Bees, like all of nature are opportunistic. While we keep bees in a box (Langstroth hive) they will live in any sort of empty cavity such as a skep hive, hollow tree, or as we found out – an empty space between the clapboards and insulation of a house.
Bees in houses is not a new problem. When you think about it many houses can be perfect for bees. That space under the eves with a tiny hole gnawed by a squirrel? A perfect bee home. That was what happened at a rental house owned by a family member. The tenants reported the bees flying in and out of a hole made by a woodpecker in the siding. A photo and local pest control company confirmed they were indeed honey bees. My initial reaction was “Cool! oh, um, I mean bad?”. First order of business was to make a plan.
1. Pull clapboards/etc off house.
2. Vaccumm bees out of hole using bee vac.
3. Put comb and brood in a new hive body.
4. Put house back together
5. Take new hive with bees and comb and brood to a new home at our bee yard.
As you can see from the plan it was going to be straight forward, or so we hoped. My Dad came along as chief of construction/deconstruction and Rob and I went as expert beekeepers. As you can tell, the plan required some new equipment (what good plan doesn’t?) so we went and bought and assembled another complete hive body, while my Dad built us a bee vac based on the plans on this website (http://www.keeping-honey-bees.com/Bee-vacuum.html)
In addition to our self-crafted plan we got some great advice from our friends at The Honey Exchange and Backwoods Bee Farm in Maine. Finally if, by chance, you are able to get your hands on this book by Cindy Bee before you find yourself facing down a hive of bees, I would heartily recommend it.
We loaded the car with pretty much everything but the kitchen sink and set out bright and early to the bees.
When we got there we were glad to see the bees were there, true to the photo we received. Next step was access. After talking a bit more to the renters we had brought three layers of scaffolding as well as a ladder to access the bees. Note that many people feel going from the inside is easier in a situation like this, but in this case we felt more comfortable starting from the outside and thus keeping the mess outside.
Our bee vac ready to go on the second level of scaffolding. Basically bees are sucked in the bottom through a shop vac house, then the middle green section is a normal hive body all set up for them to live in. Above the green box is a screen layer so the bees can’t get out and the top box holds the shop vac housing. Not seen here, but important is an opening in the top section to control the strength of suction. You don’t want to suck the bees at full force but rather create a wind that’s juuuussssttt too strong to fly against. This was you have a box of live bees not a box with dead bees splatted on the back.
Amazingly the whole thing went pretty much to plan. Step 1 : remove the outer house wall:
Before actually removing clapboards we vacuumed the bees that were on the outside. This both decreased the number of bees to deal with during deconstruction as well as reassured us that just because we found the plans on the internet and had never used it didn’t mean our bee vac wouldn’t work (which was good because plan 2, without a bee vac was pretty much to grab as many bees as possible and run)
When deconstructing something you never quite know what you’ll see…. except if you happen to have the guy who built the house on the scaffolding with you. We knew there was 1″ foam behind the clapboards and took it off in a big square chunk around the hive entrance.
Low and behold, what was behind the wall but a whole bee hive! Pretty cool. The pink stuff at the botttom is insulation, which *used* to be in the whole wall before some squirrel deicded this would be a good place to live. The squirrel was long since gone but the bees sure did appreciate the hole he left behind!
On to step 2: Vaccuum the bees off the comb. Note that even bee vacs can have swanky attachements – we found the precision pointy end was useful for sucking bees out of corners.
Vacuuming bees is a bit slower than vacuuming say, a carpet. You have to be careful not to suck too hard so you go slow and methodical. You don’t want to hear the bees hitting the sides of the tube. Here we had the stiff extender piece on the vac so you could hold it at a distance.
A view of the hive after the initial bees had been removed. Note there are still plenty of bees, but check out that comb! Beautiful! While the residents told us the bees appeared last week we are pretty sure they have been living there since early spring swarm season. We think it just got hot enough so that the bees went outside the entrance and cool off and were noticed last week. It was about 90 degrees while we were doing this, and wearing long sleeves and pants was pretty much brutally hot.
In a hive body we have, we put the combs close together. Apparently we really are mimicing nature because these bees could have gone any direction but had made nice rows of comb. You can see some brood on these frames.
Now step 3: Put brood and comb and bees in new hive body. Each comb was carefully cut out, and then the remaining bees were vacuumed off it. Then it was put into a bucket and lowered down the scaffolding to me. I took and empty frame and a bunch of rubber bands and jury rigged the comb into the frames. If all goes well when we return to check this hive in the future they will have built the comb into the frames and cut the rubber bands. A pretty neat trick!
After we finished cutting out the comb and vacuuming the bees we had one box with all the bees in the middle of the bee vac and another box with all their comb. We combined the two. This was a bit of a tricky manuver as we had to pull the screen off the bee vac box and put the comb box ontop and then put the screen back on top – all while loosing as few bees as possible. Here’s the hive assembeled and ready to go. We left the bee vac box on the bottom as there was a TON of bees in there and there was no reason to move them.
Now on to step 4: put house back together. We scraped all the comb out of the space in the house and then filled it with insulation and repalced the 1″ foam. We then caulked the whole foam area closed to keep any bee out. Remember bees navigate by smell so while the hive was no longer there, it sure smelled good to any bee that might fly by!
Here’s the house almost all put back together. It looked really good! Now on to step 5: get the bees to there new home. Believe it or not the bees are in that truck right in the middle of the scaffolding – it was quite a load and quite a day!
We set up a bottom board for them and just let the bees crawl out of the vac bottom box and into their new hive.
What an adventure!