Help me avoid the Darwin Awards shortlist
August 3, 2009 9:36 AM   Subscribe

How can one safely convince a teeming mass of bees to vacate a crack in the exterior wall of a brick building, so that the crack can be filled in?

We finally figured out why there are so many bees on our deck lately. It seems that a colony has very recently taken up residence in a couple of cracks/holes in the brick wall near our deck. Obviously the crack needs to be filled in after the bees are flushed out, but that's as blithe as saying that the road needs to be paved after all the landmines have been disarmed. How DO I flush out the bees without getting stung a million times? (I'm not allergic, but still.)

Bonus problem: the cracks are easily accessible without a ladder, but only from a landing on the edge of a second-story drop. So a hit n' run maneuver wouldn't be smart, as the running part could easily turn into a plummeting part.
posted by Beardman to Home & Garden (27 answers total)
Call a local beekeeper. They are usually happy to come get them. Try Craigslist.
posted by sageleaf at 9:39 AM on August 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is definitely a job for a pro. Don't try to take care of it yourself.

I'm not sure a beekeeper could easily get to them without partially demolishing the wall. It may turn out that they have to be killed. The beekeeper will know, and if killed they must be, then an exterminator will be necessary.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:50 AM on August 3, 2009

Beekeeper. Save those bees, save yourself.
posted by pointilist at 9:50 AM on August 3, 2009

Suck them up with a wet/dry vac, then either release them elsewhere,'t.
posted by orme at 9:53 AM on August 3, 2009

Call a beekeeper. But if you can't get one, I've seen videos of beekeepers use smoke to manage the bees. You might be able to smoke them out, I think they go into panic mode when there's smoke.
posted by exhilaration at 9:55 AM on August 3, 2009

Bees are not to be messed with. I have seen an excel spreadsheet showing field operations deaths for the last fifty years across the planet with every fatality blurbed. There's 20 animal fatalities. The most frequent culprit is bee swarms.
posted by bukvich at 9:56 AM on August 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

you're apparently in Toronto, I be these people could help:
posted by jrishel at 10:01 AM on August 3, 2009

Yep, beekeeper. They're all happy to get a wild swarm, for both cost savings and the general perception that wild swarms are more robust than the commercial varieties. A commercial swarm costs about $60-80, so most will be happy to take your off your hands for free. If it's particularly complex removal, they may charge you something, but most won't.

Try these guys first. They'll at least be able to point you in the right direction (assuming your profile info is correct).
posted by electroboy at 10:03 AM on August 3, 2009

Response by poster: OK, I've emailed two of the local beekeeper's associations (including the one jrishel mentioned). Thanks for averting the timeline in which this afternoon finds me dead of multiple stings and a broken neck, wearing a balaclava and holding a hose.
posted by Beardman at 10:05 AM on August 3, 2009 [6 favorites]

I've seen videos of beekeepers use smoke to manage the bees. You might be able to smoke them out, I think they go into panic mode when there's smoke.

Don't do that. I won't say leave it to a professional, since most beekeepers are hobbyists, but leave it to someone with experience.
posted by electroboy at 10:06 AM on August 3, 2009

Response by poster: Addendum: a balaclava, hose, and a torch.
posted by Beardman at 10:10 AM on August 3, 2009

I'm not going to offer advice, since you really need to call in a beekeeper, but having kept bees myself, I can tell you that exhilaration's advice on smoke is particularly poor.

Not to pick on you, exhilaration, but you probably shouldn't be offering advice on something you know so little about.
posted by no1hatchling at 10:20 AM on August 3, 2009

Actually the wet/dry vac thing works. A lot of dudes I know use them to clean up stray bees off frames when extracting honey. You just have to make sure you've adequately covered the exhaust, to avoid making an angry bee dispersal device.

