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

Friday, December 31, 2010

Year-end Update

I know I have been neglecting this blog! It's just that the Bee Girls have been so self-sufficient that I have had no real news to report. Anyway, I decided I ought to get one more post in before the new year, so here's a kind of status report:

City bees and Country bees - both doing fine. They venture out on a few flights on the sunny winter days, there's always a little ivy flowering, plus the abundance of roadside flowers and plants the neighbors have cultivated. With all the doug fir and other evergreens there's always some pine resin to be had for propolis.

The City bees are in the 36" kTBH, with about 2/3 of the bars carrying comb. They stay at the far end away from the entrance and don't ball up much, but are kind of 'slowly active' over the combs.

The Country bees are in the 30" kTBH and are about equally active, although the little brats have been mean since October and the onset of colder weather. They like to clump up on the combs closest to the entrance end of the hive.

I opened both these hives' observation windows; the City bees just looked up and said "huh"? and sent out a few scouts to check me out. The Country bees, however, jumped at the chance to boil out a couple dozen angry ladies who needed to sting me just to show who was boss. I got two nice stings and quickly closed up their window.  Both hives seem to have gone through about half their stores, so I'll be checking often now that it got colder (down to +28F last night) and feed them if necessary. I figure about another 6-8 weeks before there is a viable resurgence of springtime blooms here in the Willamette Valley/Cascade Foothills location.) I'm waiting for the grocery store Xmas candy canes to go on clearance sale, when I can load them up. I'm toying with the idea of cooking up some fondant and adding some pollen patties. Looking around for good recipes. (hint, hint)

Karen and Maria's Hive -- is that 48" kTBH that has the main swarm the City bees cast last spring. They are a big thriving colony, still doing quite well. They are tucked in for winter, too. I plan on monitoring them about as closely as the City /Country hives from now until spring. They'll get some candy canes too.

The Hard Luck Warré -- Has done the best of any of my colonies. It began this winter with three full Warré boxes, with a large population of bees. I don't take any honey, as the idea is to 'keep' the bees, and promote healthy swarms with as little interference by me as I can manage.  I put another box on just before the rains came. (and I mean right before they came!) These are that first colony I received from the farmer's stock over in Creswell. These bees turned out to be "Golden Bees", a variety of very yellow, very pretty Italian species. A member of one of the bee listserves read that I had them and wants a nuc this spring. T'will be interesting to try my hand at splitting and "nuc-ing" this colony. Stay tuned.

Here's the hive a couple of days before New Year's, everybody inside and staying warm in the +29F degree weather and the snow. (You can hear them buzzing inside if you put your ear to the boxes. Nobody comes out to object or I'd have a stung ear, btw.) It hasn't been warm enough since then to see them doing any outside flights, but I expect the first warm day will bring them out.  I've been careful to slightly tip the hive every so often to check and see if it feels like there's any honey stores left. So far so good, but they'll get fed if they seem to need it.

The Biodynamic Lang -- has been quiet. They were the second of the Golden Bee colonies from the Creswell farmer. They filled the bottom brood box with rapid growth. The bees built a lot of combs on the foundationless frames I put in there. However, they seem not to want to build up into that first super on top, although they have propolized the entire interior of both boxes where they felt they needed to. I worry most about this hive, as it had a lot of bees inside with only that one large deep for resources. It still feels heavy to heft it, but the first warmer day we get in January I'm going to set up the feeder (and stick a mirror in there to see how things are going.)

So, I end 2010 with just five colonies. The small 24" kTBH managed to lose its short occupancy of a small swarm we captured in mid-summer; and the redwood Warré never got populated, despite my best intentions. (I kept giving swarms and swarm opportunities to newbeeks.) I think the redwood hive will get some modifications before spring -- it'll prolly be the first one I try those little porthole openings on. I'm also set to produce a bunch more of my famous-unpatented-oversized-paperflowerpot swarm traps, as soon as I get the garage cleaned up. I reckon that by the end of Feburary I can spread the traps around, put my little "Got Bees?" notices up and get ready to acquire a bunch more swarms. (wish me luck!)

Okay, Solstice has passed, the New Year is upon us, and we're headed for the light. Happy 2011 beekeeping, y'all.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Smoker Irony

Yeah ... well ... I don't use my smoker a lot. Obviously. Looks new, doesn't it? I think I've only had it lit about twice. Nobody uses one with horizontal kTBHs, I think. Like a lot of other newbeeks of the biodynamic/organic persuasion, I've been working without it when I open the vertical hives. I mean, I just haven't seen the need to use it. So these wasps were able to turn the neglected smoker into a nice home. I s'pose if I ever start moving around lots of supers or Warré boxes and do more harvesting and splitting and stuff, I may rile up the bees enough to start using smoke.

I let a few wasp's nests stay around, for the sake of balance and biodiversity in the garden; but I encourage most of them to seek other habitat, since they do attack my bees. I think these guys are gonna have to go.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Vancouver and the Bees

So I was gone from the blog for awhile. One of the things I did while away was to travel to British Columbia ... an awfully nice part of the planet. For part of the vacation Molly and I traveled by ferry from Vancouver, BC to Victoria on Vancouver Island. On the ferry were several notices and stickers on port windows warning visitors to the island that it was prohibited to bring honeybees in. I since learned that the stickers are obsolete, the BC Government having relaxed some of their prohibitions against importing honeybees to restore their varroa-devastated honeybee stock. I'm not sure of the actions' consequences, but the sticker was a good indication that Canada has been addressing the problem.

One of the major attractions outside of Victoria is the Butchart Gardens, where they grow justabout every kinda flower imaginable that can survive the B.C. spring and summer. As we wandered through the different garden areas, I was pleasantly surprised to see the blooms attracting copious amounts of honeybees, bumblers, and other pollinators. It seems like the dearth of honeybees on Vancouver Island have been Mark Twain-ized a bit, in that the reports of the deaths of all those honeybees were a little premature.  There are lots of bees in the pic to the right, ... even if you can't see 'em.

Well ... you know me ... I just had to go and find the garden's beekeepers and get a look at their hives! I wandered around asking the staff, but nobody knew anything. Eventually I was directed to the information booth where there was a knowledgeable botanist lady who set me straight, "The Butchart doesn't have any honeybees, as we are not concerned with pollination or plant reproduction here. The bees you see are from outside the Gardens. We're glad they come, but we don't keep bees here." They have about 50 gardeners on staff, and several greenhouses were visible. I never did learn where their annuals appear from, nor how the perennials reappear, but apparently they just don't raise any stock that requires pollinators.  Hmmm, I wonder if this is true of other big garden operations? (Learn something new every day, huh?)

In a way it was a good sign. Vancouver Island may have suffered devastating losses in their apiaries, but out there in all those woods covering the island there still must be a lot of feral, escaped, and "unkept" bees. They seem to be doing just fine.

Link to book review

I've been recommending the Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping since before it was published. Here's a very literate, first rate review by David Heaf; emphasizing the strengths and weaknesses of the book -- particularly on the treatment-free and small cell issues. Mr. Heaf's own book is on the way, due to be out this month (Sept '10). I'm really looking forward to it as well. We can advance order his book here. (I'm hoping they'll ship to the US of A via this link.)

Oh, hey, while you're at it, Phil Chandler could use a little help keeping his web stuff going. Along with the basic TBH fundamental materials, he provides a bunch of important free stuff, so much vital information, as well as hosting biobees, and David Heaf's Warré sites! Go here and see what you can do to help, huh? (I sent him a cuppa joe.)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Bait Hive Success

"I don't personally know any one who has caught a swarm in a bait hive here in my area, ..." I wrote last time.  Well, consider that statement as inoperative now. My first bait hive just produced the results exactly as I had planned it!

