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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Finished the new prototype

I worked with my brother, who is a carpenter, for several hours the other day to put together what I hope is my final design. I can't tell you how incredible the difference is. Nice strait lines and perfect angles. It is a marvelous thing to behold.

My brother only complained a couple of times when I changed something I had just told him to make. The biggest problem was that the design was only in my head and I didn't have measurements. At the end of the day the design is simple and easy to replicate. With this is built that we can take measurements from the next ones will go quickly.

Points to note.
1) The top bars are about 3/8 of an inch shorter so moving from my last hive to this will be problematic.
2) I used solid wood for the sides instead of plywood. This was because so many people worry about chemical leaching. This should give the hive better insulating R factor while only slightly reducing the interior volume. Ultimately any material could be used for the sloping sides of the KTBH even wicker or other weaving material. This would allow for a high tech skelp type hive.
3) I currently do not have an observation window. It could be added.
4) The hive has 31 top bars and is about 13 inches deep.

Now I need to make the top, bottom and follower boards.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

New hives

I got the wood tonight to build the new hives. I should have time to work on them next week. YaHoo!!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Free Markets

I love the market economy.

Within the last year several people have started selling pre-made topbar hives. For quite some time before I developed "The Best Topbar Hive, EVER" I had been looking for someplace to buy one. In fact the driving force behind my developing this design was that a person could not just simply buy a TBH like they could for the conventional hives. Those days are over. I found at least 4 people selling them.

This is quite good news for me. It verifies that there is a need in the market for pre-built topbar hives. I am of course making the assumption that they are actually selling them. Just because something is listed for sale does not necessarily mean that they are selling, or that the person selling them is making any money. As I don't have a way to verify if they are selling or profitable I must assume that they are. WAAA HOOO!

More faith in the market, I have.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Life Happens

I have been so involved with life and my real job that beekeeping and blogging about beekeeping has been the last things on my mind. But I just got my new beekeeping suit in the mail and that focused my attention.

Yes I just got my new suit. Between my own feeble attempts to make this new purchase happen to back orders and I guess time of year, maybe, it has taken forever to get that new suit. But now I am ARMED with protection. I have no fear again!! Well I never had fear but I didn't like the bees inside my hat. The new set up should work just fine.

I have slightly reworked my hive design and I hope to get several of them built before spring. Which for around here is in a month or so. We had a nice little snow the other day and it has been too cold for the bees to fly. But they were still flying and feeding from my humming bird feeders until last Friday.

I guess I can say without revealing too much that my new design has focused on enabling the keeper to move the hives easier for pollination work. This new design fits nicely on a pallet and stacks or stays stacked better. I had trouble with the legs of the first hive not supporting even and empty hive while stacked very well. They work well enough when the hive is on its own but when stacked they became very unstable. This would be disastrous during a move.

I did have to sacrafice the built in comb holders. Those things were nice and made for easy work of inspecting a the hive. But alas, they had to go and another solution will have to be rendered. But that should not prove to challenging.

My hope and plan is to build the new designs and then in the spring transfer the hive into the new box while at the same time attempting to split them. I think if I can get the weather right I should be able to pull this off. Moving the hive to a new box will be very tramatic and will take the hive quite some time to recover. I am thinking that if I also split the brood at that time both halves will recover and the hive without a queen will raise one.

In the end my updated design places two hives per pallet and gives the ability to stack pallets and hives for moving and storage.

I have also been working on the design feature that allows the keeper to adjust the size of the brood chamber. As I am new to beekeeping I am not sure how useful this will be but it will be easy to do.

I have been integrating bee doors and bee space to to give better control over the bees in the hive. So things like queen excluders can be added or simple things to block workers from the honey bars just before harvest. These items may not be of much use to keepers of European bees but of great worth to those who keep Africans. If it works this should allow the keeper to have access to the hive for as long as he/she wants regardless how aggressive the hive is. In fact if this works like I plan I will turn the bees aggression against them. It will not harm them but the more agressive they act the more bees that will be blocked from the keeper during hive the honey harvest. This should greatly increase the speed that the hive can be harvested.

I know I have dumped my brain here and it is probably hard to follow but just because I have not been working the bees does not mean I have not been working the bees, if you know what I mean.

While the winter is upon us and it is hive building time I hope to get several build before spring.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Bee in my bonnet

I harvested honey from 2 of my three hives and in both cases I had a couple of bees get under my veil, what fun that was.

With the first hive I only got one sting with only one bee getting through. On the second hive those bees are quite creative and I ended with 7 total bees inside my veil, 3 stings and 4 dead bees. Well I guess there was 7 dead by the end but 4 I got first. They didn't all get in at once. They came in one or two at a time. It was when they teamed up that they got me. I would get one but the other would get me. I may requeen that hive in the spring, just because.

I have a new suite ordered and will use it to harvest from the last hive.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Langstroth to Topbar conversion

If you read the history on this blog you will remember my work in a bee yard this spring. For my efforts I was offered a couple of the hives. One of the reasons I didn't take any was I didn't have knowledge of an efficient way to move the bees from the Langstroth hive to the Topbar. There are many ideas and several people have been successful at making the bees move to the different format. But with my limited time to manage a hive I didn't think I would be able to make the transition successful

Moving bees from one hive to another is nothing new. This is not really that difficult. You basically take the frames, in the case of Langstoth, topbars, in the case of those hives and put them in another. The problem is that the Langstroth frame will not fit nicely into a topbar hive. So it is not that simple to change formats.

