Back to the Table Saw

The replacement part for my table saw arrived from Sears (the part cost $3, but the postage to get it here was $8). I know I need to get out there and replace the darned “collar” because, although my friend Bob cobbled together a workable solution, the saw cuts just a little tiny bit off. After a few cuts, though, that little bit of “off” translates into some weird looking pieces of wood.

A number of people still want to start top-bar hives this spring, and I’m plumb out of the hive bodies…I’ve got to keep building. I kept the last hive body on hand for less than 48 hours. So, today I’ll try to fix my damned saw. But it’s hot as hell, and I don’t want to do it.

 

 

My Newer, Heavier Top-Bar Hives

I like to construct my top-bar hives from rough-cut cedar fencing. The bees like the smell of the cedar—even as I construct, the bees investigate—and they like to hang out on the rough-cut grain. And, unlike pine, the cedar ages so gracefully. Pine gets sort of dull as it ages whereas cedar patinas.

However, this year, a number of my top-bar hives constructed with cedar fencing toppled over in high winds. That is definitely not good. In a few cases, I’ve gone to some elaborate means to keep the hives upright. But I still worry about them when the winds pick up…so, I’ve got to figure out a way to reduce the likelihood that the hives will tip over.

I’ve tried anchoring some of the hives with bungee cords and stakes. Others I’ve weighed down with a million pounds of rocks. But I’ve got to find a better, more aesthetically appealing way (you know, Reader, although my hives are simple, they’re also beautiful to my eye…and that’s very important to me. I need things to look good).

The hives I built years ago of pine don’t topple…probably because those hives are heavier. I think the lightness of the cedar fencing is at the root of the toppling problem…so, when I had some free time yesterday afternoon,  I headed to Home Depot where I found heavier cedar. The new cedar lumber is gorgeous…it’s rough cut on one side and smooth on the other. It smells awesome. It’s thicker and heavier than the fencing, which will provide the bees with more insulation. Yes, it’s twice as expensive (still not enough to freak out over), but I think it’s worth it for the aesthetics, for the security it gives the bees, and for my own peace of mind.

 

 

Bob's top-bar hive

My Team of Bee Experts

Sorry I’ve been so quiet here lately, Reader…it’s been anything but quiet off the blog.

I’ve been practicing my bee-removal skills all over Cincinnati…but these past few days, Nicola—my right-hand bee girl—has been sick as a dog. And the contractors with whom I work are busy with other jobs. Which means I’ve been forced to take a week off from bee removals…which is good for me. It gives me time to clean my car. And to update my books. And to clean my house and cook my dinners. And to visit my own bees.

When the people I work with are unavailable for jobs, it makes me think that I may need to expand my bee-removal team of experts…so if anyone knows a good Cincinnati contractor who’s willing to work among the bees, please let me know. And, though Nicola is my ace, she may not always be available. I mean, she’s got an actual big-time job over at the Cincinnati Review. And she’s a mom. We can’t overuse her for these removals. So, I’m looking for an alternative assistant bee remover. Someone who delights in the unknown (this will balance me…I’m petrified of the unknown, and I resist it. The surprises we find in the removals energize Nicola…and that energy carries us a long long way).

Perhaps I should use the down time this week to build more top-bar hives. Yes! That’s a great idea!

And speaking of top-bar hives…my friend Bob-the-architect has constructed the top-bar hives pictured below. Yesterday, he redesigned the roof on his hive, and I think it’s gorgeous in its elegance. There’s something in its quiet curviness that appeals to me. Bob is brilliant.

And, Reader, these hive boxes are available for purchase. Bob will build it for you…just give us about 3-weeks’ notice because Bob is also a big wig in his real life. Very big. But he’s agreed to build these top-bar hives for you. My top-bar hives are entry level. Bob’s are special…Bob’s have windows and curved roofs…he’ll paint yours for you. Whatever color you want. Or you can paint it.

Want a nice and sturdy and gorgeous and personalized top-bar hive with a window? A top-bar hive built by a very big-time architect with good karma? We’ve got it!

Bob's top-bar hive
Bob's top-bar hive (rear view)

 

Christopher Daniels

Brazee Bees and Blue Hell Studios

I discovered Brazee Street Studios and its owner Sandy Gross through my friend and teacher Christopher Daniel, owner of Blue Hell Studios and a wonderful metal artist…he’s teaching me to blacksmith and weld and how to fix beehives…I’d say Christopher teaches me how to think of possibilities. And how to simply try my hand at something and see what happens. And then he always finds something positive to notice in my efforts. In my book, this makes for a terrific teacher.

Christopher sees a problem and his brain goes about solving it. My brain sees a problem and it calls Christopher.

