more sleuthing, we found that the bees were buzzing cheerfully in and out of a hole outside the building, in the shingles where a pipe goes in. More bad news for the bees. It’s easy for a bee-wrangler to rehouse a swarm in a tree, but not so easy to get bees out of a building. Since it was a new swarm, only a few hours old, we had time to get them out before they built comb and started foraging.

A series of phone calls, however, made it clear that, since we’re renters, we didn’t have a lot of power or choice about what happened. We’ve just recently moved. We have basically no tools, and no yard at this apartment where we could set up a hive. We had no ladder. I called and contacted some of the bee people I know, but at that time of day had no luck, and they also told me that bees in a building were probably doomed. We had to relinquish it to the property management.

Everyone knows that the bees are in trouble, right? That we desperately need honeybees to keep pollinating all the plants so we can continue to eat yummy food, and all that? I was very anxious not to harm these bees,  and see them installed safely elsewhere. But circumstances were galloping out of my control. As a certified (certifiable?) eco-freak, I honestly felt sick at the thought of harming the bees. Like I had a baby unicorn in my arms and the power to have it live or die. And I was up against an avalanche.

Under the sink, all exits blocked, the buzzing grew louder and louder.

The landlady said no to having the bees extracted from the house. She didn’t want the siding damaged. The property management called a pest control company. The husband, trying to protect his family from a swarm of bees literally moving in under the sink, opened the door and sprayed Raid into the hole. My family ate pizza in the dining room and we kept the kitchen doors shut.

After dark, I crept in with a flashlight, on the advice of my beekeeper friend. I opened the door and looked inside. There were dozens, maybe 100 bees under the sink, but they were motionless. Hard to tell what was alive or sleeping. In the morning, when the sun hit the wall of the house, the buzzing began again under the sink. But we had a full day of activities planned, so we left. I didn’t want to be around for the bee annihilation to come.

But as it turns out, the pest company never came. The property manager’s weekend assistant misunderstood our problem and sent a plumber. The plumber sealed the entrance under the sink and outside as well, and the bees were trapped outside of the house. They couldn’t get in anymore, and they flew off. I think some must have died in the process, but they at least didn’t get destroyed, aside from the ones under the sink.

It’s an awkward ending, because I don’t know all that happened. It really illustrates how hard some of our choices are. Our best intentions toward Nature and the environment can come up against expedience, safety, and economics. People who can’t be bothered. People who don’t understand what is dangerous or not. I felt emotionally drained but relieved to find the holes sealed. As much as I love the bees, they can’t live in the kitchen. It just doesn’t work that way.

But to make it right with the universe, if such a thing is possible, I purchased a beehive for a needy family through Heifer International, and so did another friend of mine in my honor. So at least somewhere, there are two more beehives flourishing, and I hope this swarm found a better home.