Generally speaking to change formats you want the bees abandon their brood to move into and build new comb in the topbar hive. But the brood is the most valuable asset to a hive and they don't abandon them. In fact it is almost impossible. So to successfully move formats you have to move the bees through several steps.
1) Get the queen and most of the bees into the new hive.
2) Allow the bees that tend the brood access to them.
3) Allow the hatching brood access to the queen and the rest of the hive.
4) Make the queen stop using that brood comb to continue laying.

Successful moves usually entail turning the brood comb upside down after moving as many of the bees and queen into the topbar hive.

SOOO I finally got some time to think about this situation. After working through several possible solutions. My first was to build a special hive that has a place for Langstroth frames at one end and KTBH bars on the other. I thought it would be a cool looking hive but a bit too complex for this project. So I decided to leave that project to others to work out the details expressly how to make it "bee tight" with the Lang frames. There were other managment issues that were too numerous to keep that as a serious design.

In the end, I think I have come to a very simple solution. It is just a modified Langstroth hive top cover and a small box with two holes.

The idea is to take the complete brood box of the Lanstroth and place it on top of a topbar hive and force the bees through the topbar hive to exit. This is a temporary situation and should be completed in a about 3 or 4 weeks so I took no thought about making the hive water tight. In other words you will have to cover the hive with something like a tarp to keep the water out until the process is complete.

The key to the success is the strategic application of a one way bee door and/or a queen excluder and smoke. I had this type in mind but I am sure anything will work.

The top of a Langstroth hive seals or covers the hive body completely and if you sandwich the hive body with two tops the bees would be trapped and not able to get out. This is not necessarily a good thing but it will allow us to force them through my trap door.

So you build a small box with a hole the same size as the opening in the bee door. You will add the bee door later. Attach that box to one of the tops that will become the bottom. By attaching this to the bottom it will hang just below or down into the topbar hive when the Langstroth is placed on top. Now drill a hole in the top and down into the box that is attached. This basically creates an exit to the Langstroth that is lower than the bottom of the topbars.

You may also want to create a hole in the hive body then cork it up so you can apply smoke later.

So the move from Langstroth to topbar should be in several steps.
1) Place the modified top on your topbar hive in position to become the bottom of your Lanstroth hive. This should not take the entire length of your topbar hive so complete the rest of the length with prepared topbars. This is just like you would for a package of bees.
2)Grab the Langstroth hive and set it on top of the modified top. Put a normal top on it.
3) Leave the hive for a week or two until the bees figure out how to get out of their new entrance and start producing again. In a perfect world they would feel crowded without honey supers and start to build comb on the topbars. In a more perfect world the queen would start laying in the new comb. Since those are both highly unlikely the next steps will most likely be needed.
4) Add the bee door to the entrance or exit as the case may be of the modified top and then close the topbar hive.
5) Smoke the Langstroth hive body real good. This should drive the queen and most of the bees into the new topbar hive. You may want to add a queen excluder to topbar hive entrance / exit so you will not drive the queen all the way out of the hive. Thus trapping her in the new topbar hive.
6) Over the next few weeks continue to check the brood. As they hatch they should move on thier own into the topbar hive to be with the queen. If not add smoke if necessary to encourage them.
7) When all brood has hatched and moved into the topbar hive you can remove the old Lanstroth hive, harvest what you can and add topbars in place of the modified top.
8) After the topbar hive is queen right remove the queen excluder from the topbar hive entrance.

I will only know if this works when someone builds this and reports back. I hope between my instructions and the drawing you will understand what I am trying to accomplish. If you have questions please ask.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I took about 20 minutes out of my work week to stop by the Walker Honey Company in Rogers Texas.

Cool place. They have been in business for 3 generations. I tried to pick their brain as much as I could in the time that I had. Bottom line they said the business is not easy and I should reconsider trying to make a business out of it. It is a nice hobby and could make a little money but that is about it.

They said they do not treat for SHB mostly because they don't see much of them and he thinks it is due to the soil not being good for the beetle. He said he can take a hive void of beetles closer to the water (coast, river bottoms) and it only takes hours and you can see the beetles flying into the hive. However, for the most part the bees keep them at bay.

I asked about mites. He said that queen selection is the solution. Basically some bees are less prone to mites and those queens are the ones to select. If mites become a problem re-queen.

I guess this is the normal with all businesses they do not produce all of their products. Plus they have a T-SHIRTS. I almost bought one. The quotes on the shirts "Drone: Eat, Mate, Die" "Queen: I RULE"

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Reflections and solicitations for help

My real job has been keeping me busy about 60 hours a week one so not much bee keeping has been done lately. I remember reading something way back when, it really put some perspective to my hive design and was from a prominent beekeeper in the late 1700s I think it was around 1780 who said something to the effect that if you were to get a room full of beekeepers you would find that everyone of them had a different idea on the best hive design and best way to keep bees. So I took that to mean that for as long as man has been keeping bees each one has had the best hive design ever. I therefore figure I am in good company.

