Honey Bees in the Attic
Photos by Michele Marechal
In the days when the children were children it was the perfect secret hideout. Secluded, silent, untrammeled. A place for scary stories and hatching plots among menacing gargoyles and doors nailed shut for decades.
But no one goes up into the tower much anymore. Perhaps that’s why the honey bees took over.
The colony had multiplied quickly by the time the beekeeper arrived. We were expecting armored suits and masks from ghostbusters, but were greeted instead by the gentle and wiry Monsieur Labaye (yes, pronounced just like “abeille” – honey bee) who brought only his smoking device and a little mobile home.
Labaye lit up his smoking can – just rosemary, thyme and grass cuttings – saying the smoke is intended to distract the bees, not to make them drowsy. The intrusion is a threat, but rather than become aggressive, they get busy making more honey (storing up for the imminent emergency) and thus pay less attention to the new beekeeper.
This wasn’t the first time honey bees had taken refuge here. A few years ago a swarm took up residence under a picnic table and a local beekeeper transported the swarm to our woods – we relished their rare “oak honey” with its faintly smoky taste.
Monsieur Labaye said it’s hard to know why a colony suddenly moves. Usually, their home has been disturbed; always to follow and protect their queen.
Since the bees will follow their honeycomb, Labaye began cutting it away to fit into a shelf in the mobile home.
He placed the home on the windowsill.
Then he made a little bridge to facilitate their passage.
With some gentle encouragement.
No gloves, no mask, no socks. Imagine the Pied Piper vibrations.
And all this time he was looking for the queen. He said she must be a virgin queen since the honeycomb had no larvae yet. He picked up handful after handful of bees and gently brushed them, searching.
He found a couple of large male fertilizing bees, but still no queen as the process went on.
Suddenly there came a shriek from down below – a visitor almost stepped on a clump of bees. Labaye picked up the furry, humming mound and began gently brushing. There in the middle he found the queen. She had fallen out of the hive and been immediately surrounded by her protectors. He placed her most delicately in the waiting carriage and off they went.
We sighed as Monsieur Labaye drove away with our refugees, and talked about colony collapse and the profits generated by pesticides. Someone quoted Einstein – “If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.”
We’ll go visit Monsieur Labaye soon to see the honeybees in their new home – set among thousands of buzzing companions in a field of sunflowers.