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The secret life of beekeepers


Bay Area beekeeper Marina Shoupe is a member of the San Francisco Beekeepers Association, and she’s one of two women in the group who remove unwanted beehives. The process is known as “extraction.” Shoupe told KALW's Steven Short about the first time she had to answer a call for extraction. She ended up getting way more intimate with bees than ever before.

MARINA SHOUPE: I would almost say it was mystical, in that, first, we had to locate the hive. I mean we kind of knew where they were. We could tell where they were coming into the wall. And then we actually got into the living room, located a general area where they were, and Karen rubbed her hand, you know, in a horizontal line, across some studs, on the sheetrock inside the living room. And all of a sudden it went from room temperature to really warm, because the bees keep the temperature of the hive in the 90s. They were behind the wall, and we could feel the heat through the sheetrock. It was great.

And as we started to open up the wall it was clear that there had been a previous hive because there was old wax from before, and they were going to run out of room. So we just slowly -- we had a bee vacuum –- sucked ‘em out and cut away the wall. And we cut out pieces of comb that they had created in the wall that had brood, had baby bees and eggs. So we took, basically took their whole hive, in a box, back to the city. 

We had ten frames that we had rubber-banded with brood, egg, and pollen that they had already collected. We had a big bucket of honey, frames that just had comb honey, and we had a vacuum full of bees. This particular vacuum, they get sucked in a tube just like a vacuum, but they get sucked into a cage that has screens on two sides so that they're not going to die. 

And we found the queen at the end. She had fallen out of the wall, and she was on the ground. We almost threw her away – she was in the debris pile – we found her. She was huge! She was like a limousine. She was like an inch and a half. The Hayward bees are rather large.

Oh! And the crack-up is we didn’t get back to the city until about nine o’clock at night, and it was cold and blustery. And I didn’t want to marry the three components: my frames, all the bees, and the queen, which was in a Tupperware, with some attendants. So they spent the night in my bedroom. I had the whole beehive in my bedroom all night, cause it’s gonna be warmer than outside, and you wanna keep the brood warm, cause it’ll kill it otherwise.

So I get up about 7:30, take a shower. And between taking a shower and coming out of the shower, the four minutes, they started escaping through the screen door I’d put on the vacuum cleaner, and I had about 200 bees in my bedroom. I wanted to wait until it was a little warmer to marry the components outside -– put ‘em in a box, and I just had to do it then. I had bees flyin’ and poopin’ all over my room. And they poop yellow, and it’s hard to get off. It just was hilarious! [laughs] It was just hilarious.

But it was really interesting sleeping with them, because they don’t sleep. So there was this slight humming all night long. And as soon as the sun hit my windows, the volume went up. It was actually quite magical.

This story originally aired on March 3, 2010.