What do you mean you don’t do this for free?
As I’ve grown and matured as a beekeeper, safe and responsible removal of unwanted honeybee colonies from hollow trees, void spaces in homes and any other area they decide to call home has become my real specialty. I have researched and educated myself thoroughly, built and acquired several pieces of specialty equipment designed to make the transition both safer and easier for the bees and learned from several other bee removal experts around the world. Honeybee colony removal is rewarding for me. I love knowing that a colony of bees that may have ordinarily met their demise at the business end of a can of Spectracide are now safe and sound, free to go about their business pollinating and collecting nectar.
Unfortunately, more often than not I encounter a rather popular trend. I will receive a call about a honeybee colony, often deep within the walls of someone’s home or way up in the chimney, drive out to the customer’s house, assess the situation and explain to them the process of getting to the bees and exposing their hive, removing the colony and all of the wax comb and sealing the area to prevent reinfestation. Even after all of that, I still hear “oh, and you do this for free, right?”.
There is absolutely a preconceived idea amongst most people that bee removal is free. Frankly this confuses me considering how much work and specialized knowledge is involved in live bee removal, but when someone posts on social media that they have a bee problem, there is always that friend chiming in with “Call a beekeeper! They’ll remove them for free!”. Usually that friend has never met a beekeeper, has never had a bee problem and has never seen anyone remove bees from anywhere. It’s so common that if you type “bee removal” into Google, “free” is the next word that shows up in the suggested searches.
I really love that people are interested in saving honeybees and are calling me out there instead of an exterminator. Most of the peolpe I meet are not penny pinchers looking to get something for nothing, are genuinely interested in learning more about bees and are excited that “their bees” would be going to a safe home. There have only been a few that have turned me a way or not returned a phone call after learning that I will not do a removal for free. The whole “bee removals are free” idea seems to just be lack of available information and education. So, in sticking with my honeybee education trend, today’s lesson is about honeybee removal, what’s involved, what the beekeeper really gets out of it and the cost involved.
Honeybee removal CAN be free. I think this is where people get confused. There are typically two major types of removals, swarms and established colonies. I have made the mistake of posting on a popular bee removal listing site that I do free swarm removals. While in many cases I do those removals for free or for only a few bucks for gas, I’ve found that most of the general public does not understand what a honeybee swarm is. They see the word “free” and run with it assuming I’ll do anything for free. Without further ado, here’s some info on the different kinds of removals and what’s really involved:
A honeybee swarm is a cluster of bees , often times found hanging on a tree branch or in a shrub, but can really settle anywhere, that is at rest while scouts are looking for potential locations to build a new hive. These bees are out in the open, do not have any comb, honey or brood and typically only take an hour or so to get into a hive box and settled down before I can be on my way. Typically, I will only charge for this if the bees are particularly difficult to get to. If it’s a bit of a hike to get there, a bit of gas money is always appreciated. I find most are willing to at least donate that much.
A removal of an established honeybee colony is called a cut out. This is because all of the wax comb containing honey and brood must be cut out and removed along with the bees. I’ve had quite a few customers that want me to try to scare the bees out without having to cut the wall open. This simply isn’t an option in a dwelling. Bees will start to abscond when you use enough smoke in the correct locations, but you DO NOT want someone pumping smoke from a burning smoker into your walls. In addition, if honey is left in the walls, it will eventually start leaking…..everywhere. If it was a particularly large hive, you will have honey running out of your walls for a year or more. This also creates a massive food source for roaches, mice, moths and many other unwanted guests. That honey typically soaks into the paper backing of you drywall, causing pests to start to devour that as well. I’ve seen roaches and mice eat right through the walls after honey soaked into drywall. You do not want honeybee hive parts left in you walls. It’s a recipe for gross, sticky disaster. It ALL has to be removed. This is a VERY specialized process that you don’t want any old schmoe doing. Having a beekeeper there who specializes in removal, knows honeybee behavior and knows all of the things that can potentially go right and wrong during a removal is key to that removal being a success. You’ll also want that person to understand different types of building construction so they don’t cut into a load-bearing section of your home or rip a power line or water pipe in half cutting into a void space. These removals can range from a few hours to several days depending on the size of the colony. My longest running removal so far has been 14 straight hours.
In the case of concrete/stucco walls or structures that cannot be accessed, the only option is a trap out. A trap out is a last resort and is a lengthy and expensive procedure, usually taking several months from beginning to end. It basically consists of a “one way door” made out of a wire cone that allows bees to leave the hive, but not re-enter. A hive box is then placed just outside the cone to give the returning bees a place to go. The box remains in place until the hive inside collapses due to none of the foraging bees returning. In most cases, the queen from the original hive will eventually make her way into the new box. Once the colony collapses and the bees have accepted the new box, the cone is removed and the bees are allowed to “clean out” the old hive they just abandoned. The bees are then moved to their new location.
I believe part of the aforementioned trend stems from the idea that I’m making money from the bees I remove. I’ve even seen ads from other parts of the country where homeowners want to charge the beekeeper to come remove their bees because they “know they’re going to get honey and make money from them”. The problem with that idea is that’s simply not a guarantee. There are four main issues at hand.
Even when you do everything right, the bees don’t always survive the transition from their old home to their new home. If it’s a particularly hot day, the bees can die from stress or heat while being transported. When a colony is relocated, it is temporarily weakened. With its defenses down, pests like small hive beetle or wax moths can run amok in the hive destroying the colony. They can be the victims of robbers if entrances aren’t properly protected. Survival of that colony is not a given. Even if the colony does survive, it will usually be a season or two of before they build up enough to have surplus honey that can be harvested and sold.
When a beekeeper purchases bees from another apiary, those bees are typically bred for their gentle temperament, performance and resistance to mites and diseases. That beekeeper knows exactly what he’s getting for his money. That’s not the case with the feral bees acquired from removals. Yes, you could get gentle bees, but you could also get bees so mean that they will send you running for the hills every time you approach them for a hive inspection. Those colonies would have to be requeened, which will cost the beekeeper money. They also may not be performers. Some colonies produce barely enough honey to support themselves. These colonies will never produce any harvestable honey and will simply be a drain on resources in the long run. They’re still an active colony of pollinators, but they’re a cost, not income. In addition, it would take a full season to assess these traits, tying up equipment and space.
Feral colonies can also be sick. They may be overrun with varroa mites or carrying something much worse with them. Depending on the severity, the bees will either need to be treated or even exterminated in the case of American Foulbrood. This is more cost to the beekeeper. If for some reason these bees infect neighboring hives, it can be devastating to an apiary.
That new colony needs a place to live! The average commercially available single box hive kit that comes with a bottom board, deep body, inner cover, telescoping cover, frames and foundation costs around $100. If you want something you can expand when the colony grows, you’re looking at more like $250 – $300 per hive. Costs can be reduced a bit by building some of your own equipment, but then there’s the investment of time. This adds up rather quickly.
Finally we get to the topic of cost to the customer. We’ve established that bee removals are not free, so how much do they cost? Well, that depends. Honeybee removals can cost anywhere from $150 to $850. That’s a pretty huge range! There are many factors that will affect that cost. The number one factor is access. If the bees are really hard to get to and I’m going to spend a lot of time just digging to get to them, it’s going to cost more. The other major factor is height. I’ve had a lot of customers tell me on the phone “you can reach them from a ladder”, then when I get on site, they’re 22 feet off the ground. While, yes, I can probably climb up an extension ladder and put my hand on the entrance to the hive, I simply cannot safely remove the hive and access all of the tools I need from a ladder. There are certainly cases where I can work from a ladder, but it’s typically a step ladder or scaffolding. In the case of extreme heights, a construction lift is usually needed to get me where I need to be. Naturally, each customer will receive and estimate for the removal before any work is done. I give free estimates within 30 miles of my location. A small fee for fuel is collected outside of the area.
If you have any additional questions about honeybee removal and the costs associated, please contact us. We’re here to help and work with you to make sure the bees are safe and not a nuisance to people nearby. Working together, we can make the world a better place for both bees and humans alike.