It started last Tuesday, when I received an email saying a man in Spanish Fork had a beehive in his wall and wanted it removed. After speaking with the homeowner and inspecting the hive myself later that evening, I decided that it was probably worth saving. (Bees have been hit hard by mites and other diseases in recent years, driving wild honeybees to virtual extinction. The fact that this hive (a) survived for at least 2 years without any mite treatments (b)produced enough honey to survive a harsh winter, and (c)seemed unusually gentle, convinced me the genetics should be preserved.)
The theory was this: I would open the hive, smoke them well to keep them calm, then spray them with sugar water to keep them from flying. I could then remove the comb one section at a time and place them on specially prepared frames. The frames contain a grid of string and would be wrapped with additional string to keep the comb in place. Then the entire frame would be placed in a wooden hive box. I’d repeat the process until I either ran out of comb or the hive box was filled with all ten frames. (The bees would attach the wild comb to the frames and haul the strings away over the next few weeks.)
Of course, theory and practice are two different things—especially when the practice involves thousands of stinging insects buzzing loudly around you head.
Nevertheless, on Friday afternoon I loaded up the truck with supplies and set out on my first “hive retrieval.” The back wall of the garage where the bee colony was located was sheathed in particleboard, and the entrance was about 5 feet off the ground. In an attempt to keep the bees as calm as possible for as long as possible, I decided to try and remove the particleboard with a knife instead of a power saw. Luckily, the stuff was rotten and I had no problem. I also set up a small platform 3 feet off the ground to make it easier to get to the top of the hive.
It became clear almost immediately that this was a VERY healthy hive. The 16-inch wide cavity was filled with comb from the top of the wall to within 3 feet of the ground, and about half of that was covered with bees. It also became clear that the frames I made would not work. The strings weren’t tight enough and the wild comb was too narrow.
I switched to Plan B. In addition to the box of empty frames, I also brought a box full of drawn comb. I set it up on the bottom board with the second (nearly empty) box on top. The new plan was to spray the bees good with sugar water, then remove a section of comb and shake the bees into the hive box. The comb, now devoid of bees, could then be discarded. This plan worked much better. I was getting pounds and pounds of bees in the box. But as you might imagine, the insects—already upset that I was tearing apart their home—weren’t very happy about being violently flung about. It was impossible to spray the bees on the back of the comb, so there were literally clouds of bees in the air. Their menacing buzzing was quite unnerving, especially since my suit is “bee resistant” not “bee proof.”
The homeowner, who was quite interested in the process, watched all this from a mere 10 or 15 feet away, wearing shorts and a T-shirt. I warned him repeatedly he was asking to get stung, but he insisted he was calm, the bees could sense that, and he was safe. Amazingly, he proved himself right, and took all of the pictures you see on this page.
After working steadily for about 45 minutes, I had removed nearly all the comb from the wild hive and captured over half of the bees. I left them alone for a few minutes, and most of the remaining bees landed on the wall near where the hive had been. Using a whisk broom and a license plate dust pan, I got most of these into the hive as well. Then it was simply a matter of carting the bee box and my equipment back to the truck.
I dropped the hive off at my neighbor’s, and will check on it this Saturday. Among the questions to be answered:
* Did the queen survive the shaking and sweeping? (I don’t need to find the queen, only new eggs to indicate she’s there.)
* Can I remove the empty second box and replace it with a box full of frames?
* How many bees actually made it into the new hive?
As I was cleaning up the last of the mess, the neighbor next door came over, upset that I had removed the bees. (She has a sizable orchard and garden, and appreciated the pollination.) I’ll bring her one of my other hives on Saturday. It will make a good excuse to make sure that the hive I removed is really completely gone. I can also pick up the old comb for rendering into beeswax. Stay tuned for more…