What to Do When You Discover Honeybees Living in Your House with You

At this time of year in Ohio, during what we call a strong “flow” (when nectar is flowing like crazy from trees and flowers, and when bee colonies are building their populations and storing honey and pollen with abandon), my phone begins to ring off the wall. Why? Because some people suddenly realize that honeybees are coming and going from a tiny, previously unrecognized hole in their house.

Yes, Reader, honeybees love to live in houses, too. Or in garages or storage sheds. They don’t actually want to live inside your house with you. Nor do they want to grow to the point that they take over your entire home. Unlike us, honeybees are satisfied with only a small, manageable space to call their own. They simply need a small, dry, safe, empty cavity in which to live. And they often find just the space they need in an uninsulated hollow created between floor joists or wall studs or in soffits. Etc.

So, my callers almost always ask me about their options regarding this home-sharing situation.

To my mind, there are three viable options:

  1. Leave the bees alone
  2. Remove and relocate the entire live colony…this includes responsible handling of all the living bees—all the eggs, larvae, brood, and queen—all of the honeycomb, and all of the stored honey
  3. Kill the bees

And, Reader, what most homeowners who contact me don’t yet understand is this: It’s not the bees that are the problem here. Honeybees are generally very mild mannered and don’t want anything to do with humans. We are simply movers in their world. They don’t want to hurt us. They have more important things on their minds…such as happily flying in the sunshine, visiting flowers and trees, swimming, eating watermelon, taking care of their home and their young and their queen, treating themselves to blackberries, cleaning house, and storing honey for winter. They don’t care at all about us.

Of course, if the bee colony is located near a space often used by humans or pets, then things can certainly get unsettling. None of us, not even full-time beekeepers, really want to deal with bees whenever we step outside or sit in our lawn chair or eat our lunch on our patio.

The problem with honeybees in the house lies in the honey they store there. And as long as the bees are alive, this stored honey isn’t a problem, either. In the heat of summer, the bees cool the hive enough to contain the honey. And in the winter, the bees stay in their nice cavity and eat through all that stored honey. Our problems begin in earnest when the bee colony dies off.

When the colony dies, the honey is left unattended. Let me tell you…when the weather warms up, that honey smells terrific. And who doesn’t love a great big store of sweet honey?! I love it. And so do raccoons. And squirrels. And possum. And mice and rats and ants and beetles and moths and yellow jackets and hornets…yes, now you get the picture.

Also, in the summertime, unattended honeycomb full of sweet, drippy honey gets surprisingly heavy. And because there are no bees to cool the honey-containing beeswax, the comb sags and detaches from wherever it hung. And then the honey runs out. And it coats everything. You cannot imagine. And all those previously mentioned pests that love honey follow it wherever it goes.

One of the pests drawn to that aroma of honey and beeswax and propolis is…another swarm of honeybees. Yep. There is NOTHING more enticing to a swarm looking for a new home than an already lived-in perfect space full of already-built honeycomb. Same song, second verse.

This post has gone on way too long, Reader! I shall stop now and give you a break.

The Wild Is Far, Far, Far More Beautiful

The new bees arrive next Saturday, Reader. And, boy oh boy, am I ready.

I spent some time at the farm this weekend—where the dandelions are a little bit ahead of the dandelions at home…and bees were visiting most of the low, yellow flowers there.

So, Reader, if you’re still into plucking each pretty dandelion from your yard, let’s revisit that idea, okay? I feel sooo much better not fighting it…I love my yard so much more now that what I think of as “beautiful” has shifted.

The lawn company visited my neighbors’ rather dull yards this past week in a misguided effort to eradicate everything but green grass—no dandelions, no clover, no pretty blue or white or purple weeds. Sad, sad, sad. Their sickly yards are so boring when compared to mine.

To me, a yard is beautiful only if it welcomes sweet honeybees and butterflies and frogs and snakes and bats. And all the other wildlife that makes our lives so textured.

One place that has remained wonderfully and mindfully wild is California Woods Nature Preserve, future home to four or five honeybee hives.

And this is Justin Dunham whose Eagle Scout project reintroduces honeybees to the California Woods bee yard (Justin has grown about a foot taller since I first met him).

Last week, Justin oversaw the clearing of the path to the bee yard so it will accommodate my bee truck. He and his troop and their leaders also cleared the overgrown space around the hive site. And yesterday they placed the hive bodies. Next week, BEES return to California Woods Nature Preserve. So when you’re hiking through the woods there, Reader, hike over to the bee yard in the meadow and applaud Justin’s work.

