On Thursday, 23 July 2018, I get a nudge from a bee-less beekeeper about a tree in Hebron that is being cut down, and the folks cutting it had to stop, cause they found a beehive, and wouldn’t continue until the bees were out.
He asked me if I wanted to get the bees. “Sure”, I said; how hard can it be? (we discussed)… Find the queen, put her in a new hive, all the bees follow right?
“How high up in the tree is it?”
“About 10 feet.”
“I’m not working 10 feet in the air; what about cutting it?”
“Sure, I have a chainsaw, we’ll cut that part down”.
So, the plan was:
(a.) Get up in the tree with the chainsaw;
(b.) Use ropes to tie around the log we’re gonna cut, take the rope up over a limb to create a pulley, and tie the other end of the rope to the truck;
(c.) Cut the tree, and gently lower the log down; (d.) Find the queen, catch her, and put her into a new hive; the bees will follow.
Watch a short video on plans a, b, and c. here.
What you can’t see is the fun that started right after this puff-ball of bees started making their rounds….
My buddy in the tree got stung about 30 times in the wrist, cause he was wearing regular work gloves instead of beekeeping gloves, and quickly got off of that ladder; the homeowner who was watching from his porch started swatting and had to go inside; folks driving by slowly to watch (it is Hebron) started rolling up their windows, Anita started laughing cause I’m watching all this while holding the dead rope, and the fall hurt a lot of the bees.
When we got it down, we realized we had to cut it again, cause we could not get to the bottom of the hive.
Part 1 and Part 2
After things settled down, I started digging through the hive. Messy, messy, messy… (always have plenty of buckets with you).
I saw the queen 3 times, grabbed for her 3 times, and missed 3 times.
This was part 1 of the hive, after missing the queen and taking the comb out of the hive and putting it into frames (held in by rubber bands, etc.).
After admitting that our plan now needed to change, we setup an empty hive box near the now Part 2 of the log, put some of their comb in it, shook some of the bees, and decided to come back in a day or 2. (Coax them into the new hive).
We were totally unprepared for this, and felt like total amateurs at this point.
I also started planning on building my own bee vacuum (cause buying one would take too long, and I did want to own one for ourselves). Planned what I was going to do, went to Lowes, bought a bunch of stuff on my plan, used some of the bee boxes and stuff I had laying around, and worked into the wee hours Saturday morning to build my own.
On Saturday, the plan was to go and see if the bees had abandoned their heavily disrupted hive, and move next door to where (we hoped) they would smell their brood, etc.)… Well, they did not; they were still hanging around the log; not a single bee was in the hive we placed next to them.
Onward then with the bee-vacuum plan.
It worked quite well, until the bees started to clog up the intake screen (that prevents them from getting sucking into the shop-vac itself; so we had to wait a few minutes, and restart the process. (I have since redesigned and modified the bee-vac so that is no longer necessary).
We put this hive into a 2 stack, 5 frame nuc on that Saturday; saw the queen, and marked her. (It’s the small nuc on the left in this picture). Success (relatively).
What’s the number 1 that I learned from this?….. Make, Get, or Buy a bee-vac before trying to extract feral bees from anywhere.
As far as taking the existing comb, and tying it into frames with rubber bands, or string; we had those frames, with brood, and honey in the bottom box of the nuc for about a week; the bees abandoned those frames… they were always empty when we would check, and were working only the new foundation we gave them… It did not work for us, and for these bees.
We eventually extracted the hone from the good comb. The honey from this hive was probably the most unique honey we’ve ever tasted. It was a dark honey, and had a “woody” and “smoky” tinge to it… it was very popular, and is all gone. However, extraction was manual, and although we tried to NOT get larvae, NOT get small hive beetles, NOT get parts of the bees that were damaged during the fall, and/or stuck in the comb, etc., the best way to get this honey was to just squeeze the combs with our hands until most of the honey was removed.
We micro-filtered this honey 3 times, and still had bits of “bee-debris” in it. I advised folks who asked about it (and wanted some) that it was similar to liking sausage, but not wanting to see how the sausage is made…. you don’t want to know how we extracted this….(Hahahaha…. After watching what we were doing, and how we got the honey out, my son-in-law wouldn’t even taste it)….)
These bees also behaved very different from our other hives; for example, they would take dry sugar for feed, but confounded us by taking almost NONE of the sugar syrup we feed to all our bees. This remained true whether the syrup was 1:1 or 2;1 (thick)… (remember, this was end of July; they usually don’t reject sugar syrup in August and September).
We had to combine the “feral” queen-right hive with a queen-less hive LATE in the season (28 October 2018)…. This wasn’t a guess; we had a queen-less hive that late in the season.
We had been monitoring that hive for a few weeks, cause we saw the queen and thought she was injured (or injured her ourselves), did not see any laying for that time, and on 28 October 2018, found what was left of her in the bottom of the hive…(Another good reason to mark your queens).
Overall, due to other mishaps in the bee yard, and combining hives, this is what our bee-yard looks like going into winter.
I’ll probably get out there tomorrow, and put the cozy around this last feral-mix hive; as you might be able to tell, all the other hives have their cozies on, and are winter-prepped.
So, this season (our 2nd year of going into winter), we have gone from 2 hives, swelled to 8 over the season, and are going into winter with 5.
Our first year we got about 13(?) lbs of honey directly from our hives, and this year we ended up with about 90 lbs total (NOT counting the Feral batch).