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Posts Tagged ‘Top Bar Hive’

Saturday: The bees are coming today! To get ready for their arrival, I’m preparing their sugar syrup and making a homemade version of Honey B Healthy, a nourishing supplement that is added to the syrup.

I’ll be teaching my co-workers how to be beekeepers and they’ll be installing the bees on Sunday with my guidance. Ray built us some beautiful Top Bar Hives (Thanks, Ray!) which will be their new home. We are very excited!

We have, over the last couple of weeks in our (very little) spare time, been creating a bee and butterfly sanctuary. It’s in its beginning stages and will soon be filled with plants that all the local pollinators will want to come and visit. We are also adding a labyrinth that will be planted with medicinal herbs and a vegetable garden filled with heirloom vegetables. The hives will be nestled in this wonderful little spot we’ve created located in the Animas River Valley.  It’s coming together beautifully and I’ll be posting pictures of the hives and gardens soon.

Happy Spring everybody!

Recipe found on the Beekeepers of the Ozarks:

Honey B Healthy (generic)

  • 5 cups of water
  • 2 1/2 lbs of sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon lecithin granules (used as an emulsifier)
  • 15 drops spearmint oil
  • 15 drops lemongrass oil.
  • 6 drops of thyme oil (optional)

Dissolve lecithin in 1/4 cup of water. This may take several hours. Bring water to a boil, remove from heat and stir in sugar until dissolved. Stir in lecithin until dissolved. Stir in essential oils until everything is evenly distributed. Cool before using.

I use 1 tablespoon per quart but I don’t use thyme in my mixture. One to two tablespoons per gallon works if using thyme oil.

Makes about 2 quarts.

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Mary Beth and I have been trying to push ourselves to blog more often so in the past few months we’ve created several regular features. One is Sunday Zen, a photographic time-out where we go into the garden, usually ours, but sometimes other public and private gardens, and take photographs that reflect our mood. Tuesday’s Tips is where we share what we’ve learned to help make gardening and beekeeping easier and more productive. Another is Wordless Wednesday which honestly isn’t much different from our Sunday post, but we take part in this blogger tradition because we just love posting our photos.

Which brings us to the Garden Journal, which should become a more or less regular post on Thursdays. MB and I noticed that our recent postings have been short on the kinds of stories that we love to read on other bloggers’ sites — stories about the great stuff that happens in gardens. So we decided to get back to doing more of that. But, being kind of scattered, we need to actually put it on the list and have it tied to a specific day to get it done. Kind of pathetic we know, but whatever it takes, right?

Here is our first Garden Journal.

Mary Beth: I’m visiting family back East (on Block Island) and could not have timed it better — it’s been the hottest period on record. (Why can’t my luck be this good with the lottery?) Despite the crushing heat I have been enjoying myself and this morning the weather has cooled down a bit, thankfully.

If you’ll remember, before I left for Colorado I decided to put a “second story” on the TBH to make sure my bees didn’t get honeybound. I was so happy when I checked on my “girls” and saw that they’re doing so well. They’ve filled out all of the bars for except the last two of the TBH, but they seem to be having a problem going up into the second story.

I decided to help them out a bit and put one of the bars that’s full of honey up in the super. That bar of honeycomb was deeper than the super, so I let it extend down into the TBH by removing the bar below it thinking that it might even help to get them up there. They seemed to be ok with that and hopefully they’ll get the idea soon. It looks to me like they have about 50-60 lbs of honey already and the hive’s full of brood too. I only saw one bee with a mite, but other than that they’re looking healthy.

I so wanted to take a bar of honey for myself but was afraid of the dry weather the East has been having — if the nectar flow slows down they’ll need all they have collected.

I apologize for not taking many photos, and the ones I did take are not that great, but I was so hot in my bee suit. I kept thinking I should have told someone I was working on the bees just in case I went down! When I finally peeled that sucker off I was soaking wet and feeling more than a little woozy. It was a good excuse to go to the beach with my sister Pam and swim in the ocean.  The water was so beautiful and we bobbed around laughing like kids.

So happy to report the bees are doing great! They were so gentle and it was pleasure to work with them. I’ll check on them before I leave and see how they are responding to the small change I made in the hive.