But still, don't do it. You really need protective equipment and expertise to successfully remove a hive. Swarming bees are a little less dangerous, but an established hive can be extremely protective.
posted by electroboy at 11:08 AM on August 3, 2009

Bee Vac in Action

Still, seriously, don't do it.
posted by electroboy at 11:15 AM on August 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

This has not much to do with your issue, but my plea would be to please not harm the bees. These are very beneficial insects and important for the ecosystem. Of course you need to get rid of their nest, but let a pro handle this, and have him relocate the queen and save the swarm. Thanks for listening!
posted by VikingSword at 11:46 AM on August 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Smoke makes them return to the hive, so don't try to "smoke them out". Let us know what the beekeeper does or doesn't accomplish.
posted by paulg at 12:09 PM on August 3, 2009

For an accurate answer we need some precision. Do you call any stinging insect a "bee"? Are we actually talking about a colony of honeybees, or some other insect? (Often, people who can't discriminate call a wasp a "bee".) Can you see waxy honeycomb inside the crack, or the paper kind made by hornets or wasps? Are the insects fuzzy, and brown and tan; or shiny and some other color? (The former are honeybees.)

How recently did the colony take up residence? If it's been more than a few hours, and these are in fact honeybees, this is no longer a swarm; and it's doubtful that a beekeeper can do much good, won't be interested since the colony can't be captured -- instead, you'll need an exterminator.

Note that the right type of smoke DOES placate honeybees -- beekeepers often burn burlap inside their smokers, although other materials also work. But that's no task for an amateur... however, dumping a bunch of insecticide in is something which can be performed by a non-professional without injury, as long as common-sense precautions are taken.
posted by Rash at 12:24 PM on August 3, 2009

Call the professionals. It is likely that there is an active hive and honeycomb in there, along with a queen. You will likely be stung numerous times trying to handle this without the proper equipment and know-how. Good luck. We have a huge wasp's nest hanging from a branch over our driveway. We'll be calling professionals ourselves!
posted by Piscean at 12:44 PM on August 3, 2009

If it's been more than a few hours, and these are in fact honeybees, this is no longer a swarm; and it's doubtful that a beekeeper can do much good, won't be interested since the colony can't be captured -- instead, you'll need an exterminator.

That's incorrect. It's relatively easy for an experienced beekeeper to remove an established hive. Swarms are certainly the easiest, since they're mostly nonaggressive and you can just drop them into a cardboard box, but established hives can be relocated as well.

You are correct that they need to identify honeybee vs. {other stinging insect}. The later requires an exterminator, the former almost never does.
posted by electroboy at 1:04 PM on August 3, 2009

Are you sure these are bees and not hornets? There is a distinct difference. I have never seen honeybees make nests in concrete. If they are hornets, here is how I dealt with my similar problem last summer. Your milage may vary, not responsible for damage, etc.
Wait for a cool evening, then carefully fill the hole with expanding foam insulation. You may need to do this several times, as they may have more than one entrance. I'm sure others will tell you not to chance it and get an exterminator, but this took care of my problem. Wear long sleeves, move slowly and carefully, and wait for full dark/cool of evening. Have a partner hold a flashlight, and be prepared for a few angry escapees, but don't panic and fall off the landing. Also, wear gloves because that foam shit doesn NOT wash off.
posted by cosmicbandito at 3:17 PM on August 3, 2009

First you should identify what kind of bee they are.
Are they mortar bees? or Carpenter bees? or Honeybees

I also have a hive of bees living inside a cavity in my wall. The exterior is stone. It is confirmed that they are in fact, honeybees. I have decided to leave them be, for the time being. heh. The only way to remove the hive, in my case, is to remove the sheetrock from the inside. So I'll do that in the winter when the hive is less active.

They are not aggressive. They are very fascinating for me to watch. I've also learned a good deal about bees in my search to figure out what to do about them.

Here are some resources that I have found helpful:

Southeastern Michigan Beekeepers Association
Louisiana State University AgCenter (pdf)
There's a bunch of scientific books about bees that I could list, but they're google previews (too long to load) and they're scientific (mostly boring)
but there's a good graphic novel I'm happy to recommend calledClan Apis by Jay Holser.
posted by at the crossroads at 4:51 PM on August 3, 2009

there's also this [previously]
posted by at the crossroads at 4:55 PM on August 3, 2009

Suck them up with a wet/dry vac, then either release them elsewhere,'t.

What the hell? Please don't answer a question if you don't know what you're talking about.

