Busy with Bees
When there’s a buzzing in your wall, who are you going to call? These three mad men…
It’s spring in New Braunfels.
The tubers are emerging, the flowers are blooming and the sun is shining.
With all of this growth, though, there comes a buzzing.
Bees — they emerge each spring to join in the world once again. While they can help with pollinating many of these flowers and plants, they can sometimes become a nuisance.
That’s where beekeepers come into the picture.
Donning their fashionable all-white jumpsuits and face netting, Charlie Agar, Al Friedle and George Thomas hop into their trucks and dash around town, responding to calls much like the Ghostbusters.
The three men have been working together in beekeeping for about a year, each bringing their own varying degree of experience and knowledge to the table.
“Just a year and a half,” Thomas said about his beekeeping experience. “That’s when I started. (Charlie) took me out. He had an extra suit and he let me use it and we went out and did some beekeeping work with his bees one day and he showed me.”
Agar said he’s been at beekeeping for about 5 years and didn’t necessarily start interacting with bees voluntarily.
“I was living in Idaho for a short time and I kind of got my arm twisted into taking a course from a guy who had a berry farm and he was nuts about bees,” he said. “He also happened to sell everything you would need to get into beekeeping.”
After just that single lecture on the dynamics of hives and bees, Agar said he couldn’t stop asking questions.
“It just became magical to me and we looked at some beehives in his yard, and something just kind of clicked,” he said. “I (wanted) to do this.”
Friedle, the third and final member, said he brings a whopping 46 years of experience. A former businessman and volunteer firefighter from upstate New York, he said he’s been mesmerized by bees since his youth.
“I remember when I was, I don’t know, maybe 10 or 12 years old and a swarm came by my house and stuffed up in a big oak tree all the way up there,” he said about his first experience with bees at his childhood home. “I was just stunned by what I was watching.”
He said eventually the swarm took off and thousands of bees filled the air as they left to find a new home.
It was only 10 years after that when he finally had his own personal hive. “I would just sit out there for hours, watching them come in and out of the hive. It was really interesting,” Friedle said.
A business owner and volunteer firefighter, he would work with his bees when he wasn’t busy with projects or putting out fires.
“I was working 10 to 14 hours a day,” Friedle said. “Sometimes it was even more during the winter season. “That’s when I worked a lot.”
But there’s more to beekeeping than the honey.
“Man, if it was just the honey, we would be sorely disappointed,” Thomas said. “There’s just not that much.”
In Texas, there are two types of bees a person should be familiar with: European honey bee and Africanized honey bee.
“You’ve heard of the Africanized bees — most people have,” he said. “Killer bees! They have moved up here over the last 65 to 70 years.”
The European bees were brought to North America by immigrants and settlers.
As Thomas and Agar told it, the Africanized bees migrated north from Brazil up to Texas and the United States over the past century. These are the ones that are famed for their attacks.
European bees were from, you guessed it, Europe.
They are known for their more moderate temperament, but African bees have been mixed with European bees over the years and now the hybrid Africanized bees can be found here in Texas.
But most important thing for beekeepers during this time of year is a swarm.
“(That) is how bees replicate themselves,” Agar said. “They cast off a swarm and this is the season they do it. I end up catching swarms all spring.”
According to Agar, swarms are what happens when a queen bee and half of a colony fly away from their hive after a new queen is hatched in the spring.
“When the hive thinks it’s strong enough, they will say, ‘OK, we’re strong enough, now let’s reproduce,’” Agar said.
“Then they literally colonize. They raise a new queen. The old queen, once the new queen goes and mates, she’ll typically come back and the old queen will fly off with about half of the bees in the hive. That’s called a swarm.”
He said these swarms end up looking like a pile of bees, sometimes even just laying on the ground. “She’ll look for a new place to stay, and while they look, they’ll just hang on a tree or a wall. That’s just a big old ball of bees hanging there and it’s very common this time of year.
“For me, that’s just free bees,” he said. “That’s bees that are just looking for a new home and all I do is literally walk up with a box and brush them into (it) and that’s free bees for me.”
He said usually the swarms are just looking for a dry area with a easy access to create a new hive, so water meters and underneath trailers are common spots to find new hives.
“It was Charlie’s idea,” Friedle said. Yes, there’s the beekeeping business, but Agar, who involved in video production by day, couldn’t leave well-enough alone. The trio’s work has evolved into something bigger.
Lately, the group has been followed closely by a group of people with cameras. Also wearing the white jumpsuits, the crew braves the bees right there alongside the three men as they attempt to turn what was once just a group of friends into a reality TV show.
“We’ve been doing it for about a year now,” Friedle said.
Ashley Scott Davison and his production team at Iniosante have documented the group’s adventures as they remove bees from troublesome locations.
The show is called “Charlie Bee Company,” referring to Agar’s work. He leads the show, and the three joke and interact on camera as they tackle project after project.
Recently, the group finished their pilot episode which they will show around to companies who might be interested in running the show on television. ★