POCATELLO — Beekeepers and Idaho State University maintenance workers removed approximately 30,000 bees from the iconic Swanson Arch near The Quad on Friday.
And not a single person was stung, says Sarah Hofeldt, a beekeeper and ISU fitness instructor who helped with the bee relocation.
In fact, Hofeldt didn’t use smoke or any other means to calm down the bees before extracting them from the massive hive and she removed the queen bee with her bare hands from a pile of bees ready to sting.
Most of the bees survived the extraction and are now back to making honey from the safety of a Langstroth hive box in the backyard of Hofeldt’s Chubbuck home.
“We had this large area cordoned off around the arch but the bees were mostly unbothered by us,” Hofeldt said. “There were people right underneath us taking pictures and nobody got stung once. When I captured the queen and had to take my gloves off to handle her gently about 100 bees climbed off the comb and onto my arm. Even with me messing in that pile of bees barehanded they didn’t sting me.”
Dee Rasmussen, zone maintenance manager for ISU Facilities Services, said in an ISU press release that the beehive was first discovered in early July.
ISU said that the bees entered the arch’s walls through knotholes in the wood on the interior of the arch, creating a massive and complex hive behind the wood on the arch’s ceiling.
Hofeldt says it’s very likely the bees started their Swanson Arch hive after abandoning a previous hive, which usually happens when a hive becomes too large or a queen becomes too old or sick.
“If the hive becomes too overcrowded the bees will actually raise a new queen,” Hofeldt said. “When she is ready to emerge they take the old queen and about half the (hive’s bee) population and they leave the new queen a ton of young bees in the original hive to start all over again.”
Hofeldt continued “I think this is exactly what happened with the Swanson Arch. It was a swarm from someone’s hive that found a perfect new home up in the arch.”
A part-time beekeeper for the past four years, Hofeldt, with the help of her husband Nick, started removing the bees from the arch around 5 a.m. this past Friday. After cutting five holes in the arch’s ceiling to expose the honeycomb and bees, Hofeldt gently caught and transported the queen separately in a box.
“When we first pulled up you could have heard these bees buzzing from 50 feet away,” Hofeldt said. “As soon as I got home, I put the queen in the hive and added the bees back and they became instantly quiet.”
Though she had a smoker machine on hand with her, Hofeldt was able to remove the bees from the arch without it. She said with how surprisingly docile the bees were the smoker was unnecessary and could have fatally injured many of the bees.
“When you smoke your bees it simulates fire and what they will do is gorge themselves on honey,” Hofeldt said. “This makes them happier, obviously, because they have a full belly, but it also makes their abdomen fatter so that it is harder to sting you. I didn’t want to smoke them initially because they do stuff their heads into that honeycomb, which makes vacuuming them out alive much harder.”
As opposed to spending hundreds of dollars on a standard bee vacuum, the Hofeldts built their own for less than $100 using a two horsepower Shop-Vac motor and an empty Langstroth hive box.
After removing the queen she was able to vacuum up the hive’s 30,000 bees with very few casualties.
Hofeldt says she plans to keep the relocated hive at her Chubbuck home to monitor the bees through the summer. She then plans to relocate the hive to a farm in Chubbuck where her other two hives are located.
Hofeldt sells the honey produced by her bees. Her company is called Bee Great and last year her bees produced around 500 to 600 pounds of honey. In addition to earning a little extra money on the side, Hofeldt is doing her part to combat the extinction of honey bees due to the excessive use of pesticides on crops as well as certain blood-sucking parasites that only reproduce in bee colonies.
“It absolutely went as flawlessly as could be,” Hofeldt said about removing the bees from Swanson Arch. “No one got stung. The bees were docile. And I have to say the ISU (maintenance) boys that came down were awesome and very patient with us. They went above and beyond. They let us cut wood and do what we needed to do. And they’re going to patch the holes and fix them back up. The whole process was a huge success.”