December 06, 2009

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Top Bar and Warre Hives: 2009 Season Recap

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.

Happy holidays!

July 06, 2009

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Willow Tree Absconds and an Interesting Discovery

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.

Clumping:

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.

The swarm:

The stragglers:

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.

The contraption:

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.

June 08, 2009

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Swarm Pictures, Traps, Heat and Harvest

It's been an exciting couple of months. We're now back up to 23 hives as one of our new-found neighbors wanted to keep the swarm that showed up on their property. Fortuitously, they have the most amazing garden of all Oak Grove, Oregon, and are inclined to trade us an almost-unlimited supply of beautiful organic produce.

The top bar hives throughout Oak Grove/Milwaukie, Oregon are absolutely booming. The two top bar hives in our back yard are so full of bees that at night, when the entire population is home, there are at least 1000 bees huddling together outside the entrance. Out of the 30 bars they've been given, they've already filled up at least 26, meaning that harvest time is here! Yesterday I harvested the first bar of honeycomb from one of the backyard hives. Later this week, after acquiring 20 food grade buckets, I will be harvesting from the rest in preparation for the massive loads of blackberry nectar that are beginning to show up.

 Comb prior to crushing and straining a comb that isn't capped, but we ate it anyway!: 

From 6-2-09 Photos

 

 

Comb after crushing:

From 6-2-09 Photos

Here's are some pictures of one of the Warre hive swarms from our backyard last month:

From 6-2-09 Photos
From 6-2-09 Photos

As said before, the blackberries are beginning to flow in the Pacific Northwest. Being our largest nectar flow, I am excited to see how quickly the girls fill up their top bar hives. I am a tad concerned about the winery Warre hives as they haven't been inclined to build in the bottom box, thus likely making them interested in swarming as their populations begin to rise. I moved a few bars of comb down to the bottom box on all the Warre hives in hopes that they will begin building below. Next weekend I'll check them and plan to see gloriously-full boxes ready for a third.

Here's a view into a top bar hive from a few weeks ago:

In the window:

From 6-2-09 Photos

Bee chains:

From 6-2-09 Photos

View from inside:

From 6-2-09 Photos

Bar removed:

From 6-2-09 Photos

The past few weeks have been incredibly hot for the Portland metro area, with temperatures reaching the low-90s, leaving the bees working overtime attempting to cool their hives and evaporate their honey. Here's a picture of one of the hives at Eleanore's house in Oak Grove attempting to stay cool:

From 6-2-09 Photos

Over the past month I've also had the opportunity to do a great deal of education of neighbors and the public on beekeeping and foundationless methods. Here's another shot of Eleanore's yard where I was giving a brief overview of top bar beekeeping to the neighborhood leaders:

From 6-2-09 Photos

Lastly, one of my favorite hives that has been most prolific swarmed a couple weeks ago and landed on the same tree all of the other swarms frequent. To my delight, dozens of bees were checking out the swarm trap on the back of our shed. I decided to let nature take it's course, in hope that the bees would find the trap to be a worthy home. Sadly, I returned from wine country to find the bees were gone and the trap was empty.

Swarm:

From 6-2-09 Photos

View of trap from swarm:

From 6-2-09 Photos

Trap being closely examined by scout bees:

From 6-2-09 Photos

Even the bumble bees don't like the heat!:

From 6-2-09 Photos

 

May 18, 2009

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What a Month!

Whew! I can't believe we've made it! From late March until the first week of May it has been nonstop bee tasks. Building hives. Placing hives. Ordering bees. Installing bees. Feeding bees. Managing bees. Catching bees. My family is quite thankful that the brunt of the chaos is subsiding and now we can (hopefully) enjoy the mundane tasks that remain. Hah!

On Monday, April 6th I installed 10 packages of bees (5 Italian and 5 Carniolan) at three different locations in Milwaukie/Oak Grove, Oregon. Exhausting. We arose early to begin preparations, including: 10 quarts of syrup, 10 feeder jars, 100 top bars popsicled and waxed, marshmallows procured, syrup placed in spraybottle and a multitude of other items I put off until the last minute/realization.

