Monday, April 29, 2013

The Bees Arrive and Are Hived

Two weeks ago, I interviewed  beekeeper Ed Simon for my new radio show, Prairie Air (it's on a grassroots, volunteer streaming radio station, the COBB Radio), where I interview local artists, farmers and  interesting characters and play local music. It is also podcast, so you can hear past episodes, including the bee episode with Ed, at

Ed has written a book about building your own bee equipment and also sells equipment he has built. I have been wanting one of his a top bar hives (because I am no carpenter), so after the interview I ordered one. He called me up a few days later to tell me it was done - just in the nick of time because the very same day I got a call to come pick up my bees, several days earlier than expected.

Ed paints the hives, but for me the gray color was too boring, so I gussied it up with some vivid spring green paint and a sunflower/bee design. I found a sturdy old shelf I used to use for chicken nesting boxes in the barn, and it was a good height, so I set the hive upon it for a temporary base. I still prefer the architecture of the cute little Warre hives to the aesthetic of the top bar hives, but the top bar hives have some advantages in handling and none of my Warre hives have survived the winter yet, so I wanted to try the top bar style. I planned to have one hive each: Top Bar, Warre and Langstroth, but I thought one hive would survive the winter that didn't and only ordered two  packages of bees. So, I am putting the Warres into storage and hoping to acquire a swarm or a nuc (a very small starter hive of bees that some beekeepers raise to sell) later this spring.
The package of bees, ready for hiving.  It is resting upon a few of the bars that will go across the top, beneath the hive cover. Ed has glued popsicle sticks into a groove in the bar to make a ledge for the bees to start construction of their comb. (The  bars are set across the top with the ledges facing down and the bees construct their cone hanging from  them.)
I was installing the bees solo this year, so didn't get any photos of pouring the bees in or releasing the queen. (I had to work very fast and everything was too sticky to handle my camera.) I sprayed the bees with a little sugar-water so they wouldn't fly, then poured them into the right side of the  hive. I released the queen from her little box and quickly placed the bars over the top. There is a queen excluder in the partition, with openings large enough for the workers to pass through but not the queen. I put several large pieces of last year's comb with honey and pollen in that side to provide food until things start blooming.
The second package of bees, destined for the Langstroth hive.
Installing the bees in the Langstroth hive was less stressful than the top bar  because I have done it a few times now and felt like I sort of knew what I was doing. Since this hive did not survive the winter, I took advantage of a fresh start to change over from the  deep boxes I previously used for brood on the bottom to shorter boxes which are much easier to handle and move. Those wooden boxes get very heavy when full of wax and honey and bees! Beekeeping can be hard on the back.

The bottom opening is closed off and plugged with grass to prevent the bees from  flying out immediately - I don't know why they would, though; this hive is stocked with frames of honey and pollen and drawn comb, all ready to settle in and start raising new bees. The log on top is to prevent a strong gust of wind from lifting the top off the hive.
Both hives have had bees busily coming and going the past couple sunny days, although there has been no evidence of anything blooming for them yet. Perhaps they are finding  pussywillows in the woods or somebody in the neighborhood has crocuses blooming. (This morning I see we have squill starting to bloom, so at least they will have something to forage in our yard.)
The front of the hive has an observation panel, a window beneath my painting, so I have been peeking in daily. I am very concerned about this hive because there is still a big cluster of bees in the corner, three days later, presumably around the queen, with no drawn comb yet. My beekeeping mentor Tom will stop by later this morning to try to help me figure out what is going on. I will be so disappointed if something has happened to my queen.
This is the silly bee whiligig I also bought when I picked up my boxes of bees last Thursday. It will be the mascot of the bee and butterfly garden I am building outside the dining room window, near the hives. It pretty much whirls constantly and hopefully will deter any errant chickens from scratching up the tulips that are already planted there.

1 comment:

Susan said...

Good news on my top bar hive! My bee expert neighbor Tom came over to see what was going on with my top bar hive and informed me I had given the bees too much room- they were probably clustered in the corner to keep warm. He attached some empty drawn comb from his hive to one of the bars to give them a head start, we sprayed it with sugar water and inserted it. Then we shifted the bars and divider over to make that side smaller.I was delighted to see that beneath the bee cluster were two beautiful combs. Bees were returning to the hive with huge packs of pollen on their legs. All seems well now with both hives- we saw just-laid eggs in the Langstroth hive.