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Swarming bees will find shelter in trees and other hollow protected places. Once in a while they may shelter in unusual places such as in some types of walls. Homeowners are often shocked finding a mass of tiny insects moving in and out of their compost bins. They may think that bees have made a hive in the compost. So, does compost attract bees? This article looks at what might be happening with bees living in your compost and how to take care of the situation.
Honeybee colonies that grow too big split and one colony moves off to find a new home. This is called swarming. Bees may also swarm when conditions in a beehive become unsuitable for their continued habitation. This could be a result of diseases, pests and parasites. Predators attacking bees can also lead to honeybees leaving a current hive and moving away.
Compost does not attract bees. The sheltered space is however very attractive to bees and wasps of various kinds. This is why you need to find out what type of insects inhabits your compost bin. Be careful when visiting the bin to carry out identification of the bees. You might find some generally aggressive insects are in the compost bin and you may get stung if you are not careful.
Does the Scent Turn Bees off or Make Them Angry?
The scent of compost does not have an effect on bees. If they want to stay in a compost bin, they will stay. As already noted, compost does not attract bees. At the same time, it does not turn them off. You can also be sure that the scent of compost does not make bees angry or any more docile than they can be. There are factors however that may make bees in a compost bin angry. Disturbance of the bin is not very welcome to bees. It will not go unnoticed, and the bees will want to defend their home. This includes opening the bin or making noise near the bin. Recently swarmed bees are very aggressive since they are just settling into their new home. You might think they are angry, but that is not necessarily the case.
Scents that attract bees are sweet scents. They are extracted from flowers and sweet-smelling shrubs. Beekeepers use the scents in trap hives and lures to catch swarming bees. The scents attract scout bees that then bring the swarm to the trap hive. There is no documentation of scents that make bees angry. Smoke makes bees gorge on honey. It is used by beekeepers to keep honeybees busy when they are opening up the hive. Be careful using some with insects in your compost bin. If they are wasps or aggressive bees, it might make them turn defensive and sting you.
There are scents or combinations of scents and practices that turn bees off. You can use them to keep bees from settling in a place you are not comfortable with. Honeybees can live in very small spaces. Covering and filling in cracks and small entrance spaces keeps bees out. Proper disposal of items in which bees can live is also advised. Pine tree oils or scents added to water treatments seem to discourage honeybees from hanging around. Vinegar added to water at a rate of 2 tablespoonfuls for every gallon of water in wells and birdbaths is also a deterrent to bees.
Do Bees Nest in Compost Heaps
Compost heaps are not very attractive to honeybees. They prefer high places sheltered from the sun, wind and rain. Bees do not make their hives in the ground. If you find an insect that looks like a bee in your compost heap, identify it correctly and read on to find ways to remove it from your compost heap.
How to Remove Bees from a Compost Bin and into a Beehive
Bumblebees and yellow jacket wasps are very common insects nesting under your compost bin cover. They are often confused for bees. However, once in a while you get a swarm of honeybees under that lid and have to figure out what to do with them. If you are not a beekeeper, invite a beekeeper to take away the swarm of honeybees. You could also try your municipal authorities or a removal service to help you out. When you want the colony of honeybees for yourself, take it upon yourself to remove the bees and move them to a beehive.
The best way to go about removing honeybees from a compost bin involves moving them to a beehive or nuc. Here, they will get used to living in the controlled space and turn into a thriving honeybee colony. The process of removing bees from the compost bin requires you to have beehive box or two ready. It should be fitted with feeders and possibly an observation window. Once you have put the honeybee colony into a new beehive box, you should leave them in the box for a day or two before opening it. Feeding the bees is great since they do not have any food collected. Sugar syrup also helps with wax production. The bees need to produce a lot of wax to draw new comb on your beehive frames.
During removal of honeybees from a compost bin, use a spray of sugar syrup on the bees. This is in addition to the syrup you will be feeding them later when they are in your preferred beehive box. The sugar syrup on their bodies stimulates grooming behavior. The bees get preoccupied cleaning themselves and each other. They feel settled in the new beehive faster if they have groomed themselves in it. Spraying honeybees with sugar syrup also helps keep them from stinging you.
Go to your compost heap at night or late in the evening. This ensures that all the bees will be in the bin. Additionally, the cold of the night makes bees less active so they are less inclined to sting you.
