In August of 2014 I received an unusual request. A nearby Ethiopian Orthodox Catholic Church wanted me to remove honey bees that had swarmed into an alcove stereo speaker and install them in a hive for them. I wasn't their first call, but I WAS the only one willing to listen. The church wasn't too far away, and, as a preacher's kid, I felt obliged to go take a look. Yep, they had honey bees alright. Turns out they'd had them for at least 6 months or so when the initial swarm had settled into this covered doorway. Imagine, ducking honey bees flying to and fro as you walk into church on Sunday morning. They needed my help, the bees most of all.
The church elder would not listen to reason, though I tried my darndest: pay me a nominal fee to remove the bees and let me be on my way with them, problem quickly and cheaply solved. But the congregation had fallen in love with these bees. I was going to walk away until they told me that the honey bee is seen as the protector of the church in the Ethiopian Orthodox religion. Well, dang it all to heck. I was not getting out of this easily! Once I told them I was a PK, I guess my fate was sealed. I quoted them a fair price on equipment and the tons of labor it would require for me to remove the bees. They could've bought a complete hive for the price. But they wanted THESE bees, their bees, the ones God had sent to them as a sign. No pressure on this beekeeper. Fortunately, the bees were only in the speaker attached to an alcove wall and had not entered the walls themselves.
After removing the screws, I removed the speaker face. That's when I got my first good look at them. That was a lot of honey bees in a small space! I'd quoted them for 4 hours of work. It ended up taking 6.
Beekeeping is all about patience and discipline. I used my homemade bee vac to gently suck up the bees one at a time. I never saw the queen but did see a little bit of capped brood and a little bit of eggs in there. Hours passed. I learned the hard way that if you're not patient with the bee vac, bees will clog up the hose. Little by little I made progress, cutting out the combs and putting them aside.
When all the comb was removed I realized these honey bees were starving. It was August, so the summer dearth was on. They'd eaten through all of their food. Not one drop of nectar, let alone honey, was in any of the combs. How these bees had survived truly was a miracle. More signs from God. I couldn't wait to give them food!
I patiently rubber banded the combs into frames, making sure honey combs were separate from brood combs.
Here they were, the two large brood combs, nicely intact and ready for their new home. I was ecstatic to be out of the bee suit on this hot and humid 98-degree day.
My bee bucket was HEAVY with bees. My Ethiopian counterpart, who would become the church beekeeper, estimated the bucket weighed at least 6.5 pounds. It was CHOCK FULL of bees! All sounded well and alive. After getting the combs into frames, I quickly arranged the hive. I sold the church the equipment the bees needed, used but clean and sterilized, and smelling of the bees that had come before. I quoted them a fair price for "used" versus "new" (new translates into un-assembled, un-painted and un-smelling like bees). Knowing their time would be severely limited as would be their chances at surviving through the winter, I set the church bees up on narrow frames, fitting 11 into a 10-frame Langstroth box. More bees in a smaller space equals improved chances of survival. Here you can see the setup, including a couple of beetle jails, and the bucket with its screened lid and sides, keeping the bees ventilated during this stressful time. I chose to put the bee hive behind the church fellowship hall which would act as a windbreak, and pointed the entrance Southeast. I put down black plastic to keep small hive beetles from pupating under the hive.
It was getting close to the moment of truth. I shakily poured used cooking oil into the beetle traps.
Then after putting the traps into place I removed several frames from the center so I could pour in the bees.
And, here it is, the moment of truth. My first big use of my homemade bucket bee vac, and WOW, what a success! Look at this ball of bees hanging onto the screened inner lid with handle. This made it super easy to shake most of the bees into the hive on the first go.
After pouring the rest of the bees in from the bucket, I carefully lowered in the rest of the frames. The loud hum was overwhelming. Not a single dead bee, not one, let alone the queen was found in the bottom of the bucket. My homemade vac had done so very well. And yes, eager reader, I will be sharing my bucket vac plans in a separate post in the very near future.
With 1:1 sugar syrup ready to go in a top feeder, the bees were instantly Nasinov fanning and scouring the combs, now placed into removable Langstroth frames. The insert for the screened bottom board would stay off until cold set in .
Gloriously, the bees eagerly went into the frames. I followed up my initial install with a hive inspection a week later. More than half of the rubber bands had been chewed through and the combs affixed and added onto with their frames. But what really got this preacher's kid of a beekeeper was seeing fresh single eggs and larvae in tight patterns on the new comb. The queen had miraculously survived the cut-out, along with the hive.
Not bad for a first-time cut-out. As it turns out, the hive survived the winter and at last reports is booming nicely. In the words of my mamma, "Praise the Lord, Honey!"
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Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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