Do you HAVE to remove honeybees from walls?

Alice JohannenSeptember 27, 2004


A few weeks ago, I was thrilled to discover honeybees all over my not quite bloomed sedum. Workin', workin', boy they were busy. I wondered where their hive was and was really excited to see them when ... I discovered they were going into one of our garage walls. (Before anyone chastises me for not maintaining my house, I will point out that I would need to use a mirror to see the hole they're using, because it is in the strangest little nook that I'd have to back into and look up into a tiny dark corner. At least I think so. I'm not getting in there with all the bee traffic!!)

So, they're in the garage. And I'm quite sure they're honeys, not wasps or hornets. Do I HAVE to have them removed because of the "damage" that will happen as the colony (and comb) grows? What would happen if I left them? They don't bother me at all, but we had carpenter bees in our last house and they DID bother me with their chewing.

Any thoughts on this? Bees are neat, but property (and repairs) is costly!

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A few things to think about are these:

1. have you researched anywhere else to see what actual damage are/are not they really doing? (wax and honey are preservatives, you know)

2. have they attacked anyone in the family or seemed threatening in any way? (if not, it's probably because they have accustomed themselves to the scents and activities of the people and animals that are "supposed" to be in their area and don't feel threatened)

3. do you know how to distinguish these bees from africanized hives? (since you were addamant about knowing them from carpenter bees, chances are you also know how to tell if they are or not)

4. is their presence a bonus or a negative to you, the community or your gardens? (you seem like someone with a level head, so I imagine you can see the many benifits to you and your gardens, even if that meant enduring an occassional warning sting. scientists even have stated that honeybee stings can actually be a good thing in moderation)

5. what repairs or damage do you foresee if you decide to leave them alone? (are you thinking of modifying the building or walls they are living in sometime in the near future)

You seem like a sensible and pragmatic individual, so after having answered the above questions you will most likely end up on the side of wait and see instead of "OMG, I must get rid of these terrible bees!" It really depends on you and your family's attitude, I think.

If nothing else, use this forum to find out how to hive the bees in their own home and enjoy the comfort of being more in control of their location. After having read numerous posts from some of the more regular poseters, I feel that may be the best solution. This forum is a warehouse of valuable info.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   September 27, 2004 at 10:55PM
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Alice Johannen

Thanks, maddalfred. We have no plans to change the garage, so we wouldn't be worried about that. Plus, I should clarify, they aren't inside the garage per se, they are in one of the garage walls, entering from the outside. And they don't seem to be aggressive, but the kids are scared of them (we had a run-in with yellowjackets last year where my young son got 7 stings, daughter got 3, hubby got 5 and I got 2 -- we inadvertently walked through their in-ground hive in the forest and it was UGLY and PAINFUL).

I am not a bee expert, but I have seen a honeybee "display" (hive with see-thru walls) at a local nature preserve and am pretty sure that what we have are honeys -- they are definitely not bumble, hornet, wasp, carpenter. Much browner and fuzzier and smaller. I wouldn't know how to tell if they are Africanized, since I never even thought of it. I suppose there are threads here to tell me how to know?

I really am HAPPY to have honeybees nearby. Really, I was so fascinated to see them on my sedum and happy that they were nearby. But. If having wax and honey in your walls is damaging, then sadly, I would not want to leave them. (You mentioned these things are preservatives. Would that be a plus, or a minus?) Or if after time it is reasonable to expect that they will become aggressive (overcrowding?), then we will have to try to remove them. I do have to cross thru their flight path to turn the hose on and off, but I did it and they didn't bother me a bit. No stings to date -- I think, actually, they are fairly new arrivals.

That said, I am sure it is a positive thing to the local environment to have them around. There is an apple orchard just beyond the woods in our backyard, and I have lots of flowers, lots of neighbors have gardens ... I am sure they do good work, these little ones.

I just want to be sure I'm doing what any prudent, nature-loving homeowner would do. If I can leave them and feel assured that their activity in the garage isn't going to make said garage fall down or anything, then I will leave them to their happy work until/unless there is a compelling reason to take action.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me!

