Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Summer of Strange Removal Jobs - Part I

I have done 4 honey bee removal jobs this summer and they have all been unusual in their own way. I worked with Joel and Jeff Eckel, of We Bee Brothers fame, on each of the jobs (though that's not the unusual part!). Maybe this wacky hot weather is causing some of this weird stuff, who knows. Let's have ourselves a looksie...

The first removal of the summer was at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in an old abandoned Navy theater that is being renovated into medical offices. The foreman of the demolition team called me in an effort to remove and save the bees before they needed to destroy and redo the roof. The bees were entering the building in the gaping hole in the top right corner of the building. 

The inside of the building was totally bombed out, there were no stairs to get up to the 2nd floor, so we had to haul our stuff up a ladder...

We would access the bees from a little bathroom and when I opened the door, my mouth dropped open. On the floor of this room was a tremendous pile of dead bees, 2 inches deep in places. I had never seen anything like it. I think that all that it meant was that this colony had been here a long time and this was just the accumulation of years of dead bees. I wish I could share the funky smell with you...

  Anyway, we set up some scaffolding and Jeff got to work and opened the ceiling to reveal the hive.

We vacuumed bees and removed comb. Jeff spotted a bunch of swarm cells as he was vacuuming bees and we quickly realized that we got this hive just as they were preparing to swarm. Lucky us! We got to see 6 or 7 virgin queens hatching out of their cells, a couple of them came out right into my hands (sorry no pictures)! When a hive is getting ready to swarm the workers will keep the queens in their cells until the colony decides that it is time to swarm. The workers will feed the queens through a small hole in the queen cell and they will keep adding wax to the cell as the queen tries to emerge, effectively keeping her confined until they are ready to let her out. Once we disturbed the hive, the workers could no longer attend to the queen cells and the queens were able to leave their cells. Pretty awesome! We caught 3 of the virgin queens and put them in queen cages with a few worker bees to attend to them. We would try, unsuccessfully, to get those virgin queens mated in our beeyards.

There were some parts of the hive that were tucked up in the rafters and we really couldn't access them without causing major structural damage to the building. I worked on tying the comb into frames in my little blue workshop (picture below) across the hall, nice ehh?

We removed as many bees and as much comb as possible and I think the demolition team just killed the remaining bees a few days later. I set these bees up in my Francisville apiary and when I went to check on them 10 days later - the hive was totally empty of bees! They left me! I think they were still in swarm mode and they just took off to who knows where. So, unfortunately, when it was all said and done I didn't get to keep the genetics and add this colony to my apiary. This is the first time I have ever had a colony abscond on me, drats!

The second removal job of the summer was in Conshohocken. Remember the swarm I caught earlier in the summer out in Conshy? Well, a few weeks after that one, I got a call from the same homeowner telling me there was ANOTHER swarm in his yard. Here's a quick video from that second swarm in Conshy, I caught the swarm actually happening and stood in the middle of it as I took the video. It was quite an exhilarating experience to stand in the middle of these bees! Turn up the volume so you can hear them!

I knew that both of these swarms came from a house nearby where bees were living in the walls and this was the second removal job of the summer. Joel and I did it a month after I had captured the second swarm. Fellow Guild member Amy Hsu watched us and took some great photos - all of the photos below were taken by Amy. When I got to the house and took a look at the spot where the bees had been entering the house, I saw something odd - there was no traffic going in and out. It was a warm summer day and the hive should have been busy working. I stood there for a few minutes and saw only one or two bees go in. Hmmm...

We got to work. We opened the ceiling and this is what we saw...

Wavy Honey Comb

Beautiful, no? Only problem is, this comb should have been crawling with bees! But there was barely a bee to be found, what gives? My only theory is that this hive swarmed twice and then for some reason they completely abandoned this space. They had been here at least a month ago, because I saw them swarm on that day. Between then and the day that we did this job, the bees decided to skedaddle. We did come across a handful of bees, but these were just some poor, lost stragglers. There was still a decent amount of honey in the hive, and there were some other friends dining on the delectable delight...

Wax Moth Larvae - Yum!
When a hive is uninhabited, it doesn't take long for wax moths to move in. In the photo above you can see the larvae that have infested the honey comb. They eat the honey, beeswax and pollen that is stored in the comb. They are basically the clean up crew for empty hives.  Normally the bees keep them at bay but once the bees are gone, the wax moths take over and completely destroy/clean up the comb.

Wax Moth Cocoons 

This is what the ceiling looked like. The first hole revealed nothing so we had to move the second hole over to the next joist space to find the hive. Sometimes locating the precise location of the hive is the toughest part of the job.

We cleaned out the ceiling cavity pretty well and wrapped up the job. Joel took the wax moth-laden comb to feed to his chickens, who I am sure very much appreciated the gesture!

Cleaned Out Ceiling Cavity

One Lonely Little Lady

So, two removal jobs and no bees to show for it (unless we count the two swarms from the Conshohocken hive, both of which are doing quite well so far). I did get some nice drawn comb from the Navy Yard bees, which I have already put into use in other hives. And I managed to salvage some other wax that I'll make into candles in the fall.  I'll write about the other 2 removal jobs in my next post...

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