We postponed the eviction as long as possible, but it was finally time to ask the bees to leave - politely, of course.

The first time we visited Comstock House in 2006 we observed that there was a thriving colony of bees buzzing around a cranny in the north wall. This was not of great concern; we planned to have the building tented and fumigated before we moved in, and the exterminators vowed there would be no creeping, crawling, gnawing, boring, or flying survivors of their lethal visit.

But those fumigators hadn't encountered our hearty honeybees. About six weeks later, an afternoon came when the north side was again black with a swarm. I asked my old neighbors at BeeKind in Sebastopol for help, and their "structural extraction" expert, Coral Pawka, made the first of his many visits. It was first hoped that the new activity represented scavengers from other colonies seeking to steal remaining free honey. But traffic continued; Coral placed a screen over the entrance (you can see the staples in the closeup below and video) to no avail; the bees still tunneled under, around, and ultimately in. There was no denying that The Bees were back.

BELOW: Coral Pawka removing the first honeycomb, June 26, 2009 (Photo: David Bacigalupi)

Bees rarely were spotted in the living areas of the house, so we were resigned that as long as they didn't bother us, we wouldn't bother them. Since there was still a honeycomb in the wall of unknown size, it was a good thing that a new generation of bees were homesteading it; in old house restoration forums, horror stories abound of deserted, oooozing honeycombs discovered rotting inside walls and causing mold problems. But the colony was large enough in 2009 to throw a swarm in March and another in May. Combined with the need to soon start reshingling the upper floors of the north wall, we were left with no choice but to evict our squatters.

The operation took about ninety minutes (condensed down to four minutes in our video) and was done by Coral Pawka. After smoking the entry hole, he ripped off the shingles quickly; sounds of cracking wood and the squeak of pulling nails apparently make bees uneasy -- yet actually pulling off the boards and exposing their world to the outside has a calming effect, because it relieves them of having to ventilate the hive by fanning the honey with their wings. Oh, the things we've unexpectedly learned.

This was a disorderly, "messy" comb that was a decade old or more, as shown by the deep brown brood comb. It was a popular location; besides our fumigation three years earlier, Martha Comstock Keegan says that her mother had someone come by to remove bees from that wall a few times in the 1970s or 1980s (although what those beekeepers did is unknown; clearly, the shingles, sidewall, and interior plaster had never been removed before now).

The final tally was approximately 4,500 bees; Coral Pawka, who, except for his bee hat, seemed better attired for a day at the beach, says he suffered only a handful of stings.

LEFT: Frest honeycomb RIGHT: Older, darker brood comb

LEFT: Bees at the hive entrance before start of removal (Photo: David Bacigalupi)
RIGHT: The same location after the hive was removed. Note that the back of the lath and plaster wall are shiny with residual honey.


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