My friend with the big bee tree called yesterday. Her bees had finally swarmed out of the tree cavity! They had swarmed up to the place we thought they would go: under the eaves of her detached out building. This is where the bees went the last two times that colony swarmed. Some days ago we had placed the bait hive just in front of the now-closed-off opening into the dead space under the roof. The hive was now occupied!

I collected the swarm in the evening, when all the scouts and foragers had returned. It was a simple matter to stuff some paper into the opening in the bait hive, tape it over and then just remove the hive from the hook where it was hanging under the eaves. I carried the whole shebang over to my friend Julie's apiary and let her have them as kind of restoration of my karmic balance for that last swarm of bees she had delivered to me even though she had lost a queen. 

Any worries I had had about how to do the transfer from the bait hive to a permanent hive were erased.  It was a simple matter to unscrew the four deck screws holding hive closed, without having the whole thing fall open when the screws came out. Opening it up disturbed a few of the bees, but the cluster in the bottom half remained in place until Julie shook them into a western super she had already set up and made ready for the transfer. The swarm was mainly in the upper half so it was a simple matter to shake the rest of the bees into a space where half the frames had been removed from the super.  She set a white sheet on the ground next to the super leading up to the entrance. The loose bees and the flying stragglers just marched in. In a few minutes all the bees were at home in the super.

Julie put the remaining frames back in place and covered the super. In a day or two when they are acclimatised she'll do the newspaper trick and add them to an underpopulated hive in her apiary. When we looked into the now-empty bait hive, there were three saucer-sized combs already attached to the underside of the hive roof. They had built that much in less than 24 hours, and filled the combs with nectar and a fair amount of blackberry pollen!

I'm glad this whole plan came together, and I have high hopes now for the other two hives I have set out.  I'll keep you all informed.

[Added July, 2010: Some inquired, "What will happen to the queen if she combines the swarm with a colony????" It's okay, through the auspices of the Beek Association the queen got a new home.]

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Swarm Trap / Bait Hive

One of the things you'll probably want to try eventually is a swarm trap or bait hive. There are a bunch of different designs out there ranging from small boxes that are basically nucs, to the paperboard flowerpot style that are cheap and easy to acquire. You can even make them out of wastebaskets. They are not actually "traps", since the bees can come and go. It's just that you provided them a temporary shelter that's portable and allows for easy transferring of the swarm to a hive. You can bait an empty regular hive body as well, particularly if you have an extra  set up around your other hives when the colonies decide it's time to swarm.
I was looking around to try to find a comprehensive web page that had both pictures and a description of how to make one of those double flowerpot style bait hives that I have been using. There's not a good website yet, but there's a nice plan for this in The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping, on pages 66-67. I copied it and had pretty good success in construction.The single flowerpot style costs about $20 from beehive suppliers. My double flowerpot  swarm trap has a larger capacity, which is probably a positive factor for getting the bee scouts to choose it. (I suppose you could use just one flower pot and a piece of heavy cardboard or plywood for a cover.)  Whatever. There doesn't seem to be a good illustrative set of instructions anywhere handy that I can find; so I decided it ain't all that hard, I'll put instructions and pix here on the blog. Wall- la:

 It takes me about fifteen minutes to make one, but I'm gettin' old and slow.

Cost: The first one I built cost me about twenty bucks as well, including all the materials, but I made about 5 of them; so the cost averaged out to less than ten dollars. Not as cheap as that wastebasket hive up above, but still a pretty good value.

2 molded pressed fiber nursery pots 12"x11". Mine are 100% recycled paper and biodegradable.
[9/8/10 Note: I used big 12" pots since they seemed to offer the size of space bee-girl scouts like best, but I am beginning to think pots around 8" are perfectly fine and a bit easier to move about, and manipulate. Your choice, of course.]
1 Cable/Zip tie
4 1" outdoor deck screws or wallboard screws
1 can of foam weather sealant
1/2 pt clear sealer such as polyurethane

drill driver or screwdriver
small paintbrush
1 bottle of Foster's Beer (not shown)
1. Invert one flower pot. Using drill driver or screwdriver, put two small holes an inch apart in the bottom center.
2. Insert cable/zip tie into one hole from inside, loop around and insert in other hole, slide tie end into lock end loosely, leaving an ample loop outside.

3. Place inverted pot onto rim of upright pot.  [9/8/10 Note: This is a good time to slip an old piece of comb into the bottom pot and maybe drip some lemongrass oil in too.] Using drill driver or screw driver, screw 4 deck screws through rims of pots, joining them together.

4.Place pots on their sides and fill 7 drain holes on top and bottom with spray foam. Remember to leave one opening on bottom pot for an entrance for the bees.
5. Hang bait hive/swarm trap in convenient work area. Allow sealant to dry.
6. Coat exterior with clear sealer. Allow to dry. (You can skip this step if your conditions are not super wet, the pots are fairly sturdy and water resistant)
7.Variations:  Smaller diameter pots would prolly work just fine, too. You can make small holes in the sides of the pots if you feel there needs to be more ventilation, depending upon how often you can check the swarm trap. If you dislike spray foam, you can plug those drain holes with anything -- wads of paper, chewing gum, putty, etc. You can also use a serrated knife to carve a larger opening in the bait hive if you suspect you're going to be inundated by the Mother of All Swarms.
8. Remove cap from bottle of Foster's Beer by twisting it off.  Consume contents at leisure, the project is completed. Repeat Step 8 as necessary.

I haven't found the exact right source of information about where and how to set up a swarm trap / bait hive, other than some reference to always keeping one near your hives so that you stand a good chance of capturing your own bees when they swarm. (9/8/10 ... I still haven't found much of a better source of placement information than the short two pages in Dean and Laurie's guide. Most links, like this one, say put the swarm trap about 8' up in a location where lots of bees are active, and where swarms have landed before [duh].  I'll keep lookin', but if you find a good source of swarm trap placement info, let me know, okay?)

So far I have had three of these hives out in various locations since about the end of May. It's been rainy and swarms are not quite so plentiful this year, so I have not had any results as of yet. My first bait hive is set up by the Bee Tree from last year's swarm captures. The other two are strategically located around the neighborhood and at the Eagle's Rest apiary. I'm thinking the grove of bee trees from last year's week o' the swarms might be an ideal location.  As for lures, I haven't acquired any of those pheremone lures they sell; I've just tucked a piece of old comb inside the swarm trap, and dribbled a few drops of  some really good lemongrass oil right inside the entrances.

Last year the Warré hive I baited and my small 24" kTBH never seemed to attract any action or interest from the bees, but I was more of a newbie then and less informed about the process. I don't personally know any one who has caught a swarm in a bait hive here in my area, although the different beeks on the 'net claim to have about 20% success rates. But what the hell, it's worth a shot, right?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Easier Yet (almost)

In the last post I said, "But I doubt I'll soon get any more already boxed up and ready to go ... for free!"

Ya know, it's hubris to think you can predict the future with that kinda certainty. My friend Julie, sometimes known as 'the mentor bee lady who lives down the road', delivered a swarm to me, all boxed up and ready to go! What's better than that???

It was from the same farmer who had called me for the last swarm. He was working off the swarm list, I guess, to give away this second swarm too. Julie is the chief honeybee swarm rescuer in this part of our whereabouts. Normally she has every hive of her own populated, but she loves to save the swarms and to collect them for others. She knew I still needed to populate my last two hives, so she brought them to me. (A couple of long-time beeks have adopted the label "Lazy Beekeeper" on the 'Net, but with this delivery, I may be in the running for the title.)

