Building and using a bee vacuum (By Bill Mauer)


What’s a bee vacuum? A bee vacuum is a device used to help corral bees when cutting out a beehive or collecting a swarm. You might think the bees would be harmed by this but they are just fine. The airflow is adjusted to ease the bees into the hose then into the vac. Once in the vacuum they will be able to move about easily as the airflow dissipates in the larger area. There are many different designs that work in slightly different ways. I spent time reading and watching videos before I decided to build mine. It is based on the Bushkill Bee Vac with some changes for my own uses. This link will take you to a Bushkill building site – The bee vac consists of 3 rectangular sections of the same outer dimensions as the standard 10 frame Langstroth hive. Then along with 2 regular hive bodies, the bottom hive body has frames of drawn comb and the upper one (which is not installed until after the vacuuming) with empty frames, a hose and ratchet strap completes the assembly.

Sealing foam is used to hold the vacuum and keep components from sliding apart.

The bottom section serves as a base for the bee vacuum and the hose attaches as an entrance for the bees. The floor is tapered upward so that when the bees enter they can access the lower hive bodies drawn comb. I sealed the joints with silicone as honey will drip into the bottom and you don’t want it leaking through. A couple of loops on the sides give a place to strap the whole setup together.

The corrugated plastic slides easily, and only requires a groove to operate.

The center section houses a sliding screen. It keeps the bees in the bottom hive body until you want them to move up. If you want to leave the bees in the bottom box you can just suck them up, use the screen in this section to transport them home. Put the hive body on a hive stand put on a top cover and you done.

The vacuum motor panel slides off top section when the job is done. This provides ventilation so bees won’t overheat while in transit.

The top section holds the vacuum motor and air gate. It is also screened but this screen is fixed. The airgate is adjusted so the bees are barely pulled in the hose. When done with the vacuum just slide the panel containing the motor out and the screen will give your new bees plenty of ventilation for the trip to apiary.
When building the bee vacuum the only parts purchased were the tie down loops. So the dimensions varied as I used what I had on hand. The changes made from other designs include a second hose connection, dedicated motor and a screen made from a plastic sign. But it works, and that’s what counts. The motor came from a shop vac the neighbors were throwing out. Dismantled it and made a custom mount out of plywood. The second hose connection is because the hose I had on hand is not a standard shop vac hose and I wanted the ability to use a bought hose if necessary. The plastic sign/screen made the whole sliding assembly easy to build and it is easily washable.

Hose connections, one standard and one to fit the hose I already had. Just remove the hose and swing the cover closed to keep the bees inside.

Now what do you do once you have a bee vacuum? If you have a bee hive to remove from a structure or a swarm that cannot be removed by normal means, the vacuum will give you better control of the bees. You can vacuum up the bees as you work leaving a less chaotic worksite, less bees flying everywhere. As in any endeavor preparation is the key to success, so take time to think of all the items you will need to take with you. Will there be electricity? Is a ladder needed? Do you need extra light? Make a list of all the items you will need and make sure to take them along. And have a plan on what you are going to do with the bees once you have them. I would suggest watching some videos to get a good idea of what to expect from the process.

Nearly done with the cutout. Notice very few bees.

For our first cutout we took a 10 frame deep box of drawn comb for the bottom box and a box with ten empty frames for the top box. Along with our bee suits, hive tools etc. we also took-
plastic sheets,
rubber bands,
a headlamp,
empty buckets for collecting comb and honey
a bucket of warm water
queen catcher
disposable gloves
garbage bags
and the bee vacuum.

Luckily for us the homeowner had removed the drywall and arranged scaffolding in advance. While I was vacuuming bees and cutting out comb my wife Ann was fitting the comb to the empty frames and putting them in the top box. This is why I like this design, you can save the brood easily and put the nurse bees right back on the job in a very short time. What comb did not go into frames was put into the buckets. It was a messier than I thought it would be but because the plastic sheets caught the drips of honey there was not much to clean up. The bucket of water is used to clean hands when needed.

Cutout comb rubber banded into empty frames.

We found it difficult to take pictures with honey covered hands so we don’t have many pictures of our efforts. We finished the job in one hour not bad for our first cutout.

Setup using medium super for bottom and 2 four frame nucs, which will be stacked upon each other when full of bees.

The nice thing about this design is you can use what hive components you have on hand or what you want to leave your bees in when you get home. Deep, medium, shallow or nucs any combination can work. If needed for a very large colony multiple hive bodies could be used so all the bees and comb could be contained.
For those who don’t want to build your own they are available online and through catalogs. But if you desire have some fun and start building. Then put it to use.