Unleveled hives

Transitions Are Tricky

I spent a little bit of time yesterday leveling my beehives. Why do that, you ask? Well, I’m slowly shifting from using foundation in my frames to using only foundationless frames, that’s why. And when bees build comb into thin air (and it is beautiful and perfect comb…I don’t know why we ever ever ever ever switched to using preformed, recycled beeswax as a guide) they let gravity lead them. And gravity always pulls one way…if the hive isn’t level, the comb will not be straight in relation to the hive. See? It could get quite messy.

So, as nice and “homey” as those hives look up on the unlevel hill, I had to straighten them out.

From Home Depot I bought enough cinder blocks (of various sizes) and 8′ 4×4’s to construct a platform for the colonies. I have enough room on this platform to add one more hive; and I have enough material to construct another platform. Deb’s gonna freak out when she learns we now have material enough to hold 8 hives.

I also raised the hives a little bit. This will keep the rascal mice out and the skunks and possums from disturbing the bees.

In the after-leveling picture, you’ll see a blue tarp in front of the hives…I’m killing the tall grasses that grow right in front of the boxes because I think it may be disrupting flights.

I’m transitioning all around…from using foundation to foundationless frames; from 10-frame deeps and 10-frame shallow supers to all 8-frame mediums; and from bottom-entrance hives to top-entrance hives. These transitions will take some time, but I think they all make great sense. So, once I move to top entrances, the grass won’t matter too much because the bees won’t need to reach the bottom of the hives. But, for now, I have to kill the grass and raise the boxes.

Unleveled hives

Don’t you think the raised cover below makes Tomboys (center hive) look like a little tomboy with her baseball cap tilted back? I love it. She looks like my friends do in the summertime…happy, relaxed, sweaty, worn out.

Leveled and raised hives

I’ll be glad when I get to lower the new platform a little bit. I don’t love seeing it, but I guess it’s the best alternative for now.

View from the yard of the leveled hives

What the Hell

So I sent out a plea on the TriState Beekeeper forum asking for a mentor. You know, in an entire year of keeping bees, I’ve never seen another person working a hive. Sure, I’ve watched videos on YouTube until I’m blue in the face, but I’ve got questions, dang it.

And this morning, I received a response from one young guy on the forum, and I notice that his signature line is a quote from the Bible—“My son, eat honey, for it is good, Yes, the honey from the comb is sweet to your taste. (Proverbs 24:13).” You know, Reader, this is not uncommon. Interestingly, a lot of beekeepers attach Biblical quotes as their signature lines on various forums. I don’t know exactly why this is, though I do have to say that it is sort of a spiritual feeling to be among the bees.

This nice guy keeps 40-50 hives and invited me to attend a beginner’s beekeeping class in Kentucky this Saturday…after which he’ll open and inspect the hives he keeps at the Creation Museum. Which is also where he conducts the beekeeping class. Yes. That’s what I said. The Creation Museum. Which I have thus far rigidly avoided.

So, imagine my surprise to realize that I’ve been invited to the Creation Museum by a very nice Proverbs-quoting fellow who has offered to help me learn about bees…he’s the first responder to my plea for help, and, Reader, I intend to go. I intend to go to the Creation Museum and learn whatever this young man is willing to teach me. What the hell. Adventures all around.

Beautiful Comb Drawn (in One Week) on Foundationless Frames

Upon today’s hive inspection I have one very clear realization: I have no idea what I’m doing.

Why on earth did I think I could manage a hundred-thousand bees? I am not as smart as I look.

Seriously, I get in there with those bees and all those cells and eggs and larvae and brood and nectar and honey and pollen and whatever else the hell goes on in those alien worlds and everything I think I know disappears. Then I realize that I know nothing.

I keep asking the bees to forgive my clumsiness. They seem to. I hope they can teach me.

One thing I do know: Those foundationless frames work great! Look what my wonderful Girls of Summer did with the foundationless frames I gave them a week ago (and started from popsicle sticks as described in an earlier post):

Why Do I Keep Bees?

So. Yesterday I received news that Deb’s Uncle Doyle in Waco, Kentucky has collected tons of honey this year. Over the years he’s kept many hives, but now that he’s older he keeps only one—simply because he loves it…the heat in all that protective clothing keeps him from expanding his little operation again.