Anyway, it was the same kind of big box o' bees, perfectly taped-up, with more little windows and everything. I figured, "Hey it's gonna be a snap! I'll just put 'em in the Biodynamic Lang the same way I did the others and let 'em settle in next to the Hard Luck Warré."


Hubris, overconfidence, too easily thinking I'd graduated past "newbie"? It was a big unwieldy box and I was a little too careless in shaking them into the Lang hive. About half of them stuck to the side of the box and didn't quite slide out with the rest. I didn't notice this since I couldn't see over the side of the big box well enough. As I was pulling the box away the rest of them fell out onto the deck next to the hive. I had soaked them down pretty good with my water spray bottle, but still ... lots of them flew up, or they were all scurrying to find the rest of the colony. Next thing you know I am down on my hands and knees trying to grab them all in big handfuls and toss 'em into the Lang. (You would have laughed your ass off at the sight of me in my veil and helmet trying to see well enough to determine where they were crawling.)

Yes, I did have my gloves on, and that made it worse actually. First it was hard to feel them well enough to grab properly; and either I held 'em too tight or the bees just slipped out of my fingers. Second, about this time some of the honeybees decided they were through being Miss Nice Bee and crawled down in my gloves to sting some sense back into me. Owwww! Ow, ow, ow!

{Sigh} Eventually I got them all into the Lang, although I was a bit worried that the bees I had spilled included the queen - Julie had said she was a marked Golden Bee queen, two years old. I haven't seen her yet. I set up the entrance reducer, along with a piece of queen excluder I stapled over the hole to keep them from absconding and let them be for the night.

The next morning I went out early. The Hard Luck Warré had their bees out and foraging, lots of activity even though it was cool weather. The Biodynamic Hive had a few straggler bees wandering across the landing board but not much else happening. I snuck a peek inside and was at first pretty disheartened. There was a smallish cluster in the super, not nearly half of the about 5 pounds of bees I had put in there last night. Oh no! The queen hadn't made it into the hive! -- and the rest of the bees had struggled out of the entrance reducer/excluder barrier and had absconded in the night! I was an idiot! The queen had fled under the deck as soon as I spilt everybody!

I tilted the super up and looked in the bottom brood box inside the foundationless frames. Sure enough there was a half dome of sleepy bees covering the whole underside of the top bars, about the size of a basketball. Whew! Everything was copacetic!

I noticed that the bees that were moving in and out seemed to stack up for a long time at my makeshift reduced entrance, and I kind of don't trust that piece of excluder. In K&M's hive the bees just about refused to go through it. I headed off to Glorybee and bought another new plastic excluder and some frames for the western supers. When I returned, the sun had warmed up the Lang enough that the bees were moving in and out, albeit sluggishly. I removed the entrance reducer and slid the new excluder in, figuring a whole sheet of it on the bottom would be enough for them to comfortably get in and out and still leave the queen inside. Hey, there is something to this Langstroth standardization thing! The queen excluder fits perfectly on the rim of the bottom board, right under the brood box. I'd had to do surgery on the piece sitting under the Warré. This evening the Hard Luck Warré has foragers bringing in lots of bright orange pollen, some of it prolly from the California poppies on the roadside. Since this indicates the bee ladies seem to be occupying both hives permanently, I will slip both excluders out in a day or two.

Well, I learned what I learned from this; and tonight as the sunlight fades both the new swarms are active, bringing in pollen and sucking up the sugar syrup from the Boardman feeders I set up to keep them fed until they get some comb built and are viable on their own.

I said up above, "Normally [Julie] has every hive of her own populated." But she called me that night after she delivered the swarm, wondering  if I had hived it yet.

"Absolutely," I said, like it was no big deal at all.

Oh that was too bad, since when she got home one of her hives turned out to be queenless all of a sudden; and if I still had them in the big box she would have liked the swarm for herself to put in that hive with the queenless colony.  She regretted a little bit that she had given them to me. I offered to shake them back into the box, quietly rubbing my wrist where the stings were beginning to throb and itch. No no, that's okay, we'll just get another swarm. Am I still on the swarm list? Yep, and I am expecting the bee tree grove to swarm any minute. Although there were major swarm days in May, the timing here has been all over the place for bees this year. Every action, including the main nectar flow, is late in Oregon this year because of the rain. Some swarms are still bound to happen.

I will make no more predictions about how hard or easy the next swarms will be.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Easiest Swarm I Ever Got

A farmer called me via my entry on the LCBA Swarm List. He had a swarm, "Come get it."

I asked, "What equipment do you think I need? Should I bring my ladder?"

"It's in a box already."

I drove over to the most beautiful little farm area by Creswell. Sure enough there on the picnic table behind the house was a big cardboard box, all taped up. There were even little screen windows taped in place so the bees could breathe. Next time I fix up a cardboard bee box, that's the way I'm gonna do it.

The farmer told me he had 5 hives, but was moving and didn't want to start any more colonies. So when this swarm issued from one of his hives, he just called me as the closest beek on the swarm list. He slid the box off the table and carried it out to my car!

"How many times are you gonna get a swarm all packed in a box and ready to go?" he asked, laughing.

"Prolly never again," I admitted, and shook his hand. 

"They produce great honey, too" he smiled.

Me, I smiled too as I drove back home. I had "caught" a swarm dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, wearing flip flops. My part in the operation, minus drive time, was about 5 minutes. You know how there's usually some leak somewhere in a taped-up box full of bees? I drove home looking in the back every once in a while, expecting to see a few bees buzzing around the back window. But no, this farmer knew what he was doing. Every bee was securely inside the box.

I've decided to give the Hard Luck Hive another shot. What is this, the forth attempt? Anyway, I set the hive back up in that nice dappled-sun area by the greenhouse in my back yard. I put 3 boxes on the Warré hive, put on my veil and my gloves and opened the big box. It was big for a reason! There must have been five pounds of bees inside. After spraying them down a bit with water, I shook them into the upper box of the Warré. All around me the dryer bees flew up and buzzed around; but they were so docile that they didn't even pretend to be upset as I put the top bars back into place and fiddled around with the Warré quilt and roof assembly. No stings whatsoever this time.

Because there have been so many absconding swarms this year noted by newbeeks on all the lists, I've tried a trick from several experienced beeks who were posting to different discussion groups: If you want to avoid absconsion, use a queen excluder for the first few days until they start bringing in pollen. My Hard Luck Hive stand is constructed so that there is a raised rim between the lowest box and the bottom board. I placed the excluder over that rim and set the boxes over it, which hold it in place. Now the bees in K&M's kTBH hadn't been very easily able to go in and out through the excluder, but these gals just seemed to ignore it and right away started moving in and out as pretty as you please. I can easily remove the excluder by sliding it out in a few days. For right now, 24 hours later, the bees seem at home, making orientation flights and even sampling the borage blossoms in the back yard.

It's been a strange year for the bees here in Oregon: a cold snap right as Spring began, then a quick spell of sunlight, then almost constant rain from mid-March until just this weekend. Timing is off for everything related to the bees. Some beeks have even had to feed their bees well into Spring, according to Ken at the Beek Association. It seems to have delayed some swarming, because all of a sudden, like my box o' bees, the swarms are beginning to issue now that there is sunshine. There's no news from the grove of bee trees. But I expect they'll be swarming next. I'm looking to fill out the 'Biodynamic Lang' and the redwood Warré here very soon.

