Beekeepers to the rescue

Hamlet couple calls on masked men for sting operation

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

* Photo gallery

HAMLET — Odel Covington and Bill Honeycutt are not superheroes.

Sure, both men donned protective headgear to keep the honeybees off of them, but otherwise they arrived Saturday morning at the Hamlet home of Sheila Trotter and Ted Deese though not through the air but in Ford and Chevrolet pickup trucks, dressed in simple shirts and blue jeans. Still, they were the answer to the prayers of the Boyette Street homeowners.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Odel Covington readies the smoker to help calm the bees.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Odel Covington readies the smoker to help calm the bees.

Trotter said about three years ago, her adult son politely declined to mow the backyard due to a suspected honeybee colony. The only sign of bees came from a hole, roughly 3 to 4 inches in diameter, in the brick on the back of the home. The other side was the closet for the hot water heater. On a normal day, a couple dozen bees could be seen flying around. When the mower started up, well, that agitated certain members of the colony.

A recent effort to hire an exterminator was unsuccessful. Then Deese configured a wet-vac attached to a bucket in an effort to suck the bees out of the hole — not knowing how many were in there. The effort was cut short, however, when the bees quickly overwhelmed Deese. He has video evidence to prove it; he dropped the camera and ran. Trotter said they can easily hear the steady hum of the colony while standing inside the hot water heater closet. The sound is constant, and rather intimidating.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com There was plenty of honeycomb to be salvaged from the wall of a Boyette Street home in Hamlet.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
There was plenty of honeycomb to be salvaged from the wall of a Boyette Street home in Hamlet.

So Trotter turned to the Richmond County Extension Office on Caroline Street. They put her in touch with Covington and Honeycutt, of the Richmond County Beekeepers Association. The two men immediately saw an opportunity. Help a local couple yes, but more importantly rescue a thriving colony that otherwise might be terminated.

They ended cutting into sheetrock at least 8 feet high and 15 inches wide. Add in the 3-4 inches in depth and Trotter and Deese calculated they were the proud owners of an estimated 5,760 inches of bee hive. The beekeepers estimated the presence of 100,000 bees, though that could be off by one or two — the bees moved too quickly to conduct a proper headcount.

The topic of honeybee shortages has been reported in North Carolina since at least 2008.Eleven months ago, Illinois beekeeper Ronald Fischer told WNCT.com in eastern North Carolina that “without honey bee pollination you won’t get the almonds, apples, citrus. It would be like a food desert out there because you won’t be able to get lots of your fruits and vegetables and some of the other products.”

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Odel Covington completes the first cut into the sheetrock to reveal the hive.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Odel Covington completes the first cut into the sheetrock to reveal the hive.

Fischer said the shortage is the outcome of what’s called colony collapse disorder and a lot of factors contribute to it, such as a virus-carrying mite that sucks on bees blood as well as pesticides.

“None of which is bad by itself, but combine all of them you have an unhealthy hive,” Fischer told WNCT.com. “When you have an unhealthy hive its susceptible to all these various problems that we have.”

The shortage has costs soaring. A 3-pound package of bees, with one queen bee, used to cost $60. In May 2014, it cost about $100.

Covington and Honeycutt, who each became beekeepers some five years ago, immediately knew the potential value of the hive. Trotter didn’t know how big it was. It turned out neither did Covington or Honeycutt.

“We’re new at this work,” Covington said. “We don’t do this every day.”

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Odel Covington holds a long section of honeycomb dripping with honey.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Odel Covington holds a long section of honeycomb dripping with honey.

“I’m just glad you’re doing this today,” Trotter countered.

Covington and Honeycutt prepared the smoker, filling it with pine straw and using a lighter to ignite a controlled blaze. A few squeezes helped the fire breathe and catch the straw.

Covington smiled knowingly: “They’re gonna get mean here in a little while.”

Covington said the smoke makes bees think there’s a forest fire. They, in turn, return to the hive to feed. A full belly makes a bee less likely to sting, Covington said.

They’re experts, but they’re not perfect.

“I have been stung a few times,” Honeycutt acknowledged.

It turns out a problem ignored won’t go away.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Bill Honeycutt holds a container full of honeybees vacuumed out of the wall.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Bill Honeycutt holds a container full of honeybees vacuumed out of the wall.

“We had no idea it was this bad,” Trotter said. “Most people don’t know what to do. We didn’t.”

In the middle of the work, Honeycutt couldn’t help but cut off a chunk of honeycomb.

“It looks like good honey,” he said.

A quick taste confirmed it. Then back to work.

Honeycutt and Covington won’t be able to save every bee. Roughly 10 percent of the colony will have to be exterminated, they said. But a 90 percent save rate is far better than what was originally planned.

The Richmond County Beekeepers Association meets the fourth Tuesday of every month at the Richmond County Agricultural Center on Caroline Street in Rockingham. Call 910-997-8255 for more information.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Once the activity began Saturday morning, the bees became a little more restless.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Once the activity began Saturday morning, the bees became a little more restless.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com This is the view Sheila Trotter and Ted Deese would see on a regular basis. Not enough, over the past few years, to make it a top priority.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
This is the view Sheila Trotter and Ted Deese would see on a regular basis. Not enough, over the past few years, to make it a top priority.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Odel Covington vacuums bees off the honeycomb. The bees are deposited into a bucket to be transferred to another hive.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Odel Covington vacuums bees off the honeycomb. The bees are deposited into a bucket to be transferred to another hive.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Bill Honeycutt's work gloves hold the honeycomb, dripping with honey. The white spots indicate larvae and another bee saved. A queen bee can lay up to 5,000 eggs per day.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Bill Honeycutt’s work gloves hold the honeycomb, dripping with honey. The white spots indicate larvae and another bee saved. A queen bee can lay up to 5,000 eggs per day.

Filed in: Farm & Ag, Featured News, Hamlet, Latest Headlines, News

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