Penn Brewery loses its buzz
 after beehive is removed

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If you thought moving was tough, try being evicted from your hive with 50,000 relatives.

Penn Brewery was abuzz Friday as tens of thousands of honeybees were moved out of the home they've occupied for 10 to 15 years, tucked behind an old wall that was exposed this week during construction at the Troy Hill company.

Around 8 a.m., high atop a ladder and wearing a mesh head net, master beekeeper Stephen Repasky, of Bee Control Pittsburgh, began carefully sucking up the bees with a vacuum and cutting off their comb piece by piece.

Bee keeper removes massive hive from Penn Brewery

Tens of thousands of honeybees inside a massive, decade-old hive tucked behind an old wall at Penn Brewery will soon get a new home. (Video by Darrell Sapp; 5/23/2014)

He was stung only twice -- on his hand and pinky finger.

"Honeybees are extremely docile, even when we're ripping apart their home," said Mr. Repasky, a beekeeper for 20 years. "I'm taking their furniture and putting it in a new home. I want to try to keep it as intact as possible."

By 1:30, he was packing up his truck, bees in tow, and heading home. The bees were expected to be moved later Friday to a temporary apiary, a bee yard in Sewickley, where they'll be able to fly around and get reacclimated to their surroundings under surveillance for a few months. After that time, they'll be returned to somewhere in Pittsburgh.

Penn Brewery discovered the hive Thursday when part of the exterior wall collapsed during planned construction. Brewers and other workers in the building said they knew it existed -- they had heard faint buzzing for years and watched bees swarm to that spot behind the wall -- but they could not have fathomed its size.

"Those bees have been my neighbors for a long time," said David DeSantis, 51, sales manager at Systems Imaging, whose office is on the other side of the colony.

Mr. Repasky, 38, used a vacuum to capture the bees in a container and, in the process, broke off pieces of the comb to save for their new home.

Some slabs were darker, showing their age, while others were a rich, buttery yellow with morsels of honey that had a mint flavor, which Mr. Repasky attributed to the plants that bees bring into the colony in the spring.

Before climbing down the ladder to speak with reporters, Mr. Repasky calmed the bees with smoke, but one worker bee he called "Martha" followed him and scurried across his shoulder and hand. Asked why she didn't sting him, he said these bees have no reason to -- they die after they sting.

Given the hurdles, the process Friday went smoothly, Mr. Repasky said. He hadn't planned on scaling a ladder to reach the colony 30 feet above, but when the scaffolding was compromised and the cherry-picker was late, that's what he did.

Mild weather worked in his favor, as did the wall collapse because he didn't have to force his way through a layer of brick.

Preserving wild colonies such as this one is important, Mr. Repasky said, especially since the appearance of colony collapse disorder, a mass disappearance of worker bees that researchers are trying to better understand.

In the satellite location in Sewickley, beekeepers will closely watch the bees for signs they are reproducing and bringing nectar and pollen back to the hive. The move will take a toll, but they'll eventually settle in.

"It's just stress," Mr. Repasky said. "It's like if I plucked you out of your house tomorrow and said, 'OK, we're sending you to Timbuktu.' It's going to take you a little bit of time to adjust, and eventually you will, and it's the same thing with honeybees."

Brewery manager Andy Rich, 47, said Friday morning that he hopes to collect enough honey from the combs to add to a future brew.

He's in luck: Mr. Repasky said he was able to salvage some for the bees and share the wealth.

"The bees are happy," he said. "Penn Brewery is happy."

Molly Born: or 412-263-1944. First Published May 23, 2014 10:48 AM

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