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Published July 15, 2013, 10:58 AM

Rescuing honeybee hives

In the early evening of a recent Friday, a black sport utility vehicle turned onto Interstate 90 East from U.S. Highway 85, leaving Deadwood, S.D., with a rather unorthodox group of passengers: about 70,000 live, buzzing honeybees.

By: Adam Hurlburt, Black Hills (S.D.) Pioneer

DEADWOOD, S.D. — In the early evening of a recent Friday, a black sport utility vehicle turned onto Interstate 90 East from U.S. Highway 85, leaving Deadwood, S.D., with a rather unorthodox group of passengers: about 70,000 live, buzzing honeybees.

They were in a large cardboard box, methodically sealed with tape, the remnants of the bees’ former home, which the car’s driver, Bill Clements, and its front seat passenger, his daughter Dustie Clements, removed from behind a wall on the top floor of the historic Smith Apartments in Deadwood.

Members of the Clements family are honeybee rescuers, beekeepers, honey processors and honeybee advocates. The elder Clements is president of the “Wannabee Hobby Beekeepers” Black Hills area beekeeping club.

And as acting president, Clements gets calls about removing and relocating honeybee colonies regularly — sometimes multiple times a week in the summer months. Clements calls these bee relocation missions “hive rescues.”

The process

Clements has a background in construction, so cutting bits of wooden siding off the nearly 100- year-old structure with a circular saw, 30 feet up on tubular scaffolding, didn’t faze him.

Rectangular sections of the old wooden siding were sawed free then carefully removed with pry bars. Clements pumped smoke into the hive to calm its tens of thousands of residents.

With each section of siding removed, Clements exchanged his smoker for his modified shop vacuum, gently but effectively sucking great swaths of bees into the screened bucket. With each layer of honeycomb de-bee’d, Clements cut away that waxy section and handed it down to his daughter, who placed the combs (and all of the honey within) in white plastic trash bags for safekeeping. Clements would then switch back to the vacuum to collect the next pulsing layer of bees.

Capturing the queen bee is paramount in relocating a hive. If the queen weren’t captured along with the rest of the bees, the few remaining bees would start to rebuild the hive in the exact same spot, Clements says.

With the job finished, the team placed the several white plastic bags, heavy with honeycomb, bees wax and honey, into a barrel and transferred the bees from the screened bucket to a large cardboard box, which they carefully taped shut to minimize the potential of a bee leak in the back of their car.

Clements says no bees got out on the drive home to Piedmont, but that the ride would certainly have been interesting to those who don’t regularly perform hive rescues like he and his fellow beekeeping club members do.

“There was kind of a loud roar (in the car),” he says. “That cardboard doesn’t seal it (the sound) very well; you’re just kind of hoping that they don’t find a way out.”

As for the honey, Clements has yet to weigh it, but he estimated that Dercievich, his daughter and himself pulled about 100 pounds of it out of the wall of the Smith Apartments, along with about 70,000 bees. Organic honey like this, once processed, goes for about $8 a pound. Clements processes honey by hand at home, selling the finished product directly to local farmer’s markets.

Clements has been keeping bees, and performing hive rescues, for about four years now, and he says he’s only been stung about 10 times. Each time he was being careless.

“People are just scared of bees, and sometimes when they come across a hive, or a cluster of bees in a tree, they’ll try to kill them with (bug) spray,” he says. “They aren’t just killing a bunch of stinging insects, they’re killing a whole population that’s really doing a good thing. Bees actually pollinate about a third of our food crops — there’s other pollinators out there, but bees do most of the work.”

Worldwide honeybee populations have been dropping steadily over the past several years — an estimated 31 percent of total worldwide honeybee colonies died in 2012 alone — as a result of the mysterious colony collapse disorder.

As for the Smith Apartments honeybees, they’re now happily rebuilding their hive on the Clements’ acreage near Piedmont.

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