Bees flying

2014 New Year’s Resolution: Keep a hive of bees!

 

Happy New Year, Reader, and what a perfect time for our thoughts to turn to the bees. :)

These past weeks, I’ve received a surprising number of emails and phone calls from those lucky people who received beehives for Christmas. And I must say, what a terrific gift idea! And for this very reason, next Christmas I plan to offer TwoHoneys gift certificates.

So, here are my January and February suggestions for those of you looking forward to your first season with bees:

  1. READ!
  2. Beekeepers are a smart bunch, and they read, read, read.
  3. Devour everything on Michael Bush’s website. Devour every word and image.
  4. Alternatively, buy Michael Bush’s book…same information…the website is free, but the book is more organized.
  5. Read The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping. WHICH IS NOT FOR IDIOTS! This book is written for smart people by two very smart people.
  6. Join the beekeeping forums through which beekeepers from around the world become friends and share knowledge: Beemaster and Bee Source. For some reason I can’t explain, I lean toward the crowd over at Beemaster.com.
  7. Learn the difference between Langstroth hives and top-bar hives.
  8. Don’t discount the idea of running top-bar hives. I love them. Keep an open mind about it. I implore you.
  9. I run about half Langstroth hives and half top-bar hives, though I strongly strongly strongly prefer top-bar hives for backyard beekeepers or urban beekeepers or older beekeepers or young beekeepers or physically-challenged beekeepers or female beekeepers or short beekeepers.
  10. To learn more about top-bar hive beekeeping, please read Les Crowder’s Top Bar Beekeeping
  11. If you’ve determined that you’ll run Langstroth hives, Reader, I STRONGLY encourage you to run 8-frame, medium-depth equipment. This is a rather new practice, so if you’re not keeping up with the reading, you’ll probably follow the old path. And it will take you years to work your bees out of the old-thought system and into the newer one.
  12. I also STRONGLY encourage you to let your bees build their own beeswax foundation. In other words, don’t purchase any type of foundation for your frames. Your bees will respond exuberantly. And exuberance cannot be overrated.
  13. Once you’ve finished your first reading list, feel free to contact me. We can decide where to keep your hives and how to get your bees.
  14. In Ohio (which is where I live), we order our bees in February.
  15. The bees arrive mid April, which is when we need to have our equipment in place and our tools in order.

There. That should get us all started into the new year, yes?

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
My first Kenya top-bar hive

My First Top-Bar Hive

I know you want to see my first Kenya Top-Bar Hive.

I’ve already got plans for a wider, shorter one…one that will accept the frames from my medium-depth Langstroth hive boxes. I want the flexibility of swapping frames from any hives in my yard.

I learned, though, from Michael Bush (I think of Michael Bush as I the Walter Cronkite of beekeeping: the most trusted name in bees) on Beemaster.com., that the waxed-string guides aren’t much of a guide. So, on my next hive, I’ll use something else I have up my sleeve. Shit. I thought I had the perfect solution to a simple guide. I think I’ll leave the waxed string on this hive, though, and see for myself how the bees deal with it.

Also: I love the look and the function of the corrugated tin roof, but cutting it is a bitch. And I’m sure to get little slivers of tin in my hands whenever I inspect the hive. Either slivers or stitches. I gotta find a metal smith to help me cut it better.

My first Kenya top-bar hive
My first Kenya top-bar hive

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Top-Bar Hive with window

Deciding on a Top-Bar Hive

So, I shared with you yesterday that Jerod and I are planning our winter top-bar hive project. Unlike Langstroth hives, top-bar hives are not standardized. A Langstroth hive is what you’re used to seeing, Reader. Historically, Langstroth hive boxes are painted white and are stacked one upon the other. (I’ve decided to stop painting mine because painting takes time, I don’t like doing it, and I think they look better when the natural wood has weathered.)

But I also want to add some top-bar hives to my apiary. I can build them myself, they’re low profile, and they’re viscerally appealing to me. I think I love the simplicity. I also think they’ll be easier for folks to keep in their backyards because they don’t call attention to themselves, and they provide enough honey for the family and a few neighbors. The won’t give you hundreds of pounds of honey, but I don’t need hundreds of pounds.

As I said, top-bar hives aren’t standardized, so they come in an unlimited variety of designs…therefore, it shouldn’t surprise you that Jerod and I tend to like different types. Which will be good…we can try our hand at both. Or more.

Here’s the one Jerod likes:

Top-Bar Hive with window
Top-Bar Hive with window

I tend to lean more to the low side. I like the hives used by Sam Comfort:

Sam Comfort top-bar hive at the Northeast Treatment-Free Beekeeping Meeting

Or, I like Michael Bush’s Kenyon top-bar hive:

Michael Bush's Kenyon top-bar hive
Michael Bush's Kenyon top-bar hive

Here are a few of these simple babies at work against a wall in Albuquerque:

Top-bar hives in New Mexico

Finally for today…here’s a good link to refer to use as I begin to build my Michael Bush version of the Kenyon Top-Bar Hive.

