It was Rick Smith, owner of Rigidized Metals, who upon purchasing land at the grain elevators first came upon a massive bee colony lodged inside the boarded up window of one of the office buildings. Knowing that someday the building was going to be occupied and active, Rick felt that it would only be right to make sure that the bees were not exterminated. I have been lucky enough to visit the bees each year since they were first discovered, and have always admired Rick’s desire to move the bee colony safely. Little did I know what an ambitious undertaking it would ultimately end up being. “Nobody would be crazy enough to take this on,” Rick told me. “But down here at Silo City, we’re just crazy enough to do it.”
In order to see the transferal of the bee colony from the office building to another site at Silo City, it was decided to bring professors and students from the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning’s Ecological Practices Research Group together to participate in a competition. Out of ten entries and after a 24-hour charrette, the team of “Elevator B” (see design) was awarded the project. The team came up with the concept of building a giant metal hive using plates fabricated at Rigidized Metals. The design would allow for the bees to be kept inside a wood and glass compartment (referred to as a ‘Bee Cab’) that would travel up and down a 22′ vertical structure. The crank driven ‘Bee Cab’ would give the beekeeper access to colony so that he/she could tend to the bees as needed. The bee colony would also be locked securely, away from danger and the natural elements, while the individual bees would be allowed to pass through small cut-outs in oder to come and go as they please. Positioning of the sun would be crucial (sun shading). Another incredible feature actually allows viewers to walk inside the structure to view the bees when the “Bee Cab” is elevated to the middle or top. In essence, the project would become an outdoor learning lab.
Once the design was chosen, the next step was to find a local beekeeper. It didn’t take long to track down Philip Barr, a karate instructor and beekeeping guru. At this moment, Phil is busy removing the bees from the boarded up window in preparation for the move, which will happen at any moment. I asked Phil what the process entailed and he told me, “Cut the honeycomb, capture the bees… cut the honeycomb, capture the bees…” While doing this, Phil was also able to identify the queen bee and place her in a vacuum container along with many of the drones and workers. Once the queen was captive it was ‘game over’ for the hive. As Phil dismantled the rest of the honeycomb, he was able to store it in buckets, and later he plans on making beeswax soap – don’t be surprised to find some Silo Honey passed around down the road as well. The silo hive is the largest hive that Phil has ever removed, which says a lot considering that he’s in the business of swarm removal, teaching beekeeping classes, selling beehives and is an all around bee expert. He told me that outside of Silo City you would probably only be able to see something along the lines of Elevator B somewhere in Europe.
While the removal and transferal of the hive is a big deal, it should also be noted that these particular bees are not suffering from any sort of colony collapse disorder (no red dots were seen on any of the bees). Therefore Phil will be starting new colonies using the bees from this swarm. In years to come, the honeybees down at Silo City will be safe and protected by this super modern, made in Buffalo, custom Rigidized hive, and visitors will be able to come down to view Elevator B at Hive City… only in Bee-lo, NY.
Update: The bees have now successfully been moved. The queen bee was released inside of the wood and glass box within the metal hive and the rest of the bees are busy getting to work. While most of the bees are inside the hive or swarming around their new home, there is a faction surrounding the three entranceway holes where they can be seen fanning the air in order to send signals to the rest of the bees that the queen has chosen a new home. After the hive was closed and Phil was able to get out of his beekeeper suit, a celebratory toast was had in honor of the project’s success. I would imagine that the group is feeling a bit buzzed by now!