$22 Bee Vacuum

We were recently gifted a hive from a family whose beekeeper son left for college. Having moved hives before, I figured it would be easy.  This time I was wrong:

  • Bees bearded up the front and back of the hive – all day long and at 5:30AM in the morning – because the bottom board was open in the front and back.
  • The one hive body and two medium supers were heavy with honey & boiling with bees. I removed the top super which was full of honey to lighten things and replaced it with an empty super thinking that the bearding bees would move into the new spacious digs at night. Instead, they preferred to spend their hot Atlanta nights on the outside of the hive. Smart girls.

To make a long story short, we decided that the only way to place a screen over each entrance without crushing a lot of bees was to vacuum them.  I needed a bee vacuum right away.

I found a video by Mellissa Bee Farms  on how to turn a cheap Home Depot bucket vacuum into a bee vacuum.  The video won’t win any Academy Awards and is about 10 minutes too long but it provided a simple solution to my problem. Given time and money, I would rather buy a Bill Owens design bee vacuum from Brushy Mountain but that will have to wait.  I bought the Home Depot Bucket Head 5-Gal. Wet/Dry Vacuum  2 miles from my home for about $22 ( Model # BH0100, Internet # 202017218, SKU # 301971). This was the weakest wet/dry vacuum that HD had and I saw that as a benefit.  I already had #8 screen, a pop rivet gun, and a 5 gallon bucket that previously held pickles for Firehouse Subs. So the entire kit cost me $22!


The newly placed hive, still boiling with bees. Click for a larger image.

Two things kill bees in vacuums: 1) trauma of hitting walls while moving under the influence of a vacuum and 2) heat of too many agitated bees in a small area. The first modification addresses the first problem. I drilled a 2-1/2 inch hole in the side of the bucket and pop-riveted #8 screen over the hole. This hole bleeds pressure from the vacuum hose and the screen keeps the bees from escaping. You moderate the pressure by putting strips of masking tape over the hole until you have a vacuum in the hose that sucks just enough to grab bees but not so much as to damage them.

The second problem – heat – is solved in this particular bucket design by not vacuuming a lot of bees into each bucket. If I were doing an extraction, I would need multiple buckets, each with a pressure bleeding screen in it.  Or a single Bill Owens design bee vacuum.

My wife Jean and I did the vacuuming and moving during a hot Labor Day afternoon. I knew that foragers would be out and I didn’t mind dealing with fewer bees but we set an empty nuc where the original hive was in order to capture those errant foragers for retrieval at a later time. They started bearding up on the nuc as soon as we rolled their hive away.

I learned two tricks with the bucket bee vac:

  • Sometimes bees clog the hose. This happens because they are used to clinging to each other and there is barely enough vacuum to transport them to the bucket anyway.  I simply place my hand over the air bleeder screen and – thumpth – the vacuum in the hose is increased and the blockage is cleared.
  • When you are done vacuuming, simply stick the end of the vacuum hose into the vacuum outlet.  The bees are secure as long as the pressure fit hose does not come out.

5 gallon plastic bucket shows ~50 dead bees & screened air bleeder hole. Click for a larger image.

So, the question on every reader’s lips is: How many bees did you kill with your $22 bee vacuum?  Out of at least 2 lbs of bees (figure 7000 bees vacuumed), about 50 were unable to fly out of the bucket on their own (see image). Less than one percent. I can live with that.


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