By Ryan McKibben
Springtime is a busy time for beekeepers. Adding honey supers, making splits, cleaning feeders and keeping an ever-watchful eye out for swarms. Non-beeks are outside more and lawncare professionals are ramping up their business so we also get a lot of calls this time of year for removals of feral colonies.
I love doing these removals from trees and usually have pretty good luck. I have used a couple of methods to do this. One being a trapout where you fasten a cone made of #8 hardware cloth to a tree essentially funneling worker bees out and betting they won’t be able to get back in until most of them have gotten out and they decide to take up residence in a hive box you have waiting just outside the tip of the cone. This can take days even weeks to be effective and you must make sure the bees absolutely have no other entrance into their old home, or they will go back into their old house. This is time consuming and can be frustrating, especially if the tree is in a beautiful yard in, say, Golden Eagle.
I am far too impatient for that. And I also have a day job and 5 kids, and a small farm to take care of, and multiple apiaries, and, and, and the list continues. Since my time with the 3rd Infantry Division, I am more of a shock and awe kind of bee remover. My favorite method is the Forced Abscond. This is more like the blitzkrieg of trapouts and involves a 3/8” drill bit that’s about 12 inches long, your smoker, some lemongrass oil, a nuc box, and a little ingenuity. The idea is to drill a hole near the top of the hive and give the bees some cool smoke until they all get agitated enough that they all march into the nuc box you have graciously provided for them right outside the hive. It usually only takes me a few hours, and then I have free bees! When all this quarantine business is over, I would love to give a demonstration. What I will not demonstrate is the events that took place earlier this month.
It was a great day for a Forced Abscond. The sky was clear, the weather was mild enough to don a full bee suit, and the bees were working hard. This particular colony was about 10 feet up in an oak tree, the hive located inside a burl. As you can see in the photos, I used some of the good old-fashioned American ingenuity that I wrote about earlier, but my first mistake was not putting the entrance of the nuc box right next to the hole in the tree. My second mistake was the hole I drilled. I borrowed an auger bit that nearly sprained my wrist as soon as it bit into the tree. What you need is an “installer style” bit. My last and most fatal mistake was smoking the bees while the smoke was far too hot. When only about 50 bees came out (after about 2 hours), I realized no others were escaping so I looked inside the hole with my phone and realized there were dead bees all over the bottom of the hive. I had suffocated the hive. Devastating. I hope you all will heed my instructions in the previous paragraph and not do what I did. Shock and Awe is not always the best policy. If you ever need help, please let me know. I will always do what I can to help save these most precious pollinators.