EAST TRACADIE — It was a small doorway for a metropolis of 50,000 residents — about the size of a dime.
Told Thursday the estimated population of bees that had taken up residence in the rafters abovehis porch, Charles Gaines repeated
the number to himself and then was quiet for a moment.
“Bees are fascinating,” said Gaines.
While man can live surrounded by nature, there’s only so much intrusion he can allow into his house before the situation becomes untenable.
So this fall, when Gaines and his wife, Patricia, were packing up their East Tracadie home to move back to Alabama for the winter, they called Al MacGillivray. They told him about the bees that had been coming and going from a tiny hole in the wooden soffit above their deck for the past three years.
“We’re used to living
with porcupines and squirrels that get into the hot tub and eat all the pipes,” said Gaines.
“We try to respect the animals that live around and we hope they will respect us. But we knew there would be some structural damage and we have children and grandchildren that come in the summer — we were afraid someone would come who was allergic to bees.”
MacGillivray pulled away some boards and found an immense city of bees.
The hive extended eight feet down the cavity between the
tuds. In steps Mario Swinkels.
“It’s not actually that unusal,” said Swinkels, who gets about three calls a year to collect bee swarms.
“Though this is a big hive.”
When a hive fills a space the queen rounds up about half the workers and takes off to create a new home and leaves the existing hive to a queen about to be born.
“One of the scouts would have found this spot and went and told all the others,” said Swinkels.
On Thursday Swinkels was nonchalantly reaching into the hive and taking out chunks of honey covered in annoyed bees and placing them in a wooden box.
“It’s good that it’s cooler today — they are calmer,” said Swinkels.
“I think I got the queen yesterday.”
MacGillivray, who had been standing too close Wednesday and got stung, agreed.
“Yes, I’d say they were all swarming around her yesterday,” said MacGillivray.
For the 50,000 bees Swinkels estimates are in this hive, there would be only one queen. Heneeds the leader to get the bees to make a new hive in the box.
He’ll put honey in it from some of the 260 hives he and his wife, Sandra Swinkels, keep under the banner of their business — Swinkels Bee Products.
“Working with bees is the most satisfying thing I could think of doing,” said Swinkels.
Twenty years ago he had a steady job as a shop teacher when a neighbour with strawberry plants was looking for hives to pollinate his crop.
What started as a hobby became a fascination and then a way of life for both Mario and Sandra.
He keeps the bees and she makes and sells products from them at the Antigonish Farmers Market and local businesses.
“Beekeeping is actually doing quite well in the province,” said Swinkels.
From 120 members when he joined two decades ago, the Nova Scotia Beekeepers Association is up to about 400.
He’ll be another day rooting around inside the ceiling of Gaines’ house before MacGillivray can close up the wall again.
“I’m delighted to have been able to provide them with a home,” said Gaines.
“I’ll miss them.”
Though he added that next time he sees bees moving in, he’ll be quicker to call Swinkels.
For his part, MacGillivray took home a mason jar of the honey.
“Just delicious,” he said.