But I doubt I'll soon get any more already boxed up and ready to go ... for free!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Swarm x 2

This is the time of year when all the bee blogs start posting articles on swarms and catching them. So, um, why should this blog be any different? Here's my report on "two at once":

Ed called me on Thursday 5/13 and told me that the City Bees and the Country Bees both had bunches of bees crawling around on the outside of the hives. He was concerned that they might be absconding. When I got there, sure enough ... the bees were gone. I was afraid he was correct until I looked in the hive windows and found there were more bees than ever! The last time I had looked was about two weeks ago and they appeared to be still the same remainder bees who had survived the winter. Since the plants were blooming all around, I just let them be to sort themselves out for Spring. In those two weeks they expanded their combs to double what they had before. The Country Bees had filled up their 30-inch kTBH hive to nearly 90 percent capacity. That's apparently the magic number for them, and they had swarmed.

The City Bees had grown in their 36-inch kTBH to nearly 75 percent. Ed had been watching when both of the hives just magically decided to take off at the same time. The City Bees headed for some trees to the right of those in the picture at the top of this blog. I went for a quick scout with Darwin, but the bees seem to have gone to a place deeper in the woods and weren't "catchable". There are lots of hollow trees in that grove, so both Ed and I were happy that they were going to populate his woods and add to the feral population. That's part of the whole sustainable natural beekeeping idea, right? I assumed both swarms had headed for the forest.

As I was packing up to go, I noticed a little group of bees flying in a cloud right over one of Ed's whiskey barrel planters in the garden. When I got up close I discovered a large - volleyball sized - cluster of bees attached to some dead stems of catnip from last year's bumper crop of Just the Buds catnip. It was the Country Bee swarm! In no time at all I had them in my yellow cardboard bee box. They were so docile I could pick up the straggler clumps with my hands and dump them in the box.  I left the box open a while to make sure all the flyers got back safe. When they were all inside I taped the box shut and headed to Karen and Maria's place. These would be enough for a large colony, perfect to replace those that had died out at the end of winter in their big 48-inch kTBH.

I couldn't believe how fast they took to the new home.  I shook them into the hive; and before I could get all the top bars back in place they were already making chains on the guides of the top bars and starting to sort themselves out and build some comb. These gals were ready!  I had put a piece of plastic queen-excluder over the entrance, since our experience last year was that bees would abscond from this hive easily. Watching for a moment, I observed that the straggler bees didn't seem to go into the hive easily and bounced against the excluder several times before giving up and trying to get in through the screened bottom. It seemed obvious to me that they were having too hard a time getting through the small openings. Since the gals inside were already moving furniture around and hanging drapes, I figured they were gonna stay anyway; so I removed the excluder and left them two open cork-holes to go in and out by.

It was a glorious Spring day. Up into the 70's. It's so interesting that both the hives would swarm within minutes of each other. I don't know the dynamics of all of this, but clearly the temp and the weather have a big influence on the timing of the swarms.

The Country Bee hive is still very near capacity and I don't doubt they will cast a secondary swarm out pretty soon. That's just great with Ed and me - and Darwin. Oh, I'm gonna put a bait hive out there, I have those new Warrés and that biodynamic Lang to fill yet this year. But if we populate those woods with bee colonies, that's a nice secret area ... safe from pesticide spray and any other man-induced fooling around.

Just right.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A "Biodynamic" Lang

In an earlier post I mentioned acquiring a Langstroth hive to add to my little apiary. The idea is to practice organic and natural beekeeping while retaining the advantages of standard beekeeping equipment. Last week, if I had had this Lang hive ready, I could have picked up a colony one of the local Beek Association members was removing. She was keeping all her woodware, just relinquishing the frames and the bees only. I don't want to miss an opportunity like that again.  Basically, now that I have at least one Lang hive, the next time a nuc is available, or a box o' bees, etc., I'll be set up to take 'em.

So, here it is, all painted with latex exterior house trim paint left over from last year's back porch remodel:

Inside, the frames are standard Lang-type frames, only there are no foundations --  I merely turned the top bar wedges sideways and fixed them in place with brads and some carpenter's glue. There are as yet not all that many places on the web to gather information on foundationless Langs, but this link is about the best place to get started.

This way the bees can build their own combs, their way. With all 10 deep frames for the brood, plus 10 Western or medium super frames above, the whole colony will have to produce a lot of their own wax, but this doesn't seem to be asking too much. Last year Ed's City Bees built a dozen combs on kTBH (Kenyan Top Bar Hive) top bars, and Karen's kTBH had a similar amount when we opened it at the end of winter. Ed's Country Bees were a very small swarm, yet by the beginning of winter they had built eight combs on their top bars too.

For the City Bees and the Country Bees, I had gone through that messy process of pouring melted beeswax in little slots cut down the center of the 1 1/4" top bars the way it's shown here. (Never again.) It's all nice and 3rd world-like in its simplicity; but it's not necessary after all is said and done. Using the popsicle-stick guide method, Karen's bees managed to build straight combs on all the top bars just as nicely.  Karen and Maria simply rubbed cake beeswax on the bottom edge of the top bar popsicle sticks. Since that worked out so well, I'm doing the same on the bottom of the frame wedges of this Lang. (Actually -- as you can observe -- I'm letting Dashel take over that job.)

This idea of using Langstroth hives in a more natural organic way is starting to be referred to as "biodynamic beekeeping" in the UK, and there's a whole section on it in the Biobees forum. "Biodynamics" has a little weirdness for baggage on account of Rudolf Steiner's bee lectures. You can learn all you need about that by going here. Another term for it here in the US is holistic beekeeping, and has been applied to several different variants of beehives.

Speaking of variants of beehives, I've added the "Biodynamic" Lang to my tiny apiary of  kTBHs and Warré hives, as shown here in my raised bed garden with my new redwood Warré. Both of these new hives have floors and stands integrated into one unit built with pressure-treated wood "feet" so the Oregon mud won't rot them. It's based upon the idea I posted in the links section, modifying the Ruches de Brunehaut French design.

So now I can make a split for a beek using Langs; or do any of those standard manipulations without rigging up a Frankenhive, or a bee Warré/Kenyan/Lang condominium or other setup.  To move bees into a Warré or kTBH it can be a simple matter then of brushing the bees into the hive, or using swarm catching frames -- modifying them and the combs to fit the kTBH or Warré hive shape of any hive in my apiary. Since I now have a Langstroth to receive the initial frames and bees, I can do this patiently, without any haste. And ... prolly more "biodynamic" Langs will come along eventually.
It's the first week of May, and here in Oregon reports of swarm captures are starting to trickle in. It won't be long now before those hives are occupied.

I hope your bees are doing fine.

Monday, May 3, 2010

On Not Being An Agent for Cruel Natural Selection ...

Over on the Organic Beekeepers Forum, there's another go-round about feeding our bees, what to feed them, what not to feed them, etc. Dee Lusby says don't never ever feed 'em sugar, feed 'em honey and don't cheap out. Fred says "allow" newbeeks who don't have much money to use sugar, just to get the honeybees started. The other regular forum posters take positions along the spectrum, mostly trying to stay in line with the ideology of sustainable, natural, organic beekeeping. The principle they are all working around is to not raise weak little bees who can't fend for themselves. Don't give in to anything that prevents evolution via natural selection from working its cruel magic in promoting only the fittest honeybees. Yep. Sure. Only ... the minute you took the bees and put 'em in your boxes, you disrupted whatever purity there was in that theory. (I won't 'splain that any further. You either get that concept or you don't.)