Waiting for the Brain to Clear

Now that I’ve had a day for my brain to clear, I can offer a brief report of my responses to the 2010 Northeast Treatment-Free Beekeeping Conference: It was tiring. I mean…it was three and a half 13-hour days of programming. And that’s an awful lot of exhausting.

But it was also approximately 45 hours of bee school, and that makes for a much smarter beekeeper…as soon as all that information sort of settles in, that is. Right now, it’s free floating.

Okay. Maybe I’m still too tired to give you a good reflection. I’ll do it one day soon, though, yes? Because my emerging beekeeping philosophy continues to develop, and I know you’re on pins and needles wanting to hear about it. :)

Let me simply remind you of this for today: If you buy your honey from the grocery store, it probably comes to you from China, and the bees that made it were treated with some very serious chemicals inserted directly into their hive.

If you buy your honey from a local source such as a farmer’s market or from that nice old guy at the end of the lane, the bees that made it were almost certainly treated with the very same, very serious chemicals that were inserted directly into the Chinese hives. And even though the bottle says your honey is pure honey, it’s not. It’s full of chemicals that 99% of the beekeepers believe is necessary to use in order to keep their bees alive. And I’m serious about this shit. It’s appalling.

I tell you this because I am experiencing it first hand. I have been sold (and I am still in possession of) the assortment of chemicals of which I speak. They are in my garage near the trash can. They’ve been there for over a year. Every single solitary beekeeper I know—other than those with whom I gathered this week—use those chemicals without even thinking about it. When to treat the bees is taught in beginner’s bee schools. And then everyone wonders why the bees are dying.

It’s not the beekeepers’ fault. Most of them know no other way and have not considered alternatives. But there is another way. And it’s up to a small number of curious beekeepers who naturally gravitate to research and who are hell-bent on returning to natural beekeeping (which, I admit, it a problematic term as there is nothing “natural” about beekeeping) to change the thinking of an entire beekeeping culture.

Have I whet your appetite for more? I hope so.

Here’s what you can do to help, Reader:

  1. If you want to begin keeping bees, consider the very fun return to natural beekeeping. To do so, you can start by reading the wonderfully smart and surprisingly enjoyable Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping. It’s not for idiots. It’s for smart people, and it’s written by smart people whom I now know. They’re even smarter in person. The book series simply has a dumbed-down title. It’s a wonderful beginning point for those wishing to keep bees without the use of chemicals.
  2. If you already keep bees but want to stop the insane chemical applications and stop losing your bees every single winter and have healthier, faster, smaller, calmer bees, begin by reading the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping. And join the Organic Beekeepers Yahoo group. And read Michael Bush’s delightful website (you can find the link on this blogroll).
  3. If you don’t keep bees but you want to eat pure honey made by happier, healthier bees that have not ever been treated by UNBELIEVABLY STRONG CHEMICALS APPLIED DIRECTLY INTO THE HIVE AND INTO YOUR HONEY, then please begin asking your honey supplier to consider the above two points. Gently and gently and gently remind your supplier each time you purchase your nice jar of honey that there is another way. It’s scary and difficult to change the way we do things…we all know that. That’s why we’ve got to be gentle. But it’s also very fun to do what we all know is right. It’s exhilarating. And your local beekeepers want to do it…they simply need encouragement. And they need to see others doing it. Which is where I come in. :)

Here’s one thing I’m thinking. I’m considering the paint-free approach to hive boxes. It saves time and money, and I think it looks kind of cool, too. What do you think, Reader?

My First Split

I discovered a couple of swarm cells in Tomboys before I left for Florida last week. I thought for sure Tomboys would swarm before I returned, and they may have…hard to tell.

Today the swarm cells were still there, so in order to keep the bees from swarming and to take advantage of the new queen cells, I used the swarm cells from Tomboys to make a split and create a new hive.

(I KNOW…I should have taken more pictures, but here’s the problem: My iPhone operates by touch, and my gloves aren’t exactly like skin, so in order to use the iPhone for pictures, I have to take off my glove, take the picture, put the glove back on, etc. Time consuming and awkward.)

Anyway, I took Michael Bush’s advice from Beemaster.com: I stacked two medium boxes together; in the center of the top box, I put 4 deep frames (one containing the swarm cells [these will supply the queen], one containing honey [this will supply food until there are active foragers] two containing brood [these will build up the colony with workers]; I filled the remainder of the boxes with empty, medium-depth, foundationless frames. The bees will certainly build some funky comb beneath the deep frames because there’s so much empty space there, but I can clean that mess up later.

I scooted Tomboys over a little bit, and I placed the new, as-yet-unnamed hive facing the entrance of where Tomboys previously sat. The foragers who left Tomboys this morning (before the move) should be confused as to which hive they belong when they return—50% should enter the new hive and build up the population there; 50% of them should head back into their Tomboys home. I’ll to reverse the two hives in 7 days to balance it all out.

I don’t know if I should name the new hive yet or not. This thing feels quite experimental, so I don’t want to pin any hopes on its survival.

Here’s what the set up looks like now:

On another note: Girls of Summer are building great comb on their new foundationless frames. Neither Amazons nor Tomboys are doing a thing with theirs yet…but I think each of those hives is trying to build up post swarming, so they aren’t drawing any comb whatsoever.

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.