Cutting a Beehive Out of a Wall

Bees in a wall!

Last week, along with two other “backwards beekeepers” Russ and Sue, we relocated a hive of bees that had taken up residence in a garage wall in East Hollywood. It was a “cut-out” in beekeeping parlance. The property owners did not want to exterminate the hive and we were able to give them a new home in Sue’s idyllic garden. Backwards Beekeeping guru Kirk Anderson sent us some tips via email. It’s Kirk’s view that feral bees have more robust immune systems than the pedigreed bees that most beekeepers order through the mail. So with good intentions we got about to, as Kirk puts it, “save the world.” Here’s how we did it:

Kirk told us to smoke the hive when we got there and smoke again when needed. Smoke makes the bees think their house is on fire and they rush to stock up on honey. Preoccupied with their sweet food stockpile they ignore the homo sapiens tearing their house apart. Russ got one sting, but the hive was pretty calm under the circumstances.

Next, we got all our tools ready and suited up in our white bee suits. A cut-out is a delicate combination of building demolition and surgery on a living entity. Like surgery, once you start you can’t stop. With a long butcher knife and some crowbars we peeled back the paneling to reveal . . . more paneling underneath! Thankfully it was ancient fiberboard that disintegrated as we tugged on it. The comb was not attached to the panelling and we were able to easily access the hive. Kirk had warned us to have the butcher knife ready in case we had to separate comb from the wall as we peeled it back. With the wall off we could see a mass of several thousand bees who had neatly built comb between two studs.

Russ and Sue then began to carefully cut out the comb from the wall cavity with the butcher knife and put it into wooden frames, using string to tie it in place (see Kirk doing this at the end of this Backwards Beekeeping TV episode). We focused on saving the comb with brood (bee larvae). These frames were then placed into a “nuc” box, a cardboard box that holds five frames in which we could transport the bees to their new home. We also had two garbage bags: one for empty comb and the other for honey comb to feed back to the bees once they got to Sue’s garden. The next time I do this I’m going to get some buckets for this purpose as the trash bags tend get stuck together with honey. Another lesson I learned is to bring a tarp. Taking a hive out of a wall leaves a huge mess of spilled honey, construction debris and dead bees.

Once we had the brood comb in the nuc box we noticed worker bees returning from field massing where their hive used to be. We put the nuc box with the frames of brood in it next to the wall and took a break. Russ gave Kirk a call and he suggested we spray the mass of workers with sugar water and use our bee brush to push them into a dust pan. The sugar water occupies the bees with cleaning themselves and makes them easier to move. Once in the dust pan they are easy to dump into the nuc box where, we hoped, the queen had taken up residence.

After scooping up as many workers as we could we taped up the nuc box and got ready to put it in the back of Sue’s hatchback. Recalling the story of a friend of a friend who had a nuc box full of bees overturn while driving a sedan, Sue and I decided to drive the short distance home wearing our bee suits (a truck would be handy here!). Even on the streets of freaky East Hollywood, the sight of two bee suit clad folks in a car attracted curious stares and laughter. During the short drive I noticed, through the screen of my veil, public access TV star Francine Dancer, in her wheelchair, going through a box of junk on Virgil. It’s moments like these that reveal Los Angeles as far more like the magical realism of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel than the celebrity spectacle the media disseminates.

Russ, Sue and property owner Jen

When we got back to Sue’s garden we put the frames into a hive box and dumped the loose bees in. While we won’t know for a while if the hive will take to its new home, we all felt a great sense of accomplishment. Hopefully, other urbanites around the world will take up beekeeping and put more exterminators out of work.

For more info on Kirk Anderson’s natural beekeeping methods see www.beehuman.blogspot.com.

Got a beehive that needs to be removed from your LA area residence? Get in touch with Kirk at kirksurbanbees.com.

California Agriculture Journal Online

The University of California has put 63 years worth of its journal California Agriculture online for convenient downloading at californiaagriculture.ucanr.org. There’s plenty of detailed (peer reviewed!) nuggets for the home gardener between the pages of this scientific journal. Make sure to check out the article and video of UC Berkeley entomologist Gordon Frankie explaining what kinds of plants are best for attracting bees in your urban garden.

Thanks to Los Angeles County Master Gardener Coordinator Yvonne Savio for the tip.

Chicago’s Urban Bees


Founded in 2004, the Chicago Honey Co-op tends over a hundred hives on a former Sears and Roebucks site. The Co-op provides job training to under-employed folks and sells a variety of products. I didn’t get a chance to visit it on my trip to Chicago, but hope to the next time I’m there.

In other Chicago bee news, the Green Roof Growers just got a hive. Urban rooftops and abandoned industrial sites make a lot of sense for beekeeping, as many agricultural areas are contaminated with pesticides. Keeping bees in cities might be an important strategy towards bringing back healthy hives. So best of luck to the GRGers and their new hive! And make sure to sign up for their May 30th self irrigating planter workshop.

Tell the Bees

Anderson removing a hive from a fence. Photo from the Backwards Beekeepers.

Urban beekeeper Kirk Anderson has a vision: bees, kept without the use of chemicals, in backyards all over Los Angeles. Homegrown Evolution was lucky to be able to attend a beekeeping class taught by the very knowledgeable and entertaining Anderson, who has a theory:

“There has been a lot of news stories about the bees dying. They became infested with a parasitic mite in the 80’s. Many Bees died. The solution for these mites has been various chemicals and medicines. These chemicals and medicines have produced a resistant mite and a weak bee and also contaminated the bees wax and the hives.

After getting into beekeeping again I read that all the Feral or wild bees were dead or dying off because of the mite. While living in Los Angeles and being a house painter I noticed this was untrue. The wild bees in Los Angeles are flourishing. I have not purchased bees for four years now but catch wild bees here in Los Angeles. This makes a good supply of healthy bees that have not been treated with chemicals. Healthy bees. I realized that the mites are in the environment now they aren’t going away. You need bees that can live with mites — survive with the mites.”

For more information on keeping bees in Los Angeles, see Anderson’s website, kirksurbanbees.com. Anderson will also capture swarms and give them a new home.

To attend a meeting/class see the blog of the Backwards Beekeepers, (backwards in the sense of going back to a chemical free style of beekeeping). Even if you aren’t in Los Angeles, the Backwards Beekeepers site has a lot of nice tips and information. And what an amazing group people! In the midst of our challenging economic times, it’s groups like this, forming around a sense of group cooperation and problems solving that are going to really shift the paradigm in the coming years. Let’s hope that Backwards Beekeeping groups will form all over the world.

Helping the Bees with Science in your Backyard

San Francisco State University associate professor Gretchen LeBuhn is currently coordinating the innovative Great Sunflower Project, enlisting gardeners around the country to plant sunflowers and count the number of bees that visit them in a set period of time. We participated this summer, planting the sunflower seeds provided by the project. It’s too late to start this year, but you can sign up for next year’s project here. When we last did an observation, we counted five bees within ten minutes visiting the flower we chose to watch. See the video above for an instant replay.

This project is very important, and participation and support of it is a way we can all help out with what appears to be an alarming decrease in bees due to colony collapse disorder. In a fascinating and well written new book, A Spring Without Bees, author Michael Schacker explains the details of colony collapse disorder and the media’s poor job of covering it (hint: it ain’t cellphones, moving bees around or a bee rapture). Schacker blames the bee decline on two pesticides: GAUCHO, manufactured by Bayer Crop Science and Fipronil, manufactured by BASF. You can read more about Schacker’s efforts on Plan Bee.