I normally do not perform bee removals or even catch swarms not originating from one of my yards. Today, I got a message about some bees needing to be relocated. It was in the direction of a couple of bee yards that needed checking so I agreed to stop by. The hive was in a structure that was being disassembled and there was easy access and no concern about any collateral damage. I verified there were no confined animals nearby in case things went poorly and bees became highly defensive. I had some newly emerged queens on hand.
The property was as described to me but the condition of the structure was a concern. The flooring was rotten and easy to step through, but with the help of several panel boards I was able to get "reasonable" access. A misstep would probably require a tetanus shot at the least.
The bees were in an old cabinet at floor level. It was a good size colony with at least 9 large combs and more small ones filling the space. They were very gentle and required minimal smoke to remove the covering to get access. I noted the outer combs were quite brittle as old comb is so estimated the hive had been there for some time. As I started removing some pieces of the outer comb I found a few hive beetles. Working down into the the hive I found a lot of hive beetles, a whole lot of hive beetles. Bees seemed to be managing them but not something I would want to see in one of my yards. I was concerned that I did not see any fresh wax. At this time of year there is nectar and young bees so you should see some new wax. Another concern was I found as much drone brood as worker brood. I considered the queen could be a good survivor but was slowing down with fertilized eggs. What I couldn't quite figure out was; given the conditions I was looking at, why were there no queen cups or any evidence the hive was not attempting or preparing to re-queen. As I proceeded to disassemble the hive I kept finding more and more SHB. Finally got to the point that to reduce the transfer of SHB, I attached only a couple of small pieces of comb containing larvae to frames. I never saw the queen but easily could have missed her in moving bees. I added one of the fresh queens I had to the box and bees started to attend to her. At the end of the project I had a 5 frame nuc box with a couple of pieces of old comb wired to 2 frames and 3 new frames in the box. Bees were fanning at the entrance and the interior population was increasing. There were a couple of hours of light left so I left the box in place to collect returning foragers.
So here is where the question, Are free bees really free? comes into play. You have invested time in travel and removing the bees, you may be gathering a hive with a high pest load, you may be gathering hive that just doesn't quite feel right in terms of brood ratio, age, hive activity, worker-queen relationship or some other subtle thought that says that there is something going on here. Drop in in the middle of your healthy yard and hope for the best. Are free bees really free?
Some beekeepers perform removals as part of their business plan. If they have done this successfully for any time then they probably have answered these issues, plan accordingly, and move ahead. If you are new to beekeeping and hoping to increase your hive count, take a few moments to consider if free bees are really free.
If these relocate successfully into the transfer box they will need to be moved in a couple of days. Contact me if you want some free bees.