    Bookmark   September 28, 2004 at 1:35PM
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preservatives= a plus in most cases. Look how well preserved some of the Egyptian mummies are for evidence. Honey, spices and balms were all used in their preparation for the next world. Wax acts as a natural water repellent, so wood treated with it would take a long, long time to rot.

They will NOT overcrowd themselves, that is one of the reasons they swarm, part or all of them leave to make up their own hive. When swarming, honeybees do not sting. Back in the old days, farmers would drop everything at the sight of a swarm, grab pots and pans and anything they could make loud noise with to settle the swarm for capture and hiving. A good swarm of honeybvees was considered a small gold mine.

Of course, as a concerned homeowner, it might be prudent to warn guests of the bees presence in case any of them were highly allergic, perhaps post a well hand lettered sign nearby such as "Honeybee Crossing" or some such thing.

Paste the following URLS into a new browser url field box and take a look, there is also a very highly comprehensible clickable link just under all this text; Honeybees and Beekeeping, which is well written and very informative and should answer lots more questions than you already have.
(Africanized bee ID)
(Africanized bee ID link 2)

Here is a link that might be useful: Honeybees and Beekeeping

    Bookmark   September 28, 2004 at 7:04PM
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Alice Johannen

Thank you very much for the links, maddalfred. I've checked them all out and am now totally scared of being swarmed by Killer Bees!!!!!!!! No, honestly, we're all the way up here in Mass, and my google search did not come up with any reports of Africanized bees up here. Plus, I was poking around the garden right next to where they go into the hive (before I realized they were there), and they didn't bat an eyelash. So (fingers crossed) we should be safe to leave them.

If I lean my ear against the garage, will I be able to hear them? So Cool.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2004 at 9:29PM
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I seriously doubt you have Africanized bees, for the most part they usually do not settle in incorporated areas where there is more noise than they are ready to tolerate. For some reason, loud noises in or around their chosen hive site seems to stir up their dander. I didn't realize you were in Mass., my bad. I don't think they have made it that far north and east yet.

Your brood had moved into their new home and had accustomed themselves to the "normal" sites and sounds associated with it and that is why they do not seem threatened by you. They were probably in residence quite some time before their presence was even known. Your natural pheremones are already incorporated into what they consider "safe", more than likely. Most honeybees of European decent seem to have a fairly docile temperament, for the most part.

The hive I kept as a teenager taught me a lot about them in general and I researched the things I wanted to know about. I never bothered to wear any protective clothing around my hive, even when I was directly working with them. I got an occassional sting or two, but only if I happened to crush one of the girls while going about my business. They are highly fascinating creatures and probably the hardest working animal in the world, even if they are cruely sexist.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2004 at 11:57PM
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ccrb1(z5 IND)

You will probably find it's illegal to keep bees except in a movable frame hive in your state. Certainly, there's no risk of them being killer bees (the other person is from Texas, so there's a real risk in parts there). Nor is it advisable to keep the bees in a natural comb nest in the garage for another reason: the bees will most certainly get mites and will most certainly, eventually die. You can't treat a haphazard nest. You CAN treat in a hive with movable frames.

Suggest you decide now to do it properly. These bees can be carefully relocated (brood and all) to a beehive, although spring would be a better time now.

Grab a course or seminar in Beekeeping and build yourself a standard langstroth hive over the winter.

Transplant the bees in April or so once they are flying again.

Plug up the hole.

Here is a link that might be useful: Beekeeping School

    Bookmark   September 29, 2004 at 9:24AM
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I did not want to give anyone disinformation, but I also did not want anyone to become terrified for no real reason, either. I do agree that the best solution is to plan to move the hive as ccrb1 so wisely suggested. However, I assumed that AlicePalace would come to that conclussion on his/her own once he/she had a chance to do a little research on their own, hence all the link URLS I posted.

To be frank, I had no idea it was an almost foregone conclussion that the bees in question would develop mites and die, I never had any experience with such pests myself. If AlicePalace decides that beekeeping isn't for him/her, maybe he/she will post on in thier general area and a local beekeeper will come to the rescue.

