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Moving the BUZZ
SoVaNow.com / August 14, 2013The cover of Time magazine this week aims for the shock effect. The topic? “A World Without Bees.” (The subtitle adds, “The Price We’ll Pay If We Don’t Find Out What’s Killing The Honeybee.”)
In South Hill this week, W.I. Yerby was tackling the matter from a different angle. His task? Vacuuming up and relocating, by his count, some 100,000 honeybees that had been lodged in the walls at the Odd Fellows (and Eastern Star Ladies) lodge on Matthews Street.
No shortage of bees there.
Yerby, proprietor of Yerby’s Honey Farm in Brodnax, is an old hand at beekeeping. He has been working with bees ever since he was a child, when his first job was tending his father’s hives and keeping the smoker lit. So when someone needs bees removed, Yerby is a good man to call.
The Odd Fellows operation came about after the Rev. Bobby Stone contacted Yerby about several colonies of bees that had made their home on the upper floor of the building. The bees were visible around the windows and behind wall panels and seemed to have been living there a number of years, according to Yerby. Examining the walls more closely, he found bee larva that had yet to hatch, as well as younger bees being cared for in the hives. With renovations slated for the building, the idea was for Yerby to gather up the bees and provide a new home for them at his Brodnax farm.
And what a hive it has turned out to be.
“These are Italian bees,” he said. “There are different races and kinds of bees and I can tell by the size and color that these are not native to the area. They are descendants of those that originally came over with colonists when arriving in Jamestown.”
Because there is nothing in bloom and nowhere for the bees to get nectar right now, they were basically “just robbing from each other,” he said. Scarcity of food makes for angry insects: Yerby explained he has to very careful when removing colonies where the inhabitants are struggling for survival. The bees buzzed back and forth from one colony location to another, feeding off whatever storehouses of food they could find.
With a special ventilated suit serving as protection, Yerby vacuumed up the teeming hive recently at Odd Fellows. The customized shop vacuum allows him to suck up the bees after they are sprayed with water, which makes their wings heavy so they can’t fly away as fast. The bees will be transported to his farm where he can isolate them from other bees. He said he will wait a week or so to see how the bees adapt to their new surroundings; if all goes well, the bees will then be taken out and released into a cotton field for pollination.
According to some of the research Yerby has read, bees play a pivotal role in producing one out of every three bites of food that we consume. For many items on grocery store shelves, you will find some type of bee byproduct or pollinated ingredient on the label.
Yerby’s enjoyment of beekeeping comes out readily in conversation. Despite the heat of his beekeeping garb and the occasional tedium involved — he took three days off to complete this particular operation — a smile crosses his face as he describes his job: “Taking God’s creations and saving it and using it for the benefit of mankind.” That is work to feel good about.
Yerby is retired after working for the Postal Service and the corrections system, and now he produces honey full time. He has retrieved hives from buildings, from a bucket truck, in a tree, lying on his back, in close quarters, and even from a location where he had to set down a floor before he could reach the clusters. Once, he vacuumed up a snake skin and had to stop to fix his machine. Yerby recounts once seeing a tomcat happily play with bees until the inevitable sting resulted and the cat scampered off. Yerby just stays calm through it all and gets the job done.
Yerby produces and sells his own honey from two locations in Lunenburg County. He also has honey for sale at the South Hill Farmers Market and the South Hill Farmers Bakers Market (where a vendor stocks his honey). A frequent vendor at past festivals and events, he looking to scale back on the amount of time he devotes to marketing his product. “ I am retiring from some of this for the fourth or fifth time, and this time I hope it sticks,” he said.
But Yerby is always ready to suit up when called upon to provide bee removal and beekeeping services. (He can be reached at 434-676-8668 or 434-774-1227). Without the buzz of the honeybee, life would be too quiet for him — and, perhaps, the rest of us.
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