Langstroth hives

You Have to LIFT All Those Pretty Boxes!

Langstroth hives

Once you’ve decided to keep bees, you’ll need to determine what kind of hive boxes they’ll live in.

Until recently, there weren’t many viable options in this department. Most people simply kept bees in those stackable white boxes—you know the ones. Those hives are called Langstroth hives…named after Reverend Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth who designed the moveable-frame hive (and who, by the way, lived and kept his bees about 50 miles from where I write this and where I earned my undergraduate degree at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio).

Langstroth hives are designed with honey production in mind. Big honey production. They are not designed for women or small people or people who are aging or people who have bad backs or for people who will ever age or ever have bad backs or who will ever lose strength and agility.

Langstroth hives require strength to maneuver. And maneuvering is required. If you aren’t a particularly strong or agile person, or if you have physical limitations such as shortness (I’m not tall), you may need to enlist the help of another person when you inspect your bees. Having said that, most of my hives are Langstroth hives. And when I began keeping bees, I didn’t know there were choices. Knowing what I know now…if I were keeping bees only in my own back yard, I would not keep my bees in Langs.

If honey production is your goal (in other words, if you plan to have enough honey to satisfy yourself, your family, your friends, your neighbors, and still have honey to sell), or if you keep your hives in locations you can’t visit each week, then Langstroth hives are probably your best bet. If this is the case, then for many reasons I STRONGLY suggest you follow Michael Bush’s practice of running all medium depth, 8-frame equipment. That’s what I do (it’s not how I began, and shifting to this system took some work…but it was worth it). Read about the benefits of standardizing 8-frame, medium-depth equipment on Michael Bush’s website. I think he’s brilliant, creative, and practical…and I follow his advice.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive explanation of Langstroth hives. This is a primer. Read other sources to learn more.

My next post will address Top Bar Hives…which is the hive I currently recommend for those

  1. who wish to keep a hive or two in their yards,
  2. who have time to visit the hives once a week for 30 minutes or so,
  3. who are satisfied with honey for themselves and a few friends
  4. who have physical limitations
  5. who are older
  6. who may one day have back trouble
  7. who live in an urban space
  8. who wish to keep their hives low profile and understated
  9. who march to the beat of a different drummer
Package of bees

First Bee Order for 2012—DONE!

Yesterday I placed what is probably the first of my 2012 bee orders. I ordered 20 packages (each package comes with its own queen). For a number of years, I’ve order my bees through Dave Heilman of Ohio Honey Farm, and I’ve had good luck with them…each spring, Dave drives a big truck to Georgia and then, as he drives back to his place in Wooster, Ohio, he drops the packages off to his customers. This first call of the season to Dave always brightens my day. Not only is he a nice guy and we get to talk a little bit about bees, but it’s a sign that winter is blowing out. Things start perking.

So long as the weather holds up, we can expect to receive our bees on Saturday, April 14th.

Which means there’ll be a lot of commotion that day. And the next. I can hardly wait.

Now, some of you know that I’m trying to build a sustainable apiary of local bees and local survivor queens, so eventually I’ll not need to order packages of bees from elsewhere. But it’s slow going. This year I plan to raise local queens. And I’ve ordered a few queens with good reputations (from Zia Queen Bees in New Mexico and from Russell Apiaries in Mississippi) from which I hope to eventually raise more queens. We’ll see how it goes.

(As I type this, I hear a mouse eating something in my cabinet. It sounds as if an entire family of mice is eating through the entire cabinet and all its contents. And the cat curled up here is useless.)

Deb’s uncle Doyle wants me to supply him right this minute with queens from my apiary. I asked him to try holding his horses until June.

Below is a picture of my very first package of bees:

Patty Grady: She Knows Stuff

You’ll need a Patty Grady, too.