The same day I read part of an article about CCD which touched on this feeding issue. Here's a quote: "Now here’s a dilemma. If Mother Nature does not provide enough to eat for bees in an area, what’s a beekeeper to do? On one hand, a beekeeper can feed the bees sugar or corn syrup. But if he does, he is criticized for feeding an unnatural diet to these all natural creatures. But if he doesn’t, they die. You can make any choice you want based on any philosophy you have, but I won’t stand by and let my bees die if I can help it. I doubt any farmer would intentionally let his livestock perish if saving them somehow was possible."

Now there's danger in that approach as well (and again, you either get the concept or you don't.) but I'm thinking that in reality this is where most beeks are gonna end up in their decision making. It may be Natural Organic heresy, but it's prolly what's gonna happen, isn't it? So far, I'm going with this idea, at least to the extent of feeding them. I'm not gonna be the one to let 'em starve in the name of Darwin.

Just my two cents. (YMMV)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Food for Thought

Here's a coupla items I culled from the beekeeping groups on the 'net.

This first one is all about the chemical crap that gets into honey because of what some of us do to the bees, and what the bees face when they go out a-foraging. "We have found unprecedented levels of miticides and agricultural pesticides in honey bee colonies from across the US and one Canadian province." Yuck! It's going to come back to bite us, I'm thinking. See why it's so much better to keep bees in a natural, organic way? 'Nuff said.

The other one is yet another study on CCD. I'm really ambivalent about it, first of all it's that samo samo "universityscientificmethodology" assumption that some One Cause can be isolated as the killer. Holistic approaches need not apply for grant funding. Most of us are beginning to understand that, nope, it's the whole factory-farm approach; the totality of the things we have done and are doing to the bees; and the overall attitude some of us have toward beekeeping that is at the heart of the problem.

But on the other hand I just got through ranting in those aforementioned beek groups about the myopia that natural organic beeks have related to scientific research on viruses. All I heard was "we're always gonna have viruses! Whut ya wanna go and spend money on yet another research on one for?" and "rely upon natural selection to cull the weak bees, there isn't anything you should do to baby along the weaker bees, the strong will survive" and the always popular "shut up li'l newbie, you don't understand X, Y and Z ..." followed by some ideologically bent lecture on genetics or something. [sigh]

I think it's better to know than to not. It's better to understand a virus being at the heart of some stresses on the colonies than to be a luddite. But that's just my own bias. Read the articles, make up your own mind.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Saving the Bees Just a Little

If you’re a new beekeeper like me, chances are you started doing this not because you had this life-long burning desire to produce beeswax and honey, keep beehives, or immerse yourself in the mysteries of waggle dancing.  Nah, you probably absorbed all the news about the worldwide deaths of honeybee colonies and you were knowledgeable enough to conclude that it was another of those man-made biodisasters that threaten our habitation of this small planet. You read or heard how the beekeepers were losing 50-75% of their colonies; how cellphones, pesticides, viruses and factory-farm methods of beekeeping were doing in our pollinators for good. You added a commitment to do something to save the bees right along with your commitments to the environment, the climate, and the biosphere. Probably said something to yourself like I did, “Dammit, looks like I’m gonna have to save the bees meself; these clowns have no clue about how they are killing the Earth. I’m sure I can do a better job than they have!”

Relax. You’re prolly right that you can and are doing a better job at promoting the safe, organic and natural existence of the bees you are caring for. But come to find out it’s not all that emergent an issue. Not really. The overall opinion seems to be that the bees are in some trouble, but they aren’t gonna die quite yet. It’s gonna be okay.

I just had a nice email correspondence with one of the chief organic and natural beekeeping gurus. Without his permission, I’m gonna quote a paragraph of what he said about CCD and bee deaths: “… note that no one is having trouble getting their crops pollinated, note that the price of package bees has not gone up since CCD hit the airwaves...none of the things that would indicate a functional shortage of bees have happened.
     “imho, the issues surrounding beekeeping are much closer to the issues around feedlot cattle (in that there is no shortage of cattle, but it would be nice if they were treated better and allowed to be cattle) than it is like an endangered species (where one is concerned that the species will die out).  what you are mostly hearing in the media is "the plight of the status quo beekeeper", the bees are, for the most part, doing fine.  certainly there are die offs (there always have been, it's the nature of insect populations), certainly some beekeepers (large and small) have had significant losses that have greatly affected (or buried) their businesses...but at the same time, there is a huge payoff for almond pollination (which comes with huge risks).”

What he said makes a lot of sense, don’t you think?  You can still read the alarmist media hype, you can find a whole spectrum of thought about the CCD thing. But it’s not the worry that it was purported to be.

Far more worrisome is the plight of endangered whales. Far more evil is the human predation on elephants. If  you're a back-to-the-land life changer, or if you’re a greenie tree-hugger environmental animal rights activist  - as I am - who got into beekeeping to save them, you ought to be devoting more concern to those emergent issues. And for sure if you want to have any hope at all of our species living a sustainable life on Momma Earth, we damn sure better do something about the deaths of one third of the amphibians in our chain of life!  Got any frogs?

It’s good to keep these bees. Dee Lusby and friends are correct: they need lots of new organic and natural beekeepers to get aboard and preserve bee genetics and turn around the factory bee farm madness. Sam Comfort is right to want beehives to be as ubiquitous as TVs. By now you’ve found how rewarding to the heart the peaceable contentment of working with the little buzzing gals is. Good for us all! Better still is your commitment to protect the feral honeybee habitat around you by any means you can think of.

But … in the words of Douglas Adams, DON’T PANIC!  Just do your thing, okay? Enjoy being a beek. Continue to educate those around you to those best concepts of sustainability you can live by. My $0.02, YMMV.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Truce With The Know-It-Alls … sort of

It’s no secret that my encounters have not gone well with experienced beeks who have assumed the role of teacher or spokesman. Asking a question of them can get you a snide remark, a put-down, or a twenny-minute rant about what a bothersome newbie you are.  … and no useful answer for your question, however stupid it may have appeared.  I’ve held my remarks about this to a minimum here in the blog, but folks have relayed to me that my antipathy still shows.  I’m, like, really effing sorry, okay?

My bad attitude started just about the same time as my interest in ‘saving the bees’ got serious. I was at that “OMG they’re gonna all die” stage in my learning process. Looking around the web, and the local places like the Extension Service and the State bee guys, I mostly found examples of opinionated know-it-alls who would just as soon you go away, thank you very much. Each one of these curmudgeons had his/her own “one right way” to do things and as a newbie you are supposed to just shut up and do as you are told. That’s kind of a generalization on my part which I will address in a bit, but I did find that beekeepers as a group each have a strongly held opinion that they never feel needs to be modified. I still maintain the perception that as individuals they won't understand that there is more than one way to skin a cat ... ever.

Those of you who have been in the environmental activism game, or who are familiar with Daniel Quinn and his writing will immediately recognize the ‘one right way” fallacy and the implications of such an attitude as being the largest signpost on the Road to Hell.  Those of you who know me, will recognize that such poor thinking would have set me off immediately … and it did.

Now this was about the time that the media hype was getting up to the top of the intensity curve, where it seems to be remaining. There were thousands of us animal rights, tree-hugger, back-to-the-land, greenie activists who got sucked in. We recognized the CCD die-offs as one more example of the destruction mankind was wreaking upon the planet.  … and suddenly thousands of us descended upon the world of beekeeping, asking all those stupid newbie questions, ranting about what was wrong with everything and generally trying learn from those curmudgeon beeks at the same time we were trying to give them the “bigger picture” about the planet, the bottleneck, and Kenyan Top Bar Hives before we knew anything. Needless to say we weren’t – and aren’t – well received. 