The biggest rush this spring was mostly due to timing, I didn't want another year to go by without putting my design in use. I wanted to have them across a large climate range but that is all gone now. This year is almost over for starting new hives.

So maybe in the winter when people are building new hives for next year someone will ask and I will share and we can start this project again.

Another website last spring posted a request for hive designs in conjunction with a conservation project. So I designed another little hive I called B cubed or B3. This was nothing like "The Best Hive EVER!" The B3 was just something I put together to trying to conform to the requirements of that project. In areas where you want a strong wild bee population I think it is a wonderful idea. "The conservation Hive" should do just that, increase the wild bee population. The biggest problem with the project here is that the law makers and general population are trying their best to reduce the wild bee population in fear of the AHB (Africanized Honey Bee). The local beekeepers are trying to keep a low profile because they know that the AHB is hybridizing the total bee population and they are not as big of a threat as the general population fears. If there were several of these conservation hives around that were discovered or worse someone got hurt by a hive that had been taken by AHB then there would be a public outcry and it would become open season on bee keepers.

It is too early to really say but I think my "The Best Hive EVER!" will address many of the issues surrounding AHB and keeping them. So in the long run if the AHB does adapt and move further north, people will be able to keep them with similar risk factors as the current breeds. I don't think they will ever get as passive as our current bees but with proper management and continual breeding they will calm down and better suited to deal with the common ailments of today. This is an area that really needs study from research types.

It is not that I think my design is the last word nor will it turn out to be an overwhelming success. In fact I don't think I have any part that is completely revolutionary by its own merits. I do think the combination is unique and should be enough to make a nice profit if produced in mass. Plus I think that the bees will at least as healthy if not more so than with any other designs that has been put forward. In the end it is really about enabling the bees to be healthier and more productive. Being able to mange them and harvest honey is a bonus and making a profit in addition to honey sales would be tops.

The two main issues I face have not changed.
1) I don't have the skills to easily turn my ideas into reality and my hives suffer from poor workmanship. The good here is this means even ppl who have little skill can still make something from these plans that will actually work. Maybe not as good as what a professional can build but good none the less.
2) I don't have much experience with keeping Honeybees so many of my mistakes are associated with this and not the hive design. It is hard to sort out the differences sometimes but there are many good sources that help keep me from totally messing things up.

I am doing the best I can with what I have to work with. I sure wish I could talk someone into helping.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Glass or Plastic

As I am preparing for harvest a decision must be made. This year will only be a small harvest but I still hope to sell a few jars.

So glass or plastic. Personally I like plastic. I live on tile floors and the longer I live here the fewer glass items I have in my house. I watched as one of those supposedly unbreakable glass cooking bowl exploded by my foot a while back. This was an impressive site especially considering that it only fell from about 12 inches off the floor. However, there is mounting evidence that plastic leaches into food and some people do not want their food in plastic.

So are we back to glass? Glass is almost twice as expensive as plastic. You do get discounts on bulk purchase but at the volume I think I will buy some of the jars with lids cost a dollar. That will add a dollar to the price of a jar of honey. The comparable plastic jar is about 50 cent.

Then what about comb honey? I don't see any glass containers that are fit for comb honey. I could put a chunk of comb in the jar but that is not the same.

Decisions decisions, anyone have an opinion?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bees vs other animal husbandry

I have been either on travel for work or working with family issues for the last 3 weeks and have not even looked at my hives. This is the best kind of animal husbandry I could imagine. I don't have to feed them or do much at all. Things may change in the winter but with only 3 hives I can say that keeping many tens of thousand bees is much better than keeping a single horse or cow or goat or any barn yard animal. I have kept them before and BEES are BETTER.

It is about time time harvest honey so I need to start getting ready. As this is my first harvest year I am not sure how many bottles to get. I will just have to guess. Expecially since all of my beekeeping friends know nothing about topbar hives. I do know that there are at least 4 bars full of honey in my #1 hive that weigh at least 10 pounds each. I still need to work out a system to filter and bottle but this is where it gets fun.

Friday, July 17, 2009

New and best bee hive ever

Not sure it I posted this on here before but I have known for a while that I need to redesign the legs and top of the hive. I have made many sketches to resolve these issues and then the other night I had a brain wave and bam! The legs came in to my mind's eye. I was amazed at how close it was to the original design it is. The roof has been harder fought.

I did sacrifice the permanent topbar frame holder that has been useful during hive inspections but that can be accomplished in other ways.

I am still not completely satisfied with the roof but it is much better than before. I need to build one or have someone build one to work out the finer details of this design.

