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Bees evicted from courthouse

Harvested honey will debut at July 28 farmers market

POSTED: July 20, 2011 9:21 a.m.
Danielle Hipps/

David Myers speaks with friend Nan Flowers while he sells his honey and wood carvings at the Hinesville Farmers Market on July 14. Myers will begin selling the “courthouse honey” at the July 28 market.

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Looking for a taste of Hinesville?

You should be able to find it within the next few weeks when Hinesville Farmers Market vendor David Myers debuts his newest product: courthouse honey.

“It’s good — it tastes like whatever’s downtown,” Myers said as he offered up a taste of honeycomb freshly cut from inside the old Liberty County Courthouse, which is undergoing renovations. 

The woodworker and long-time hobby beekeeper donned jeans, a hat and a long-sleeved denim shirt as he worked for four hours and through six stings Monday to extract a hive of about 55,000 bees and their honeycombs from the building.

“One of the men at the courthouse told the construction workers the bees have been there a long time, but  they weren’t inside the courthouse, so they didn’t bother them,” Myers said in an interview last week.

Lavender & Associates construction superintendent Zach Hawk said he noticed the bees on the first day of the project. They lived in a two-foot expanse inside the lower white soffit on the north end of the courthouse’s rear side.

A couple days later, while perusing the farmers market on a Thursday, he found Myers selling his homemade honey. Hawk asked Myers about the bees, and Myers agreed to assess the situation and complete the removal.

Unless the honeycombs get to be heavier than the structure can hold, the bees are more of a nuisance than a structural problem, Hawk said. They worked their way into the hive using cracks between the building’s brick exterior and the soffit.

“If they can find one little small hole, they get in there and make it larger,” he said.

To remove the bees, Myers vacuumed the ones outside of the building into his Shop-Vac, removed the soffit, vacuumed the rest of the bees and then chipped away at the honey comb, which he loaded into two and a half five-gallon buckets. Next, he will wring the honey out, filter and jar it.

Restricted access to the area made it impossible to relocate the bees, Myers said. To move them, he would need to do the work after dark when all of the colony’s members were present. The insects now are dead.

The bees likely thrived for so long because of the integration of foliage into the downtown area, according
to Vicki Davis, executive director of the Hinesville Downtown Development Authority.

While downtown landscaping changes seasonally, the honey could be infused with nectar from magnolias and crepe myrtles, which are present downtown, Davis speculated.

The honey is slated to make its debut during the July 28 market, and Davis anticipates it will sell out that day, she said.

“I think it’s a unique situation when you can bring something as rural as agriculture and integrate it with the downtown scene,” she said.

As for the bees residing in the courthouse for so long, University of Georgia honeybee lab expert Jennifer Berry said that it’s better to leave bees than to disturb or try to exterminate them as long they are not in a high-traffic area — or one that’s under construction.

“They move into an enclosed area and they’ll build a comb and their honey — they’re not boring into the wood. They’re not eating it or anything like that,” she said.

The real potential for structural damage comes if the honey ferments or if the colony dies out naturally.

For the most part, bees and humans live in accord more frequently than we know, Berry said. “You could have a bee yard or a beehive right behind a fence in your backyard and not know it’s there unless you saw it.”

The best defense for keeping bees out of your home is to ensure that there are no cracks or openings for them to inhabit, she said.

But don’t call the hive an infestation, Myers added.

“I don’t think you use that term with honeybees,” he said. “You use it with roaches and termites and that sort of thing.”

 

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