An Unwanted Apiarium

By May 14, 2017 Blog, Selected Posts

I’ve never been very fond of bees.  They sting.  I have vivid childhood memories of swollen limbs as a result of getting too close to them.  So I was somewhat perturbed when I turned up at the cottage last week to find about 200 dead bees in the kitchen and a swarm of them knocking themselves out on the kitchen window trying to escape.  A few cans of RapidKill later, the casualty level had risen markedly and the buzzing had subsided.  I called our local friendly pest control chap, who promised to visit the next day, complete with probe and appropriate substances to send the little buzzers to a better place.  And no, I did not feel guilty about employing capital measures.  I know they’re essential for the environment and all that, but when they’re swarming the kitchen, the imminent dangers far outweigh depriving the world of a few jars of honey and a bit of cross-pollination.

While waiting for bee-man, a couple of chums did some sleuthing and found the bee flight path.  The apiarius modus operandi appeared to be: Into chimney, down chimney, into kitchen through a gap between the cooker hood and the wall, head for light, discover it’s not the sun, turn right, head for window, fly through the open bit or bash yourself to death trying to escape through the glass of the closed bit.   Feeling smug that we’d be able to point bee-man to the right chimney pot, we made another cup of tea and awaited his arrival in gleeful anticipation of a bee-free evening.  But, as Paddington Bear would say, things didn’t quite go according to plan …

Our bees are not just any old bees, they’re honey bees – who knew they were so many varieties?  Masonry, red mason, carder, leaf-cutter, tawny-mining and a staggering 225 different types of bumble.  But the problem with honey bees, is you can’t just go around exterminating them.  Bee-man said that we had two choices.  Option 1 is to kill the nest, hive, whatever and immediately seal the chimney.  If he killed them without sealing the chimney, then other bees would come and steal the honey, pick up a smidgeon of poison powder on their paws, deliver the poison to flowers and hives and nests and all sorts of apis haunts.  The powder would then spread among the bees and start wiping them out.  Actually, on reflection, if the powder is so poisonous, how come the thieving bee can survive long enough to pass the poison around?  Maybe it’s not instantaneous?  Hmmm …  Anyway, Option 1 is not viable, as the chimney is the vent to the gas cooker and the extractor fan, which we don’t want to be without.  But because of the aperture (and I suspect a metal flue, if memory serves me correctly) access by a chimney-sweep to just brush the little blighters away is also a non-starter, not to mention one dischuffed chimney sweep when he finds his brush is sticky and covered in honey.  Option 2 is to move the bees.  ‘Move the bees’ – a complex nightmare scenario that masquerades as a seemingly simple alternative, but worth a try.

So the next stop was the local beekeeping club.  A delightful woman promised to come round straightaway offering all sorts of solutions as to how to move the bees, and promising to bring the relevant equipment with her, namely a box and a wax frame.  In theory, it sounded very simple: put wax in box, put box over chimney pot, bees go to the ready-to-go source of wax, instead of having to make their own and within 24 hours, bingo!  Bob’s your uncle, the bees are in the box and off they go in the car to their new home.  In reality, it’s not quite this simple.  First of all, there was the problem of how to get the box over the chimney pot – it’s 30 feet high.  Borrowing a ladder was discussed, but as we were now well and truly past the cocktail hour, that would have to wait until Monday and would probably entail scaffolding, high-vis jackets and all the other paraphernalia required by health and safety standards.  Crawling out of the bathroom window, scrambling up the gable and down the other side, then up the gable to the chimney was also considered, at which point everyone in the room looked elsewhere amidst mutterings of age, vertigo, am expecting an important email/phone-call, gosh, is that the time …

‘Ok, leave the box and the wax and I’ll try and find someone foolhardy, young and fit to come over on Monday with crampons or a ladder.’ I say.  ‘It’s too late’ replies bee-lady.  ‘I’ve been watching them and they’ve already settled.’   Apparently, an apiarist can tell how developed a bee location is by the behaviour of the bees.  And the pattern our bees are making on their landing approach is indicative of an established base.  They’ve already made honeycombs, wax and millions of baby bees (who are, apparently, emerging from their bee cocoon slightly disoriented and flying down the chimney into the kitchen instead of up the chimney and out into the fresh air).  Who would want to give up this warm little bee paradise for a box and a bit of borrowed wax?  Not our bees, apparently.

‘So to shift the bees now, you’ll need to move the queen, then the others will follow.’  Another seemingly simple suggestion.  But this does not involve merely nipping to Waitrose, buying a bee-house, getting a queen from ebay and setting the whole thing up in the garden.  No, you can’t just use any old queen, it has to be the one from our nest in our chimney.  So we’re still back to the ladder problem and someone will now have to dangle down the chimney and try and find the queen.  And the nest could be halfway down the chimney ….

Realising the gravity of the situation, bee-lady nearly bursts into tears as she confesses there is another solution.  A petrol soaked rag placed over the chimney pot and the bees would die.  By this time, her distress at mass-extermination is rubbing off on the rest of us, and visions of the odd spark coming into contact with the petrol are going through my mind.

For now, we’ve used a bit of packing tape to cover every nook, cranny and orifice around the cooker hood and are leaving the bees to do their own thing.  I’ll be hitting the phones this week to find the highest bee authority in the land, a builder to come and weave some silicon magic with the orifices, and a fit young man with a ladder.  Failing that, it’s petrol and a no-smoking sign I’m afraid.  Meanwhile, I’ve put a household ban on honey …