Another good news item is that I have been working through a modification to this design that can be built with wicker or other grass weaving. This should be extremely useful in developing areas where lumber is expensive or hard to get. I wish I could get in contact with someone in some place like Honduras or other developing country who would be willing to give it a try.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Small Hive Beetle update

The thought of those SHB running around in the hive in back yard has kept me up a couple of nights lately. I think I have come up with something. I will use their main defence against the bees as a way to get rid of them. Their best defense against the bees is that they are smaller and can get into the crevasses of the hive where the bees can't go. It was the fact that I had to leave my follower board in the hive that gave me the idea. Glue boards, they work really well for so many other insects that I bet the SHB will be no match for them. The problem is that neither will the honey bee. But the bees can't get behind the follower board in the hive now and the SHB is running amok. I will just have to be extra careful to get to the glue board as soon as I open the hive and cover it, clear plastic wrap should do the trick, and then put a new one back after the bees are secure and can't get at it.

Hive inspections

I did inspect my other hives last weekend just did not post. It would seem that they other hives are not doing as well as the one in my back yard. They do not have nearly as much comb build. They also build more comb across the bars and it is almost impossible to get the bars out for inspections. In fact I didn't get very deep into them before I stopped. I decided I would do more harm to them than any good I would do by opening them. I am worried that I may have damaged them too much so I am going back tomorrow just to check. All I need to do is take a quick peek to make sure that none of the comb has fallen completely off the topbars. If not I will just leave them alone. I really think the difference between my back yard and the other location is rainfall. The grass and trees around the other hives was all brown and dry. With so many people around my house who keep their yard watered there are always trees and flowers in bloom.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Hive Inspection part 2

Well I had a nice nap now I am back at the blog. I have some pictures they are at I put plenty of comments in there.

You will see that the bees left one end of the hive completely and gathered to the other. At first I thought they were coming to defend the hive as this was the area I was working. The thing was that they were not buzzing like they were angry. And they were not flying around. Both signs that they were defending an attack. Then when I opened the other end I saw that it was full of smoke. I had put the smoker under that end of the hive and it had filled it like a BBQ smoker. The bees just ran away from it. So when I was done there I closed it and moved the smoker to the other end and they all ran back. I thought it was cool. Especially when they lined up like school kids and marched off away from the smoke.

I only got one sting and it was on my hand, after I was done. I walked away from the hive and didn't see or hear any more bees so I took my gloves off, then my hat and veil. I put them in my storage bin and BAM! I got hit on the hand. It really hurt too!! Poor girl, she must have been stuck in my hat and I didn't see her.

Well I still have the other hives to inspect. Probably tomorrow.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Fist Hive Inspection

About mid-afternoon I decided today was the day for the inspection of the hive in my back yard. Then I got distracted by work and almost let the day slip away and I was rushing up against the dark to get the hive put back together.

The first think I noticed was that the hive has not grown much in the last month or so. I suppose this could be due to the lack of rain but as this is my first year with bees in my back yard I just have no real idea if they are growing at a normal rate. I know that the professional bee keeper placed two honey supers on his hives about 6 weeks ago and he is expecting them to be full. But bee that as it may I decided to spread the honeycomb out and give them more room.

My original idea of giving the bees a "more natural" setting to grow at a natural rate seemed to work well enough but I think I have a bigger problem that has caused them to become "honey bound" or locked into their current size. The issue is that I did not account for the humidity when I made the top bars. I knew this was a problem after the first week or two but there was really no going back and so I let nature run its course.

If there is one thing that I learned from all of the reading I did on top bar hives it is that the only measurement that is important is the width of the bars. For European bees, the ones that I have, the top bar should be 1 3/8 inches wide or 35mm, no more, no less. So I was very careful to cut the top bars to the exact measurement. The problem is that the wood I used, top quality pine, is kiln dried and kept in a temp and humidity controlled setting so it will keep its shape in human homes. So this wood is intended to be used inside of human homes. When it is kept out side, especially in Houston, it soaks up the humidity and swells. I don't know how much but I do know that I have had to remove one of the top bars or they swell so tight I cant get them out. Now the top bar are covered so there is no direct rain on them but they are exposed to good ventilation so when the humidity gets high there is plenty of water to make the swell. To add to this, the process of making honey is basically dehumidifying nectar. So a hive full of bees and honey generate a ton of moisture on their own.

So where is this whole thought process going? What happens when you put all those top bars side by side and they all swell? You might not be able to answer this without another hint. The reason the top bars must be exactly 1 3/8 inches is because that is how far apart bees build honeycomb, regardless of their surroundings. So if your bars are not exact, and sometimes even if they are, the bees will build what is called cross comb. Or in other words they will build honeycomb across the bars and not along them so you can't take the bars out to inspect. And even though the top bars only swell a little over the span of the hive, and just about where they stopped building comb they get to a place that they build almost exactly on the space between the bars or join two bars together. So this is lesson number one.

Allow the wood that is used in the making of bee hives "cure" outside until they have reached their "outdoor size" before cutting into top bars. I did read this some place on the internet but it was after the fact. No real worries. The bees tried to keep the comb on the bars. They made deeper comb and made them a little wavy at top until they finally got to the point that they just could not build along the starter strips of wax that I made and they just made it up and built right down the middle and effectivly glued two bars together. The bar just before it was way off center. So I decided to move them as a 2 bar unit, that worked well. It just will make it hard to get the rest of the hive filled with comb. This may be why they have slowed in their comb building.

