Re-homing Feral Bees into a Beehive with Frames

Re-homing feral bees and their unruly hives into a bee box.

Bees make their homes in all sorts of interesting places. This week we have a beehive in a wine barrel to deal with!

As Aussie Bee elaborates, “some swarms of commercial honey bees build nests in exposed locations such as under a branch or the eaves of a house. Other swarms of commercial honeybees build nests in enclosed cavities, such as inside a wall, a chimney, a compost bin or a tree hollow. In this case you will see dozens of honeybees flying in and out of a single entrance hole leading to the cavity”.

It’s always good to have a feral hive like this professionally removed and re-homed. As Aussie Bee points out, feral honey bees compete with native bees and native birds for food and nest sites. They may also carry bee diseases that could infect managed honeybee hives if they’re left to roam. This is why an apiarist will always quarantine new hives of feral bees before adding them to the apiary.

Despite these risks, exterminating feral beehives is not the answer. We need as many bees as possible, for both honey production and crop pollination. There will always be feral bees,  but the more of them we can get into managed hives, the better.

But then how exactly does an apiarist get a freeform feral hive into a bee box? First we’ll take a quick look at what we can do with the honeycomb, when it is accessible.

After capturing the bees (more to come on that later) Ian cuts the honey comb into pieces to fit in our New Zealand pine frames.

He uses the traditional wire frames shown below, but without the beeswax sheet. Once he has a good fit,  he uses large rubber bands to hold the comb in place.

These frames are then placed into a “brood box” for a new beehive. The brood box is home to the queen and is the base box of the hive. Then the worker bees are given time to clean up the frames and fully establish the brood box. We also need these few weeks to ensure the new bees are disease free.

It’s not guaranteed that the bees will settle in their box. Many do abscond. But with luck, within a few weeks the bees will clean up the honeycomb and we’ll have nice full frames. The rubber bands are also gone by this point. Ian often sees some black, dirty debris outside the hive entrance – the result of meticulous cleaning and repair efforts from worker bees.

Once we have a healthy brood box, it’s time to add a queen excluder and the first super (“supers” is the name given to the boxes added on top of the brood box) with more frames.

As for re-homing the feral bees in the wine barrel, we plan to document the process on video, so stay tuned!