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Protecting or catching a feral hive


#1

Hi all - sorry this is going to be a long one!

So we are in sunny (at the moment) Perth, Australia, and are very lucky to live on a nice bush block with a fair amount of forage. We have had a feral hive high in a tree since we have been here (7+ years), and late last summer bought a Nuc of very calm bees from a local supplier. Our Nuc is maintaining it’s small size through winter, but seems happy & healthy and I’m sure will expand once the orchard starts blossoming.

We have been having some work done at our property which necessitated an almost dead tree adjacent to the feral hive to be removed. I explained carefully to the tree lopper where the hive was and to be very careful with that tree. Inagine our surprise when all of a sudden a large swarm of angry bees are chasing him around the property! Initially we thought that he had upset the hive we knew about but it turns out there was a second hive in a hollow branch of the tree he felled. This hive survived being dropped about 5m to the ground and then rolled down into the gulley!!! Being the middle of winter and given that I only have one tiny hive I thought the best course of action would be to leave them as they would likely have honey stores to get them through winter, and they have made it!. Now that we are coming up to spring, though, I am worried they will be decimated by ants once the weather heats up. The log has large openings at each end and a small 2.5cm round hole in the middle which must have been their entrance it the tree. The log is extremely heavy so cannot be lifted and would require a chainsaw to cut (which I’m guessing the bees won’t like!) So I have a couple of thoughts on what to do and wanted the opinion of all:

  1. Block up both ends so they only have the small hole at the top to give them a chance of defending themselves from the ants.

  2. Place a hive over the hole with frames in in the hope of getting them to move up into it so we can get them out of the log. We can semi seal this to give them a small entrance which again they will hopefully defend.

  3. If they control the ants leave them as a log hive and add the super on top at some point to harvest when/ if our second brood box is full

  4. Leave a Nuc box near the hive in case they decide to leave their hive home.

I know this may seem like a crazy idea, but I do feel responsible for these bees losing their safe home in the tree, but I just don’t see how we can do a cutout here. We could use a bee vacuum that a friend has but that would kill so many and not get out any of their stores or young so they would have to start from scratch.

The log hive may ultimately fail as our own hive is standing in oil because the ants are so aggressive here. It might mean that the bees won’t be able to defend even a small entrance, but as I said previously the log weight 100s kilos so cannot be moved or cut!

Anyway thanks for reading the ramblings - any advice would be appreciated.

Cheers,

Julia


#2

Hi Julia. I’ve now done a number of these bee rescues and the one that worked best was where I accessed the actual colony of bees, removing both the comb and the bees. I used a vacuum for the bees but others seem to manage by removing the comb into a hive and encouraging the bees to follow.

By all means try chainsaw access into the log. I didn’t have to do this because my log was open on one side. Bees will want to be well smoked because your bees will not like the chainsaw invasion and have already proved they can attack! I haven’t done the chainsaw access bit myself so can’t give advice.

The trapout option is much less certain and almost never catches the queen. Plenty of you tube videos showing technique. Basically you need all potential bee exits fully blocked off except for their one normal entrance. This is turned into a one way valve using a long, horizontal, flyscreen funnel ending in a 6mm diameter hole. The space above the end of the funnel must be clear. Otherwise bees will make their own three dimensional cluster and pass each other back through the hole. I know to my own disappointment that they quickly learn to get back through funnels with the wrong geometry. The funnel must be horizontal so bees can remove their dead and other hive debris.

Within 30 cm of the funnel end you need the entrance to your trap hive. This needs to be a “weak” colony. I use a frame of brood including eggs and a frame of honey and the rest of an 8 frame box full of foundation. drawn comb or starter strips. The “weak” colony I use doesn’t have a queen but does have the eggs to make one.

Then you need lots of patience. I’ve been working on the one trapout in a live, still standing tree for months. My feral colony is so strong they just keep chewing more entrances through weak spots in the tree. I’m close to giving up on this one although I was lucky with a colony in the main street of Byron Bay (Jonson Street). These bees had been in residence in a heritage pine tree opposite the Beach Hotel. I didn’t get the queen but I did remove enough bees so that the colony collapsed. The process took about 6 weeks.

Good luck with your bee rescue. You’re going to need it!