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Mary Beth: This will be my last bee update from Block Island for a while because Ray and I are on the road. Durango, here we come!.

Monday, May 3: The apple trees are blooming on the Island. The buds started opening up around April 27th, which is really early. As I mentioned in an earlier post, this season everything seems to be about 3 weeks or more ahead of schedule.

I’ve had a nagging feeling that the nectar flow would be early this year. I also have a feeling it’s going to be a strong one. Last year it rained a lot and my girls were cooped up for so long during the bloom that they missed most of the early nectar. This year our weather’s been great and the bees may actually get to the apple blossoms.

So what’s been nagging at me is if my bees remain healthy, they’re going to need more room than they currently have in the Top Bar Hive, but I’m not going to be around to remove the combs if they get honeybound. Sooo… I built a super on my TBH! Yes, with all the spare time I had in between packing, weeding, pruning, cleaning, answering last minute calls from my clients, and a million other things, I decided to make a super to fit my TBH. I’ve been wanting to try it since I read Mistress Beek’s blog post last year about putting two supers on her TBH. (Great blog by the way.)

Here it is folks, it’s not pretty since I didn’t have time to paint it or, better still, to convince Ray do it and it’s a little rough around the edges to say the least!  (You would never know I was a carpenter for a few years.)

Here’s what I did:

I cut a Langstroth hive box down to fit on top of the Top Bar Hive — kind of like a bee penthouse.

I made two small ventilation holes for when the weather warms up. Then I cut off part of the cover of the TBH so the super could sit on top of the bars and made an inner cover, a new top and spacers for the TBH.

Next I cut some of the Langstroth frames to make bars with starters strips of wax and nailed on spacers.

I pulled a bar from the TBH that had a little comb on it and placed it into the new super to entice the girls to move “upstairs.”

It went pretty well except for dropping a few spacers into the hive which I did not remove because the girls were in good mood and I didn’t want to stick my hand in and piss them off.

Then I put the super on, snugged it up to the newly-cut edge of the old cover and viola!

What I’m hoping will happen is that the bees will begin to create comb in the super and store their honey in that. That should give them enough room so they won’t feel the need to swarm.

While I was looking through the observation panel on the TBH, I saw the weirdest thing. I saw the queen, twice. It’s weird because in all the many (many!) times I opened the panel to peer into the hive, I’ve never seen her. A couple of thoughts ran through my paranoid mind. Are they running her around because they are preparing her to swarm? (Bees will run the queen to make her lose weight in preparation for the swarm flight.) Or, did she run out of room to lay more eggs? Neither of those options is good so let’s just hope I was lucky enough to see the queen before I left and leave it at that.

One bit of good news is I haven’t spotted any more mites, although I have noticed more dead bees than usual. It’s hard to say what any of this means. I’ve done everything I can think of to prepare the hive, so I’ll just have to wait it out and get the occasional report from my beesitter.

I’ll try to send updates from the road. I’m so excited to get back to my garden in Durango and by the time I’ve traveled across the country I’ll have redone it at least three or four times!

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Mary Beth:
Good news first. I found eggs and it looks like a good mix of brood with a few drone cells mixed in. Yeah!

Bad news. I saw a varroa mite on one of my bees! I’ve poured over my photos and I’ve only seen the one bee with a mite. What a sad find! Hopefully it will not be a problem for the rest of the Island bees.

This is not supposed to be the case out here on Block Island — we’re out in the middle of the ocean, thirteen miles from the mainland. As far as I know no varroa mites or diseases have ever been found in the hives on the Island.

Unfortunately this is no longer true and I’m still trying to figure out how it happened. I’ll have to keep an eye on the hive and talk to some beekeepers out here to see if they’ve noticed this pest in their hives.

I’m researching this problem and so far I’ve found that there are several things I could do that might help my bees. To start I’m going to increase the Honey B Healthy and hope that they can shake this off. I’ve also read that the mite doesn’t like the smaller cell size on the Top Bar Hive so maybe the problem will correct itself. If anyone out there has dealt with varroa mites, I’d love to hear what you did to help your bees.

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Mary Beth: With the weather calm and warm since the heavy rainstorms came through last week everything is exploding into life.

