Saturday, April 5, 2008

Colony Extraction From Within a House

I received a call a while back about removing some bees from a House. The lady said that they had been there for a while, about three or four years.She also said that she had tried to get several different beekeepers to get the bees but no one wanted to do it because the bees were in the chimney. Since I'm always up for a challenge, have good carpentry skills, and love honey bees I decided to do the job for her.

Since the dandelions started blooming here recently I decided to go ahead and remove the colony before it became too populous.

I took a day and drove out to her house, which is in Huntington, WV and almost two hours from where I live, to take a look at the situation and size up the job. This is a picture of where the bees were entering their nest.

In the next picture you can see the crack where their entrance was and if you enlarge the image by clicking on it you can see the propolis they used to seal some of the crack to help weatherproof their nest.

After I found the entrance I put up a ladder to go take a look into the entrance. I couldn't see into the entrance very well so I had to remove some of the siding. After I removed some siding to get a better look I could see that the bees were in the wall and not in the chimney. They were actually in the wall to the inside of the chimney. The only way I could extract this colony was to do it from the inside. So I put the siding back up and left the job site to go and prepare for doing the cutout from the inside the next day.

When I returned the following day on March 31, 2008, I had to get everything set up. After removing the baseboard, crown molding, window trim, and the trim from around the fireplace I laid a sheet of plastic on the floor and used tape around the edges to help hold the plastic in place.

After getting the plastic on the floor properly in place and secured I then made a temporary wall of plastic parallel to the chimney wall by taping a sheet to the sealing and to both walls on the end.

You can kinda see the door in the picture above. You can also kinda see it in the picture below. I overlapped the almost four foot to allow myself a way to get in and out of the extraction area. I taped about two feet of the top of the seam so bees couldn't get through at the top. I also used tape along the edge of the plastic so the bees couldn't get out. It was very important that the bees not escape because the woman who lived in the house was allergic to bees and didn't have an epipen.

After getting the area secure I then moved my equipment into the extraction area. I took one deep hive body with bottom board to put the bees in. I also use a nine space frame rest. Using only nine frames helps because of the irregular nature in which bees will draw their nest naturally. I have found that the extra room is essential when putting the wavy comb into the split catch frames I use. I also have a couple sprayers for spraying sugar syrup on the bees. I didn't want to use my smoker inside the house and it makes it really difficult for them to fly when they are covered in syrup. They stay on the comb and it is easier to transfer them into the hive body when you cut the brood comb. I also have a five gallon bucket of water and some towels to keep my hands clean. There is another five gallon bucket for holding the honey comb.

Since all of my equipment was in place it was time to remove the paneling. I was told that there was noting under the paneling but I soon found out that there was furring strips over plaster and lath. In the picture below you can see some honey comb was built between the space created by the furring strips and paneling.

After removing the honeycomb I proceeded to remove the plaster and lath to expose the colony.

In the next picture you can see the light coming in from the gap between the chimney and wall. This is where the bees made their entrance. The brood nest is in the center cavity. The cavity on each side of the brood nest is honeycomb. There was enough honey comb to nearly fill a five gallon bucket.

After exposing the colony I decided it was best to remove the old brood comb and inspect it as I placed it into a garbage bag.

As I was inspecting the comb I found some suspicious looking brood which had not emerged. I examined it closely for scale due to the sunken cappings. I also stuck a splinter in one of the capped cells to see if the remains of the pupa could be drawn into a rope. It was not ropy. As I was talking to the homeowner about the possibility of the colony having a brood disease, such as American Foul Brood, and might have to be destroyed by burning she then informed me to the fact that the colony had been sprayed with poison last summer by the boy who mows the lawn. She also told me that the colony had been sprayed with some poison three years ago as well. Even though it eased my mind about the colony having brood disease I still sent a few samples to the Beltsville Bee Lab for AFB testing. The picture below is of the suspicious looking brood which was sent for testing.

After talking a little more about when the bees were sprayed the last time she told me that they used a whole can of spray and sprayed into the entrance of the nest. I doubt that the bees have a brood disease due to the fact that the residue of the insecticide could kill brood for a a long time after first being applied. I thought it was still best to send samples to Beltsville just to ease my mind and to be a safe and responsible beekeeper. Please do not ever poison any honeybees. Find an experienced beekeeper to help you out should you ever have a colony take up residence at your residence.