#3

What an interesting story! Feral bees can be so tough, its great you are trying to look after them and give them their best chance.

I came across this example of a log hive suspended by wire between two posts. A bit wacky, but maybe something like this could work?

http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2009/06/04/beehive_fence_scares_off_elephants/

There is a photo of the log hive and how it’s suspended off the ground in the article.


#4

Thanks both. That fence looks awesome :slight_smile: We are too scared to use a chainsaw. We can see a bit of comb at one end, but would have to use a large spike to get it out which I’m afraid would do so much damage & kill so much brood and quite probably the queen. My hubby thinks we can lift the log with a tractor so I think we’ll try and get it away from the ants and use the log as our first brood box, adding traditional boxes on top. Not too bothered about getting honey from these guys just want to help them survive. Will post some pictures when we get it done :).

Cheers,

Julia


#5

Hey Julia,

Don’t be to concerned using a chainsaw, patients and plenty of smoke I found was the answer for this 3 metre long hive and lots of buckets for the honey.

With pure luck we convinced the queen to move into a box and everyone else followed.

This was a removal requested by a council, was near a bus stop.


#6

Wow, that looks like a big mission. Did you is a bee vacuum, as most of the videos I’ve seen use one to capture the bees first, and I think they may kill a large number of bees? I’m coming to the conclusion that perhaps feral hives are tougher than I think and can survive being in a log on the ground surrounded by ants pretty well! Maybe I don’t need to rescue them after all and can leave them to it?

That said, I think we will still block up the ends to reduce any entry and put a brood box on top so they go through it to exit to see if they want to become semi tame for us. Our bought bees are so chilled they are taking their sweet time expanding from their Nuc, so maybe these wild ones will be more dedicated to the mission :slight_smile:


#7

The biggest issue we had was finding either end of this hive. Once we got three metres from the single hole entrance and was still into the honey pot we had to call it as we didn’t want to make the tree unstable or dangerous for pedestrians.

No Vac just lots of slow careful cutting and heaps of smoke.
Once we cut into the log and seen that bees were escaping from the cut we knew we had a big day ahead of us.
There was evidence of ants all over the place but nothing in the hive. Once we opened the first cutaway, straight away we could hear the queen pipping loudly. With luck on our side all we used was smoke which pushed her up and into our box and just as quickly all others followed.

All up only 6 stings, lots of bees with a nice queen and lots of amazing honey. :slight_smile:

This was our first tree removal.


#8

Good luck with the rescue Julia and well done on trying to rescue the wild colony
In the city I provide Honey Bee swarm rescue boxes so the bees can choose a safe place to setup home rather than a wall of a house or compost bin - you might try something like this in future
you can see a video about it here if you like

cheers
Benedict


#9

great work! always good to rescue some bees - I am happy i have completed my chainsaw training so I can be safe when doing cut outs.


#10

I too have a feral bunch in a tree but a little too high.
Am down near Mt Barker, WA and have just ordered some Lemongrass oil (from Ebay) to put in a few nuc boxes and hopefully entice a swarm.
Am needing another colony to start a hive and most WA suppliers have no queens or just very expensive.


#11

I just thought I’d post an update. Checked the bees in the log on the weekend and all seemed well. My flow hive arrived on Monday and when I went to check on them again, they’d either all left, or all died :(. It has been terrible weather here the last week, so unfortunately I think they might have perished. Such bad timing as I have now made the new hive and just need to oil it and we are good to go.

On a brighter note It finally feels like spring here today and the feral hive in the tree is going crazy - I think they are getting ready to swarm! I have put out a Nuc box with a couple of frames with foundation near by hoping they will make that their new home. I don’t have any spare comb, but could cut some out of the abandoned log to hopefully entice them down. Might also try lemongrass oil.

Now for a stupid question. I am planning on having my new hive (with hopefully caught swarm) next to my old hive on the same stand, but am thinking if I put them too close together they may fight each other or get lost returning to the hive. Is this likely, and if so what sort of a gap do I need to leave between them?

Cheers,

Julia


#12

They won’t get lost or fight. There may be some drift between hives, as any bee carrying food is usually allowed to enter a hive. Shouldn’t be a big problem though. However, I like to leave around 3 feet (1 meter) between hives to give me space to work during inspections etc. :smile: