13 Jan 2015

Removing bees from a compost bin - what to do and what NOT to.

The story below comes from Claire.  Very educating reading.


I recently received an email through various connections asking if I could remove a swarm from a compost bin. I thought well maybe I could see the bin and decide if the swarm removal was within my capability, never have done a swarm removal before. I had assisted in a couple of cutouts but never anything on my own.

As it turned out the person with the compost bin swarm lived in the same street I used to live in and I knew the lady so we caught up for a bit of a chat as I assessed the compost swarm. Based on what I saw when I lifted the lid of the bin I thought the swarm was fairly small.

I wasn’t able to do the removal for a further 3 weeks due to my work situation and the weather patterns. Mistake # 1 occurred about here- I should have checked the swarm again before attempting the actual removal. I had prepared 5 frames with nails and elastic bands to support the cut out comb and it was more like a 9 frame cut out!

Opened up the compost bin on the Monday evening around 6pm. Was amazed at how much larger the swarm had got in 3 weeks and thought-oh dear I don’t have enough prepared frames. But as the weather was due to change the next day and remain inclement for a few days I thought I had better proceed.

Laid out the prepared frames on the back grass and started to remove the honeycomb from the centre of the bin. There were some free combs and some others that had been joined together. All were too big to place in the frames without a bit of surgery happening. I did cut across some comb with brood in them so at least I knew there was live brood going into the frames.

I didn’t smoke the bin. The bees were placid enough and I am not very adept with the smoker so I did without it.

I managed to fill the 5 prepared frames and get them into the Langstroth 8 frame box then thought what the heck am I going to do with the still masses of bees in the bin? I  quickly strung some elastic bands across the remaining 3 empty frames and proceeded to place the remaining cut comb across the hastily strung frames.

The Langstroth box was absolutely chock a block with the cut combs. Brood was dropping out the bottom and honey was leaking from the frames. The base I sat the box on was covered in a mess very quickly. Mistake #2-I had forgotten to put the emlock strap under the base before I place the box on the base. I placed the lid on and went home.

There was still quite a few bees loitering in the compost bin but I just didn’t have any more boxes or frames to be able to put them in.

Mistake #3- I had left the box sitting on the ground near the compost bin. It was suggested to me later that I should have place the box on some temporary racking on top of the bin so it was closer to the swarm.

I left the box on the ground overnight hoping that I had collected the queen. I didn’t see her when scooping up the bees from the compost bin nor when I was placing cut comb into the frames.

When I arrived back at the house on Tuesday evening the owner informed me that not long after I left on Monday night there was a mass of bees on the grass in front of the box. I went to check and sure enough there were more bees outside than in. This was a bit of a worry as it had rained over night and it was obvious that I had missed the queen the previous night. I used a dustpan and brush to scoop up the bees from the grass. Mistake #4- the bees kept getting stuck in the bristles of the brush. It’s much stiffer than a horse hair bee brush.

I would dump the bees in the dustpan into the box and hope they would stay there. At some point I must have scooped up the queen and dropped her in the box as gradually the number of bees on the grass and on the outsides of the box decreased.

An hour or so after arriving and scooping I decided I had better close off the box and relocate it to its new abode. I put a mat on top and the lid  back on top, lifted the box, slid the base out, dropped the emlock on the ground and then placed second lid upside down over the emlock. I placed the chock a block box on the upside down lid so it was nice and square. I then attempted to use the emlock to hold the bottom lid, the base and the top lid altogether. Mistake #5-figure out how to use an emlock beforehand. I thought I had a nice tight bundle, lifted the box and the bottom lid fell off! In the very short time it had been in position it had been covered in brood that had dropped out of the combs and leaking honey as well.

Throwing caution to the wind and believing in my superior strength I picked up the whole bundle by the finger holes in the bottom lid and staggered off to the open hatch on the little red Jazz. With a great deal of luck I didn’t drop the box.

 I had earlier spread a sheet out on the floor of the hatch and I placed the box in the middle of the sheet. I wrapped the sheet very loosely round the box just in case the whole thing came apart while I was transporting it. I wanted to have the bees trapped in the sheet and not buzzing free in the car. I did consider wearing the full face bee suit whilst driving from Box Hill to Mitcham but it was very hot inside the suit and I was a bit worried someone might think I was a terrorist or a bank robber or something and call the police to attend to me!

I arrived at the new home of the bees and discovered that the recipients hadn’t quite finished weeding the space where the hive was to go and that they hadn’t quite provided a level space. In a short space of time it was all sorted and the man of the house even carried his new girlfriends in their box to their new home. Saved me the possibility of dropping the heavy box (now that’s another story to tell).

An email a day later said that the bees seemed to have settled in and there didn’t appear to be any issues. I am hoping enough brood survived and that queenie also survived.


Great stuff Claire and congratulations on the positive outcome.  And one small suggestion - for job like these never go alone.  You will always need another pair of hands and another pair of eyes.  As a minimum - to watch all these emlocks and to help carry heavy bits.