At around 1:00PM we hopped in the truck and met the cameraman from the Oregonian at Ruhl Bee Supply to document the process of purchasing and installing bees throughout our neighborhood.

For any of you who haven't had the opportunity to be in the presence of  10,000,000 bees (1000 packages), I must urge you to do so before it's too late. Simply watching the reaction of spouses, children and others who are less-inclined toward bees crawing on their faces is worth it.

Here's are some photos of the package pick-up:

From Bee Thinking - 4/6/09-5/18/09
From Bee Thinking - 4/6/09-5/18/09
From Bee Thinking - 4/6/09-5/18/09

Our cameraman was a trooper, indeed. He looked dazed as he walked into the room full of bees, and slowly crept out of the warehouse and took photos from afar.

After picking up the packages we headed home to install the first three packages into one Warre hive and two top bars.  I did the Warre first without a veil and was promptly stung in the ear. Since then I've been wearing a veil when installing packages!

Here are some photos of the first three installations:

From Bee Thinking - 4/6/09-5/18/09
From Bee Thinking - 4/6/09-5/18/09

Here they are today:

From Bee Thinking - 4/6/09-5/18/09

 

 

After that we headed to Eleanore's (one of my hive hosts) house to install 4 packages into top bar hives. She has a beautiful property that looks as if it was created for top bar hives!

From Bee Thinking - 4/6/09-5/18/09
From Bee Thinking - 4/6/09-5/18/09
From Bee Thinking - 4/6/09-5/18/09

Lastly we went to Charlie's to install the remaining 3 packages and everything went swimmingly. Sadly, a couple weeks later I was forced to move them due to his neighbor's fear of honey bees stinging his children's bare feet as they prance through the clover. Thankfully, I am confident they have a better home here in this incredible orchard only a mile from our home!

From Bee Thinking - 4/6/09-5/18/09

The day after the first 10 packages were installed we were getting our rotting willow tree cut down. Early that morning I showed the arborists the top bar hive windows and they were enamored. A few hours later I received a call that there was a beehive in our tree approximately 15 feet off the ground. Sure enough, I got home and saw bees happily buzzing in and out as if nothing had happened to their humble abode:

From Bee Thinking - 4/6/09-5/18/09

The plan in the next month or so is to have the arborist return and cut down the portion with the bees and set it gently in our yard. We'll leave them alone and allow them to use it as a "bee gum."

10 days after installing the first packages I received my first swarm call and promptly responded to a home near Reed College. Here's the evidence:

From Bee Thinking - 4/6/09-5/18/09
From Bee Thinking - 4/6/09-5/18/09
From Bee Thinking - 4/6/09-5/18/09

A few weeks later during the last week of April I met Cedar Glen Bees in Jantzen Beach, Oregon to pick up the first five packages of bees (Minnesota Hygienics) of the ten I ordered from them. Despite the rain and cold weather, my packages were still alive!

From Bee Thinking - 4/6/09-5/18/09

The next day I installed 3 of them at Sokol Blosser Winery and 2 of them at Cameron Winery in Dundee, Oregon. Sadly, 1 of the Sokol Blosser hives absconded -- my only package to abscond of the season! I'm quite pleased with the 95% success rate.

Sokol Blosser:

From Bee Thinking - 4/6/09-5/18/09

Cameron:

From Bee Thinking - 4/6/09-5/18/09

A few days later I drove up to Seattle and met a nice gentleman driving down from Northern Washington with my final 5 packages of Buckfast bees. We met on Pike street (the main drag) in an alley. Really.  I must say, rounding the corner of Pike street carrying 50,000 bees, only to watch dozens of bystanders diving into the street, screaming in terror is one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life.

Of the final five packages, 2 were installed at Cameron winery (bringing the total there to 4) and 3 were installed at Lachini Vineyards.