There were too many of us, and there was not the perception among the beek organizations on the web or in local organizations that the inundation was not gonna stop. Oh sure, there were a few half-hearted efforts to organize ‘something’ to appease us. And, Goddess bless ‘em, many old-time beeks did in fact try to answer questions and steer us toward becoming responsible beekeepers.  But for the most part, the experienced beeks simply resented and/or ignored the newbies.  You can go to all the websites and groups and see their responses  “This is not the site to discuss introductory things, we’re here to do X, read the FAQ before asking, this has all been rehashed interminable times before, go somewhere else, read a book, etc etc.” 

A poor picture, eh?

There is hope. Now into my second year of beekeeping for real, I’ve come to realize that one can indeed break though that barrier and get straight answers. You just have to learn how to talk to ‘em, Newbeeks. You gotta spoon-feed tiny bits o’ question so that their for-the-most-part-not-well-educated-minds can understand what you want. You do indeed have to do your homework first, read their inadequate FAQs, and read some good books on Beekeeping, especially this one. And fer gawd’s sake go easy about ranting at them about how we’re all destroying the planet and causing global warming and they are part of the problem. (They aren’t ready for that enlightenment yet.) As I have said in other places in the blog: listen, keep yer mouth shut about your progressive ideas; then go home and do things your way.

Besides, they have begun to respond positively. Several of the web forums have some decent newbie sections to get you started. One forum I live on has experienced folks who make a point to welcome new beeks and invite them to share their questions.

I just had a long offline conversation with one of the curmudgeon beeks regarding an issue I was alarmed about, and the guy actually had the good grace to get past my derisive snarkiness and set me straight in a semi-pleasant way.

So, things are getting better for newbies. Don’t give up. The established guys are changing, we’re wearing them down. And it seems the few who awoke to the inundation by us all have sorted out their thoughts and started posting helpful stuff. I failed in my normal perception, too, that folks on the net find it too easy to become jerkasoids, whereas in person they can be much more almost human. A friend of mine relayed this to me when she attended a beek conference and met some of the bigger web curmudgeons, only to find them to be pretty nice guys. (It prolly helps to be smart and gorgeous at the same time, however.) I urge you all to check in with ‘em again, and join your local beekeeping group. This time they might make room for you. They may have actually seen a Top Bar Hive by now.

I’m declaring a truce with the old beeks.  There is much to learn and we must learn it from them. For now, I'm invoking the Thumper Rule regarding them on this blog.

Oh, and don’t be quite so worried about ‘saving the bees’. More about that in the next post.

[added May29,'10  Hoo boy. I lasted 2 months and 3 days maintaining the truce. That's pretty good for me. Several of us kind of had a little run-in with the curmudgeons over on the Organic Beekeeper Yahoo Group. If you're signed up you can see the start of it all the way to where they began blocking posted responses, and then somebody dumped every post I ever put up there. (g) A bit unfair, but that's just the way they roll. I had to terminate my membership. There's still alot to learn about sustainable beekeeping but I'll learn from somewhere else. I guess for me it's back to the Thumper Rule even more forcefully. But, hey, the Natural Beekeeping Network Forum seems very promising. And the UK Warré group has been a wonderful resource.]

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hard Luck, alright

Awww. The Hard Luck Hive maintains its reputation. The little bees didn't quite make it, despite me leaving them alone and guarding them from the elements. By yesterday, their few forages had turned into none at all. Since it got into the mid-60's today, I risked a quick peek into the top box of the Warre` hive. Alas, lots of dead bees on the bottom board and the top bars and a bunch of dead in the cells. I suspect they just were too small a colony to provide themselves the necessary heat, but I'm too new a Beek to know for sure. It could be that they were already too stressed from lying in the open before I rescued them. It 's still cold mornings here and two frosty nights right after I got them into the Warre` hive probably doomed them. There were just a few bees climbing around on the combs and none at all venturing out. The brood cluster was still intact, but it was dead except for one small corner of very lethargic brood nurses. So sad.

I put the few remaining and quite lethargic little cluster of the crashed bees, along with their remaining piece of brood comb into my small 24" kTBH hive, figuring it's a warmer, more protectable place for them to live out their remaining days while I prep the Warre` for another swarm.

Robbery! I went away to get a bag to store the rest of the honeycomb in for future use, and when I returned to the hive, all of a sudden there were hundreds of bees going in and out! For a second I thought the colony had miraculously revived, but by sitting and watching and thinking it became evident that I was witnessing a full-scale robbery of the hive. I asked myself, "Did I cause that?" I guess the answer is yes.  Probably my opening the hive allowed enough scent out that it attracted the neighboring hive of bees who live a hundred yards away in my neighbor's abandoned Snack Bar Van. So many bees were alighting on the loose comb that big pieces were moving and being dragged across the screened bottom board.

I reached into the hive and retrieved a sizable amount of the honey cells and put them in plastic bags to freeze for later. The robbers just climbed over my fingers and continued to grab what they could, but not a one attempted to sting me.  I brushed off the robbers from the combs I selected and bagged up what I could. I left the rest for them. Towards twilight there was an absolute madhouse as what must have been the whole hive of foragers visited and took away all they could. What a sight!

To protect the last few remaining crashed bees, I plugged up the holes in the 24" kTBH with corks while the robbery continued to take place in the Warre`. I'll unplug them tomorrow and let them do as they will, about a quarter-cup of bees altogether. Never saw a queen. I don't want to add them to Ed's colonies at this point. Seems futile, anyway.

Speaking of Ed's colonies, I went over this morning to feed them and found both the City Bees and the Country Bees out foraging and bringing in lots and lots of bright yellow pollen. Many different plants popped out over the weekend, almost all of them yellow. It appears that spring has begun in earnest. These guys are gonna be fine now.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Hard Luck Hive

This hive has again got some bees in it. I figured these particular bees were so unlucky that the Hard Luck Hive was the perfect home for them ....

I got a call from my experienced Beek mentor friend down the road. Not far from us a landowner had done quite a bit of hollow tree felling on his land down by the Willamette River. There were some cotton woods and some oaks falling over that had big hollow centers and six-foot-diameter trunks.  Somehow a limb on one of the old cottonwood trees still standing had broken off and was lying in the grove. The limb was hollow and had a very old feral bee colony inside. The limb had disintegrated when it hit the ground and there were combs and tree bark and "bees everywhere".  Did we want to come save them?

A quick look revealed that there wasn't much left of the colony: about four or five dinner plate-sized combs representing the remains of the brood nest were on the ground, scattered around were a bunch of pieces of  honey-filled comb. Everywhere there was a bunch of empty dry old comb, in colors from brownish to black. The hive had been laying in the open for a least a day, maybe longer. However there were still a lot of nurse bees tending the brood comb and there was a chance they had kept some of the brood larvae alive. They were a bunch of little Russian-looking feral gals.We tossed a tarp over the whole 'crash site' and I quickly went and got my rescue box and equipment.

I debated for a while with myself to decide which hive I should make ready for them. I had an unpainted new Lang, two vacant KTBHs, the redwood Warre` I had built this winter, and the Hard Luck Hive. Since the Hard Luck Hive was still assembled and in place, it was the best choice; although I would have to 'smoosh' some of the comb into place below the top bars. (I would have had to do that with Lang frames too, and the Kenyan TBHs would have taken a lot more surgery on the exposed combs.)

