Workplace Hazards

Wednesday, working my second cut-out with The Bartlett Bee Whisperer, I learned that working with honeybees involves some risks. Besides the obvious risk of being stung, there are some “workplace hazards” one might not immediately think of.

The call came from John Cook. The front area around his house had been invaded by some of nature’s best and some of nature’s worst. John’s attempts to clear the scourge of poison ivy from his front yard had been thwarted by honeybees, who had chosen the wrong home: behind the house’s wood siding.

Bees and Poison Ivy

The poison ivy on the left is more frightening to me than the threat of stings from the bees on the right!

Honeybees on siding

Beautiful as these bees are, they made their home in the wrong place!

Poison ivy is a very real workplace hazard for me, as I am very allergic! The Whisperer quickly removed the poison ivy near the hive (as I gladly watched from a distance), and pulled the siding from around the hive. Beneath the tiny hole in the picture above we found the second “hazard”…

Dead honeybee hive beside live hive

Proof that pesticide is a very temporary solution to a bee invasion!

The pungent smell of rotting hive! John had attempted to discourage the bees, by using pesticide… Though the old hive eventually died out and was overrun with small hive beetles, another group of bees moved in right beside it! Or the surviving bees from the first colony moved one stud left! The honey left in the old hive fermented, reminding me of a winery I once toured at the Biltmore Estate. I will never forget that smell!

Rotten Honeycomb

The old hive looked just as nasty as it smelled!

In very short order, we had the bees vacuumed up and the nasty comb thrown away.

Finished honeybee removal

Now there’s a proud Bee Whisperer!

Though the bees hadn’t meant to be a nuisance, they had found themselves between a man and his yardwork – not a good place to be! The bees are now in a new, far more welcoming home!

Because there was no queen in this colony, they were added to an existing colony to strengthen their numbers. A sheet of newspaper was placed between the 2 boxes (and the 2 groups of bees). By the time the bees chew trough the paper their pheromones will have mixed enough for them to think they are all the same family.

Relocating Honeybees

The bees now have their own apartment!

After relocating this hive, we might have driven off into the sunset, leaving the bees to their happily-ever-after… but what is a day in the life of a beekeeper without a little risk?

The Whisperer wanted to check on one last hive… one that he said was more aggressive than most. Within a couple minutes of opening the hive, a hurricane of bees formed around our heads. Oh, and he had used his smoker to calm them down! Suddenly – ZAP! Pain shot through my leg.

I got stung! This being the most obvious “workplace hazard” for a beekeper, I knew it would happen – but I hadn’t expected it at that moment. I mean, a little warning would have been appreciated. Oh well. The good news is that the pain quickly subsided and no swelling occurred! Apparently I’m not allergic! Maybe it was the Benadryl The Whisperer threw to me.

Even better, I have no poison ivy rashes! Sure, beekeeping comes with its hazards. But with a little care taken, it is well worth the risk!

Saturday in Collierville, TN

I took my wife with me to be my flunky. She took her latest copy of People to read. Trust me. When you’re sitting on top of a ladder, it’s nice to have someone else available to run around getting tools and other things for you (She’s pretty patient, most of the time). Running up and down a ladder may be great fun at the gym, but when you’re bundled up in a bee suit and dripping with honey and wax, it really is nice to just sit in place and have someone else get things for you.

So here is the bee removal with which she helped:

Deb and Paul Parker called several pest control companies for help with a bee issue. One of them, Foundation Pest Control, told them to call us. Thanks guys! This photo is above their entryway. If you were walking up to their front door and could make it past the bees flying in and out, the bees would be about 10 feet above your left shoulder as you rang their doorbell.


I removed the ceiling area where the bees were and found the bees farther to the left, above the stone wall.


I then vacuumed the hanging bees out of the way to get a better idea of what needed to be done. What is not shown well in the photos is that the spot directly below the colony… has no bottom! That’s an empty void! Any comb cut, and not caught, would’ve fallen all the way down. Or put another way, the bees had about 12 cubic feet of space (straight down) to build in. They also had that same amount of space going to the right 3 more feet, for a total of about 36 cubic feet of space for their new home!!! I had to use blank foundation to catch the combs as I removed them.


