As you have no doubt gathered, from reading my previous posts, a cutout is the act of cutting a hive out of a cavity where it is not wanted. Such as, out of a wall or a tree. I’ve yet to do a tree and may not do trees tho I will be putting out swarm-traps by several local bee-trees. But I’ve done a wall cutout, and today, I have done a well-cover. Both times were enjoyable, from a hard-working perspective. Wasn’t easy by a long-shot, but it was very rewarding. This time around, I had the help of the son of the owner of the property from which I was removing the bees, and that help was a true blessing. The final fruit of this removal is a top-bar hive with several brood-combs, several honey-combs and thousands of bees happily at home. Another colony rescued.
I found out about this particular hive a couple of months ago. The son of the property owner just found out that I was starting in bees and was doing a cutout and he remembered that his parents had ordered an extermination of a hive that had taken up residence in their well house five years earlier. Normally, these bees have not been a problem, but this year for a period of time the bees got a bit hot and stung them several times. With grandkids coming over and having a problem with hot bees being between the house and garden, the bees had to go. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of beekeepers in this area – the only people they knew to call was an exterminator. I tried to circumvent this, but it was too late – the guy came that day already.
When the fella went to the bees, he took the outer cover off the well-house, drilled two holes in the inner cover, and sprayed poison thru the holes. He also sprayed the entrance too. Fortunately, one hole missed the bees altogether and got the insulation inside instead. The other hole was between two combs (of perhaps 12 or more combs) that more or less contained the poison in a very limited area. And finally, the bees had a back door. Another entrance. So, it was business as usual for the bees. Interestingly – they stopped stinging. I’m conjecturing that they were going thru a period of having more than one queen in the hive, preparing to swarm, and the hive was a bit unsettled for a bit. If that’s the case, I have the new queen…
I hurriedly built a new hive and top-bars then worked to schedule a cutout. I decided to try another method of tying up the combs – a method that uses a strip of cloth along the edge of the comb and split and tied to the bar on either side of the comb, then a single supporting string around the middle to help keep it from popping out or sagging. The problem I had with the previous cutout was that I’d tie up the combs with three strings, and one or more would invariably cut into the comb. So, when I lifted the bar up to place it, the weight of the comb would cause the string to dig in, and a gap would form at the top where the comb is supposed to meet the top-bar. This hammock method didn’t have that problem since it doesn’t dig into the comb. Once tightly secured, it is going no-where.
With this in mind, I bought a few 100% cotton pillowcases. I cut one up into strips that I figured would be wide enough to wrap around the edge of the comb to cradle it securely, I used some scrap comb I had laying around to help with this measuring. It turned out to be a couple inches or so. In retrospect, next time I may make it just a touch wider – 2.5″ perhaps. This method will also make transporting the hive back more secure as well – bumps in the road will not affect these strips as they would comb-cutting string.
Strips are cut – surely more than I need but you never know since the hive has been there for several years. I tied a few more slip-knots in the string that will reinforce the comb-hammocks and gathered all my gear together for the cutout. Smoker is full of wood and paper, bread-knife, scraper and sundry tools are assembled and my suit is ready. It pays to get things ready ahead of time. Tying those slip-knots with gloves on is a bear, and I imagine that cutting those strips at the cutout equally so. The only thing I wanted to deal with at the cutout was the comb and bees themselves.
We got an early start on Sunday morning. It was more to avoid having to work in the intense early-summer heat than anything, and my helper also had a scheduling constraint. I expect you could cut out bees any time of the day and even at night. I’d considered doing night cutouts, but some areas are awkward to get into and I felt that a daytime cutout would help in that matter.
When we arrived there, it gave me a chance to assess the situation first-hand. It was my first visit, so I had no idea what to expect. The well cover was a little framed structure looking like a large dog-house. It actually had siding on it, and a corrugated steel roof that was about waist high. The well-house was approximately 3′ wide, perhaps 6-7′ long. It was up against a stone building that housed the distribution plumbing and garden supplies. The bees had found an entrance between the well-house and the stone building – a crack in the caulking perhaps.
We unloaded the equipment and I suited up. We unscrewed the metal roofing from the plywood below, then found that the plywood was nailed to the well-house frame. I smoked the entrance and around the plywood to get the bee’s heads down and get them busy gorging on honey. We had to pry the plywood off to expose the comb. The bees remained amazingly calm. We worked from the end furthest away from the entrance until we spied the combs.
I started removing some of the rear-most comb which was the honey comb and we got to work tying some of that up. This stuff was some dark comb but it didn’t have any of the white-spray on it from the extermination attempt – where ever I came across comb like that I discarded it. There was a lot of reddish honey that had a real mild and pleasing flavor in this comb. This I took over to our work area – a piece of plywood set on the end of the well-house – and got to work implementing my comb-hammock experiment. It was a little awkward the first time, and the honey comb was heavy, thick and sticky. I got it cut and sized thanks to my template. We managed to get a strip of cloth around the edge. I placed a top-bar by my template with a string already attached to the thumb-tack I had pushed into the top of the bar. The comb, with it’s edges covered by the cloth, was placed onto the template and we cut the strip of cloth on either end of the comb where it met the top-bar long-ways so I could tie it around the top-bar. I used my bread-knife to put a groove into the comb’s top edge to help make a good tight contact with the wedge comb-guide on the top-bar when we tied up the comb. We pulled the cloth strip nice and tight and tied it off to the top-bar. No gaps and very snug. I then pulled the string that the comb was sitting on tighter and wrapped it back up to the bar and wrapped it around the thumb-tack several times. And that was that. I was able to pick up the comb by the top-bar and it didn’t sag one bit nor did the single string dig into the comb thanks to the cloth strip. My helper hammered the tack gently to push it tighter against the string and I put the comb in the hive and went to cut more.
