Thinking Outside of the Box(es)

Just when I’ve built up a lot of equipment, my beekeeping philosophy evolves. I guess if you simply “keep” bees, the equipment doesn’t matter so much. But if and when you get more involved, some off-beat equipment makes more and more sense. Figures.

Here’s what I’m thinking: I currently own and use two different sized boxes and frames. I use two 10-frame deep brood boxes per hive, and then, for honey collection, I add however many shallow boxes I need on top of the two deeps per hive.  I want to switch to 8-frame medium boxes and use those for both brood rearing and honey collection.

Why is that, you ask, Reader? Because the bees almost always leave the two end frames empty, so there’s no reason to use 10-frame boxes. And the 10-frame deep boxes are very very heavy when they’re full of honey and bees—they weigh about 100 pounds each. Try lifting four of those every week…you might be inclined to stop raising bees altogether. It’s also easier for the bees to heat and cool and defend a smaller-size box.

Interchangeability is another reason to switch over to medium-sized boxes. If all the boxes are interchangeable, then I can begin to move frames and boxes all over the place to increase colony success. As it is now, I’m limited by how and where I can move my bees and brood…right now, I have to keep shallow frames in shallow boxes and deep frames in deep boxes. If they were all medium depth, it would give the bees the room they need to raise brood, and I could still use them for honey collection…the medium-depth boxes are liftable.

If you don’t often manage or think about how to manage a hive of bees, what I just discussed won’t make much sense to you, so skim over it. Suffice it to say that medium boxes make more sense for the beekeeper, and they’re easier for the bees to manage and defend, too.

But I can’t quite figure out the logistics of how to shift over to the new sizes since all my hives are active and healthy right now (so I’m not gonna mess with them at all)…this is when my creativity often fails me. I have a hard time thinking outside of the box (get it?!) Nor am I sure of what to do with the old equipment. I guess I can hang onto some of it and devise another type of hive. Or I could sell my larger boxes and frames to someone who’s only beginning.

Reader, do you want some nicely painted boxes?

If I Keep Doing What I'm Doing, I'll Keep Getting What I'm Getting

Did I tell you I’ve decided to read “Linda’s Bees” blog from beginning to end. Every single entry for 4 or 5 years. And she posts a lot. Well, I skip those entries that contain pictures of flowers. Sure, I like flowers. But, frankly, I hate pictures of flowers. They bore me. Fortunately—and this is why I love her blog—Linda almost always writes about bees. And her photographs are extremely helpful. I’m inspired.

So, my parents arrive for a 5-day visit today, and I know they’re dying to participate in some way in the beekeeping. I’ll do hive inspections with them, and that can be quite thrilling if you’ve never been that close to that many working bees. But I think we’ll also try our hand at harvesting a few frames of honey. This will be my first honey harvest, and now that I’ve decided to go the “crush and strain” route, it should be quite manageable to do with the parents here.

(The Muth jars have arrived. Love them. Perfect for gifts to the neighbors. Good timing, too, because some of my neighbors have pools and hot tubs, and when it gets hot the bees head straight to water. Uh oh. I hope the bees love the skanky water in our birdbath more than they love my neighbors’ crystal-clear pools…I know the mosquitoes certainly prefer life over here.)

I’ve decided to grow in the less-is-more direction, so I’m planning to let the bees build their next comb without using foundation in the frames. I’m becoming convinced that using foundation which could have been exposed to the pesticides and chemicals some beekeepers use to control pests in the hives may be one reason bees and their queens are increasingly becoming weaker (oh, if only they were all as strong as my Amazon girls).

But what am I supposed to do with the 100 sheets of super-thin foundation I just ordered from Walter Kelly? Melt it for lip balm and hand lotion? Hell, I don’t know. I know that ever since Deb tried to walk right through the closed screen, our sliding door is sticking… it’s out of whack. Maybe I can rub some foundation on the little runners and see if I can’t smooth it up.

To melt that stuff, though, I’m going to need a cheap double boiler. I can’t tell you how I hate to shop.

They've Got What I Want

You know that feeling you get when you’re on to something? When your intuition tells you this is something really important? Well, I’ve got it.

I’ve been almost obsessed with reading Linda’s Bees. I’m determined to read the entire thing from beginning to end…over 700 entries at this point. This is Linda’s fourth year of keeping bees, and she’s got what I want…I can’t tell you how far she’s come in her four years from novice to Master Beekeeper. Frankly, I have little interest in being certified a Master Beekeeper, but I’d like the knowledge that comes with it.

