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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.