All in the Name of Science

     In my house, when you want to justify crazy behavior or actions you say it’s all in the name of science! Like when my daughter was 3 and she started putting toys into the fish tank to see which sank and which would float, we decided that she was just experimenting and it was a science lesson for her. My family is very scientific and we all love to experiment with things. Top bar beekeeping is going to be my biggest experiment this year and now it’s going to be even bigger.
     I called up Christy Hemenway from Gold Star Honeybees (www.goldstarhoneybees.com) in Maine to talk to her about feeding the bees. I was wondering about more natural ways than sugar to feed the bees. Honey can carry diseases that affect bees, so I’m not willing to risk feeding the bees from beekeepers I don’t know and trust. I will feed the bees sugar water when they get here. Hopefully the blooming season will have started by then.
     While Christy and I were on the phone, we began talking about top bar beekeeping and the size of bees. Christy asked if I had already ordered my package and I had. She mentioned that with top bar beekeeping having small cell, untreated bees is a much better way to go. The bees that I ordered are large cell and will be treated with oxalic acid before they arrive. I had ordered the bees while I was taking my beekeeping classes and I rushed because I have heard that the bee demand is high and they see out quickly.
     After speaking with Christy I thought a lot about the small cell, untreated bees and how much that fits into the way that I want to keep bees. I decided that I would order a package of them from her. She did not pressure me in any way to decide to get the bees. She just passed on important information that I had neglected. It was so good to talk to her and hear all that she had to say. She also told me about her top bar beekeeping classes, as well as groups where I might find other top bar beekeepers.
     Now I have two packages of bees on the way and a decision to make. Do I keep both packages or do I try to get a refund for the large cell bees? The answer came quickly to me: science experiment! I am going to keep both packages of bees and I am going to get another top bar hive!
     I called Bee Thinking. On their website they had an offer to 10% off if you order two or more hives. I wanted to know if they would give me the discount even though I would be ordering the hives separately. They were great and told me that they would give me the discount, so I ordered another top bar hive!
     Now my science experiment begins! Two identical hives, but two very different bee colonies. The first package that I will get is the large cell, treated bees and the second will be the small cell, untreated bees. There will only be a few days between the arrival of each package.
     I am very excited to have the opportunity to have these two hives. I will get to observe them and document all of the differences and similarities between them. It will also be fun to compare the Langstroth hive with the two top bars.
     I am not sure that my backyard is big enough for all three hives. I am going to keep the Langstroth and the small cell bees in the top bar hive in my yard and the other top bar hive will be in a host yard in town.
     The new hive will be here in about a week and the bees will come in about 3 weeks. The snow is mostly gone from my backyard, so I will be able to set up the hive soon. I should probably start learning how to light and use the smoker now.

Building the Top Bar Hive

     The top bar hive arrived from Bee Thinking. I could not wait to build it, but the box sat in the kitchen for a few weeks until I found the time. I did open the box before I was ready to start. I was greeted by a very lovely smell of cedar! All of the wood parts of the hive are made from cedar.  This was very important to me when I was choosing the hive. Yes, cedar smells really good but it is also a good quality wood for outside. I will be oiling the hive with pure tung oil to help preserve it's beauty. 
     On Sunday, I finally decided it was time to build the hive. On Bee Thinking's website it states that building time will be around 30 minutes. I took out all of the pieces and put them on the floor. I covered the floor with a blanket, as I am known for scratching the floors with my projects (my compost tumbler left a big mark on the dining room floor).  Once all of the pieces were out of the box, I started to figure out which piece was what. The parts are very obvious, so this was an easy task. 
     The stand was the first thing that got put together. It was a total of six pieces of wood and everything fit together very well. The stand only took a couple of minutes to put together. Then it was time to build the hive box. The body of the hive is five pieces, unless you unwrap the side panel with the viewing window then it's six pieces. I am sure that it is easier to put the viewing side panel on if you leave the plastic wrap on it! Since I had taken it apart, some adjustments had to be made in the end to make sure the boards and the viewing window all fit well. After the body was built, it was time to put the roof together. The roof has nine pieces to it.
     For the most part putting the hive together was pretty easy. I did realize about half through the process that the instructions were missing. I called Bee Thinking customer service, they took care of it right away and emailed the instructions to me. Once the body and lid were built, I realized that it did not fit onto the stand. Once again I called Bee Thinking's customer service and they helped solve the problem. It was a very easy fix, I just needed to loosen the nuts and adjust the stand while putting the body of the hive into it. Once the adjustment was made it fit perfectly.
     I did call Bee Thinking again just to ask about two small holes that were on the top of the lid. They were not pre-drilled holes that went all the way through, so it did not make sense to put screws into them. My question was answered, the holes are very small and do not serve any purpose. They do not compromise the design of the hive at all.
     Now that the hive is built, I put all of the top bars and the two follower boards  inside.  Once again the hive sits in the kitchen waiting. The snow is melting quickly now, but there is still too much on the ground to set the hive up outside. The bees are scheduled to come in on April 20th, so I have about a month to make sure the hive is set up and ready before they get here.
     I am very happy that I purchased the top bar hive through Bee Thinking. They have been wonderful with their customer service and their products. Even before I ordered my hive, I called them a few times to talk about top bar hives and get my questions answered. They were able to answer all of my questions and help me feel more confident in my decision to get in to top bar beekeeping. Check them out at www.beethinking.com.
Opening the box!
Opening the box!
All the pieces set out.
All the pieces set out.
The sides of the body.
The sides of the body.
The bottom board added to the sides.
The bottom board added to the sides.
The frame of the roof.
The frame of the roof.
Adding the top to the roof.
Adding the top to the roof.
The complete roof.
The complete roof.
A fully built top bar hive.
A fully built top bar hive.
The top bars have been added.
The top bars have been added.
The entire hive is complete!
The entire hive is complete!
 