One of the things my commercial beek told me was that in the old days it was said that a queen will not cross a honey barrier to build brood cells. But he also added that if I were to keep bees long enough I would realize that bees have a mind of their own and they always break the rules.

A honey barrier is the first full bar of honey without any brood cells. So with this information on this inspection I was looking for my honey barrier. With the hive entrance in the middle of the TBH there should be two honey barriers, one on each end.

I started the smoker, something that is optional and many beeks don't use a smoker at all or very little. The smoker discussion is one the most interesting discussions that I have read with opinions that range from it is essential to it is useless or harmful to the bees. So I am still experimenting with it. Some things I have noted so far: 1) The smoker is tricky to get a fire started in it. 2) it is easy to forget about it and let it go out. 3) No matter where I put it I always end up with a face full of smoke that chokes me. 4) It is supposed to calm the bees but I notice that the minute the smoke hits the bees they start to buzz really loudly. 5) Bees don't seem to like the smoke so they tend to run from it. 6) If for no other reason than the bees are concentrating on the smoke they don't seem to be as aggressive when there is smoke. So since I knew I was going to take this hive as far apart as possible I started the smoker.

When I took the top off the hive the first thing I noticed was that there were Small Hive Beetles skampering about on top of the bars. I also saw that there were gaps in my hive that allowed the bees to get through, as well as the SHB. So at the end of the day I plugged the holes with paper, I hope this keeps them all in where I want them. The other thing I noticed. Because of the top bars swelling I had to remove on of them and this left me with a empty spot that was not big enough for a top bar. I thought I was clever when I saw that the follower board would fit in that spot so I left it in the hive against the end. The problem is that I think this is a perfect place for the SMB to get away from the bees. The next inspection I will take the follower boards out. Not sure what I will put there but I have to reduce the hiding places for those pesky SHB. The good news is that the bees seem to be able to keep them on the run as I didn't see many running around in the hive, only on the ends.

Well there is a lot more to write about but it is late and I am sleepy. Good night.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Hot Hot Hot

I have been out of town through the week all month and it has been record breaking hot. Not much if any rain and there are patches of brown vegetation all around. Do wish I had help from a researcher or someone who could set up a real test to see just how well my hives perform. But what I have noticed is that the bees are not "boiling" out of the hive.

What I mean is that last year when I had a Langstroth hive the bees would have hundreds of bees on the outside of the hive all day and night when it was hot. Many people said that was normal and that is one of the ways bees keep cool in the summer. One of the features of my hives should be better ventilation. Even in this heat I have never seen any bees on the outside of the hives. I hope this is because of the ventilation system.

I will open the hives sometime over the holiday weekend to see just how full the hives are. I have been told that the first year not to expect much honey to harvest but I have high hopes.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


WiFi, Wireless Fidelity, 802.11, and many other terms are all I have been thinking about lately. Take a look at my employer's website.

I did get a chance to look into my hives the other day. Just a quick peek, they are growing and making honey. It has been hot the last week and I wish I had a monitor to keep data on the inside of the hives but I don't. The fact that the hive is growing would indicate that they are doing well enough, I hope. Well there is nothing I can do about it anyway I am back on the road building WiFi networks. It pays the bills.

I still hope to get a mass production version of my hive by next season but not sure if I can make it.

I stopped by the farm that is looking for bees and as of yet no one has brought any over and the guy I found who had hive for sale has not delivered. I guess I will have to invest in late season packages and get them installed in August. I need to make one more stop to insure seal the deal.

This is the nice part of bee keeping. Unlike keeping other animals I don't have feed or water them daily. For the most part the best think you can do is just leave bees alone. Give them a proper hive box and they do the rest.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Small Hive Beetles (SHB)

The SMB is a new parasidic insect that makes a total mess out of a hive. There are plenty of resources that will give you all then information you can handle on them but I got them, in one hive. It is isolated so if I get SMB in the other two it will be from cross contamination, or a wild infestation. I hope I not cross contaminate so I hope to keep SMB out of those hives.

There are chemical treatments for them but at this point I don't want to put much of anything in my hives. I want to keep them as organic as possible. They sell traps and I may get a few but I will wait until the bees have a gard time controlling them. Some hives can ward off the SMB or at least keep them under control.

Only time will tell.

Monday, May 25, 2009

New spot for hives.

Hey I just located a small farmer, about 20 acres who has been trying to get beekeepers to put bees on his place but no one will. Don't know why, but I hope to get a couple of hives on his place soon.
His main crop is blackberry's but all of the things he has planted require pollinators. I am excited about the chance to have a place to set up a nice bee yard. It will give me a chance to build a new hive boxes to work out a few more of the kinks in my design. By the time I get these built I should be ready to take the design public.

I currently have three versions built. Version 1 has bees in it and those are were my bee pictures are from. Version 2 and 3 have serious flaws and I am not sure if I will put bees in them. If I do I will need some modifications. I may just take them apart and use the lumber for version 4.

I built version 2 and 3 in a rush and I made some calculation errors. Couple the speed at which I was working on these boxes with the facts that 1 I do not enjoy woodworking and 2 I am not very good at it and you get hive boxes that are seriously flawed and are basically unusable.

