Bees are important. Their pollinating activities are responsible for about a third of our nation’s food production. They are also a natural part of a healthy garden; they help pollinate trees and flowers, thereby contributing to the beauty of your yard.
Usually when you see bees, they’re just passing through, and they won’t bother humans unless they feel threatened. Unless you have a serious allergy, there is no need to worry about the occasional bee drifting through your garden. Typically, if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you. Unfortunately, sometimes this delicate partnership gets out of balance, and you must take steps to correct it.
It may surprise you to know that honeybees are not native to the United States. It is believed that they were imported from Europe in 1638, and Native Americans reportedly called them “the white man’s flies”. They thrived here, and are now found throughout the country.
Honeybees typically enter your yard because they are looking for flowers, which offer them nectar and pollen for food. However, they are not particularly discriminating; if flowers are not present, they will go for any sugary sweet substances they can find, such as fruit juices, sodas, syrups, and so on.
Bees usually swarm in the spring. This happens when a hive’s population becomes too large, and has to subdivides, and one or more swarms will leave the hive. This means that a Queen bee is on the move looking for a new home, and her entourage follows her around as she searches for a good spot to settle down.
You may see a swarm of bees flying around, or clustered on a tree limb, but the bees are not especially dangerous at this time. Swarms usually find a home after a day or two, and the cluster departs without any prodding from you. Any stragglers left behind cannot survive on their own and die quickly. It is after a swarm has established a hive, and feels motivated to protect it, that bees present a far greater danger—especially to those with an allergy to bee stings.
Speaking of dangers, in recent years, a different kind of honeybee has entered the country, and has spread rapidly. This new immigrant is known as an Africanized, or Killer Bee.
Oh, calm down. While the dangers of an angry swarm of Africanized Honeybees are real, they have been exaggerated by the media. The sting of Africanized bees is no more poisonous or powerful than typical honeybees.
The truth is that honeybees in many parts of the country have interbred with Africanized colonies, and although they are definitely more defensive, aggressive, and persistent than European honeybees, the same basic rules apply for dealing with them. In any case, as it is difficult to tell the difference between Africanized bees and European honeybees, you should always assume that you are dealing with the more dangerous variety for safety’s sake.
If you want to reduce the presence of bees around your home, take these steps.
- Regularly walk around your house and yard and look for any unusually high bee populations. Children and pets usually aren’t as wary as you are, and you need to find the bees before your little ones do.
- Wrap all garbage in plastic bags, and seal garbage cans tightly.
- Pick up any fallen fruit right away if you have fruit trees.
- Make sure all windows and doors have screens.
- Check your weather stripping for a tight seal.
- Cover your chimney when it is not in seasonal use.
- Walk around your house and look for cracks or loose boards where bees might squeeze in. Seal these cracks with paint, expanding foam, or caulk.
- Inspect bushes, trees, sheds, outbuildings, doghouses, and flowerpots.
- Identify and remove any dead trees whose hollows might be inviting to flying house-hunters.
- Lastly, if you or any member of your family has an allergy to bee-stings, you may want to consider taking the additional step of getting rid of flowering trees or plants that attract bees. Then, reconfigure your landscaping to emphasize plants that bees aren’t interested in.
NOTE: As an added safety precaution, keep an Epi-Pen on hand in the event that all of your other precautions failed, and an allergic person is stung.
If chased by a bee, you may be tempted to scream like a baby, and run around in circles waving your arms and crying for your Mommy. However, based upon my own experiences, this is less than effective.
If you run into a swarm of angry bees, cover your face, run in a straight line, and get inside as quickly as you can. Most people can easily outrun bees, and only get into trouble when they lack shelter, stand still and flail their arms, or run in circles. Other misguided efforts include diving into water to escape an angry swarm. Don’t do it. Africanized bees will actually hover and wait for you to surface. Moving fast, covering up, and seeking shelter are your best defense.
You should be especially careful if you’re climbing ladders. Look closely under the eaves of your home before climbing ladders to paint or clean gutters. Bees and ladders are a bad combination.
Colonies of bees that establish themselves in and around your home can be serious problems. After bees establish hives, they can become very defensive, and are far more likely to sting. If you see evidence of a hive, such as large numbers of bees coming and going from a certain area, then you probably have an active infestation, and should remove it right away. Don’t try to tackle this yourself. Using consumer-grade insecticides will probably only aggravate them.
Hire a service professional to move or destroy the hive. He may not be able to remove or kill every single bee, but he will isolate the Queen, and any stragglers will disperse and die shortly after. After your bee infestation problem is solved, be smart and seal the gap where they were able to enter your home to prevent unwanted guests in the future.
Don’t Worry, Bee Happy
Knowing these prospective hazards shouldn’t fill you with fear, just better enable you to keep bees in their place so you can get along with them safely. Bees are our friends, and they are a valuable part of the ecosystem. A little respect and a little distance is all they need. In return, they help keep your flowers and trees healthy and vibrant. The next time you’re in your yard, take a minute to stop and smell the flowers. Nice, huh? Hey, maybe those bees are onto something.
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