Patty is one of Deb’s high-school friends, and she now works at the Home Depot on Highland Avenue. Sometimes those huge stores can sap the strength and energy from you because they’re so overwhelmingly big. Finding a little nut or bolt or screw in a big place like that can send me into a tailspin, but Patty pulls me right out of it.

Whenever I enter my Home Depot, I go straight to the Pro Desk and find Patty, who leaves her station to walk me all over the store and collect whatever I need. She steers me from bad decisions. She figures solutions. She’s saved me bundles in time and money, and I love following her up and down the aisles because she’s fun. And friendly. She knows everyone in that place. And if she doesn’t, then she’s sure got us all fooled.

Everyone needs a Patty. Especially if you build top-bar hives and restore metal lawn chairs.

Patty Grady at Home Depot

 

Painted box #1

Updates 11/21/11

UPDATES:

  1. The guy who wanted bees removed from his reconstruction project called. The general contractor for the job found an exterminator to kill the bees. It’s done.
  2. So, for $600, the bees were killed. Now the homeowner has to go in and remove comb and whatever honey may remain after robbers (of the honeybee and yellow jacket and hornet and ant varieties) have had their fill.
  3. Too bad. It would have cost much less to hire me, and even if the bees had died, we’d still have viable comb and edible honey.
  4. The guy liked me, though, and said he could tell I know what I’m talking about. And I do.
  5. I ordered my next beekeeping hat. It’s on its UPS way to my head right now.
  6. And, noooo, I didn’t construct the inner covers for my nuc boxes yesterday. I don’t think I can do it today, either. It’ll have to wait until tomorrow.
  7. We’re planning on painting the wood floors in our Waco, KY farmhouse. When we were in New Mexico, we saw some painted floors that made me melt with happiness.
  8. I’ve been practicing the floor-painting technique on bee boxes…good idea, huh? That way, the woodenware is protected with paint, they look awesome, and we can now base our paint-color decision on the resulting boxes…which are made of pine, just as the floors in the farmhouse are pine.
  9. I’ll show you the results, and then you can paint your floors however you like. :)
  10. Below is box #1:
Painted box #1
Painted box #1 (close up)

Okay, in real life, these do NOT have a greenish cast. I think that’s coming from the overhead fluorescent lights in the basement (I can’t tell you the trouble I have spelling “fluorescent.” I don’t even know how to get started on it). Bad idea. But it’s dark out right now…maybe later in the day I’ll take this outside and take a picture for you in honest-to-goodness sunlight.

Don’t worry, Reader, we will not choose floors with a greenish cast for the farm. That would be nauseating. Plus, this color is waaay too light for a farmhouse floor. Things get dirty on a farm. For crying out loud…half the time we’re there, we wear muck boots.

Handygirl to the Rescue

I woke in the night worried about the bees in my three nucs (a “nuc” is a small hive—usually composed of 5 frames rather than 8 or 10—and is the abbreviated form for “nucleus” hive). It’s getting cold. Tonight’s temperatures will be in the 30s with highs today reaching only into the 40s. And the few bees in a nuc have trouble enough heating the hive. To make matters worse, I’ve kept an empty box on top of each nuc so I can fit a feeder jar…which translates into an entire box of dead space for the bees to heat. This is asking too much of them.

So, in the dark of the night, I decided to construct an inner cover for each nuc…one with a hole in the center through which I can still feed. In other words, I’ll construct a fitted plywood inner cover with a hole cut from the center; I’ll place that new cover directly over the 5 frames…which should keep the heat generated by the bees concentrated in the lower box; then I’ll place the feeder jar of syrup over the hole so that when the weather is warmer and the bees break cluster, they can eat from it; the empty box surrounding the feeder won’t need to be heated.

I have a rockin’ table saw and an ancient jig saw, so why on earth hadn’t I yet thought of constructing my own inner cover with a feeder hole for those nucs?! Sometimes, I am a dullard.

Gardener's hat by Tula Hats

My On-Going Quest for the Perfect Hat

The good news is…I am almost satisfied with my beekeeping hat. The bad news is…almost isn’t good enough.