However, I was successful in working out better legs and a more compact design that will be better in the long run. So even though I did not succeed in making functional hives I did succeed in learning a lot.

My basic hive design has not changed I just need to make them more "commercial" friendly. I also wish I could draw things on the computer easier so I could transfer my design to the computer. I guess I will have to do it the old fashion way, with a pencil. lol. What I really need is someone who likes to do woodworking and has the skill to makes these things.

I am still driven to transfer this design to some type of mass production setting so I can just buy them in the future. Oh wait, if I mass produce them I will not have to buy them. But maybe others will and more people will get into keeping bees.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

What a difference a week makes.

As I watched the hive cam this week I noticed that the bees were building, building, building so I opened the hive and snapped a couple pictures. I tried to get the same angles as last week to see the progress but didn't really do so good. I like the pictures but they don't seem to be at the perfect angles.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Quick look inside the hive

I went for a quick look inside the hives and snapped a couple of pictures.  

The bees look to be on track for a first year hive.  This is the natural formation of a beehive.  From all of the pictures I have seen of honey bee hives that are "in the wild" it appears that they build a ball shaped hive, or 1/2 ball with the top being flat.  In fact they look like the classic skelp or bell shaped hive, the difference is that the skelp is upside down.  So a "natural" comb pattern is basically semi-circle.  The bees then build progressivly shorter comb on each side until the entire hive ends up looking like a ball.  The pictures I took today seem to bear this out. 

Other interesting notes about topbar hives is that the sides are sloped at just the right angle so the bees believe the sides are floor or bottom.

So if you look on the side of the hive in the pictures the bees are walking on the floor.  This is not to say that bees can't walk on any surface, they can in fact walk on just about anything at any angle.  While it looks like the comb is attached to the wall on the right it really isn't.  The bees build comb to within "1 bee space" of the floor and there is 1 bee space between each comb.  To read more on what bee space is and who discovered it go here 
then link here for more on the topbar hive.

Bee Feeder

Here is what I am using as feeder. Bee feeding is over for this season but one of the great things about this feeder is I will be able to use it as a waterer. Bees need a clean water source near the hive.

There is a common bee feeder called a boardman feeder. The biggest problem with this feeder is that unless the bees clean up the feed quickly it will leak into the bottom of the hive and make a mess. The good news is that bees usually clean up the feed very quickly so the boardman feeder is simple and has worked great for many years.

The problem with many other attempts to build a better feeder is that they usually drown more bees than they feed. So I thought about this whole idea of feeding bees sugar water and keeping them from drowning.

So the idea came to me that if the water was shallow enough the bees could get out and not drown. The water bottle developed and sold by so many people work great at keeping the water or in this case sugar water bee feed from dripping into the bottom of the hive. The trick was to make the water shallow enough for the bees.

ROCKS. The work great. I did not drown one bee and they were drinking the 1/2 gallon of feed in about 3 days. I was surprised at how quick they drank the stuff but no lie they emptied the bottle every 3 days. I kept the feeders full for about 2 weeks after the new install. I will convert them to water soon. Right now there is more water around than we can deal with, rain, rain, rain.

Monday, May 11, 2009


I gave the bees a rest for Mother's day. Actually I just decided to leave them alone and it turned out to be Mothers day.

All I did this weekend was look at them through the hive cam. They look like they are progressing well.

I will open the hive next weekend just for a quick look and add more room to get ready for the first "honey flow" of the year. A honey flow is when plants that they bees use to create honey are in bloom. They make honey and collect pollen all year but there are a couple of weeks were they really make most of their honey for the year. And the first one normally starts today, May 10 and least here in Spring Texas.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

2009 bee install

Well I finally got around to posting the pictures of the installs for this year. I did pare them down to a series of pictures that walk through the process. I hope you will enjoy.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Worked in a bee yard

I posted a few weeks back that I had contacted a local beekeeper and he agreed I could help. Well I got a chance. It is a long story and I learned a great deal.

What started out as about 100 bee hives were condensed into about 45. Interesting process but there was no consideration for the bees or any type of preservation of genetic groups. We basically checked to see if the hive had bees and about how many. Then swapped and combined hive bodies and honey supers to create a similar height pallet of 4 hives then loaded them on a truck. It was a big mix and match game, much like a shell game.

First, all of the hives were sitting on converted pallets. Each pallet had 4 hives on it. So we went through the yard from one side to the other and opened the top and/or tilted the to look under the bottom. Then started removing and combining pallets and hive boxes until we had combined as many of them as we could to make the same height pallets. When we were done they loaded about 45 hives onto a flatbed truck with a fork lift. Then wrapped the whole thing in a netting and off the drove.

This left about 5 or 10 colonies that were either week or were in odd sized boxes. There were a bunch of wooden boxes left out there and a lot of foundation frames with honeycomb.

I guess this is not a normal process. They had to do this because the yard had been neglected. I guess the guy picking up the bees had agreed he would pay only for full healthy hives and did not want the old or weak stuff. I didn't have time for pictures but it definitely left an impression.

I now know that if I want my hive to be accepted by this type of bee keeper it will need to fit on a pallet and that I need to get 4 hives into the same space as they can get 4 hives. I don't think it would be exact but I think that the benefits of a TBH would be worth the little extra space.

