Biltmore Forest resident Holly Strauss noticed an uptick in the number of honeybees swarming in her back yard. “You could see them along the roofline flying around the garage. My yard maintenance man told me they were honeybees, and you can’t kill them. You have to relocate them,” she said.
A call to Clegg’s Termite & Pest Control referred her to Bill Boeheim, the “Bee Whisperer.” Recognizing the important role pollinators like honeybees play in our biological community, it is incumbent upon all decent stewards of our environment to help protect them. After locating a hole of less than one inch in diameter where the bees were getting into the wall on her garage, Boeheim carefully cut a 30 inch opening on the exterior.
He characterized it as a young hive with an estimated population of 7,000 European honeybees. “I’d say this hive arrived in March or April. You can tell it’s a young hive by the size and the color of the comb being a milky white. As they become older the combs go from white to a golden brown color, to dark brown, and then to black over time.” Boeheim said previously undetected hives discovered in homeowner’s attics can have colonies with populations of up to 15,000 bees and up to 50 pounds of honey.
Dressed in protective beekeeping garb, Boeheim used a carpet cutting tool and a wide, flat blade to gently removed strips from the honeycomb, and handed them off to an assistant who repositioned them into one of two portable beehives. Boeheim was ecstatic when he captured the queen of the hive. “I’ve won the game. When I remove the queen and place her in the hive next door, all the other bees will follow the scent of her pheromones.” Boeheim said when the queen of a hive dies, a new queen is developed from larvae three or fewer days old, selected by worker bees and specially fed a “royal jelly” in order to become sexually mature. “The first to hatch tears up all the other queen cells.”
Honeybees are not aggressive. “People are scared of them because they will sting. But unlike a wasp or hornet, a honeybee can sting you only once and it’s dead. It’s a one shot deal. Hornets are going sting you over and over again and laugh about it. Africanized and Russian honeybees are extremely aggressive, but these are Italian honeybees that have probably migrated locally from somebody else’s hive.” Apparatus’ that blow smoke are sometimes used to sedate bees. Boeheim had one using smoke from smoldering pine needles, but discontinued its use after observing these particular bees to be “mellow, calm and collected.”
Once the bees were completely relocated to the portable hives, Boeheim transported them to his property in Candler where they can be expected to thrive. “By the end of the next summer season, this hive will split into another hive and multiply on out. I have a lot of acreage and area for them to roam. One of the keys to relocating honeybees is to move them three feet or three miles. If you move them only a hundred yards away they will return to their original location. If you move them three or more miles away, they reset their compass to their new location.” Boeheim said the bees are not picky eaters, they will feed off of everything that is in bloom. Through the winter they will feed off of the honey they’ve stored and the pollen that they’ve put away.
Boeheim explains that exterminators can’t just kill them. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been working aggressively to protect bees and other pollinators from pesticide exposure. Boeheim has been keeping bees for six years. “It’s a hobby, but one I love because the produce departments in our grocery stores would lose 70 to 80 percent of their products without the honeybees.”
“Property owners can just blast off a bug bomb, but even if they kill off the honeybees, the part of the honeycomb that’s left will attract other hives even up to years later. Why not move into a furnished apartment?” The key to honeybee removal in cases like this is removing all the honey, all the wax residue, and properly plugging holes so they can’t get back into the wall. Boeheim says if you ever site a clump of bees on a branch in your yard or on the side of your house, that’s a swarm in transition preparing to find a new location for their hive. “They’re easy to move. You can handle them barehanded because they don’t have a home to protect. They won’t sting or harm you.”
Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the sudden and enigmatic mass disappearance of the majority of worker bees in honeybee populations is an issue of global concern. With one out of every three mouthfuls of food in the American diet in some way a product of honeybee pollination, this potentially places our food supply in serious jeopardy. Although no single cause has been identified for the devastating decline in honeybee populations, contributing factors are thought to include pathogens carried by mites, indiscriminate use of pesticides, loss of habitat, and climate change.
Boeheim removes honeybees for free as a service named HoneybeeHelper. He can be contacted directly at BeePreserver@Yahoo.com, or by texting or calling 828 273-9142. He is available seven days a week during the day to examine any honeybee infestations, and schedule a time of removal.