Five years ago, when my son and I took beekeeping classes, we purchased our first nuc of bees for $50. This year, hive nucs are going for $150. With a rapid increase in the number of beekeepers in the nation, demand has driven up the cost of all things necessary for this already pricey hobby — including the bees themselves.
If a person is willing and able to remove swarms though, bees are free for the taking. In fact, some folks will pay you to remove bees from inside their home or on their property. But if the bees have entered the ceiling joists through a bathroom vent, as one swarm we removed last spring had, you will need a “bee vacuum” to contain the bees before tearing out the drywall. And a bee vac is another piece of pricey equipment — unless you build your own.
The following bee vac uses a bucket vacuum we purchased new, a hive super we already had, and two more boxes I show how to build here.
To create the boxes that turn your hive super into a bee vac, follow these instructions.
Materials & Cut List
• 1 12-foot 1-by-8 pine board
• 1 4-by-8 sheet of 1⁄2-inch plywood
• 1 161⁄4-by-20 piece of 1⁄8-inch hardware cloth or metal window screen
• 1 shop vac or bucket vacuum with 5-gallon bucket
• 15-30 feet of 2-inch vacuum hose
• 1 10-frame beehive super, with frames and foundation
• 1 ratchet strap
• 1 tube of silicone caulking
• 16 feet of foam window/door insulation strip
• 1 bottle wood glue
• 1 box of 15⁄8-inch screws
• Drill with bits
• Circular saw (You may choose to use a miter saw for some cuts)
From the 12-foot 1-by-8 pine board cut:
A. 4 boards — 1-by-8-by-20 inches
B. 4 boards — 1-by-8-by-145⁄8 inches
From the plywood cut:
C. 1 sheet for top — 161⁄4 inch-by-20 inch
D. 1 sheet for inclined plane — 145⁄8 inch-by-195⁄8 inch
E. 1 sheet for cover — 11 inch-by-14 3⁄4 inch
1. Cut the parts
• Using a miter or circular saw, cut boards A and B, and plywood sheets C, D, and E to length following the cut list above.
• For plywood D, bevel both of the 145⁄8-inch ends at a 20-degree angle opposing each other.
2. Mark the locations for screws
• Along the edge of boards A, draw a line 3⁄8-inch in from the end.
• On this line, mark 4 or 5 points, evenly spaced for screws.
• To avoid splitting the boards, pre-drill holes using a 1⁄8-inch bit (Photo 2).
3. Building the boxes
• You are going to make two boxes with your 8-inch-wide boards.* Arrange two A boards and two B boards on a flat surface, creating a box, with the A boards on the outside.
• Fix with wood glue and clamp.
• Drive 15⁄8-inch wood screws through your pre-drilled holes to secure.
• Repeat with the other four boards. (See photo 2)
• With a pencil, label one box for the top and one for the bottom of your vacuum.
*You may choose to purchase one 12-foot 1-by-8, as we did, and make both boxes the same size. Or, you may purchase one 8-foot 1-by-8 and one 8-foot 1-by-4 and make your top box shorter in height. The box will weigh slightly less and be less awkward to carry. We chose to purchase the 12-foot 1-by-8 to save money.
4. Assembling the top:
• Place the C plywood on top of the box you marked “top.”
• Mark corners and center of edges for screws.
• Pre-drill with 1⁄8-inch bit.
• Remove plywood and run a bead of wood glue along the edge of the box where you pre-drilled the holes.
• Replace the plywood, aligning holes, and drive in 15⁄8-inch wood screws.
5. Finishing the top:
• Measure in 5 inches from each side of the plywood on your “top” box, drawing lines to create a rectangle in the center.
• Using a large drill bit, drill holes in three of the corners of the center rectangle.
• Using a jigsaw, cut out the rectangle by inserting the jigsaw blade into the pre-drilled holes (Photo 3).
• Apply strips of the foam insulation along the edge of the rectangular opening you just created (Photo 4).
• Turn the box upside down and apply a bead of caulk to all the cracks on the inside to close any air gaps that would prevent a vacuum from forming.
• Run a thick bead of caulk along the bottom edge of the box. While still wet, lay the piece of screening on to cover the bottom of the box. Press it into the wet caulking.
