Hive Rescue

May 27, 2017
Written by Kyle Maio

 

Making the Mark

A week or so ago, Dr. Vincent Aloyo asked me if I would like the opportunity to get stung and learn a thing or two. He told me that a former student (Morgan) of his, and I would be helping to remove a colony of honey bees from an old house that a current student of his, Natalie, lived next to. I immediately jumped at the chance to assist. Working with Vince is not only extremely educational, but it's also a hilariously fun. 

I arrive at the site around 9:30 am. The bees are buzzing around furiously, the smoker is just getting started, and it looks like everyone is gearing up and ready to roll. I park my car, take a final gulp of my water, finish my coffee, and start to walk on over.  I suit up by putting on my veil, jacket, and dishwashing gloves. I made sure I rolled the sleeves over the gloves and tucking my pants into my socks. From what I heard, this hive was well-established and had overwintered (meaning it has survived the winter).  For us, this meant that there were tens of thousands of bees in there, and those little buggers will crawl everywhere, hence the full suit.

 

Breaking in

The hive was located in the front of a two-story building that was built in the 1800’s. From what we gathered, since the bees' entrance was around the top of the door, the hive was located in the cavity of between the window and door. To get in there, we had to cut.  So, I took a circular saw and started with a lower horizontal cut by the bottom of the window and then up about four feet on the side of the door.  After I pulled the circular saw away, all I could taste was saw dust and all I could smell the comb and honey. As I backed off, Vince began prying the siding away exposing the lower portion of the hive. 

Now, when exposing a hive and relocating it you don’t want to just throw away all the comb the bees made; they’ve worked hard on drawing comb so don’t waste it. Instead, you cut the brood-comb free from the hive, fit it to size in an empty Langstroth frame, and secure it in place with string. Doing this also helps draw the thousands of nurse bees away from the existing hive and into the new hive as their job is to nurse the brood.

It was like an assembly line cutting and tying comb in place with dish gloves. It is about as difficult as it sounds. Nectar was dripping everywhere; it was a hot sticky mess.  After securing the comb with brood and setting aside the honey combs for what seemed like an hour, we filled an entire deep super. Now, it was time to find the gold...

 

Looking for GOLD and the Queen

Bees keep their honey at the top of their hive, so this means we needed to go higher. We were handed a ladder and up I went for another horizontal slice at the top of the door frame across the top of the window.  Vince climbed up the ladder and began to pry the frames about and cutting combs again. We had gone up about 7 or 8 feet and we have appeared to reach the top of the hive. And let me tell ya, we hit the jackpot: all honey. As Vince cut away the comb, we placed them in the frames on the edges of the brood chamber in the new hive so the worker bees could use for their nursing activities.  

Since we had removed all the brood from the hive the majority of the nurse bees had gone with it, we mostly had forager bees left and of course, the queen.  We want to find the queen because she can, through her pheromones, help get all the bees in the new hive.  To find her, Vince began brushing the forager bees onto a piece of cardboard and passing them down the ladder to be shaken into the new hive. We rotated this duty for quite a while and were beginning to lose hope.  I was convinced that there was still more hive to be uncovered, so we cut down to the grass. Nothing. Then I got back on the ladder and started to pry off the external molding of the door frame and another flood of bees rushed out! It was back to brushing and dumping the ladies into the new hive and searching for our queen.

I took a break and walked up to my car to take off my bee jacket and veil, I was soaked. I quickly inhaled half of my Wawa hoagie and heard a resounding cheer from the front of the property. What happened? Natalie’s father replied they found the queen! I quickly threw on my soaked gear and hustled back down to the property. Morgan had the queen cage in her hand but, the queen wasn’t in it.  They tried to capture her but she quickly retreated back into the depths of the old house. 

 

Making our Exit

After losing track of the queen, we brushed and shook bees for a little while longer before calling it quits. As we cleaned up, Vince laid out the plan to attract the rest of the hive into the new one. Natalie was instructed to swing by his place and pick up some queen pheromones (the scent the queen gives off). We would put this on the new hive and it should attract the rest of the bees to their new home.  In their new hive and there were enough eggs for them to rear a new queen.  This new hive would then become Natalie's own backyard hive. 

Overall, this was an extremely exciting venture and I honestly can’t wait to get another call to wrangle another gang of bees. It was so much fun and one hell of a learning experience. Tired and soaked, Vince treated Morgan and me to pizza down the road and we parted ways. This whole beekeeping thing is going a lot faster than I expected. But, here I am, busy, working with bees and quickly seeing the results of my hard work - how could I want anything else?

Keep it buzzed,

Kyle