Bee keepers collect hive from Main Street


Courtesy of Allen Bennett

The hive inside the wall at the Columbia Saloon housed a healthy colony of bees. Bee keepers Allen Bennett and Bill Holmes removed the bees last week so they wouldn't be doused with pestecide.

Photos courtesy of Allen Bennett

The rooms in the saloon in downtown Cathlamet have been empty for decades, but that didn't stop a colony of bees from making a home there.

Allen Bennett, who is a beekeeper, noticed the bees for the first time last summer. They were dormant over the winter, but they had started to fly again this spring, and the colony had grown.

Other people had started to notice too.

When they started to comment about the perceived menace on Facebook, Bennett became concerned that someone was going to go over there with a can of Raid. He chimed in.

"They are honey bees," he wrote. "I'll take them out, just tell me who owns the property."

That got the ball rolling, as they say.

On Thursday night, when most of the bees had returned to the hive, Bennett showed up at the saloon and covered their exit.

The next morning, Bennett and his mentor, Bill Holmes, who is the president of the Cowlitz Beekeeping Association, arrived at the saloon at 7:30 a.m. with their gear.

"Bill has built some specialized equipment, a vacuum cleaner and modified hives to put the bees in and transport them," Bennett said.

The job goes faster with three, but the two handled it alone. It took them five hours. First they had to set up lights and then they set to figuring out exactly where the bees were using a stethoscope and a laser heat sensor.

"Bees put off a lot of heat," Bennett said.

The bees had built their comb in a space that Bennett estimated to be about 24 inches wide and 36 inches tall between the inner and outer wall of the saloon, between the studs and the base plates.

The two began to cut and pull back the wall.

"The hive went up above the ceiling," Bennett said. "I went up to the second floor and tore out some walls, but couldn't get to them."

Thankfully, the bees were docile, Bennett said.

The pair began vacuuming the bees into a modified hive and cutting out the comb.

"There were four or five layers of comb," Bennett explained. "You look to see what is on the comb. There are certain parts of the comb where the queen will brood worker bees or drone bees. The sole purpose of a drone bee is to mate with a queen. They do nothing else and then they die. There were a lot of drone cells in there. But they also have cells where they store pollen and honey."

"We were mainly trying to cut brood out, because they are important," Bennett said. "The average bee lives six week or so. So you gotta keep them alive, you gotta keep that thing going. You don't want to interrupt that cycle."

"When you move them, they are really unsettled. Mad. You don't know if they will swarm and go somewhere else. There are probably over 20,000 bees in there, and you don't know whether you get the queen or not. If you don't get the queen, they will go back looking for her," Bennett said. "I think we got the queen because there are no more bees there."

As for the bees they couldn't get to, or the ones they missed, they don't make it. They can't live without their colony.

The bees and comb were transported to a property on West Sunny Sands.

"First I drove them around and confused them," Bennett joked.

Good luck with that.

"Bees use something called time compensated celestial navigation," Bennett said. "They key on their position towards the sun and where the sun is, and how high it is in the sky. That is how they navigate."

Holmes and Bennett prepared the hive by cutting the comb into pieces that fit into the 10 frames which hang in each box. Then the bees, which had been vacuumed into another box, equal in size, are placed on top. They can access the comb and are free to come and go.

Eventually, they will be moved to Bennett's property, where he already maintains three hives.

Courtesy of Allen Bennett

Bennett, left, and Holmes donned protective gear to work with the bees.


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