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

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Week o' the Swarms

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

I filled all the hives with bees this week. It taught me to have faith in the weather. The first sun-drenched dry days of the Spring happened this week and the bees were ready to take advantage. As I wrote earlier, my friend Karen had been hunting for swarms. She came up with a treasure! She happened to know of someone with a grove of bee trees, just beginning to swarm.

The owner happens to be a guy in tune with his land and the natural rhythms involved. He has a wonderful grove of mature Ash trees next to a pond. There are about 6 colonies of honeybees living in the hollows in the trunks. He watches and sees them swarm every year in the springtime. This year Karen happened to be there. We immediately got the first swarm (well, second swarm, really. The first swarm had already moved into his duck box high on another Ash tree.) and transferred it to Karen’s Top Bar Hive. Two more swarms followed in the next four days. The weather was perfect: warm, cloudless days with great sunsets.

And on Mother’s Day, the local Swarm List finally granted me a call to retrieve a swarm. City bees! A big fat swarm on the side of a condo in downtown Eugene. It was a dry swarm, and I got stung a lot though my own carelessness and newbeek mistakes. Molly even got a bee in her hair that stung her. But the swarm ended up in Ed’s Eagles' Rest Beeyard, after a trip to the country in a cardboard box.

By the time I got the two other swarms from the Ash tree grove, I kind of got the hang of moving the bees, and no more stings (so far). Now all the hives are filled with new swarms of delighted, happy bees. Two at Ed’s, one at Karen’s and now one in my hastily assembled and not-quite-fully-painted Warre` hive in my back yard.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Warré Thing

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

So I ended the last blog entry by stating that I had a brand new 48” TBH for the garden, didn't I? I just finished putting the last coat of paint on it last Thursday. I was looking forward to putting away the table saw and concentrating on catching swarms for awhile.

Uh uh.

Karen and Maria fixed that. Like everyone around me in the Willamette Valley, these two friends experienced a near total dearth of honeybees as their early gardening began. Their wonderful landscaped garden had been doing fine for a long time, thanks mostly to a secret honeybee colony that had taken up residence in an old duck box. This year the racoons made short work of it, and voila (translation to english: wahl-lah) … no honeybees.

And then somehow my 48” Top Bar Hive came to rest in their garden, and not in mine.

Before I gave up my 48” Kenyan TBH, I had been corresponding with Nick Hampshire about Warré top bar hives. After I gained awareness of their advantages and disadvantages, I had halfway decided to build a couple for me and Ed to add to the small apiary in his rural Eagle’s Rest garden next season. Relocating the new 48-incher just put the Warre`s higher on the "to do"list.

Now Nick has about a ton of information on Warrés including great plans for newbees. Fortunately/unfortunately I found it hard to discover where the notes were to the actual configuration of Warré top bars themselves. This led me back to the quest at the center of this blog: collecting information newbees ought to have but somehow is made obscure by the wise. I say fortunately, for this led me to David Heaf and to his great discussion group in the UK. Through his wisdom and advice, I got on with the Warré construction project with renewed confidence in the wider application of natural and organic methodology.

So … now having given up the 48” KTBH, table saw still in place, and a ton of plywood left, it's become obvious that Warré hives are soon to be a reality.

Uh … plywood? Yes, that is the very first of the by-now-not-surprisingly-unanswered-for-newbies questions: is plywood okay for those heat and scent-sensitive and more precisely cut out Warrés? Nick got me an answer in record time. Yep, newbees, it’s okay. Here’s proof in a very kewl backyard plywood hive. (Oh and forget about that “gassing” issue re plywood. It’s less than negligible levels when compared to the trace elements of toxic crap your bees are going to carry into the hive in their little pollen baskets ….)

The core of this new development for me is the idea that we can start this year to gain some experience in beekeeping the natural way in both horizontal and vertical top bar hives. That's worthwhile, don't you think?

Okay. Karen is busy searching for new bees (no … not newbies), Maria is gardening, Ed’s monitoring the KTBHs at Eagle’s Rest for signs of occupancy now that we’ve got the lemongrass oil baiting those hives; and me, I’m busy converting all those decimal inch-fractions on the most familiar Warréhive plan to simple (real) english measurements so that a normal person can use them with a normal tape measure or ruler. (I'll notify the Wise Ones, and ask them to consider revisions for us newbees.)