Here is a closer look at the pristine white comb, the nectar being converted to honey, and the new brood being covered with tan cappings.

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One final look and photo op, a few bees to vacuum, and then we were done. Julie was a trooper for it all, and I believe she finished her People…


Summer Swarm in Arlington, TN

We are still getting calls on honey bee swarms. Shirley Bilger found our website and called because these girls had moved to her tree.


One of the family members is highly allergic. So the bees must go. Here’s a closer view of some very peaceful honey bees.


A little sugar water and a good saw go a long way in recovering a swarm of bees. I misted the girls with the sugar water, then swept them into my ventilated trap bucket.

Here is the now bee-less tree.



Bees near Elvis Presley Blvd

Everyone knows there is a Tornado Alley from north Texas, running northeast through Oklahoma, northwest Arkansas, into Kansas and Missouri. I just found Honey Bee Alley. It is near the drainage aqueduct on Haleville rd. in Memphis, TN. I have been called to this specific area 4 times now.

This house has had  (in different parts) colonies of bees for years. This is the second time I have removed bees from it.The first hive was  between the 1st and 2nd floors in the floor joists. The second hive was below the front balcony.


The pest strip at the right is good for preventing bugs from moving into a home, but it is only good while the chemical is active. You also have to make sure nothing has moved in before you place it. These bees walked willy-nilly all over that thing.

After removing the face board, I drilled a pilot hole so I could scope the hive location.

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Generally, when I do this, bees start popping out immediately. These were very reluctant to show themselves. Actually, they were almost shy about it, and when I removed them, they were very peaceful for the whole ordeal.

The scope showed that the best access would be made by removing the ceiling below the balcony. And here they are…


This was all brand new comb. The hive was removed and the bees vacuumed. They are now located in a hive body in Bartlett, TN. Here shortly they will be relocated to an apple farm in Arkansas. I will be helping the owner start his own hives. His harvests have been small and he remembers that while his Dad had bees the harvests were more productive.

FYI, the seeds in apples have to be pollinated for the flesh of the apples to grow well. It works with watermelons also (ignore the seedless ones). If you have ever seen a lopsided watermelon, you now know why it grew that way.  

Saturday Hive Check-Ups

One of the important tasks of being a beekeeper vs just having bees is monitoring the bees and the hives. This is done by periodically  opening up the hives and peering in to see what the bees are doing. Sometimes the queen has died, or pests (skunks, coons, mice, ants, “and tigers and bears! Oh, my”)  have been irritating the bees. Whatever the case, looking in on the bees lets the beekeeper know what they need. It’s kinda like checking on your kids in the middle of the night. Most of the time nothing is needed. Same with the bees. Most check-ups include cleaning up spurious comb (burr and bridge) that bees build throughout the hive, and removing the copious amounts of propolis (bee glue) gunking up everything. At other times, extra food (sugar water or pollen patties) might be needed, or if the bees need more space, extra boxes are added.


At this time of the year, most of the Spring swarming is over and it’s time to start adding honey supers. These are the boxes the bees will use to put up the beekeeper’s honey. This may appear greedy on the beekeepers part, but bees put up more honey than they will ever need.  I use 2 deep brood boxes, which allow sufficient room for brood as well as honey and pollen storage for the colony. This is enough room for their food storage. Everything above the second box is the beekeeper’s honey. Here is a frame of honey in the making.


While making checks, it is always important to look for proof that the hive is “Queen Right.” This means an active, laying queen resides in the hive. Most of the time I am only looking for eggs, larva and capped brood, while trying not to squish the queen (she’s usually photo-shy and hides during hive checks). If these are in the hive then the queen is in the hive.



Today, we were able to get a photo of one of the queens. She posed for us. This gives us a great opportunity to show off her regal features. Check her out…


Although she is their mother, she does not look much like her offspring. Her wings are about the same length as the workers’ wings, but her abdomen is much longer. Where the workers’ bodies are fuzzy, she is smooth-bodied, much like a wasp.

