Maryam Henein spotted a bee removal company spraying bees (not saving them) next door. To say a confrontation brewed would be an understatement:
Are you into saving bees? If so read on:
We had a wise and beautiful eucalyptus tree across our street from our home in the Hollywood Dell. From my office, I got to gaze out my window as the tree stretched her branches to the open sky. She entertained the occasional woodpecker, who always woody-wood-pecked around 5 p.m.
Eucalyptus trees can live up to 400 years, though in California many members of this arbor family have been ravaged by adult Psyllid nymphs that suck the plant sap through straw-like mouths. The populations secrete copious dew, causing premature leaf drop. But I digress. This tree was healthy.
Our neighbors decided to trim it. This particular morning I peeked outside my office window to see how much longer I would have to put up with the din of the chainsaw when, lo and behold, I spotted a cloud of very active bees.
Eucalyptus, I’ve since learned, is particularly valuable as a bee pasture because it blooms year round. And it gives honey a distinctive peppermint taste, since honey is really bee vomit.
Upon further scrutiny, I realized there was also a man in a bee suit nestled in the tree balancing on a tall ladder. He wasn’t manning a chainsaw but an apparatus I was first introduced to in Australia while documenting the transport of bees from Down Under to America for my documentary, Vanishing of the Bees. That’s what beekeepers do these days to make up for losses from colony collapse disorder: They ship them around the world on a 747. This man was also using a bee-sucking vacuum.
Was this company exterminating or relocating, I instantly wondered?
There are no accidents. When I looked at the man again, I noticed he was spraying some type of can on my sisters!
With that, I ran down the stairs out my door, down more stairs to the scene to investigate and intervene.
“What are you doing with the bees?” I asked sternly to the man at the bottom of the ladder, who was also in full bee suit regalia. “Are you killing them?”
He looked at me blankly.
“I am sorry, you have to call office,” he responded with a thick Spanish accent and a deadpan expression. I could tell this man was no beekeeper.
“And what office is that? I need you to give me that number.”
“I am working now,” he responded with equal apathy.
“Working? You’re just holding a ladder. These bees shouldn’t be moved.”
I took a deep breath and tried not to become an angry put-on-a-show kind of girl.
By this time the first bee suit had turned off his Honeybee Hoover and climbed down the ladder. Since it was clear that I wasn’t going anywhere, he fetched a business card from his truck and handed it to me.
The card was pretty. It featured a yellow, orange, and green earthy color scheme. The company was called Bee Green and they were apparently “committed to the preservation of bees.” They assured “insecticide-free” removals and zero chemical use.
Their claims momentarily assuaged my concern, and yet, why were there a few bees writhing on the ground?
By this time, my other neighbor, a sweet, gentle elderly man joined the scene.
“What are you doing to the bees?” he asked with almost equal passion.
I was thrilled for the additional support.
He knew Jeannie, the house’s property manager, and encouraged the Hispanic housekeeper to call her so I could explain that we needed to stop a potential bee travesty.
Within moments of getting Jeannie on the phone, I explained that I was the director of Vanishing of the Bees and that I firmly believed the bees should continue to reside in their hallowed hive in peace rather than displacing them violently.
Apparently the tree trimmer had warned her about the hive and strongly suggested she remove them.
“Do you mind telling me how much you paid these guys?”
She had forked over $250 to get them removed and — get this — another $500 to keep them alive and take them far away to a beekeeper in Santa Clarita or Lancaster. What a bunch of malarkey. This company was running a scam.
When I stated that this was as ridiculous as having to pay extra money just to buy poison-free food, she responded with a “oh, it’s just money.”
Wow, if we could all piss away nearly a grand with such aplomb.
Luckily, Jeannie was sympathetic to the bees’ plight and agreed to call Bee Green and abort the job. It had taken 40 minutes of explaining and negotiating, but I’d managed to save the hive. So I thought.
My neighbor and I were thrilled.
Next, I called the company.
“If you are so ‘green,’ why don’t you educate people that not all removals are absolutely necessary?” I asked the young girl receptionist.
And then I asked her about the can. She maintained that it was organic but couldn’t tell me it was organic what.
So I requested to speak to Julio Morales, the supervisor and owner; I wanted the bees they had already sucked up.
Julio was defensive. He refused. When I asked him if it was a question of money, he called me rude.
He insisted that I could not have the bees on the basis that I could sue him if anything happened. He recounted how one woman had hired him to remove the bees but not the honey. When she went to retrieve the honey, she got stung and filed a lawsuit.
