Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Lesson 26: Luring Hives From Structures

Here's my family throwing me a 48th birthday party at a local steak house. We had a great time. My wife and I are the ones next to our newest baby in the seat, little Christian. At one time or another, I've talked everyone in the picture into helping me out with the bee business :)

Now for today's lesson...

We all like to save a buck and many people want to get started keeping bees by luring a hive out of a wall of their home, barn, garage or from a tree. It is a frequently asked question, "Can I lure the bees out of the wall by placing an empty hive next to the wall?" It is a good question.

Last November I received a call from a couple who noticed bees flying around the bushes in front of their home. They thought they had a swarm. This was November 13, when there are NO SWARMS. I expected to find a handful of yellow jackets that must have survived the killer frosts. Upon inspection, sure enough, I noticed honey bees flying in and out of the north wall of their home, going in just below the siding. The owners really wanted me to place an empty hive next to the house to see if the bees would leave the wall and take up residence in the hive I placed next to the wall. I tried to convince them, that it would never happen, but I obliged them. That was in November and so you'll have to stay tuned to these lessons because in the spring, I'll go back and give you an update. However, I can pretty much guess now that the bees did not leave their nice warm hive inside the wall. Here is a video of the empty hive I placed next to their wall.

Does this work? Well, I've learned to never say never, but I am really tempted here to say never, but as soon as I do, someone will do it! So let me explain why it is nearly impossible and why it would rarely happen.
An established hive in a wall of a structure has a combination of brood in various stages, stored pollen, nectar and stored honey. They have worked very hard to build drawn comb. The queen's pheromone is prominent in the hive. Why would they leave? There is too much to take care of. They are busy feeding young baby bees and storing honey. They would never abandon their hive short of some disease such as CCD, and then you would not want the bees anyway. Remember, that a colony of bees is actually scientifically considered a single organism. 60,000 bees acting as one single organism. They are dependent upon each other, working together to make their hive function. This is why it is nearly impossible to lure it out of a safe home.

Don't be fooled. If you place an empty hive next to the wall where the bees live, you might see lots of bees going into your empty hive. But more than likely they are merely searching it for resources such as any beeswax on frames, or honey.
The only way, as far as I am concerned, to remove a hive from a structure is to remove every last bit of comb and remove the queen as well. If you leave the queen, but take a considerable number of bees, the hive has not bee removed and will rebuild.

Some try to place a funnel made of screen over the entrance hole on the house with the large end of the screen funnel against the house and the smaller end toward the open sky. The theory is that the bees can get out, but they will not try to enter back into the small opening on the screen funnel. This is not effect as the queen WILL NEVER come out and the hive could die within the wall because the foragers cannot bring back food. You, or people who call you to remove a hive, do not want a bee hive to die in a wall. I'll tell you why in just a moment.

Also, for those who choose to spray poison in the hole in the house, let me warn you that this is not effective. First, it is very difficult to saturate the hive enough to kill it entirely due to the way the comb is large and layered. Secondly, if you were to kill it, then you will have a larger problem. Now you have unprotected honey which, without bees to tend to it, will run, ooze, and drip attracting such other pests as roaches, mice and even black mold. This can happen too, if you lure out the bees through a screen funnel but the queen is left inside with the young bees. It is critical to have a beekeeper remove the hive entirely from the home. Take a look at this hive I removed. It was huge and took a full day to remove. You can click on the image to download the full size image.


You'll receive calls from friend and neighbors asking you to remove hives from various kinds of structures and if you notice in the image above, you see very few bees. That's because we manufacture a specially made bee-vac that vacuums the bees safely into a cage. Otherwise, there would be thousands upon thousands of bees flying around protecting and defending the brood and honey in the picture. The brood is toward the center of the pictures, toward the lower left. It is a bit lighter in color, a leather brown color. Sealed honey can be noticed at the top of the picture. If you'd like to inquire about one of our bee-vacs click here
Why would you leave your house and move into an empty garage? Bees will not either!
Swarm lures are different in that when using a swarm lure, you are not trying to lure a hive out of a dwelling, but you are trying to invite a swarm into you hive or trap. In other words, a swarm is a natural split from a larger hive. They leave with a queen and send scouts out to find a nice new home. This is how bee colonies multiply, kind of like having children. The scouts can be attracted to your hive or swarm lure because of the scent. For that matter the whole hive can be drawn to your swarm lure. The scouts can go back then, and inform the swarm that they have found a home and lead them to your box. Now a couple of things have to happen for this to be successful.

