Bees, bees everywhere

It was a hot summer’s evening. I stuck my head out of our attic window and looked down the hill over Truro as the sun came down. The cathedral spire in the distance, pastel pink, blue and cream rhododendrons in the garden opposite. Seagulls swooshed through the sky and the blackbirds sang goodnight.

I turned my head to the right and a familiar silhouette caught my eye. It landed on the chimney, dark against the sky. First one, then another, then another. Not just one honey bee out alone. A colony. An entrance.

My eyes travelled down the chimney pot and my mind travelled back to Drew telling me our wood fired burner had stopped working – he thought there seemed to be some kind of blockage in the chimney. He had tried to look up there, but couldn’t see anything.

The bees continued to land, buffeted about by the rooftop wind as they returned home. The colony look strong. Did they know this was a beekeeper’s house?

Since discovering the bees I have been trying to think about what I can do to persuade them to leave the chimney. Even if I could safely get up on the roof, I suspect they will be inside a cavity only bees can reach. There was a post by a beekeeper on the British and Irish Beekeepers group who had done a chimney removal – as well as being a beekeeper, he also happened to have “qualifications in working at height, PASMA, CSCS, Asbestos trained…a MEWPS licence…Gas Acop Certified”. I don’t even know what most of those qualifications are, but I know I don’t have them!

Having read more, I do know that we should definitely not start a fire underneath. That can be dangerous and cause a flash fire, as all the honey and wax will melt and run down.

I think the best solution is leaving the bees up there, as I expect without varroa treatment the colony will not keep on going indefinitely. Then we can have a look at removing the comb, so that new swarms are not attracted to it. If anyone has any other suggestions, please do let me know!

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper who has recently moved from London to windswept, wet Cornwall. I first started keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary in 2008, when I created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully! - future successes.
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30 Responses to Bees, bees everywhere

  1. disperser says:

    Is smoked honey as good as smoked pork?

    Looking forward to reading the resolution of this development.

    Like

    • Emily Scott says:

      Hmm I’ll tell you once I get to try some. Honey makes a good marinade on pork. The resolution is likely to be us spending a heck of a lot of money to get scaffolding put up unfortunately.

      Like

    • disperser says:

      I saw that . . . is there an organization of beekeepers who can provide help and/or have agreements with someone who can?

      I mean if you posted that you’re just going to kill them all, someone would likely say “no, no, no; we’ll come and get them out!”

      Or, maybe not. Good luck and high hopes for a speedy and good and cheap(-ish) resolution.

      Like

      • Emily Scott says:

        Thanks – it’s not that simple unfortunately. If all it needed was a beekeeper, I could do it myself with some help from family. But it’s the getting up on the roof safely… then the dismantling of the chimney stack to remove all the comb… the building and chimney knowledge to get the chimney put together safely again and the chimney restored to working order.

        Ordinary beekeepers avoid doing this kind of work, for good reason! However much you love bees, most people love being alive more. All the beekeeping associations will just tell you to get in touch with a bee chimney removals expert.

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        • disperser says:

          Bastards! . . . er . . . I mean, that’s good advice.

          Liked by 1 person

        • disperser says:

          This might be a silly question, but . . . can’t you “smoke” them away? Or, is the chimney already clogged? I mean, if you blow smoke up the chimney, won’t they grab as much honey as they can and leave?

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        • disperser says:

          One other dumb question . . . those one-way doors we discussed before . . . can one such one-way device be fitted on the chimney so that once they leave they can’t get back in? Perhaps in combination with some smoke?

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          • Emily Scott says:

            The one-way escape system is something I’ve been considering, another beekeeper suggested it too. The escapes are designed to sit in flat boards within in bee hives, not on a rounded chimney flaunching. I’m not the most practical or inventive person so am not sure how we would go about securing a wooden board to the flaunching, can you think of a way? We’d also need to find a way to get up there safely, it’s a steep roof and you’re landing on concrete if you fall.

            Doubt mothballs would cut it to drive off a established colony unfortunately 😦

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            • disperser says:

              That’s multiple issues.

              First getting up there: it depends on how tall it is. Meaning, how high up is the roof? Then, how steep it is. Also, how close the chimney sits to the edge of the roof.

              Not sure how it is over there, but he you can rent equipment (ladders, safety harness, etc) for working on roofs. Ladders that, for instance, have hinges so that a portion can lay on the roof itself and serve to give you purchase.

              Assuming the safety issue is overcome, it depends on whether the roof has chimney pots and if there are multiple pots of you can identify yours.

              If it’s just the flaunching, it should be flat at the opening.

              Then, I don’t know what the one-way device looks like. Assuming it’s a flat board, it just needs some weight hanging from the perimeter. Conversely, rope can be used; two ropes, each on opposite sides wrapped a couple of times around the chimney (assuming bricks). Friction and imperfections should be enough to hold them in place.