Which means the quest for the perfect beekeeping hat continues.

Currently, I wear a dang good hat. I found it online, ordered it, and have worn it for months now. Then I went to the Apple store at Kenwood Towne Center and discovered a Tula kiosk right outside the Apple store with my hat hanging all over the place.

This is the hat I wear now:

Gardener's Hat by Tula Hats

I like it because the straw is firm enough to keep its shape no matter how much I toss it around. And the brim is wide and stiff enough to hold the veil draped nicely away from my face. It fits fine. For some reason, though, I don’t like the look of the crown. The crease bugs me a little bit. Don’t get me wrong, I am an absolute sucker for a beautifully shaped crown on a good hat. But I want my beekeeping hat to be creaseless. I want it round. I don’t know why.

So, this is the hat I’ve got my eye on now. I’ll probably be wearing it by the time you see me next.

The Ranch Hat

Perhaps you can’t tell the difference between the two, Reader, but I can. And I can report that I am not far from being satisfied with my beekeeping hat. I will look awesome in it. I may just go get that hat today…if it’s not available at the Kenwood Towne Center kiosk, then I’ll order it. (Tula Hats is located in Austin, Texas…which is practically my hometown. Which makes it even better.)

On another, non-beekeeping note: Below is the hat of my dreams…it’s worn by Mattie Ross in the newest version of True Grit. Made of pecan-colored pure beaver with a 1″ black satin ribbon with a little bow on the side. Sigh. I’m definitely gonna have it one day.

Mattie Ross hat
Smoke Bomb

Cardboard "Smoker Bombs"

I know, I know. I’d planned to visit with you about the “colony vs. hive” nomenclature challenge when it comes to writing about the bees.

But I’d rather tell you about smoke bombs instead.

Smoke Bomb

Keeping bees is challenging…which is probably why I’m so hooked. One constant challenge is keeping the dang smoker lit. Funny, this summer at the Zia Queenbee workshop, ten rather-experienced beekeepers all hauled our smokers and our veils to New Mexico to learn how to rear queen bees. It shocked me that each of us wrestled with our smokers. Of the ten smokers present, only one or two kept a good smoke going the one or two hours of our work in the hives.

Simon, my friend and one of my bee stewards, has convinced me that cardboard makes great smoker fuel. Then, I saw a video of a guy who uses rolled-up corrogated cardboard in his smoker…loading one of these bombs into the smoker feels good. It also provides for a slow, cool burn.

So, I began to roll what I call “smoke bombs” from cardboard boxes. I roll the cardboard tightly, making sure the corrugation runs up and down in the smoker so air can flow from the bottom to the top and out the smoker spout. I tie them off with string, or I wrap them with masking tape so they hold their shape, and I keep a collection of them in a bag with my bee stuff (some of them find their way under the seat of my car or other surprising places). So far, I can report that they burn better than anything else I’ve found. They’re lightweight, they keep forever, they’re completely portable, and it’s a good way to recycle.

UPDATE: If you wait until your bomb is smoking a bit, then pack some burlap around it, you’ll get a TERRIFIC smoke that lasts a very long time. Bingo.

P.S. I now use a propane torch I bought at Home Depot to light my bomb. These days, my smoke starts fast, lasts a long time, and doesn’t poop out.

 

 

 

Rauchboy

A Smoker Sets the Tone

Rauchboy
Rauchboy

You should smell my car. Well, first you should know that I drive a 12-year old Nissan Pathfinder (it has over 160K miles on it, but I’m not giving it up…I figure I can get 250K miles out of it. I don’t quit on things).

My car smells like smoke and beeswax, and it’s a joy to sit in when I’ve been visiting beeyards. Why? Because the smoker’s still smoldering in the car, and I often have some freshly used frames of beeswax in there with me.

So, let’s talk about the smoker—which is the single most important tool when it comes to keeping bees. Even those beekeepers who don’t routinely wear veils use smoke. I’ve never met a beekeeper who doesn’t have a smoker lit and ready to use when visiting the bees, and I probably wouldn’t work with one who didn’t.

And wouldn’t you know it? The single most important beekeeping tool is also one of the most pleasant and sensory to use…but it’s also (initially) a pain in the neck. It takes some time and some attention (and some experience) to get a smoker properly puffing away…and I admit, it’s tough to carve out the necessary time and attention when you’re in a rush to open a hive. Frankly, I’ve come to think of lighting the smoker and nurturing the smoke from it as a sensory way to transition from the rush rush rush of daily life to the calmer behaviors appreciated by the bees.

You want to know why beekeepers use smokers, don’t you, Reader? Well, the short of it is this: Beekeepers announce their arrival at the hive by puffing a bit of smoke into the hive entrance and under the lid. This announcement leads the bees to think there may be fire in the area, so they begin the process of engorging with honey in the event they must leave to find a new place to live. And when bees eat honey, they become calm. A bee filled with honey does not want to sting. However, in the event a bee didn’t get the message and does sting, the smoke serves to mask the alarm pheromone (emitted at the time of the sting) that signals other bees of danger; so, it reduces the chances of more stings.

We keep the smoker lit and puffing away in the event the bees become agitated. A little cloud of cool smoke settles everyone down…including the beekeeper who, when she operates those billows, feels as if she may have some sort of control over the world. Which she does not have at all. But it smells nice and looks cool.

All of this to say that I’m now using a new smoker—a Rauchboy. From Germany. It looks awesome and smolders like crazy. It’s a little more expensive than the run-of-the-mill smokers, but I want mine to stand out in a crowd. I’ve kept it lit in the backyard just for the heck of it…just so it can hurry up and get its patina on.

 

My droopy raffia beekeeping hat

My Beekeeping Hat

I’m on a quest. I’m on a quest to find a hat and a veil that I like and that suits my style. I’m not sure why I’m not satisfied with the typical beekeeping hat and veil, but I’m not.

Requirements:

    1. I want a straw hat. I don’t know why, I just do. Accept it.
    2. The hat has to have a wide brim…3-4 inches wide (which will hold the veil away from the face. If the veil rests against the face, a bee can sting the skin right through it).
    3. The hat brim has to be firm enough to carry the weight of the veil. No, the veil isn’t heavy, but it does pull at the brim a little bit. My current favorite hat (and the one I thought I’d love forever) is made of raffia…and the weight of the veil over the course of this season has led my favorite hat to droop. We can’t have that, can we, Reader? It makes me look droopy. And I look droopy enough already.
    4. The hat needs to hold up to a good deal of sweat and a certain amount of beating. I throw it in my car a lot. And then I throw other things on top of it. The raffia rated high in this area (however, this “give” quality may also be the reason for its droopy demise). The typical pith helmet rates high in this category, but I don’t love that one. Yes, it would be easier if I did. Maybe I should try the pith helmet again (I have two of them already, for crying out loud)…it fulfills almost all of my requirements. Shit.

Right now I’m wearing a Tilly hat, but it’s not straw. The Tilly hat is fine, but I don’t look the way I want to look in it, you know?

Oh, and did I tell you? I ordered a wonderful, wide-brimmed straw hat online from Gempler’s, but it was too big (to compound the problem of my search, I have a very tiny head). When I tried to return it, Gempler’s said they would simply refund the money (because it cost too much for them to ship back and forth! I love this wonderful policy), and that I should give the hat to someone who could use it. Is that the greatest thing ever?!

Next thing I know, Deb is wearing my new hat to mow the lawn. And she looks like a million bucks in it. Just the way I wanted to look. So now Deb has a wonderful, new, wide-brimmed straw hat. And, wouldn’t you know it, they don’t make it in a small. Which is one huge obstacle to my hat shopping.

My droopy raffia beekeeping hat