Sticky Acres

Songs In The Key Of Bee: Rescuing Honey Bees From A Stereo Speaker

We’ve been waiting for weeks for it to warm up enough to get the bees from Oat Boy. The bees have been living in a speaker inside of Oat Boy’s pool cabana for the last three years. Even though the bees are friendly, Oat Boy was tired of rescuing drowning bees out of the pool. So back in September, while our bee gear was still on backorder, Oat Boy made a homemade bee suit and moved the speaker full of bees to his side yard, where it has sat ever since.

Last night we finally picked up the bees. We waited until after it got dark, to make sure that all the bees were home inside the speaker, snuggled in for the night. Between the damp and swollen particle board and the bees, the speaker hive weighed 60 pounds. We sealed off the hive entrances with window screen and duct tape and then shoved the entire speaker, into a cardboard box that we taped up for transport in the trunk of our car.

Since Oat Boy had moved the speaker from his pool cabana to his side yard during the day, some of the field bees had returned home to discover that they had been left behind (like Kirk Cameron). Those lost bees had attempted to build a new colony, but this comb was empty when we cut it from the cabana roof. We brought it home with us so the Speaker Bees could reuse it.

When we got back to the house, after much debate about which end was actually up, we set the box on the patio table. Note to self: in the future, clearly mark “UP” on bee transport containers! We cut open the front of the box so the bees wouldn’t suffocate during the night and turned on the patio light so they could have some heat. Tomorrow, we’ll cut the rest of the box apart and use that as a work surface when we dismantle the speaker so we don’t have to worry about getting the table all sticky.

We woke up this morning to discover that the Speaker Bees had somehow managed to muscle the window screen covering their front entrance out of the way, despite the liberal coating of duct tape, and were already buzzing around the yard, bringing in nectar and pollen. We’d been jokingly calling the Speaker Bees the “Yacht Rock Bees” due to their poolside provenance, but had to amend this description to “Northern Soul Bees” because clearly these bugs know how to get down. (We’re hoping that there won’t be some sort of Quadrophenia-style mods vs. rockers altercation between them and our Hot Tub Bees).

We gave the bees a few puffs of smoke to calm them down. For non-beekeepers reading this, the smoke works for two reasons:

1. It makes the bees believe that they’re close to a fire so they chow down on honey in preparation to evacuate the hive. This is sort of like people rushing to buy bottled water at the grocery store after an earthquake. And kind of in the way that nobody wants to get into a fist fight after a big Thanksgiving meal, the eating binge tends to pacify the bees. (Thank you Kirk Anderson for that analogy)

2. It dulls the pheromone receptors of the guard bees and keeps them from releasing isopentyl acetate a.k.a alarm odor which tells the middle-aged bees (that I inconveniently discovered have the most venom) to “attack the pink bear who is standing in front of the hive holding the digital camera and not wearing gloves.”

(That said, we’ve been making an effort to use less smoke with our established hives, as smoking seems to put the bees off their game for the rest of the day. Our Hot Tub bees stay mellow without smoking).

While waiting for the bees to relax, we cut the box away from the speaker, using one flap as a ramp down to a medium super, that we positioned next to the patio table.

I put the sad little piece of legacy comb into a frame and dropped that into the super so it would smell homey to the bees.

We had no idea of the size of the colony until we started prying apart the speaker with our hive tools.

Wow! The speaker was wall to wall bees. The bees had filled the speaker interior with eight pieces of comb that were so heavy with brood and honey that they collapsed under their own weight when we pulled the back of the speaker off.

Everything had been going smoothly until we had to cut down some brood comb to fit it into a frame.

The second the knife cut into brood, the bees freaked out. We felt terrible about hurting the babies, but even worse about all the bees who died trying to defend the colony by stinging our bee suits. It was at this moment that we realized that it would probably have been a good idea to pre-wrap the frames with the cotton kitchen string we had on hand and then slide the cut comb into the string scaffolding, instead of trying to tie the comb into the frames while angry bees crawl over our hands. Next time we do a cut-out we will use rubber bands instead of string. Those are much easier to manipulate while wearing gloves.

As this was our first experience doing a cut-out (our other hives have been trap-outs from Kirk), we had no idea that honeycomb was so heavy and fragile. We were worried that all the honey and crazy bee action would attract robbing from every other bug in the neighborhood, so at the two hour mark we decided that it would be better for the Speaker Bees, if we just got everyone out of the speaker and into the hive as soon as possible. Instead of trying to tie the extra sticky honeycomb into frames, and spilling honey everywhere, we collected what wouldn’t fit in the super to crush and strain later. We’ll refeed the honey to the bees next week after they calm down a little. In the mean time, we scooped up the bees that wouldn’t leave the patio table with our hands and dropped them into the hive and scooted the bees on the ramp down onto the frames with a bee brush.

I definitely see a bee vacuum in our future. If we had vacuumed the bees out of the way first, the cut-out process would have taken us thirty minutes instead of two hours. I also think that with the bees corralled inside a bee vac, and unable to sting us, we’ll lose fewer bees, if any, to defense stinging.

While we waited for the last remaining bees to march into the new hive, we took some extra pieces of honeycomb and fed it to our second (lazy) hive that has been having a little trouble getting their act together. We dumped the trashed speaker and the honey-covered box 30 feet from all of the hives so our other bees could rob out the honey at their leisure and not attack the new hive.

The Speaker Bees are bigger bees than the bees in our other two colonies, which are so dinky they look like something you’d buy out of a vending machine. In Japan. (Seriously, the Hot Tub bees look like flying Tic Tacs). We think the Speaker Bees are fugitives from some commercial pollination outfit and haven’t regressed themselves down to the teensey size of our other feral bees. We are hoping that the new bees are cubanized bees (CHB) that we’ll be able to crossbreed with our africanized bees and create afro-cuban (A-CHB) that will buzz the boogaloo and forage for hand-rolled cigars.

One Comment

  1. Pat Gentry
    Posted April 24, 2010 at 3:00 am | Permalink

    Thanks for describing and photographing your experience. Every rescue is different, and you learn something every time! Interesting comment about the size of your feral bees…two sizes, eh? All my swarms caught in Sonoma are fairly normal in size, though the colors vary. So far, all gentle bees, which I hope they remain.
    all best, Pat

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