Friday, July 10, 2015

2015-07-08: First Hive Cut Out

I received a message from a friend of mine a few weeks ago about a guy who had some honey bees living under his shed.  So I called him up and asked him if he was SURE they were honey bees and not yellow jackets or hornets.  I asked him how big the shed was and how they were entering underneath the shed.  Last night I was finally able to schedule a time to go out to do the extraction.

Prior to embarking on this adventure, I watched about every JPTheBeeMan video on doing cut outs.  Constructed a bee vac.  Found a checklist of items to bring to a cut out.  And about anything else I could think of looking for.  My basic plan was this: Verify they are honey bees.  Find where the hive entrance is.  Figure out how to expose the nest by removing the floor.  Figure out how much space under the floor the entire hive occupied.  Identify the honey combs and vacuum up as many bees as possible in that area.  Remove the honey and put it into a bucket.  Start removing the brood combs while trying to spot the queen.  If spotted, cage her and put her in a safe place.  Keep removing the brood combs and cut them to fit the empty frames.  Use rubber bands to secure the combs in place and put them into a hive body.  Rinse and repeat until done.  Easy right?  We began at approximately 7:15 PM.

The Shed
Hive Entrance
First off, the floor of the shed was plywood and it appeared to be glued to the floor joist.  So it was not as easy as removing a few nails or screws and lifting the floor off.  My friend Keith was helping me and he had brought a circular saw and a Sawzall.  He started cutting the floor along the joist and after some smoke and dust the floor was free. 

First Floor Cut
 Lifting up on it we could see that the combs went a little over half way down the 8 foot long section of the shed.

First Peek at the bees

I tested out the bee vac to make sure it would work as the first few bees found their way into the interior of the shed.  So far so good.  We gathered our wits and decided to lift the floor section up and lean it against the wall.  This was mistake number one.

Floor leaned up against the wall
 We lifted the section and at first all was well.  We started vacuuming bees and making a visual of where the honey was and where the brood nest was.  The problem started as the weight of the honey (now perpendicular to gravity) started to cause the combs to collapse and drop to the floor.  Once one comb fell out, the neighboring combs started to do likewise and I was scrambling to put the combs in the bucket as Keith tried to hold them in place.  Meanwhile, honey is now going everywhere and pooling on the floor.  I was tentative and careful with the combs for about a minute before I started scrambling to get them in the bucket as fast as I could.  This is when I received my first sting.  As I picked up a comb to put in the bucket there was a bee on the other side that got me.  The nitrile gloves I wear don't stop stings but I do believe they prevent the sting from going in very far at all.  So it wasn't too bad and we continued to vacuum bees and put the honey combs into the bucket as quickly as we could.  At this point all of our tools were covered in honey and I hadn't even put water into one of the buckets I had brought to wash off with.  We had the owner fill one up and we tried to wash the honey off (yeah right).  After we got into to groove of getting the honey into the bucket we came to realize our second problem.  I had brought three buckets and it was not going to be enough.  We weren't half way into it and one bucket was full already.  We mashed down the combs as much as we could and kept going.  Finally, we started to approach the brood nest and bucket number two was now almost full.  All thoughts of being able to spot and capture the queen quickly went out the window.  On top of all this chaos we were now starting to loose daylight.

Half way done

It was about 8:30 PM when we started cutting out brood combs to fit in the frames.  Thankfully Keith had a very sharp and flexible filet knife that worked well but cutting through brood is never pleasant.  Keith kept passing me combs and I kept cutting and rubber banding them into the empty frames.  I think the bees were fairly tolerant of all this destruction until we got to the brood nest.  Keith made some comments that there were bee guts everywhere.  At the time I just assumed he meant because of all the bees that were getting stepped on or the brood cut by the knife.  What I didn't realize was that as he was cutting off the brood combs, he could see the bees stinging his hands.  He was wearing some sort of canvas mechanic's gloves and they must have been really good because none of the stings were penetrating the gloves. 

Lots of stings in the glove
This was a good thing because he was able to keep cutting the combs and handing them to me as I was putting them in the frames......until we ran out of frames.  Ugh.  I had brought two boxes of empty frames....except one of them was in use by the bee vac.  Dumb!  Luckily I was able to remove from the frames some of the brood combs that were empty or mostly drones and replace them with the remaining worker brood comb.  After I did this we were able to get the last of the combs in the frames and were almost finished.

Banding combs in place
Here is what it looked like when the last comb was finally removed.

Comb attachements
I think the combs were about four feet long.  That was a big hive!

9:15 PM and all we had left to do was to vacuum up as many of the remaining bees as possible, pick up and clean off our equipment and close up the shed.  This is where the vacuum started to loose suction.  We pulled the vacuum hose off, closed up the box and tried to flush out the hose.  After spraying water into the hose for a while, a big clump of bees started to wash out.  There were so many bees in the box at this point that I thought we couldn't vacuum any more in even after washing out the hose.  In hindsight I probably should have tried to vacuum more since there were still a few clumps of bees wandering around here and there and a small cluster on the outside of the shed.  I'm sure my exhaustion didn't help my thinking process. 

