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Aug 20

If Something’s Buzzin’, in Your Walls: Who You Gonna Call?

Posted on August 20, 2014 at 10:22 am by Dawn Corrigan

16-1Pensacola Housing’s Rehabilitation Program uses federal grant dollars to rehabilitate deteriorated properties located within Pensacola city limits.

Qualified homeowners work with local contractors on home restorations and improvements, using project management guidelines developed by Housing Office staff.

In July 2014, a new rehab project on Marcus Drive was barely underway when it ran into an unexpected problem: bees.

When Program Manager Tom Lane called the homeowner to see how things were going, she told him the surveyors who’d come out to survey the lot lines and utilities had been unable to finish the task. Their work kept being interrupted by bees. Finally they left, saying they would return when the bee issue had been resolved.

In his more than 20 years working on rehab projects, Mr. Lane had never encountered this particular problem before. Contacting the Florida Department of Agriculture, he was told he’d have to find a licensed contractor or licensed pest control technician who was also a certified beekeeper.

Not having such a person in his contacts list, he made outreach to the Escarosa Beekeepers Association, where he was able to connect with Shelby Johnson, a licensed contractor who also happens to be a third-generation beekeeper.

16-2Lane and Johnson met at the job site to evaluate the situation. As they walked around the exterior of the property, Johnson pointed to the gas pipe, where a number of bees were gathered. “Those are guard bees,” he explained. “It’s their job to protect the hive.”

Honey bees have a number of jobs throughout their lives. After they’re born, they start out as housekeepers, helping to keep the hive clean and orderly. Then they’re promoted to nurse bees, then foragers.

They become guard bees toward the end of their lives—when they’re 21 days old, and their venom is at its most potent.

16-3After seeing the site, Johnson agreed to perform the bee extraction.

On the appointed day, he arrived with two assistants, a retired couple who’d only recently taken up beekeeping. They were very enthusiastic about their new hobby.

“This is better than grandkids!” the wife joked.

The team decided to perform the extraction from the interior of the house.

They started by firing up the smoker.

16-4Smoke interrupts a hive’s defenses by initiating a feeding response.

The bees will eat a lot of honey if they believe there’s a fire and they may need to abandon the hive shortly.

Smoke also masks the alarm pheromones released by the guard bees.

When the room was good and smoky, the team got started.

16-5After opening the wall where the hive was located, they began removing the bees.

This was done using a bee vac, which is just what it sounds like: a vacuum that sucks up bees.

However, inside the canister of this vacuum is a cage, which holds the live bees safely until they can be relocated.

“Not a bee goes to waste,” is the beekeepers’ motto.

16-6While his assistants hoovered up bees, Johnson used a hive tool—which somewhat resembles a paint scraper—to pry off sections of the honeycomb from the hive and sort them.

If there was no honey, the comb went into a trash bucket.

If there was honey, the comb went into the “food grade” bucket that was used to collect honey and wax (see top of page).

If there were bees in the honey—still eating in response to the message from the smoker—the assistants vacuumed them into the bee vac, and then the comb went into the food-grade bucket.

16-7At one point, Johnson stopped his work.

“Do you smell that?” he asked.

Then, without waiting for a response, he gave the order: “More smoke.”

The guard bees had begun producing their alarm pheromone again, and Johnson recognized the smell.

Though the extraction team had also brought a queen trap with them, they never had a chance to use it, as no queen was found.

When the work was done, the team had a bowling-ball-sized lump of beeswax; several quarts of honey; and a whole bunch of bees.

The bees will be introduced into weak hives to strengthen them; Pensacola Housing staff has been eating and enjoying the honey; Mr. Lane is contemplating making some candles with the beeswax; and the surveyors can now get back to work on Ms. Byrd’s house!

For more information on local beekeeping and honey production, visit the website of Bee Sanctuary Honey Farm, Shelby Johnson’s apiary.