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The Beehive: Moving renegade bee colony and queen is no picnic

Bees, combs and honey galore. (Brett Kent / For the Enterprise)

By Brett Kent / For the Enterprise

I have been dying to write this column. Last time I wrote, I confessed that I was not a patient man, and that I was going to do something drastic if the bees in the Kimball hive didn’t start cooperating. By this, I meant by moving them out of the log and into my bee box. So, about a day after I wrote the last column, I asked Brenda to put the bee suit on and grab the camera, because I was going to open that log up with the chainsaw.

We got all suited up and I started cutting the log.

First off, I cut the log lengthwise. I cut a wedge out; I would say about 25 percent of the log. Brenda was taking pictures and smoking the bees. As I have mentioned before, the smoke interferes with the bees’ ability to communicate, and they don’t get the message to defend the hive. I have to say, these bees were very well behaved. They were not aggressive at all.

So, I opened the tree up, by cutting it from the outside edge, to just about the hollowed middle. I then put a pry bar in the cut and busted it open. This gave us a great view of what was going on inside the tree.

Immediately, I understood why the bees didn’t travel up to live in my bee box. They had reworked the honeycomb that had been ruined when the tree had hit the ground. I cut away another 25 percent of the log, to expose more of the comb. While I was doing this, the bees were bunching up by the hole in the tree, which they use for a front entrance.

Once we had taken half of the log away, we started cutting the brood comb into sizes that would fit inside an empty frame. We then would hold them in place by putting rubber bands on each end of the frame. Once we had the comb secured with the rubber bands, we would place the frame into a new hive box.

In only a few days, the bees will then glue the pieces of comb to the frames, and the rubber bands are chewed off. I know, it is crazy. We were able to fill eight frames with the brood comb. The nurse bees in charge of taking care of the brood are very protective of the unhatched bees, and they will not leave, so this helped to convince the other bees to stay in the new hive box.

Oh, I used one more trick. I placed a few drops of lemongrass oil in the new hive box. The oil mimics the smell of the queen’s pheromone. This helps convince the bees that the queen is in the new box.

Then I carried the big pieces of log over by the hive box and shook as many bees off as I could into the box. I then knocked the rest of them off onto the ground in front of the hive box.

Now the bees in the hive box that were satisfied, or fooled into thinking the queen was in the new box, started fanning the lemongrass oil, as if to tell the bees outside the box, that everything was okay, and it was okay to enter their new home. So, the rest of the bees just started marching up this board, like little soldiers, into their new home.

Keep in mind, Brenda and I did not know where the queen was for sure. We were hoping that she was in the hive box, but with all the chaos, and about 25,000 bees, we were unable to spot the queen. Brenda and I started talking about how we would feel much better if we had located the queen. Brenda then mentioned that there was a little group of bees on one of the log pieces.

I watched and they kept going into a little opening behind some rotten wood. I pried off the wood and Brenda yelled. It was the queen with about 10 worker bees hiding back there. I grabbed her and placed her in a queen cage. I placed the caged queen in the hive box. I left the queen in the cage for 24 hours. This would allow the queen time to settle down and realize that the new hive box was a suitable place to live. The following day, I released the queen from the cage.

Now, 12 days later, the queen is laying lots of eggs and the rest of the bees are very happy with their new home. As for me, I have one less thing driving me crazy.

Oh, I should mention, I will be bringing the observation hive to the farmers market on Main and Fourth Street this Saturday. So come on over and pay us a visit, and see if you can spot the queen.