There are certain pursuits which, if not wholly poetic and true, do at least suggest a nobler and finer relation to nature than we know. The keeping of bees, for instance. --- Henry David Thoreau

"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best -- " and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do,
there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called. -- The House at Pooh Corner

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Redecisions, Redecisions

[Next post from the original first year blog. Edited to update it.]


Hmmm. This week two of the top beekeeper experts over on the Organic Beekeepers Yahoo group posted that for their length 2-foot or 3-foot Top Bar Hives aren’t a good idea. Basically their reasons were first that the volume would be too small -- that the honeybees would “swarm too much”. Second, there wouldn’t be much production of honey; at least that’s what I took to be one comment. One of the experts cited the case of some African hives that were 5’, 6’ and even longer. The other expert felt that 5’ was about the max. At any rate neither of them would consider 24” or 36” TBHs.

So this is exactly the kind of contradictory information that hangs up us newbees when we’re starting out. This is the kind of stuff I’m hoping the blog will acquire information to clarify.

Half of the websites, books and magazine articles about top bar hives recommend 36” hives to us fledgling TBH beeks. e.g., If you look on the links list below there are many plans and pictures of 3-foot top bar hives. PJ Chandler (whose site first convinced me there was hope of natural, sustainable beekeeping) says this, “If you are a first-time beekeeper and currently have no ambitions to keep more than one or two hives, I suggest you start with a 36” long box. If you have some experience with conventional hives and want to start nucs and run four or five or more colonies, then go for the more capacious 48” model” [it’s on page three of the ‘How to’ plans]

There are a surprising number of 38-40 inch hives. Actually they are 97 centimeters and above. I suppose that’s a legacy of the original Kenyan and Tanzanian hives? Now when you look at these pictures of hives in developing countries, they look to be less than 4 feet, don’t they? And these are for serious beekeeping.

Sam Comfort’s video showing him working TBH’s was a big source of new information for me when I first saw it. He was using Top Bar Hives that appeared to be around two feet and three feet long, as well as some Langs. (I didn’t see any Warre’s.)

Christy Hemenway of Gold Star Bees posted something on the Top Hive Group “I don't see the need for you to be discouraged so much as I see the need for you to become very well-versed in how to maintain a three foot hive!”

I guess the most definitive answer to hive length I read was from BillSF9c over on that same Top Hive group, “A medium [hive] may swarm sooner, but that enables another hive if you split before it does. It's not good or bad. It's choices, depending on need &/or intent. Why, do you want bees? Why, do you want a TBH? Why do you want a hTBH? (horizontal, as opposed to vertical...) Engineers say, "Form, follows [needed] function. Function is defined by need/desire(s.) Write yours down, in order of importance, and go from there. See what fits.”


Even though I’m desperate for bees, I turned down a chance to do a cutout this week. It is a 12+-year-old hive in a well house. I don’t even have a full bee suit, nor the expertise to know how to attempt the capture, so I politely declined and sent the offer on to a longtime beek in my area.

So far the two hives in Ed’s garden are empty, but I refreshed the lemongrass oil on Sunday. This is about the first week in the Willamette Valley where our weather hasn’t been below 40 at night and constantly rainy. On those few days in March and in early April where there was sunshine, I saw just a few bees out and foraging, however Ed’s rural garden is suddenly alive with ‘em.

I’m thinking very soon something will happen to get us some free bees. My little 24” hive is ready to put next to an inaccessible wild hive that’s close to swarming, the owner says. (We’ll see.)

Meantime, I have a brand new 48” TBH for the garden.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Decisions, Decisions

[Next post from the original first year blog. Edited to update it.]

With the call from several prominent organic beekeeper folks to get more new people helping the honeybees to recover, I decided to be one of those involved; I spent last Fall and Winter reading, researching the net, and amassing a ton of info (check out the links section), … and making a plan. Long story short, here’s some of what I came up with:


Originally, like you and every other new beek, I only knew of the standard Langstroth hive system. As I got into research, the drawbacks multiplied. They cost a lot, what with all the parts. And – paramount for me – the whole system seemed to be if not anti-bee, rather cruel and exploitive. My wife came to the rescue, understanding my reluctance, but wanting me to succeed with an effort to help the bees. She showed me a link to P J Chandler’s Barefoot Beekeeper site. Immediately I found that I had been correct in my displeasure with the Langstroth system. Chandler was the first to enlighten me to what was wrong, and how to proceed. By the time I got to Anarchy Apiaries’ site, I knew I was on the right path.

I started with Chandler’s plan for a Top Bar Hive. After doing a lot of research on TBH designs, I modified it to incorporate ideas that seemed important for my area. I ended up with hives that are closer to Hirschbach Apiary‘s New TBH plan. Abundant rain in Oregon means a watertight cover. Screened bottom boards at the time I was constructing seemed necessary for mite control, at least until my bees could be regressed and their resistance strengthened. Later, I realized there were ventilation issues with a closed TBH hive in high moisture areas (rain again), so the screens stayed, but I added a closed bottom board. My only addition to TBH design ideas was to realize that the closed bottom board didn’t have to be attached, but could simply be a tray the hive sat on. The screened bottom board (SBB) is then able to be adjusted with spacers, and the tray/bottom board is easy to move and clean.

