Removing a Honeybee Colony from an Old House

by Pete Sieling

The bees lived in the house of an 87 year old woman. The daughter lived next door. A grandson had a bachelor pad in the old mud room*. There were some problems with grandma, ampoule hard of hearing, prescription turning up the volume on her big-screen TV and interfering with Rick watching his big-screen TV.

The house was built by the husband who had been dead for around 10 years. He built it to his own specifications and it bore no resemblance to regular building codes. The studs were mostly three feet apart. The inside was like a maze.

The temperature was over 90 degrees outside and the uninsulated upstairs was also 90 degrees in the closet where I had to work. In the three hours I was there, pilule I drank about 2 lbs of liquids and still came home 5 lbs lighter. I sweat almost 1 gallon and by the time I got home, I had heat stroke symptoms.

I located the bees and started cutting a hole with an oscillating tool. The bees were aggressive so I started vacuuming them at once rather than opening the whole nest. The colony had swarmed 2 days before so there were less bees and lots of queen cells which I tried to save. I also found two queen cells which had hatched. The tip of the cell had been chewed and the tip had swung open like the hatch on a submarine, only facing downward.

When I had vacuumed all the bees I could into the bee-vac, I finished up the stragglers with the shop-vac. That kills them almost immediately. But the time I was done there were only a few bees wandering around. It was late in the afternoon and as I was packing my tools, I looked up and was surprised to see hundreds of bees returning to the now empty hive. It looked like a regular cloud. Worker bees come and go all day and I couldn’t imagine where these had been during the entire removal process. Then one buzzed past my head and I realized that they didn’t fly like regular honey bees. They were, in fact, drones who had been out all day in the drone congregation area waiting for queens.

I told the grandson to spray them with soapy water when they clustered inside the cavity after dark.

At home the next day, I trimmed what comb I could to fit in frames and rubber banded them in place. At least one hatched but a week later she and the few bees that were with her disappeared. I put most of the bees into a separate colony, thinking I must have vacuumed up one or two virgin queens (there were those two opened cells), but to date they are filling the box with honey and there is no sign of stored pollen, eggs, or brood. If the one queen I did find had stayed, I would have caged her and put her in that hive. I just wanted to make sure they didn’t have a queen.

The brood and queen cell loss was unacceptable. Between the last two colony extractions, I lost several hundred dollars worth of queen cells and thousands of worker bees. Warm brood comb bends, twists, and buckles when placed in boxes or buckets. Workers can’t tend to them and the temperature is uncontrollable. By the next morning, the few bees left in the boxes have abandoned most of the comb. As a result, I made for the next extraction, a box in which I can slide the combs in upright, brush a few workers in after and save most of the brood. A standard brood box with adjustable guides can be made in a few minutes. Instead of laboriously cutting and fastening combs into frames, this box can be placed under an empty hive. You either wait for the bees to move up into the new box, or you drive them up after the brood has hatched. The full plans will be printed in Bee Culture, probably in the September issue.

*Old farm houses often have a room attached, usually with a dirt floor where the farmer removes manure covered clothes before entering the house. It’s used to store firewood, tools, and other items that are now stored in a garage.

This entry was posted in Business of Beekeeping, Peter Sieling, Regional Beekeeping, Upstate NY Beekeeping. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Removing a Honeybee Colony from an Old House

  1. John says:

    So what happened? Did the bees end up coming back?

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