Home Sweet Hive: What Happened When I Discovered A Bee Colony in My Bedroom
My mom and I had known about the bees for a while.
At first, we had assumed the hive was somewhere under the rain gutter, wedged against the house above my bedroom window on the second story. Without a ladder, all we could see was a small swarm coming and going from somewhere around the edge of the roof. A bee would occasionally wander in through in my window at night, attracted by the light, but my existence with them was otherwise peaceful.
As the hive grew, however, it became clear that the bees were much more integrated into the architecture of the house than we had previously realized. There came a point when I could touch my hand to the wall next to my bed and feel it vibrating. The swarm of bees circling my light became a nightly fixture, and I began to avoid my room in the evening altogether.
Not wanting to douse the bees (and ourselves) in pesticides, my mom reached out to Khaled Almaghafi, a fourth-generation beekeeper from Yemen. Rather than destroy the hives, Almaghafi removes them intact and relocates them to bee farms. He keeps his own bees in different parts of the Bay Area, and owns a shop in Oakland that specializes in exotic flavors of honey (which can also be ordered online). In addition to his own local wildflower honey, he sells sage honey from Monterey, macadamia honey from Hawaii, coffee honey from Ethiopia–even avocado honey (a local favorite). What the bees feed on subtly flavors the honey they produce; if the bees live near orange fields, then the honey they make will take on a citrus flavor.
When Almaghafi arrived at our home, he was accompanied by an assistant and had only a few basic tools: plastic buckets, a teapot, a saw, and a vacuum attached to a wooden box. The saw was self-explanatory. Almaghafi listened at the wall, pressing his ear and hand against it, before beginning to cut a three foot square along the studs. As he worked, his assistant set up the teapot, which, rather than emitting steam, gave off a delicate smoke.
“It’s for the bees,” Almaghafi explained. “It makes them sleepy and docile. That way they are easier to transport and do not get angry and sting us. We try to relocate as many live bees as possible.”
As Almaghafi finished the last side of the square, I wondered what to expect. I had always imagined the hive in the wall would look like something Winnie the Pooh might encounter: round, even, and contained, nestled into the woodwork, but easily removed. Or perhaps that was just what I wanted the hive to look like.
As Almaghafi pulled back the wood, he exposed an entire surface of bees, as if the wall had not been removed at all but had simply transformed into hundreds of buzzing insects. I recoiled, expecting them to suddenly rise up in a great cloud and extract their revenge one stinger at a time.
But nothing happened. The bees carried on unperturbed, hard at work making honey, moving around the honeycomb, going about their day. The few that drifted out into the room quickly landed on the floor, dazed by the smoke.
Almaghafi’s assistant readied the bee vacuum, which led to a solid wooden box. He tested the suction against his hand, making sure it would not be too strong, and then proceeded around the room, vacuuming up bugs the same way one might clean up after a particularly festive party.
Meanwhile, Almaghafi was studying the hive. The outer surface had cleared somewhat to reveal an immense colony below, made of rows and rows of perfectly symmetrical hexagons. Peering closely at the combs, Almaghafi suddenly reached in and withdrew a single bee. He placed it in a small, screened box, no bigger than my thumb.
“A virgin queen,” he told us knowingly.
Having safely evacuated the queen, Almaghafi set to work removing the rest of hive as his assistant gathered stragglers with the vacuum. Into the buckets he placed long sheets of honeycomb, still crawling with bees. Almaghafi asked for a plate and deposited a small chunk of the comb on it. Honey pooled at the bottom.
“It is safe to eat,” Almaghafi said, noting our dubious expressions.
I dipped a finger in and tasted it. It was surprisingly flowery.
It took a while for Almaghafi to finish removing the hive–it was so large and extensive that he had to leave, drop off what he already collected, and return to take more back. Several hours later, the last bit of honeycomb had been separated from the wall and all of the bees were safely packed up in the wooden vacuum box, off to Richmond, CA where they might find a more reasonable home. All that was left was the hole in my wall.
I asked why they had chosen this particular location, wondering if the bees would become seasonal guests, like old royalty traveling the countryside.
“The bees are smart,” he answered. “They send out the workers to find a good location. Here in the wall, they are well protected because they are safe from rain and animals. That is why they like trees and mountains too. Once they have found a good location, they often return.”
For urban bees, finding a safe home can be almost impossible. The use of pesticides and dwindling greenery threaten many bee populations in America and worldwide, and Almaghafi has watched his own hives struggle over the years. Though large scale action is needed (and in some places is being taken), Almaghafi encourages individuals to plant bee-friendly crops in their own backyards– this involves, at the very minimum, planting native species of bright, colorful flowers and other flowering plants.
If you do happen to find yourself playing host to a queen and her entourage, check out local beekeepers or honey vendors who may be able to find a more humane, bee-friendly means of removal. The method that worked for us should also work for you, and who knows– the bees might even throw in something to sweeten the deal.
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