Fire-Ant Catastrophy
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Wood JHH Style Cutout Hive

Wood JHH Style Cutout Hive

A while back a co-worker notified me of a lightning damaged tree that had bees in it. The city had tried to remove the tree by pulling it over, and the top split off down the side, exposing the hive. Needless to say, they scooted out of there pronto. I’m sure they were planning on coming back with some poison later, so this became a rescue operation, as are most cutouts.

I quickly put together a box for this cutout – my first attempt at a JHH type hive, tho in this case I built a shorter 10-frame version specifically for cutouts. Then it was on to the tree. I was assured that the comb was fully exposed in the hollow so I neglected to take an axe or chainsaw. Not that I had any to take – those are tools on my wish-list.

When I got there, it was as described – I could easily see the bees. More than half of the comb had fallen down to the ground and after a week of exposure was pretty much abandoned. But a fair bit of comb remained in the hollow. The bees, tho, were amazingly docile, even with this amount of hive damage, and didn’t give me a problem as I walked up to the tree to inspect it.

Cutout table set up with first bit of comb to tie up

Cutout table set up with first bit of comb to tie up

I quickly set up a little table to work on and arranged my equipment and suited up. It’s time to cut them bees out. This’ll be my first attempt to string up frames – these have top-bars designed after my TBH top-bars so I figured I’d string combs up on them like I string them up to my TBH style top-bars. The results were mixed – I’ll explore other methods on the next cutout with those particular bars.

Photo of split bee-tree a little bit into the cutout.

Photo of split bee-tree a little bit into the cutout.

In any case, I got to work cutting the combs out of the tree. They were all right in the open. Half of the combs had fallen down to the ground when the tree split apart the week before. It’s a storm-kill tree – a snag – so when the city came in to remove it from the right-of-way, it split in half and the city workers suddenly had more to deal with than just a stump of wood. I’m glad they didn’t return right way with pesticides! I really had no idea of just what they planned to do but I wanted to get them bees out of there before they did whatever they planned to do – around here, feral bees are usually poisoned.

Stringing up the comb was a bit harder than my TBH cutouts. First off, the frames were a little awkward to deal with using the same cloth-strip tie-up method. And second off – I was out in full sun on a hot summer day. The comb was softer, and the work-table was also hotter. Made for a bad combination. But, I eventually did get some good comb tied up with much patience.

Close-up of the bees.

Close-up of the bees.

I brushed the remaining bees from the tree into a collection bucket that I emptied into the cutout-hive, and I scraped out the last of the bits of comb from within the cavity so that the bees would have less to attract them back into the tree. I sprayed exposed wood with Pinesol to help destroy the hive scent too. The bees kept clustering in some parts so I suspected that the queen was deeper in hiding. And deeper in was true – there was a pocket in there that I simply could not get into. I could hear the remaining bees inside the cavity humming away and the queen was most certainly in there. I tried for the better part of the afternoon trying to break open that hardwood tree but in the end, just couldn’t manage it. No chainsaw handy, unfortunately – something I plan to rectify for the next tree cutout.

However, most of the bees were in the box. So, I placed the box right next to the tree. Bees were seeming to come and go from it so I was hopeful that the bees would eventually migrate into it thanks to the smell of the brood.

All the bees migrated into the hive overnight.

All the bees migrated into the hive overnight.

The next afternoon I packed up a borrowed chainsaw and drove out to the tree. When I got there, I didn’t see a single bee in the tree. Not a hum when I knocked on the pocket. And bees were coming and going with great regularity from the cutout-hive! Apparently the queen and remaining bees migrated to the hive to set up home! So, I packed up the chainsaw and left – I didn’t want to remove the hive until night-time so I didn’t leave a bunch of foraging bees behind.

That night I returned. As usual, the bees appeared to be tucked away. I gingerly placed a piece of duct-tape over the entrance. No buzz. Not unusual. I placed a towel in the back seat of my car and went and grabbed the hive. And as I was putting the hive in the back seat, I noticed that one hand was covered with fire-ants! Ouch!!! I brushed them off as best as I could and brushed off what I could find on the hive.

When I got back to the apiary, there were still some ants on the hive. I put the hive on the stand and brushed off the ants with a paint-brush. I hoped that since I was home where I’d battled the ants down to a bare minimum, these remaining ants would not be a problem. I removed the duct-tape and went to bed.

The next morning I went out there to inspect the hive. I expected to see a few bees flying around the entrance. But, there was no activity. Not a single bee. I braved looking inside the hive and saw many ants inside and over 100 dead bees near the front of the hive. Bees that apparently had come under a stiff attack from the fire-ants while still at the tree. The colony was gone – absconded. I can only hope that it found a hole in a nearby abandoned building to hive up in. I’ll inspect the area next Spring to see if I can locate them.

But, lesson learned – future cutout hives will rest on a table with it’s feet in cans of water while on location. I will not lose another hive like that again! I was so thrilled that after all that work the queen had moved into the hive. Really made my day. And I was devastated to see that our friendly neighborhood fire-ants reversed that victory. A costly lesson indeed.

Michael Vanecek

I've been keeping bees with no treatments whatsoever for several years. I've followed a basic philosophy of if the bees don't bring it into the hive then it doesn't get put into the hive with good success. After a life-time of naturalism, this was simply the logical course to take with honeybee husbrandry and proof is out there buzzing and making honey right now.

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