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Boca bees on the move

Amy Boortz was enjoying a cup of coffee when she heard the buzzing.

She was stung three times before she remembered a trick she learned from the popular children's book characters The Berenstain Bears: She jumped in the pool to get the bees out of her hair.

Boortz, 43, later discovered she had a large beehive in a shed in her backyard, the second time in three years bees called the shed home.

Eager to avoid more stings, she hired Alex De Oliveira, a beekeeper based in Boynton Beach. On Monday, he came not to kill the bees, but to move them to a grove near the border of Delray Beach and Boynton Beach.

When Boortz had the bee problem three years ago, the person she hired poisoned the bees, which she called "callous and unusual."

"I need the bees not to die," Boortz said. "I need a beekeeper, not a bee killer."

Her house, surrounded by bushes and flowers, is an orchard of trees such as pomegranate, star fruit and mango. She knows bees are crucial for sustaining her garden.

De Oliveira agrees, and prefers not to use dangerous chemicals. He said Boortz's hive had about 50,000 bees.

"I use a smoke made of banana leaves, grass and dry leaves," which disorients the bees, said De Oliveira, 53, who said he's been stung more times than he can count.

De Oliveira, whose uncle and great-grandfather's brother were beekeepers, had no problem entering the dark, wooden shed to transport the bees. Wearing a white suit, thick gloves and a netted hat, he transferred thousands of bees on honeycombs from the shed to plastic containers from Boortz's kitchen.

With bees crawling over his body, De Oliveira used rubber bands to tie the honeycombs to plates he built of wood and wire. The plates slip into a box that he stores in the trunk of his car until he drops it off at the grove, where he keeps 15 other boxes of bees.

There, De Oliveira will determine the breed. He said he knew Boortz's were European bees, not the aggressive Africanized variety.

Experts agree that killing bees harms the ecosystem.

"We depend on European honeybees to pollinate our plants," said Keith Patton, of the Palm Beach County/UF-IFAS Extension, which addresses environmental concerns. "We need them for sustainability of our food resources and for the products they produce, like honey and natural wax products."

Boortz said she knows demolishing the shed is the only way to prevent bees from returning. So as she watched De Oliveira dismantle the hive, she took a moment to enjoy the bees' sweetness for one last time. De Oliveira, emerging from the smoky shed, handed her a honeycomb. She brushed off the bees and sucked out the fresh honey.

"It's delicious," she said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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