I just sucked up two wasp nests this summer with a wet/dry vac, so I really do know what I'm talking about!
I even opened the lid on the thing hours later to see what happened to them inside and it didn't even seem to have hurt them. They were just chilling out on top of some leaves.

Unfortunately for them, it was my grandfather's property and he insisted we execute the poor bastards right then and there.
posted by orme at 5:52 PM on August 3, 2009

Here is my very similar story (Short version: CALL A BEEKEEPER):

I have a huge beehive living under my roof. Luckily/unluckily, my house is stone and plaster with a slate roof -- luckily because they aren't doing damage and have been there for 20+ years without really affecting us, and unluckily because it's basically impossible to get them out.

At least in New York, exterminators cannot touch honeybees, is what they all tell us. This might be a recent thing, because over the years, various exterminators have tried various chemicals/tactics to get at this hive, with no results. All of a sudden a few years ago, our exterminator said they couldn't do anything because they're honeybees and they're going extinct and we needed to call a beekeeper, which I did.

I also call every yellowish buzzing stinging thing that is horrifying a "bee," so I didn't even know that we had honeybees -- the beekeeper explained that honeybees overwinter, so if these bees have been in the same exact spot for more than a year, they're probably honeybees. Wasps and hornets and other things will die/leave in the fall and then come back in the spring to build a new nest, although sometimes they will pick a spot very close to last year's, so you'll really want a beekeeper to figure out exactly what you have. Our exterminator mis-ID'd other bees/wasps on our property.

The beekeeper came into the house and tried to listen around with a stethoscope to figure out exactly where the hive is within the wall/roof and how big it is, but since our walls are so thick there's no way. Without ripping out huge areas of wall/plaster/lathe/stone, there's no way to remove the hive. And you need to remove the entire hive -- if you just remove the bees (with chemicals or a wet-vac or something), all the honey and wax will melt because the bees are in there at all times beating their wings and doing other things to keep the temperature exactly right so that it all stays solid. And once the honey melts into your walls, you have ants and raccoons, etc.

Since our roof is very old slate-tiling, you can't walk on the roof and getting at the bees from the outside is pretty impossible. The beekeeper gave two options -- first, what is currently underway, he put a special box nearby that is designed to be particularly attractive to bees looking for a new home (which ours probably aren't, but it's worth a try). If the bees aren't interested in moving out, then the beekeeper said we could leave them forever -- they only move into existing openings, they don't enlarge or eat away at building materials, and they won't do any damage. And really, I feel lucky to have these robust bees that have survived whatever's affecting all the other honeybees; I'll have flowers when everyone else's chemical-ridden hybrids have expired.

One other thing, you've pretty much missed your window for dealing with this this year. All summer the bees are building up their stores of honey so that they can survive over the winter. In the summer and fall, the hive will be hardest to deal with because it's so full. The best time to go at them is in the spring, when all the reserves are gone.
posted by thebazilist at 7:10 PM on August 3, 2009

Also, I haven't seen a bill from the beekeeper. Granted, he hasn't done any demolition or anything, but he's come several times since last fall, and after putting in "the box," he's come back every now and then to monitor the situation. And he did charge me when his colleague came to remove a "particularly aggressive" wasps' nest that our normal exterminator was too afraid to deal with and so lied and said they were honeybees, too.

I haven't asked; he's just a nice old man who comes and talks with me about bees and other things, but I'm assuming he'd be very pleased to have them if he did wind up carting them away, and I think he's happy to educate about honeybee protection.

Too bad I can't just put a spigot in the wall!
posted by thebazilist at 7:17 PM on August 3, 2009

Response by poster: Update: no beekeeper returned my calls or emails. The landlord got one of his jacks of all trades to hose it with poison and slap some wet cement over the holes. I peeked out a few hours later and the flying yellow things were swarming around them angrily. But then there was a massive thunderstorm complete with tornadoes, and they seem to have fled.
posted by Beardman at 7:06 PM on August 21, 2009

Oh, sorry to hear that. However, if they were distinctly yellow, they may have been yellowjackets or some other wasp-type insect, not bees.
posted by sageleaf at 11:46 AM on August 25, 2009

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