By Izzy Anderson

After 20 years of sheltering away, a very large beehive was recently removed from a shed at a SeaTac home.

Local beekeeper David Feinberg took on the task of taking out the hive and relocating the bees inside. Feinberg has worked with bees for 25 years, ever since his wife brought home their first colony.

For this particular hive, a cut-out was needed.

“Often all you need is a ladder and a box. Sometimes it’s more complicated. They are way up a tree, on a chain link fence, or hanging off a jet at Seatac. I’ve seen all those and more,” Feinberg said. “But there is another type of bee removal called a cut-out, this is when the bees have moved into the wall of a building, a chimney – somewhere that they are hard and costly to get to.”

While cut-outs weren’t a usual part of the job for Feinberg, he was interested in this, and so took on the work.

“They tell me the colony has been there for 20 years and the bees need to be removed so the shed can be torn down. Since the bees were easily accessible at ground level and there was not any finish carpentry required, I agreed to do the cut-out,” he said.

And while the beehive itself was 20 years old, the bees he found inside were newer residents.

“Where bees live, their surroundings absorb their smells, brood pheromone, queen pheromone,” Feinberg said. “These smells are attractive to swarms looking for a home. Bee’s colonies don’t live forever, they die out from time to time. So, what happens is new bees move into the old house, [if] it’s the right size, it smells good.”

He explained that this process is like apartment hunting. Similarly, bees are looking for a home that feels right for them.

What particularly gave away how new the bees were, was the color of the wax.

“Old wax is dark. When the wax is new it is pure white, as the bees walk on it first it turns yellow, then oatmeal colored, then toasty brown and then chestnut,” Feinberg said. “Over time it gets darker and darker. The wax in the cut-out colony was all brand new and light colored, almost all the honey was from this year’s nectar flow.”

“The property owner said there had been a fire at the adjoining house – my theory is [that] the old colony was destroyed, and all the old wax melted in the heat of the fire, then new tenants moved in,” he said.

There were several steps needed to successfully pull off a cut-out.

“I suited up and went to work slicing up the honeycomb, and then the brood comb – brood is the word for baby bees,” Feinberg said. “I spent about four hours carefully cutting out the comb bit by bit, first all the honey, and then all the brood. When I was all done, I had two full boxes and 16 frames of brood and honey.”

Next was getting the swarm to join, which meant moving the queen bee too.

“When a swarm is collected, it’s fairly easy to tell if the queen is present by how the bees act. If they put their butts in the air and fan their wings,” he said. “They are fanning the ‘come hither’ pheromone into the air. This signals to the bees, ‘here we are, and your royal highness is within’ and any stragglers fly in and rejoin their family.”

Finally, the bees swarmed for a while, checking out how their home had been re-arranged and moved.

“When they are swarming, they are home shopping, so when placed in a bee box on old frames with the scent of brood pheromone, they switch from apartment hunting to painting and cleaning,” Feinberg said. “It’s simply the next step of what they were already doing, you’ve just given them their new key.”

Photos courtesy David Feinberg