Stopping a Bee Infestation

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A rogue hive had found a gap and established a colony under the eaves of the author's home.
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The author tending the hive after removing it from his roof.  
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The author placed a prepared half-sized hive on his roof near the site of the infestation to attract the colony's workers.   
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Beekeeper Edward Griswold captures another rogue swarm, one that had taken up residence in an orange bush near the offices of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Top Row, L to R: The hive in the bush; Lighting the smoker; Wafting smoke into the bush to stun the bees. Middle Row, L to R: Shaking the stunned bees into a hive; Checking to make sure the queen has been captured; Adding more smoke to the bush to discourage bees from returning. Bottom: The colony adjusts to its new home.

Our first warning of the invasion came on a warm, clear
morning about the middle of May. My wife and I noticed a
dozen or more honeybees flying close to the front of our
home where the porch roof is attached . . . then a long
spell of cool, wet weather set in and we didn’t see the
insects for a week. I was busy with other matters and
thought little of it . . . until the sun came out again and
our visitors returned.

“Ethel,” I said, “somebody’s bees are getting ready to
swarm. I’d better prepare the catch-hive, because if those
scouts have found a hole or a crack in the siding of this
old house they’ll bring back the whole bunch and set up
housekeeping.”

Accordingly, I got out the homemade half-size hive with
which I catch swarms and raise queens. I placed an old,
strong-smelling brood comb in the hive, along with another
comb that contained a royal cell nearly ready to hatch.
(I’d anticipated the swarming season by arranging for some
of my bees to start this queen more than a week beforehand,
just in case I should need her.)

I then prepared to get the hive up on the porch roof next
to where the migrating scouts were buzzing around. I also
figured I’d better plug any small holes in the house’s
siding where bees might get into the wall. Too late! As I
collected my tools, Ethel came running to the workshop with
the cry, “The swarm is here!”

Sure enough, bees were already creeping through an opening
at the end of the weatherboarding next to the cornice. I
clambered up near them and put the catch-hive on the porch
roof, but–due to the overhang of the molding–I
could get it no closer than about 20 inches to their point
of entry. That wasn’t close enough and the bees continued
to make their way in under the siding instead of into the
hive.

“Well,” I thought, “I can still put at least part of the
swarm where I want it.” Masses of eager insects were
clustered around the hole in the wall awaiting their turn
to enter, and–since bees that have just swarmed are
full of honey and don’t usually sting–I scooped up
several double handfuls and dumped them in front of my
catch-box. They smelled the combs inside and readily
crawled in . . . but I was still left with the problem of
capturing the bees that were already inside the wall of the
house.

If I had only succeeded in plugging the chink and setting
up the catch-hive before the swarm arrived–as I’d
planned–all the new arrivals would have gone into
their own house instead of into mine. Then I could have
closed the entrance and moved the hive to a permanent
location near my other bees. The following morning
newcomers would have flown out, circled around a bit to
note their new surroundings, and found their way home from
foraging thereafter without any trouble. As it was,
however, some of the swarm were settled with their queen in
the hollow wall and cornice of my home, and showed no signs
of leaving.

To get the squatters out, I covered the opening where they
entered with a bee escape . . . a metal device with weak
brass springs so arranged that a bee can push its way
through in one direction only. I also noticed a small crack
in the cornice, not quite big enough for the insects to get
through. When I looked in I could see jointed legs working
as the resourceful creatures searched for other crevices by
which they might come and go, so I bored a hole next to
this gap and put another escape over it.

Soon worker bees began to find their way through the
hatches and fly off to the fields and woods. On their
return, however, they discovered that they couldn’t get
back in to deposit their loads of nectar and pollen in the
combs their fellows were busily building to receive the
golden harvest. It was interesting to see the returning
workers’ distressed behavior as they ran about looking for
some way to get past the gates that had let them leave, but
wouldn’t allow them to re-enter. Interestingly enough,
though the catch-hive was only 20 inches away, none of the
returnees would go in. Instead, they clustered in
bewilderment around the escapes fastened to the siding and
cornice.

What should I do? To get the box any closer I’d have to
build a scaffold to support it, and I didn’t care to so
deface the front of our house. I went to sleep thinking
about the problem, and awoke during the night as a possible
solution came to mind: I’d nail together four wooden strips
and make a tunnel to lead from the escapes to the hive!

This I did the following morning, and as soon as I put my
invention in place, the bees began to enter their new home.
Soon, in fact, there was a mad scramble for the opening.

