Walking the beach, Melinda Nelson saw a bee on its back, stuck in the sand. She reached a finger out to the bee, and it grabbed on and didn’t let go for the mile walk back to her campground.
There, she gently took little pieces of sand off the bee’s fuzzy body and then offered it some honey. The bee ate it. The bee kept a strong hold on her finger while it nibbled on the food, obviously very hungry from her struggle on the beach. It was after several minutes that the bee finally got enough honey, took some time to clean herself then decided it was time to go and flew off.
But before jetting off, she first hovered right in front of Melinda’s face. Staring right into the little bee’s face Melinda got the feeling this little insect was giving her a very big thank you. The bee then zoomed off and left Melinda a little teary-eyed but glowing with a warm heart.
Her friends call her the bee whisperer and with a story like that there is no doubt she is one with the bees.
Melinda rescues bees, but not just random bees – that bee certainly got very lucky. She actually removes whole hives – queens, combs and all – from wherever they shouldn’t be, like inside your walls or out in the yard, and lovingly relocates them.
Bee populations have improved in the last couple of years, but are nowhere near the number we need to pollinate our plants, especially the ones we eat. Bees are solely responsible for cross-pollinating some 30 percent of the world’s crops, so it is vitally important to think twice before exterminating them.
Melinda, though soft-spoken, is very passionate when talking about her bees and gave out the latest buzz about rescuing them.
Q: Why save the bees?
A: For me it is the love for honey bees that keeps me out there rescuing bees. These little insects have been in my soul for quite a long time and I want to make sure that they are going to “bee” around for a long time. But a more practical reason is our food supply cannot sustain itself without bees so I’ve dedicated myself to keeping feral bees alive. Some people say that there are bees that are angry or Africanized and this is not so. We have been working with bees for many years and have not seen angry bees here in Orange County or surrounding cities. If we ever were to encounter these types of bees, unfortunately extermination would be the recommended solution.
Q: Really, no Africanized bees?
A: No, we haven’t seen any truly Africanized bees and they are not a big threat to us. Also bees are not true killers. They defend their hive, but do not kill for food or otherwise. I’ve watched bees thwart a beetle that was intruding in their hive. Instead of stinging it to death, they actually turned the beetle over on its back where it eventually died because it couldn’t roll back over. Bees do not have a killer instinct but they do know how to protect their hive.
Q: But there are mean bees that can cause harm.
A: Yes. Every bee hive has different personalities, even within the same type of bees. Some are more easily agitated or let’s say, more temperamental and maybe have more DNA that grants them more aggressiveness when their hive is disturbed. If the bees were to get mean we wouldn’t keep them so their DNA doesn’t get mixed with the other gentler bees. Bees should not be more interested in us than in their hives. In other words, their full intent should be focused on their hive.
Q: How do you remove bees? And why would you want to kill the bees anyway if you can remove them?
A: I work with my husband and there are several ways we collect the bees depending on the location of the hive. Bees are found in trees, walls, fences, and eaves. Really you can find the bees just about anywhere they think is a good secure home for them. If the bees are within reach, we put on a suit and simply transfer all the honeycombs into a box as gently as possible. But if they are inside the wall of a home, the honey and pollen can weaken the wall or seep through and it is necessary to cut a hole and pull the combs out. We use a laser heat sensor that reveals the 93-95 degree spot through the wall where the queen bee is situated. Bees need their homes to be warm for the babies and themselves. Rescuing bees might take a little more time and care then simply exterminating them. But there really is no reason to kill the bees in order to get them out of your home or yard. Yes, they might get defensive of their hive, but with mindfulness we are always able to save them. Over time you build a tolerance to their behavior.
Q: Tell me a little more about bees?
A: Bees work as a group. They are a very connected to each and are purposeless without a queen. If their hive has been removed or exterminated the bees that were out in the field come back to no hive and basically hang out, tired from their day of gathering and usually die. If they have enough energy or are able to feed themselves they will find another hive to join. They can smell beeswax from very far away. A bee lives three to six weeks in the summer. Basically they work themselves to death constantly gathering pollen and nectar for the hive. In the winter when there is little or no pollen or nectar to gather, the bees rest more and live 3-4 months. Honey is the bees’ main food. They also make bee bread from nectar and pollen and put it in the bottom of the cells for the larvae to eat. The queen lays 1,000 to 3,000 eggs a day, one at a time and lives for 3-4 years. She’s quite a busy lady.
Q: I know I had an incredible experience when a swarm of bees were moving the queen bee and I was standing right in their path. Nothing happened, they went buzzing right around me.
A: Believe it or not, bees are not out to sting you. But if you start panicking and swiping your hands and arms all around trying to rid yourself of an approaching bee, she will be more likely to sting you thinking you are going to harm her. Stay calm, let her buzz on by. If she lands on you, just gently brush her away. The bees that swarmed past you had nothing to defend and so bees are pretty docile when they are not established. Once established they are a little more protective but will first send out scout bees to see what’s going on. If you come across an established hive, be sure to stay out of their pathway where they come and go. Bees that are foraging do not notice you. They are just doing their job.
Q: What prompts bees to make a hive at someone’s home?
A: Water is a big factor. They love water dripping from a faucet, leaky water valve boxes, anything damp and green. And of course they look for a good protection of some sort, basically a space that has about a quarter inch hole to crawl in and out. Bees come and go from the same place in the hive. So if you notice a path of bees coming and going there is probably a hive nearby.
Q: If bees have started a hive in my backyard, should I call right away to have them removed, or wait and see what happens? Does it take long to remove the hive?
A: If within 24 hours they haven’t moved then they probably have already started a comb. Bees, once they have found a cozy spot to set up home immediately start making honeycombs, the inner combs are where the queen stays and lays her eggs and then the outer combs are for food and protection for the queen. When I remove the combs I always save the queen. Nothing gets sprayed, which means no pesticides to contend with. And most removals don’t take that long. Even in the most difficult situations we can usually have the bees removed in a full day. Also, some bees like to make their home in people’s cable boxes, so Cox cable has actually set it up where they save the bees instead of killing them.
Q: What do you do with the bees once you remove them?
A: After we get the bee’s hive and remove then as a swarm, we get them into a cardboard box. Then we bring the bees back and put them into their new home with frames and a foundation and place some of their previous home with their babies inside to let them re-establish a new one. Once they are established we sell the bees and help people to become beekeepers so we can have more bee whisperers saving our bees. It’s all a win-win situation. The bees get a new home, your home is cleared of the bees without the risk of poisons and our plants benefit with the bees still able to buzz around and pickup pollen and transfer them elsewhere. It’s all a beautiful cycle within nature that I am happy to preserve.
Melinda Nelson, Beekeeper
Bee Rescue and Removal