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Local student has become ‘bee whisperer’

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By Alice Du Pont

Members of the Michael Moore Masonic Lodge on East Washington Street noticed bees inside the building last year. The bees were not large in number but as the year passed, bee sightings increased. A professional pest control company was called to exterminate the pesky bees but they always returned a few days later.

Members realized they had a problem that pesticides couldn't fix. They needed an expert who specialized in removing hives. The expert they called was Josh Ray, a 15-year-old ninth grader who is 5’8” and weighs 110 pounds. But Ray is no newcomer to the profession.

"I've been doing this since I was 4 years old and I've never had a bee hive I couldn't remove," he said.

The hive he removed Jan. 24 from the Masonic Lodge was the largest one of his career. He guessed the massive hive weighed in excess of 100 pounds and housed between 50,000 and 80,000 bees. A hive that size, he said, had probably been in the wall for 50 years or more.

Before Ray attempts any removal, he visits the site and gets a feel for the surroundings.

"I have to know what I'm working with before I get started. Some of them can get a little bit heavy," he said.

He can count on his father, Bryan, to help him if a hive requires extra muscle. Some of the hives are so heavy he needs someone to help him pull out the honeycombs. Ray said he knew he would need assiatance because he needed to remove part of the wall where the bees had made their home.

This time Ray's mother, grandmother, other relatives and his best friend, Andrew Harris, came along to watch Ray's biggest removal to date.

Covered from head to toe in protective gear, Ray went about the task of getting the queen out and in a safe place. The other bees, he said, will follow the queen, which makes it easier to round them up for transport to his home, where he will care for them and harvest the honey which he will sell.

But even with protective clothing, Ray was stung five times and several others were stung at least once at the Masonic Lodge. He said he had been stung up to 13 times during one removal. Stings, he said, are painful and often hurt and cause minor swelling but that is a small price to pay for the enjoyment he gets from removing bees and owning his own hives.

"I could see myself owning bees and making honey as my life's work. The guy I buy my queens from lives in Moultrie, Ga.  and he has been in the business since 1935. Even when people were saying there is a change in the number of bees wouldside, I haven't noticed any change in our area," he said.

The highest number of bee hives he has ever owned was 15. He said he lost four hives to wax worms while on a vacation recently. Losing bees to disease or pests goes with the territory but the loss was financially devastating to Ray.

"I don't charge for the removal and I clean up. We will replace the wall we had to tear out to get to this hive. I have made a little money from selling the honey but everything I make goes back into my bees," he said.

According to Ray, a single worker bee lives 4 weeks and makes one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in a lifetime.  The honey from the Masonic Lodge removal will likely have the flavor of wildflowers and cloves.

"A bee will fly up to a 5-mile radius and within that distance from here is mostly what you will find to make the honey fragrance," he said.

Ray said most of his fellow students at Tallavana Christian School don't know about the service he provides and others don't believe it.

"They think I'm just running my mouth," he said.

Ray said he is willing remove any hive, just call him at 510-0072.

Send your comments to adupont@gadcotimes.com.