The success of my tunnel device was, I think, due to the
work of the farmers. These are members of a colony whose
job is to hang by their feet and buzz their wings so that
the air currents thus set in motion will carry excess heat
and moisture from inside the hive. (Who invented air
conditioning, anyhow?) In this case the discharge of stale
air went out of the half-hive’s entrance and up the tunnel.
As the workers clustered around the escapes smelled the
familiar odor of those old combs and the bees already in
the box, their reaction apparently was, “Ah–h! This
is what we’ve been looking for.” And in they rushed.

After two days nearly all the insects had abandoned the
wall of the house and left the queen and her attendants
behind. Unfortunately, the castaways would soon starve
without the workers to bring them food . . . but there was
no help for it. Very few bees were seen trying to get back
through the escapes, and those that had made themselves at
home in the hive were going and coming in a normal manner.

Since almost the whole swarm was now contained in a box
only half the usual size, I became concerned about
ventilation and tacked a piece of screen wire on top of the
hive. At night

I placed a folded newspaper over this grille, and laid the
wooden cover over all as protection from the cool night air
and possible rain.

A few days later, when I had captured all the swarm I
could, I thought it was time to move the newcomers to their
permanent location. After sunset, when darkness had forced
the workers to quit their field work, I blew a little smoke
into the entrance of the temporary home to drive back the
guards posted there. (These officials keep out any would-be
intruders, such as robbers from other hives.) Then I tacked
a piece of screen wire over the door, and my
helper–Tommy Harvey–brought the catching device
down from the roof and placed the box near my other
colonies.

Now there was another problem. If I simply opened the
entrance, the workers would fly out to forage the next
morning and–instead of coming back to the
hive–would return to the porch roof location . . .
where they’d find no place to go. The only solution other
than moving them at least a mile away was to keep them shut
up for three days. By that time, the old spot would be
forgotten.

By now the weather had turned quite warm, and the swarm
needed more space during its confinement. I therefore put a
screen top on an empty standard-size hive body and covered
half its bottom with a piece of light board (so that the
remaining opening was only as wide as the top of the
catch-hive). Then I puffed a little smoke through the
screen lid of the smaller box (to discourage flight),
pulled the cover off the halfhive and quickly placed the
larger container on top.

Each morning and evening I sprinkled half a pint of thin
sugar syrup through the wire cover. This food–one
part granulated sugar to two parts water–was a poor
substitute for the real thing, but at least it kept the
captives from starving.

Fortunately the members of the other nearby hives were so
busy working that the imitation nectar didn’t attract them.
Had the weather turned cool and cloudy, they might have
licked off as much as they could of the syrup that stuck to
the top of the screen . . . and then scouted around to find
out what other easily gathered booty was available. When
bees find a weak, poorly guarded colony they’ll rob it of
its treasures and kill the inhabitants. Sounds almost
human, doesn’t it?

The night before I released my prisoners from their house
arrest, I broke off an armful of small leafy branches and
placed them in front of the hive to force the bees to note
their changed location. Then I reached through this foliage
and pulled the screen from the entrance.

Early the next morning–when I went to see what was
going on–bees were finding their way through the
barrier, becoming airborne and circling about. Sometimes
they flew back toward the hive several times as if to be
sure of finding their way home before taking off in search
of nature’s sweets. Later in the day I found that a few had
returned to the roof, but they soon disappeared. The brush
had served its purpose, and during the afternoon I removed
it from in front of the colony’s new location.

The following day I shifted the catch-hive to one side, and
prepared to move the bees permanently into the empty
standard-size hive I’d used for a space extender.

First I placed eight frames of old combs–and the two
I’d already given the colony–into the larger
container, set it on a full-size bottom board and topped it
with a cover. Then I laid an old piece of
cotton sheet about three feet square on the ground in front
of the new home, with one edge extending into the hive
entrance, and shook the bees still in the small box onto
this cloth. They began at once to crawl into their fresh
quarters. Several days later I checked and found that the
new queen had hatched, flown out to mate with a drone in
the air and started to lay eggs.

Soon I’ll add another full-size hive body with frames of
what is known as “foundation”–thin sheets of wax with
the bases of worker cells stamped on both sides–to
the first to make sure the bees build the kind of combs I
want where I want them. If the weather continues favorable
after this second chamber is filled with honey, pollen and
young bees . . . I’ll give the colony a super (additional
section of hive) or two in which to store honey for us.
After all, tenants in a modern home should pay reasonable
rent.