They usually hang in a cluster in a tree while scout bees search for a new nest site, and they occasionally choose a chimney. If it’s an unused chimney and they’re not entering the house or causing any problems, the best thing to do is leave them there. Wild bee colonies are usually very healthy and do not cause any structural damage to the chimney. The bonus of being a ‘hands off’ bee-keeper is a large number of bees pollinating the garden flowers and an increase in the runner bean crop!
Flying bees only live for about 6 weeks and in a healthy colony up to 50 dying bees a day will drop down through the nest and may enter the house through a fireplace or air vent. These bees then crawl around the floor and may fly to the window, they are docile and lacking energy as their work in this world is done. To stop them entering the house, stuff earth wool loft insulation up the unused chimney or behind the air vent. The bees then die in the chimney behind or above the insulation and can easily be removed every 5 years or so. There is sufficient air passing through the insulation to keep the chimney dry and to desiccate the dead bees.
If the bees are causing a nuisance and need to be removed, the traditional method is to kill them with an insecticide smoke bomb. If this is done it is vital that the honeycomb is also removed. The insecticide kills the bees and contaminates the comb. Bees are notorious thieves and will steal any unguarded honey and take it back to their nest. Try putting a small dish of honey on your kitchen windowsill in the summer and see how quickly the bees find and remove it. As bees forage up to three miles from their hive, any colonies within this distance can steal the contaminated honey, feed it to their grubs and chums with devastating results. One carelessly used insecticide bomb can severely damage or destroy other colonies in a three mile radius. Removing the comb will mean breaking up about 60 pounds of the stuff, sealing it in bee proof containers and incinerating it. A very sticky job. The chimney also needs to have an insect proof cap fitted so prevent bees picking up any residue.
Some Guild members are not only expert chimney sweeps. Keith Mitchell of Brush Strokes nr Guildford gives us the benefit of his outstanding work with bees in chimneys.
As I am a beekeeper and a chimney sweep, I have developed a method of encouraging the bees to eat all the honey in the chimney and vacate the premises, leaving dry empty comb in the chimney.
The idea is to trap the bees in the chimney and provide only one exit route, any other holes in the brickwork must be filled as bees will find it and use it as an alternative entrance and exit.
This is a typical example of a common chimney with two flue vents and bees in the righthand pot. The flue vents are removed and one normal C Cap and one modified C Cap, both with insect screens, are fitted. A bee suit will be required at this point as once the cap is removed the bees think they are being attacked and come out to greet or sting you. The modification to the cap on the right is a hole with a wardrobe clothes rail end support screwed over it.
A support base is then fitted to the other pot. This is a plywood board with a raised lip around the edge and metal straps underneath, fixed in the same way as most bird guards.
The bee box is a ‘Maisemore Nucleus’ box with two additional supers and a miller feeder. The supers provide additional space for a larger colony. The box is positioned with the entrance close to where the bees were going in and out of the chimney.
The Miller feeder has been modified with an angled tube sealed into one end. Three holes have been cut in the base and two Porter bee escapes and one Rhombus bee escape fitted under the holes. Wood strips have been screwed to the base to allow clearance between the bee escapes and the top of the frames in the super. Bee escapes are one-way bee gates. The fine wire mesh on the top allows the lid to be removed for a visual inspection without the bees escaping from the top. The assembled box is then securely strapped onto the support base.
A black tube is then clamped over the C Cap outlet and inserted into the tube on the feeder.
The bees are now trapped in the chimney and in their desperation to go foraging for nectar and pollen, will go up the tube and enter the Miller feeder compartment. From here the only way is down through the bee escapes into the bee box and then down past the comb and out of the door where they are free to fly. When they return with their supplies, they canít get back into the chimney. The tube from the original chimney with carries the smell of the nest and queen into the box and this attracts the bees to the door. They enter and as they cannot pass back to the original nest through the bee escapes, they start to draw up comb (make new comb) and store the nectar and pollen in the new box.
Every day more bees leave the chimney to go shopping. But now they canít return to the original nest in the chimney and continue to make themselves comfortable in their new box. The colony in the chimney gets smaller while the one in the box increases. The bees in the chimney can only eat the honey they have stored and as the food starts to run out the queen stops laying eggs. She seems to time her exit well as this only happens when all the developing grubs have hatched into adult bees. She then goes up the tube followed by all the remaining bees into the box and is reunited with her troops, leaving empty comb in the chimney.
This whole process can take a day or two for a fresh swarm or up to twelve weeks for an established colony with good stores of honey. There is no rush as when the complete colony is in the box they can simply stay there and are free to fly as normal.
I have extracted 17 colonies this year (2020) and about a quarter of them swarmed out of the box and disappeared, possibly to another chimney! I will experiment next season with setting the door on the box to prevent a queen from passing (the slotted option). If the queen cannot leave the bees will stay. This however can cause other problems with any new queens being unable to mate but I think that will be rare.
So, if there are any bee keeping chimney chaps who are comfortable working at heights out there, I freely share this information with you. See more of Keith’s work here: