Beekeepers Jim Metrailer, Jeremy Bemis, and I removed a colony of honey bees from the wall of a building and transferred the combs and bees into a Kenyan Top Bar Hive. Bees often find the empty space between the inner and outer walls of buildings as suitable cavities for nesting. Indeed, wall spaces are quite similar to cavities in hollow trees, the natural home of honey bees. We exposed the combs of the colony’s nest by removing the building’s weather boards as shown in today’s photo. The entrance into the bees’ hive, a small opening between the removed boards and the remaining boards on the right, was coated with propolis. This sticky substance, with antibacterial and antifungal properties, helps protect the hive from harmful pathogens. One can often identify a bee tree, a damaged tree with a hollow cavity housing a feral honey bee colony, by a dark, shiny propolis stain surrounding a knot hole where the bees enter the tree. The same shiny stain can also be found where bees enter the walls of a building. Honey bees varnish their hive with propolis, a substance that they gather from the gums and saps of trees. The layer of propolis is particularly evident on the rough-hewn weather boards. When we build bee hives, rough interior surfaces encourage the bees to build-up propolis on the wood to protect the hive. The somewhat pungent odor of propolis surely adds to each hive’s distinct odor.
When we cut the combs out of the wall of the building, we sorted the combs according to their use by the bees. Some held brood; some pollen and bee bread; some held stores of honey. Using strings, we tied the combs onto hive top bars and placed them in the new hive. The Top Bar Hives was arranged as a natural bee hive with the brood near the entrance surrounded by pollen and bee bread. Combs of stored honey were placed in the rear of the hive.