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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
In the wild, honeybees inhabit hollow spots in tree trunks, or occasionally take up residence in walls of building structures. In each case the colony is confined to building comb in more of a vertical cavity than a horizontal one. Although I have never personally seen an established feral colony in either a tree or wall, I am assuming that the overall size of a feral colony including comb area and bees is smaller than the average healthy modern box kept colony during the honeyflow with at least a couple supers on. Maybe I'm wrong about this, so let me know if I am.

So, if what I said above is true, could it be that a problem such as we have with varroa mites could be aggravated by having an enlarged brood nest beyond what would be normal in the wild. And I'm not even counting the potential problems with enlarged foundation cell size. In the wild, a colony when cramped for space will likely swarm once, with possible afterswarms, thus reducing the population back down to more reasonable levels as far as the colony is concerned. A break in the brood cycle will also occur with swarming.

Could it be that feral colonies may be better suited to deal with pests like mites because of them being "natural" in respect to cell size, swarming, plus a more compact brood nest? Just a thought, any opinions?
 

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Dr. Tom Seeley has studied feral colonies in the woods around Ithaca for decades. He determined through careful study that bees prefer a cavity about the size of a standard Langstroth deep super (3 cheers for Langstroth) and that they like to be quite high up.

He put a lot of empty supers (no frames) around the woods in this area. The boxes are closed top and bottom with plywood, and mounted with the twenty inch dimension as the height (so the top is now the front). A two inch hole is cut in the front.

I was fortunate enough to get one of these with a colony in it, last spring. It had some of the most beautiful combs I ever saw. Unfortunately, they were built in the "wrong" direction. Their dimensions were about 19 x 15. If they had gone the other way with them I could have easily mounted the entire combs into standard frames.

Once I realized the size of the combs, I spent a whole week deciding how to best make use of the comb. I was able to fill several deep frames with unspliced pieces. The scraps I spliced together and mounted into frames held in place with rubber bands.

When I acquired the colony it was bone dry. They had quite a bit of pollen but no honey. I fed three or four gallons of sugar syrup until the wild flowers kicked in. Gradually I moved them into regular frames and in the fall I took the natural combs away from them. I would like to measure the cells some day, but haven't gotten around to it.

Insofar as your idea that natural hives may be less plagued by mites due to small colony size and regular swarming, I have thought this to be likely for many years. There have been a few studies done in Europe running bees in one or two boxes without supering and letting them swarm. I think it is an excellent idea, especially if one is keeping bees for conservation purposes instead of honey production. Unfortunately, they are still liable to get mites, nosema and AFB, so you have to at least inspect them periodically, hence the need for frames.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Your information about feral colonies was quite interesting to read, I hope someday to stumble upon one myself in a tree, I usually do look for them when I take frequent walks in the woods, but have not been fortunate enough yet to find one.

How is that cut out colony doing for you so far?
 

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I have cut a few feral colonies out of trees. Most of the time there were more than one deep super would hold. Swarming does break the brood cycle for Varroa mites and brood diseases. I think you are on the right track returning to natural beekeeping. Wild hives are in trees for protection. Protection from weather. Protection from being eaten by mammals like skunks, raccoons and bears. Protection from having their work eaten or destroyed by other insects, rodents, birds, parasites and diseases. So beekeepers move their hives to ground level where it is easier to work them. There is a reason wood houses are 18 inches or more off the ground with a metal barrier. I shared my thoughts on my website at
http:americasbeekeeper.com/height_of_hive

Gary VanCleef
americasbeekeeper.com
americasbeekeeper.org
 

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How is that cut out colony doing for you so far?
Well, they didn't get as strong as I hoped for, but they made a fair amount of honey for winter. I added an extra medium depth full of light spring honey from another hive, so they have more than enough honey. It's been mostly in the twenties here for weeks. They've had at least one cleansing flight this year. Jan 25 and 26 daytime temps were in the 50s.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Peter, so you are wintering them in one deep and one medium? Hope they make it through for you. Maybe you can produce some tough northern adapted queens from them someday!
 

