Sam Comfort harvesting honey

Keeping it Simple Beekeeping

Friends, if you ordered a new queen from me in 2016, Sam Comfort from Anarchy Apiaries is the guy who raised her.  I couldn’t be more pleased his queens. And with Sam…who is a delight.

If you don’t raise your own queens from local surviving stock, and if your bees overwinter some long, cold months, I suggest you get your queens from Sam. Or, if you’re near Cincinnati, contact me. :) I probably have a few of Sam’s queens on hand for you.

But it’s not hard to rear your own queens. You might screw it up initially, but think of what all you’ll learn. And it’s not the end of the world if you don’t immediately succeed…then again, you just might. What fun that would be, yes? And eventually, you will. :)

Bees with pollen at their hive entrance

Scenes from a Bee Removal

It was a beautiful day for a bee removal, Reader. And because it’s been an long and vicious winter since our last one, I thought it might perk you up to see our happy team at work together on a roof.

Two years ago, the homeowners who hired us watched as a swarm of honeybees moved into their roof through this gap. But because the hive is on the second floor, the bees weren’t a problem until the homeowners built a two-tiered deck. Now the family wants to utilize their second-story deck, and the bees make it difficult for them to relax there.

Bees enter their hive beneath the roof

Terry Evans—who works for Jerry Hof, our brilliant contractor—removed the shingles, the siding, and the chipboard in order to access the hive. Terry worked methodically and thoughtfully to expose the hive without destroying the existing structure. His careful work paid off once the bees were gone and it was time to replace all the parts…the reconstruction took much less time than the deconstruction, and now the space looks as if neither we nor the bees were ever there.

Good teamwork makes the day bright

We flipped the chipboard with much of the empty comb still attached. The comb heavy with honey and brood and bees, however, collapsed into the soft insulation.

You know, Reader, I have to tell you how much I love working with Nicola Mason. She will scamper onto a roof or shinny up the scaffolding. She will dig her arms deep into dark and mysterious bee- and honey-filled cavities. And she does it with such glee and energy that she fills me with glee and energy, too. She is a giver of enthusiasm.

Nicola Mason reveals the hive

Once we’ve exposed the hive and accessed the comb and bees, we begin removing one comb at a time. We determine where each comb should go in its new hive…and we also always always keep a sharp eye out for the queen.

Liz Tilton assess each comb to determine its place in the new hive box

It’s not easy to spot the queen in the chaos of a bee removal, Reader, but we’ve become rather adept at it. On this job, Nicola took responsibility for cutting and removing the bee-laden comb from its original location. After a while, she quietly and matter-of-factly said simply, “I see her.” Then she calmly removed her queen clip from the pocket of her shirt and collected the queen in it.

Capturing the queen guarantees the removal’s success because all the other bees will follow the queen’s pheromones…there is no more chaos or indecision. Wherever she goes, they go.

Shouts of joy were heard throughout the neighborhood

We catch the queen in this clip (which keeps her from flying away) and then attache the clip to a bar with rubber bands. This way, the worker bees will go into the hive where we place the queen.

The queen clip keeps the queen from flying away

You know, sometimes you simply have to stop and look around and wonder how you got to be so lucky—lucky to be high up on scaffolding on a beautiful day with nice people and a hive of honeybees. Especially after you’ve got the queen, and all is well.

Stopping to enjoy the moment

Some bees are reluctant to go into the box…once the queen’s in there, they’ll eventually find their way to her, but we can’t always just sit around and wait for that to happen. Which is why it’s good to have a bee vac on hand. We vacuumed the reluctant bees and reunited them with their sisters when they reached their permanent home.

We vacuumed the last of the bees

Once we vacuumed the stragglers and sprayed the area with bee repellant, we closed the hive and lowered it to the ground for transport to its permanent home.

Steady, boys. Steady.

And after a nice drive in the bed of a gorgeous pickup truck, the Alexandria hive reached her permanent home. The bees are now busy exploring their new neighborhood.

Bees happy at home

 

 

 

 

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?

The Over-the-Rhine Fire-Escape Bees

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Catherine was NOT to be discouraged from keeping bees. The fact that she lives downtown in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood and lacks anything resembling a yard didn’t discourage her. The fact that she made her decision late in the season and then had to cobble together her hive and her bees from Nicola and me didn’t discourage her. She pursued us and would not be deterred.

That she had to drive her car with this box full of bees and then haul the hive and the bees up the stairs and out the window and then anchor it to the fire escape to keep the wind from toppling it didn’t seem to faze her.

And I like that about a person. A lot.

Nice work, Catherine. Your bees got a good keeper.

How to Install a Top-Bar Hive

On April 14, 2012, I’m expecting a large shipment of 3 lb. packages of bees and their queens. I’ll then distribute these packages to a number of new beekeepers.

The good news: Lots of people want to start keeping bees in top-bar hives!

The bad news: I don’t have time to be onsite at each location to do the installation myself. (I will be installing my own bees in various locations, but those folks who wish to own and manage their own hives will simply have to jump in and do it.)

My solution: I’ll be installing two packages of bees in two top-bar hives at the Veteran’s Memorial Community Garden on Saturday morning, April 14, 2012. I don’t yet know the exact time…it all depends on when the bees arrive by truck from Georgia.

I invite anyone who wants to see how it’s done to come to the community garden (those who want to get close need to bring a veil). After the demonstration, I’ll distribute the bees and queens to their new keepers and I’ll send everyone off with good wishes. Then I’ll head to various far-away places to install larger numbers of bees…which I’ll do for the remainder of Saturday and for much of Sunday.

