Bees with pollen at their hive entrance

Scenes from a Bee Removal

It was a beautiful day for a bee removal, Reader. And because it’s been an long and vicious winter since our last one, I thought it might perk you up to see our happy team at work together on a roof.

Two years ago, the homeowners who hired us watched as a swarm of honeybees moved into their roof through this gap. But because the hive is on the second floor, the bees weren’t a problem until the homeowners built a two-tiered deck. Now the family wants to utilize their second-story deck, and the bees make it difficult for them to relax there.

Bees enter their hive beneath the roof

Terry Evans—who works for Jerry Hof, our brilliant contractor—removed the shingles, the siding, and the chipboard in order to access the hive. Terry worked methodically and thoughtfully to expose the hive without destroying the existing structure. His careful work paid off once the bees were gone and it was time to replace all the parts…the reconstruction took much less time than the deconstruction, and now the space looks as if neither we nor the bees were ever there.

Good teamwork makes the day bright

We flipped the chipboard with much of the empty comb still attached. The comb heavy with honey and brood and bees, however, collapsed into the soft insulation.

You know, Reader, I have to tell you how much I love working with Nicola Mason. She will scamper onto a roof or shinny up the scaffolding. She will dig her arms deep into dark and mysterious bee- and honey-filled cavities. And she does it with such glee and energy that she fills me with glee and energy, too. She is a giver of enthusiasm.

Nicola Mason reveals the hive

Once we’ve exposed the hive and accessed the comb and bees, we begin removing one comb at a time. We determine where each comb should go in its new hive…and we also always always keep a sharp eye out for the queen.

Liz Tilton assess each comb to determine its place in the new hive box

It’s not easy to spot the queen in the chaos of a bee removal, Reader, but we’ve become rather adept at it. On this job, Nicola took responsibility for cutting and removing the bee-laden comb from its original location. After a while, she quietly and matter-of-factly said simply, “I see her.” Then she calmly removed her queen clip from the pocket of her shirt and collected the queen in it.

Capturing the queen guarantees the removal’s success because all the other bees will follow the queen’s pheromones…there is no more chaos or indecision. Wherever she goes, they go.

Shouts of joy were heard throughout the neighborhood

We catch the queen in this clip (which keeps her from flying away) and then attache the clip to a bar with rubber bands. This way, the worker bees will go into the hive where we place the queen.

The queen clip keeps the queen from flying away

You know, sometimes you simply have to stop and look around and wonder how you got to be so lucky—lucky to be high up on scaffolding on a beautiful day with nice people and a hive of honeybees. Especially after you’ve got the queen, and all is well.

Stopping to enjoy the moment

Some bees are reluctant to go into the box…once the queen’s in there, they’ll eventually find their way to her, but we can’t always just sit around and wait for that to happen. Which is why it’s good to have a bee vac on hand. We vacuumed the reluctant bees and reunited them with their sisters when they reached their permanent home.

We vacuumed the last of the bees

Once we vacuumed the stragglers and sprayed the area with bee repellant, we closed the hive and lowered it to the ground for transport to its permanent home.

Steady, boys. Steady.

And after a nice drive in the bed of a gorgeous pickup truck, the Alexandria hive reached her permanent home. The bees are now busy exploring their new neighborhood.

Bees happy at home

 

 

 

 

Ya Do What Ya Gotta Do

Just when I posted that this is a difficult time of year for removing bees from a structure, I get a call from a guy doing a renovation project on a historic home in Kentucky. They’ve got a huge, 15-year-old hive in the ceiling of the old porch, and they’re ready to tear into it now…they can’t hold the entire project off until spring.

There’s already a lift on site. And there are contractors waiting to take the porch apart and put it back together again. And the homeowner has volunteered to be my assistant.

So, I guess I’ll do it. If I don’t agree to remove these bees, they’ll have no choice but to open the cavity and exterminate them. And then we’ll lose all the honey and the comb as well. So, I told the guy I’d do it.

Perhaps I can add the bees to one of my existing hives and see if they’ll live through the winter. I’ll save the comb I collect from the removal and use it in a new hive next spring.

I’ve assessed the situation, and I’ve answered, “Yes.” Which is my new motto (except when I answer, “No”…which often results in just as much fun as “Yes”).

A Space Is Prepared, and the Bees Fill It

We spent much of the weekend on our farm in Waco, Kentucky. Now that Deb owns the farm outright, we feel we can begin making a few slight changes in the way things work down there. For instance, I think we’re gonna ask all the relatives to come and get whatever they want from the old farmhouse and the shed and the barn; whatever’s left that we don’t want will go up in flames in a bonfire the likes of which Madison County hasn’t seen in a long long time. Keep your eyes on the sky the day following Labor Day.

Why clear all that stuff from the house, the shed, the barn? Sometimes you just need to make some room. Creativity requires room. How can new things come to you, Reader, if there’s no space in which to hold it?

So, Brent (the guy who leases the farm to run some cattle) has recently changed his life. He’s made room in it for new things, and he’s ready to keep bees. We’re thinking of starting about 10 hives down there next spring. The farm is a 2-hour drive from here, and because we get down there only about once a month, it’s important to have someone keeping an eye on the bees…and Brent seems perfectly delighted at that prospect. He’s decided on a spot against a fence for the hives. He’s planning to seed a field in clover. For whatever reason, a reason I have no need to understand, Brent needs bees. Just as I did.

You know, Reader, I find it quite fascinating that some people—people such as Brent and me (and perhaps even you)—become ready. I don’t know how to describe it, but I can spot it right away. A light appears in the eye. A space is held open in the body for it. Other people make polite conversation, but those who are ready cannot be satisfied with small talk. Might as well go ahead and buy those people a smoker of their own.

 

Deb (in muck boots) hauls a sheet of barn roofing through the field

A Sucker for Ugly

My aesthetics are evolving. You know, when I first told Deb I wanted to keep bees, she wasn’t thrilled. Why? She didn’t want to see a line of towering white boxes on the hill in our yard. And I get that. I don’t like the white boxes either, so I painted my boxes a few different colors. I’ve settled on a couple of colors that I like, and now I paint all my boxes some variation of those. (Every now and then, I throw in a shade of blue that I’m not crazy about because Deb likes it. Gotta do it.)

However, I’ve started to like the way the Langstroth hives look unpainted. I like the way they weather…especially if the boxes are jointed together…because the joints weather a different shade than the flat parts.

All of this to say that since I first learned of top-bar hives (TBH), I’ve been drawn to the ugly ones. The ugliest ones. The very ugliest ones. None of those pretty hives for me.

Right now, I’m still buying some lumber, and I’m still using power tools. But TBHs are awesome because they can be built without power tools, and I’m working my way there. I think I’ll like the looks of the hives once I go completely powertool-less (I had to make up the punctuation of that last word…no dictionary recognizes what I’m trying to accomplish with it).

This most recent hive was constructed of cedar fencing. The roof is a piece of barn roofing that flew off our Kentucky barn. When we get back to the farm, I’m gonna scavenge the barn (which is falling down) for old siding and use it to build the next TBH iteration.

They may kick me out of my nice neighborhood for getting so ugly.

Deb (in muck boots) hauls a sheet of barn roofing through the field
Top-bar hive with barn roofing
And here's the top-bar hive with its reclaimed roof