Archive for the ‘House and Home’ category

The Bees of Brookline…Real Estate Schadenfreude Post

June 30, 2009

This is just a little gift to y’all, or at least any of you enmeshed in house-renovation hell.

My wife and I just completed the purchase of a house in the Boston-area city town of Brookline, noted for its truly first class public schools — a relevant fact for parents of an elementary school kid nudging up to the not-wonderful middle school in our current town.

It’s a nice place, or rather it will be after we deal with the consequences of the previous owners’ 2 + decades of more or less complete neglect.  As far as we can tell, they spent exactly nothing on making sure that a 1920s house did not rot, serve as lunch for social insects, or simply settle under the weight of 20 years or so of dust and grime that never, seemingly, suffered an encounter with a wet rag.

But even as we marvel at various decor details — the coffee cans in the lighting track above the stove are a particular favorite — and check and re-check to ensure that previous waves of termites are not in fact being followed by that last push over the top of the sort the Germans hoped would finally crack the fortress at Verdun, we were truly flumoxed by only one discovery.   Check out these photographs:

Hive in full

How would you like to find four feet or so of working honey bee hive inside the wall of your house?

What gets me is that there were several tens of thousands of bees that called my new address “home” up until last Saturday.  The hive was in the stairwell between the second and third floor, basically, next to and slightly above the previous owner’s bedroom.  Given that you don’t get a fine piece of modular hexagonal construction like you see there in ten minutes, don’t you think  he might have noticed just a bit of noise (not to mention a ton of six legged friends flying past his windows) at, say the four a.m. summer wake up call?  Just asking…

And if you were laboring under the misapprehension that the above was a disused or dead hive, check this one out:

live bees

This isn’t to say that it wasn’t kind of cool to think of our house as a shared domicile with our apian friends.  Honey bees are, after all, potent symbols, creatures of myth, generally associated with all kinds of good things — eloquence, well ordered social life and so on.  For a dwelling to be home to a writer and a family, that’s not so bad…

Als0 — I have to say that it was fascinating to take a look at the intricacy of a hive from such an intimate vantage.  For example — I never even knew that there was this to see:

Queen cells

Those protuberances on the side are queen cells, where potential successors to the sitting queen gestate.  The first one out massacres the rest, a not unknown precaution in human families of consequence, and then occupies the vacancy left by the death or departure of her mother.

And speaking of departure, check this out:


It’s hard to see at internet quality, but that big black blob in the center is the swarm.  Just as the bee keeper arrived and started cutting into the wall, the reigning monarch took off with about half the hive.  They hung out near the top of the maple next to our new house for a couple of hours, sending out scouts.  And then, suddenly, a suitable new location having been found, they all took off.  Somewhere in a mile or two radius in the Coolidge Corner area of Brookline, a hive is born.

Note that I said “bee-keeper,” and not exterminator.  By local law, you can’t just kill honey bees (and if you did so without opening up the wall, you’d end up with as much as fifty or sixty pounds of honey melting down the interior of your house too, with consequences I don’t want to think about).  Instead, you have to find someone who specializes in bee removal who comes by, equipped with the appropriate armor and a very gentle sort of shop-vac kind of thing to remove the bees alive:

Vacuuming the bees

It’s a good deal for the bee keeper, in this case a delightful and extremely mellow young man named Jean-Claude:  he gets paid skilled rates for the removal (you don”t think that it makes sense to seek out a discount bee-wrangler, do you?  Not in my house…) and he gets to keep the bees, putting them to work in his own apiary.  (This is why he was a bit put out by the sudden decision to swarm; he was left with many fewer bees than he had hoped.) I don’t begrudge the craftsman’s gleanings — I don’t want them, certainly, but it did both de-and impress me that I have to put myself on the waiting list to sample Jean-Claude’s honey production.  He’s already oversubscribed.

That leads to the last note I’ll add:  the high point of the morning was when Jean-Claude pulled off some honey-bearing comb and handed it round.  It was unlike any other honey I’ve ever tasted — Cuvee Brookline, perhaps — and certainly the freshest I’ll ever taste.  It was composed of who knows what:  the choke cherries in our back yard, the neighbor’s English garden flowers, just about anything in a mile or so radius of the house.  It had a sharp, spicy flavor, lots of orange in it, and not so sweet as commercial honey.  Wild.  It really exploded in the mouth.  We grabbed a couple of pounds of comb for later, and as we share it with friends we can truly say it was home-made.

So that’s it.  Enjoy a little schadenfreude at my family’s expense.  I’d venture to say that we were the only folks on our block with our own bee-hive, however briefly.  So for all you home-renovators out there, as you contemplate medieval plumbing and knob-and-tube wiring, reflect on the fact that at least you didn’t have to confrong 40 or 50,000 six legged room mates in your walls.

And now back to the serious stuff…unless something else weird this way passes.