When Dennis Finnerty and longtime girlfriend Laura Ferraro moved into their first house, they never thought they'd first have to evict the home's current owners - a legion of bees.
Over the summer, Finnerty and Ferraro achieved something many people consider to be a milestone in their lives: the purchase of their first house.
A carpenter by trade, Finnerty sought a home which needed a bit of his handiwork before he and his girlfriend could call it home. When he heard that his best friend's grandparents' old home was for sale, he thought he had found the perfect match.
Walt Dahlgren, a beekeeper from Busti, is pictured removing bees from the walls of the home of Dennis Finnerty and Laura Ferraro recently.
P-J photos by Remington Whitcomb
"The house is unique because it's a big part of my friend's history," said Finnerty. "Members of his family still seasonally used it as a hunting cabin, but other than that it didn't get much attention. They decided to get rid of it, but they didn't want to sell it to just anyone. When we expressed interest, the family decided to let it go. As it turns out, my father used to spend time in the house because he worked for the USDA and the structure used to be an old farm house. That, in itself, made me like the house even more."
However, Cal Cederquist, the father of Finnerty's friend Barry, told Finnerty that the house might have a bit of a bee problem.
"Of course, I assumed there was a hive of 15 bees in a tree or something," said Finnerty. "I went to the store and bought whatever can of bee spray could be fired from the furthest distance, then went to the house, thinking I was going to end the bee problem then and there. The can says it shoots accurately from 30 feet. I'm at the house, spraying this can in an arc, and it's barely making it 15 feet. I've got the wind at my back and I'm trying to use everything that nature is giving me so I can keep my distance from the bees, but it's no use. All I'm doing is making these bees mad ... maybe I killed three bees and got stung once."
CALLING IN A PROFESSIONAL
Finnerty went back to Cederquist about the bees, and Cederquist said he would contact a beekeeper to come look at the house. Cederquist called Walt Dahlgren, who has kept bees for the entirety of his adult life.
According to Finnerty, Dahlgren removed a few boards from the outside of the house to determine the scope of the bee problem, when the largest swarm of bees Finnerty had ever seen came flying out of the newly opened hole.
"Dahlgren wasn't even wearing any protective clothing, and bees are just engulfing him," said Finnerty. "I'm supposed to be there to help him, but I don't want to get anywhere near the bees. He's taking the boards apart with these tiny pry-bars, so I'm standing 30 feet away from him throwing hammers and crowbars in his general direction, saying: 'Here you go, Walt!' Every additional board he took off, it looked like a bear pelt underneath - just this constantly moving fuzzy brownness. I've never seen anything like it in my entire life."
With the calmness around the animal that is gained after a lifetime of being a beekeeper, Dahlgren took a piece of the honeycomb from the house and brought it over to Finnerty.
"He told me: 'Try it,'" said Finnerty. "The honeycomb he brought over was as thick as an encyclopedia, so I thought that was where all the bees were going to work. I figured once we got the bees out of these few boards, we'd be completely rid of them."
As it turns out, when the house was originally insulated, the insulators had drilled holes in the outside of the house to blow the insulation through. However, because the house was so old, the insulators couldn't properly fill the walls. Eventually, they gave up and plugged the holes with plastic plugs. However, over time, these plugs became dislodged, and the bees took full opportunity of the vacant space between the boards in the house.
"The first time I got to go into one of the major rooms, it sounded like a commercial air conditioner was running," said Finnerty. "It wasn't so much a buzz as it was a hum, like the whole room was vibrating. I couldn't believe it. The bees were causing the room to vibrate."
A MUCH BIGGER PROBLEM
Once Finnerty found out the whole house was infested with bees, he knew he had plenty of work ahead of him. Though he was anticipating ripping out the majority of the walls in the house anyway, now he had to do so knowing that behind any given wall, an army of bees could be waiting for him.
"Once we ripped out almost all the walls, we asked Walt how we compared to what he's seen," said Finnerty. "He said one time before he's seen two hives in one house. We had seven in this house. Even with regard to how big the individual hives were, he had never seen anything like this, and he's been a beekeeper for 42 years."
Eventually, the time came for the heavy lifting. By the time Dahlgren and Finnerty were done removing the bees from the house, they had taken away over 30 pounds of bees and removed nine five-gallon buckets of honeycomb from the house. Keep in mind, the 30 pounds of bees which were removed are not counting all the bees that died during the process, which could have been anywhere from one-fourth to one-half of the total population.
"Walt brought in a bee-vacuum, which sort of looked like a shop-vac," said Finnerty. "We'd run it for 10 minuets and then it would stop working, because it would just be full of bees. Walt would take all the bees we captured back and incorporate them into his hive at home. He guesses that there are probably 4,000 bees per pound, so that gives you some idea exactly how many bees were in the house."
And despite hardly ever wearing the protective clothing a beekeeper traditionally wears, Dahlgren and Finnerty were only stung a combined total of six times.
"There was one Saturday where I came to work in shorts and a T-shirt," said Finnerty. "That was the day where I realized that the bees really don't care what you're doing unless it is blatantly aggressive to them. Even if you bump into a bee or something, they have a job to do that they absolutely do not want to deviate from. On almost every occasion, if you bump a bee off of the hive, their job is to get back to that hive as fast as possible and get back to work."
Recently, Dahlgren and Finnerty finished emptying the house of both bees and honeycomb. Finnerty made sure to place sturdier plugs in the holes which were drilled to fill insulation, as to ensure that another legion of bees never has the opportunity to call his new house home.
Finnerty admits he likely has at least ten more years of renovations to do on the house before it will be completed, however he'll never forget how his adventure in owning a home started.
"It's a huge house," said Finnerty. "It's so old and it used to be so majestic, I just want to make sure I can do it the honor of restoring it to its former glory. It will take a while to finish, but it will be well worth the work. When its finally finished, I will be able to say it's something I'm proud to live in."