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Date of Issue: September 13, 2007

Chiles, Nallys unite to save bee colony

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Sandbar Restaurant owner Ed Chiles, at right, and Bob "The Bee Man" Van Der Herchen, at left, along with Sandbar manager Joe Rogers, discuss the best way to save a bee colony high up in this Australian pine on Spring Avenue in Anna Maria near the restaurant. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

Although they’re on opposite sides of the fence on several legal issues, Sandbar Restaurant owner Ed Chiles and William and Barbara Nally of Spring Avenue in Anna Maria have united to save a bee colony that has taken nest high up in an Australian pine along Spring Avenue in front of the Nally residence.

But the process won’t be easy, according to Bob “The Bee Man” Van Der Herchen, who has made a career of beekeeping and saving bees.

Concerned that the bees might eventually encroach on the restaurant or bother the thousands of visitors who walk along Spring Avenue every year, Chiles approached the Nallys and asked if they could get together and have the bees moved to a less-prominent location.

After the Nallys agreed, Chiles called Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford for the city’s help. Barford then contacted the University of Florida’s Agriculture Extension Office in Palmetto to see if they could remove the bees.

The office agreed to “take care of the bees,” said Chiles, but their solution was simply to come out and exterminate the bees, regardless of whether or not they were the honeybee variety or the more aggressive African bees that have been found in the United States.

Chiles said he’s read numerous articles that the North American bee population is in decline for unknown reasons and he decided to try to save the bees.

“I was really surprised by what the agriculture people said. I don’t want the bees killed, I want them saved,” said Chiles.

With the blessings of city hall, Chiles began looking for something less drastic and eventually found Bob “The Bee Man” Van Der Herchen of Englewood, who has been in the bee business all his life and has devoted the last seven years to saving bees throughout Florida.

Van Der Herchen visited the bees on Wednesday, Sept. 5, but was dismayed to find the bee hive was about 30 feet up in the Australian pine.

The bad news is that because they are so high up and the majority of the hive is actually living inside the tree trunk, Van Der Herchen can’t vacuum them into a safe tank and transport them to an orange grove in eastern Manatee County. That’s a simple process that would take just a few hours.

The good news, Van Der Herchen said, is that they are probably not the African bee variety, although they may likely be a mixed breed. They are not going to bother people as long as people don’t bother them.

Van Der Herchen said he could cut down the tree trunk and remove the bees that way, but that method might rile the bees. The second solution, he said, was a bee trap, which is a one-way screen that prevents bees from re-entering the hive once they leave.

The trap takes about 4-6 weeks to collect all the bees, which happens when the queen bee leaves because there are no bees left inside.

Van Der Herchen said he would then take the trap down and move it to an orange grove, where the surviving bees - nearly 90 percent of the present colony - will quickly find a home.

Chiles readily agreed to the trap option.

“I want to save the bees. I don’t want to see them destroyed,” he said.

Van Der Herchen said he’s done nearly 100 bee traps in the past seven years and in only one instance did the bees become upset. That was because the entrance to the hive was at the bottom of a tree and just beside a driveway that was used by customers of a nearby real estate office.

“I don’t see a problem with this trap,” he said.

Van Der Herchen is a Florida-licensed beekeeper and African bee removal specialist. He said most bee colonies in Florida are now a variety of mix between African bees and honeybees. Because the Anna Maria hive is so far above ground, it’s not likely that the bees will get angry from the traffic on Spring Avenue. They haven’t yet, he noted.

“We’ll know in about six weeks,” if the bees are going to throw a fit when moved, he said.

Van Der Herchen will come back to Anna Maria this week with his protective clothing and set the bee trap high up on the tree. After that, it’s just a matter of time before the colony is ready to be moved.

Chiles indicated he will take responsibility for Van Der Herchen’s bill for services.