Give Bees a Chance

I love bees.

Because I love (and respect and admire) bees, I maintain some hives.

I am, however, in the category of what one might call “super hands-off” when it comes to manipulating those hives. What this means is that I keep bees so that the bees will be alive and continue to be beneficial to my gardens and to the world in general. I do not keep bees so that I may have honey, but this does happen to be one of the happy side-effects of their continued presence on this farm.

Lovely, docile, non-attacky pollinators

Honey bees–lovely, docile, non-attacky pollinators

I would go so far as to say that I love all pollinators, but that would necessitate the inclusion of the despicable ground bee, so that is a declaration I’m not willing to make.

Some people say, “But ground bees are beneficial pollinators!”

And that is totally true.

And some people say, “But ground bees rarely, if ever, sting!”

And THAT would be chicanery of the highest order.

Because those bastards sting at the slightest provocation and those stings burn like electricity. And if that weren’t bad enough, they don’t even have the decency to die after stinging because there is no such thing as a queen ground bee, so no one in the whole hive has a barbed stinger.

So, my love for bees begins and ends with honey bees (Note: carpenter bees are also jerks and I am indifferent on the subject of bumble bees). 

We ignored the ground bee nest as long as we could. We wanted to give them every chance to live their bee lives and pollinate as they were meant to do.

Sadly for all of us, the profound jerkitude of these Flying Hailstones of Pain convinced them that the best possible place to set up shop this spring was right on the path between the chicken coop and the pig enclosure.  You know, the path we walk on at least four times a day while carrying buckets of feed.  The same path that, when let out for their daily walk, the goats like to graze.

The scene of the crime.

The scene of the crime.

This, to the bees, seemed like the ideal real estate opportunity.

Many times over the summer we found ourselves inadvertently agitating the invisible nest, letting loose a volcanic gush of stinging insects, and then scrambling away before one or more of them could attack.

Many times over the summer, the goats weren’t quite so fast or quite so lucky.

By the time the third goat had been stung, and a group of hens had been run out of the coop screaming, we’d had enough.

As I typically do when embarking on a new project, I did some reading about the best way to get rid of ground bees. Since we are an organic farm, we wouldn’t want to introduce any pesticides to the situation (something folks don’t always realize is that when bees are exposed to pesticides but are not killed by them, they will carry those toxins wherever they go, spreading them far beyond the area being treated).

Many of the non-pesticide methods were simply ineffectual.  The most popular advice was to use copious amounts of water to make the area inhospitable to the bees.  We tried this repeatedly, but seemingly had the world’s only aquatic ground bees.

Like this, but with bees

Like this, but with bees

I imagined, just below the surface, thousands of bees watching their lair filling with water, then popping on tiny little swim caps and diving in sideways, in formation, to begin an elaborate water ballet routine.

So, THAT didn’t work.

After trying a few other less-aggressive methods, we finally settled on the indisputable power of FIRE.

We knew that a small amount of gasoline, burned completely, would do some damage to the immediate grassy area, but wouldn’t spread into any of the surrounding areas.  We were willing to sacrifice a small portion of grass to stop the painful attacks on ourselves and our animals.

A lovely night for a bee roast.

A lovely night for a bee roast.

So we poured a little gas and lit a match.

Since Dave is a firefighter, I let him manage the whole combustible affair and only asked him four or five (or six or seven) times afterward if he was absolutely certain the fire was out and the chicken coops and pig shed wouldn’t burn down overnight.

He was sure.

The smoldering wreckage

The smoldering wreckage

He moved the fire and soil until the hives themselves were unearthed and we could see that the job was complete.

I have to admit, as a beekeeper, there was something tremendously sad in seeing that hive comb ablaze and knowing that we had made a decision to destroy pollinators.

But then again, those little bastards were stinging us every chance they got.

Now we can walk freely around the farm without fear of attack.

Until that bear shows up again.

About applewoodfarm

Restaurateur, farmer, bartender, beekeeper, friend, wife, mother, dog lover, cat tolerater, chicken hypnotizer, blogger, and sometime yogi
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10 Responses to Give Bees a Chance

  1. I have to sadly admit that we used wasp spray on our ground bees. They had nested two feet from the side door. It was unacceptable and no way could we fire them out like you did. Love the description of your bees doing aquatics. These bees are actually a type of hornet, if that makes you feel any better about getting rid of them… 🙂

  2. avwalters says:

    Though I don’t share your antipathy for ground bees, that may well have been what got Rick, as he was digging the septic field. Out of nowhere, he was stung, just below the eye. It might have been yellow-jackets…we’re not sure. It was so fast. And painful.
    I’m fond of some of the other pollinators, particularly the bumbles. I don’t harbor resentments against any of the buzzing crew, except deer flies and yellow jackets. Loved your story though, and the solution, given that poisons were not an option. In our case, the offenders were dispatched as a matter of course, with a scoop and dump of the old Kubota.

  3. ccm989 says:

    Ground bees and carpenter bees are where I rely on professional exterminators. Ground bees terrify everyone (even the dog goes a long way around their nests). Been stung so many times by those little buggers, I have lost count.

  4. sue sussman says:

    Ground bees were the bane of our Augusts in Nippersink. I’d forgotten about them until your post.

  5. Bill says:

    I’ve been attacked by yellow jackets before, and it is indeed an unpleasant experience. With bees, we try to live and let live, but there have been times when dangerous bees insist on making (and defending) homes in places that guarantee conflict with us. In that situation, we will win–reluctantly but decisively. I think it’s called the Just War Theory.

  6. Dear Dave and Laura, thank you for your excellent article you put the title “Give Bees a Chance”. By the way, I am very impressed by your excellent bees photography. I also like bees and appreciate your thought. Waiting for your reply!

  7. Cheri says:

    Where have you and your amazing blogs been???

  8. Marj says:

    I love your writing!
    You mentioned using water first, but did you try BOILING water? That did the trick for me. I waited till after dark when they were all back home and asleep, and then I poured two big spaghetti-water pots of boiling water into the hole. Worked like a charm!

  9. I learned lots about bees today

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