Bee Removal From a Water Meter

The following is a procedure for removing an established colony of  bees from a water meter.  This was a recent question from the ALABEES guest book.


"How do I get a swarm from a water meter box? They are attached to bottom of the lid. When is the best time to take the swarm, morning noon or night? Should I spray them with sugar water? Do I use smoke? Do I put the comb in a bucket or in a brood body? I just have brood frames with just wax foundations, no comb. Anything else you think I should know/do would be greatly appreciated. I was in Bob Fanning class in the Spring. Also, how much is membership in Alabees? Thank you".


Try and pick the water meter cover up without breaking the combs if possible i.e.… try and pull it straight up without rocking from end to end or side to side.   Rest it on 2 stacks of brick or any other support that will keep it oriented as it was in the meter yet allowing you access to the combs.   

 Take empty frames, no wires and no foundation.    Place small nails about 6 inches apart on both sides of the top and bottom bars of the empty frames.   Place the top and bottom nails so that the nails in the bottom are half way between the nails in the top bar i.e.…staggered or zigzagged.    Use strong cotton twine and connect from the top to bottom on only one side so that you have a series of ”Vs” (every other one up side down).  

 Loop the ending end of the twine around to the starting point on the other side of the frame and tie it off but do not go any further.    This will be the starting point for this side.   

 Some beekeepers use rubber bands instead of twine but I prefer twine.

 Cut the combs carefully from the meter box cover one at a time and move then to the frame you just built with twine.    With the “zigzag” twine side down, lay the combs you just removed from the meter box inside the frame on the twine.   Then zigzag the twine on the top side so that when you place the frame in the hive, the combs will not fall out.   BE SURE AND MAINTAIN THE SAME ORIENTATION i.e.… the end that you cut from the meter base top was up.   Make sure it is up in the new frame i.e.…next to the top bar.  

Depending on the size of the combs, you can put more than one comb inside each frame SIDE BY SIDE but always keep the orientation the same as it was in the meter base.

 Repeat this process for all combs and place them in the new hive in the same order as they were in the meter base.    If the combs are too long to fit inside the frames, cut them off at the little end so that they fit as tight as possible in the new frames.   The smaller “cut off” pieces can be placed beside the big combs inside the frames but I would only do that if they have honey or brood.   Once all combs are in the new hive, fill open space with frames with foundation so that you have 10 total frames in the new hive (some folks use only 9 but I prefer 10).   Do this day one.   If you delay, the bees will start building comb to their specifications from the inside top of the hive.    Then place an entrance reducer (smallest opening) at the entrance to the new hive.

 Place the new hive as close as possible to where the meter was located.   Since the queen and all brood are in the hive, the other bees will join the new hive.    Wait until the bees abandon the old location and have had time to attach the combs to the new frames (2 weeks if practical) then move the hive a mile or more from the meter location so the bees will reorient to the new location.    After a few days, if need be, you can move them back to a spot near the old location or anywhere else that is a mile away from the second location and they will reorient again. 

 If the meter is near where you want the hive to be kept, the new hive can be moved a couple of feet a day and the bees will follow it to the new location.

 I often use wire staples instead of small nails.    This seems to me to be quicker because I am not that good at tying knots with gloves on.  

 Handle the combs as carefully as possible as they are quiet fragile.

 Once in the new hive, the bees will glue the combs in place.    Don’t go lifting the frames to make sure the bees are doing as you expect for at least 2 weeks.    

 This process needs to take place while there is a nectar flow on (when the bees are making honey).   If done during a nectar dearth, other bees will be attracted to the exposed honey and will most likely rob the new hive of their honey and kill the bees in the process.

 I do not recommend spraying with sugar water because that makes the bees “sticky” and impedes movement which is the reason for spraying them.   Many bees will be caught between the frames and twine or other surfaces when handling and or placing the combs so it is best if they are as mobile as possible to prevent getting mashed.    A liberal amount of smoke at the beginning and occasionally throughout the process should prove helpful.

The time of day is not really that important.   I would shoot for mid day or 9 AM if in hot weather because more bees will be foraging thus reducing the number of bees in the colony.

 As for the cost to belong alabees, there is no charge.   If you would like to join the Madison County Beekeepers Association (MCBA) the annual dues are $10 a year.   The MCBA is not really about collection dues.    Feel free to attend meetings and use as often as you like with on pressure to join or pay dues.   There are benefits to being a “dues paid member” like group purchases, beekeeping magazine discounts, Sales Tax exempt status and the like but it is up to the individual as to whether or not they join the Association.   We try and include new comers to beekeeping in our meetings.   Each meeting starts of with what we refer to as “beginner’s corner”.    That is where we try and cover anything that we feel a new comer might need to know at that particular point in the beekeeping year followed up by questions from new comers.    All beekeepers are invited to visit and participate in meetings and or MCBA activities.  

Bob Fanning, Member Board of Directors MCBA