The biggest issue, at least from their prospective, is that harvesting honey from TBH is not fast enough. So I left with many things to think about.

Bottom line is that I am still committed to building the best Topbar Hive EVER!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Hive Cam

I installed a web camera on one of my hives today. Here is the first picture from inside the hive. Now I can look in without opening the box. We will see if this continues to work after the bees get comb built. For now it is just cool to see them in action.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Topbar wax starter

I am constantly on the run and don't seem to have much time to document much here but I will add what I have done to get my hives ready for bees.

For topbar hive that means adding "starter strips" of bee wax. See the pictures I have loaded in picasa.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Crushed comb centrifuge

I have this idea that I cant get away from.

It started when I ordered a 5 gallon bucket filter set. It has 3 stages of filters to be used for filtering honey. Then I thought I could build a centrifuge that would use these 5 gallon buckets. I got this idea from a "merry-go-round" I saw at a Renaissance festival. It resembles a may pole, and carry about 20 people. This bucket centrifuge would be huge but not as large as the "merry-go-round" and it would take many buckets of freshly harvested honey.

As the thought continued to bother me I realized this would be a lot of expense and only a very few people would be able to harvest enough honey to use it. However, I did realize that if this device was built in and/or by a small village when not in use it could be used as a swing for children. It would be a blast! I guess if the village was keeping bees there might be enough honey to use this huge device, but not likely.

Then the other night I picket up a large mouth mason jar. Then picked up a small mouth mason jar. With the ring attached the small mouth will fit inside of the large mouth. No big revelation here I am sure many people already knew this.

Then I remembered a website I visited a site where the guy used a mesh as a filter. I think it was mosquito netting. He put this mesh under the ring of a mason jar then taped the mouths of the mason jars together and inverted them much like an hour glass. Over time the honey was filtered into the bottom jar.

I did like the idea but thought the process took too long and tape is a probably not to be had in some areas of the world. So if you have the large and small mouth jars you could do this same filter process without the tape by stacking the small on top of the large mouth jar. It would still take a lot of time.

So if I scaled down the centrifuge to hold two quart jars stacked on top of each other I could speed up the process. The centrifuge would hold up to 8 quarts of crushed comb honey and as few as 2 quarts. Well now that I have just written that it could be reduced to the smallest two jars that you could find.

So now it is time to build a prototype. From this prototype the design could be scaled up to use eight 5 gallon buckets with standard filters.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

2 weeks and counting

I will have bees in 2 weeks. I am almost ready. Just need to add the wax for starter strips.

I have the hives in the location that I plan to leave them in for this season. The hives did very well in the last storm, no leaks from the roof and the wind didn't seem to phase them.

So far so good.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

New contacts

I finally made contact with a local beekeeper. It took time and persistence but I did it. I now have a part time job helping him on a volunteer basis.

He said he just bought 80 hives from someone that has not tended them in about 3 years and "they are mean" he said. So soon I will get to go with him to split requeen and otherwise try to tame them. He said "it will either make or break you", I took that as a challenge.


He also said they are striped tail and most likely have a lot of African in them and are runners. I almost don't like the idea of requeening all of these hives but I am just here to learn.

Oh and he doesn't really like the idea of topbar hives but we agreed that keeping bees is pretty much keeping bees. Then he listed about 7 different types of hives including flower pots and said bees act the same in all of them. So we are off to a good start.

Busy as a bee

I have not posted here as I have been on a forum across the Internet trying to drum up support.

I fear I did more harm than good. No matter what I said it was wrong. So I made my last post over there. I hope they let me keep my account active. I really like their site, it just seems they don't like me.

Well anyway, I have posted some pictures of my work over the last couple of weeks.

The conservation hive is something I build as a neat idea but alas I think it would not be good for this part of the country. The idea was to build a hive that could be built and placed in the "woods" and left. It would attract bees and they could establish wild hives as a way to re-populate and increase genetic diversity in the bee population.

I think it is a good idea for places that are much further north of the "African bee migration" line. Not that I have anything against them but I think the general population does and it might not be wise to encourage wild hives around here.

That site is also big on using old pallets for wood. So I broke one down and used the wood for this hive and took pictures. I will copy and post my entries from that site here later. For now look at the pictures. I think this little box is cool.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bees at the White House

I guess the presidential chefs want fresh veggies from the back yard. Hey also have bees for honey. I hope they are topbars.

Injection Mold

I have been asked to explain what I mean by injection molding.

You would have to see the hive to fully appreciate what I have in mind but here is an attempt to explain my intent.

This is the really exciting part for me.

First and foremost the inside of the hive, the part the bees and honey are in contact with will be 100% wood i.e. topbars, entrance and sides. Of course this could be post consumer stock or top quality cabinet grade products. I suppose if the bees gather on the outside of the hive, as the are prone to do, they will be in contact with the plastic but the day to day activities will not be in contact with the plastic.

That being said the hive would be made of a plastic compound that would have to not be UV sensitive and food grade and it would have to stand up to extremes of heat and cold.