Here is a link that might be useful: Craigslist

    Bookmark   September 29, 2004 at 11:48AM
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Alice Johannen

Hmm, the plot thickens. Oh dear.

I actually had no intention of becoming a Beekeeper, and would never have classified the situation (with a wild nest in my garage wall) as "keeping" bees. It's more like ... *allowing* bees, LOL. If I'm not doing anything with or to them, am I "keeping" them? They moved in without invitation ... I did not proactively choose to have them! Interesting concept.

So, although they are most likely not causing structural damage to the garage by their presence, the "best" move is to move the hive to a constructed, separate box (necessitating Bee School for me)? I guess I hadn't really come to that conclusion at all, since it never crossed my consciousness to become a bona fide Beekeeper. If there is no compelling need or reason to move the hive, it is MUCH less disruptive to leave them be. I mean, to move them would be costly -- we'd need to break into the wall to get the comb and queen out (plus as many other bees as possible), clean the place out thoroughly, rebuild, reshingle, paint and plug it up. No way to know how much of the garage is truly affected until we're into it, huh?

If I am not interested in harvesting honey, why would I be worried about mites? Unless, if the bees all die, I gather it will smell pretty bad, huh?

Still pondering what to do ... what to do ...

    Bookmark   September 29, 2004 at 1:05PM
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Alice Johannen

PS, maddalfred, I know you didn't mean to scare me by mentioning the Africanized bees! I just let my imagination get carried away when I was reading about Killer Bee attacks in Texas this year. Yikes, huh? Our run-in with Yellow Jackets was bad enough, but that? Worse than snakes, in my book. LOL

    Bookmark   September 29, 2004 at 1:12PM
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ccrb1(z5 IND)

Mites are a foregone conclusion anywhere in the USA or Canada, unless you have miteproof bees which really aren't very common.

In addition, American Foulbrood is endemic everywhere in North America.

Both kinds of mites and AFB are spread by the bees themselves. This is the reason that it is a requirement virtually everywhere that bees must be kept in a movable frame hive... so it can be inspected, treated or destroyed based on the appearance of AFB or mites.

If you don't move the bees to a movable frame hive and your bees die from one of the aforementioned maladies, they WILL be robbed by bees from a stronger hive who WILL carry the infection back. Hence, your good deed in letting them live COULD be an infection source for the entire county, wiping out other hives, and beekeepers.

Bees are something truly worthwhile keeping. If you keep them in a proper hive, you can observe and learn a great deal, plus you can keep them healthy. More than one beekeeper began just like this.

However the wild (feral) population of honeybees has plummetted to near zero in the past 20 years, and an unmanaged colony even in your nice garage stands little chance of long term survival (best case) and could end up causing disease and parasites to spread (worst case).

If you really aren't up to becoming a beekeeper, please call a local association who will find someone to remove them for you in the spring, and perhaps give them a new home.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2004 at 9:08PM
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Alice Johannen

Well I must say, a month ago I would have never thought I'd learn so much about honeybees. And I would never have DREAMED that the state regulated them but look here, from the Mass. Dept of Agricultural Resources:

Apiary Inspection (Bees)

Chapter 128: Section 33. Maintenance of colony of honey bees in hives

"Section 33. No persons shall knowingly maintain a colony or colonies of honey bees in hives, other receptacles, trees or other lodging places in which brood combs are fastened to the container of the colony or cross-built. No person shall neglect, expose, sell, barter, give or in any other way dispose of diseased bees or any colony container, comb, frame or other appliance used about the diseased bees in whole or in part in such manner as to cause the spread of the disease. "

I suppose one could say I am "keeping" them in an "other" receptacle or lodging place and possibly (if they're diseased) even "neglecting" them. SO. I suppose structural damage is the least of it! I'd have never, ever thought of it. I was blissfully unaware of the mite/disease problem.

I am so, so glad I found this forum and asked people who were willing to give me such good information!

