If you live in Arizona, the chances that you will come across a beehive in your yard or house are probably higher than other places in the country. Our dominant feral honeybees are the African subspecies Apis mellifera, scutellata. This type of honeybee reproduces 10 times more often than Western Honeybees and is much less discriminating about where it makes its home. That means you may find them in your compost bin, garbage can, upturned pot, shop vac, shed floor, or even a speaker on your patio. For some this is a terrifying discovery and they immediately call the exterminator. Others, who value the lives of these amazing creatures will call a beekeeper to have them relocated. Finally, there are those who love having bees on their property and want to keep them.
If this sounds like you, one of these thoughts may have crossed your mind:
- You could leave the bees where they are and simply work around them.
- You could purchase a queen bee and try to lure the bees out.
- You could purchase a hive box and set it near the bees in hopes that they move in.
- You could have a beekeeper place the bees in a hive and then keep them elsewhere on your property.
Let’s talk about those ideas and see if any of them are plausible, and if keeping bees is even the right decision for you.
1. Leave the bees where they are:
You can always choose to allow the bees to stay where they are and simply stay out of their way. Often colonies can be in a location for years and not bother anyone, especially if they are in a location that is away from your normal activities. In this case the bees will continue to pollinate the neighborhood, make honey and go on living. This is definitely an option if you don’t have the funds to have them removed and they are not in a ceiling or wall where they could possibly drip honey into your drywall and wiring. However, two things should be considered here:
1. This one colony will continue to reproduce and send out multiple colonies into your neighborhood each year, causing costly problems to your neighbors and often being exterminated.
2. As the colony reproduces itself through sending out swarms, that original colony will continually be replacing its queen who may at some point mate with much more aggressive drones. this will cause what you thought was a very nice colony to become dangerous to you and your neighbors. Also, at this point the hive may be much more costly to remove safely. We have known instances where colonies that thrived untouched for years suddenly become extremely aggressive and attack and kill entire flocks of chickens and other penned animals. In this case the colony is usually exterminated.
There are definite risks to allowing African colonies to remain unchecked on your property.
2. Purchase a queen bee and try to lure the bees out.
I had to mention this one because I have heard it all too often. I’m not sure where this comes from, but it may just be incomplete research or simplified social media misinformation. Queen bees do have a powerful pheromone that bees are drawn to, and we do use them in some instances during trapouts once we have a good number of bees out in order to keep the new hive functioning. Generally it is only if we have an unwanted queen available that we removed from a hive to requeen it. This queen would normally just be killed. However, a queen must be attended to by workers constantly or she will die. Also, a queen will usually be instantly killed by a colony that is not her own, especially if their queen is still alive, as in the case of a colony inside a wall or tree. In the end, buying a queen to lure a colony out would only end in a dead queen.
3. Purchase a hive box and set it near the bees.
This one might seem like a good idea. I mean, why wouldn’t bees want to move out of a dirty old shed floor into a pristine manmade box with frames stamped out in the shape of hexagons? Well… they picked that shed floor for a reason. It is likely insulated, dark, and relatively quiet. Besides that, they probably have comb filled with brood and food that there is no way they are leaving without a fight. Setting a hive box in front of them is definitely not a successful way to remove bees. However, if you make a trapout so that the bees can leave their original home and not get back in, then they usually have no other choice but to move into the box. In this case, I do add frames of food comb and brood comb for them. It often takes a month or two for this process to work.
4. Have a beekeeper remove the bees and then keep them on your property.
Finally we have a better option that has the potential for success. However, keeping those bees means that you become a beekeeper, not a bee-haver. You need to understand the responsibility of what it takes to turn that African Honeybee colony into a docile, Western Honeybee colony…and keep it that way. It may mean that the colony has to be relocated to the beekeeper’s apiary for a period of time to be re-queened and re-oriented. It definitely means that you will need to purchase all the necessary equipment, education and of course, the queen. Those costs look something like this:
- Beehive ($100-$900)
- Smoker ($15-$45)
- Hive tools ($8-$20)
- Beekeeper suit ($50-$300)
- Beekeeping Class ($0-$250)
- New Queen ($30-$50)
In addition to monetary costs, keeping bees also involves time. If this is something you want to invest in, then the time commitment is a pleasure. You’ll be spending at least 30 minutes every other week inspecting your beehive. This is when you get inside your hive to inspect each frame, look for the queen, brood, and generally assess the health of your colony. This is the essential part of keeping bees, and the only way to ensure that your colony does not become Africanized or die. You’ll need to learn about Varroa mites and how to test and treat for them. You’ll need to learn how to prevent swarming, and if you are successful the first year, you will need to learn how to split your colony and manage two or sell one. Finally, you will want to join a beekeeping club to help support you in all of these efforts.
With all of this, I still don’t often recommend that someone keep the colony that was removed from their property because just the requeening and reorienting process is time consuming and costly. If beekeeping is pulsing through your veins, and this experience with the bees has opened your eyes to a new hobby that excites you, then I recommend purchasing a docile colony from a beekeeper. Start with a nuc (nucleus hive) with docile European Honeybees that is small and easy to manage. The cost of this is usually around $150-$200, and is well worth it. After purchasing a queen and paying for a beekeeper to requeen and reorient the relocated colony, it wouldn’t be that different in cost. What would be vastly different is your experience of not having to deal with the 2 months it would take for that African colony to become docile. That alone is worth it.
Of course, sometimes money is the deciding factor in your choice to keep the bees or not. I get that all too well. My hope is that you at least have the information to make a wise decision about something that will impact your life and your neighbor’s lives. I always endeavor to support the bees, beekeepers and our community as a whole. We only thrive when we thrive together.
I’m here for you.
As always, if you have any questions about beekeeping in Arizona, or for resources you need to find here, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
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