Bees in Venable Hall

Ok, I’ve been a bit busy and have been very slow to get this on the blog. It actually happened back on the 5th of June. Anyway, here are the details and some pictures. These are the one I took, but I quickly got busy enough with the work, so there aren’t many except from the beginning and the end. There are some pictures that others took, and maybe I can track them down at some point.

I was contacted by a Mark, a fellow beekeeper who is a Horticulturist at UNC (where I am a grad student). It turns out that he had been contacted about a feral beehive that was located in the roof of Venable (an old Chemistry building). Venable had already been completely gutted, and is slated to be demolished later this year. Mark has seen my blog, and wanted to know if I would be interested in helping remove the bees. Naturally, I was very interested. πŸ™‚ I went by the building and easily spotted the hive. It was three stories up, about at the roof line. Mark said that he had been into the attic of the building and had not been able to find the bees on the inside, so we didn’t know exactly where the hive was (only where the entrance was). The bees were entering in a crack between two stone blocks of the facade.

Luckily there are also other tarheel beekeepers, including the wife of the UNC Chancellor, Dr. Susan Moeser. She and Mark together keep bees in the Chancellor’s garden, and the the Moesers were wanted to have the bees in Venable saved before the building was demolished. I’m sure saving them would have been much harder without their influence.

Since we had no idea exactly what was going to be needed to remove the bees, we tried to be as prepared as we could. To help in the effort I built a bee vac, but Mark and Susan did all the leg work. When we arrive to Venable on 5th, there was already a lift and UNC personnel to help us out. With out them and their equipment, we never could have done the removal. After Mark, Susan, and myself donned out protective gear we were helped into some additional protective gear. Falling from the lift was to be avoided at all costs. πŸ™‚

All three of us took the lift up to the hive expecting a angry welcome from the bees. They were however, very calm and not aggressive. We cut and peeled back a copper gutter that was directly above the entrance only to find concrete below it. The bees were still moving in between the stone blocks to a well hidden hive.

Without much other choice, we had to get out the hammers and chisel. We decided to start in on the block to the left of the entrance, and started pounding away as gently as possible. Still, no big response from the bees. Venable Hall was built in the 1920’s, and had an addition in the 1950’s. I am not sure when the part we were working on was built, but it was sturdy. The blocks were thick, but hollow with holes connecting the spaces. It proved a good place for bees to hide. πŸ™‚

In the cavity just to the left of the crack where the bees were entering, we found our first comb. It was white, and clearly new. It had uncured nectar in it, and no brood. We gently vacuumed what bees we could, removed the comb, and moved on. Very carefully, we started on the bottom of the next block. It too had white, new comb with uncured nectar, but also started to see capped honey cells.

The inside of the hollow spaces was coated with what looked almost like black asphalt. Upon closer inspection, it looked to be the remains of very old comb and debris. Although this comb was new, it was clear that these cavities had bee used by bees for a long time. Above this comb, there was a separate cavity, but here we found lots of very old and dark comb full of capped honey. It looked years old, and I doubt anyone would want to try it. We cleared out as much as we could while still vacuuming up the bees as they came out. Amazingly, the bees were still not very aggressive and were not trying to sting. Here is what it looked like after removing comb from multiple cavities in this block.

Directly behind these cavities were more cavities filled with more old comb. At this point we got pretty busy dealing with the bees and the comb, and I pretty much stopped taking regular pictures. Hopefully I can track down some additional pictures at some point.

As we worked out to the corner of the building, we started to run into old comb that had eggs, larva, and capped brood. These we removed as carefully as possible and did out best to put in frames with rubber bands. It sort of worked.

We ended up working out way through a whole bunch of stone blocks with many cavities. The hive continued both back into the building, and around the corner or the building. We needed to come down once to empty the bee vac (we dumped the bees into a waiting hive body and set them aside). Throughout the whole thing, we were carefully watching for the queen. We all really wanted to find her and get her safely back to a new home in the Chancellor’s garden. We had no such luck though.

