A Scatterbrained Beekeeper

Some days I move around a lot with little to show for it. Yesterday was one of those days.

I put the finishing touches on the three remaining swarm-lure boxes: I added frames of drawn comb, and I drilled holes in the lids of three used plastic medicine bottles into each of which I put two cotton balls—I sprinkled three to five drops of lemongrass oil on one cotton ball; with the other cotton ball, I  soaked up my melted swarm lure…a mix of beeswax, almond oil, and lemongrass oil. I smeared the swarm lure mixture on the outside of each box and at the entrances. Then I added the used-up cotton to the vials, closed them up with their lids, and tucked the vials inside the boxes (the holes in the vial lids allows the smell of lemongrass to waft out of the box and attract the bees).

I still haven’t hung the things, though. It’s raining.

Then, I got the top-bar hives ready for bees…which means I added all the bars. Then I knocked the bars off because I wasn’t careful with the lid. So I replaced the bars. I immediately knocked them askew again. You see how it goes.

All of these little chores meant a lot of walking around the yard carrying stuff into the basement and out of the basement and into the kitchen and out to the garage and back to the yard. Then I’d forget something and have to go find it somewhere. It was tiring. Some days I’m unbelievably disorganized.

I had to take a nap.

Then, last night as the rain began and the wind whipped up, I realized I’d not replaced the large rock that anchors the Amazons’ hive cover, so I hauled out there in the rain and put that rock on top.

Bees arrive on Friday. If I don’t get more focused soon, they’re gonna wear me out.

Jerod at Home Depot

Jerod's Top-Bar Hive

Jerod and I dedicated this past weekend to building our top-bar hives. It took us two hours at Home Depot just to collect our material, but once we got it all home and unpacked, and once we ate a bit of lunch and then pulled out all the tools, Jerod got down to work. And he worked for seven hours on Saturday and about seven more hours on Sunday. His hive is almost complete. He went off the plans there toward the end, and he’s now wrestling with his final decision: how to cover the roof.

Most blogs like this would tell you exactly how to build the hives they show you. Not me. If you want to know any details, you can ask in the comment section here. I’m just going to tell you that Jerod’s hive is pretty but somewhat complicated to build. So complicated, in fact, that I decided to build a different model (which you’ll get to see tomorrow).

I’ll tell you that having a building project in the works outside on a pretty day draws a good crowd. We had a lot of company show up…friends were pulling in right and left on their bicycles. We set up chairs in the driveway. We served refreshments. With that kind of distraction, I’m surprised Jerod could get two boards nailed together.

Jerod at Home Depot
Jerod at Home Depot
How a computer engineer checks out the plan
How a computer engineer checks out the plan
Deb and Stephanie at work
Deb and Stephanie at work
Stephanie and Jerod
Stephanie and Jerod
Almost finished top-bar hive
Almost finished top-bar hive

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.

Jerod Visits the Bees

Jerod is the first person other than me to work in my hives. He’s also the first person to visit the bees who wants to keep a hive himself…and I trust the way Jerod works, so there you go. In anticipation of getting his first hives next spring, he’s been reading The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping, and he wanted to see into a living hive so he could identify what he’s reading about.

So, he suited up, lit the smoker, kept the smoker smoking, smoked the hives, lifted the lids, removed the frames, and inspected the bees. I didn’t touch a thing. (He also helped me rake a mound of sugar from under each of the hives…I can’t tell if the sugar is slipping out of each hive or if the bees are removing it intentionally, but the yellow jackets were going bonkers in it. Damn yellow jackets).

Before we began, I asked Jerod what he was looking forward to as he got his first glimpse into a bee hive. He said he was curious to know what it feels like to be stung, and he was curious to see if he got a little squirrely when he saw that many bees in one place. I’m here to report that although Cricket, Jerod’s dog, was stung, Jerod was not. And Jerod was as calm and soothing as could be with the bees. And the bees responded by being mellow beyond belief.

We saw bees coming in loaded with pollen, we saw drones, we saw bees eating, we saw bees festooning. We saw bee bread and capped honey and capped brood, and we saw a bee get her first glimpse of the world…she was just poking her head from her capped cell. Very cool…she seemed all eyes.

It was nice to be able to take a few pictures for you, Reader…it’s not easy to handle a camera and the hive tool and the frames of bees all at once. And those gloves don’t make it any less of a challenge.

Jerod and I are now talking about building our top-bar hives this winter.

To Do 8/5/10

To Do 8/5/10

  1. Build all the medium boxes stacked up in the basement before the wood warps
  2. Finish all the frames in the basement
  3. Rework the hive stand with cinder blocks and 4×4’s
  4. Order the Top Bar Hive from what’s-his-name I met at the conference
  5. Buy a good table saw
  6. Buy rough-cut lumber
  7. Start making Top Bar Hives for myself and friends
  8. Decide whether or not to collect the bees the guy in Mt. Lookout called me about
  9. I mean, there are a hell of a lot of bees somewhere in his attic. I saw them. I just can’t figure out where the hive is
  10. And once I find the hive, I don’t know how to cut into the attic to get at them
  11. Deb says Rick could figure out that part…all I’d have to do is get all those bees into a box :) (sorry about the yellow smiley face. I hate it, but I can’t find a way to keep WordPress from transposing my quiet little colon : and parenthesis ) into a big fat yellow smiley face. What a stupid idea)
  12. Call Rick
Dee Lusby, Arizona commercial, treatment-free beekeeper and rabbel rouser.

Meet Some Treatment-Free Beekeepers

Sometime during the day yesterday, I got bored. Maybe because 13 hours of anything just wears me out…I’ve been slipping away from the conference. I slip out of the room and outside to the sun. I take long walks in the woods. I slip into the car and drive to the hotel for a nap. I slip back into the room but feel as if I’ve not missed much.

I do like these people, but as you know, Reader, I get tired of all people…even those I like.

I like this person a lot. She’s smart and strong and riles people up—government people…scientists…that kind of people.

Dee Lusby, Arizona commercial, treatment-free beekeeper and rabbel rouser.
Dee Lusby, Arizona commercial, treatment-free beekeeper and rabbel rouser.

And Kirk Webster is one of the most gentle, thoughtful, and understatedly intelligent people I’ve met in a long long time. I sort of want to be like him.

Kirk Webster, Commercial beekeeper from Vermont's Champlain Valley
Kirk Webster, Commercial beekeeper from Vermont's Champlain Valley

Sam Comfort is “living the dream.” Words hardly describe him. Once I get to know him better, I’ll tell you more about him. You’ll like him.

Sam Comfort, barefoot beekeeper who marches to the beat of a different drummer
Sam Comfort, barefoot beekeeper who marches to the beat of a different drummer

This is a home-fashioned top-bar hive. I think I’ll make one over the winter. You can buy them commercially made, but they won’t look this cool.

One of Sam Comfort's home-built top-bar hives
One of Sam Comfort's home-built top-bar hives

Dean Stiglitz blows me away. I think he’s simply brilliant. I could listen to him teach all day long without slipping out for a break.

Dean Stiglitz, co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping, commercial treatment-free beekeeper, and a most-natural teacher
Dean Stiglitz, co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping, commercial treatment-free beekeeper, and a most-natural teacher