I just was into saving bees; I assured him that I wasn’t going to sue. I had gotten hit by a Ford Explorer at 30 miles an hour a few years back and not taken the driver to court. I just wanted to save the bees. Plus, I needed some.
The cosmos had facilitated a solution to my own dwindling hive. Just the day before, I had noticed that it had shrunk considerably due to small hive beetles. I had spent 30 minutes scraping off a carpet of yucky-looking larvae from the bottom of my hive box. According to one beekeeper, I could probably save the hive with a fortified colony. He suggested I add a batch of bees. And here they now were across the street.
My queen was still alive, and though it was suggested I could also replace her with a more robust one, I could never “requen” by killing her.
By this time, the men had packed up. But we still didn’t know the fate of those bees in the bucket. They could not explain where they were going to take them or whether it was possible to return the bees back to their original home.
“These are our bees,” my neighbor empathically stated.
Meanwhile, I fetched a super (a hive box) and my veil. I meant business.
I could tell they were impressed that this chica had bee gear, but they still wouldn’t budge. I tried to get them to call back Julio, but he conveniently couldn’t be reached. I tried to get the housekeeper to call Jeannie back too, but she was no longer interested in being involved.
And then my 60-something-year-old neighbor did the unthinkable. He grabbed the sealed up bucket of bees and ran. OK, it was more of a fast walk. But still! Bee Suit No. 1 grabbed the handle before he could give it to me.
“Give us the bees,” my neighbor shouted. “They belong to us.”
My neighbor was awesome! On the inside I was laughing at the craziness of the situation. It was a surreal moment laced with irony. Two grown boys in a tug of war over a bucket of bees! Wasn’t this a moment of symbolism?
Bee Suit No. 1 was breathing heavily and, to be honest, he looked as though he was seriously about to punch my neighbor in the face.
“We just want to do the right thing! Get your boss on the phone!” I shouted angrily.
For those who know me, I tend to have a righteous streak and intolerance for stupidity. But I was really working on keeping my cool.
Finally they managed to get Julio back on the phone, and within minutes relinquished the bees. My neighbor handed me the bucket.
We won! We won! We saved the ancient hive and now we were going to save the remainder of the bees. I held the bucket down, slipped on my veil, and got ready to dump the bees in the box. But when my neighbor pried the lid open, there was only a mountain of near-dead corpses. The bees were all dying! Bee Green had claimed they were going to “transfer” the bees to a yard. But they had murdered them instead.
We were devastated.
“Maybe if we rinse them off,” my neighbor suggested, wanting to hold on to hope.
“No, they’ve already been soaked with something toxic. These bees are as good as dead,” I said solemnly.
I later found out that the can they were using was a peppermint spray of some kind, which you can buy without an exterminator license. A can that most certainly does kill bees.
I picked up my bee box and veil and returned with a camera. They had dumped the bees on the ground and split.
Within moments of getting back to my desk, Julio called. His tone had changed. Suddenly, he was stating how he had seen my film and how he was a good guy who had been in business for five years. He made it seem like his workers had gone rogue and killed the bees without his knowledge. I don’t want to think of how many hives they’ve extinguished.
I threatened to call the Better Business Bureau and write about this tragedy. My boyfriend even spoke to him and told him that this was an act of “premeditated murder.”
“Please don’t do this. We are good people. I have four kids,” he stated.
“Look, I’m not doing anything. You are the ones claiming you care about bees and then killing them.”
According to Honeybee Rescue, a company that performs live rescues on a daily basis, no reputable company will refuse to show you the bees when they are done.
Furthermore, the only way to remove a hive from a tree that tall is with a “trap out,” which can take up to three weeks for the bees to be transferred from inside a tree to the hive box.
“Why is this happening?” he asked more to himself.
“Because the universe works in magical ways,” I said. “It’s no accident that this happened across the street from my house.”
This may sound like fluffy New Age nonsense to you. But not to me. There are no accidents. Unfortunately bloodshed usually precedes change.
I am hoping to meet with Julio in a few days. In the spirit of saving bees, he will be donating a hive, and we’ll be talking about how he can incorporate our film into his business to educate his employees, himself, and future clients.
But I am still calling the BBB.
Update: In a twist of irony, I found a press release dated August 2, 2012 (two days after this incident touting Bee Green). Perhaps they just had two bad bees working for them? What do you think?