Anyway, Linda has kept a wonderful blog devoted to her beekeeping experiences, and I’ve got to say that I’m learning more from her almost-daily log than I’ve learned in all books I’ve read. And Linda turned me on to Michael Bush, whose website has me a bit unnerved—I think his philosophy is spot on. I’m unnerved because I have a feeling I’ll be following his lead. Which means changing some things. But it also means going with my gut about beekeeping. I’ve got a good, sound gut, too.

Anyway, over at Not Alice, I post an occasional picture; but Linda posts photographs of all of her beekeeping experiences, and when it comes to this technical stuff, the photographs really help. For Not Alice, I simply use pictures from my iPhone, but the quality is comparatively poor (because I have an earlier version of the iPhone). So, I’ll have to consider taking my better digital camera with me out into the bee yard when I go.

All of this is to say, “Heads up.” I hope to make TwoHoneys a more vibrant place to visit.

My Girls Can Take It

There’s more than one way to skin a cat. We were on hand yesterday to watch Christy install her bees. She was gentle. She went to great lengths to avoid any violence or aggitation to the bees…it was an elaborate process. Here she is preparing her brood box to welcome its new family.

Here’s Jana and Deb posing with Christy’s hive boxes. We all ate the most delicious flan and fruit together before the big event. See how much fun? Christy made it a little party.

Then Deb and I came home and installed our bees. We shook the daylights out of them. It was quick, and it was crazy.

Now, Reader, you know that I’m not a violent person, and I would never intentionally upset my bees…but they are not delicate creatures. And they can take a little action. So, we simply dumped them into their new homes without any coddling. And now they’re happily flying around getting to know the lay of the land. If they’re gonna make it over here, by golly, they’d better get tough.

And we’ve now named each of our hives so you’ll know who we’re referring to when we talking about them. We chose strong names…absolutely no pussyfooting. From left to right: Amazons, Tomboys, Feisty Girls (Deb’s still vascillating between Feisty Girls and Girls of Summer. It may change).

We're Going Naked

A long-time beekeeper wrote an article for the April issue of Bee Culture magazine, and I like his philosophy. He doesn’t medicate his bees. At all. Ever. For any purpose. Not even mites.

All but one beekeeper I know makes a very big deal of medicating for mites. But this fellow believes that because mites have become an issue, then we should be determined to raise mite-resistant bees. Which means no treating for mites. I’m going with this idea. He says we may lose a lot of colonies to mites or other diseases, but eventually we’ll have stronger, mite-resistant, disease-resistant stock. This is now my philosophy, too.

HEAR ME NOW: There will be no medication of any kind whatsoever in my hives. You can count on it.

Bee hives (and Murphy) in snow

Isn't Snow a Good Insulator?


Before I could get a new, officially sanctioned entrance reducer in place (okay, I admit it…I haven’t even ordered it yet), snow covered the entrance to both hives. And snow’s supposed to be a great insulator, right?  So, I guess things are toasty in there. I hope these bees can stand my hands-off approach.

Bee hives (and Murphy) in snow
Bee hives (and Murphy) in snow

Two Hives and One Entrance Reducer

So, yesterday I slogged up to the two snow-dusted hives with my one-and-only entrance reducer. And then I stood there. One entrance reducer and two hives poses one of those philosophical moments: To which hive do I choose to give the advantage of warmth?

The hive we call the “swarm hive” is the stronger of the two, and I expect it to winter better than the hive we received through the mail. But this is the first year at this location for each colony, and I don’t think either of them stored enough honey to make for an easy winter. So, do I focus energies on the stronger hive or do I give the leg up to the weaker one?

I’m pretty sure that folks who know would suggest sticking with the stronger hive to ensure successful cold months for them. But I placed the entrance reducer on the weaker hive. I think the swarm hive has the gumption to handle the elements…at least until I can get a second entrance reducer over here. But I feel as if the weaker colony needs all the help it can get, so it now sports a brand new and smaller door.

An Evolving World View or Indolence?

It is soooo cold, and I am soooo worried about the bees. It’s so cold that the 2 liters of Coke we lazily left on the deck EXPLODED last night. See? I am just too lazy to be a good beekeeper. Those girls put me to shame. Sometimes I wonder if my newly forming beekeeping philosophy is a reflection of my evolving world view or if it’s a sign of slothfulness…it’s easier not to requeen than to requeen and not to treat for mites than to treat for them and not to manage the space to avoid swarming than to manage it.

Anyway, I have not yet reduced the size of the opening to the bees’ hives, so today I think I’ll trudge out through the snow and put the entrance reducer in place. Maybe that’ll help them stay warmer. Because they sure as hell haven’t stored enough food for the calories required to keep their temperatures up in this January weather. I am a bad beekeeper. I’ll bet my hat we lose the weaker of the two hives.