I Made a Bee Vacuum

Image: Andrew @ortofarms

The bee swarms of spring makes my inbox overfloweth with requests to remove bees from where they take up residence. Mostly I pass these jobs to a professional, but when a friend or acquaintance calls, and the job does not involve a lot of demolition work or hanging on the end of an extension ladder in a bee suit, I’ll say yes.

The process of removing an established hive involves opening up whatever they are in, cutting out the comb and then scooping up the bees that often will retreat to some out of the way spot. This last part, scooping up the bees, can be time consuming, frustrating and potentially dangerous if the bees are in a cranky mood.

For years I’ve resisted making a bee vacuum with the idea that it’s a crutch, somehow an excuse for bad technique. You can use a smoker to herd bees off the comb and, if you’re careful, once the queen is in the bee box the workers will follow. But if a tool makes things go more smoothly, why not give it a try?

There are a lot of different bee vacs that you can make or buy. I built mine using instructions by P. Michael Henderson. It consists of a box with an inlet for a shop vac and another tube to suck up the bees themselves. It has a removable bottom that you can put on top of another bee box once you’ve finished cutting out the comb and putting it in a box. Then you just remove the false bottom and the bees migrate back to their comb.

This past weekend I, along with my friends Andrew and Stephen, removed some bees from a backyard rotating compost bin (a common place bees like to settle in, by the way). We had to Sawzall the bin apart, unfortunately, and by the time we started removing the comb, most of the bees had settled into a hard to access corner of the bin. With the bee vac, we were able to quickly vacuum up those bees and get them into their new home.

Bee vac on top–box with relocated comb on bottom. Image: Andrew @ortofarms

Then, as usual, with this otherworldly creature, something unexpected happened. A cluster ended up on the pavement of the parking garage at the bottom of the apartment building we were removing them from. Somehow some had gotten smashed on the ground–maybe run over by a car? This attracted other bees. There were a lot of bees in the air too. Thankfully it was a holiday weekend and very few people were home and the bees were not at all aggressive. After pondering what to do in this not great situation, I pulled out the vacuum again and, after a few minutes, we had the rogue clusters vacuumed up and added to the box we wanted them in.

We came back after dark a day later and picked up the box and sent them to Andrew’s farm. I don’t have a lot of hope for this hive as it was very small and not very well established. But for this situation, the bee vac came in handy. Not only were we able to extract the bees from a tight spot but we were able to do so quickly and minimize the chance that they would go after people or pets in a dense urban location.

Flipping the Flippers on May Day

The workers of The Flipping El Moussas.

I consider it a character flaw that my evening media viewing sessions often devolve into Lacanian jouissance, a state of mind that Mark Fisher explained as the “inextricability of pleasure and pain” that “transforms an ordinary object causing displeasure into a Thing which is both terrible and alluring.” (1)

The focus of that jouissance one recent evening was the HGTV show The Flipping El Moussas wherein real estate investor Tarek El Moussa and his new bride Heather Rae El Moussa attempt to rehab and sell a lackluster mid-century house in our expensive, hipster LA enclave.

The El Moussas inhabit a world that I imagine prioritizes skin care routines, personal trainers, luxury vehicles and relentless self empowerment propaganda. Their plastic skinned appearance means they could probably slip into that weird new Barbie movie without putting on any makeup.

This first episode of their new series focused on the affluent life of the hosts as they moved between suburban pool parties and their bland office. But what fascinated me most was what the show obscured: the immigrant workers who do the construction of their projects. You never see the worker’s faces, only their backs, arms and sometimes just the tools they hold. You never hear them speak or anything about their lives, families or backstory.

The obsession with flipping, the bidding frenzy and final price of the house at the end of the show obscures the real source of value which is the workers. The El Moussas inadvertently provide a textbook example of Marx’s labor theory of value. Without the workers their capital accumulation game wouldn’t work (2). And injustice is baked into the system since the workers don’t get their fare share of the “surplus value” generated by their labor nor can they afford the product of their skills. How strange is it that we have a housing system more interested in generating profits than, say, actually housing people. And it’s even weirder that we’ve turned this unjust system into an entertainment spectacle.

Nearly all of the decisions the Moussas make in this first episode are predicated on maximizing surplus value rather than housing people. The house they tackle didn’t have any structural problems and a minimum amount of touch up work could have made it more than livable. Instead they embark on a costly and unnecessary rehab, moving walls, adding bathrooms, painting everything white (of course) all to cater to the latest HGTV generated trends.

Construction work is hard and dangerous. A life of it can degrade the body and run you into the ground. On this May Day let those of us lucky to have a roof over our heads remember the workers who built those roofs and work towards a future where all will share in the benefit of our labor.