• When dry, fix with screws or staples and cover with strips of foam insulation (Photo 5).
6. Fixing the cover:
• Center plywood E over the rectangular cutout in the top.
• Mark a place in the center of each side for the bolts.
• Using a 1⁄4-inch bit, drill through the plywood E cover and the top of the box at each mark. Make sure you are going through both layers of wood but missing the foam insulation.
• Remove cover E and enlarge the holes in the cover with a 9⁄32-inch bit to make it easier to remove from bolts.
• Thread the carriage bolts up from the underside.
• Replace the cover and secure with wing nuts (Photo 6).
7. Attaching the vacuum:
• Assemble your bucket vacuum per manufacturer’s instructions.
• Find the center on the end of the “top” box.
• Drill a hole the size of the hose that came with your vacuum (Photo 7).
• Insert one end of the hose into the hole.
• Insert the other end into the vacuum.
8. Assembling the bottom:
• Place plywood D in “bottom” box diagonally from top to bottom. Wedge it in tightly. Screw in place (Photo 8).
• Attach strip foam insulation along the edge of the top of the box.
• Mark the center of the end of the box where the interior board slopes to the bottom and drill a hole large enough to accommodate the connector of your long hose — just as you did in the “top” box.
• Cut a small rectangle of plywood large enough to screw over the hole. Cut a slot in it that will slide around a bolt. Fix this cover to the box with one bolt. Drill hole and insert a second bolt opposite the first (Photo 9).
• Apply a bead of caulk to all the cracks on the inside to close any air gaps that would prevent a vacuum from forming.
• Attach your long hose.
To use your new bee vacuum, place a hive super with frames between these two boxes and secure the whole thing with a ratchet strap. The bucket vacuum, attached via a hose, creates the suction needed to suck the bees through another hose into the box at the bottom, along an inclined plane, and into the hive super. The top box acts as a barrier to keep the bees out of the vacuum motor.
When you finish vacuuming the bees, remove the top cover to give them ventilation on the ride home. It gets hot inside the vacuum. If the job is taking a long time or you take a break, open the top then, as well.
At home, remove the ratchet strap and transfer your new colony. To do this, set up a bottom board and have a super and lid ready. Remove the super from the vacuum and place on the bottom board. Add the empty super and lid. Leave your vacuum boxes next to the hive until nightfall to give any stragglers time to find their new home.
Choose a Vacuum Hose
Vacuum hose comes in three sizes: 11⁄4-inch, 2-inch, and 4-inch. We used the smallest size on our first vacuum. In use, it clogged where the hose coiled on the floor. So for this project, we used 2-inch hose — the size used on vacuums found at car washes. 4-inch hose works but is expensive and awkward to handle.
We purchased used vacuum hose from a vacuum repair store in our community. If you find it secondhand, you may need to buy ends for it, too. One end enables you to insert the hose into the box and the other end enables you to attach a wand for longer reach. You can purchase vacuum hose new online but that increases the cost of your project.
For most applications, 15 to 30 feet should be sufficient. You can always add extensions or wands to lengthen.
Hive Removal Supplies
Swarms frequently enter buildings through small openings like dryer vents or cracks in siding and go unnoticed until they take up residence and begin building comb and storing food. Cutting an established colony out of a building is more complicated than catching a swarm that has landed in a tree — and requires different tools. Once all the bees are safe in your vacuum, locate the comb. Comb left in walls will attract pests or other bees, so you don’t want to leave it there. Cut away combs of honey and save for extraction. Cut away any brood comb and secure in empty frames using rubber bands and place in a super. At your bee yard, use this super for the bees’ new home rather than an empty one. In addition to your vacuum, protective clothing, and normal hive equipment, the following list includes things you just might want when cutting out a hive.
• Extension cord
• Framing hammer
• Flat bar
• Bee brush
• Duct tape
• Ratchet straps
• Containers for extra comb
• Rubber bands
• Hive super with empty frames — without foundation
• Knife for cutting comb
Carol J. Alexander took beekeeping classes in 2012 with her son, Josiah, then 11 years old. Although she’s developed an allergy to bees and can no longer work the hives, Josiah can. He’s increased their apiary by removing unwanted colonies from structures with his bee vacuum. They are both charter members of the Shenandoah County Beekeepers club in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.