Keeping Track

As a new beekeeper, I like to spend time looking for ways to help make my journey successful. Recently I came across a website, www.hivetracks.com. The site is free to use, but you can pay for an upgrade to access more tools. The free version allows you to track your yards, hives, inspections, and harvests. There is a to do list, calendar, and maps.  It's looks like a great way to keep track of what's going on in your hives. The free version seems to be well suited if you have Langstroth hives. When you upgrade to the pro version, you get to choose from other types of hives.. 
	I signed up for the pro version and entered the information for both of my hives. I got to look at the maps that showed 1, 2, and 3 mile radius around my hives. It was nice to see where the bees may travel to when they are out and about. I also looked at the global map to see if there are other users near me. It was fun to see other hives in the area!
	The "inspections" section is where the bulk of your note taking resides. You can easily track the day, time, and weather conditions of your inspection. You can enter the conditions of your hive, population, laying pattern, and if there are any queen cells. There is a place to document honey stores, feedings, diseases, and treatments. A note section is also available. If you use the pro version, you can upload photos and videos. The pro version also offers a hive hardware inventory, integrated calendar, and integrated to do list. 
	At this point I have not done any inspections, but I am excited to utilize this new tool that I have found.  I am sure that my to do list will get bigger and bigger  as the season gets closer. 
Our days are warming up now and the snow is starting to melt, so there is hope of spring! Today when I was out, I saw bees flying and some on the hive. They seemed very happy to be out and flying. Some were landing on the fence and soaking in the sunshine. It was all so good to see! Now we just need it to get warmer, melt the snow, and then there will be pollen for the bees to collect. In the meantime, I will continue to learn more about my new hive tracking tool.

photo 1
photo 2

The Bee-ginning!

I have always known that my name means honey bee, but I never imagined that I would become a beekeeper. It all started last summer when I noticed that our zucchini wasn't growing. The flowers would bloom and then fall off. I began to pay more attention to what was going on in my garden, or what wasn't going on. Pollinators were scarce even though I have good size perennial garden and raised vegetable beds. I contacted a friend of mine, who is a beekeeper to ask if she would put one of her hives in my yard. Unfortunately, she had lost about half of her hives coming out of the winter. She suggested that I call Best Bees of Boston to see if I could get a hive through them.  Best Bees came out to visit my garden and assess where to place a hive. Even though it was late in the "honey bee" season, they had a few hives left that were available. They brought our hive out on my birthday! What a great present! About two weeks after, I noticed that the drones were being removed. I knew that the bees did that going into fall, but this was still summer. As it turns out the queen had died at some point during transport of the hive or right after the arrival. Best Bees will replace your bees if needed and they did. It was almost September and they brought another colony to merge with the remaining bees from the first colony. Fast forward to February and seven plus feet of snow that has fallen since mid January and needless to say, I am worried about my bees!
	
	We had started talking about the possibility of adding a second hive to our garden, but we were not ready to decide. I began reading about treatment free beekeeping and I stumbled upon top bar beekeeping. Wow, did that peak my interest! I read more into it, bought a couple of books and dove right in. I have now ordered a package of bees and a top bar hive. The top bar hive will be coming from Bee Thinking out of Portland, Oregon. The hive should get here about a month or so before the bees, so I will have plenty of time to set it up.  While I am waiting for the snow to melt, I have been taking beekeeping classes and reading more. Today is March 1 and it is snowing once again. We have kept the front of the current hive cleared so the bees can get out when they need to. After each snow storm we have seen a few dead bees in the snow. It seems that there is still hope that the colony is alive. 

     Top bar beekeeping seems to be something that is not done much here in Massachusetts. I have found very little information or experiences about keeping top bar hives in Mass. That is what has inspired me to start this blog. I am sure that I am not the only person in Mass wanting to keep top bar hives, or at least I hope that I am not! This blog will chronicle my experiences beekeeping with the top bar hive and the Langstroth hive. For 2015 we have already signed up with Best Bees of Boston to maintain the Langstroth hive so my focus this year will be mostly on the top bar hive. Of course, that doesn't mean that I won't spend time visiting the Langstroth hive and enjoying the bees that live there!
Langstroth hive 3-1-2015
Langstroth hive 3-1-2015 (we need to remove our wreath!)