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Ready, Willis and Able – Bee keeper shares bee tales (June 17, 2015 issue)

It’s part of bee behavior. A new queen has to try her wings. So she leaves and takes a swarm of bees from the old hive with her. And when it comes to folks with interesting stories about the places these new queens can take their followers, it is hard to beat veteran Unicoi County bee keeper Glen Ledford in Limestone Cove. Glen tells a story about a family that walked into their bathroom one day and discovered it flowing in honey. Quite shocked and somewhat desperate, they called Glenn and said, “The honey’s in the bathroom. It’s running down the floor.” So Glen went to see what was going on and discovered that scout bees for a new queen had evidently noticed a hole in the folks’ attic and started a hive there.
According to Glenn, bees don’t have a set destination after they swarm. Wherever they find a spot that looks promising, that’s where they light even if it is in an attic and their honey pours out and down the wall of someone’s bathroom. Glen has been called to negotiate bee and human encounters in numerous and sometimes quite unexpected places. He says that honey bees are especially prone to penetrating small openings around electric and water meters.
Bees are also known to build new hives in hollow columns. Once, Glenn had to negotiate a situation with a hive of bees that had holed up in one of the columns on a building in Erwin. Evidently, this was a rough gang of bees that wanted to live in a “holler” even if it was in town. They had already held their ground with the fire department before Glen arrived. They kept holding their ground.
These days, Glen puts most of his time and energy into trying to keep his own hives alive and healthy and producing honey. Like many beekeepers, as well as other folks who understand and appreciate the fact that if it wasn’t for bees pollinating our food crops humanity could starve, Glen is concerned about the future of the bee population.
Like Glen, I can recall when it was common to look out in a field or yard and see honey bees buzzing around white and red clover. But not anymore. I was surprised recently when my husband Leo told me that honey bees were trying to make a nest in one of our porch posts. I thought the posts were solid and didn’t believe him at first. The posts needed painting. Was this about honey bees or honey dos? But Leo was right. The porch posts are hollow and some honeybees were scouting them out. After a day or two the bees left. They evidently decided a porch post wouldn’t work.
These days, with so much natural bee habitat disappearing, bees are almost like refugees trying to find a place, any place, to survive. Strange times these are in which we are living.