Earlier this month we finally completed our first run of top bar hive nucleus boxes. They are a wonderful addition to the apiary of any top bar beekeeper! Perfect for swarm catching, splitting colonies, and overwintering small nucs. Conveniently sized, we carry them in the back of our cars and trucks at all times so that we're always ready for the next swarm call!
They are constructed from the same beautiful kiln dried Western Red Cedar used on the rest of our top bar hives, Warre hives, and Cedar Langstroth hives. They feature 7 top bars and 1 divider, and a roof covered in sheet metal to keep out the elements. Pre-drilled and easy to assembly in a few minutes. $99 with free shipping to the lower 48 states.
They've been a long time in the making, but we finally finished the first batch of cedar Langstroth hives. They are constructed from the same wonderful kiln dried Western Red Cedar used on the rest of our hives. Boxes available in shallow, medium and deep in both 8-frame and 10-frame configurations. Cedar hive kits with a roof, inner cover and either solid or screened bottom are also available. All hives boxes and cedar hive kits include FREE SHIPPING to the contiguous 48 states!
Cedar Hive Kit with Medium Boxes - Starting At $144.99
Deep Box - Starting at $36.99
Medium Box - Starting at $32.99
Shallow Box - Starting at $29.99
Daylight Savings Time has come, which tells us that Bee Season is almost here. What a year it's been! In April of 2012 we moved Bee Thinking from its tiny, 1,000 square foot space in the Sellwood Neighborhood of Portland to a 3,000 square foot facility in the SE Hawthorne Neighborhood.
In May of last year Williams-Sonoma approached us about selling our hives (top bar hives and Warre hives) through their website and catalog. This, of course, was flattering and exciting news! In order to keep up with the demand and further refine the quality of our products, we built a relationship with a new manufacturer. We're now able to produce at least 300 hives at a time, all consistently quality controlled and ready to ship to our customers worldwide.
Due to the increased demand for our hives, we've also increased our staff from 2 to 4, with Alyssa starting as our full-time manager in July. This staffing increase has better enabled us to handle the deluge of orders, phone calls and e-mails that come with the spring rush. We're doing our best to keep up, usually shipping orders within a day or two, but sometimes we get backed up. Please bear with us!
We're teaching at least 2 beekeeping classes per month (sign up for beekeeping classes), with most of them filling up long before the date of the class (Sign up soon if you plan to take one this spring)! We also had a Mead Making class earlier this year that was a great success. We plan to continue mead making classes and begin offering other bee-related classes in the near future.
We're continuing to innovate by improving current products offering new ones based on requests from our customers. Our top bar hive now features a full-length window, a modification that has been requested for a long time. Our new products that will be available soon include top bar hive screened bottoms, Western Red Cedar Langstroth hives (available for pre-order), and top bar hive nucleus boxes.
Swarms should begin around the start of April. In fact, in 2011 and 2012 our first swarms of the year were on Easter day. We're working hard to prepare for swarm season, and we're planning on adding dozens of bait hives all over the city to ensure we capture as many swarms as possible, while also keeping them from moving into walls.
Happy bee season, all!
The Bee Thinking storefront in Portland, OR, will be closed on December 25th through January 1st due to the holidays. It has been a wonderful 2012 and we are thankful for each beekeeper and bee (knowledge) seeker we were able to meet and help out. By far our favorite part of Bee Thinking is the people we get to meet and chat bees with.
Even though our storefront will be closed, you all can still shop to your heart’s content on our website http://www.beethinking.com/. We will be shipping some orders on December 26th. However, most orders during this time will go out on January 2nd.
Bee Thinking Regular Business Hours:
Tuesday - Saturday 10 am - 6 pm
Tuesday, December 25th - Tuesday, January 1st
Thanks for making this a very wonderful 2012. We look forward to serving your beekeeping needs in 2013! Happy holidays!
Check out our most recent podcast with The Survival Podcast!
What is a quilt box? is one of the most common questions we receive. It is essentially a small box with burlap or screen on the bottom, filled with sawdust, cedar shavings or some other organic material. The box sets on top of the topmost box the bees inhabit and is said to "absorb moisture" and "retain the nest scent and heat." But does it?
