In January we got a call from somebody who wanted a beehive removed from their garage wall. Those who are familiar with our operation know that we like doing hive removals, especially if they are survivor bees. In this case, since its February, most hives that would have collapsed from Varroa should already have collapsed (assuming the hive has been there over one season). So chances are that this particular hive may have good survivor genetics. In general, mid-winter is not the best time to perform hive removals, but in this case the bees either got removed or they were going to be killed, so we decided to remove them and hope that they survive.
In this post we’ll try to explain some of the hive removal basics, for those who may find removing a hive a daunting task (or who may never have performed one).
Every hive removal is different based on where you are removing them from (a tree, a wall, an attic, etc). But the general concept is the same. First you want to locate the entrance and blow some smoke into the entrance to calm the bees and reduce the chances of them “going crazy” and stinging everyone in the neighborhood.
Expose the hive and locate the brood chamber. The bees will follow their brood, so capturing plenty of brood will increase the chances of the bees moving into your hive box. A mixture of open and capped brood is best.
There are many ways to encourage the bees to build their wax into the frames. We like to cut pieces (very carefully) of their existing comb that fit into a frame. We then secure the wax into the frame using fishing string. If you secure the comb well enough, the bees will glue everything together in the coming weeks.
Inside the beehive, you always want to put the brood frames in the middle and any honey or pollen frames on the outside.
The final part is to get the bees into the box. Many people use a bee vacuum to suck up the bees. It certainly would help, but we’ve successfully removed many beehives without one. You’ll find that if you smoke the bees, they will form big “clumps” which you can just grab (gently) and throw into the box. If you are lucky enough to see the queen, you definitely want to grab her and throw her into the box as well. Having the queen and brood in the box will pretty much guarantee that the rest of the bees will follow.
After you have brood and bees in the hive box, place the hive close to the original entrance (if possible). The bees that flew out during the removal will want to return to their original hive location going through the original entrance. In our case, the entrance was a small hole, which we plugged so that they would go into our hive box instead.
If possible, leave the new hive in place for a couple of days so that all of the straggler bees make it into the hive. You can come back a few days later after dark, screen the entrance shut and take the bees to their new location.
In our case, we were unable to find the queen during the original removal. However, we found her on our follow up inspection. Three weeks later, the hive is thriving and exploding in population. We have marked the hive so that we can track its behavior throughout the year. If it shows good signs of “survival” traits, we may even incorporate it into our breeding program next year.
Capturing established survivor hives is the best way to incorporate survivor genetics into your bee stocks. Once upon a time we were into ordering VSH, Russian, and any other bees that were advertised by commercial breeders as the “next big thing” in varroa resistance. That road only led to varroa infestations and high winter mortality rates. In the last (almost) decade, capturing and propagating survivor bees acclimated to our area is what has given us the ability to operate treatment free as well as to regard varroa as a nuisance and not an existential threat.
We encourage everyone to at least consider this approach.