As a chef, Ouita Michel loves honey. But not if it's dripping down the walls of her Midway house.
About five years ago, Michel and her husband, Chris, realized that they had bees in the wall of their daughter's bedroom, but they couldn't find anyone to remove them. Eventually the bees died and the couple thought the problem was over.
"We caulked the wall up tight and forgot about the bees," Michel said. Then the honey started coming through the ceiling into her dining room. It was a pain to clean up.
This year, the bees came back.
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"They got really active, and we couldn't take it anymore," Michel said.
Who do you call when your walls are humming?
Greg Dekker, who blogs under the name The Rooftop Apiary, is one of the very few beekeepers who will remove a hive from a structure. Sometimes, if the job is big, he partners with Curt White of Blewegrass Apiary, who also will tackle bees in structures.
"It's a weird thing; people don't know what to do with it," Dekker said. "If they had killed that hive, it would have been the biggest disaster."
And not just for the bees.
"They would have had 80 pounds of honey leaking through their living room ceiling," Dekker said. Once the bees stop maintaining the honeycomb, other insects begin to break it down. That's probably what happened last time with the Michels.
In mid May, Dekker visited the Michels' house with his equipment, including a vacuum he's rigged up to gently suck the bees out of the hive. With a stethoscope, he pinpointed where the bees might be, then sealed off the room.
When he opened up the wall, he was stunned: the hive was huge.
"It was in a 14-inch stud cavity, 10 inches deep, almost 6 feet tall," Dekker said.
It took six hours just to get the bees out. Then there was all the honey comb and the honey.
"Five five-gallon buckets and 50,000 bees came out of our wall," Michel said. "He worked eight hours straight. He saved every damn bee and we didn't have any poisons. It was terrific."
Dekker took the bees and the honey back to his Lexington home. The bees moved into a hive on top of his garage, joining six others. He rescued another hive recently, giving him eight hives now. He lost lots of bees last year in the hard winter, so he's happy to have so many again.
The bees fly peacefully in and out, over his yard and chickens, ranging up to 7 miles for pollen and nectar to bring back to their hive.
"It's like a bee highway back there," Dekker said.
Ouita Michel's bees were fairly irritable when he finally got them out of the vacuum. He and his dog, Forest, both got stung. But that's rare. Most of the time nobody even knows the bees are there.
Dekker, who is also an ER nurse at the University of Kentucky hospital, began keeping bees about four years ago.
With a background that included construction, he knew how to take apart a wall. And he knew bees.
"It's kind of a unique set of skills," he said. "You have to have the construction knowledge to figure out where these bees are. Then how to minimally and safely get to them, and then the beekeeping knowledge to get them out without killing them and get them to survive afterwards."
Dekker's hobby has become a full-fledged business now, rescuing bees and harvesting their honey to sell. He hopes to expand his hives soon to other locations in downtown Lexington, where there is plenty to keep bees busy.
A couple of weeks ago he started crushing the comb to harvest the honey removed from the Michels' wall. So far he's gotten about 70 pounds of honey.
The chef won't be using it in any dishes at Holly Hill Inn.
"I did taste the honey; it tasted terrible," Michel said, with a laugh. Turns out wall honey tastes a lot like old house.
"Unfortunately it's not very good," Dekker said. "It's kind of funky tasting."
Instead it will go to feed the bees over the winter once Dekker harvests the delicious stuff they are putting away now.
"I told him we could put another hive out here," Michel said. "But I need a break for a while. And not in my wall."