I did find the queen. She looks a lot like a Carniolan. There was not much brood or bees in the colony so she was easy to find. The pictures I have are really blurry so I will take a picture of her later and post it. But until then, here is a blurry picture of her.

After getting her and her colony home I gave them some new drawn comb to start on. I took only the minimum amount of brood comb from their nest due to the poisoning. I will rotate these frames to the outside of the hive and cull them out eventually. Even Though I am still awaiting the test results from Beltsville, I added some bees to the colony to help them become better established at their new location. Pictured below is a frame with some honeycomb and a couple pieces of brood comb. I made up one mere frame like this with a little more brood comb and less honey. I then either put the rest of the comb in the honey bucket or in the garbage bag.

Here is a picture of the wall after all the comb was removed.

The bees had built up into th wall an additional eight inches which made it a little more difficult to remove the comb and bees from there. This picture was taken looking up into the wall.

This was the first time that I lit up my smoker. I smoked the bees in this recess a whole lot. I smoked them enough so that they either fell out of the recess or took flight. The bees that fell were brushed into an empty butter bowl and dumped into the hive body. The bees which took flight went to the windows, toward the light, and were easily brushed off the top of the window into a butter bowl and then dumped into the hive body. After capturing all of the bees I sealed up the hive body with screen on the entrance, screen on the ventilation hole of the inner cover, and taped the inner cover to the hive body. wedges from a wedged top bar work really well to hold the screen in place and is easily removed. I must say it is much easier to use the and remove the wedges than it is to staple the screen on the entrance.

I do believe that above the top plate of the wall, in the previous picture, that the colony had moved up above it to build a new brood nest due to the fact that the lower area had been poisoned. I would have had to remove the ceiling and another ceiling above that tho gain access to this area. This was an extra expense the homeowner did not wish to incur. I could here bees buzzing in the wall above where I removed the honey comb and brood nest. If there is eggs or larvae of the appropriate age above the top plate the remaining bees can make a new queen and will continue to live in the wall. I informed the homeowner of the possibility of this occurring and agreed to come back and trap the bees out if this happens. I told her to wait a month to see if the bees were still there. If I was just hearing some stragglers buzzing chances are they will go find another hive to join or they will die alone.

All that was left to do was to clean the area and then reinstall the trim and paneling.

Here is a picture of the wall after everything was cleaned and put back into place.

You can't even tell that I had been there when the job was done. Performing a colony extraction from inside of a house or building is easily done if you are prepared and have some skills as a carpenter. Using plastic on the floor helps to keep honey and debris from embedding into the carpet fiber. Also sealing up the plastic really well along all the seams and edges will keep the bees out of the rest of the house. Be sure to have a shop vac, or a bee vac, on hand to capture all the stragglers which you couldn't put into the hive body before taking down the containment tent.

I hope this helps any of you who may be considering performing a colony extraction from inside of a house or other structure. Also, if you have bees in your house please do not poison them. Contact someone qualified to remove them for you. If you would happen to get lucky and kill them with poison, which is doubtful, the honey wax will melt and honey will drip down the inside of your walls and seep out into your carpet. You'll most likely never be able to get rid of the ants and other insects that will move in when the find the honey. Also if you spray poison on them most beekeepers will not remove the bees for you or will charge twice as much if they do. I doubt very seriously if I would have removed these bees if I would have known that they had been poisoned. When sprayed with insecticide, the honey is not fit for human consumption and the wax can not be utilized for beekeeping.


Κώστας Ελευθεριου said...

Very nice removing comb photos,it looks like a great conoly.

English Armchair Abroad said...

I enjoy your blog enormously and now the season is starting up I'll be back for more. I'll put a link through to you from my blog as I have a few beeks reading it.

French weather is once again not being kind to beekeepers and the colonies all seem to be very weak at present. Such a shame with all the OSR in flower right now!

Anonymous said...

What do you mean about dandelions? I didn't know bees went for them? We have masses but no bees on them...

Steve J. said...

Great blog! I love your detailed description of a cutout!
I"m going to link you through my blog as well.