1) An existing hive has to produce a swarm very close to where you live and this usually only occurs in May-June.
2) Scouts bees have to happen on to your lure scent or hive. It's a big world out there and such a small bee to find your box.

Last summer I had hundreds of bee boxes with drawn comb stored in a friend's barn. One day, I received a call that thousands of bees were in his barn. Great! I concluded that a swarm was moving into some of those boxes. But, he was right and I was wrong. There were thousands of bees, but it was not a swarm. They were just smelling out some dried honey smells and looking around. But imagine thousands of bees knowing how great of a home those boxes with drawn comb would have made. You would have thought that if any hives in the area were to swarm, this is where they would go. They never did.


How do you remove a hive from a structure? Saws, hammers, pry bars, ladders, lights, extension cords, drills and all the other tools you need to build a house :) It is pretty intensive. I actually have a long check list of tools and supplies I need to do the job, and I load the truck the day before.

You have to decide where the hive is located by using a stethoscope. Then you have to decide, along with the home owner if you should enter the wall from the outside by removing siding or the inside by removing drywall. To me, it is much easier to remove dry wall, and less work to repair. But it just depends on the siding and backer board.

You should also sign a contract with the home owner specifying that you are NOT a bonded contractor and that you will not be responsible for damages. In a perfect world it is best for the home owner to have their favorite handy man there to open up the wall and close up too. But do have it in writing. By the way, most home owners pay between $200 - $1000 to have bees removed.

I only open enough of the structure to begin using my bee vac to vacuum the exposed bees. Then, I remove more of the structure and vacuum more bees. I continue this until I have all the bees removed. On a large hive this takes several hours. Once all the bees are removed, I begin to tear out the comb.

I then take the bee vac full of bees and dump them into an empty hive, queen and all, then I process all the honey from the hive and process the good wax. It can be a profitable venture in that the home owner may pay you $500, you can then sell the honey and bees wax for another $300 if the hive is large, and you obtained a free full size hive, worth at least $150. Do the math, not bad for a day's work. But it is work! I wear a full suit, duct tape every hole and wear boots and heavy gloves. You must, because unlike working your hives at home, you are tearing up and attacking a hive.

We've spent a long time perfecting our version of the bee-vac, adjusting the air suction so it does not injure the bees and adding padding in the right places so the bees are not knocked against walls when drawn into the cage. These bee vacs are great to use on swarms too, especially swarms that are too high to shake out of a tree or hanging on the side of a building. Here's what our bee vac looks like.

Bee Vac Nov 15 2007 010

Every beekeeper who is interested in retrieving swarms or hives would benefit greatly in owning a bee-vac, and beekeeping associations could have one on hand to lend to its members!

Finally today, let me remind you of the check list for what you need now that spring is almost here.
[] Hives wooden ware
[] Plenty of honey supers, at least 3 per hive
[] Protective clothing such as hat/veil, suit
[] Smoker and hive tool
[] Place your 3 lb package bee order
[] Sugar water spray bottle
[] Pallets or blocks to place your hives on
[] Review all lessons so that you can hit the ground running!

We provide one year of free mentoring when you purchase your hives and bees from us. That means that you can call us and get advise on your problems or general beekeeping questions.
We are still providing packaged bees, 3 lb packages with Italian queen for pick up. Give us a call at the number below if you need bees for your hives.
If you still need to purchase items for your beekeeping needs, go to: http://www.honeybeesonline.com/
Until next time, remember to Bee-have yourself!
David & Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms
217-427-2678 (Mon. - Fri. 9am - 5pm)
Email us at: