Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bee Removal at Oakland Cemetery

Philadelphia Honey Bee Rescue and Removal has done our first bee removal of the year and it went very well. The bees were living in the walls above the window of an old stone house at Oakland Cemetery in Northeast Philadelphia. Jackie and her family live on the grounds of the cemetery and through a mutual friend she contacted us for help in removing the bees. Jackie was super nice and helpful - she even fed us fresh fruit and awesome homemade carrot cake. One of the coolest things about this job was that many years ago Jackie's father used to keep bees at the cemetery. She showed us and offered to give us an old honey extractor that was being stored in the attic of one of the buildings. The grounds of the cemetery are quite beautiful and Jackie told us it used to be farmland. There are several large greenhouses on the property and the family still uses them to grow and sell some annual flowers.

Entrance to the cemetery from inside

Bees living above 3rd floor window on the right

In addition to the 3 of us (Daniel, Joel and I), we had some help from Jackie's 5 year-old son Aidan. Here he is, ready to go!

The bees had been living in this house for at least 3 years and fortunately we were able to do this job from inside of the house - makes our lives a lot easier! I was excited to try my new bee vac, especially because the one we used last year ended up killing more bees than it rescued! With some help from bee mentor and master woodworker Vicco Von Voss, I built the Bushkill Bee Vac. The Bushkill vac was awesome - there were very few dead bees when the job was all said and done. There are a few tweaks I need to make to it, but overall I was really happy with how it worked, thanks Robo.

The basic idea behind the Bushkill vac is that you have a top and a bottom and in between them you can place as many supers/hive bodies as you would like. You can see in the bottom picture I have two medium supers in between the top and bottom. This set-up allows you to vacuum the bees directly into a hive, which maximizes the space available to them and minimizes the disturbance to the bees when you have to get them into a new hive after removing them. The design allows for plenty of ventilation so the bees don't get overheated (a problem with some other designs). I was even able to put some water inside the vacuum for the bees to drink by filling a few frames of drawn comb with water. The bees get vacuumed into the bottom (see top picture) and then can settle into the supers. The vacuum gets hooked to the top, where there is a screen in order to prevent the bees from getting sucked into the shop vac.

Here you can see the top of the vac - one hole is where the vacuum hose goes, and the other hole has a small piece of wood covering it that pivots in order to moderate the amount of suction. There's Aidan again, doing quality control supervision!

We could clearly see where the bees were entering from the outside, but it is always a bit of a mystery knowing exactly where they have built their comb. We had to make a few holes in the walls to help define the boundaries of the hive.

It turned out that the hive was located directly over the window, right above Joel's head in the bottom picture. There was a lot of traffic going in and out of the hive, so we were expecting a large colony. As we removed comb the bees flew towards the light and gathered on the window. The bees will cluster there and stay there, so we left them alone until the end of the job. It's actually better to minimize their time in the vacuum and have them on the window instead. When we were done cutting out comb, we easily vacuumed up the large cluster of bees that had gathered on the window.

Clustering on the window

The job took us about 5 hours, including a leisurely lunch (and the delicious carrot cake!). In the end, the space that the colony occupied was fairly small, although it was densely packed with bees. Below is a view looking straight up into the now-empty space that the colony had occupied.

We ended up with about 7 medium frames of brood comb. There was very little honey in the hive, it looked like they were living hand-to-mouth. Because of the small size of the space, we figured that this colony must have been swarming fairly regularly. Jackie had seen at least one swarm a few years ago.

I took the bees home and quickly set them up in a new home. Because of the bee vac, setting up the new hive was very easy, with minimal disturbance to the bees. I removed the top and bottom of the vac, placed the supers on a bottom board, filled the supers with frames of honey and drawn comb from my dead hives, placed the super with the brood comb on top and closed them up.

Here's a little video of the girls as they settle in...

 And here they are all tucked in...

Given what happens during a bee removal, it amazes me that the bees are as calm as they are. Sure, they fly around in confusion, but they are not aggressive at all. We each got a few stings, but mostly because of our own carelessness. We are not sure if we got the queen alive, but I will give them a week or two to settle in and then check for signs of the queen. I have been watching the activity at the entrance to the hive and the bees are behaving as if they do have a queen but we'll see. If they don't have one, I will give them a frame or two of eggs from the hive next door so that they can make a new queen. All in all it was a great day and things went very smoothly. Thanks Jackie for looking out for the bees and giving us the opportunity to relocate them!


  1. Great job! Love that beevac. Very clever.

    Thanks for documenting it so thoroughly.

  2. Nice job Adam. Working with plaster walls is always a chore. From a bee remover perspective, it sure is nice when they don't have much honey, that is why I love spring removals.
    3/4" weatherstripping helps tremendously to seal the top and bottom to the hive bodies. I ship it installed on all my vac.


  3. You have performed very nice job. Keep it up. Liked reading your post. Nicely written. Thanks for sharing.

  4. i loved reading your blog, specially its very helpful and useful..thanks for the help, i already know whom to call and what to do when these kind of problem comes along..