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!

February 12, 2009

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The Warres Are Coming!

The past couple evenings I've been building the first Warré hive of 10+ to be deployed this Spring. I plan to place all Warré hives at the most remote outyards. The wineries in Dundee are the logical locations for these hives, and I think the reduced management (less than 5 times per year) will make them a more feasible option than top bar hives, which would require almost weekly maintenance during the height of the season. Close to Oak Grove (Milwaukie) I will be using a combination of top bar hives and Warrés, depending on the site.

From Warre

It should be relatively easy to mass produce the Warrés, as the plans are simple and the components are largely rectangles of various sizes cut out of cedar. You can see in the photo below the beginnings of the Bee Thinking Warré hive assembly line.

From Warre
In addition to hives, I will be building a lift to hoist the top boxes up to allow room to place additional boxes below. The genius of this method of beekeeping is that the colony is rarely disturbed, and the roof is only taken off once a year to harvest honey from the top boxes. In addition, it creates a perfect cycle of new comb, as new boxes are added below and full boxes are removed from the top, the brood continues to move downward into new boxes, thus reducing the opportunity for disease-laden comb.
February 09, 2009

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One (Mostly) Complete Warre and Nine To Go

Last night I completed the roof to the first Bee Thinking Warre hive, and I'm quite pleased with the results. They use approximately 30 board feet versus approximately 20 for the top bar hives, but I think the reduced maintenance and increased free time gained with the Warres will be invaluable. All that remains is to complete the quilt and top bars and then I will move on to the 9 other Warres necessary for the far reaches of our apiary.

From Warre
X
February 08, 2009

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Spring is Nigh and the Preparations are Well Under Way

By the beginning of April I expect to have a combination of Warré and top bar hives totaling 20 placed throughout the city of Portland and wine country (Dundee). Building hives, of course, isn't the only task I have to complete before spring. Two nights ago I completed two raised flower beds that will be placed almost directly in front of the hives along what will soon be a fence at the North side of our yard. This will provide maximum sun exposure given the massive willow tree to the south and the fence to the east.

Raised beds:

From Shop 2-7-09

Shop view:

From Shop 2-7-09

Yesterday, while Jill was at work, I finished the foundation of three top bar hives, bringing our total (if the pine hives are included) to 8. One or two more top bar hives and then I plan to focus almost entirely upon Warrés that will be placed at the distant locations such as Dundee. I suppose I need to make another run to Treecycle Northwest for cedar before construction is over!

Wood cut to size:

From Shop 2-7-09

Fruit of labor:

From Shop 2-7-09

In addition to building in the wonderful shop, I have spent many hours this past week working on Bee Thinking. Some notable additions have been the first multi-language support and a photo/video gallery. I must translate every article written for Bee Thinking at least to German, French and Italian. If you would like content translated to your own language, please contact me and I'll do my best to accommodate you.

I apologize for the delay in the monthly focus topic and new give away item. You should expect to see both early this week.