In the Bleak Midwinter

Hey, kids, come and check THIS out…. while I am all suited up to protect me from bee stings. Seriously, come closer!

When you buy a house that has been uninhabited for a long time, the first order of business is to evict all of the critters – living and dead – that occupied the space. Lane Campbell, my wife’s boss, bought a house this week. And promptly contacted me and asked if I could help by removing a hive.

Most of the time, my requests for beehive removal come in the heat of summer, when the number of bees in the hive are at their peak and the activity level is at its height. Simple truth? I don’t know what to do with bees when dehydration is not a serious concern.

I grabbed my kit and prepped for battle, posting an invitation on facebook for local folk to come and watch (one wag commented that it was ‘ante bellum’, a delicious Latin bilingual pun about me waging war with the bees. He was corrected multiple times that the house was actually built in the early 1900s. Vicksburghers are serious about the term and its use). I arrived and surveyed the scene, taking pictures of the hive in the cool morning.

After some wrangling to get the lift into place (yeah, I am NOT climbing a ladder for this removal), I started the work. By now, a crowd had started to gather, with relatives and neighbors bringing in kids to see the spectacle. I recognized at least one family that had hired me to remove bees from their house (“I’m pretty sure those bees came from OUR house,” Abe Kidder claimed).

The removal was really simple. I have learned not to make any predictions, but I was feeling positive about it. The infrared imagery showed a tiny footprint of the bees’ heat signature, meaning that they had not expanded inside the house.

Highlighted yellow spot is small. No radiating bees.

During the spring and fall, worker bees raid all of the local flowers for protein (pollen) and carbohydrates (nectar, which they turn into honey). And then during the winter, they suck down that food so that they can make it to spring.

As they empty the cells of honey, the wax dries out and becomes brittle. I cut away the outside layer of comb, and it just crumbled in my hands. The next comb also looked friable, and I cut it away, only to find…

…delicious , golden honey. A few cuts later and all of the comb had been detached, and I descended on the lift to show the assembled crowd what I had removed. Some bees hung around, but they were not aggressive, and I shared small pinches of sweet honeycomb around the group.

Brief lecture concluded, I went back to work. Scraped the rest of the wax from the column. Brushed the bees – who had started to congregate in Covid-unapproved groups of 20 or more – into a trap box, and quickly fastened the lid on it. Applied ammonia liberally to the column capital to discourage reoccupation. Finally, applied poison to the spot.

After the work was done, the real work started, and I dropped all of the collected honey, pollen and comb into the hive box, and then used rubber bands to fasten them to the top bars of the hive. After that step was complete, I re-introduced bees – all of them that I had been able to get into the trap box – and set them aside so that they could make the hive box their home.

Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t. It is a waiting game, and you get to find out that night if the bees like their new home or not. There is plenty of food… but if the queen gets killed they leave. If they don’t like the smell of the box, they leave. If the comb is not in the right order, they leave. They will suck the comb dry and fly away, making their new home somewhere close.

I hate it when they do that.

The crowd had drifted away, I loaded up all of the equipment and left. After dark last night, I came back to load up the bees. The trap box was empty, there were no bees on the column…

And there was no sign of activity in the hive box. None at all.

Well, piffle.

I loaded up the box, the comb, and the equipment I had left behind in the back of the truck, and slowly made my way home. It is frustrating to have done the work and have the bees decide they want to be somewhere else. (Although my high school dating experience should have prepared me for a lifetime of this.)

This morning, I opened the top of the box, just to make sure,

Bees boiled out.

I slapped the lid back on and did a Christmas Eve jig around my truck. ALL of the girls had decided to climb into the box. They had snuggled down and were content… and ready to defend their new space as soon as it was breached.

Winter removals are rarely successful, because bees – like orangutans – are skeptical of changes in their cages. Especially late in the season.

But maybe, just maybe, this one will be different.

Published by Company Bee

Novice beekeeper trying to help out.

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