Friday, July 19, 2013

Do You Want Ants? Because That's How You Get Ants

   To preface this post... it's going to be long. Real long! Mainly due to how many pictures there are, and the fact that it took two days to complete (several reasons behind that). I'll save the honey extraction for the next post. Also, this is the first time I've done a REAL cut-out alone. Not a tree pot cut-out, this was a "manually cut through plywood, hammer/claw out nails, and be exhausted at the end" cut-out. Oh, this was also all done in a 15' x 15' shed with no ventilation or airflow, all after rain, and in the 90+ degree Florida heat. Fun stuff!

   This one was actually on the property of one of the guys painting my parent's house. The bees had been in the shed for almost two years, and were very docile, except when the lawn was being mowed. That's pretty normal and they sounded like the average, pleasant feral bees. He asked how much I would charge him, and I threw out a lowball of $50. It sounded like a pretty straight forward job, and the bees definitely sounded like they were strong, durable bees (like most feral bees). So I figured I'd sweat it out, get a nice big, strong hive, and a good amount of honey to make up for the low amount charged for the job. Unfortunately I was wrong, as you'll see later in the post. However, they did have some excellent honey, and a good amount of it. So in the end I still came out with a respectable trade of time/experience/pain for honey/tools/experience.

   Now, normally just to have an exterminator come out would be $300-400 dollars. When an exterminator is called all they do is gas the hive with insecticide, killing off the entire colony, which sucks! Not only is it leaving a vacuum for more aggressive insects (wasps, bees with a higher ratio of africanized genes), but it leaves the home owner with a giant mess of decaying bees, larvae, wax, and honey. Exterminators don't go in, cut out and clean the hive, and relocate the bees so they can help the 5 miles around the hive thrive with plant life. So in the end it's a loss for everyone except the exterminator.

   Oh, the best part of hiring an exterminator to remove the bees is that if YOU don't remove the decaying hive, then ants will do it for you. I don't really think you want ants, do you? A dead hive is a meat and honey buffet for ants, beetles, moths, wasps, raccoons, and a variety of other vermin. So in the end, unless it's an easy to access area, the homeowner will have to cut in and get it all removed anyways. So there'll be repair costs to the property anyways. Better off hiring a beekeeper to remove the bees, cut it all out, and then all the home owner has to do is patch it up. Just make sure they're not wasps before calling a beekeeper to come out... wasps don't make honey.

Day 1

   Anyhoo, on to the cut-out! The homeowner told me that potentially the entire floor was a beehive, considering how long they were there and how many bees they were seeing. It was definitely a possibility, but that'd be a pretty big hive for the pretty average amount of bee traffic I was seeing. 

   I did my first cuts using my ryoba saw. It's a Japanese pull saw where the sawing action is done on the "pull" motion. Mainly it uses your back/shoulder/lats. I could saw all day with this thing! Best $25 I ever spent.

   After a few exploratory cuts I dipped my phone in and took a few pics. Yup, definitely bees down there! This cut was 4 feet from the entrance, so far the hive was 4 feet wide. Pretty legit hive! One thing though, there was a pretty high ratio of drones... that could mean a laying worker instead of a queen.

   "Cut through plywood and just lift the whole piece of wood over" was the plan, but I did run into a few road bumps. Namely the NINE BILLION ancient nails buried in the wood. I cut around the perimeter as much as I could, but eventually those nails just had to go. Not only did they line the sides of the plywood sheet where the bees were under, but there was another support plank going through the center of the sheet. The first day I ended up using a flathead screwdriver and hammer to chip away the wood for each nail, then once enough was chipped away it was dug out with the hammer. Eventually I had to go to class though, so I called it after 4 hours. There was no way to do any more than 4 hours in that heat though. It had rained just prior to starting, the early afternoon sun was beating down, and I was wearing a full thickness bee jacket and hood. 