All in all, it was a great day in Bartlett and Arlington, TN as well as in rural Fayette County. Honey supers were added to several hives and all hives now have two brood boxes. Three hives have failing queens, but I am letting the bees raise up new queens. Please note the queen cells (peanut shell items) on the foundation in the next photo.


The Whisperer’s Apprentice

Just call me Michael. I’m the webmaster for In the past, I’ve wondered what a day in the life of a Bee Whisperer is like… and a few days ago, I got to find out!

The Whisperer got a call to remove bees from a ceiling in a vacant apartment, and I got the call to go with him. As a person whose experiences with bees involve a lot of running and slapping, I was a little nervous about purposely entering the bees’ home. Did I get stung? Well, I’ll tell you…

We arrived on the scene about noon and unloaded the equipment. The first sign of bees was a foreboding bulge in the apartment’s ceiling.

Bulged ceiling from melted honey bee hive

I quickly donned the “relatively bee-proof” jacket and hat. “You’ll get hot in the jacket and start to sweat; where the jacket sticks to you is the danger zone.” The Whisperer’s warning caused me to sweat a little more.

The Whisperer wasted no time cutting into the ceiling to expose the hive. Abandoned comb had melted into the ceiling, causing the bulge, but newer comb was full of bees: about 40,000 I was told.

Honeybees in a ceiling

Piece by piece, the Whisperer removed the honeycomb and vacuumed the bees into a specially-designed bee container.

The Bartlett Bee Whisperer using his bee vacuum

The comb had very little usable honey, but we saved the comb to make wax. One piece of comb caught my eye because of the colorful pollen.

Colorful honeycomb

The camera’s flash exaggerates the color – but it was beautiful even without the flash!

“Grab the clip out of the top of the toolbox! Quick! See that bee? Catch it in the clip!” I caught the bee he was looking at. “That’s the queen! Russian, by the looks of the tail!” My friend the Bee Whisperer had been downcast for some time because of the lack of brood (eggs and babies), but was so excited to have caught the queen! He said that having the queen would ensure the success of the hive once it was relocated. We took quite a few pictures of the queen and her attendants.

Queen bee with her attdendants

The queen is the larger one on the left.

Through all this, I had managed to not get stung. After pulling out the last of the combs, I took off my protective jacket in order to cool off. Then I realized I needed one last shot of the ceiling, with the hive now gone. Though some bees were still buzzing around, I was now comfortable enough to eeeeease over to the ladder and climb up to get a shot.

Ceiling after a honeybee hive removal

A few bees are straggling, but the hive is gone!

Climbing back down the ladder, I had a great sense of accomplishment! I’d just helped complete a honeybee removal for the first time! We’d collected a lot of comb to be used as wax, and caught a queen to make sure the captured bees would thrive in their new home. And I’d not been stung!

Then a bee landed on my shirt. “Don’t swat! That’s a drone, they don’t sting!”

That’s why he’s called the Bee Whisperer.

Spring Swarms

Swarms from this year, so far… They came from all over the Shelby and Fayette Counties: Memphis, Bartlett, Arlington and President’s Island

An Early Swarm

March 8th: The queens have started laying real early this year if the hives are trying to swarm out now. Got an emergency call from a friend, Rich Faber. Tried to (phone)walk him trough a quick split of his hive to prevent the swarm urge. After a couple minutes on the phone I realized I needed to visit his girls. If any of you new beekeepers see something like this, reversing the hive bodies may not work. Do a split and shake to set up a second hive. When we left all bees were in the hives.


Cool Comb Photos

I’ve been reviewing some photos from last year’s cutouts. Thought you might like them as we are ramping up for the Spring swarms.

Brood comb with pollen to the side. The brood are covered with tan wax. The ones at the top that are bubbled up are drone cells.

Brood comb with pollen to the side. The brood are covered with tan wax. The ones at the top that are bubbled up are drone cells.

Close up of pollen. Check out the different colors, bright and dull.

Close up of pollen. Check out the different colors, bright and dull.

Brood comb with several stages of brood, eggs, larva and capped.

Brood comb with several stages of brood, eggs, larva and capped.