Come the spring, I will work to have the colony removed by someone experienced. (My boss and his wife just started keeping bees this spring, so I know they know people who can help -- I will investigate, now that I know it has to be done).

I'll admit to being a little depressed. I liked the idea of having them here. I suppose I will ponder whether to build a box for them so they can stay here at "home."

Thanks, all.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2004 at 9:32PM
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I didn't notice in my quick review of the previous posts any warning about the damage done by decaying honey combs. After the bees die out wax moths usually move in. As they riddle the combs, honey being primarily water will cause many pressboard sidings to begin to decompose.
I became interested in bees more out of an interest in bees than a love of honey. For a number of years I would remove bees from trees, barns, houses, (many chimneys) a few garages etc. I remember one grand old mansion that had bees under the eaves, in the chimney and in at least two different walls. The lady loved gardening and bees and tolerated them well till they started coming out of the fireplace into the living room. We removed the bees we could and exterminated the bees we couldn't remove. When they renovated that old house the damage in the walls where the combs had been for years was extensive.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2004 at 11:58PM
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Alice Johannen

Thanks, GMason. You're right, no one had yet mentioned how honeycombs would/could damage walls, and this was just what I was looking for. I would leave them if there would be no structural damage (and if it didn't mean putting all the local bees at risk of mites and whatnot), but since I have learned all the reasons NOT to leave the bees, I think we will have them relocated.

I need this "ammo" so I can help my husband understand why we should not only move the bees (no, not exterminate!), but also clean out the wall.

So ... when we do get the bees relocated, are they then tested for mites/disease? What if they're diseased -- are they then destroyed? Or medicated? I'm curious because if we decide to get a hive box and keep them, I just am interested to know ...

    Bookmark   September 30, 2004 at 2:27PM
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ccrb1(z5 IND)

yes, removal of the comb and cleaning the area totally is important. There's a story on me doing exactly that at this link...

And if you do plan on keeping bees, do not try to build your own box. Buy a standard hive, knocked down, and assemble it.

I really do hope you keep the bees.

Here is a link that might be useful: Brownsburg News

    Bookmark   October 2, 2004 at 8:44AM
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Alice Johannen

Great article -- wow! Thanks for sharing it. We will have to be careful, too. :-)

    Bookmark   October 3, 2004 at 9:11PM
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Min3 South S.F. Bay CA

Hi AlicePalace. Have you removed your bees yet? We have the same thing and are inclined to let them stay. Min

    Bookmark   March 19, 2005 at 10:13AM
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I was amused by the comments about abandoned combs in old houses. Several years ago we re-sided the house and installed new energy efficient doors and windows. The new section of the house (circa 1966) had a little insulation; the older section (1920's) had zero insulation. What it did have was a number of old abandoned combs, abandoned wasp nests and abandoned paper hornet nests. Not sure if one took over the other as they were all in adjacent cavities but there was never any structural damage from the bees; maybe the lack of insulation froze them between seasons or forced them to move. There were always a number of wasps flying in the house.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2012 at 2:23PM
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Konrad___far_north(3..just outside of Edmonton)

Zone 5 has no africanized/killer bees.
Zone 5 with bees in wall will most likely not make the winter.
The diameter or thickness of the cluster in a garage wall with little or no insulation might not be thick enough to keep the queen warm in winter. Queen dead = dead hive in spring.
In a proper hive box where the cluster ball is around a foot in diameter, temperature in the center with the queen is maintained at around 20 C./ 68F when outside temperature can be around -38C./ -36.4F

A honeybee colony creates allot of heat, eating allot of honey in winter, when cool air is going in, [they need fresh air] it condenses and you'll have moisture, thus making mold. Sometimes I see steam coming out in the cold of winter.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2012 at 11:58PM
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the way to determine african versus others is to examine forewing under scope. and collect 50 bees in a jar of ethanol, submit to local ag extension for dna analysis. thats how it is in Tx.. illegal to keep africanized swarms btw. you can call a beek to come hive them, or cut out the comb and rubber band it to foundationless frames in a hive.. we get lots of cutouts in Texas because of the milder climate.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 10:24PM
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