It was easy to pick up the brood nest, since it was still relatively intact. All the combs stayed together and all the bees just clung to them as I gently laid them in the bee rescue box. Most every one of the 'flyers' orbiting the crash site flew into the box too. There weren't any drones or foragers that we could see. At first I thought that maybe in the limb crash they had all flown away; but on further reflection, I now think that since it is the end of winter, there weren't any more bees present during the disaster but the brood nurses and the queen. I estimate there was only a half-pound to a pound of bees present, altogether. I picked up all the honey comb I could locate, a couple of larger pieces of the empty dried comb and took everything home.

Once home I put the central section of the brood nest and nurse bees in the top box of the Warre`, and secured the combs to the top bars with twine. I leaned the smaller portions of full comb on either side and put the honey-filled comb below it and on the edges of the brood. Since it's still cold out and the brood nest had already been very exposed to the elements, I didn't try to separate any of the combs looking for the queen. She's either in there or she's not. I'll know soon enough.  I just closed up the hive quickly and made sure everything was as welcoming to the new occupants as I could make it. Other than that, I'm leaving them alone to sort themselves out.

We've had a couple of warm afternoons since I put them in the hive.  I was relieved to see a few foragers out and about, going in and out of the hive every time the sun came out. They seem to be happy to be here.

I dunno if the brood larvae have survived the crash. I dunno if there's a queen. If the colony can survive a week or two there will be nectar and pollen aplenty, so they have a chance to make it. If they deplete the honey stores that came with them, I can feed 'em. It would be a good sign if they were depleting those stores, it would mean some new bees were hatching. If the brood hatches and there's no queen, I can always combine them with Ed's Country Bee colony.

They're Hard Luck Bees, but they have a chance now, dontcha think?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

My 2nd Year of Beekeeping Begins

There have been occasional warm days ever since the first of  2010. Our surviving colonies -- both of the hives in Ed's Eagle's Rest garden -- have been in and out foraging for nearly a month. While there is lots of tree pollen, not much nectar is available as of yet. I've been feeding them via Boardman feeders; one is inside the 'Country Bees' hive behind the follower board which has a special little notch cut to accept the feeder. The 'City Bees' hive has its feeder at the entrance. Both were small swarms captured last year in June. Neither colony was able to build up to a robust size, but both had collected enough stores to make it through the end of winter.

Now I realize there is some risk of robbing with the one feeder on the outside of the City Bees hive, but the alternative of not feeding is not acceptable. Surprisingly, before I installed the feeders, the bees had consumed all the Christmas candy canes I had placed on the floors of the hives. It's a neat trick I got from the local Beekeepers Association. Yes, I realize that's not a totally organic act, but you do what you have to do.  When our bees have succeeded in storing adequate honey,  I hope not to have to ever feed them sugar syrup or candy canes.

Over the winter I managed to build a redwood Warre` hive, set up my 24" kTBH bait hive, and acquire a Langstroth hive.  Along with my 'Hard Luck' Warre`  and Karen and Maria's now-empty 48" kTBH, that means I have vacancies for five more colonies as my 2nd year of beekeeping begins. I had enough luck last year with swarm catching that I feel confident that I can fill each of those hives.

Redwood Warre` hive  -- sat out most of the winter in the woodshed and is dry and seasoned. Its wooden walls are nearly an inch thick. As-is, the hive is probably impervious to weather damage for years to come; but I intend to put a coat of linseed oil on the exterior anyway. The redwood looks so beautiful when it's finished like that. I modified the roof from Warre's original design. This one has a flat roof copied from David Heath's roof design, which I covered with a corrugated plastic sheet rather than metal.

By the way, I've decided to quit making screened bottom boards for any future hives. Dee Lusby's position that they don't provide much help seems to me to be a pretty convincing argument against going to the trouble of building any more of them.  I'll just keep notes about the successes of the hives with screens and those without. Later on I can see what's right for us.

Bait Hive -- the last of the 2009 plywood hives. It has 18 wax-groove top bars and a nice flat rain-proof roof. Right now it's living on top of the greenhouse, all scented with lemongrass oil, on the off chance that a stray swarm will come along and take up residence. I intend to take it over to the grove of bee trees as Spring warms up. That way I'll have a small portable hive available as the tree colonies produce their annual swarms.

Langstroth hive -- why did I get one? I took Scot McPherson's adage to heart (the kind of box doesn't matter ...) and intend to do organic and natural beekeeping with it. The idea with the Lang is that it'll provide "standardization" to my beekeeping. I can receive and trade frames of brood or "nucs" or a super of bees from any of the conventional beeks around the area. (They're about 99% o f the beekeepers in my part of Oregon.) I can perform splits, maybe. ... and I can do any of the practices the organic langstroth beekeepers do and describe online, without having to modify each action to fit a Top Bar hive.

Actually I simply bought an unassembled deep, western super and a metal cover, all at great sale prices in the Glorybee retail store. I built the stand and bottom board in the same style as my Warre`s, out of pressure-treated lumber to withstand Oregon's muddy conditions. I got a package of frames, too, and set them up with the wedges turned vertically so as to provide a guide for the bees to build their combs naturally.

Hard Luck Hive -- that's what I decided to call my original plywood Warre` hive, seeing as it has lost the first two colonies I introduced to it. The first colony absconded in the first few days of last year's attempts, and the second colony were those ill-fated Oak Tree Bees that were poisoned and all died.  I just repopulated the hive two days ago with a hard luck colony with their own story. (see next post) Who knows if they'll make it!

I gotta find some bees soon for K and M's empty hive. Already their garden is blooming and they need the pollinators quick! (There's a chance that some package bees may come their way.)

I need to get a bait hive over to the Oak Tree Bees before it swarms up into that poisoned attic again.

Don Guill wants a hive. Sean -- Ed's next door neighbor -- loves the pretty yellow and white kTBHs in the Eagle's Rest garden and wants one, too.

I had thought last year that my "to do" list would be less crowded this time around. 


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Cut to the Chase ...

If you need to get started real quick, this section will give you tips and guidance on the things you need to do, in the order you need to do them. It's written from a "know it all" point of view, which will prolly get me in trouble with about a hundred expert, experienced beekeepers - curmudgeons all - who are damn sure they know better! If you've been wandering around the web, hoping those experts will welcome you in and give you some good mentoring, you've discovered the one thing they don't know better however, (because they've forgotten it) is how to be nice and helpful to a novice beek who is floundering around and just looking for some concrete straight answers. Many of 'em couldn't care less about how it feels when you can't find out a damn thing from them that's straightforward, not condescending, and actually helpful in getting started. That's where this "Know-it-all" becomes your expert. I've just been through all that. It's fresh in my memory.

Do this:

Go through the list of links.
If you wade through all that stuff, you're probably going to be forearmed with enough knowledge to get you started really really well. Don't try to absorb it all. It takes a few years to get the ... um ... "Big Picture".

yourself a box. It doesn't matter what kind of hive you choose first off! It's what you do with the box and inside the box that matters. You're gonna change your mind a dozen times about everything, but the box you have will guide you and teach you better than a bunch of know-it-alls. You're gonna make mistakes, but they'll be your mistakes to own; and those lessons will be more important and more valuable to you than anything else in the months ahead.

If you like Top Bar Hives, get one! If you think Warrés are perfect, build one! If you inherited a Langstroth, it'll do just fine! Don't worry about choosing the one right hive. There is no such thing.

If you are trying to decide how many hives to start with, don't start with a single hive. Start with two. Just do.

Get some bees. The most common way to do this is to catch a swarm -- and it isn't all that hard to do. You'll probably start beekeeping just a little bit later in the season if you rely upon swarms, and you'll be that much more impatient. But it's a good start you'll be making. Local feral bees are acclimatized and better for your garden. Buying package bees is also an option. Usually your supplier will have them available at exactly the right moment in the season to get started. If you find an experienced beekeeper near you, you can buy a "Nuc" -- a couple of frames of brood and a queen, or maybe a populated hive all ready to go. Nothing wrong with that. You do not need to start at square one. (You'll have ample opportunities to start at Square One later on, trust me.)

