Bees moving in? Call an expert

by Jacqueline Soule

In an effort to raise public awareness about how much we rely on bees, September has been proclaimed "National Honey Month."

Bees pollinate an amazing number of our crops, including almonds, apples, berries and buckwheat. They also pollinate forage for livestock. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that roughly one-third of our daily diet relies on honeybees.

And while we enjoy the fruits of their labor, not many of us want a swarm settling in the backyard.

Especially since the Africanized - or "killer" - bees are a fact of life throughout much of the Southwest. There are Africanized bees in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and Phoenix, but it's doubtful they'll move into the Denver area as they cannot survive the harsh winters.

Bee specialists say there's no need to panic if you see bees visiting your yard. Foraging bees are looking for food or water and should be left alone. They may have flown up to six miles in the arid Southwest to reach your yard for a drink.

However, swarms of bees in your yard are a different matter. Several thousand strong, swarms represent the mating flight of a queen and her court of drones and workers. Let them fly on by, and keep children and pets indoors. If you see a swarm settling into a tree, or the eaves of your house, there's no need to panic. They may be resting.

If the swarm is still there 24 hours later, call the experts. Don't try to deal with a swarm by yourself. You can check Angie's List for wildlife or bee removal services. Or check with your area county extension office for beekeepers to remove the insects.

If bees have already colonized the walls of your home, this is also a job for experts. Simply killing the bees will leave 10 pounds or so of dead bees and dying bee larvae that will rot and smell. Also, without the bees to keep the hive cool, honey and comb can melt and seep through your interior walls.

Even after the hive is removed, the problem can recur. The smell of the old nest will remain indefinitely and make the site attractive to future swarms. Ideally, remove all bees and honeycomb and fill the nest cavity with a non-collapsing material such as fiberglass insulation or bubble wrap.

You can make your home less attractive to swarms. Bees desire a small hole for a suitable cavity. Many Southwestern homes are frame and stucco or bloc, construction eminently enticing to bees.

Carefully inspect house walls, soffits or birdboards lining the roof's edge and trim around windows or doors. Seal any small holes or cracks. Inspect monthly during the warmer months.

Chances are good that the bees in your yard are harmless. Avoid them, but say a word of thanks for all the hard work they do. Life wouldn't be the same without them.

Jacqueline Soule is a garden writer based in Tucson, Ariz. She has lived and gardened in almost every U.S. Department of Agriculture zone from 2A to 9B. Everywhere she's lived she's striven to make her yard a haven of serenity.

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