              The bigger issue is getting a tight fit to the opening or the bees would squeeze through between the board and the opening. Some sort of foam around the perimeter would do it.

              However . . . How about going the other way? Seal the top and have the one way at the bottom along with an inviting hive for them?

              Disclaimer: I know nothing about a lot of stuff. Some of these suggestions come from that fact. Without photos or an understanding of details — and not worrying about reality — all sorts of elegant and clever solutions can be found. Ignorance is a wonderful thing.

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            • disperser says:

              It’s there no substance that will drive the bees away? Onions? Broccoli? Socks that have been worn in hot weather for the weeks and not washed? Religious sermons?

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              • Emily Scott says:

                I’ve been told bees dislike recordings of Trump speeches. If that doesn’t work I could try Drew’s pants.

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              • disperser says:

                That seems dangerous both for you (you have to listen to the recordings) and the bees (it may radicalize them).

                Too bad they no longer use children for chimney sweeping. I mean, yes, you used to lose a few of them but they were cheap and plentiful.

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        • disperser says:

          One last question . . . can you drop something in the chimney like mothballs or other stuff that will drive them away?

          I also assume that the longer you wait, the more comb they will build. Speed is of the essence, yes?

          Like

  2. hencorner says:

    Oh Emily, how fascinating!

    My brother in law’s neighbour has a colony in a chimney and, though you probably don’t want to hear this, they’ve been going strong for many years… producing strong happy swarms trying to populate Ealing each summer…

    Like you, I couldn’t begin to imagine how to remove the colony, I’m surprised that there aren’t considerably more as it’s such a safe home for them.

    Looking forward to the updates 🙂

    Sara

    Like

    • Emily Scott says:

      Thanks Sara. I’ve been in touch with a couple of humane bee removals from chimney specialists today. We haven’t had a proper quote yet but it will be in the ballpark of £2,500-£5,000 to remove them. Yikes. I wouldn’t mind letting them stay but Drew would like to use our wood burner again at some point. Our front room gets so cold in winter that it’s practically unusable without the burner. We’re also worried about just how much comb they might build down there!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Alas, spending money on the professionals is probably the best option.

    If the roof is not too high for comfort you could try something like Cleo Hogan’s swarm harvester. We shall let you google the description and procedure as it is a bit long and we shall no doubt not write clearly enough but it would allow you to deplete the colony over time and even capture the queen.

    The drawback is that the harvester must be repeatedly put in place and taken down. It may be possible to avoid that if you can fit a long enough hose of some kind over the colony’s entrance and hanging down to ground floor level or, at least, conveniently near a window level. The bees should soonish learn to use their new long hallway. We have certainly heard of indoor observation hives with lengthy tunnels to the outside. Then you could do all the manipulations without repeated trips to the roof.

    Once the bees are all gone, a builder without any special bee expertise can be called.

    Best ofl uck with whichever solution you choose.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Emily Scott says:

      Thanks – I did wonder whether there may be an option like this. It’s an idea – I’m just not sure whether I could get up there safely to secure a hose or box. Waiting to see if the bees die out of their own accord and then removing the old comb may be another idea. We just don’t know how long they would take and how much comb would be left behind by then!

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      • We well understand reluctance to clamber about on rooftops. But letting the colony die of varroa seems cruel, not to mention creating a varroa bomb for other hives in the general area. If trapping them is not feasible it seems kinder to euthanize them somehow. Not that we have anything specific to suggest.

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        • Emily Scott says:

          I’m torn about it to be honest. The euthanising option is a pesticide bomb up the chimney, but that seems possibly crueller than letting them die out naturally to me. You also have to be very careful about removing all the comb then, as otherwise bees from other colonies can be attracted to the honey comb and carry the pesticides back to their nests.

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  4. Oh dear, Emily, what a conundrum, it must be very difficult for you and your family.

    Like

    • Emily Scott says:

      Thanks Philip. It’s a bit of a headache but at the end of the day we are all happy and healthy. I know we are lucky to have a home here, if the worst we have to worry about is a few bees we are doing well!

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  5. Serendipity for those bees, landing in your chimney. But, I do agree that euthanizing might be the best option. We have a slightly different problem, in that a swarm we were not aware of ended at the top of one of our trees-and stayed! They got beautiful comb going and everything. I really don’t want to disturb them, but I know we will have to bring them in before it gets cold…

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  6. Phillip says:

    I keep bees and would hate to do this, but…

    I’d probably kill the bees. Seal them inside the chimney and let them die. Then sometime before winter sets in, hire a chimney cleaner to clear it all out. It’s still likely a messy job, and the first time you light a fire might be tricky, but what other affordable options do you have?

    Like

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