The whole thing would be light, much lighter than a complete wooden hive and would be strong enough to support the moving of a hive full on honey. The best part is that when empty it would fold up for shipping. Setting it up would be measured in minutes and would allow the total novice beekeeper or person that is not inclined to build things quick and simple access to the topbar hive.

I also believe it could be produced at a price point that is far less that the same volume Langstrom hive.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


I hate to paint. I am just about finished painting the 3 hives I have built. This is my 2nd coat of paint on top of primer.

I am more convinced than ever that many people do not use TBH because you can't just buy one from any supplier.

I am currently revising the design of the hive legs. The wonderful think about creating new designs is that it sometimes takes hands on doing to better understand and transfer from paper to reality.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Centrifuge extraction of Topbars

I have so many random thoughts that it is hard t remember them at once. I think I have a way to extract topbars with a standard centrifuge extractor. As with all of my ideas I need to try or find someone willing to give it a try.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Wild hive removal

This will be my first attempt to remove a wild hive.

I answered a post on Craigslist last fall from a person near my home who had a hive living in their chimney and they wanted someone to remove without harming the bees. I explained that I am new to this but was excited to give this a try. They seemed willing to let me.

That was the end of the conversation last fall. I just got an email from them and they are still interested. Now that it is spring it is time to try the move. I hope to hear from them this weekend and I can make a scouting trip and start a plan.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


I just started reading the blogs from several researchers. I am completely intimidated. I still think my design is strong but suddenly I feel like a small fish in an big pond. I hope I can get some of those really smart people to take a look and give me an honest opinion.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Spun honey machine

I have a wonderfully simple idea to create a machine that would make top quality spun, whipped, or whatever you call crystalized honey. I would create batches from one to many pounds of spun honey is very short order.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The best Top Bar Hive ever

I think I have created the best Top Bar Hive EVER!!

Let me first say that I am a capitalist who believes it is possible to both make a profit and give things away free. So my idealist plan is to develop this bee hive and produce it commercially then give the plans away free. If this design is as successful as I think it will be I would not want to keep the ideas and principles way from developing countries or hobbyist who could not other wise buy my commercial hive. I think I will be able to make and sell the parts and pieces of this hive to those who other wise could not build it from the plans either because they do not have the skill or they do not have the time. So in the end I hope to provide both a saleable commodity and a free set of plans that can be used to build a hive with the same specifications.

My friends have asked me why is it that I think I have designed the best hive ever when people have been keeping bees for thousands of years. Surely someone has come up with these ideas before. I suppose it is arrogant to think I have come up with something and no one else has ever thought of before. But if it is then it is. I really think I have done it. However, I am not so arrogant to think that my design will actually work in its current form.

This is why I need help. I need researchers and beekeepers who are willing to work with me in the development process. I also need help setting up a company that will offer stock to all the people who help.

My process of developing this hive started when I learned that for the most part honey bees will live and produce honey in just about any open space that will keep them dry when it rains. So I reason that any other design characteristics are purely intended for the beekeeper. As long as we keep the bees dry they should produce honey.

I have researched and read so much stuff on bees and hives that I think I will go crazy. There are so many benefits to the foundationless top bar type of hive and beekeeping that can be found though simple Internet searches that I will never have the time to list them here. There are also as many ideas on building top bar hives as there are people building them. So I will not list them here. What I will list are the issues that I think I have addressed below.

My design is a top bar hive that:
1) Is stackable for moving and storage.
2) Is easily moved with little or no damage to the top bar comb.
3) Easy to protect from varmints such as skunks.
4) Has a one bee space porch type entrance that;
a) allows guard bees to ambush unwanted guests.
b) is easily closed for moving.
c) can easily be reduced for over wintering.
d) does not allow for flying directly into the hive. This is needed to help keep unwanted guests out.
5) Eliminates or allows the bees to regulate high humidity.
6) Has built in temporary comb storage to allow for easier manipulation and inspection of the hive.
7) Can be "supered" with standard foundation type honey supers.
8) Brood chamber can be expanded easily.
9) Has open or mite screened bottom that can easily be reduced for over winter.
10) Is particularly suited for keeping more aggressive or "African" strains of bees.
11) Allows for a more natural hive development.
12) Honey can be harvested without disturbing the brood.
13) Aggressive bees can be relegated to the brood chamber to allow honey harvest with NO bees flying free to harass the keeper.
14) Up to 10 of these hives can easily be loaded in a US standard 8 foot pickup bed.

Other items:
1) A feeder that can feed either liquid bee feed or honey or solid fondant type food.
2) Rack to fit into a pickup truck to allow for greater ease in movement of hives.
3) Harvesting devices that allow for greater ease and faster harvest times.
4) Modifications to existing harvesting equipment to allow top bars.

Special note:
I have built prototypes of these hives and they are far simpler than it would seem.

My vision is to have this hive made in injection mold process but need someone to step forward and help with that process.

Getting ready

I spent all of the afternoon working on the new hives. The design is coming along nicely. I need build follower boards and the roof. All of the top bars are done. In all I have 135 top bars. I sure hope I get honey this year.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Blog Day 1

Just started this blog. I want to set a place for my adventures in bee keeping