Christopher Daniels of Blue Hell Studios

Fortunately, Christopher found me sitting out in the prairie strapping the beehives with those bungee cords, and he very sweetly began problem solving. And then he guided me in fabricating a fancy-dancy, metal-artsy contraption that has now replaced the bungee cords. This sweet solution solves all the problems: It simultaneously holds the lid on and the hive down; it allows the beekeeper to easily remove the lid and inspect the bees; it’s low profile and yet it shows an artist’s hand at work.

And all we had to do was:

  1. cut a lot of metal into exact little pieces
  2. grind out all the burrs and rough spots
  3. measure and mark and punch
  4. drill and drill and drill and drill
  5. smooth all the rough spots
  6. (I kept saying, “Christopher, these are for BEEHIVES. It doesn’t have to be perfect!” He looked at me over his goggles in silence, so I continued on with the angle grinder and the sparks.)
  7. Weld and weld and weld and weld
  8. (I love those awesome green welding jackets. They feel great, and I want one.)
  9. Sand smooth all the rough weld spots…of which there were many because I am not yet a good welder.
  10. Apparently welding involves more than permanently joining two pieces of metal together. It also involves looking as if there has never been a welder on the scene…as if these piece had been born joined together like this. Which involves smooth.
  11. I’m like, “Seriously? You want me to sand all of that smooth?” Again with the silent look over the goggles. Apparently so.

And that’s where I left it because it was getting late. Christopher offered to finish the as-yet-to-be-named brilliant solution and install it himself, which I think is a wonderfully sweet gesture. Artists are very particular about how things are installed, you know. :)  I’m eager to see how it turns out when I go visit Blue Hell Studio’s open house tonight.

Oh, and then there’s the matter of rust prevention. We decided to leave the rust-prevention decision up to Sandy. See? Artists think of every detail, don’t they? And, let me tell you, Reader, Christopher and Sandy have a vision of how to either let something rust or how to prevent its rusting, and there’s really no way you nor I can predict what they see in their imaginations. And when we see the final result, we’ll say, “Oh my gosh…of course. That’s it! Why didn’t I think of that?”

So, keep visiting the bees at Brazee Street Studios…because it seems as if things out there evolve every single day. (There’s an open house there tonight, April 13th from 6-9PM.)

Oh. Someone at Brazee Street is hand-painting a sign that says “Bee Hives.” And there’s talk of a collaborative bee sculpture.

The 2012 Monster Hive

We’re Gonna Need a Ladder!

I took a few pictures as I built three top-bar hives this week, but I think the pictures are boring, so I’m not posting them. Perhaps I’ll document the progress later this week when my friends Heidi and Anne spend the afternoon building their hive.

As the construction days wear on, and as I wrestle to install a new blade on the table saw, and as all of my crevices fill with sawdust, I become less interested in taking pictures and more interested in finishing the work. So, I sort of stopped taking pictures about half way through.

But, much to my delight, my car is now packed with a couple of top-bar hives for placement in the “prairie” section at Brazee Street Studios, and there are a couple of additional, uncommitted hives waiting for action in my garage. I’m finally ahead of the game.

More about the Brazee Street Studio project in another post. For now, please enjoy with me the monster hive that’s growing over at Simon and Patti Foster’s apiary. Holy cow. It’s only early April and this hive is already seven boxes tall.

The 2012 Monster Hive
The Monster Hive: side view, staked down

 

Selecting and Operating Beekeeping Equipment

Building Top-Bar Hives

Selecting and Operating Beekeeping Equipment

Yes, I know…I haven’t posted much about the bees lately. Why? Because Jody’s getting married soon, and today we’re hosting her first bridal shower. So I’ve been busy with that. Right now, as I type, I’m smoking 15 pounds of pork shoulder that is simply to die for. I can’t wait until we figure out a way to send aromas over the internet. Stop over at 1PM for a taste of it. You’ll also freak-out love my mother’s 3-week cole slaw, jalapeno cornbread, and Vidalia onion pie. This is not your typical bridal shower, Reader.

I built three top-bar hives yesterday, though. I swear, there was sawdust everywhere. Because I so often suggest new beekeepers try their hands at top-bar hives, and because I’ve been asked to build a few for some clients, I’m trying to determine a fair price for the hives. I think I should charge for TBHs the way bee suppliers charge for Langstroth hives (the hive in the above image is a Langstroth hive)…they charge by the piece: for the hive body, the individual top bar, the lid, the stand, etc. That makes sense, yes?