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I have seen a few horizontal feral hives in porch roofs, under porch floorboards, etc...

They do happen occasionally.

Big Bear
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

>I have seen a few horizontal feral hives in porch roofs, under porch floorboards, etc...

They do happen occasionally.

I would think so too. I'll take a free one anywhere I can get one. Just show me one.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Used to be when I first kept bees back in the late 70's, you were discouraged from going after feral swarms because we were told they probably had AFB and other diseases. How times do change, now feral bees may well be the most healthy bees, and our domesticated ones are sick!
 

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I would think so too. I'll take a free one anywhere I can get one. Just show me one.

In every cutout/removal I have been involved in, I would not consider the bees to be free. There is a reason folks charge $100 an hour for removals...

In early spring there are usually a few days with really nice weather before things start blooming. Bees will be flying and trying to forage. If you put out some sugar water feeders, you will attract bees in a hurry. It's fairly easy to bee-line them back to their colony. I have found that for me, it is easier to bee-line bees in a woods when there are not any leaves. I can see the flying bees easier against the daylit sky. Trying to see flying bees against a background of leaves is more difficult for me. Once there is a regular flight pattern to bee-line, it can take me 30-45 minutes for every 1/4 mile I am following the bees.

Swarms are a lot less work.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
>In every cutout/removal I have been involved in, I would not consider the bees to be free. There is a reason folks charge $100 an hour for removals

I'm sure you understood that I meant no money was spent in getting them, however I know they can be alot of work getting them out of an existing building, I'll still take them that way if I can.
 

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I'm sure you understood that I meant no money was spent in getting them, however I know they can be alot of work getting them out of an existing building, I'll still take them that way if I can.

Time is money.

I helped my brother in law do a cutout. With the driving to and fro, doing the cutout, getting stuff ready, etc, we had a good 7 or 8 hours each. Call it 15 man hours.

At $7 an hour, (minimum wage) those 15 hours came out to $105. I just got an ad in the mail for nucs for sale for $105.

I get more than $7 an hour. My brother in law makes more than $7 an hour too. (If it wasn't family, I would not have helped.)

It would have been cheaper (money ahead) to spend those 15 man hours doing work that pays more than $7 an hour and just buy a nuc for $105.

It was late fall when we did that cutout, and the colony ended up dying out. (The queen got killed during the cutout. They tried making a new queen, but she never returned from the mating flight.)

Free bees. Didn't cost us any money (other than gas and a few supplies). We paid nothing, and ended up with nothing...except a wasted day that could have been spent doing more profitable things.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
With bees, you never know how things will work out. With prices of bees today, I still look at a swarm hanging on a limb as free and easy, and a cutout as free and not easy. That's how I see it, and I'm stickin' to it.
 

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oh ya,@ $7.oo thats toooo cheap.I charge $75.00/hr thats not including the repair to the wall,or were their being moved from.also i use a bee vac work great.the last hive i removed made $350.plus the hive of bees and At least 200 lbs of honey.this was a hive in a 2 story barn this was the biggest hive i have ever seen.the combs were over 4' long and 2" to 4" thick.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
I wouldn't be interested in doing serious bee removal for money, I'm just looking to get a couple swarms here and there, the ones on the end of a limb about 6 ft. high are just about rght.
 

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Do your cutouts early in the season before they have started to brood up to much. In my area I do them around April 7th when dandelion starts to bloom. I can get early queens from Chile if the queen is lost but haven't had to do this yet the queen is much easier to find with a smaller population. Main swarm season here starts around June 1st. I find you have less honey and brood to deal with at this time. It can still be cool at this time so I pick a day that is sunny and warm when the forgers can go out.
 

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if you looking for a few swarms don't do a cut out then. there are lot of bees just hanging in a tree for the getting. I wouldn't do a cut for less the 500.00 and I get them to sign a paper that they will repair or put in back them selfs,.
Don
 
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