The phone rang this afternoon. It was the builder from Powerstock who, last year, paid me handsomely for getting honeybees out of a roof his team were working on. This time it was bees in a wall of a house he was renovating.
I went along and could see at once that they were bumblebees, the ones with the orange rump. I guessed at once and later confirmed that they are Bombus lapidarius. The building was a farm house in ancient times, but in Victorian times the farmer built a new brick house alongside, using his old, local stone, dwelling as a hay barn. The current owner is making it once again habitable.
They wanted the bees moved so that the builder could get on with the job. I donned my bee suit and removed a few stones from the crumbling wall of the doorway as bees were buzzing in and out of the various holes. There was much strawy debris mixed with the stonework and I was told that it had once been rat infested. This probably accounts for the bees being there as they tend to take over disused rodent holes as they are usually lined with nesting material.
When I could see the size of the job and that it was do-able, I agreed a price with the owner. This was the middle of the afternoon. It would be better to come back in the evening when most of the foragers would be at home. I went home, intending to get a flower pot to put them in, but a moment of inspiration led me to a bird box that I had made years ago but which had never been used. I had to adapt it a bit by finding a strip of wood to close a ventilation gap I had left and I also tied a knot in a rubber bungee to shorten it enough to keep the lid closed tightly when in transit. A conical plastic fermentation trap proved the perfect tool for closing the entrance hole.
I went back half an hour before sunset, kitted up and removed more stones from the wall until I had exposed the nest. With a marigolded hand I carefully scooped up the nest and deposited it in the bird box. Then I saw that the nest was bigger than I had thought and there was an extra stratum that I had missed. I scooped that out too and put it in with the other part in the, now, rather crowded bird/bee box. I took it to the owner in his garden so he could hear the buzz, but then returned to the original spot. I wedged the box precariously in the fragile stonework ( the builder denied my suggestion that it had been built by his company!) and found a concrete block and a long-handled broom to give it additional support.
I watched for some minutes as the occasional bee found her way into the entrance from which I had removed the bung, but there were still plenty flying around so I disrobed and headed for the pub, The Three Horseshoes, for a half of cider. An old chum from my schooldays, ‘Snake’ was in the bar, engaged in conversation about beer. (I disagree, there ARE some decent Cornish beers, Tintagel Best Bitter especially!).
After maybe half an hour’s relaxation in the pub garden, the sun had set and the gloaming was growing so I returned to the bees. There were still a few buzzing around, so I bunged the entrance hole, applied the bungee and dropped the whole lot, including adhering bees, into a bee-suit, getting one sting in the process. It hurt! It continued for a couple of hours as an irritation, much more so than a honeybee sting would have done.
I took it home and replaced the bird box whence it had come, in my bee-bole (pictured on IBRA’s Bee Bole site!). I’ve wanted bumble bees in my garden for years but they’ve never appeared. It will be good to have these around. Oh yes, the chap did pay me as agreed.