I shut the vacuum off and started to clean things up when I realized another mistake.  How was I going to put the box of brood combs onto the box of vacuumed bees without releasing all the bees I had just vacuumed?  Sadly, I had made a shim with a wire mesh insert for this very purpose.........and I left it at home!  You are suppose to place this shim on top of the vacuum box.  The wire mesh prevents the bees from exiting the vacuum box.  Then you place the brood comb box on top of the shim and then you pull the mesh out which allows the bees in the vacuum box to move up into the brood box.  So much for that idea.  Good thing for me that Keith's truck has a midgate and were able to put the brood box in the back and not have bees flying up into the cab of the truck with us.  9:30 PM and we finally had everything cleaned up and loaded into the truck.

Loading up
The ride back to Keith's house was full of thoughts of what we did right and what we could have done better.  More buckets, more frames, more hive boxes, more light, more time and don't hang the combs perpendicular to gravity were just a few of the changes we need to make if there is every a next time.  Once at Keith's we were able to weigh the buckets.  The honey came in at 51.96 pounds.  Subtract out the weight of the bucket and the weight of the wax and I'd guess around 45 pounds of honey.

Done.  Except for the fact that I now had to get the boxes home.  Get them set them up in the dark.  And open the box of vacuumed bees and put the brood box on top of them.  I was really worried that when I opened the bees in the dark after their recent trauma, that they were going to be pissed!  They did boil out of the box a bit but thankfully I was able to slide the brood box on top without too much trouble and the bees weren't flying much in the dark.  No additional stings there!

The following day I was able to pick up some new cement blocks and set everything up for the new hive.  I leveled the blocks and set up the bottom board.  I undid the ratchet straps on the vacuum box and transferred the brood box over first and then the box full of vacuumed bees.  They hadn't built any comb on the empty frames so I just shook them off the frames and into the box.  I then added two boxes of plastic frames on top and then the inner cover.  Since I had all their honey in a bucket, I figured they would need to be fed.  I took some honey from some crushed combs I had and put it in an inverted mason jar feeder and placed it on top of the inner cover.  I then stacked two empty boxes around the feeder and placed the outer cover on.  Without further adieu.....introducing Yellow Hive!

Bees in their new home
At this point I have no idea if I have the queen or not.  I have a feeling by the way the bees seem to be wandering all over the place, that the queen is not there.  I'm hoping I'm wrong but I'm going to check on them in a few days.  If I see queen cells or young larva in the brood box then I will know one way or the other.

Until next time, thanks for reading!


  1. I totally know what that's like. I did a cutout a couple of years ago, and though I did a lot of things right, there were a number of things I did wrong. I was unprepared for how soft the comb was. And how pissed the bees would be [They never get that mad at J.P!]. I took maybe a hundred stings all over [my gloves and suit looked like yours and the stingers got through to skin.] and my poor husband/assistant took dozens where they got under his veil. We picked stingers out of his head and neck for a long time that night. We did not have a good bee vac. I ended up doing the whole cutout alone because my suit was better. On the way home we looked at each other and asked if we'd ever do it again. Still not sure.

    1. Holy smokes Robin!! That sounds horrible!

      I never really felt like the bees were all that "mad" during the whole thing. They seemed to only sting when they were getting squished by handling the combs. JP seems to be able to hold the combs without squashing any bees. Therefore no stings and no ticked bees. Maybe his first few times ended up like ours!

      The bee vac I made was invaluable. I've seen a number of other designs that look interesting too. I'm glad I had it despite my misuse of it.

      I'm not sure if I'd do it again either. Maybe if I did it on the weekend and started in the morning I'd never feel rushed and could do things "right".

    2. Truth is, as difficult as it was, the situation forced me to be pretty badass, which for someone like me doesn't happen very often. I didn't cry, whine or panic - not once. I stepped up to the plate, took charge, took the stings, did what I had to do to get the bees out and the house sealed up for the client and made it through. Most men I know couldn't have done it. I'm very proud of how I handled that day, even though I'm pretty embarrassed about the cutout itself. I sure hope that if I ever did it again, I'd do a much better job as a beek, but I did a pretty good job as a person the first time. Does that make sense?

      And starting earlier in the day made things a lot easier on us in some ways. I'd definitely do that again if I did another cutout.

    3. That makes absolute sense. I posted my blog to a Beekeepers In Michigan group on facebook and most of the comments I received back said "good job seeing it through to the end". I wasn't getting paid for this job but I also didn't see it as an option to quit. Even when things started going wrong.

      I'm sure your next experience would be better and if I ever did it again it would be too. I'd also only do it on a weekend where I had the time to go nice and slow. Lessons learned!