The bees aren’t drinking as much sugar syrup and they’re beginning to bring in large amounts of pollen. The major source seems to be the red maples. I added a few bars to the TBH (Top Bar Hive) to give the bees more room since they’re starting to build the comb up.

Next week I’ll be checking to see if the Queen is laying eggs. If she is then I’ll have no worries that this hive has made it through the winter in good shape. (Phew!!!)

Barbara: Ever wonder what it’d be like to spend some time with the bees? Mary Beth’s great photos made me feel like I was right there — a “bee’s-eye” view!

Bee Meeting

On a Mission

Back With the Goods

Coming in for a Landing

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Mary Beth: It was a year ago that I got serious about beekeeping; I had just put in my order for a package of honeybees and I was so excited. But I really had no clue about what I was getting myself into (neither did my husband!). Sure I’d read a lot and spent countless hours learning as much as could, trying get a feel for what it was going to be like. And you newbies will do the same thing. Be forewarned though, all the research is very helpful, but beekeeping is really a hands-on kind of thing. No amount of research is going prepare you for the rush you’ll get when you see them for real in their screened box, or when you dump them in their new hive, or when they start to build the first honeycomb, or… I could go on and on.

As I went through this first year of learning to be a beekeeper, I kept reminding myself to make note of the important things I wanted to pass on to those of you who are thinking of getting your own hives — you’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to get stung, and there will be times when you’re going to feel seriously overwhelmed. But you are going to love those bees!

Here are more tips and some words of encouragement to all the newbies scrambling to get every piece of information you can before your bees arrive.

Ray building the Top Bar Hive

  • Consider a Top Bar Hive, you’ll spend a lot less time and money preparing for your bees. Did I say a lot more money?!  I cringe at what I could have saved if I’d known at the beginning what I know now about the TBH.
  • Have your hive set up before the bees arrive.
  • The hive entrance should be facing the south to southeast if you can.
  • Bees will fly into and out of the hive in the direction that the entrance is facing, so make sure the bee flight path is directed away from sidewalks, streets, etc.
  • If you have to deal with close neighbors or walkways, etc., place a fence or a barrier a few feet away from the hive entrance. That will make the bees fly upwards and out of harm’s way.
  • Spray the right amount sugar water on your bees before dumping them into the hive. It’s not a soaking spray, but it should be enough that they will be too busy licking themselves off to start swarming around your face and distracting you as you get them into their new hive.
  • Use your protective gear. I tried not using any protective gear that first day. Although the bees weren’t aggressive — they didn’t have anything to protect yet — I got so nervous when I was dumping them into the hive that I had to stop what I was doing to run for my suit. The whole operation would have been much smoother if I hadn’t been so worried about getting stung.
  • If you’re using a smoker don’t rush preparing it. It’ll take 20-30 minutes to get it going and to have a decent amount of coals to get you through your inspections. There’s nothing worse than seeing the girls lining up to take a shot at you and finding that your smoker is out.
  • When it’s time to inspect the hive, think about what you’re going to be looking for BEFORE you open up the hive. Are you saying, “DUH, Mary Beth!”, right now? Well maybe, but I was often so fascinated, distracted, or rushed to get things done that I didn’t remember to check for important signs during the inspection. Write it down so you’ll remember. I stressed myself a few times, realizing after I’d closed the lid that there was something I forgot to do and you really don’t want to have to go back in again. It’s not good for you or the bees.

The most important thing to remember as you do your research is an old saying that goes, “Ask 10 beekeepers the same question and you’ll get 11 different answers.” Keep in mind that every region has different challenges be it pests, weather, nectar flow, or any number of other things. Your best bet is to absorb all the information you read and then use your best judgement and follow your gut. That’s the way to make sure you’re doing your best for the bees.

A lot of this information, plus pictures illustrating the process from building the hives to installing the bees and more, is in earlier posts on this blog, along with some great resources that I found very useful.

One thing I know for sure is that you are going to really enjoy this journey. Good luck and, please, if you have any questions, just ask. I would love to help you out.
The Hippie Shack Bee Update

I checked on the bees through the TBH window and found it was warm enough today for them to break cluster. I also noticed they still had food left. They were feeding and roaming around slowly, and a few were taking a cleansing flight. I was happy to see that there seemed to be quite a few bees in the hive. I went inside feeling very hopeful that they will survive this cold winter!