Don't be overly concerned with what breed of bees to keep. Dark little secret they won't cop to: There are no 'pure' strains of any breed of bees anymore that you can acquire as a newbeek, only hybrids. It's not like dog breeding --there are only bees that are more or less like the strain of bee they appear to be. Consequently they behave only more or less like the bees they are purported to be. Anyone who tells you he's got pure Italians or pure Carnies or pure anything else simply doesn't know what he's talking about. [note: except for a handful of very esoteric bee breeders] Don't worry about what kind of bees you've got -- you'll know why after the first season. Relax. Just get some bees.

Don't put anything in your hive but bees! No poisons, chemicals, dopes, powdered sugar, herbal holistic concoctions, Co-operative Extension recommended 'treatments', or anything else. The bees know what they need. Don't sidetrack 'em; or make it harder for them; or make them weaker with some gawdawful crap some know-it-all told you you must use. Be an organic, natural beek. This is contrary to what your most successful know-it-alls will rant at you , they'll even get mad and demand you medicate your insects.  They will scream that you are raising diseased bees or that your bees will die from Varroa or zombies or something. Just smile. Go do your thing. (eventually you'll get familiar with the true scenarios of bee health and disease, then you can make your own decisions.)

Get some books. You'll be wondering just which book should be your chief guide or 'bible' as you start out. As a Newbeek, you'll always have that question,"What one book should I buy?" There are several that are helpful: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping. So far the best starter book to advise you about organic, natural beekeeping; The Hive and the Honey Bee - The standard textbook on beekeeping with 'standard equipment'; a big thick volume full of everything bee. Find an inexpensive used copy and keep it on your bookshelf; The Barefoot Beekeeper --Top Bar Beekeeping at its best. A lot about the philosophy you need to cultivate. Also, David Heaf, another Brit beekeeper, is most excellent on the better, more natural beekeeping ways with his The Bee-friendly Beekeeper, a sustainable approach.

Take them all with a grain of salt, but pay attention to what they're telling you. Any one of those I just listed will get you by. There are absolutely some crappy books out there too. By the time you've gotten through combing all the links provided for you here, you'll be able to critically detect the crappy ones. No worries.

Join your local Beekeeper's Association.
Keep your ears open, and your mouth shut. Take advantage of all the mentors have to teach. Don't worry if you decide to do stuff differently from 90% of the experienced members. The majority of them haven't gotten the word about how to 'save the bees' and avoid old school thinking yet. Mostly, they're still trapped in commercial, factory-farm bee mode. They're CCD-philic . Learn what you can (there's lots they can teach you.) Then go home and do things your way.

Join the better bee forums.
This is where you get to fill in the gaps in your knowledge, ask stupid questions, and become acquainted with all those curmudgeon know-it-all experienced beeks. They have LOTS to teach you. Here's some places you should be, and why:
Feral Bee Project -- How to preserve the feral and untreated survivor honeybee colonies. Be careful with these guys, too, if you're a newbeek.
Backyard Beekeeping - your basic hobby beekeeping discussion.
Warrebeekeeping - bee-friendly, sustainable beekeeping based on the hive of Abbé Emile Warré. This is where the best Beeks post. (By the way, an excellent summary of how to begin Warré beekeeping can be found at this link. It has lots of links to more detailed information, too!)

In a week or two you will discover that if you put three beekeepers in a website together you'll get a dozen opinions about each and every tiny detail of beekeeping. (It helps to remember that in reality there is always more than one way to skin a cat. pssst ... don't tell them that, though.)

Ask questions. Email me or somebody else you like. We'll try to get you good answers.

Finally, Read this blog link for excellent advice for a more traditional approach to getting started. (This is probably the kind of "How To" post some of you were looking for anyway.)


Friday, January 1, 2010

Beekeeping Links

This is an ever-expanding list of important links, bookmark us and check back often. .. And links get broken, websites die. If you find a dead link please let me know[02/01/12 -- just did a comprehensive weed-out and removed all the dead links. New links are a-comin']


Bees -- lots of articles, links, info – bee biology, pics, equip, general how to - FedGov pages on pollinators  - basic info on Mason Bees -suppliers of Mason bees, they answer questions too.

Beekeeping Guides, Articles, Resources - start here, most everything you need to know. But be careful of the "only one right way" syndrome on some info. -David Heaf's books The Bee-Friendly Beekeeper, his new Warré manual, plus his Warré pages - "ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture" -- The major compilation of all things honeybee. This is a free download of the whole book. Hint - most beeks have a treasured older hardbound copy, with a publishing date wayyyy back before the advent of chems and poisons and factory-farmed bees. Those copies show the old way of beekeeping in detail. Think of this book more like a dictionary/encyclopedia, not a "How to" template, though. -- .pdf of the original book "Langstroth on the Hive and the Honey-Bee". Download this to go with your ABC/XYZ and you'll have a fundamental reference library of standard beekeeping knowledge. - I've described this in several blog places. The best natural way beginning beekeeper's guide. – multi-page how to, plans, etc -- Canadian info; resouces -- beekeepers general info. So much to absorb. – Beekeeping Pure and Simple – Guide, general info, links --Master Beekeeper Course, articles, online guide -- summaries of bee science, info Langstroth How to Guide and basic guide – info, articles, wide range of everything – online forum, beekeeping discussions, lessons -- OSU Honeybee Lab -- useful information for Oregon Beeks -- everything about swarms the home of Bee Improvement in Britain and Ireland. Download helpful software  - Waggle Dance - swarm and bait-hives, plus links to this blog's 300 hive ideas

Beekeeping Supplies click through to their online beekeeping catalog. Almost everything beek. There are other suppliers you can google, but these guys are my locals and good folk.

Hive Information:
TBH - Barefoot Beekeeper – Phillip Chandler's Brit Top Bar Hive -make sure to sign up for the forum! – comprehensive, major source - info; construction =-- Cornwall TBH, supplies, info -- TBH blog, plans, etc. construction plans, blog -- TBH site with info, how to, plans

Warré - Guide to beginning beekeeping with Warrés - Plans, info, Nick Hamilton site

Langstroth - plans, info, accessory plans -- history and design

Lane County Oregon Beekeepers Assoc.

Oregon State Beekeepers Association

Beekeeping Discussion Forums - their section for new beekeepers forum for low-cost, low-impact, sustainable beekeeping for everyone - their beginners startup section

Misc Accessories – swarm frame – top entrance info - a bucket for collecting swarms or transporting cut-outs.
Online Beekeeping to set up hive record keeping and track your beekeeping activities (free)

Organic Beekeeping - Beekeeping Naturally. - good for soaking up atmosphere of the Way. - article – sustainable beekeeping wiki – Golden Hive, holistic beekeeping, Melissa Garden Home

Specific Beekeeping Procedures
ttp:// - my beek association's guide to installing pkg bees – feeding - planting for pollinator support. - how to build Mason Bee Blocks

Interesting and Useful Blogs 
I put most of these on my blog list on the front page, but time to time others will land here first: - really great TBH/Warre blog well known, highly informative beek blog Phillip Chandler's blog. gotta read it! -- SF Beekeeper’s blog, sustainable, rad -Beemaster's International Beekeeping WebRing -- look at that bottom board! - bees and fascinating other stuff, so good! - 300 different beehive designs, 93+ plans for beekeeping equipment