On Sunday, we went out on a little family beekeeping adventure. My long-time friend Kelly who lives in the heart of Oregon’s wine country contacted me months ago about the possibility of having Henry remove an established hive from the wall of a porch on the back of her home. Kelly’s young son has pretty serious allergies, so Kelly didn’t want the risk of living with bees, but she didn’t just want to kill them either. Kelly’s house is about a two-hour drive to the north for us and really is out of Henry’s beekeeping territory, but because Kelly is a friend and the job seemed doable, we decided to make a family event out of the extraction.
Henry visited the hive this winter, so he could asses the situation and have a plan on the day of the extraction.
When we arrived, Kelly and her husband had removed some siding from the porch wall, and we could see a few bees entering and exiting through a crack between the boards and a brick pillar. To get better access, Henry started by using a circular saw to cut through boards at the edge of the area believed to be occupied by the hive.
He used a crow bar to pry off boards one at a time.
This is what we saw when the first board came off. The hive was clearly well established and had probably been in that location for three or four years.
This is what it looked like with three boards off. Henry kept smoking them to keep the colony as calm as possible.
After the last board was removed at the bottom, we saw that the hive filled the entire cavity.
The first sheet of comb contained a large amount of capped honey and a few cells of drone brood (above left). Drone brood cells are deeper and stick out from the plane of the comb to accomodate the larger size of the larvae.
Henry pulled out the first sheet of comb. He cut out and set aside much of the capped honey.
Even though there were a lot of bees in this hive, they remained surprisingly calm during the disturbance.
Henry dropped the first chunk of comb into a five-frame nucleus box (“nuc”) to begin attracting some bees before he could get a full cut-out frame into the box.
The second sheet of comb contained a large amount of both drone brood (left) and worker brood(right). Henry was most concerned about keeping worker brood intact and moving it safely into new nuc boxes.
Henry measured and cut a section of mostly brood comb.
He trimmed off the excess comb to fit it neatly into a cut-out frame.
After transferring each piece of comb, he inspected it, looking for the queen. He was assuming that the queen would have moved deeper into the hive, but he checked nonetheless.
After adding a cut-out frame to the nuc box, he pulled the first sheet of comb out and gave it a good shake, so bees would fall into the box.
He kept looking for the queen among masses of workers.
He continued to cut and remove sections of comb containing brood and some honey…
…and he fitted them into cut-out frames…
…and put the cut-out frames into the nuc box.
Conveniently, the hive cavity was only slightly wider than the width of the cut-out frames, so the cutting and trimming steps didn’t destroy much brood. (That’s capped honey on the left and worker brood on the bottom right.)
Still looking for the queen.
Henry added cut-out frames of brood and capped honey to two five-frame nuc boxes.
This section of comb is almost entirely filled with worker brood and a little drone brood on the left.
In the natural hive, the bees left a little dead air space at the bottom of the cavity.
The interior-most sheet of comb was mostly empty of brood or honey. Henry continued looking for the queen and then shook the remaining bees into the nuc boxes.
Finally he spotted the queen among thousands of worker bees. He caught her in a queen catcher, which is a little cage that looks kind of like a hair clip.
When all the comb had been removed from the cavity, Henry smoked the remaining bees heavily to force bees out of the old space and make them reorient to the nuc boxes.
There were a lot of bees in the air.
The bees began to settle in and around the nuc boxes.
Having the queen in the queen catcher drew worker bees to her and into the box.
After a while, Henry released the queen into the box and smoked bees down into the frames.
He put the lid on nuc with the queen and carried it away to be relocated at our house.
The second box was left in place for a few days to collect the remaining field bees. The queenless box did contain brood, so worker bees will be able to rear a new queen. Henry picked up that box and brought it home last night.
There was a big window looking out onto the porch, so all the kids could see the action without being in harm’s way. Kelly’s kids especially were fascinated.
You can see in the bottom right how the bees have built their hexagonal cells skewed so that each cell is centered on the intersection of three cells on the back side.
The comb on top in this photo is mostly full of spring pollen. Pollen is a valuable, protein-rich supplement. Unfortunately, bees won’t rob it out of comb that isn’t in their hive, so they won’t be able to reap the benefits of their pollen-collecting efforts. Pollen can be harvested for human consumption from bees as they enter the hive, but it can’t be extracted from cells after it’s packed in. Henry has decided to not let this pollen go to waste, so he’s been eating it wax and all. (I’m not quite so adventurous.)
Henry removed quite a bit of capped honey from the hive. He gave most of it to Kelly and her family, but we took some home, too.
If you have any suggestions for ways to use beeswax, I love to hear them. We have a lot of it on hand.
Kelly gave Henry a nice bottle of wine from Séjourné Winery (where she works) for his efforts.
Overall, this extraction was a total success. Aside from having to drive a long way, Henry got two full nucs of bees, Kelly got bees out of her house without destroying the whole porch, and our kids had a great time playing with Kelly’s kids.