We finally got to the point that we were no longer finding more comb. The bees were however retreating to and emerging from cavities deeper into the wall. It appeared that though they had not expanded the hive into these cavities, they found them to be a useful place to hid from us. We did our best to work around or behind these cavities and used smoke and Bee-Quick to drive the bees out. We assumed that the queen was somewhere hidden back in there too. We were able to drive a whole lot of bees out, but still didn’t see the queen. After a bit of work however we saw a cluster of bees a small distance away on a ledge. When we went to investigate, Mark saw the queen in the group. Our joy was short lived however as the queen took flight and was lost. We sprayed the cavities where the hive had been with Bee-Quick to try to keep the bees from trying to return, and left a small nuc that was baited with come comb and lemongrass oil. We hoped that queen and her workers would move into the nuc and we could pick them up the next day.

As we headed down, it seemed that all of the remaining bees were in flight. Although we had vacuumed up a large amount, the air was still thick with bees. From below it was still impressive (both the number of bees, and the destruction we did). (the shot below is actually from the next day)

As we were about to leave however, we noticed a bunch of bees clustering on the roof and our nuc. We went into the adjacent building to have a better look. It was impressive. Bees were clearly beginning to cluster and all the remaining bees in flight were hovering facing the nuc, like planes waiting for their turn to land. Here are a couple of pictures after about half the bees had moved into the nuc.

For that many bees to so suddenly cluster and move into the nuc, we felt quite sure that the queen had gone into the nuc. We want home happy hoping to be able to pick the nuc up with the queen early the next morning.

The most amazing thing about the removal was how calm the bees were. I was never stung, with as far as I know only two attempted stings in my gloves. The bees never acted very aggressive with us while we were on the lift. Both Mark and Susan were very interested in adding these friendly bees to their apiary. While we were all down off the lift, away from the hive getting a drink and taking a short break, we did have two stings. Mark was stung in the palm and Susan had a bee get stuck in her hair and received a sting on the scalp. Overall however, the bees were very calm. On top of being very calm, we also didn’t see any sign of disease or pests. I was very surprized to not see even one small hive beetle during the whole removal.

We took the bees we had vacuumed up, along with the comb we had rubber banded into frames back to the Chancellor’s garden. We had gotten all the brood comb we could, and some had new eggs in it. We hoped that these bees would be able to tend to the brood, and possibly even raise a queen. We combined the bees and the comb and left them for the night.

The next morning, we went back and Mark went up on the lift to collect the nuc (and hopefully the queen). Since there were probably some foragers out, we left another nuc with comb in it for them when they came back.

After we got the nuc back to the Chancellor’s garden, we did a quick check. The bees had started building some comb, and we found the queen. We were very happy to have gotten her. We then went to check on the bees we had left with the comb the night before. When we got to them, a large group of them had clustered on the outside of the hive and on its lid. They didn’t seem to interested in moving into the hive, so we decided to take them to the nuc with their queen to see if they would join it. These bees had been removed from their queen for 12-18 hours.

The bees response was amazing. Within seconds of placing them near the entrance, the whole group turned to face the entrance (almost in unison) and started heading into the nuc to join their queen. It was a sight to see. Here is a video I took shortly after we put the bees near the entrance. You can see the bees streaming toward the entrance.

We had left the bee vac on top of the hive with the comb (it fits on a standard Langstroth hive body). W also brought it with the bees clustered on its outside to the nuc with the queen. Their reaction was identical. They immediately recognized their queen’s pheromone and started marching into the hive.

We were able to check back on the new hive after a few days. The bees seemed good, and the queen was laying. Unfortuantely the bees we left with the comb were not doing as well. The comb was still a mess, and there were small hive beetle larva . We ended up not keeping the comb, and combining the remaining bees with their queen.

Hopefully these bees will thrive in the Chancellor’s garden and be a healthy addition to the apiary there.

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One Response to “Bees in Venable Hall”

  1. Bug Girl Says:

    wow! very cool!
    Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

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