Day 2

   Yup, that's the dimensions of the hive. 4' x 4' doesn't sound like all that much, but just wait until you get to the next picture. Thankfully one of the homeowner's neighbors loaned me his saw. I'd also bought a cat's claw (mini handheld crowbar with pointy V's at each end, designed for digging out nails) for $17, so there went almost half of what I was charging. I'll definitely be charging an appropriate amount for the next job ha.

   It took about an hour and a half of nonstop hammering to get all of the nails out of this board. Meanwhile there were some agitated bees in the air and it wasn't worth missing work again due to another case of "MMA Face". So it was definitely break time, again, before tackling the hive itself. Once the comb is exposed, it's best to just go through it to the end. Stopping only gives time for the queen to get into some impossible corner, brood to overheat/underheat, and the bees to get even more stressed out. So that also means no feasible way of drinking water while in the midst of the bees, plus my gloves were going to be honey soaked. I have a "thing" about sticky hands and grabbing sticky things... I probly shouldn't have picked beekeeping haha.

   I'd brought a gallon of water with me, and 1/2 of it was gone by the time I'd taken this picture. My shirt is all sweat, no water involved there. It's right about here where I reminded myself for the twelfth time to charge a reasonable price.

   Not a bee, but this guy was pretty neat. He just chilled on my elbow for a good five minutes while on my break. I always liked the bugs with metallic sheens. They're like little transformers, and there are a ton of metallic bees too!

   I'm really happy with the picture above and below. Before flipping the plywood sheet I decided to snap a few closeup shots since the bees were so friendly. Throughout the entire cutting and hammering process they'd gone about their business, without so much as a few passes to see what was going on. Somehow these two photos came out perfectly in focus, perfectly lit with natural light, and are great closeups of the bees. 

   Honey bees really are neat little creatures. It's incredible how perfect their form is for what they do.

BEHOLD! See all those leaves? They're from how monstrously fast this board was squatted upwards. Eat your oats.
Just kidding, they're actually stuck to the comb, and I'm way out of shape. This panel weighed about 100lbs before a quarter of the panels fell off due to weight + heat. 

   This picture was taken a bit after the first one. At this point I'd established that there was no queen here. There were thousands of drones, no eggs, no larvae, and the only brood was capped brood and capped drones. The capped brood was very spotty in it's pattern and all of the open cells between capped brood were all filled with honey. This was pretty much the same exact thing I'd seen a few weeks earlier, when helping Mike out with the bees that were under the eaves of the foreclosed home. 

  What this means is that the hive had swarmed, with the old queen leaving with half of the hive. For whatever reason the new queen hadn't survived, and there wasn't any young larvae at that point who could be raised as queens. At that point they were hopelessly queenless.

   Since I don't own a bee vacuum, there would be no taking home of these bees. They were doomed to die out simply from age, and the bees knew it. There was no closed loop of baby bees taking over the duties of the older bees since there was no queen. So their resources were being entirely invested in honey and pollen to raise massive numbers of male drones before all of the female workers died. 

However, their genes would live on through the drones, who would go out and mate with virgin queens. Bittersweet, but that's still chalked up as a success in nature's own brutal way.

   Here's one of the drones from the hive that had decided that he was driving. Pretty cool looking! Very wild feel to his deep orange abdomen with black stripes, and his really neat orange feet! The "aviator" eyes are really clear in this picture as well, and by that I mean eyes that wrap around fully to the back of the head (just like dragonflies).

   I did learn some solid lessons that day as a budding beekeeper. Mainly: charge an honest amount for the effort and knowledge involved, every beekeeper should own a CamelBak, and every beekeeper should own a bee vacuum if they intend on doing cut-outs.

   After getting it all wrapped up I was ready to just fall down face first on my bed. The equipment got cleaned off, put away, and the honey was left for tomorrow. It was such all-in work in such muggy, awful conditions that I had only noticed one sting. The next day, after waking up, I counted out the stings and it was a solid eleven stings. Six in my left hand (one with a stinger still embedded under my skin), one under my left armpit, one on my left ear, and three on my right hand. 

Oh well, the stings are good for the body, and it just makes the honey taste that much sweeter.