It wasn’t long before we got to the brood comb. I pulled out several long honey combs – some longer than 3′. I scrapped all the parts that were stained by the poison – they weren’t being used anyway and didn’t have any honey in them since it was sprayed before the nectar really started flowing. Once I got a few bars of honey tied up, I scrapped the rest too – I wasn’t interested in tying up all the honey comb since the bees would just make more when they got settled in.
I got to the point where I could lift off the plywood to which the combs had been attached. They broke off easily and sat amicably on the floor, supported by their attachment to the wall. So, I gently grabbed the outermost brood-comb and took it to my hive and with a flick of the brush sent most of the bees into the floor of the top-bar hive. Most of them went back to the honey combs I’d placed in the TBH. With more bees flying around, I decided to move the work area to the roof of a dog-house that was right next to the well-house but allowed us a few feet more of separation from the bees. My helper had no suit or veil, but the bees were ignoring him and for the most part, even me. Very docile. I cut a wedge out of the good part of the brood-comb, trying to get the central cluster of capped brood as well as some honey and pollen into the wedge. This I tied to the top-bar like we did the honey comb. Practice made it easier for certain, but the brood-comb was much lighter than the honey-comb so that helped a lot too. This I put into the hive and we got the next brood comb.
I scrapped all the drone cell sections as well as any part of the comb discolored by the poison. With that, I ended up with 4 bars of nice sized brood comb in the hive, along with as many bars of honey comb. I put an empty bar right by the entrance so the end comb didn’t get too much bridging attached to the end of the hive by the bees, and I put an empty bar between the brood combs and the honey combs to give them room to build another comb so they didn’t get crowded. I then closed up that part of the hive and opened up the rear of the hive – it was time to start scooping out bees.
At this point, I had no idea if I had the queen or not. I did see a cluster of bees form on the bottom board after I brushed off the second brood comb – a cluster that remained pretty tight when I brought back the tied up comb to place in the hive. I suspected that the queen may have been at the bottom of that little cluster. Nevertheless, with all the comb removed, it was time to get the rest of the bees and hopefully the queen if she was not in the hive already.
I have a little square bucket that I put against the wall where the bees were clustering and with a few flicks of the bee-brush had a good amount of bees in the bottom. I didn’t bother spraying them down with water – tho that would have helped reduce the flying a bit and perhaps made for fewer trips to collect bees. But, it worked anyway – bit by bit I’d reduce the number of bees in there – flicking them into the bucket then emptying the bucket into the hive. There were two areas that I was keeping an eye on that bees seemed to be clustering. However in both of these clusters I didn’t see the characteristic stance that bees take when the queen or brood-comb was present – with bees lifting their abdomen up in the air and buzzing their wings – an act called scenting. These just clustered together and did little of anything else. It made it easier to brush them off, but I was suspecting more and more that I had gotten the queen already.
Once I was about finished getting bees, I carefully sprayed Pinesol on the walls, trying to avoid spraying on stragglers. There were no more clusters of bees in there and I was seeing the bees on the entrance of the TBH starting to act as if the queen was in the hive, so I’m confident that I got her. the Pinesol covered the scent of the brood and queen that remained in the old hive to keep foragers from coming back and hanging out. I wanted them to ignore their old hive and fly into the new hive. The bees helped by bearding on the entrance and buzzing their wings to let their sisters know that the queen and brood were in the new hive now. Very soon, I had almost no bees in the old hive. All had gone to the new hive.
And that concludes a successful cutout. We started cleaning up and I got out of my suit. We put tools away, packed up my bee gear into the truck and bagged up the scrap comb. I put a pair of 2×4’s on top of the hive across the top-bars and taped it securely with duct tape. Then we left for the rest of the day. The hive would sit there until nightfall when all the bees out foraging will have returned home.
That evening we returned to pick up the hive. There were still a few guard bees on the entrance so we waited until the sun had totally set, then I put duct tape over the front entrances. The bees made nary a sound as we picked up the hive and put it in the truck. I was more confident with this trip because of the comb-hammocks and how securely they held the comb, and yet we still took it easy on the road. A swerve to avoid bobcats on the road made the hive shift across the truck bed some – but that shifting helped in that the hive was remaining relatively still as the truck was moving – it wasn’t jostled as hard as it would have been had we securely tied it down.
When we arrived at my property and unloaded the hive there wasn’t a peep to be heard. I screwed the hive to the brackets I’d put on the stand and heard one or two buzzes and that was it – the hive was very much asleep even after the trip. I screwed a sheet of Solarboard to the 2×4’s on top of the top-bars to keep the burning sun from cooking the hive and to keep rain out and then carefully ripped off the duct tape from the entrance, making sure no bees were attached to it.
This morning I checked on the hives. The existing hive was busy busy, getting an early start on the nectar flow which probably is at it’s peak in the cool of the morning. It gets oppressively hot in the afternoon. The new hive looked like it was just waking up. A few bees would hover around the front of the hive then go back in and a few more would peek outside at the brand new world. I expect to see much more activity as the hive settles in and they start scouting for nectar sources.
And indeed, this evening, the bees are hopping! Both hives seem almost in a competition to see who can be the busiest hive. No conflicts – each seems to be flying into their own hive with nary a problem. They did buzz around me a bit when I went out there to inspect them, but after the previous day’s cutout, it’s not a surprise that they’re still a little on edge. There is a line of ants going up into the hive tho – likely going after the honey spilled on the bottom board or perhaps brood that got cut when the comb was being trimmed. I’ll deal with them here shortly – the bees don’t seem to be overly bothered by them just yet. And there we go – from cutout to apiary, the story of my second bee collection.