Lachini:

From Bee Thinking - 4/6/09-5/18/09

A couple weeks ago I received a call from my neighbor that my willow tree hive was swarming. Sure enough, I got home to find a decent swarm irritatingly clumped at the base of a tree at the edge of our yard:

From Bee Thinking - 4/6/09-5/18/09

After 30-40 minutes of kicking and brushing I finally got the queen into the box, packed them up and took them to Zenger Farm.

It has been tiring, trying, frustrating, exciting and ultimately a wonderful learning experience. I look forward to the next swarm, the next sting and the next day!

April 14, 2009

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Melting Wax Easily

For a month I read, pondered, tested and finally decided on what seems to be the ideal, cost-effecive, clean method of melting and applying wax to top bars and anything else; the Presto Kitchen Kettle!

Simply put in a chunk of wax, set the kettle to warm and within a minute or two you are left with a beautiful puddle of wax that can easily be poured, painted or applied in any fashion you desire.

The first 200 top bars that we made for the 10 top bar hives were completed using the painstaking heat-wax-and-kneel-by-the-oven method. The kitchen kettle can be placed anywhere -- even in one's shop or outdoors and it never gets the wax too hot. You can find one of these for approximately $30 at most stores.

My decision to go with this wax melting tool was inspired by this site: http://www.candletech.com/general-information/do-it-yourself-wax-melter/

April 09, 2009

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First 10 Bee Packages Installed

What a week! After more than 6 months of planning and building, the first 10 packages in the 20 hive apiary expansion have been installed. 5 packages of Italians and 5 packages of Carniolans arrived at Ruhl Bee Supply on Monday, after a trek from Northern California's Oliveraz Bee Company. It was an unusually warm day -- almost 80 degrees in April!

My wife, a photographer from the Oregonian and I met at Ruhl, waited in line for 20 minutes to pay and then entered the holy of holies: The small warehouse containing over 10,000,000 honey bees -- 1000 packages. Our photographer was obviously taken aback by the sight and intense sound, but slowly began to adjust to the idea.

We got our packages, carted them to the truck and proceeded to strap them down for the 3 mile trip to our Oak Grove home where the first three packages were to be installed.

Packages in truck bed:

From Hive Install 4-6-09

Upon arrival we quickly unloaded them, placed them in a shady spot, squirted each of them with some syrup and then I began hiving them, one at a time.

Packages awaiting new homes:

From Hive Install 4-6-09

Our hives:

From Hive Install 4-6-09

First, I gingerly procured the queen from one of the Carniolan packages and quickly replaced the can so as not to release too many unhappy bees. I removed the cork, covered the hole with my thumb and inserted a small marshmellow where the cork had resided.  After that I removed all but the bottom box from the Warre hive, placed the queen cage in the back corner and removed a few bars above her. I grabbed the package, slammed it down to get the bees to the bottom, removed the can, upturned it and began pouring them in on top of the cage. I set the package down for a moment as I got stung in the ear. After swearing, I replaced the bars and added the top box and poured the rest of the bees into that one. I leaned the package against the entrance, added the feeder box and top and walked away from the mass of frantic bees.

Dumping bees time lapse:

From Hive Install 4-6-09
From Hive Install 4-6-09
From Hive Install 4-6-09
From Hive Install 4-6-09
From Hive Install 4-6-09

Replacing bars:

From Hive Install 4-6-09

Almost entirely in their new home:

From Hive Install 4-6-09

I then proceeded to perform the same process on the 9 top bar hives -- 2 at our home, and the remaining 7 split between two neighbors yards.

Mentoring soon-to-be-beekeeper:

From Hive Install 4-6-09

It was an exhausting day, but I'm glad we got it done. And I'm glad the Oregonian was there to document the process. The article should be in MIX Magazine in May or June.