Things You’ll Need
For the job to be successful, you need to have the following ready:
- Beehive boxes with frames and covers
- Soft bee brush
- Sugar syrup
- Bee smoker
- In-hive bee feeders
- Personal protective gear
- Adequate lighting
- A queen cage
- Wear your personal protective clothing for beekeeping before heading out to the compost bin with honeybees. It will keep you from being stung by defensive honeybees. You should advise people without the gear to stay away from the compost heap. Bees do not like disturbances of their hives and will be ready to defend their compost bin home.
- Before heading out to the compost bin, prepare your beehive boxes. You should set up one beehive box with a full stack of beehive frames and the other with 3-4 frames only. Prepare the place you will locate your beehive well to minimize disturbances and moving the hive once bees are settled into it.
- Once everything is ready, you may head out to the compost bin. Carry with you the beehive box with 3-4 frames in it. Bring the bee brush, light, smoker and sugar syrup in a sprayer with you. The smoker should be lit. It is however only to be used if the bees become aggressive, and only if they have honey to gorge themselves on. This is possible if the bees have been in the compost bin for some time and have started establishing a hive in the bin. To calm bees, prioritize using the sugar syrup in a spray.
- Once at the compost bin, brush bees into your box with 3-4 beehive frames. Aim to transfer all the bees you find in the compost bin to your beehive box. If you have the time, you may look for the queen bee and put her in a queen cage. This may not be possible because you have to work fast, but it is worth a try. Cut out any comb the bees have drawn in the compost bin and put it in your beehive box together with the bees. It will help them settle in the new home better.
- With your bees safely in the beehive box, cover it up so the bees cannot fly out. Move quickly to your selected beehive location. Place the beehive box full of frames on top of the box you used to transfer the honeybee colony from the compost bin. Bees will move through the two boxes and might prefer the one on top more. Take this opportunity to place your feeder in the bottom box. Add to it enough sugar syrup for your bees. You may use more than one feeder in the beehive box. Cover the beehive stack of two beehive boxes and wait for a full day before visiting the hive again.
A successful transfer of honeybees is determined if the bees take to the new beehive well. You will see the honeybees drawing comb on the beehive frames. Opening the beehive entrances after a day will have the bees flying in and out with pollen and nectar if the transfer was successful. Take time to observe the beehive from a distance after you have opened the beehive entrances. If the bees swarm out, the transfer was not successful. If the bees stay in the hive, continue feeding them. Consider a few frames of honey if you can spare them for feeding the bees in addition to sugar syrup.
You may add more frames to the bottom beehive box after a few more days. Remember to inspect the beehive as soon as possible and search for a queen bee. If the beehive does not have a queen bee, you will need to bring in a new queen.
Removal of Bumblebees and Yellow Jackets
Honeybees do not make nests. That is very important when identifying the insects making a home in your compost bin. Wasps are the most likely insects you have in your compost bin if you find they have made a nest. Bumblebees and yellow jacket wasps are the common insects found nesting under compost bin lids. Wasps can be dangerous due to stinging people and animals when the lid is opened. You need to use your compost bin for waste disposal, so you must reclaim the bin for yourself.
Removing both bumblebees and wasps from a compost bin is possible. It is done in two general methods. You can either move them elsewhere or kill the entire colony of insects (which we do not advise). It is best to move the nest in the evening when it is cold and all members of the colony are in the compost bin. You can also try the early morning before the individual members of the colony start foraging for food.
When you do not wish to kill the insects in your compost bin, moving them elsewhere is the best option. Wait for the late evening and collect all insects into a container. For yellow jackets, you should remove the nest. Move the nest of yellow jackets to an underground burrow you have identified and bury it some. They will decide if to continue with the nest or make another one. Yellow jackets are often to be found in underground nests.
Bumblebees are ground nesters too. With bumblebees in your compost bin, look for a bumblebee collecting box. It looks like a honeybee mating nuc. In the cold on the late evening, move all the bumblebees into the collecting box. The box is then buried up to the roof with an entrance allowed. It is great if you orient the entrance in the same direction of the entrance the bumblebees were using in your compost bin.
A Final Word
It is not often that you find honeybees sheltered in a compost bin. For the few times you might encounter this phenomenon, it pays to be prepared. It is best to preserve the honeybee colony instead of killing it. Use this guide on management of honeybees in a compost heap to get back your compost bin and gain a new honeybee colony. If you are not a beekeeper, consider inviting a beekeeper to remove the bees and use them in their apiary.
Do you have a problem with bees in your compost heap? Leave a comment below and let us know.