Bees in the trees

I had the BEST Sunday this past weekend – wanna know why? Well, a friend of a friend had a bee tree come down in the recent storm, and instead of calling the exterminator they called me instead! And thanks to Backwards Beekeepers, I’d read enough tutorials on wild swarm cutouts that I felt confident enough to give it a shot.

These storms have been devastating for hundreds of people. Many of my friends are without power in this hundred-degree heat. (I’ve opened my house and pool to them and their kids.) But this particular family came very, very close to utter catastrophe. It is an absolute miracle that this bee tree, about 5 feet in diameter at the base, fell away from the house. I’m so glad that their family came through without injury or property damage.

This is only the bottom half of the tree:

And the top half is over here:

It is about 3 feet in diameter at the point it broke off. It could have killed someone if it had fallen on the house.

Another miracle is that the bee colony inside was fairly ok. There were thousands of bees in there, and astonishingly they were the most docile bees I’ve ever worked with, especially considering what they’d just been through.

In the picture above, each of the “ribs” that you can see above the “slab” of bees on the bottom used to be a sheaf of comb that had fallen out onto the ground just outside. If I had not intervened, this colony would surely have died because there was no way for them to get to the brood trapped inside the fallen comb. In fact I believe the queen (since she’s usually in the center of the hive) probably was crushed in the fall.

As far as cutouts go, this could not have been easier. I brought my various electrical saws, but we didn’t need to use any of them because the hollow was so easily accessible. The log split in just the right place. And the colony was incredibly calm – we got not a single sting, not even an aggressive bee-dance.

First I used my quickly-assembled bee vacuum to gently suck up as many bees as possible. See it in the second picture?

I got my bee-vac plans from this helpful website here before I left and actually had all of the materials on hand except for an extra shopvac hose, which was quickly purchased. I threw it together in under an hour (I just knew that the screened wooden box my first bees originally came in would come in handy some day!) and was on my way. It worked great! I ended up collecting about three pounds of bees in a nicely packaged, screened box perfect for transportation.

Then it was just a matter of picking up sheets of fallen comb and lacing them into the empty frames I had brought. Thank goodness I had an extra bee veil so Jim could help – thank you Jim! (Jim has no beekeeping experience but gamely dressed up in double long sleeve layers in the hundred degree heat and worked in the middle of the cloud of bees without flinching. For three hours. Which means to me that he’ll be a beekeeper yet!)

I had not brought enough rubber bands, so the homeowner craftily improvised homemade ones out of bands of elastic. They were perfect!

Much of the comb we found had been scavenged clean of honey & brood by wasps and ants. I filled a 5 gallon bucket with what I could find, and it will be melted down. The comb that had brood and eggs or pollen was what we tried to save. Almost all the honey had been lost – crushed out in the fall. (I only managed to collect one small jar of honey in the comb for the family.)

We got about 3/4 of a deep box worth of laced-in comb. I interspersed 3 frames with commercial foundation in them, in the hopes of keeping the bees from building crazy comb since their sheets of comb were a little wobbly. I am wondering now if it would have been more important to keep the brood frames together in the center, however? Should I maybe go out and rearrange the hive? I hate to disturb them yet again. Beekeepers – opinions?

The colony, all cleaned out:

I never did find the queen, but there were fresh-laid eggs in the fallen comb. I hope hope hope they are still viable. If they are, we collected enough workers that they should be able to make themselves a new queen in a couple weeks. We had barely any deaths in the beevac (which was incredible as I had read to expect about 60-40% mortality!) so I’m starting this new colony with plenty of workforce.

(The entrance is clogged with leaves because if they have to navigate out it forces them to reorient to their new surroundings so that they know how to come back home).

They were a little confused by their new hive, and within 2 hours had come out & bearded at the upper back corner in a worrisomely dense way; I was very nervous that they might swarm away. At twilight I went out and propped open the top where they were with a small stick; some went inside then, and the rainstorm later forced in the rest. They are all over the hive (and not bearded) this morning, so I think they’ve decided to stay! (I’d love to have three colonies again!

My heartfelt thanks to the family that thought of calling me and invited me to their home to rescue these bees. The girls and I are very happy and we wish you the best with your tree cleanup. Let us know if you need any more help, we are in your debt!

8 Responses to “Bees in the trees”

  1. Mike Malone Says:

    Hi, Diana. The brood frames might be better at the center for cooling purposes, but I think I’d leave them where they are for now, and let the colony get used to its new digs. If they get too disturbed, they migh abscond. Once a new queen is raised, they’ll sort it out themselves.

  2. Ayse Says:

    No, don’t go back and reorder the combs. They’re going to be doing that themselves, anyway. Imagine a big force came and shook your whole house up. You’d be going through, throwing out the broken china and putting things back in drawers, and it would just be more disruptive if another force came along and moved the dining room to the other side of the house just as you were getting your bearings.

    I’d wait 3-5 days, then go in and check to see if they have brood (if it died, they’ll have eaten it or otherwise cleared it out by then). If they don’t, you can just give them a frame with eggs from another hive. Which is kind of a cheater split, I guess.

  3. Diana Guillermo Says:

    OK that makes a lot of sense. So glad I asked – thanks for responding, guys. :) And thank you for reminding me that I can take eggs from another colony, Ayse; I knew that could be done but somehow forgot I had extra eggs on hand right here! :)

  4. jess Says:

    this is so exciting! i am SOOOO glad that you rescued these bees! yay! what a great story, and wonderful that the tree didn’t fall the wrong way. i hope your weather breaks soon!

  5. sam Says:

    Your posts always make me want to have land and do & learn more outdoor stuff.

  6. Diana Guillermo Says:

    Aw, thanks! 😀

  7. kirkobeeo Says:

    😀 so cool keep it up kirkobeeo

  8. Judith Says:

    What a wonderful story. Best of luck with your new swarm. You’re an inspiration.

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