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Possible early season cut-out... any special considerations?

 
Michael Cox
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I had an email last night from a chap who needs a colony removed from a ceiling. The ceiling is damaged and needs replacing, but the bees are on the other side.

I'm going to get myself a bee-vac before I attempt this, and I'm pretty happy with the whole process. I was really wondering if there would be any particular issues with performing a cutout this early in the season. Presumably they won't have had much of a chance to build up number or stores yet. Feeding *might* be necessary.

Anything else?

Mike
 
tel jetson
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some questions for you:

will you be working from above or below the hive?
will you be working indoors or out?
what do you intend for your bee-vac?
will you be working alone?
will you have access to all the bees' exits?
have you done this before?
 
Michael Cox
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Cheers Tel, all good questions.

tel jetson wrote:some questions for you:

will you be working from above or below the hive?
will you be working indoors or out?
what do you intend for your bee-vac?
will you be working alone?
will you have access to all the bees' exits?
have you done this before?


I had a visit to the place today:

The colony appears to be in the ceiling of a bathroom, between joists. It is a low ceiling and easily reachable from the floor, although a low stool to stand on would make it more comfortable. It might be possible to get to the entrance, although it would be fairly precarious ladder work in a narrow area beside the house. I'd rather avoid it if possible. They appear to have access to a cavity 18" wide and approximately 48" long... depth is about 4" - google tells me this is about 55 litres so seems plausible. There is evidence of bees spilling through a nearby light fitting into the room at times. There is an internal door so I will be able to close off the area to the rest of the house, and I can open a window to outside.

For the bee-vac - I am making one based on plans I have seen online. I'm happy about that part of the setup - I've done plenty of reading/youtube research to get a feel for how people use these. It is likely I will be working alone - if my dad is free he might give me a hand, but the room is pretty small. A helper to string wax onto frames might be nice, but I think I can manage.

I have removed bees from a cavity before, but this was back in the bad old days before I realised the saving the colony was even an option.

Assuming that the bees are in the space I think they are then this should all go fairly smoothly. More specifically, I'm concerned about the viability of the colony if it is disrupted this early in the season. I think I can push them back a month to Early april which should help a bit.
 
Michael Cox
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Some sketches of my beevac plans. The base box distributes and regulates the air to the trap box which sits on top. The trap box can be switched out when it fills up and stays locked until the bees are reintroduced to the comb later. Flow rate is adjusted on the base box with a swivel piece of plastic over a vent hole.
beevac1.jpg
[Thumbnail for beevac1.jpg]
beevac2.jpg
[Thumbnail for beevac2.jpg]
 
tel jetson
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well, I've never used a bee-vac. never really seen a need for them. in order to be stronger than a bee's grip on a comb, a vacuum will most likely be strong enough to roll and injure the bee on its way down the hose. if it's a rescue operation, that seems contrary to your purpose. I also like to leave the bees on the brood. if you were working outside, I would worry more about chilling brood this time of year. but even inside, if you're vacuuming up all the bees, the brood will be chilled and die unless you take other steps to keep it warm. and while the population is not what it will be later in the year, there is still likely to be brood by now.

what' you've drawn seems like a clever design, though. is there any chance of putting the comb you cut out in the bee box? would give them some comb to feel more comfortable on and might make the difference between living and dead brood.

a couple more questions:

are bees flying regularly by now where you're at?
is there good forage?

I know that it isn't always possible to time a cutout perfectly, but I prefer to do them when it's warm and there's plenty of forage around. just feels like they'll have an easier recovery. if there isn't forage and you really want to save this colony, maybe consider feeding them.

I would also recommend not working at night. the bee-vac might change things, but my approach has been to arrive relatively early in the morning to get everything set up. I might expose the hive, but I don't start cutting until the day is pretty warm and foragers are out in the field. that substantially diminishes the population I have to work around. if it's a quick job, no problem. I'll just have some time to kill. if it takes longer than I anticipated, I'll have the whole day to work. in the event that I'm not done well before dusk, I'll quit and start again in daylight. bees at night stick like limpets and are rather grumpy in my experience. an indoor job might change things a little bit, but artificial light just attracts them like moths rather than convincing them it's daytime.

I've mostly done cutouts alone, and a few with other folks. my newly discovered allergy might change things...

my advice on working with other folks is to make sure everybody's on the same page ahead of time. I knew that a friend of mine had been keeping bees for years so I figured he would be a good one to work with. I didn't discover my trust was displaced until shortly before I had several dozen angry bees crawling inside my veil. he hit a barn wall with a maul to knock the bees off. thought my feather-and-cardboard operation for moving them was too slow. only a few ended up stinging me, but one was very near my eye.

I've also had several very helpful folks along. a couple were nervous enough that they weren't much use, but mostly they did really well. seems like the less they know, the better help they are.

working in a confined space might preclude a helper, but it might make sense to have somebody check in on you periodically in case something goes wrong.
 
Michael Cox
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Good advice all round there Tel.

As I understand it bee vacs are not usually used to strip the bees from the brood comb, more to thin the numbers so you can work safely/easily.

My plan for using the bee-vac is to us it initially to catch the flying field bees and guard bees. Basically camp out by the entrance for 30 minutes or so to thin the population on the combs a little. I'll leave as many nurse bees as possible on the combs as I transfer them to frames. During the cutout if it is getting too manic I'll then have the option of vacing them if needs be, and likewise at the very end I can nab any strays that are hanging around. Given the indoor setting I want to avoid too many flying bees lest they escape into the rest of the house. From what I have seen of other bee vac videos the bees seem to do pretty well in them provided you can dial the suction right down to the point where it is only just strong enough to suck them up - it should be difficult to pick up a bee with it without giving it a tickle with a feather.