I chose a Kenyan style. I just like the lines. (I hadn’t paid much attention to Warre` hives when I was building my TBHs, basically because until I looked into them more carefully I assumed they were just Langstroth hives done “organically”. I’ve since learned better and next year I may build some.)

Acquiring Bees:

After reading comments from Dee Lusby, Michael Bush and others I didn’t want to buy packaged bees. Not even small cell bees. I thought it was better to go with local feral bees already adapted to my area, and naturally ‘healthy’. There have been feral bees in my little part of Oregon since they first escaped from the original pioneers almost 200 years ago. After WWII the farms and poultry ranches in the area began to shut down, and this resulted in another big wave of abandoned bees swarming into the surrounding forest and savanna areas in the Cascade foothills. There are some really old colonies up past the treeline. I’ve got people alerted to watch for swarms.

I decided upon two other strategies for acquiring those bees.

First, I found the best place to get the best, most organic lemongrass oil for luring swarms. You can’t grow your own and process it and end up with anything more pure and organic than the stuff from Mountain Rose. This weekend I set up two hives in my friend Ed’s wonderful rural garden and baited them with the lemongrass oil.

Second, I’m on the local swarm list through the Beekeeper’s Association. A friend of mine who keeps bees said she got more than a call a week all during swarm season last year, so I’m hopeful.

If toward the early part of Summer I haven’t been successful with either of these ideas, I know this nice lady who raises organic bees down the road from Ed’s garden. I’ll just whine at her until she gives me some bees.

I expect that I’ll end up with some sort of feral hybrids. Then I can spend the next few months identifying the strains, if possible. I don’t think it really matters, do you?

There’s a lot more to it all, but as of today that’s where I’m at with my plans and my decisions.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Ho Hum

[Next post from the original first year blog. Edited to update it.]

Another blog from another new beekeeper. The web is full of them, the webrings overcrowded with ‘em. Lots of ‘em are dead, or long forgotten, or languishing with no posts for the last half a year, prolly ever since the package bees first absconded, or the blogger died of anaphylactic shock next to his new hive, or maybe the spouse found other tasks to assign ….

So why put one more beeblog up on the net?

Well, I was standing over by the fence in the cyberspace beeyard and noticed a couple of things: First, there was a closed gate so that it was hard for a certain group to get in. That group is all the world-savers, tree huggers, environmentally conscious and aware activists who are busy doing their world-saving, tree hugging activist best to deal with their own tasks, whether it be whale saving, tree sitting, anti-nuke protesting, or the thousand other pieces of business that we desperately need to get on with across the planet. But in the back of all their minds is one more nagging thought that somebody ought to be focusing attention on the poor bees and doing something about their plight before they all go missing like all the dolphins did a la` “So long and thanks for all the pollen!” Beekeepers as a whole – while a sizable minority of them are themselves world-savers and environmentally aware folks who “get it” – beekeepers as a whole are speaking another language. Since I have some (ahem) readership amongst these world-savers, I figure I could blog my way towards switching that nagging thought with some information that would be understandable to them.

Second, the organic, sustainable, no-treatment-no chems, bees-know-best, survival-of-the-fittest, regress-back-to-the proper-bee-size Bee Guardians have yet to make a serious stab at providing adequate cross-over information that Warre`/Top Bar Hive using newbeeks (Beek = slang for beekeeper) find it very difficult to acquire in their beginning efforts. There is the tendency for the established beeks to speak code based upon Langstroth language and trust that TBHers can translate, surmise or generally apply non-TBH methodology to their fledgling operations. (There are a few notable exceptions, and you’ll find them in the links section of this blog.) But on the whole there are gaps in the beginner’s knowledge base that remain unbridged.

I figure that as I go along, I’ll get us TBH newbees some real answers that we can write down somewhere and pass on to the next class. Less reinventing the wheel; and less trying to adapt inadequate search engines to scrounge through disorganized bee forums where the information lives in dribs and drabs. Maybe we’ll eventually get a little pamphlet, website or smallish paperback full of how to actually do TBH splits, engineer SC foundation to TBH shapes, redesign hive plans to account for regional temperature and ventilation issues, blah blah blah, yadda x 3. See? There’s some stuff left to learn in Beginning Bee class. I’m gonna take notes and post ‘em here.

Okay. So I start out as a newbeek, with one skill in my favor as I go about beginning beekeeping. My dad was a Master Carpenter and I worked with him for a lifetime. I can build stuff outta wood. Killer bee hives. (No … not “Killer Bee” hives, Killer “bee hives”) I’ve built two Kenyan type TBHs that now sit in my friend’s garden out at Eagle’s Rest. I’ve got two more in the shop, and I’m studying Warre` designs for next season.

I joined the Beekeepers Association
and I’m on the Swarm List,
and the hives have been sprinkled with lemongrass oil
and the lady beekeeper down the road will prolly give us some bees if all else fails.

Lemme know what you think, what you need asked and answered ….