A customer of ours recently gathered some data on this very subject by using temperature sensors in his identical Langstroth hives. He added a quilt box to one of them, and left the other one untouched. Here are the identical hives:
Here is the quilt box:
Here is the data he gathered:
Note that the temperature fluctuates far less on Hegemone (the hive to which the quilt box was added).
In the next week he plans to add a solid bottom to one of the hives to see what impact it has on the temperature.
Each year we receive hundreds of calls from homeowners with "bees" that they'd like removed. Often they are, indeed, honey bees. At least 1/3 of the time, however, they are bumble bees, hornets, wasps or yellow jackets (a type of wasp). I'm not aware of any wasp/hornet removal services other than extermination. There are some who remove bumble bees, but usually I recommend to customers that they just leave them until winter, as they will die out.
Few people realize that there are upwards of 20,000 types of bees in the world, and more than 4,000 in North America alone. This doesn't even include hornets or wasps! Do note that all hornets are technically wasps...
Yesterday we received an e-mail from someone with what they thought was a bee's nest hanging from their eave. This should be the first indication that it is NOT honey bees, as they tend to live inside cavities as opposed to in exposed nests.
Here's a picture of the wasp/hornet's nest:
Yellow jackets are a type of wasp that often lives in the ground. This is the most common call we receive, and the first question I ask is, "Where is the nest?" If it's in the ground I assure them it's not honey bees, but likely yellow jackets! Yellow jackets, like bumble bees, die out over the winter in northern states. So if they are out of the way and not bothering you or your family, you can leave them alone until winter and then plug up the hole.
Bumble bees come in a tremendous array of shapes, sizes and colors. They usually live in the ground or in some other small cavity such as a bird house or mailbox. Most of the time they are very docile, with little interest in humans, though like any stinging insect they can be aggressive if provoked.
Here's an example of a sparrow house being used as a bumble bee nest:
Honey bees prefer to live in elevated (as opposed to in the ground) cavities such as walls, chimneys or trees. They tend to be very docile even if you are standing directly in front of their hive.
If you've got some "bees" you'd like removed, please make sure that they aren't wasps/hornets or bumble bees. If they are honey bees we will do our best to help you out!
One of the most frequently asked questions I hear from our customers is how to harvest and process honey from a top bar hive or a Warre hive. I find this to be one of the simplest and most rewarding aspects of these two beekeeping methods, and I love the fact that I don’t need an extractor, an uncapping tool, foundation or other items to get the job done.
Let me start with honey harvesting from a top bar hive. I generally don’t harvest honey from first year top bar hives unless they are overly full (from one end to the other), or if some of their combs get out of control and need to be removed to avoid future disasters.
I usually harvest in mid to late afternoon on days that aren’t terribly warm. This way there will be fewer bees in the hive to notice their honey being plundered. The honey combs will be at the end of the hive farthest away from the brood nest where the colony was started. Often the last couple combs aren’t fully capped, which means they should generally be left inside the hive. If you go a few bars in you will likely find a comb or two that are fully capped and ready to be harvested. The quickest method and the one I prefer to use is to remove the comb and simply brush the bees off of it. Once they are off I either put it in a sealed Tupperware container or bucket, or take it indoors where the bees can’t get to it. The other method that works is to do the harvest at dusk, just before it gets dark. Remove the comb and set it 5-10 feet from the hive. As long as there is no brood in the comb the bees should quickly evacuate and move back to their hive.
Honey harvesting from a Warre hive works a bit differently. As part of the Warre system, the empty boxes are added below in the spring and honey-laden boxes are harvested from the top in the fall. This makes for a relatively simple harvest that can yield a tremendous amount of honey (Each box of honey can weigh between 40-50lbs). Much like our top bar hives, we usually don’t harvest from our Warre hives during their first season. A typical Warre hive needs 2-3 boxes in which to overwinter. If the bottom two boxes have plenty of honey, the top box can be harvested as well.
