bee rescue

Her bees are so refined

Earlier this week, beekeeper Debbe Krape of Delaware was called upon to make an unusual bee rescue. The colony, shown below, was building its new home at the Sunoco Refinery in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania. On Monday, Debbe sent me a short message along with the photos:

We were able to cut the leaves of wax off and bring them home. Holding the leaves in frames with rubber bands. Lots of brood. Saw the queen and got her, too. All going in a hive now.

The next day, she followed up with an account of the entire event:

“The installation process went a little differently than we had planned, but then, in our experience, nothing with bees goes exactly as planned. So to follow up…

We had slipped the leaves of wax into a cardboard box that had dowels poked through from side to side creating six slots to support the leaves vertically to bring them home. It turned out to be too hot and the wax too soft to stand much handling once we got home, so frames and rubber bands were out.

Lifting the leaves was an issue, too. Kitchen tongs, 2 pairs at a time, using very little pressure worked well and were more gentle than clumsy fingers. Hard to sting tongs.

[The] next OMG-what-do-we-do-now alternative to hold the leaves in the hive was an antique silver toast holder, the kind with wide slots and a little handle. The plan at that point had been to stand the leaves in the holder and set it in the middle of the hive box, adding frames with foundation on either side. That worked for the smaller leaves, but the larger ones were too soft and heavy and they began to flop over, so we resorted to carefully standing the larger leaves which are full of capped brood and honey between the frames with foundation, using the frames to give gentle vertical support. However, the antique toast holder is still down in the hive. Too disruptive to take it out at that point.

I have no idea what the bees will make of all of that or what they will do with it. I will say that they were extremely good-natured throughout the whole ordeal—confused certainly, with lots of swirling in the air during our make-it-up-as-you-go installation, but never angry. No stings. Hope they make it.

It was fun having the audience of refinery workers standing around watching us, clearly amazed at our seeming bravery. Getting into the refinery was in itself very interesting, requiring a lot of security, IDs, tags, badges, escorts, etc. The funniest part though was that trucks without names or logos are not permitted on the premises. I drive a big red Chevy Express passenger van with no company name or logo (obviously), but I do have a “Catch the Buzz. Keep Bees” bumper sticker on the back, so our company/truck’s name on record for security purposes is “Catch the Buzz.”

Bee rescues have taken us from a multi-million dollar mansion to an oil refinery in 2 weeks. [It’s] amazing where beekeeping can take you.

Less than 24 hrs later, a peek at our refinery bees reveals they are already drawing wax on the foundation frames. We’re hoping the brood in the leaves we brought home—and there was a lot of capped brood—survive and hatch out.

Kitchen tongues and antique silver toast holders make me think of breakfast at Tiffany’s more than bee rescue at a fuel refinery . . . but you never know what to expect with bees. Next time I’ll let Debbe fill you in on the multi-million dollar mansion.


Editor’s Note: Debbe is the beekeeper responsible for one of the most popular bee photos on the web. If you haven’t seen it, be sure to take a look.

Refinery bees. © Debbe Krape.

Refinery bees. © Debbe Krape.

Highly refined white wax. © Debbe Krape.

Highly refined white wax. © Debbe Krape.


  • Wow, that is insanely cool…. to see the structure hanging like that out in the open as well as Debbe’s wax gland picture. I can’t believe how much there is to learn about these fascinating critters. Thanks for sharing….

  • Yes, that fresh, white comb is as floppy as hot pizza! I tried to stand some up in a wooden dishrack, but there was no way to put it into the hive. Fingers crossed here for all that capped brood!

  • Wow, what a great story! The frames at the refinery are just so gorgeous, and impress me again with their perfection — the space-between, the even-ness of the cells. I’m just wondering if I should add tongs and an antique silver toast-rack to my standard beekeeping kit. Always a picnic with bees… ;>

  • I keep seeing cd racks in the thrift store and wondering what they could be used for, with a bit of retooling they could become the equivalent of a toast-rack and I already have tongs in my beek gear, far fewer squished bees than my fat fingers in thick gloves.

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