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Your host---For Sale--Bee Talk---Days Gone By
I hope you had a good Holloween. This is Veterans Day month. Be sure you thank them for their service.
This story was sent in by member David Dodge. Beekeeping is always an adventure.
Most people think of frenetic activity and busy-ness when discussing bees. This is a story of a more relaxed hive… of sorts. I received a call from a property manager stating she had a duplex where the previous tenant had left a recliner on the front doorstep and it had subsequently been infested with bees. She asked if I could come take a look because the landscapers she had tasked with moving the chair had politely refused to go anywhere near it. Fearing the worst I suited up and lit a full smoker. After a few puffs and a general circumnavigation of the aforementioned chair I saw the blinds part in the apartment window. An inquisitive young girl peered out and excitedly told what must have been her sister, “he’s taking the bees!” After a quick conversation between the glass, I found out the bees had been there almost 6 months and the girls were excited to know they would soon be gone.
I got back to my inspection where I learned the chair in question had once been a decent little recliner, similar to a hideaway-bed couch. This meant there was no way I was removing the chair by myself as it probably weighed over 100 lbs devoid of bees. There was a curious powder all over the seat which I assumed later was probably Sevin™ dust meant to kill the bees. Since there were no bees going to or coming from the actual seat area I also assumed this had rendered no ill effect on the population. I cut the leather covering off the back of the chair so I could determine what exactly was inside this instrument of reclination. Surprisingly the entire chair back was full of very gentle and industrious bees. They had created untold combs throughout the recliner and had amassed a decent population of workers. Knowing this was probably worth the effort, I told the girls I’d be back and went to get reinforcements.
My valiant wife accompanied me on the return trip and we set about moving the chair, with its buzzing contents, quickly and quietly to the back of my truck. We did this at dusk to make sure most, if not all, of the bees were tucked into bed for the night. We got home without incident (I always fear I’ll be pulled over by a not so understanding officer of the peace) and put the Lazy-Bee hive on a hive stand next to my apiary and went to bed. The next morning I started to disassemble the chair and hive. This is where a bee vac would have been instrumental in exchanging insect contents from feral hive to formal hive – mistake #1.
Working without a bee vac I started by removing the back combs by blowing the bees into the interior with a little (actually a lot of) smoke. I was able to get several large combs with pollen and capped brood into my foundationless frames. I “wired” them in with string crisscrossed over both sides around nails hammered into the top and bottom rails. This is where it started to get a little sticky. The remaining chair combs were covered with increasingly more bees as I continued to remove the wax. There is no easy way to cut out feral combs in a 3-D structure without making a mess. The honey arches at the top of the combs were cut open as I scraped them off the chair. I wanted to take some pictures of the interior combs but at this point my gloves were dripping with honey and the neighboring hives were sensing a feast. The bee yard erupted into a giant swarm of robbing frenzy. I realized through a cloud of angry Apis antagonists I had made mistake #2. Next time I will not only work with a bee vac but also do said work not within the confines of an active apiary.
The bees settled down a few hours later and I was able to finish my project. The chair back was removable so I quickly detached it and focused on the seat. After removing the cover and interior cushioning I was greeted by another set of interlocking combs, some running perpendicular to each other and others morphing around the wooden framework. This was worse than the back but I slowly cut away the 3” wide green upholstery webbing and shook the attendant bees into the new Lang. I was taking the honey to be crushed and strained so it could be fed back once everyone was transferred. I cut and tossed honey stores into a 5-gallon bucket while shaking the bees into a corner of the chair. Finally with 90% of the comb removed I could focus on sending the bees to their new abode.
I had watched Dennis one time dump a box of bees onto a white sheet in front of a hive. These bees proceeded to march like soldiers into the hive with amazing uniformity and swiftness. That amazing sight had stuck with me and I fortunately remembered it when I realized I needed to rid a deconstructed lounger of soon-to-be homeless hordes of bees. I estimated there were 40,000-50,000 in the colony. I laid out my sheet and stapled the top to the landing board. With the sheet aproned out in front of the hive I took what was left of the chair and banged, shook and otherwise dislodged its contents onto the sheet. Along with bees came the normal detritus of a bee hive and the not so normal detritus (for a hive) of a comfortable chair – lint, pieces of food, even a nickel. The bees just sat there, spreading out on the sheet but not marching into the hive like I had seen before. What did Dennis know that I didn’t? Undeterred, I picked up the corners of the sheet and shook the bees, lint and nickel into the entrance. Now we were getting somewhere. The remaining bees started to follow the others into the hive and I finally accomplished my task.
What was once a comfortable-recliner-turned-menacing-lawn-ornament, this bee colony was now working with all the efficiency of a modern beehive. Actually they hadn’t done so badly in the chair-hive but I felt a lot better with a Langstroth on my stand.
I tried to combine two weaker hives with 2 stronger ones with the newspaper method yesterday. I think they just decided to kill each other off. Handfuls of dead bees today.
If you killed the weak hives queen first and then used the newspaper method, your hive should be fine. Keep me posted.
I am fixing to order my beekeeping equipment and can’t decide whether I should order wax foundation or to order the plastic foundation. What do you think about both of those products? Susan
I am probably going to make a few folks out there mad (especially the manufacturers.) but, I think that plastic foundation is, “the work of the devil”. The only way to get the bees to draw plastic foundation out properly is to place it on top of the hive during a “heavy” honey flow. Otherwise, the bees will sometimes build-off of the plastic and make their comb out of wax. If there are any spots on the plastic that has lost the wax coating, the bees will never touch it.
I have always had good luck using wax foundation in my hives. It is the bees natural product and the bees don’t mind building there comb on it. Using wax foundation is rarely a hit or miss proposition like plastic sometimes can be.
Since all beekeepers have access to queens and bees from breeders who do not use chemicals in their hives, why do the majority of beekeepers continue to buy and raise their bees in a polluted environment"? Tom
It is all about education. Plus, the labeled chemicals that are put into colonies do not immediately kill all the bees and brood. (Just some of them at first) Without some immediacy, most people don’t think twice about using chemicals. Kind of like eating fast food every day and then complaining twenty years later that it caused heart trouble.
I think the bee magazines each month should promote chemical-free beekeeping. They could interview beekeepers who have not been using chemicals in their hives and put that story in their magazines. When a new beekeeper today reads these bee magazines, they don't know that beekeeping can be done without the use of chemicals because it is so rare to see anything about chemical-free beekeeping in the bee magazines. The problem continues to perpetuate itself year after year. Unfortunately, most of the mentors around also use chemicals in their hives.
Someone (s) in the bee magazine world needs to say; “OK, chemical use is not working. We need to learn from the non-chemicals users out there. Their way is working.” It is time to take the politics and chemicals out of our dying industry before it is too late.
The bee magazines need to hirer the so called “experts” that don’t condone chemical use in the hive. We don’t need a so called expert teaching us how to kill our bee’s, we need an expert that will teach us how to save our bees.
Days Gone By