Here in Oregon we generally harvest honey from our Warre hives in September. At dusk I start with a puff or two of smoke in the entrance, wait for a minute and then begin removing the top boxes. Upon removing the top I’ll take off boxes one at a time and place them on their sides 5-10 feet from the hive and use the aforementioned evacuation method to rid the boxes of bees. If the boxes have combs that are removable, you could also remove the combs individually, brush them off and place them indoors or in a sealed container.
Others have used bee escapes with good luck, placing the bee escape between the boxes to be harvested and those below. Over a period of time most of the bees will make their way down through the escape and won’t be able to go back up into the honey stores.
Honey processing works similarly for both hive styles. Once the combs/boxes are out of the hives, crushing and straining is the next step.
It is easiest to process combs from top bar hives, as you don’t have to deal with removing them from the box. If you’ve got but one or two hives, your most cost-effective method of processing is to use a spoon, two mason jars and some cheese cloth.
Start by cutting the comb from the bar and dropping the pieces into the jar. As you drop them in, crush them up with the spoon to make room for the next piece. Once you’ve filled the jar with smashed up honey comb, attach some cheese cloth or screen over the opening with a rubber band. Now upturn the jar over an empty mason jar and watch as the honey leaks through the cloth and fills up the jar!
To use the same method with combs from a Warre box, start by flipping over the box so the bars are facing downward and the combs are facing upward. Take a knife or hive tool and cut the comb attachments from both sides so that the bars can be removed. At this point you can remove a couple bars at a time, cut the combs off and crush them up in the jar as described before. If your bars are nailed into the hive you can cut the combs out from the underside, as well as through the gaps in the bars from above. It’s best to leave a little comb (1/4 to ½ an inch) remaining on the bars to induce the colony to build in the box next season.
If you have dozens of hives like we do, mason jars aren’t the most efficient method. Instead we use a metal fruit press. Rather than placing the combs in a jar, we place them in the press and smash them up. From there we press the honey out of the comb into a bucket, leaving a small pancake of wax in the bottom of the press that can later be rendered. This allows us to press 15-25lbs of honey at a time, making quick work of the job!
The other option that works very well with foundationless hives is cut comb honey. I simply take a comb, lay it on a cutting board and cut it into squares.
It’s hard to believe it’s been more than two months since the last blog post! The bee season is quickly coming to a close and I feel like I’ve got so many tasks left to complete! It’s been a summer full of swarms, trap outs, honey processing, beekeeping events and some massive steps forward with our product line in preparation for 2011. Over the next week I'll be discussing all of these topics in detail.
Swarms: This year we had a long list of customers interested in populating their top bar hives and Warre hives with natural swarms rather than packages or nucleus colonies. After a chaotic spring and summer catching swarms and doing our best to coordinate pickup with customers, we are investigating simpler methods to provide honey bees to the foundationless beekeeping community. This may include a combination of top bar and Warre nucleus colonies from our own apiary as well as swarms to supplement.
Early this Spring I built around 20 top bar hive nucleus boxes, which are essentially 7 bar top bar hives with two entrance holes that can be closed with corks. They have the same internal dimensions as our full-size top bar hives, making for easy transfers for our customers (and for me!). They are the perfect size to throw in the trunk of your car or in your back seat, as swarms generally choose the least convenient times to make themselves known. As I would catch a swarm, I’d take it home and line it up next to a half dozen others awaiting pickup by customers, or to use for requeening or supplementing our own colonies.
Here are the nucs lined up in our back yard:
Working full-time in another career, running the beekeeping supply business, continuing education and attempting to be a good husband and dog owner makes time hard to come by. With so many swarm calls this season (at least 100), I became relatively picky about the swarms in order to increase efficiency. If the swarm was too far out of the way, or required more than a step ladder to catch, I generally passed the swarms off to more eager, less picky beekeepers and I’m glad I did!
Here are some photos of our Warre hives that a swarmed from neighboring colonies and decided the roofs were good resting places:
Populating a top bar nucleus colony with a swarm:
A very large swarm hanging from multiple branches of a tree:
Lastly, here's a video of a swarm leaving one of our Warre hives earlier this year: