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:
What a year! We’ve been so busy since July that we’ve had little spare time to update the blog.
Here’s a recap of the 2009 beekeeping season at Bee Thinking: In April this year we started 8 horizontal top bar hives and 12 Warre hives throughout the Portland area as well as at three wineries: Cameron, Sokol Blosser and Lachini. 20 packages and numerous swarms populated the hives, ultimately reaching a peak of around 25 hives.
Horizontal top bar hives: We kept all of our top bar hives close to our home in Oak Grove due to the frequent visits needed during the honey flow to keep them from becoming honey bound – 2 top bar hives in our yard, 4 at Eleanore’s, 3 at Carol’s. All of these hives were started from packages from Ruhl Bee Supply, who received them from a supplier in northern California.
We are aware of at least 3 swarms from the hives at Eleanore’s house – all, we believe, from Carniolan colonies. This is likely due to the increased sun exposure at that location and less frequent visits than recommended to keep the hives from becoming honey bound. Toward the end of the season we became aware of one of the Carniolan colonies that had absconded and subsequently removed that hive and are storing it in preparation for the coming season.
No known swarms from the top bar hives at Carol’s house – a beautiful orchard filled with bee-friendly plants. All of these colonies are Italians, which could make the difference. In addition, there is less sun exposure at this location.
In our yard we had our two largest colonies – comb built from one end to the other in the hive, almost entirely filled with brood and honey. Sadly, toward the end of the season we noticed that one of the colonies was getting decimated by Varroa, both from seeing the mites themselves, as well as numerous bees with deformed wings. In October the hive perished and we promptly got the honey before it was robbed out. One horizontal top bar hive remains in our yard and we are excited to see if it makes it to the 2010 season.
Warre Hives: In the beginning of the season we placed all but two of our Warre hives in wine country at the aforementioned wineries. These bees were purchased from Cedar Glen bees up in Washington – a company that has received a lot of bad press this year due to dozens of failed package deliveries. Thankfully, we received all of our Minnesota Hygienic and Buckfast bees alive and kicking. In fact, these are some of our strongest, most resilient hives it seems.
Within the first couple weeks we found that one of the Minnesota Hygienic colonies at Sokol Blosser Winery had absconded. This brought our total Warre hives to 10 (9 in wine country and 1 in Oak Grove). Overall we visited the wine country hives no more than 5-6 times during the season, largely leaving them alone per Abbe Warre’s command! We are unaware of any swarms, and care little either way.
We did have issues, as many throughout the world did this year, of bees unwilling to draw comb below the top box. This could be attributed to many factors, but it was a particularly bad honey year in the Pacific Northwest, and we plan to do nothing different next year with the surviving hives. We’ll add boxes at the start of the season as warranted and remove them at the end of the season. We’re hoping that the 2010 season will have better results.
Due to the burden of driving 45 miles to wine country, we decided to bring all of our Warre hives (except for the Sokol Blosser colonies) in from wine country and back to Oak Grove for the winter. This is also due to the fact that our Warre hives in Oak Grove filled 3-4 boxes with comb/honey, while the winery hives maxed out at 3. This makes us think that there are far more nectar sources available in the city of Oak Grove/Milwaukie than in the desolate wasteland of Yamhill county.
Swarms: In April-June we received dozens of swarm calls, a good number of them we responded to. The earliest swarm call proved to be the largest and most fruitful colony that we had all season. It came from a neighborhood in SE Portland by Reed College and weighed at least 4 pounds. We populated a second Warre hive in our yard with the swarm and they were amazing bees: Foraging in sub 50 degree temperatures in the rain, while all of the package bees next to them were unwilling.
Honey: This season we largely left our foundationless hives alone honey-wise, as honey production was so low this year that we didn’t want to make it harder on the new colonies. From our lone Langstroth hive that was started in 2008, we did manage to harvest approximately 80 pounds.
Store: In June the Bee Thinking top bar beekeeping store opened and the response has been amazing. We’ve received numerous orders, inquiries, e-mails of support and we are thankful to all of you for making our foundationless beekeeping store the best on the internet. This Winter we are working diligently to prepare our stock of horizontal top bar hives and Warre hives in preparation for the influx of orders that we anticipate in the Spring.
Please get your order in soon if you are looking to start a top bar hive – horizontal or vertical – during the 2010 season. Or, if you can’t make the order yet, please contact us to let us know that you are planning to make an order later so that we can have your hive ready.
We love your suggestions and advice, so please feel free to contact us and let us know your opinion of our site, our hives or anything else that’s on your mind!
If you haven’t visited the top bar beekeeping store yet, please take a look here!http://www.beethinking.com/store
Classes: In the first quarter of 2010 we are planning to host a number of top bar beekeeping classes for beginners as well as seasoned beekeepers looking to try their hand at top bar beekeeping. Stay tuned to http://www.beethinking.com for updates.
As many of you know, when my wife and I purchased our home it came with an ancient willow tree in the backyard. Shortly after moving in we had an arborist inspect it and learned that it was rotten and required removal. As they were cutting it down they found a honey bee colony inside and I had them leave the remaining phallic tree standing in the yard for months until I had time to deal with it.
A few weeks ago, due to a number of circumstances, we had to get the remaining tree down, hive and all. I piled mulch up at the point where I expected the hive opening to hit the ground. Thankfully, as the tree fell, the hive opening landed directly on the mulch, leaving the bees unable to escape for 20-30 minutes as the rest of the wood was removed.
Finally, after removing the wood, my friend and I heaved the massive, bee-filled stump onto it's end so that the bees could resume foraging. The bees were completely calm after their violent ordeal.
Moving the stump:
Last week we finally had the truck and people available to drag the 500+lb. stump next to my two top bar and Warre hives in the yard. The dragging went well, and I left a small hive at the old stump location to collect the remaining foragers who returned to find their hive missing.
Moving stump again:
This past week the weather has been terribly hot (for the Portland, OR area), reaching the mid-90s on some days. The bees in all my hives have been bearding accordingly, but the tree stump hive was especially beard-y, with what looked like at least a few thousand clumped over the small entrance all day and all night.
Three days ago I was squatting in front of the stump hive, observing the mass of bees as they would gently part to allow foragers to push their way through. Then the swarm began. Thousands and thousands began billowing out of the stump, tumbling, rolling and falling out of the hive onto the ground, into the air, onto me, etc.
The cloud hovered for a moment and then began moving up, up into our neighbor's maple tree to a branch at about 25-30 feet high. The stump looked almost entirely depleted of bees. Fresh, yellow-white combs could be seen where thousands of bees once rested. A few fuzzy, obviously young bees remained, wandering aimlessly around the entrance of the hive, deserted by their colony.
I was eager to use a crazy German method of removing swarm clusters from high branches that makes use of a combination of 4" pipes, a funnel and a stocking. I attached the funnel at the one end of two 10' pipes and tied one of my wife's stockings to the other. The idea is that while prodding the bee clump with the funnel, the bees fall down the pipe into the stocking. Once they are all in one can simply dump them into a hive and all is well.
One suggestion: Buy schedule 200 pipe -- nothing larger! 20' of thick pipe becomes very unwieldy when you're attempting to finesse 30,000 bees into a funnel.
With the help of my wife, our neighbor and a couple of ladders, we were finally able to reach the bee clump and I prodded them a few times with the funnel. It began working. Bees were falling down the pipe into the stocking. We brought down the contraption carefully and set it on the ground. At least half of the clump was buzzing unhappily in the funnel. I dumped them into a small nuc-sized top bar hive I had on hand and then unattached the stocking and dumped the remaining bees in the box and closed it up most of the way.
As I was closing it, however, I noticed something odd: Hundreds of disfigured, blackened bees. Some were missing heads, abdomens, legs, etc. Two gentle prods with a funnel constructed out of a political sign couldn't do this, I thought. They looked like bees that had been overheated or had water poured on them. Update: While reading American Bee Journal I was reminded that when bees overheat they often vomit up their stomach contents, which can give them a wet appearance. This often happens to packages when they overheat. This could explain the wet, blackened look of the bees.
The dead and dying bees:
Notice the blackened coloring of the bees, as well as the wetness:
After 20-30 minutes the bees were piling out of the box, an obvious sign that the queen was still up on the tree branch. I looked inside the box after most of the bees were out to inspect the remaining bees, corpses and parts. It was a ghastly sight. My only conjecture is that when the hive was 20' up in the Willow Tree, shaded by leaves and branches, they never experienced the temperatures that they did when they were cut down and moved to the direct sunlight next to my other hives. While all of the other hives have ample room to cluster, fan, and manage the hive temperature, the stump entrance is only a couple inches wide and was covered from top to bottom with thousands of bees, with no noticeable fanning. Over the week of high temperatures they were essentially cooking inside of the stump and finally couldn't take it more and decided to abscond.
Some of the bees could have certainly been injured by the funnel prodding, but the extent of the damage was far greater than could be sustained by a couple pokes with a flimsy funnel.