As a builder for the last 29 years or so in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, I’ve had the privilege of being part of quite a few amazing experiences. Meeting wonderful customers and working alongside the team that gets to be part of creating special places to be is rewarding beyond description. The job of making something so tangible and oftentimes life changing is something that keeps me going through what at times can be a challenging process. Every so often something happens that puts a little air under your wings… maybe it’s a model home that’s well received, a homeowner that is truly special and extremely grateful for what has been crafted for them, or maybe an associate who has found their groove and shares the passion of creating special places… whatever the case… there are many of these events or relationships, and they are as varied and special as you can imagine…. like a bee hive.
Last Fall on a remodeling project we encountered some sort of bee hive located in the second-floor eave of a stone house built in 1924. The first thought was to get a can of Raid and spray away, but a closer look and a call to a local beekeeper revealed that it was a honey bee hive. The keeper was very excited at the prospect of capturing a wild hive and was eager to help us. Unfortunately, the bees had made a home deep in the stone and block walls of the home and were not accessible without drastic demolition measures. After much discussion with the beekeeper and the owner, a decision was made to let the bees… well … be. The thought of killing the hive and leaving stores of honey for unwanted pests was worse than coexisting. They were actually quite friendly even with the hammering and disruption.
Fast forward to May 9, 2017. A basketball size swarm of bees relocated to under a piece of plywood on a set of sawhorses. The job site was abuzz. I’ve had a bit of fascination with bees for some time, but capturing 15 thousand or so bees in a ball wasn’t something on my to-do list for the day. I called John the beekeeper who was at work and said… “sorry I can’t help today, but your welcome to my suit… it’s in my car not far from the job”. I thought to myself… right… what am I going to do with that? John convinced me that a bee swarm was pretty docile, in fact, it was more like how you feel after a Thanksgiving meal when you’re on the couch barely able to move.
Apparently, the bees gorge themselves with honey because they know that they might not be eating until they find a new home, build comb, and find the nectar and pollen to fill it. So, I did what any reasonable person would have done… I took him up on the suit offer… but not before stopping by to see my wife, Jeanne, on the way. It was our 30th wedding anniversary that day, and you know… what if things didn’t go as planned? Plus, I was scared shitless and wanted some reassurance or reality check.
So here goes the capture… little did I know how cool of an experience this would turn out to bee.
I was nervous enough to put the hammer through the plywood. It’s amazing how they fell with a thud into the bottom of the plastic bin.
John was thankful to pick up the new swarm in exchange for his expertise to date…. and I was hooked… what a rush.
It turned my fascination into something real in an instant. On Saturday the 13th, John created a ‘Nuc’ which is a small honey bee colony made from a larger colony from one of his existing top bar hives. We made a hive in the cabinet shop and on Sunday the 14th Jeanne and I were officially beekeepers. We started with a few bars of honey, a few bars of brood comb, which is the baby bee nursery, and a queen! It was a starter hive just a bit further along than a relocated swarm.
Here’s the hive ready to leave the shop. It’s open so you can see the bars we built inside. Then a shot of it set up at the farm, ready to go!
We took some of John’s bars from several of his hives in Halifax and placed them in the new hive in Mechanicsburg. A friend asked, “did you make that hive?” I said, “did you just ask that” … being a builder does have some perks!
Little did I know the fun hadn’t even started yet. On Monday the 15th John called and asked if I was nearby, did I have my fancy new bee suit (Amazon Prime works quickly) and did I have a plastic bin? Apparently, he didn’t have his equipment but had received a swarm call. I reluctantly agreed to help… but only if I could be promoted to number one apprentice ;). The second swarm was captured and in another newly built top bar hive by sundown.
Over the course of the next five days, together John and I had caught 3 more swarms… some near the ground and some up in trees, each catch as exciting for me as the other.
On Saturday, May 20th, after only 9 days since the first swarm, I had the pleasure of opening both hives to see how the ladies…. and a few drones (gentlemen) were making out in their new digs.
The picture below shows one of the wonders of bees. In 4 plus days the bees had taken basically an empty box and turned it into a home. The perfectly crafted comb was a beautifully crafted piece of art. Almost all of the 5 or so bars that we gave them to work with had something going. This sure was a sight to beehold.
The smile on my face wasn’t going anywhere for a while.
When Monday the 22nd rolled around and we made it through most of the day without a swarm call, I was almost disappointed. It had become an almost daily event. I must have had a premonition, because around 5:00pm I received a call that our original bees had apparently swarmed at the job site again.
This was the capture of swarm number 6.
I didn’t get the queen on the first pass and knew that because the remaining bees smelled her pheromones and followed her to the plywood and not the plastic bin. I got her on the second try. Tuesday morning we quickly built another box and by noon we had three hives at the farm.
Here are the swarm 6 bees being introduced to their hive.
I spent the next few days stopping by the hives occasionally to look at the steady air traffic in and out of the hive. The pollen ‘torpedoes’ on each side of their hind legs that came in several bright colors of yellow and orange were a highlight.
So now May 28, 2017, we have three hives working their wings off. One being the ‘Nuc’ and the two swarms we captured. Opening the hives today showed just how resourceful and hardworking honey bees are. They just don’t stop building quality with their impeccable teamwork…. Truly inspiring for someone striving for basically the same goal.
At Farinelli Construction we enjoy creating cool spaces. It has been for many fine humans… I’m starting to think we can add honey bees to our list. Being a builder has led me to some very special experiences and relationships…. this one has been right up there with some of the best.
Keeping Craft Alive,
Don Farinelli is the Founder and president of Farinelli Construction, Inc. The company has built and remodeled many homes and light commercial buildings in South Central PA since 1989.