Anyway, I was bummed. Which, I quickly admit, is a lousy response to such news. It’s not that I’m bummed for him, I’m bummed for me. I’m envious. Although I have to say that I’m cherishing what little (gorgeous) honey I collected this year, so I guess you could say that I’m appreciative.

When that look of pain crossed my face, Deb asked me a simple quesion: Why is it that you keep bees? Which made me think for a while. It seems this answer should be simple. Or at least clear. And it’s not.

After much silence, I responded that I want a hobby that is both challenging and rewarding.

There. That’s my answer. So I guess I shouldn’t be entirely disappointed if I don’t harvest loads of honey each year…and in the long run, I’m not. I’m grateful that I’m up to my eyeballs in educating myself, in reading about bees, in thinking about bees, in planning ahead for next year, in developing a beekeeping philosophy, in spreading an interest in bees and beekeeping, in watching what blooms with a new eye, in paying closer attention to the weather, in thinking about the long-term consequences of chemicals in our lives, in aesthetics. Oh, Reader, you know I could go on and on.

Ten more reasons I want to keep bees:

  1. It’s not boring
  2. I want to give away honey
  3. I want my friends to learn more about bees
  4. Managing hives intellectually challenges me
  5. Beekeeping is an art
  6. Most of the time, there is no right or wrong way
  7. After all the reading and thinking and talking and experimenting, in the end, I have to go with my gut
  8. Managing hives demands innovation, which is something I  need to practice…I’m not entirely comfortable with it.
  9. I’m going to make some TwoHoneys T-shirts. They’ll be very cool
  10. Want one?

But, honestly, I’m still amazingly disappointed to have such a small crop of honey this year.

On Second Thought

You know, I’ve been thinking. I think I’d better stick with beekeepers who share my newly emerging philosophy of natural beekeeping: chemical-free hives, foundationless frames, small-cell comb, etc.

Then again, if I don’t work with beekeepers who subscribe to other philosophies, how can I hope to spread what I’m learning about natural beekeeping?  I don’t want to come off as an elitist know-it-all. And I’m sure I can learn a lot from experienced beekeepers of all philosophies.

But this fellow I mentioned in an earlier post greeted me by immediately telling me all about the chemicals with which to treat the hives at what time of the year. That’s not at all the way I want to go.  It doesn’t sound like fun. I want keeping bees to be a fun and innovative and creative and aesthetically pleasing lifestyle.

How to Make Foundationless Frames

I tried to follow some internet directions on how to start foundationless frames, but they seemed sort of messy and complicated. And yesterday I discovered a pretty good and very quick system and completely clean process that I’ll share here.

Here’s an empty deep frame with a split top…there’s a little groove in the top (the frame in the photograph is actually resting on it’s top) into which the wax foundation usually slips, and that’s where we’re going to install a guide of wax that will give the bees some direction. It tells them where to begin and which way to build their comb.

I have some unused beeswax foundation (the kind with the wire running through it). I bought the foundation before I decided that going foundationless made more sense for me and my bees. It works perfectly for this process. I simply break or tear the foundation along the wire…it breaks naturally there. Then, I lay the strip along the groove in the top of the frame.

I cover the length of the frame with the strips of foundation. Then I place my hand on the wax to soften it a bit.

Once the wax is pliable (and this works much better if it’s done in a warm room), I press a series of popsicle sticks through the wax and into the groove.

The popsicle sticks provide a frame around which the wax will wrap.

I wrap the wax up and around the popsicle sticks. The warmth from my hands softens the wax perfectly and makes it pliable. I mold it and shape it as I go.

That’s all there is to it! I now have a nice little start of wax from which the bees will hang their own comb. This process involves zero mess and requires no additional tools (other than the hive tool I use to chop off a little bit of that last popsicle stick so it’ll fit).

This takes me about 3 minutes per frame…no wax melting, no wax painting, no syringes or application tools. Just a little bit of pre-formed foundation, some popsicle sticks, and the warmth from your own hands will do it.

And I guess I’ll use these tiny leftover popsicle sticks in my smoker. Yep. This is as much about recycling and simplifying as it is about anything, right?

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).