Bees, bees everywhere

#520 in a series of true experiences in real estate
August 2006, Hills Newspapers

The bee man’s voice on the phone is quiet and patient. Yes, Khaled tells me reassuringly, my tenants can continue to live in the building everyday. It won’t be necessary for them to move out while he removes the bees from the walls.

I couldn’t believe we were going through this again. Two years ago the tenants who live in the upstairs flat of my Oakland building noticed a lot of bees in the yard. They thought it unusual but not especially alarming until a few bees appeared inside their upstairs apartment bathroom via the light fixture.

The tenants called me; I freaked out; it was expensive. No one was hurt, thank goodness, but the outside bathroom wall had to be removed and rebuilt. Now the bees were back, not in the exact same location but close.

I ask Khaled if he can deal with the bees from the outside, open the wood siding and spray them or something. He says that won’t work. We don’t know how far inside the building the bees are, and it is important to get them all, plus the honey and the comb.

He won’t kill the bees. He will capture them alive and relocate them. He says that I need to make a date to let him inside both apartments. He will listen carefully for buzzing, then drill holes in walls, floors or ceilings until he finds the right spot to open.

My tenants are calm. No bees have gotten inside their apartments. I wonder if we can just ignore the bees. Or maybe bees hibernate at some point in the year and we could deal with them then.

For a few days, I talk to Khaled several times, talk too with Shaun, our friend and contractor, who offers stories from his childhood about smoking bees from tree stumps and harvesting the honey, and I read a selection of articles I find on the Internet.

I learn that bees don’t hibernate. Bee nests are active all year. It’s possible that bees may have come back to this building again attracted by residue from the previous bees. It is impossible to know how extensive the hive is until it is exposed.

Nests can be very large. Hives of 50,000 or more bees are not uncommon. And nests as large as 10 feet wide and 2 stories high are seen if they have been left alone for several years.

All parts of the hive must be removed because as soon as the nest is no longer being tended by the bees, the comb and honey will rot and become rancid. It may seep through inside surfaces. It will smell bad for months. It may attract ants and other insects and mice.

I read true bee stories about people who got bees to come out of a building on their own. No sawing, no wrecking. Here’s what they did: They set up a small colony with a queen in a box located as near as possible to the entrance hole used by the bees inhabiting the building. This was the bait.

Then they attached over the entrance hole a wire mesh cone, the end shaped in such a way that bees could come out but not go back in. The bees come out of the building and find the new colony so appealing that they move. In 6 weeks, or so the story goes, all the bees have relocated.

This sounded great but for this sort of bee trapping to be successful, constant attendance by the right person is required. Too bad, because I was dreading having to open the surfaces of my building.

Once Anet and I were on the scene while a bee colony was removed from a house, a listing we had in Berkeley. Relatives of the owner, a woman in her eighties who had been ill and in bed for some time, had noticed bees going in and out of a small hole outside the woman’s bedroom window.

After the woman died and we were called to market the property, we thought the bees should be dealt with. It turned out that the bees had built an extensive hive in the bedroom ceiling and had even spread to the area above the adjacent living room. A large opening had to be cut in the ceiling to remove the hive. It was quite a mess, dirty and black and sticky, comb and bee carcasses all over the place.

Remembering this experience, and after learning what I had about bees, I decided I had to go forward. I had to let Khaled do his thing. But I didn’t want to be there, didn’t want to experience the deconstruction or bee removal in person. I prevailed on Shaun to meet Khaled early one morning. I got an ok from the tenants, who secured their cats away from the probable action site, and that day, I sat at home by the phone.

Less than half an hour after Start Time, Shaun called to say that they had located the nest above the downstairs apartment’s kitchen ceiling. They could see that the nest was large and that it ran between the floors. He asked if I would prefer that they remove the nest from below or from above.

Because the surface above the nest is covered with hardwood floors, it seemed to both Shaun and to me that going from below would be easier and less expensive to repair. That decided, Khaled and his assistant vacuumed the bees up, then took them to a hive he keeps.

Shaun called to update me. Khaled had been stung a few times; so had his assistant. They would be back before long to remove the honey and comb. Shaun was taking photos to show me. It was good that we’d dealt with this now because the bees were already spreading further afield. Plus, an interesting bit of trivia: Khaled had identified the bees as Italian!

It took all told about 6 hours to remove the hive including, at Shaun’s estimate, 9 gallons of honey, and to clean up. The hole in ceiling is about 4 feet long and runs between rafters, so it’s close to 2 feet wide.

Some bees were not “at home” during the removal so Khaled will be back in a week. Meanwhile, the hole is covered with paper and taped securely closed. My downstairs tenant returned home after work that evening and reported that she could hear activity behind the paper in the ceiling, and the kitchen floor was still sticky. Khaled will soon return, then Shaun will repair the ceiling and with any luck, this is my last bee thriller.

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