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The Cake is a Lie

February 2010

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The Cake is a Lie

Hive Removal Adventures, Part I

I haven't been a very good bee mommy.  This is my first year attempting to keep bees, and I have so much else going on.  I tried to establish four swarms and a package (five hives total), but two failed before they could get strong, and the others appear to have suffered from robbing.  (They have little or no honey stores!)  I blame myself for not taking better care to finish their roofs properly and close their back doors.  

I have, however, gained quite a bit of experience in bee wrangling, between catching swarms and being convinced by my bro-in-law, Scott (who is even more insane than I am) to begin removing established hives from the walls of people's homes.  So first let me tell the tale of our second beehive removal, of which I actually have photo evidence!    This happened in the tail end of August.

Here is me getting in my gear:

Here is the ingenious bee vac that Scott built:

The entry to the hive was in the wall of an abandoned house:

Here Scott has cut away the area beneath the hive opening between two studs with a circular saw.  Lots of bees, lots of brood comb.  Not seeing much honey... yet.  Which one am I?  I'm the cute one wielding the vacuum.  ;)

Closeup of the same pic so you can see how many bees are covering the comb:

You can see in this picture how well the vacuum has sucked the bees away:

The first section was all brood comb, lots of eggs, larva, and pupa with just a little honey and pollen to directly feed them.  But this huge, well-established colony had completely filled the space between these studs and spread to the space on either side for their honey storage. 

Below, you can see the honey storage on the right.  Note how much lighter the color is on the honey comb, especially when capped over with wax (the uncapped areas are slightly darker--the honey there still has to dry more before it is ready for Egyptian-tomb longevity).  Brood comb always gets dark, maybe from bee poop?  I dunno.  Bees are very fastidious, but maybe you just can't get it all out of the wax.

Hey, does this beesuit make my butt look big?

Fabubulous shot of the sheets of honeycomb! 

Below, the brood comb has been cut out and put into frames.  After probing on the far left, we see that we've reached the end of the hive.

Unfortunately, we were inexperienced and unprepared to handle a hive of this size out in the open.  The first extraction we did was from inside an enclosed barn, so the smell of the exposed hive couldn't attract the attention of every hive for miles around.  Also, it was smaller, and Scott had enough frames to fit the comb on.  This time, Scott filled up all the frames he had and then had to assemble more before he could put the comb away.  This was extremely time consuming. 

I had nothing to do with my hands but vacuum bees.  The bees just seemed to keep coming!  We later realized this was because--like blood to sharks--this torn open hive was calling to every bee for miles around.  The air was full of them, and passers-by on the street looked into our alley, and hustled away!  I was sucking up far more than just this hive's bees.  It didn't help that we took too long before beginning to cut and fit the comb at all, acting like we had all the time in the world.  Silly us!  We should have treated it like sensitive open heart surgery--get in, get out, get gone.

I just stood there vacuuming bees off the honeycomb, aware that most of them were "enemy bees" robbing this hive we'd ravished.  I watched many an epic battle as bee grappled bee in vicious attempts to sting, tumbling off the comb to the ground unable to fly.  I couldn't believe how many bees were going in the vacuum, bee after bee after bee.  Maybe a hundred thousand or more.  No joke.  (A hive can easily contain tens of thousands.)  I wondered if I should stop, if maybe this was just too many bees in the vac.  But I couldn't stop--I was defending the honey!   

I idly pulled off a bit of comb and accidentally squashed an unseen bee which stung my finger through the nitrile glove.  That was my one sting of the day, and while the burning faded nicely after a few moments, it itched like the dickens for days afterwards. 

On a side note, being stung doesn't hardly hurt at all.  It's the burning, itching aftermath that is such a bear.  The only other time I've been stung was my second attempt to catch a swarm--the one laying all over the middle of a country dirt road where a car had driven through the middle and crushed the queen.  Those were angry, chaotic bees!  Repeatedly during this hive extraction, bees wandered into my veil from underneath.  I'd just calmly walk away, take off the veil, and shake it out.  No biggie.  :)

By the time we got around to cutting the honey comb, something neither of us had really handled before, we found that our intentions of fitting it in frames was ludicrous.  The stuff was thick and soft and just fell to pieces in our hands.  Don't forget sticky!  Honey was dripping everywhere.  Both of our oldest sons were there as extra hands (and camera-men).  We sent them on an errand to beg clean plastic bags from someone, as we had absolutely nothing to store this sticky, drippy mess in. 

So there I was holding the bag, Scott would remove a handful of comb and try to vacuum the bees off.  The honey was everywhere and the bees were just glued in.  Eventually, we gave up trying to be thourough and were just throwing it into the bag bees and all.  Honey is very, VERY heavy.  The bees were in the bag, around the bag, on me, and it was at this point that I nearly snapped.  I thought, "This is insane!  I can't believe I am doing this!"  And there was Scott, just as cool as a cucumber, holding the course.  I think after that experience, very little about beehandling could freak me out.  

The boys, however, were quite freaked out.  The honey and equipment we were putting in the car attracted the greedy hoards.  Scott drove the van a ways off, but it wasn't long before the bees were there too.  We had to move it a couple times before the boys would actually get in! 

Alas, when we got the bees to Scott's house, he dumped out the box of bees (which had been packed full!) to find most of them quite dead--or nearly so.  This was a crushing blow, as we'd driven a long way, taken many hours, worked hard, and made their family late for their plans for the afternoon.  He really wanted those bees!  But at least he had the honey, which he needed to feed another fledgling hive. 

We split the honey between us, crushing the comb and straining it to get the honey out.  A lot of it wasn't capped, so this honey is thinner than honey should be, possibly prone to fermentation.  (Think mead!)  I haven't gotten around to it yet, but I think I will feed it to my poor, almost honeyless hives myself.  Maybe some of them will actually survive the winter.  :sigh:

More Hive Removal Adventures in Part II....