Thanks to a new beekeeper’s suggestion, I’ll also write a How to Install Bees in a Top Bar Hive post for reference. Great idea.

In a nutshell: I simply dump the bees in the hive. After that, I remove the candy plug from the queen cage and let the queen enter the hive. I give them a big jar of sugar water. I close the hive and leave it alone.

Until I go into more detail, here’s one resource about how to do it. There are many many YouTube videos to choose from…and although this guy goes to elaborate means to install his bees, I’m linking to his video because a couple of years ago, he very sweetly made and gave me one of these wonderful hive tools. I think his complicated approach is unnecessary, but you should see all the ways…BTW, this video is not in English! I like it because it makes me concentrate on my own observations. My motto is to keep it simple.

Watch many YouTube videos just to get an idea of how many bees will fill the air.

Remember…bees have been installing themselves without our help for a long time. They can figure this out better than we can.

 

 

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

Made by Hand: The Beekeeper

My friend Heather posted this video on her Facebook page yesterday.

I have two favorite parts:

  1. I like how Megan Paska, the beekeeper in the piece, uses twine to light her smoker. I swear, Reader, keeping that smoker alive is one of my greatest challenges. So, I’ve decided to throw a big ball of twine into my bag to use in my smoker.
  2. I love how she simply slices off a little bit of comb from the bar. I don’t know why it’s never occurred to me to simply harvest a hunk of honey at a time and put it in a clean jar right there on site. I don’t know why I think things have to be so dang complicated.

My least favorite part: the fact that posting the video is so laborious. It’s a pain because it’s not from YouTube. So, I’m just gonna link to it here. Sorry.

 

Bob in his basement

On the Construction of Bob’s Top-Bar Hives

Kim and Bob joined us for pizza last night, but before we headed out we headed down into their basement where Bob keeps his shop. We wanted to see the progress on his top-bar hives. Well, they’re as good as finished…and, I must admit, they’re really wonderful.

Bob found some plans online that he liked and built two hives from scrap lumber (I’ll ask him for the site address so I can link it here). I don’t think these took him long to build, but then, he’s sort of a professional at these things. It would probably take me an eternity. And much aggravation. But, as you can see here, it doesn’t seem to have challenged Bob all that much.

Bob: architect and bee steward

Bob plans on painting the hives (I told you he’s sort of particular) because the material he used wasn’t designed for holding up outside. They’re gonna be green…the color of their leftover house paint…which is two gorgeous shades of green. I’ll post a picture of the finished hives when we introduce the bees to it, okay? But this is what it looks like right now:

Bob's almost-finished KTBH with observation window
Liz's wonderful KTBH

Low-Down and Uppity. But We Get Along Great.

Kim and Bob want to add another hive to their apiary. They have two seriously strong hives already. They’re  hooked on keeping bees, and they want to expand. This year, we decided to add a top-bar hive to their mix.

Bob is an architect. And I mean to say he’s perhaps beyond an architect. He’s a big-time architect. Big time.

Last week I alerted him that it’s time to begin thinking of building a top-bar hive (from here on out referred to as a KTBH…for Kenya Top Bar Hive). But, I told him, we need to build a KTBH that includes a window so we can watch the bees without disturbing them. Also, TwoHoneys may be installing a couple of KTHBs at the East End Veterans’ Memorial Community Garden this year, and I’d like those to have windows, too. The less often we disturb the hives (and the gardeners!) in a community garden, the better.

Bob wanted specifications: “Link?” he wrote. (Bob communicates in single-word emails, so this endeavor was not without its challenges).

But KTBHs are known for their lack of standardization. I responded in my usual eloquent way and included this image with a rough idea of its dimensions.  Which I’m sure cracked him up. Bob’s sort of into, you know, “specifications,” a word rooted in “specific.” I think more in terms of loose ideas.

Bob was silent for a while, and then he sent me an email with this link and wrote, “This is acceptable.”

I wrote back that his plan should work but that I thought the hive was a bit too fancy for my tastes.

He responded, “I’m an architect, not a junk dealer.”

See?! That’s what people actually think of my wonderful top bar hives! Which I absolutely love. Don’t you just love that old tin roof, Reader? I do.

I told Bob he was uppity.

Yesterday, Kim text me to say that Bob was already in full construction mode and that if I wanted to be sure things met with my standards, I’d better get over there soon.

Bob emailed me later in the day to say that he’d made not one but two KTBHs.

I’ll head over there today to see what wonderful creations have emerged. Don’t worry, Reader, I’ll supply you with pictures.

 

Queen in the Big Daddy hive

Nice Work, Soapbox Cincinnati!

If you’ve come to TwoHoneys via Elissa Yancey and Summer Genetti‘s wonderful Soapbox Cincinnati feature about Cincinnati’s urban beekeeping, then you may be surprised to find only this blog alive here.

The TwoHoneys Bee Company site is undergoing some changes, and you can’t see it yet (but I invite you to “like” the TwoHoneys Facebook page where you can keep up with our bee stewards until the website is back in action).

Until my beekeeping webmaster returns from his darned honeymoon, most of this site remains unavailable (we gave him a Warre hive as a wedding gift…I can’t wait to see it alive with bees. It came unassembled, and we plan to make a pattern from the various parts so we can construct the next one ourselves…but I digress). When he returns from his cruise and Russia’s White Nights and gets his head back into the game of everyday life, we’ll be back in business, and this blog will become only a small part of the larger scene.

Until then, let’s see if you can find the queen (spotting the queen improves with practice…it will help if you can click on this image to enlarge it):

Queen in the Big Daddy hive
Queen in the Big Daddy hive