I got a honeybee colony removal-gig referred to me by the guys at work – a home-owner had bees in her eave and really wanted them out. As it turns out, she also has a bee-tree that she wants to remove (tree and all), but that’s a post for another day.
The colony in the eave was occupying a guest house that the home-owner’s mother is now living in and the bees were extra lively, making the homeowner a bit nervous. This was a taller eave – up near the top of the gable on the end of the building, perhaps 12′ high. And it was a fairly new colony. She didn’t see any activity last winter, and noticed them when she returned this Spring. So it’s a first-year colony, perhaps only a month old. Which is good – not as much honey to muck things up, but also can be a pain – the new comb will be very soft and extra care will be needed in handling.
We settled on a weekend to perform the cut-out and the homeowner graciously rented a scaffold for me. I really do need to get a scaffold of my own – that was a very handy tool indeed. I had intended to use the large wooden crate that my Mann Lake extractor came in, reinforced a bit and sitting in the bed of my pickup-truck, but her solution was ultimately more practical for that location. She had a fence that would have needed removing to access the area with my truck.
Saturday started off unusually cool. Since I wanted to avoid chilling the brood-comb any more than necessary, I waited until a bit after lunch to perform the cut-out. Ideally, I want the colony to pretty much pick up from where it left off, and having to discard hundreds to thousands of brood because they got chilled would definitely set the colony back. Fortunately, it warmed up a bit – enough I think to ensure the brood was safe.
As usual, I loaded up my truck with way more than I needed. There are always unforeseen variables in a cut-out and you just never know if you’re going to need something. This time around I remembered my water spray-bottle – forgotten on the last cut-out. It’s handy to have to reduce flying when the bees are being swept into the bucket and dumped into the waiting hive. Of course, I brought my implements of demolition too – what would a cut-out be without a couple of crow-bars?
I wanted to try something new this time and brought along an empty hive-body with me in addition to the receiving hive. I’ve seen some packages installed by placing an empty on top of a framed hive-body and pouring the bees into that, with the empty helping contain the bees while they go down into the hive. This can be covered with the inner cover for a few minutes while the bees settle in. So, I figured that would work as well when I started dumping bees into the receiving hive too. Just about every cut-out I do becomes an experiment of one sort or another – I’m still quite the student of bees and beekeeping and there’s always something neat and new to learn.
When I arrived at the location the bottom part of the scaffold was already assembled. The bees were lively as ever but fairly docile. I decided that we’d need one more level put onto the scaffold to allow me to adequately reach the cavity. With help from the homeowner, we popped on the next level, bumping the side of the house while doing so. A couple of bees came down to investigate and we both got tagged. Sigh. Well, life of a beekeeper…
After getting the scaffold up, I suited up and got the smoker going. This I put on the scaffold to infuse the air around the hive with the scent of smoke. It was perhaps 7′ below the hive, but just enough that the hive would start getting ready by sucking up honey. This tends to calm them too and the smoke hides the alert scent. While the smoker did it’s work, I got busy putting everything in its place – mise en place. This included preparing the empty brood-box and placing six 3.5″ rubber-bands on the receiving frames. I positioned the scaffold platform so that I just had to bend over a little to access the soffit. The top of the second level of the scaffold supported a 2×6 that made a perfect work-bench for me. I placed the hive-body on one end of the platform and my various tools on the other and got busy removing the soffit.
Very fortunately, the soffit came out easily. The nails just pulled out without a lot of prying. The last job I had done was a bear to get out so this was a big relief. Once removed there tucked up into the rafters was a beautiful colony on fresh comb. It was only a month old perhaps, but it already had eleven combs, nine of which were fully drawn to fill the cavity. Very straight and very clean. This was definitely going to be a good cut-out. The only real challenge was that the fresh comb was going to be very delicate and I was wearing my leather gloves this time rather than the latex gloves I tried last cut-out. But everything was in reach and right in front of me.
I grabbed a frame from the receiving hive and placed it on the 2×6 that served as my work-bench. Then I puffed just a little smoke on the end comb to clear the bees away. With my fancy paint scraper – which I had sharpened the night before – I carefully excised the comb from the ceiling, making as flush and straight a cut as possible. This comb was primarily nectar at top surrounded by a ring of pollen and around the edges there were empty cells containing eggs. It was smaller than the rest. This I placed on the wires of my wired frame. Since it was smaller, I had room next to it to place the opposite end-comb, so I went ahead and cut that one out too. With eleven combs, this meant all ten of my frames will be occupied with comb. I placed these two end-combs side-by-side close to the top. I didn’t press it into the wires – the bees will cement them to the wires on their own and I’ll probably rotate this comb out as the bees make new comb. Once positioned, I carefully worked the rubber bands over them to secure them in the frame and this I put in the receiving box. I grabbed the next empty frame and repeated the same on the next comb – smoking away the bees, cutting the comb, laying it on the wired frame, and positioning the rubber bands over it before putting it into the box.
It actually proceeded very quickly and in very short order I was down to the last comb. I like cut-outs that are as quick and smooth as that. And virtually no scrap comb! By now the bees were heavily clustered on the last comb so I decided to leave it be for a bit and prepared to start collecting the bees themselves. I grabbed the empty hive-body and placed that on top of the receiving hive. It formed a sort of funnel that would help contain the bees as I dumped them on top of the frames. On top of that I placed an inner cover that had screen stapled to the escape. If the bees were going to exit the hive, I wanted them to have to crawl down the tied up comb first – which will motivate them to start identifying this new cavity as their home. That way I would retain more bees, with less flying back up to the original cavity.