Justin Dunham at the entrance to the beeyard


Poetry Sunday: Bee! I’m expecting you!

Bee! I’m expecting you! (1035)


Bee! I’m expecting you!
Was saying Yesterday
To Somebody you know
That you were due—

The Frogs got Home last Week—
Are settled, and at work—
Birds, mostly back—
The Clover warm and thick—

You’ll get my Letter by
The seventeenth; Reply
Or better, be with me—
Yours, Fly.

Poetry Sunday: The Lake Isle of Innisfree

The Lake Isle of Innisfree


I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Poetry Sunday: The Fabric of Life

The Fabric of Life


It is very stretchy.
We know that, even if
many details remain
sketchy. It is complexly
woven. That much too
has pretty well been
proven. We are loath
to continue our lessons
which consist of slaps
as sharp and dispersed
as bee stings from
a smashed nest
when any strand snaps—
hurts working far past
the locus of rupture,
attacking threads
far beyond anything
we would have said

Poetry Sunday: Revival


March. I am beginning
to anticipate a thaw. Early mornings
the earth, old unbeliever, is still crusted with frost
where the moles have nosed up their
cold castings, and the ground cover
in shadow under the cedars hasn’t softened
for months, fogs layering their slow, complicated ice
around foliage and stem
night by night,

but as the light lengthens, preacher
of good news, evangelizing leaves and branches,
his large gestures beckon green
out of gray. Pinpricks of coral bursting
from the cotoneasters. A single bee
finding the white heather. Eager lemon-yellow
aconites glowing, low to the ground like
little uplifted faces. A crocus shooting up
a purple hand here, there, as I stand
on my doorstep, my own face drinking in heat
and light like a bud welcoming resurrection,
and my hand up, too, ready to sign on
for conversion.

Poetry Sunday: He marked the page with a match

He marked the page with a match


He marked the page with a match
and fell asleep in mid-kiss,
while I, a queen bee
in a disturbed hive, stay up and buzz:
half a kingdom for a honey drop,
half a lifetime for a tender word!
His face, half turned.
Half past midnight. Half past one.

Poetry Sunday: The February Bee

The February Bee

The bumblebee crept out on the stone steps.
No roses. Nothing to gather.
Nothing but itself, the cold air,
and the spring light.
It rubbed its legs together
as if it wished to start a fire
and wear its warmth.
Under its smart yellow bands
the black body shone like patent leather.
It groomed itself, like a pilot
ready for takeoff and yet not ready:
when my shadow fell over him
he flicked his wings, checking them,
and took off into the bare garden.

Poetry Sunday: Wintering


This is the easy time, there is nothing doing.
I have whirled the midwife’s extractor,
I have my honey,
Six jars of it,
Six cat’s eyes in the wine cellar,

Wintering in a dark without window
At the heart of the house
Next to the last tenant’s rancid jam
And the bottles of empty glitters—
Sir So-and-so’s gin.

This is the room I have never been in.
This is the room I could never breathe in.
The black bunched in there like a bat,
No light
But the torch and its faint

Chinese yellow on appalling objects—
Black asininity. Decay.
It is they who own me.
Neither cruel nor indifferent,

Only ignorant.
This is the time of hanging on for the bees—the bees
So slow I hardly know them,
Flying like soldiers
To the syrup tin

To make up for the honey I’ve taken.
Tate and Lyle keeps them going,
The refined snow.
It is Tate and Lyle they live on, instead of flowers.
The take it. The cold sets in.

Now they ball in a mass,
Mind against all that white.
The smile of the snow is white.
It spreads itself out, a mile-long body of Meissen,

Into which, on warm days,
They can only carry their dead.
The bees are all women,
Maids and the long royal lady.
They have got rid of the men,

The blunt, clumsy stumblers, the boors.
Winter is for women—
The woman, still at her knitting,
At the cradle of Spanish walnut,
Her body a bulb in the cold and too dumb to think.

Will the hive survive, will the gladiolas
Succeed in banking their fires
To enter another year?
What will they taste of, the Christmas roses?
The bees are flying. They taste the spring.

Poetry Sunday: Up Against It

Up Against It 


It’s the way they cannot understand the window
they buzz and buzz against, the bees that take
a wrong turn at my door and end up thus
in a drift at first of almost idle curiosity,
cruising the room until they find themselves
smack up against it and they cannot fathom how
the air has hardened and the world they know
with their eyes keeps out of reach as, stuck there
with all they want just in front of them, they must
fling their bodies against the one unalterable law
of things—this fact of glass—and can only go on
making the sound that tethers their electric
fury to what’s impossible, feeling the sting in it.