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Swarm Stories

Here’s a great one from Harv & Jim – catching a swarm off of a Honda! Published in the Grand Rapids Press – read it HERE

Easy as 1,2,3….Bees! by guest blogger Jill Woods

The request: take some bees out of the walls of a home belonging to some good friends. This was an old house that was scheduled for demolition this year. There were honey bees living in the walls and the couple did not want to destroy the bees when the house was to come down. So I volunteered to attempt to rehome the bees. I choose Satuday, April 24th 2010 as our target day

The crew- (according to plan)
Me, 3 years into bees, some experience, but none in this situation.
Cindy, starting in bees this year. No experience yet.
Jim, no experience in bees but interested and willing labor.
Jack Tomanica, a HABA member, many years of bee experience including taking bees from this type of situation.
Mary, our photographer for the day, runner for items needed and emergency help.

The day was planned well ahead of time. I had lots of conversations with members of our bee club. My head was filled with advice and tips from members who have done this sort of job many times.

One of our members, Ken Hoekstra, created a special frame for transferring comb cut from a wild hive into a hive box. Ken shared a sample frame with me at our club steering committee meeting. I made up 8 of these frames to take along. Enough to fill one box.

Armed with lots of wonderful advice, Cindy and I met at the house one week before the planned day to tear apart a section of the wall where a second colony lived but which had not made it through the winter. One of the pieces of advice we got was to be sure to remove all comb from the walls so that the bees would not have anything to return to. We thought that tearing out the section with no live bees in it would give us a good look at how the walls were made and what the best way to come at the bees might be on the planned extraction day. It proved to be a really good move. This house was sided in cedar shake shingles – a lot of work to remove. The walls were timber construction with 1 in. oak boards nailed on the outside. A definite job for crow bars! The inside walls were plaster board. This created nice long open spaces inside the walls. There were no electrical wires in the walls. That was a welcome discovery! We made a huge hole in the side of the house taking out our practice hive. The combs were 4 feet long in places and filled the 24 in. space from top to bottom in the wall section.

The old combs were musty and all empty except for a few honey filled combs up high. Most honey had been robbed out already. It looked like the hive had been empty for some time. No sign of any bees dead or alive in this section of the wall.

Several days before the scheduled day the weather report was not looking favorable for the job. A thunderstorm system was moving into the area and predicted to start on Friday night. I quickly made the decision to move the job up a day and beat the storm. This meant Jim would not be able to help. Then I got the news that Jack was needed to drive to Georgia with Don Lam to pick up bees. There went my experienced crew member. We were down to just me and Cindy. I considered calling around but after discussing it we decided we could do this having torn down one section ahead of time.

Friday morning the weather was perfect. A bit breezy and predicted to hit upper 60s by mid day. I loaded my truck with the needed supplies and tools. Hive boxes, frames, hive tools, bins, buckets, crow bar and hammers, suits and bee hats, and of course a camera.

Mary and Cindy arrived at the house just as I was parking the pick up truck close to the corner of the house where the bees were. We unloaded all of the equipment and set up a work station some distance away from the house.

First task was to dismantle the kitchen cupboard as we had decided that it would be easiest to come at the bees from inside the house. This could be accomplished without having to suit up saving us a little time in those hot suits.

Next we went out and suited up. We both had planned to wear lots of layers under our bee suits after hearing about times when folks took 20 or so stings riling up wild bees. We had a good laugh when we were done stuffing ourselves into our suits. The bees would have a hard time making a stinger hit flesh but it also made it a bit more difficult to bend! the extra protection gave us added confidence having lost all of our experienced help for the day.
We hauled the box of wired frames and other necessary equipment into the house. A knife for cutting comb, bee brush, hammer, hive tools for scraping off comb, etc. and the smoker and bucket full of smoker fuel. A couple of hammer taps and the first of the comb was exposed. A few puffs of smoke into the hole and we began the job of carefully removing plasterboard and exposing comb. I had my queen catcher handy just in case we were lucky enough to spot the queen.

