How to Prevent Bees From Living in Your Walls . . . or Welcome Them In

I love and keep bees. That being said, I’d prefer not to have them living in the walls of the house. Now, a hive can live in a wall for years and cause no harm–forget about the horror stories told by exterminators (they are, after all, selling poison). But if you have to remove bees from a wall it can be an expensive job if done correctly. I’ve removed hives from walls and it’s both hard on the bees and the beekeeper.

Thankfully you can take a few easy steps to prevent a hive from moving into your house. Bees like dark hollow spaces–think of a dead tree or an empty stud wall. Here in LA many old houses, such as ours, have lots of cracks a bee colony would be happy to move into. Note the small hole I found on one of our walls that opens into an empty space between the studs (old LA houses often have no insulation).

So how do you keep bees from moving in? According to backwards beekeeping master Kirk Anderson., all you need to do is fill a wall cavity with a can of spray foam insulation.

Please note: do not do this if there is already a hive in residence! If that is the case, hire a beekeeper to cut or trap them out. Bees are very gentle until you disturb their living quarters. If you’re in Los Angeles you can call the Backwards Beekeper rescue line. If you’re not in Los Angeles, start your own Backwards group!

How to Welcome Bees Into Your Wall
Now, a more permacultural approach would be to design buildings in such a way to welcome bees into a wall.  Here’s an example of a hive box built into a stone wall in India:

Photo from http://ranichari.blogspot.com/

There’s a tradition of keeping hives in wall or niches in Europe and many other parts of the world. No need for spray foam or exterminators–just lots of free honey from your wall.

Bee skep in a wall in Kent, England.

Time to bring back this practice!

Note from Kelly: This might seem obvious, but you would be surprised how many people pay for bee removal or extermination and then do nothing afterward to correct the conditions that attracted the bees in the first place. Invariably the bees come back, because a house which looked good to one swarm will look just as good to the next swarm that comes along. Better, in fact, because it will smell of bees. Plug those holes and screen off all vents!

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5 Comments

  1. Wow, the bees in walls idea is really fabulous! I bet the temperatures would be far more consistent and less stress on the bees as well. I was just thinking the other day as I passed a hive living in a tree by my ceramic studio if beekeepers would consider hollowing out live trees for bees to use. The honey would be inaccessible, but if the purpose is to have thriving bees around it’d be perfect. This particular colony has been around for at least a year now. Even when someone plugged up the entrance with steel wool they chewed a hole out to another side of the tree. I do wonder if it would eventually kill the tree, as some parts of the bark is starting to ooze propolis.

  2. Eight or so years ago, we visited Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts for the first of many times. We’re always impressed with the depth of knowledge that the interpreters there have about all things 1830 and no matter how often we go, we always learn something new. Anyway, the fellow in charge of gardens and livestock at the time told us about an old house he’d visited in which there was a special section of the attic designed for bees to live. I neglected to ask him for specifics, such as how someone would have harvested honey, etc., but the idea was intriguing.

    I’m quite content to have all of my bee hives about 40 feed from the house. We built an enclosure from stockade fencing facing the north, east, and west sides to protect the bees from the worst of the winter winds. This windbreak plus 1″ rigid insulation board on the hives themselves from October to April makes winter die-offs very rare for us.

    • Carpenter bee traps really work. Check out YouTube videos on how th make them. They are also being carried in hardware stores now.
      They don’t always work well, it depends on placement. I put up two about 15 feet apart from each other. One caught many bees while the other remained empty.

  3. I live in southern Arizona and Africanized bees are nothing to tangle with- a man in our town attempted to remove a hive himself and is in in the hospital with hundreds of stings. We had a hive inhabit a water meter box two summers ago- these bees prefer smaller spaces. The bee removal man used soapy water and was dressed for the occasion.

    It’s such an odd situation- as bees are dying with colony collapse disorder in so many parts of our country, there are 10 (thriving)hives per square mile in the desert southwest.

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