Bee rescue is one of those jobs that most people don’t know exist until they find themselves with an infestation on their property. At that point they usually want an expert available right away. In Austin, Brandon Fehrenkamp of Eastside Honey Co. is the go-to guy for bee removal and relocation. He has relocated bees from hives that were established within the walls of homes, from beneath floorboards, from water boxes and 55-gallon drums, and from swarms in transition from one hive location to another.
Urban bee removal is a delicate process, and it can vary greatly from one location to another. Brandon decides on a course of action for each particular infestation, and then he delivers flyers to neighbors letting them know when a removal will take place. A bee removal usually requires dismantling walls inside homes. He uses a combination of low-suction vacuums to draw the bees out of the walls without injuring them and into containers to be transported to manmade hives.
Once all the bees have been removed, the honeycombs have to come out of the walls. Otherwise, roaches, rodents, and other undesirable critters will move in for the free snack. If the combs have honey, Brandon takes the combs to one of his locations around Austin and lays them on the ground at a reasonable distance from the hives. The bees that live in the nearby hives will remove the honey from the combs and take it back to incorporate into their own hives. For this reason, if a homeowner has sprayed pesticides in an attempt to kill the bees, Brandon is unable to rescue and relocate the hive.
Eastside Honey Co. partners with urban farmers around Austin to keep hives. It is a mutually beneficial arrangement wherein farmers take advantage of the natural pollination, and Brandon is able to maintain bees at a variety of sites. Honey flavor varies dramatically based on the location of the hives. Honey produced within the city limits is heavily influenced by Japanese privets, while honey from the Blackland prairie east of Austin has more mesquite and lemon bee balm. High on
the escarpment west of Austin, the honey is a dark brown that Brandon says does not taste like normal honey; it’s rich and buttery almost like sweetened condensed milk. He likes to think of the honey varieties in the same way as a single malt Scotch or wine varietals, and it is nice to be able to sell the variations all under one label.
Harvesting honey is done seasonally, not constantly throughout the year. The bulk of production begins in early spring and generally tapers off by mid-July. Brandon allows the bees to evaporate the honey down to a thick consistency before he removes the honeycombs. He crushes and strains them in a simple process that does not require special equipment. This year, Eastside Honey Co. expects to sell its honey harvest through the CSA Farmhouse Delivery service, as well as directly to consumers. Look for the honey to be available in August, 2012.