The good neighbor

The day after my swarm absconded, we went back to where I had caught them.  There was a small cluster of bees under my neighbor’s bay window, but no queen.  My original hive seemed to be doing OK despite the recent swarming.  The syrup consumption has dropped way off, but there were still a plenty of bees in the hive.  Hopefully, this hive will make a new queen.

A few days later, my neighbor noticed bees were continuing to fly around his window, and they were starting to show up in his basement. I could see that bees were coming and going through small cracks in the caulking around his window frame.  He has a son who is interested in bees, and he was kind enough to let me take off some boards below his window to see if the swarm had returned.

Looking for the hive. (Photo courtesy of Eric Nelson)

Here is what I found under the window:

The ex-swarm now residing under the neighbor's bay window.

Now, you would think a swarm wouldn’t return to their original location after being hauled off, but perhaps I hadn’t captured the queen the first time, or maybe the bees really liked this spot – it is perfect for honeybees: Southern exposure with a cavity appropriately sized for a hive, several easily defended entrances, and a small pipe beneath the main entrance that drips condensation water from the air conditioner.

Leaving the new hive alone for a few days might be a good strategy, as this would give the queen time to lay eggs; placing combs with larvae in the hive box would probably increase the likelihood of the hive sticking around.  However, in the end I thought it best to get them out of my neighbor’s house as soon as possible.  The beekeeping term for this is a “cut-out”.  Generally, a cutout involves the removal of bees that have set up residence in a house wall for months or years – some homeowners don’t realize that bees have taken up residence until honey starts to drip out of the walls.

This time, I would put some of the comb into empty frames and insert them into the hive box, and I would try to keep the queen in the box by using a queen excluder as a “queen includer”.  Queen excluders are carefully machined screens that allow just enough room (about 4 mm) for worker bees to pass, but not enough for the queen (or drones) to make it through.  They are typically used between a brood box and a honey super to keep the queen from laying eggs in frames meant for honey extraction, but I had read of excluders being used under these circumstances to encourage a swarm to stay in a hive.

A welded wire queen excluder. The interwire space measured 0.163 inch (4.14 mm) using my micrometer. My other excluder has spaces of 0.150 inch (3.81 mm).

In this case, I installed the screen below the brood box and removed the upper entrance.  Thus, workers could come and go, but the hive (or at least the queen) couldn’t abscond again like last time.  At least, that’s the theory.

There wasn’t anything subtle about this job – I just smoked the hive and started gently removing the combs by hand, loading them into empty frames wrapped with string and rubber bands, and then scooping bees directly into the hive box.  (There didn’t seem to be any eggs or honey in the combs, but I thought the bees might still prefer their own combs.) Bees were everywhere, but most of them actually stayed in the box.  Although swarming bees are said to be docile, that wasn’t the case with these bees, who had just established a new hive – I probably took a dozen stings.  No way to tell if I got the queen (there must have been 20,000 bees under the window), but here is how things looked under the window after the ordeal was over:

Space under the window the morning after removal of the combs.

I kept the hive box near the cut-out overnight to collect the stragglers.  Here’s how it looked the next morning – most of the stragglers had departed, hopefully for my hive box.

Hive box on my neighbor’s front steps the next morning – encouraging.

The hive box about 24 hours after the cut-out. The bees are ignoring their own combs to congregate around other frames – OK by me, at least they are still there.

My plan is to remove the queen excluder after one week and look for the queen at that time.

Hand edema after bee stings. The stings were on the wrists, but the swelling spread to the hands over the next 24 hours and resolved two days later.

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