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Mary Beth: Winter is coming, I think, and even though the weather continues to be unusually warm for this time of year, I’ve been getting the bees ready.

So, what about the bees? Every time I tell someone that Ray and I are moving back to Colorado (Ch, Ch, Changes), I hear this question. I’ll say, “We’re leaving.” and then, wait for it, wait for it…a look of dismay and “What about the bees?!” Of course it’s logical, but I’ve been a little surprised and amused that the fate of my bees worries them. On the other hand it’s nice that my friends and readers have become so engrossed in this story that one of their first thoughts is for the bees.

So here is the answer.

Out of the three hives that I ended up with after the swarm season, the Top Bar Hive is the only one that survived.

The Hippie Shack

For some reason the other two lost their queens after they swarmed (read about it here and here) and I ended up shaking out the remaining bees in front of the TBH in hopes that they would be accepted into the hive. Losing the Blue and Green hives made me very sad — I was surprised by how much I’ve come to love my bees.

As for the Hippie Shack (named in honor of the laid-back nature of these bees), I checked it recently and it didn’t have as much honey as I thought it should. I think the hive was being robbed. I put an entrance reducer in to make the the hole smaller to give the guard bees less area to defend. Now, even with the warm weather prolonging the season, I’m worried that they won’t have time to store enough food to make it through the winter.

Since Ray and I decided to leave after the holidays, I’ve been trying to figure out how to leave the bees with enough food. I researched fondant ‘bee candy’ and it seemed like a good solution, so I made a frame to hold it and placed that in the hive.

This small frame holds 5 pounds of sugar fondant!

Another good thing about the bee candy is it won’t cause the moisture problems inside the hive that the sugar syrup did in the early spring. I placed the fondant between the false back and the last comb hoping it wouldn’t attract any more robber bees.

I hope the warm weather will last long enough to let them build up their supplies. Every day they’ve been coming in with a lot of pollen, which is a very good thing.

I think she's posing!

Dandelions and the last of the aster are blooming, so I think this is where they are getting the bright orange pollen.

Another sign that the bees are preparing for winter is each day a few more drones have been getting kicked out of the hive. I watched this play out one day — those girls are ruthless!

Poor drone!

One poor male was pulled by his leg and tossed out like yesterday’s paper. It’s a cruel, cruel world my friends, but there is not enough to go around in winter for lazy freeloaders.

I moved the hive from it’s original spot so it will get maximum sun exposure all winter. This should allow the bees to break cluster on sunny winter days.

I also wrapped the hive to give it a little more insulation and to keep the wind out. Now it’s up to the bees. Other than a few more feedings before we leave for Colorado, my girls are on their own until March.

You may wonder why I haven’t given the hive away. I did consider moving the hive to my friend’s property, but I was afraid if I moved it up the steep, bumpy road to my friend’s house, a comb or two might break off ruining any chance of the bees’ survival. So I decided to leave them where they are on my family’s property. I’ll fly back east in the spring for a visit and check on the bees and I’ve arranged for my beekeeper friends to check on them now and then. Fortunately the TBH needs little maintenance and the bees will take care of themselves.

Becoming a beekeeper has been a wonderful journey. Learning about honeybees opened up new worlds for me, not just the world of honeybees in my garden, but the important roles of all pollinators and how critical every last one of them is. It’s led me to examine the negative impact we’ve all had on our environment. I’ve been reading about the decline of the honeybee from Colony Collapse Disorder — just one of many examples of our carelessness towards our environment. But the good thing is it’s made me more aware of what I’ve been doing.

So, with that new-found awareness, I try to do my part to help by adding native plants to the existing flower gardens. And I’ve decided that I will delay mowing the outer fields until after the first frost to allow time for the last of the butterflies to emerge from their cocoons and to let the wildflowers reseed themselves for next year.

Of course, at the center of it all is the honeybee, the incredible little powerhouse.  If you have not yet read any books on honeybees, you should. Some of the things you learn will astound you.

It’s been a great year even with the loss of two hives and no honey to harvest. And next spring I will have a hive in Colorado with even more challenges — bears, skunks and who knows what else, but I have a plan!

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