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

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.

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