The Secret Life of Bees
Are bees swarming your infinity edge pool? Are they making your spa their day spa?
Queen Latifah may have been able to handle bees without getting stung when she starred in the movie based on the book with the same name as this article.
But when one is lolling about sin la ropa (naked) in the pool or spa having swarms of wild bees as uninvited guests, well it makes for a less-than-relaxing moment. One of the pleasures of living here is having a pool or spa that can be enjoyed most of the year.
When we lived two blocks from the beach, we had a few bees, but a lot of wasps. Wasps are easy, just splash around and they go away. When we moved to the beach, several years in a row there were wild bees forming hives on our property. They were not much of a bother at the pool. But! wild bees have no fear of humans, and they will let you know when they are annoyed at you using the pool during their peak visiting times.
In our new house on the hill with a lot of desert vegetation and a wooded arroyo, bees are our grumpy neighbors. Last summer, our first in this house, our spa had a cascade feature, where water gently glided over the divider between pool and spa. The water glistened in the sun and was lovely to see. A few bees visited us and kept to themselves on the cascade, but they left us alone, and we didn’t bother them.
We changed the pool/spa configuration. We raised the divider between the two pools and stopped the cascade. And we added one of those blue “bubble wrap” covers on the spa. And that is how the trouble that spawned this tale began!
Bees came in numbers upwards of 30. (UPDATE: It is now closer to 100 bees on both sides of the former cascade) One early evening My Beloved and I wanted to use the spa. The bees were lined up on the edge of the cover where a little water was exposed. Some flew off and more came in their place. And they were there from dawn to dusk. We pulled off the cover. The bees were annoyed, and let us know about it. They swarmed us and buzzed around our heads and otherwise made the luxury of a hot dip a hot mess. “Just ignore them,” said My Beloved. Such good advice. How do you ignore 20 buzzing angry flying insects that will sting you? I jumped out of the spa, stomped away, and went inside to sulk, leaving My Beloved to cover the spa.
Not willing to give up my sybaritic pleasures, I researched bees and spas and pools. There are blogs by beekeepers, other spa owners, and pool companies. I tried to be scientific about the process. And I was not going to do anything to harm our precious pollinator; bees. I started with the easy stuff first:
- Soapy Water: Spray the bees with soapy water. It will kill them when they return to the hive and other bees will get the message and not return. I did not try this. I will not kill bees. And even if this worked, other bees will come. I know they will. The draw of water is too strong.
- Vinegar: Add vinegar to your spa water. I love the smell of vinegar and hot water because vinegar reminds me of coloring Easter eggs. But on my skin? Not so much. So I tried this. I sprayed the entire cover of the pool with vinegar. A whole bunch of spray blew in my face. This smells bad, and had no effect on the bees.
- Brown Paper Bag: This is a silly idea, but in the interests of research, I tried it. The theory is that a brown paper bag that has been blown up will look like a hive, and the bees that are supposedly territorial will respect their neighbor and find another watering hole. I taped a bag under the lip of my fire pit right near the spa. I did this before the sun was up, so the crafty bees would not see me doing it. A little while later, I checked my experiment, only to find 50 bees and that the bag had blown away and the duct tape was flapping in the breeze. Two neighbors weighed in on this one. One neighbor had luck using the bag to ward off wasps. Another bought a commercial version of the brown paper bag. She said the bag remains in a tree and the bees were never deterred.
- Become a Bee Keeper: One blog suggested starting a honeybee hive of your own in a far corner of your yard. This will keep other bees from coming. This is the same idea as the brown bag. Yeah, I am going to do that any time now.
- Make a Separate Bee Spa: There are several versions of this from putting a grate on a shallow bowl of water to elaborate pools with flowers and rocks for the bees to light on. Another neighbor tried this with a kiddie pool, flowers, and rocks. The bees still preferred her waterfall.
- Cloves: Surprisingly, this works, within limits, and smells like Thanksgiving! I started small. I set out two small bowls half filled with ground cloves. The bees were already enjoying their daily dips. The smell disturbed them, and they flew up and around the spa. They tried to land on the bowls but flew off immediately. Using a thick solution of water, ground cloves and lime juice, I sprayed the cover and the bees. Whoa! They did NOT like that at all. They swarmed up and buzzed loudly, hanging a few feet away from the spa. It was as if they were having an argument. But they peeled off and didn’t come back for hours. I was sitting nearby to observe. One bee buzzed my ear, and more than one buzzed the top of my head. Not one stung me. Eventually the bees came back, but never in the larger numbers, like before
One morning before the sun rose, I refilled my clove dishes. I sprayed the entire perimeter of the pool cover and literally turned my cover brown with clove spray. There were no bees enjoying the pleasures of my spa for hours. Only a few adventurers returned. And the number of bees at my spa has dwindled.
My final assessment: To rid my spa completely of malingering bees, I should remove the cover. There are no bees at the pool because there is no place to land. Since I do not want to waste hot water, my other conclusion is that a new cover that rises up the edge of the spa a few inches above the water line means no water is exposed and there is no place for the bees to light. We just did this today, and the bees again were angry, but they left. As of this writing there have been only 3 bees at my spa.
If you have a pool with an infinity or waterfall edge and are plagued by bees, I suggest a clove atomizer that releases the spray every few hours (like the Fifth Avenue department stores), or a tray of limes dredged in cloves. I went to Chedraui on the weekend to buy more ground cloves. They had none. Could it be that my neighbors bought the store’s supply.
Oh, and one helpful neighbor said that loud rock music deters rattlesnakes, and also offered a mouse deterrent!
In true Mythbusters tradition, I declare the clove cure plausible.
April 26: the bees are back and there are now 100s of them.
I asked the wonderful Bee Lady at the Farmer’s Market wht solution she could reccommend.
She thought a moment, then smiled and said:
” The solution is that the bees use the pool and spa while the sun shines and you use it at night.”
Thank you very much!