Build Your Own Bee Vac

There are a plethora of plans to build bee vacs available from a variety of web sites and other internet sources. And they range from the complex - for example, I've seen one designed to deposit bees directly into a hive body or swarm trap - to the simple. Mine is the simplest I could envision. That's not to say a more complex unit wouldn't be a better choice for some, but this has been all I ever needed, and has served me well.

Not only is mine the simplest, but it is also the most economical I've come across (and yes, that matters very much to me). When I built it, in October of 2012, it took less than a half hour to construct and cost less than $30. The materials needed are two 5 gallon buckets, one specialized vacuum head, some screen, and some silicone adhesive, (see image above). You will also need a smooth hose to replace the corrugated hose that comes with the vacuum head (more about that in the Additional Information section below).

The specialized vacuum head is readily available at most big box home improvement stores. It is conveniently designed to clamp to the top of a standard 5 gallon bucket.

The design makes use of two 5 gallon buckets nested together in order to allow the beekeeper to regulate the air flow (i.e. suction force) experienced by the bees. With the buckets nested together, use a hole saw to drill one to four holes spaced equally around the buckets, (see pictures above and below). The size of the hole is not critical. Something close to 2" diameter is recommended, but use what you have available. DO NOT GO BUY A HOLE SAW IF YOU DON'T HAVE ONE. Smaller holes will work just as well. Drill fewer at first. You can always drill more if needed later. You can't undrill any of them.

This is what mine looked like after the holes were drilled, (see photo above). Notice that the holes are not at the same height on both buckets. The inner bucket holes are much lower than the outer bucket's holes. By drilling the buckets while they are nested together you ensure that these holes will line up without doing a lot of critical measurements.

Apply screen material over the holes on the inside of the inner bucket. This protects the bees from being caught in the space between the buckets if you need to make adjustments to the air flow. It also allows you to remove the outer bucket and give the contained bees ventilation. DO NOT put the screen material between the inner and outer buckets, as this will interfere with their operation.

Shown above is the completed bee vac with the holes aligned for minimum suction. To adjust the air flow (suction) simply rotate one of the buckets to occlude the holes.

Once you've vacuumed up all of the bees, you can use a small paper cup to plug the suction port, containing the bees in the inner bucket. And the screened holes will provide them with plenty of ventilation until you get them to their new home in your apiary.

Additional Information

I have used this bee vac on multiple occasions and am quite pleased with its performance. However, there are two more things you should do. You should replace the corrugated hose that comes with the vacuum head. At the same big box home improvement store where you buy the vacuum head, you can buy a smooth sided hose that will fit in the suction port. Okay, you might have to buy something close, and then build up the diameter with duct tape. This will do two things.

First, the corrugations in the original vacuum hose will cause the bees to be battered to death as they're sucked along its length. Second, bees will be trapped in the corrugations and will eventually plug the hose. A smooth sided hose eliminates both of these problems.

Second, the hose that comes with the vacuum head has an elbow (a 90° turn) where it enters the vac (see the earlier photo). Bees being sucked along the hose will smash into the back of this elbow and be injured or killed. By fitting a straight sided hose to the suction port the bees path will be straight toward the bottom of the bucket (see photo above), giving them maximum time to slow down before hitting anything.

And this brings up the final change you should make. Place some kind of padding in the bottom of the bucket to cushion the bees landing. Carpet padding works well, but any soft cushion will do. In practice the bees will more likely congregate on the vacuum filter than on the bottom of the bucket, but that doesn't mean they won't hit the bottom first. Give them something soft to land on when they do. They're not heavy, so it doesn't have to be that thick, just soft.