Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Honey Bees: a sting in the tale

We love bees, in fact we positively encourage them by leaving wild areas in the garden and by planting a good mix of flowering plants, bushes and trees. Our local honey bees thrive on the rich carpets of meadow flowers that are in continuous blossom from early spring through to late autumn.

With the decline of bee populations through pesticides, parasites and habitat destruction, it is encouraging to see the efforts people are making in bringing the issues into the public arena. Events here with a swarm of bees earlier in the week have left us feeling saddened and surprised. Let me explain...

Mid-afternoon whilst pottering in the garden we heard our friend Luis the farmer call out for us to come and look at a swarm of honey bees that had settled on a neighbours wall. Camera in hand we wandered up to find a rather large swarm gathered together on an old stone wall of a neighbours house. After taking a few pictures we posted a question on a forum to which we belong, asking if the bees would relocate by themselves as they were perilously close to where people walk and could be dangerous if antagonised. The consensus was that they would move on fairly quickly and should be left alone.

About an hour later we were in the kitchen when he heard a loud hum coming from the extractor fan above our oven hob. We went outside and it was obvious that the bees seemed to be making a new home in the chimney above the fan. We quickly took a large saucepan, switched on the extractor and lit newspaper and damp grass to make as much smoke as possible in an effort to deter their nest building.

After another 30 mins or so the bees seemed to have gone but to be safe we brought to the boil a small pan of vinegar in the hope that the acrid fumes would further dampen their efforts. It worked.

We love bees but didn't want them in the cooker hood or house.

About another 30 minutes later we heard a commotion just up the road and investigated. It was the fire service (Bomberos) scaling ladders onto the roof of a close-by neighbour. Apparently the bees had been going into their chimney since lunchtime and despite efforts to deter them by releasing smoke through their extractor fan, the bees had settled and were busy building comb.

The firemen were sealing the chimney ready to release poisonous gas to kill the bees. There was nothing we could do - that is the way they deal with such swarms. Very sad.

On a lighter note, on spotting me looking at our chimney through binoculars, another neighbour asked me if everything was OK. She was somewhat bemused when I told her we had sheep coming into our chimney - the words for sheep and bees are very similar and I got mixed up!!!

neighbours extractor fan light

We would love to keep bees in the future but it is tightly controlled here in Spain and anyone wanting bee hives has to attend a course, be certified and licensed, and their hives registered and numbered. Maybe one day, and if such a thing happened again we could take the swarm and give them protection in exchange for honey.


  1. I had no idea beekeeping was so tightly controlled, and here I was hoping to have a hive. Guess I´ll have to investigate more.

  2. Anonymous5:22 pm

    This happened after I read your story:
    Last week the bees tried my house three times for a new home, didn't seem to be a big swarm though.
    Found 5 bees on day one and during the next day more bees in the kitchen, let them all out during the day.
    Searching for the source of the invasion; the bees had come down throught the tall chimney, the exhaust pipe into the range and out of the ash box into the kitchen.
    Swept the whole chimney from below, luckily without being attacked by the bees.
    Lit a smokey fire to discourage another attempt to settle in, the bees seemed to have gone on day two, only to try for a last time the next day.
    More smoke and fire one last time.
    No fire brigade will come out here (IRL) for this type of work.
    If I hadn't shifted the bees, an exterminator would have to be called in plus a lift hired to get to the chimney top.
    Don't think I would get change out of 300 Euros for the job.

    1. @Coco - I'll see if I can find out more as well. @Josey - close shave for you there. Pleased you managed to shift them. Apparently the Fire Service here charged 120€ an hour for their efforts.


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