I grabbed my water mister and misted the cluster carefully, taking great pains to avoid misting the comb itself. Then with my bee-brush I brushed the cluster off into my square bucket, almost like brushing a swarm off. Quick flicks so the bees are not dragged and agitated. Then I quickly removed the inner cover and dumped the bees on top of the frames of the receiving hive. After that, I placed the inner cover back on top of the box. I misted the remaining cluster a bit more and flicked more of it off into the bucket and repeated the dumping. Just a few times and virtually all of the cluster was now within the receiving hive.
Now that the last comb was exposed, I cut it out and placed it on the frame and secured it with the rubber bands. Before putting it in the receiving hive, I lifted off the inner cover, flipped it on it’s edge and knocked it down sharply onto the hive to remove the bees clinging to it. Then I set it aside. I repeated that with the empty box, jarring it to knock the clinging bees down into the receiving hive-body. Most had already gone down onto the combs but there were enough clinging onto the insides of the empty that I wanted to clear it first before setting it aside. I put the last frame into the receiving hive-body and then put the inner cover on top of the hive and that was that.
There were still bees clustering in the cavity so I periodically misted them, flicked them into the bucket and dumped them at the entrance of the hive. Most of them entered the new hive immediately – a good indicator that the queen was in there and that the scent of the brood was making that smell like home to them. I couldn’t get all of the bees that were clustering as many were hiding behind the corrugated tin cladding of the building. However I got it down to just an estimated few hundred bees. I’d let them cluster then I’d wrap the tin with the butt of my bee-brush to encourage them to come out and then I’d mist those and sweep them into the bucket and dump those in front of the receiving hive.
Before long, enough was enough. I was concerned that the queen may have sequestered herself behind the tin because I didn’t see as much fanning on the hive entrance as I’m accustomed to, however I knew there were eggs and that 95% of the bees were now in the new hive-body, so queen or no, I had a new colony – they’d make a new queen if I missed her. Nevertheless, I loath leaving lots of bees behind and have seen bees move the queen into a new hive before, so just in case, I decided to leave the hive there overnight. Of course, it’s often not 100% – some bees just don’t get the message. However, every forager I get to take with me is a forager that can feed my bees.
The “work-bench” 2×6 was actually the perfect height to bring the new hive very close to the level of the old cavity. So I put the telescoping cover on the hive, and put a ratcheting strap around the hive to secure it together. Then I carefully lifted it up and placed it on top of the 2×6. I grabbed another 2×6 to make it more stable and then carefully slid them over until the hive was right underneath the eave. Then I sat and watched the bees for an hour or so, observing traffic going into the hive fairly consistently. Returning foragers are no doubt going to be confused, but with the smell of the new hive so close, and with their sisters going in and out, I was certain I’d mop up most of the stragglers. With that thought, I packed up and went home.
Sunday evening I went back out to the hive. It had been cloudy all day but got sunny just as I arrived. I stood on the ground observing the hive for about an hour, noting that most of the traffic was going into the new hive itself. There were still bees going up into the old cavity but not as many. As the evening rush started to wane and the bees started settling in, I got suited up and grabbed my Moving Screen and some duct tape. Very carefully I climbed up the scaffold, trying hard not to jostle the hive and produce more flying bees. They’d almost settled in for the night, even though it wasn’t particularly dark yet. When I got up there I observed a much smaller cluster of bees behind the tin. Way too few to mess with – likely the older foragers who were too stubborn to adopt their new home. They will have to be left behind. Activity in the entrance of the new hive was now very low so I put the screen over the entrance and duct-taped it on. A few bees came out and crawled on the screen, but none crawled out the entrance holes. Pretty nifty device.
With that, I carefully lowered the hive down to the scaffold platform and then climbed down to the ground and grabbed the hive and carried it to the truck. Then I dismantled the scaffold and put that against the home-owner’s barn. That pretty much marked the end of the cutout. The remaining bees didn’t budge and there were none flying around that I could tell so I removed my suit and continued wrapping things up and departed the premises. I was a little worried that perhaps all the bees had abandoned the new hive and gone into the wall underneath the tin – the low activity behind the screen made me a bit nervous. However as I drove and the wind was blowing on the entrance, I noticed a lot of bees coming out and crawling around under the screen. That made me feel better.
I got back to the bee-yard with just enough light to see what I was doing. A first for me – usually I move bees when it is pitch black with duct-taped entrances. That screen really made a big difference. Once I parked the truck beside the bee-yard I carefully carried the hive to it’s final position and put it down. With a lot of bees crawling on the screen I was reticent to remove it right away – they were in a new location, the sun was going down and I was certain they’d get lost. Maybe not, but I didn’t want to risk it.
I grabbed my water-mister and misted the bees on the screen. That told them that it was raining and in short order their numbers went way down as many started crawling back into the hive. After waiting a bit, the buzzing in the hive calmed down and most of the bees went back inside. I carefully removed the duct-tape and took the screen off. A few bees were crawling around – these I shook off onto the landing-board. With the screen set aside and out of the way I put the entrance reducer on. I suspect my strongest hive may have been robbing the hives enough to make them struggle, so this entrance reducer would help a lot, producing less entrance for the guards to defend and reducing the robbing opportunities. In front of that, I placed a twig of leaves that the bees would have to go around to fly off. This would prompt the bees to re-orient themselves to the hive so I’d have less drift into the other hives.
The next day, the bees are foraging and are very active in their new home. I’ll go into the hive in a week or so to inspect for comb development, locate the queen or queen-cells. I expect them to fill out the frames pretty rapidly because we’re in the middle of a pretty decent nectar flow right now and I hope to grow this hive into at least two hive-bodies before winter. The homeowner reported a handful of bees flying around at the old location – those stragglers will eventually die and that will be the end of bees in that old cavity. After a few days, the homeowner will put the soffit back up and seal it in better against future colonization.
Here is a video that the property owner shot of part of the cut-out: