Honeybee CaretakerLandon West
by Joel M. Vance
Honeybees don’t have a 911 number, but if they did, it would be 233 on your cell phone. And the call would be routed to Dan West and Bob Brammer, the EMTs of bee rescue. For the past two years, the two Macon men have relocated honeybees that wear out their welcome.
Unwanted bees come in three forms: ones that swarm and haven’t picked out a new neighborhood; ones that locate in trees and present a threat; and those that decide your home is so nice it would be a good place to set up a new hive.
Home removal sometimes involves taking out siding to get at the bees inside. Dan and Bob gently brush the bees into a container or use a vacuum devised by Bob that inhales the bees without harming them. Once they locate the queen, they put her in a tiny cage and let her order her subjects home with a wing buzz. Another queen ballad immobilizes the bees.
Dan has applied for a grant to see if the queen’s siren song can be duplicated by a sound device. He sees it as a necessary tool. “Firefighters or police would welcome a way to immobilize bees while they respond to a call,” he says.
A few years back, Bob, who has worked with bees since the 1970s, was only keeping four hives. When Dan asked Bob to provide bees for pollination at West Orchard north of Macon, the two became friends, and Bob revived his interest and kindled Dan’s. At the orchard, they now jointly have 40 hives, which annually produce about 500 pounds of honey.
So far it’s a break-even project. Dan does sell some honey at West Mercantile, his antique and book store, but they give most away. He’s an endless experimenter. In addition to his queen-song project, he used juice from fallen apples to make ethanol (which powered the orchard equipment), builds and sells flintlock rifles, runs the bookstore, and oversees a farm lease.
Back in the ’70s, when Bob was in the heyday of his bee fever, an old beekeeper mentored him. Today, Bob mentors Dan on the art of beekeeping and rescue, and both men are beginning the task of training Dan’s 7-year-old grandson, Landon, in the art.
In the heart of Bee Trace, an area of northern Missouri and southern Iowa, named for its historic proliferation of bee trees, honeybee enthusiasm is alive and well.