For some reason, it’s hard for me to remember to take pictures as I build. I’ll do that next time and include notes on how to construct your own TBH. I know I keep reminding myself that the bees don’t care that I’m not a precise carpenter. And if those top-bar hive novices are really into owning spectacular looking hives, then they’ll have to construct their own or find an experienced carpenter to do it for them. Mine are simple. Fortunately, the bees don’t mind; they gladly repair and improve on my inept skills.

Now, I’ve gotta go throw a handful of wet applewood chips on the fire.

 

 

 

Tink: A newly created top-bar hive

Live with Enthusiasm

Tink: A newly created top-bar hive
Tink: A newly created top-bar hive

The newly forming hive pictured above belongs to my friend Nicola. Her powerhouse hive is going gangbusters this year. When the original colony (a swarm we captured together in 2011) ran out of room in its current hive box, it began creating drones by the boatloads. When it set about creating another queen, Nicola set about splitting the hive in two.

I keep thinking that I’d like to switch all my hives to top-bar hives. If all the hives I manage were in my yard, or if all the hives were placed in locations closer to where I live, I’d probably drift away from the Langs. But many of my hives live far away. Which means I can’t get to them each week in order to inspect them. And that’s the key to managing TBHs: regular and diligent management.

To my mind, the only drawback to a TBH is that its space is limited. If the beekeeper neglects a TBH, the bees will soon outgrow their limited space, and they’ll likely swarm. And there goes hopes for honey. And I’m not ashamed to say that honey is a big deal to me. I want it. I don’t need tons of it, but I definitely want honey.

On the upside:  Limiting space also means limiting the number of  bees living in the hive…which makes for a more pleasant visit when it comes time to inspect.

AND…I have not yet lost a single colony from my four TBHs. Which is rather incredible.

Probably 30% of my colonies living in Langstroth hives die.

Some colonies that I’ve cut out from structures and placed in Langs abscond. When I’ve captured those colonies and put them back in their Lang hive, they abscond again. When I capture them again and place them in TBHs, they stay. And live with enthusiasm. I simply believe that the TBH makes for happier bees and happier beekeepers.

The minute I learned about top-bar hives, something drew me to them. And something keeps drawing me. I’ve learned to pay attention to such attractions, so this year I plan to double the number of  my TBHs. I’m building them like crazy. Sawdust is everywhere. So, if you ask for my suggestion, Reader, I suggest you begin keeping bees in top-bar hives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top Bar Hive

Top-Bar Hives: Keeping It Simple

I’m back from a week on the beach. I’m tan. I’m rested. And now we can visit about top-bar hives, Reader.

To my mind, top-bar hives are the cat’s meow. I think they’re brilliant in their simplicity. They provide a close, calm, wonderful, affordable experience with the bees.

I think they give enough honey.

The hive boxes are low profile, so those of us who live in urban areas can keep a hive or two in our small yards without alarming the neighbors with those tall stacks of white boxes that announce BEEHIVES! Seriously, if you keep your top-bar hive as low as I keep mine, they look like restful little benches.

The hives boxes themselves don’t scream for attention…nor do our backs after our weekly inspections. Or as we harvest a bar or two of honey. These inspections and harvests become less of a production and part of a simple routine. They’re no longer A BIG DEAL. And the bees don’t fill the air and send the neighbors diving for cover as we inspect. This is a seriously low-key affair.

I believe beekeeping can be simple. And top-bar hives are the epitome of simplicity.

Now that I’ve whet your appetite, I’ll tell you more about how my own top-bar hives have evolved in tomorrow’s post.

Top Bar Hive
Joe Cocoran at the East End Veteran's Memorial Garden

It’s Happening in Cincinnati’s East End

Meet Joe Cocoran. Joe is the energy and the vision behind the East End Veteran’s Memorial Garden on Strader Street (off of Eastern Avenue in Cincinnati and within a stone’s throw of the Ohio River).

Joe constantly talks in terms of “we,” so I know there are others involved in making this spot of the East End exciting, and I’m eager to meet them as spring and summer bring more and more color to the garden.

Joe Cocoran at the East End Veteran's Memorial Garden

You know how a place feels just before it becomes sort of “the place” in a city? That’s the way the East End feels to me right now. There are good vibes. The neighbors are painting their houses bright colors—that’s a great sign, isn’t it? Joe and his friends are creating an urban oasis. Joe can’t stop himself. He has ideas. And then those ideas happen. Amazing.

We plan to introduce a couple of top-bar hives full of bees to the emerging gardens and orchards there. This is gonna be downright interesting.

And while you’re in the neighborhood checking out the community garden, walk over to Eli’s BBQ…it abuts the community garden. Places like Eli’s build communities. And there is no better BBQ in Cincinnati. Trust me on this.

Eli's BBQ on Eastern Avenue (AKA Riverside Drive)

 

 

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