Removing bees a lesson for humans

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

May 16, 2017 at 9:45 p.m.
Updated May 16, 2017 at 9:55 p.m.

 Lauren Garrett, 17, carves a honeycomb out of a hive that bees built under a cement mound in a field. The Victoria West junior started beekeeping in school and 4-H.  Pleasant Green Apiary owner Cary Voss instructs her on how to safely remove the comb.

Lauren Garrett, 17, carves a honeycomb out of a hive that bees built under a cement mound in a field. The Victoria West junior started beekeeping in school and 4-H. Pleasant Green Apiary owner Cary Voss instructs her on how to safely remove the comb.   Angela Piazza for The Victoria Advocate

Although his day job is a professor of speech at Victoria College, during his off time Cary Voss pollinates interest in bees in people of all ages.

Mike Olson learned about bee removal from Voss during an adult education class in 2014. Olson had just retired from a 32-year career with AT&T. After observing Voss for months, Olson started his own bee removal business in 2015.

"At the end of my career, I was in the office all the time, so I needed to get out," he said.

Now, Olson's on his second year of Texas A&M University's five-year master bee program. He's also mentoring Lauren Garrett, a junior at Victoria West High School.

Lauren has been accompanying Olson on bee removals and started her own hive at her family's property off Lower Mission Valley Road to prepare for the Texas 4-H Roundup, an educational contest held during the first full week of June.

Then, she'll give and be judged on a 12-minute presentation about bees using PowerPoint and other props, said her father, Kirby Garrett.

On May 10, the trio tried to remove a hive of western honey bees from some leftover concrete in a field near the intersection of Waterford Drive and Balboa Court.

"The city owns the property and was mowing it. When they drove by, they disturbed the bees and started getting popped," Voss said. "It would've been real easy to get a bulldozer and a tractor and just wipe them out."

This hive was composed of a swarm, or a queen and half the worker bees from an existing hive that had become too big and needed to leave as new queens emerged for dominance, he said.

It was also worth saving.

While western honey bees haven't been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, another bee was earlier this year. That was the rusty patched bumblebee.

Besides, about 70 percent of the fruit and vegetables humans eat are pollinated by bees, "so why kill them?" Voss asked.

Voss, Olson and Lauren on May 10 each took turns cutting out comb from the concrete and impaling it on top bars that slide down into a hive Voss made of recycled wood.

They also used a low impact vacuum to suck the bees into a bucket they'd later use to transfer them to the new hive.

At some point, they tried smoking the bees out. Smoke blocks the bees' ability to receive pheromone messages from each other, so they can't coordinate attacks.

In fact, no one was stung May 10.

Voss said their prime directive was to catch the queen.

"When she's gone, other bees act like sheep without a shepherd," he said.

But as the minutes ticked by and there was no sign of her, indicating she'd gone further into the concrete, Voss grew frustrated.

"I'm not asking her to abdicate the throne, just to surrender," he said.

Eventually, he caught her, putting the other bees at ease with the new location of their hive. Voss planned to take the hive to a ranch off of Farm-to-Market Road 446, where they'll likely help pollinate wildflowers.

This year, he's done 20 bee removals and thinks it's catching on because people are not only concerned about bees' continued existence, but they want to get off what he calls "the exterminator treadmill."

Exterminators typically use a poison that goes inert after awhile, so that location can become infested with bees again. Also, when a colony can't defend its resources, bees from other hives rob it of its honey and can track the poison back to their hive.

So bee removal is the better option.

"This way, everybody wins," Voss said.


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