Bee stings made retrieving cable reels from a Florida electric cooperative’s storage yard a dreaded task, but speaking up about the safety issue quickly yielded a sweet solution and a haul of honey, too.

Peace River Electric Cooperative’s bee problem developed this spring when a colony of honeybees built a hive inside a nearly empty wooden wire reel at the co-op’s Indian Lakes Estates district facility.

Several times in recent months, apprentice line technician Logan Hill was stung while retrieving wire reels to restock crew trucks with conductor. He talked to managers about the problem and was able to show them where he believed the bees were living.

“The hole they were going into was the hub of a reel on the top of a stack, but they actually seemed to be inside the housing of a reel at the bottom,” said Dave Osburn, the Wauchula-based co-op’s eastern division operations supervisor. “We didn’t want to aggravate the bees by disturbing that reel, so we called in a professional.”

Arriving at the co-op’s yard with her gear and a skilled assistant, Miners quickly realized that removing the hive would be different from what she typically does at homes or buildings where unwanted bees are discovered. So, she turned to the co-op for a volunteer.

Hill’s previous encounters with the bees prompted line technicians and veteran warehousemen at the site to encourage him to take on the job. Trading his normal personal protective equipment for a bee suit, he stepped up to help Miners with her plan to reach the hive without agitating the bees.

Hill used his forklift expertise to remove a reel, exposing the one where the bees were hidden. That cleared the way for the beekeepers to do their work. Using smoke to control the bees, the top of the reel was removed, exposing the hive and fresh honey, without harming the bees.

“I was pretty comfortable in the bee suit, and this time, I didn’t get stung at all,” said Hill.

“They were all right there in the center area of the barrel,” said Miners, who estimates that as many as 60,000 honeybees populated the hive. The amount of honey and the color of the wax indicated that it was probably established sometime in February as bees in central Florida were getting active this spring.

Hill also went home with a cache of fresh honey, about half the total amount Miners was able to recover from the hive.

“I strained it out and put it in some jars and brought back some to the office so people could sample it in the breakroom,” said Hill, adding that he also kept a piece of honeycomb as a souvenir.

Miners left a transport hive, baited with collected honey and some of the combs, to attract bees that were out foraging when the removal occurred. It was retrieved the next day, and the colony is now operating from a safer, less intrusive location.

Honeybees have been on the decline in recent years. Although they’re not listed as threatened or endangered, federal agencies and conservation groups are working to help protect hives and encourage their recovery. Bees are essential pollinators for crop production and vegetation.

The entire removal operation took about three hours and drew the attention of several members of the co-op’s staff.

“It's not the honey, it's not the wax, or the products that they can provide, it's the excitement of seeing people's eyes light up with wonder when they see the creativity of the wax that the bees have created,” said Miners. “It’s getting to see them taste the honey from the comb for the first time that makes it all worthwhile.”