Friday, September 10, 2010

Get Outta My Bedroom!

Earlier this summer I got a call about some bees living in a house in Southwest Philadelphia.  I went to check out the situation and what I saw was hundreds of dead bees (and some live ones) in what used to be a 6 year-old's bedroom (he hadn't stayed in his room for 6 months because of the bees).  There was even honey dripping through the ceiling and landing in a honey puddle on the floor.  The bees were entering the house through the flashing of the exterior roof and they had made their home in the ceiling of the bedroom.  As far as we could tell, the bees had been there for at least one-and-a-half years.  In order to remove the bees we'd have to rip open the ceiling, cut out all of the honeycomb and get all of the bees out of there.

More hands make easier work so I enlisted the help of world famous president of The Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild, Joel Eckel.  We had a great time and everything went amazingly smooth.  The first order of business was to locate the hive exactly and determine how big it was, which meant opening up the ceiling (remember you can click on images to enlarge them).

Believe it or not, the bees were pretty damn calm, especially given that we were completely destroying their home.  After getting an idea of how large the hive was and where its boundaries were, we began gathering the bees.  The easiest and best way to do that is with a vacuum - yes, a bee vacuum.  There are many different variations of the bee-vac out there, but the one I purchased is basically like a wooden hive body that gets hooked up to a shop vac.  The bees get sucked into the hive body and theoretically hang out in there until you take them to their new home (later you'll see why I say "theoretically") .  Unfortunately I didn't get a good picture of the bee vac but here's a little demo:

That huge chunk of honeycomb that you see in the beginning on top of the bucket was packed with a few pounds of honey.  After vacuuming a big bunch of bees, Joel began cutting the comb off of the ceiling and the walls.  If the comb was filled with honey, we put it in a bucket to deal with later.  We harvested about 40 pounds of honey from this hive, most of which will be fed back to these bees or to my other bees if they need it.  If the comb was filled with brood, we tried to preserve it by rubberbanding it into frames so that it could be placed into a hive body.  Here's how that went:

So we would vacuum some bees, cut out some comb and repeat.  It took us about 4 hours in total.  That included some help from the owners of the building, Alex (video below) and Chris (pic below).  They really got into it and were amazed by the bees and the process of removing them.

Once we cut out all of the comb and vacuumed as many bees as possible, we cleaned up and left.  We knew that many of the forager bees were out foraging and would return later in the day.  So I returned to the house after dusk and there were a few more softball-sized clusters of bees hanging out near the window.  I did one last vacuum job and then packed up for home.  After my traumatic swarm incident, I wanted to get these bees set up in a new hive ASAP.  I brought the hive body with the rubberbanded brood frames and I put it on my roof, where this hive would live for the time beeing.

I went to dump the bees out from the vacuum box into the new hive and was shocked and dismayed  to see that once again, a lot of the bees were dead.

So, bee carnage part 2?  Well, it wasn't quite as bad this time.  It seemed like there were enough living bees that this hive might have a fighting chance to re-establish itself.  But, in retrospect I do think that the bee vacuum box was just way too small and there were too many bees in there and it was too hot. Nonetheless, in the days following the relocation, the bees seemed to be adjusting to their new home.

Much to my delight, when I checked on the bees earlier this week, they had made some queen cells in an effort to replace their deceased queen.  They had also begun to secure the comb into the frames.  You can see a video of me checking on this hive and an excellent article on urban beekeeping right here.  I am also feeding their honey back to them.

The chances that this hive will make it through the winter are still slim - mainly because their population was so decimated and they will lose a few weeks of growth due to the fact that they needed to make a queen from one of the existing larvae.  But, you never know and worst case scenario is that I have 40 pounds of surplus, chemical-free honey to feed my other bees AND most importantly, the little boy who lost his bedroom to the bees can now have it back!

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