One day at work I ran into my coworker Michael Hey in the breakroom and we got into a conversation about chickens and then bees. Later on he mentions to me that the church he belongs to, Five Wounds Church in San Jose, has a few colonies living around the bell towel. Being a fanatic beekeeper I had to go check them out. After receiving Father Morgan’s permission to take me to see the honey bee colonies, we set a date which led to today’s exciting bee adventure at the Five Wounds Church bell tower.
Michael and I head out during our lunch hour and after a few minutes drive we were at the amazing Five Wounds Portuguese Church (I used to speak Portuguese as I lived in Sao Paulo, Brasil for a few years but have forgotten everything now). As we walk through the church Michael gives me a quick tour of the place and some of the church’s history, which was pretty exciting as this church was built by the Portuguese decades ago and as with many Catholic churches each has its uniqueness to them. (I am a part time wedding photographer so I have been in many churches)
Piles of dead bees everywhere
We then head up the the staircase of the bell tower. After a few steps up I immediately noticed the sweet smell of honey in the air. Dead bees were piled around the base of the windows; those trapped were trying to fly towards the light but couldn’t get out and eventually they just die and form a pile at the bottom of the window. Then as we both continue to walk up Micheal points out to me all those black marks on the floor left by the bees, dead bees, propolis, honey, and whatever else the bees could drop from its home.
See the leaking honey?
As we reached the second level and looking towards the most lower active honey bee colony, you’ll know why the staircase smells like honey. You can even see honey leaking from the interior walls of the bell tower. We aren’t exactly sure if it’s a recently leak or it was from before. If it’s still leaking then the bees need to be removed along with the combs, honey, and brood to prevent any damages to the structure or create a mess with ants and other pests.
To detect the core of the colony, I went high-tech, and no, it didn’t involve any drilling or use of my new borescope. I recently acquired a Fluke 66 Infrared Thermometer. I turned it on along with the lazer pointer and started scanning the vertical wall area where I see the honey leak. Many area of the wall read 68F but then as I got close to the top of the leak and where the entrance appears to be, the temperature hit 73F and then 74F and peaked at 75F. Immediately I knew that was where the heart of this first colony is as the brood chamber is around 96F. I even metered the ceiling for the heck of it as we know heat rises but even the ceiling read only 68F. I scan all around the core but only that section of maybe 12-16 inches wide to about a few feet vertical showed the temperature increase. This only tells me where the brood combs are. The honey combs or even old brood combs could be the entire length of the wall with the leak as I was told the colonies have lived in the bell tower for quite some time.
Why is this hole up there black while the other three aren’t? Did someone spray or try to burn the bees out of the hole?
After inspecting and talking to Michael about this first colony, we went up a steep ladder to the top of the bell tower, where the bells are of course. It reminded both of us of climbing the cables on Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, and oh yeah, both Michael and I are afraid of heights but I think I’m more afraid than he is. We made it to the very top and wow, there were tons of dead bees up there on the floor. Then immediately noticed a bee colony that we couldn’t see from street level. Then another above it but this third colony had its own entrance from WAY above that’s not reachable at all. Both colonies were very active. We saw the second colony bringing in a ton of pollen. BTW, the view is wonderful from the tower! And this was the very first time both Michael and I had the opportunity to climb one. What a treat!
Before we entered the church Michael calls a friend who climbs up the bell tower often and he said there are five colonies but today we only found three active ones. Maybe the other two died/absconded, or we just couldn’t see them from where we were standing.
Anyways, here’s my recommendation as my goal is to save the honey bees whichever way possible:
– All three honey bee colonies that we saw today are VERY high up. If they aren’t bothering anyone and have never stung anybody, then I’d say let’s leave these neat creatures alone. We need honey bees to pollinate our fruit trees and other crops.
– The first colony with the leaking honey in the staircase wall, clean up the visible honey from the wall and keep an eye out to see if anymore honey leaks from the wall. If it does not then we don’t have a problem. If it continues to leak I recommend we rescue the bees from the wall so it will not cause further damage to the structure. If the honey is leaking there’s something wrong. A borescope and 1/4 inch holes drilled into the wall I would help to see where the bees and combs are to minimize cutting/removing of the wall boards, then remove the bees.
This colony, since it’s so low already, can expand downwards. If it ever gets low enough and start bothering people then it should be removed. I see many other possible holes in the walls where the colony can use as an entrance/exit to the inside of the church staircase, which could be bad if that happens and people are present. Seal up those holes now will prevent them from coming inside and creating a mess of dead bees.
– The second colony, reachable and removing the “metal” wall sheets via screws and nails shouldn’t be a problem if this colony should be removed. The “metal” sheets could be put back after the bees have been removed. But if it’s not damaging the structure or stinging people, then it should be left there. If the bees are bothering or stinging the bell cleaning person, the bees should be removed.
– Third colony, it’s too high up and cannot be reached. Just leave them there.
My best guess right now is it would take two to three days to remove two hives that have been living there for more than a few years. But with bee colonies you never know how large or small they are until you get a peek inside. I’ve seen one colony build up so much it covered an eve of a roof 17-19 ft in length and about 4 ft wide. That would be a multiple day removal job just for one HUGE colony.
I know this might be impossible for the church to do but bee proofing any possible access holes is a good idea. As we have already witnessed, one colony started many years ago and has swarmed and expanded onto the structure a few times already, and I can say for sure there will be more in the near future.
If colony number one and two needs to be removed, I would recommend starting around April 2011 so the bees have a higher chance of survive after I hive them.