As we exposed comb I cut sections out and we placed them in the wired frames, concentrating on comb containing brood. As we moved up the wall section we smoked the bees to drive them up away from the section we were removing. While discussing the next steps we discovered that I had forgotten one important tool. The ladder!. Mary went to retrieve the ladder while we continued to cut comb inside the house. When the wired frames were filled we took the hive box full out to the truck and set it on the bottom board that was waiting there, with a strap already placed underneath to tie them together for the drive the next day.

Then we continued to cut out comb placing it carefully in a bin. When we had the upper section of the wall cleared we moved outside. We took the comb sections in the bin and began brushing bees off the comb into the hive box until we had the comb pretty clean. the comb was then transferred into plastic bags and closed to keep bees off. We had brought along a stainless steel pot to place honey comb in. We brushed off bees and dropped the comb quickly into the lidded pot to keep it separate.

Next step was to climb the ladder and begin removing shingles from the upper part of the outside wall. Now there were thousands of bees in the air.  Half the hive was cleared from the wall and the field bees were returning with the hive in chaos. These bees were agitated and confused but we never got the feeling that they were getting mean. They seemed to accept us taking comb sections and just kept working the comb as if nothing was going on.

Tearing apart the outer walls was hard work on a ladder. Heavy oak boards do not come off easily! We accomplished the job without mishap. Each board was laid carefully on the lawn because there was comb attached to each board as well as the comb in the wall cavity. The honey was all in these combs in the top of the hive. As the comb came out the bees in the air began to congregate and form bee beards on the small pieces of comb left in the wall. It was my turn now to climb the ladder with my bee brush. Cindy would hand up a small bucket. I brushed clumps of bees quickly into the bucket and then she would dump the bees in the bucket into the hive box. After a couple of bucket fulls we would let the bees settle down while working on the shingle on the lowest part of the wall. Every time we saw that the bees were balling up I would go up the ladder and brush them into the bucket. This worked really well to gather the majority of the bees. We added a second box to the hive and filled it partially with frames in various stages of comb on foundation and put sections of comb with honey in between the frames of foundation as I did not have any more wired frames.

Now began the job of clearing every bit of comb out of the hive. We closed up the hive box and began scraping all the comb we could find out of the walls and putting it in plastic garbage bags to keep it from the bees. Brushing any bees onto the entrance if there were bees on the comb. At this point there were quite a few bees in the air but most seemed to be staying in the hive box on the truck.

After we had the site cleaned up we gladly peeled out of our hot well padded suits. Not one sting the whole day! Now that felt like success!

Following the advice we had gotten we left the truck where it was overnight hoping that with the walls exposed and the comb all gone that the bees in the air and still coming in from the fields would find their way into the hive box. We did not see the queen so we are hoping she was swept into the hive with the others off the combs.

Saturday morning just after sunrise I went to check on the bees. The box was full of bees so I quickly sealed it up and tied the strap on to hold it for the drive to Cindy’s house in Hudsonville. I could only see 3 bees on the house wall. They were just exploring, confused and probably lonely! We had successfully captured this wild hive!

I drove the hive to their new home. Two boxes strapped together with the entrance reducer in closed position held in place with duct tape. When I arrived the top hive body had shifted a couple of inches but the strap held it in place. I will use staples next time. Even thought the lower box was exposed a bit there were certainly plenty of bees in the hive. Next time I will be more concerned about a closed hive than the nice new paint job on my boxes!

We transfered the hive to the hive stand and opened the entrance to introduce the bees to their new apiary. After watching for a few minutes we went into the house and prepared some sugar syrup to feed the bees. We will feed them until they have a chance to make some more honey. There is enough honey in the hive to sustain them for this week. I was careful also to include comb with pollen to feed their brood.

This is an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. I learned more about the inside of a bee hive in this venture than I ever could have looking at man made frames in a hive body. The fascinating life of a bee colony and the peaceful nature of bees that allow them to accept an invasion of their hive to this extent was a great experience. Now these bees can live on. They would have certainly been destroyed if left in the house come demolition time. It feels good to have given them a chance to continue.

We plan to split this hive as it grows now and use them to expand our apiary. It will be interesting to compare this hive to the package bees arriving this week. In making splits this summer I hope for a mix of the gene pool from my package and my survivor bees.

Hope you enjoyed my story.
Keep buzzing along.

Jill Woods
Holland Area Beekeepers Association member