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The Incredible Honey Bee…A Hive Removal
As helpful as honeybees are to our way of life, occasionally they become a nuisance. Generally the problem occurs when a queen and her followers take up residence in someone else’s residence or business. The conversation generally starts with the owner stating that they are finding dead honey bees in their building. Most of the time the building in question is a house, though I have seen and removed hives from block buildings to sheds to RV campers. The camper one that I removed was the only carpeted hive that I have dealt with. The bees set up shop in the compartment that housed the power cord to the RV in the master bedroom. They were living in style.
Step One - The Interview
There are a few questions that I will ask the caller. Are you sure they are honeybees? I have been told “Yes” only to find out when I get there that the pests are yellow jackets. How do you know that they are honey bees? Evidence of honey dripping down a wall is a good sign. Just because they may “look like one” is not concrete proof. There are several bees, wasps, and hornets that could pass for honey bees to the unaware. I ask the caller about the type of house they are in. Typically, honey bees will be in an exterior wall though I have removed them from the spacing between floors, however, they were still towards the outside wall. If someone tells me they are in the attic or in the basement or under the house, I am somewhat skeptical. Again, I found one hive that really was under a house.
Step Two - Examine the Hive
When satisfied that I may indeed have an active bee hive I will arrange for a free estimate. Yes, I do charge to remove honey bees. Some think that the honey and the bees that I retrieve should be payment enough. However, I am not the one with the bee problem. I am the one with the knowledge and the bee equipment and the price of the honey, the beeswax and what bees I save does not offset the cost of my time. That’s just business. Also, I guarantee my work. That is, I guarantee the bees will not be back with in the year or I will come remove the new bees for free.
Step Three - Plan of Attack
So we have an active honey bee hive. What now? After assessing the situation I decide how to remove either the interior or exterior wall facing to access the hive. The set-up is based on the tools that I need which can range from a bucket truck to scaffold to ladder. I estimate the time it will take to remove the hive and how many helpers I will need (have to pay them). I will give a basic estimate to the home owner of the cost of removal and repair of the structure. The estimate will usually run from the lowest cost to the highest. After all, we really do not know what we have until we remove the wall facing and then it’s too late to negotiate with thousands of bees buzzing around.
Step Four - The Extraction
Once we don our protective gear we will force smoke into the hive. This does two things: one it will dull the bees’ senses and it will fool the bees into thinking there is a fire. The dulling of the senses makes it harder for the bees to find you. When one does and decides to sting she will mark you so the others can find you too. With dulled senses it is harder for them to locate. The second, the bees thinking there is a fire will force them to the honey stores, where they will gorge themselves in case the colony must evacuate. This way they will have honey to start another hive.
With a special bee vacuum I remove as many bees as possible into a holding cage by sucking them up. This cage is designed to hold the bees without hurting them. However, as you may guess not everyone makes the rough trip into the cage without damage, especially the fragile queen. She rarely can handle the abuse, but the workers will do well.
With a scraper the honeycomb is removed and placed in a bucket or pan. The bees were sucked off the comb before the comb is placed in the bucket. The comb is separated into two buckets or pans. One pan will hold predominantly honeycomb and the other will hold brood (ones with eggs) and pollen. I don’t want to mix these up since I am trying to save the honey as well. Both sets of comb will be put into a freezer. This will kill pests (small hive beetles and such) any other honey bees. This is quick and painless to the bees.
Once all the comb and the majority of the bees have been removed it is time to clean up and seal the wall back. The cavity is dusted with a slow acting poison and the remaining bees are sprayed with pesticide. As much as I would love to save every bee, it is not practical to do so. Some will have to be killed. However, the majority will be taken alive.
Depending on the size of the hive and location, the decision may be to let it “air out” before sealing it back up. When the hive is ready to be sealed, whatever facing that was removed will be put back in place. All entrances to the former hive will be sealed and the finish will generally look like there was never a hive there.
I take the bees and try to incorporate them into an existing hive that I have. I explain this in more detail in the article “The Incredible Honey Bee…Mixing Colonies, Cross Your Fingers.”
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