I've also bought myself a clear plastic queen catching clip so if I spot her I can grab her safely and put her in with the brood comb/nurse bees.

Once the flying bees have been thinned a bit I'll start cutting comb sections and fitting them to frames using rubber bands.

Like you I have a pretty horrible large local reaction to stings - they aren't going to kill me but I'm pretty keen to avoid them, so I'm willing to trade a little bit for a safer operation.

I've managed to talk the homeowner in to postponing another month until mid-April. By then the weather should be a bit warmer and they will have had some time to forage and build up numbers somewhat. My helper will be in Australia at that point though, so I'll probably be working by myself.
 
David Livingston
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Pity you could not wait until they swarmed
Then you would have 50% less bees and no queen to worry about just make sure you saved some queen cells

David
 
tel jetson
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in my experience, there are very few flying bees right up until you start cutting, and even then there isn't the cloud of angry bees that I imagined going into my first cutout. this is especially true if you're cutting from inside where they didn't have an entrance.

waiting even a month is probably better for the colony. the additional brood will complicate your operation a bit, but it should increase the odds of survival.

keep us posted.
 
Michael Cox
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David Livingston wrote:Pity you could not wait until they swarmed
Then you would have 50% less bees and no queen to worry about just make sure you saved some queen cells

David


I'm not sure about that actually David,

Surely a queen cell is more vulnerable than a queen, and more sensitive to the temperature regulation in the hive? Plus without a mated queen the gap to get laying again is pretty long, at a time when the hive is already suffering from being chopped around.

I've been doing a bit of reading up on what to do when I get them home. One thing that is suggested is to feed their own honey back to them by letting the open-air rob out from the cut comb. I've not tried this before - any advice? Won't I end up attracting bees from all over the place or will keeping the feeder station close to the new hive limit that?
 
tel jetson
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do it inside the hive. if there's forage, robbing isn't guaranteed, but feeding outside the hive just doesn't seem like a great idea.
 
Michael Cox
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I think outside feeding was recommended because cut and damaged honey comb can leak and flood the hive out. He was advocating not transferring any honey with the brood to prevent leakage on the brood, followed by feeding back some of their own honey to them once they were back in the apiary.

If I do it inside the hive I need to make sure that the sticky mess doesn't leak back down onto to hive floor or over the frames. Plastic tub with crushed comb/honey set inside an otherwise empty super but above the brood frames?
 
tel jetson
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it's my understanding that spring feeding is best done below the comb, fall feeding above. I don't think feeding above the comb is likely to cause too many problems if it isn't a long term habit, though. you don't really need anything as complicated as these, but this page has a few photos of feeders built by Warré folks. a simple container in an empty box below the comb should suffice for this situation. if there's enough honey that drowning is a risk, make sure to add something to prevent it. straw works fine.
 
Michael Cox
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Right, this is happening tomorrow! I've got all my gear sorted I hope, keeping fingers crossed that it all goes smoothly, and I'll be taking a double dose of antihistamines first thing in the morning. I'll try and take a few photos assuming I don't get too horribly sticky!
 
Michael Cox
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All done.

This was a pretty interesting job for my first time. The colony was pretty small and hadn't made much progress building up spring numbers. Once I started removing comb it was clear that they were pretty much totally honey bound. I was able to pull out the equivalent of just one deep frame of brood and the rest was capped and set oilseed rape honey.

The bee vac worked well, after a few teething issues getting the pressure right. I ended up wrapping the vac in cling film to improve the seal to the point where it was almost but not quite able to lift bees that were hanging on. Very low loss rate in the catch box. After I'd got all the comb out I still hadn't found the queen but there were plenty of forager bees coming back ready to get scooped up.

Eventually it occurred to me to go outside and see how many bees were still flying, and I found the queen on the outside of the building with a ball of workers around her. Out of easy reach but she would have been accessible with the bee vac. At that point I dragged teh beevac downstairs, rigged up and extension cord and looked up... to find that her majesty had scampered and there was suddenly a lot of activity back at the entrance again!

Cue hauling everything back through the house and upstairs again, to find the room full of flying bees which got vacced. With the numbers thinned there was still no sign of the queen, so I leaned out of the window to take a look at the wall and what do you know, she was just a few inches away on the outside wall! Unfortunately my queen catching clip was missing (it has since emerged from the biscuit tin - hazards of having a toddler) so I tried to improvise with an conveniently located coffee cup and failed. The queen dropped off the wall to the path below. Cue another trip downstairs to try and hunt her down. Fortunately she had landed on the white wall about 5ft from the ground and was a really easy catch on the third attempt!

Overall it took me about 7 hours from arrival to departure probably 2 of which were setting up and cleaning up at the end. I would also probably move faster next time now I have a feel for the process. The second half of this I did without my suit, once all the wax was cut and I was down to cleaning out the cavity and collecting stragglers.

  • Don't let toddlers "help" with your bee kit!
  • Make sure you pack a pair of gloves, not two right gloves!
  • The ratchet strap to hold the hive/beevac together securely was a godsend
  • Having a sink with running water immediately under the colony was a lucky bonus - I avoided a lot of stickiness


  • Finally, they are all now nicely installed in their new home. The queen is still caged for now, I'll probably let her out tomorrow once everyone has decided that the new place is home.
     
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