This week I continue preparing the 10 Warre hives that will receive the next shipment of bees. It has been determined that 3 hives will be placed at Sokol Blosser Winery, 4 at Lachini Vineyards and 3 at Cameron Winery. I look forward to it!

More photos and video to come.

March 23, 2009

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Warre Roofs Completed

Yesterday I dropped off my wife at work, procured some coffee from the local coffee house and proceeded home, determined to make headway on the remaining hive projects. After 5.5 hours of measuring, ripping and screwing boards, here are the results:

10 beautiful Warre roofs:

From Shop 3-22-09

It took over 70 feet of cedar, 180 screws, produced a lot of sawdust (which I bagged to use for the quilts), but finally got me over the hump in this 20 hive production project. At this point I'm left with creating some top bar roofs, windows, mounting screens, creating Warre quilts, Warre stands, and a few hundred more top bars. I think everything is on track for the hives to be placed in the first week of April.

Here are some more images of what it's like creating 10 Warre roofs at a time:

70 wood pieces, recently ripped:

From Shop 3-22-09

Waiting for roofs:

From Shop 3-22-09

 

March 21, 2009

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The Final Touches Remain

Two nights ago I picked up 170 linear feet of Cedar -- Upon arriving home and stickering it it looked like this:

From Shop

After today's work it looks like this:

From Shop

Today I completed the body of the final top bar hive, in addition to 12 more Warre boxes, bringing the total to 31 boxes. This should be enough for the 10 Warre hives until the nectar flow is really going. At this point I need to focus on building roofs, floors, top bars, windows and other miscellaneous portions of the hives so that they are ready to be in place at the wineries by the first week of April.

Today's images:

Soon to be 12 Warre boxes:

From Shop

Walla!:

From Shop

The last top bar hive on the assembly line:

From Shop

A lot of warre boxes, most awaiting handles and bars:

From Shop

The first top bar hive in place at headquarters:

From Shop 
March 19, 2009

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Hot Bees

Yesterday afternoon was an unusually beautiful day. The sun was shining, the clouds were parting and the bees were billowing in and out of the hive, covered from head to foot in pollen. This, of course, gave me a great desire to open the hive and take the first peak in a couple months.

Not knowing how they'd take to the intrusion I suited up, smoked them and began dismantling their abode. The first few frames (Langstroth hive) were okay, though I had a few more dive bombers than usual in the summer/fall. I pulled the fourth frame and WHAM! Dozens of bees began a full-out assault on my face.  I calmly put the frames back and began sealing them back up and they became a tad more hospitable.

I look forward to Spring when the nectar flow is on and they have not a care in the world but to increase their stores and, most likely, swarm. I will always have a soft spot for the first Langstroth hive of my apiary, and even though I don't plan to add any more, I certainly don't plan to get rid of this one!

March 08, 2009

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Less Than A Month Until Package Bees

Vacations, work and other endeavors have kept me from spending much time with Bee Thinking. In the past month I've only had time to build one more Warre hive, leaving me with 8 to go before placing them at their respective wineries and backyards in early April prior to the arrival of the packages. The next three weekends and many evenings will certainly be spent covered in sawdust, making vigorous use of templates and mass production to build the remaining hives. In addition, I hope to have sufficient time to coat each of them in linseed oil and beeswax to extend the longevity of each hive in Oregon's wet environment, thus reducing maintenance in the years to come.

A few weeks ago I surveyed a number of wineries that have requested Bee Thinking hives in order to determine suitability for bees. I took into account seclusion from public, accessibility for management, available flowers for forage, water, protection from wind, exposure to sunlight and believe I've settled on 3-4 ideal locations for hive placement during the 2009 beekeeping season. Upon further discussion with the winery owners I will let you know the final hive layout plan.

Furthermore, Bee Thinking is now the first and only beekeeping-related website on the EcoMetro guide - a popular green and sustainable business directory covering a number of eco-friendly cities, including Portland, Oregon.

Pictures coming as soon as I return from San Antonio, Texas!