It is logical to assume that the older a beehive the longer it will take to remove. But it is not just the size that determines the complexity of the removal.
Successive generations of pupating larvae lining their cells with cocoons, not only turn the brood comb darker but also tougher, making it much harder to cut. Comb removal is a delicate operation and requires care not to harm the bees that instinctively cling to the surface of the brood to keep it warm. A squeezed or squashed bee will release her alarm pheromone putting surrounding bees on high alert, making them much more likely to sting. Judicious use of the smoker masks the alarm pheromone, but it is much better to avoid needing it in the first place.
The second challenge in removing an ancient nest is that over time, the nest architecture sometimes goes awry with comb being built on different angles and being connected with random bridging comb. These connections become less predictable and to exacerbate the issue they also become tougher to cut through. The result is the necessity to work through the removal in a highly methodical manner making renewed decisions after each piece of comb is removed.
The usual process is to start to remove all of the honey comb around the periphery of the brood nest. While there is always honey stored above the brood as well, the removal of the bulk of the honeycomb allows clearer access to the brood. This process also has an important role in reducing the places for the queen to hide. If the comb can be removed from either side of the nest this will effectively herd the queen into the centre of the nest away from any escape routes.
This 3 year old hive removed from the wall of a house at Reeceville in the Sunshine Coast hinterland near Maleny lived up to all of these challenges and the removal process spanned two days. Had the job been started 5 hours earlier it would have been possible to get it done in a single day however, even though the job was started at 11am, it was 6pm before all of the comb surrounding the brood nest was finally removed, it was decided to leave it intact until the following day. The colony regulates the temperature of the brood comb to keep it at 34°C; removing any of the brood comb at 6pm at night would have really decreased the possibility of that comb remaining viable.
A further 5 hours work on day two saw all of the brood comb cut-out, the queen captured and the last of the nest finally removed. One last element conspired to extend the time on this job. The catch-box which contains the queen, brood and vacuumed bees is usually setup right next to the original hive entry at the end of the job so that all of the returning forager bees can easily reorientate to that box, attracted by the queen and brood. In this case the original entrance to the hive was about 5 metres off the ground, above a window but under the window awning making it impossible to set the catch-box up directly adjacent to the entry. The catch-bow was instead setup as close as practical to the original hive entry however , being some distance away it takes the returning forager bees extra time to locate the new hive entry. Fortunately as this house is currently unoccupied, the catch-box could be left in place for another day for reorientation to occur.
Beehives get into all sorts of difficult to access spots. Sometimes they are in cramped locations under houses, high in walls, over head in ceilings or even underground. Naturally, the more awkward the positioning the longer the job will take, it can also make the job quite physically arduous. Other times the job requires extra care to limit damage to a structure (in this case the hive was located behind a tongue and groove wall that needed to be neatly removed). Ideally a hive would be removed from the outside of a building but this is often impossible or impractical. It is far cheaper to cut into the plaster board of a house that to start removing bricks, or the work off a small ladder inside rather than setting up scaffold or a cherry-picker on the outside. In just about every circumstance there is a solution to removing bees from unwanted locations, it just takes a bit of time and care to #savethebees.