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Saturday, April 21, 2012

To Bee or Not To Bee...

On my recent trip to visit my family in Missouri, I had an unexpected adventure.  I was outside helping Dad with some yard work when I noticed some buzzing…  The type of buzzing that tends to make anyone ‘once stung’ to have some crawling skin. 

When I looked around I saw this…

… bees going in and out of the soffit at the end of the house!
Since they seemed pretty quiet I got close enough to snap a few photos so I could ID exactly what they were.  (Dad had been told they were hornets).  As I watched they really weren’t very concerned about my presence.   They looked like bees… but didn’t look like bees as far as coloring.  But they were behaving like bees – they were even doing the “flower waggle” to tell the other bees where the good stuff was.  I also saw a mass of them near the hive entrance.  Hmmmmm… they might be getting ready to swarm. 

I went back inside and called the local County Extension office.  Most keep a “swarm list” of bee keepers who are willing to come out and capture bees that have swarmed.  I was given the name of a local man, who I called and he agreed to come out to see what we had going on.

The next morning John N. arrived with all his equipment.  Bee box, frames, smoker, sugar water and more.  Most of it was familiar to me since Himself’s father was a commercial bee keeper in North Dakota. 
Soon John was up on a ladder to check out the situation.  I had made a mistake about them starting to swarm.  John said the mass I saw were workers clustering at the entrance to cool the hive.  While the day before had been sunny and warm, this day was grey, cold and misty -- this later turned to a mild monsoon.  And that was a good thing, as the bees were more concerned about keeping warm and dry than they were about defending the hive. 
It took a lot of effort to pry apart the soffit to get at the hive. 

As the bottom came off we got our first look at the hive.  He said the bees were a hybrid of Italian bees and Russian bees, which is why they looked different than I was used to seeing.  Russian bees have been recently introduced to the US due to the bee die-off.  They are resistant to the mites that kill bees. 
This was a brand new section the bees were just starting.  Most of the comb was empty of honey.
John had an extra bee suit and offered it to me so I could go up and see the hive.  I jumped at the chance!  By that time it was raining fairly steadily.  You can see in the photo the rain drops that were on my lens. 
Isn’t it incredible looking?
John carefully took out the comb and placed it in one of the boxes.  The darker part of the comb is where they had honey stored. 
He then told me that this area was not the main hive, but a new part.  And a new part meant that the old part was full.  And that old part had to be farther down the soffit. 

So he was soon prying and cutting on that area.  Once he started using a reciprocal saw to cut thru the board, the bees started getting a bit angry… not that I blame them.
So it was time to break out the smoker.  He used pine needles to create the smoke. 

The smoke calms the bees by masking the alarm pheromones the bees produce when stressed and it also triggers a feeding response in the bees (so to grab up as much honey as they can in case they have to bug out because of a fire).  When a bee has a full stomach, he can’t easily flex his abdomen to sting. 
He used plenty of smoke…

And when it cleared I saw why (from a respectful distance – hence the shaky photo).  There were a LOT of bees sitting on that honeycomb!

It took him quite a while to remove all the combs and clean up the area.  He used a bleach solution to wash down the hive area to remove the scent of the honey.  This would keep them from coming back or another swarm from coming in.

John took the bees back to his home and set up a bee box for them to move into.  He told me there was about 35 pounds of honey comb and it was a very nice hive. 

I’m glad we were able to move them without killing the hive. 


  1. Yikes, and double yikes! That was a ton of bees! Oh, did he leave you any honey? Glad no one was hurt.

  2. He left a little bit of honeycomb. The rest went into the bee boxes for the bees to start their new hive with.

  3. Thanks for sharing. Did the soffits have any permanent damage?

  4. From being cut to get at the bees there was some. It can be repaired tho you'll be able to see the seam.


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