Inspection of the Langstroth Hive

Best Bees came out and checked on my Langstroth hive. The beekeeper came into the backyard and we talked a little about what I have seen with the bees. This hive has been very active and collecting pollen since the moment the snow melted. I have started to wonder if they will swarm this year.
Before he opened the hive I showed him the top bar hive. He had never seen one before and was intrigued. We opened the observation window, so that he could see how it looked on the inside. I also showed him what the top bars look like and explained the guide that they have on them.
When he opened the Langstroth hive, the bees seemed calm. He did not use a smoker. He pulled out the feeder first, the bees have not been using it for several weeks now, so he dumped it out and replaced it with new frames. I let him know that the bees had thrown out the sugar patty that was given to them in March. He found a large piece of it on top of the bottom box and took it out.  He checked most of the frames on the top box, the hive has two deeps.
There was quite a bit of capped brood. He was very surprised to see capped honey already. He said that he had not seen that with any of the other hives this year. I told him that these bees have been working very hard since the moment they were able to get out of the hive. I am sure that they found the skunk cabbage the minute it came up.
He told me that the hive looks great and that they will put a third deep on the next time they come out. He looked for queen cells, but said that he doesn’t think there were any there. He saw some drone cells though. He told me that he didn’t need to check the bottom deep because looking at how things were going on the top he could guess how things were. I am very happy to hear that things are going very well with this hive.
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Home Sweet Home Part 2

On April 28th the small cell, treatment free bees arrived. The post office called me right before 8am asking me to come pick them up. Their hive was ready and I had prepared 1:1 sugar water for them. When I got to the post office, they let me know that the bees were out on the dock.
There were two packages that had been delivered that day to my town. The postal workers were not happy because some of the bees had gotten out of the packages. They thought that I was picking up both packages and when I told them that I had only ordered one, it forced them to actually read the label to see that there was someone else that ordered some too. I am sure that they called that person right away as well.
I put them in the car to drive them home. There were a few bees on the outside of the package, but they seemed to want to stay there. It wasn’t a problem for them to be out, they stayed on the side of the package for the short drive home.
The weather was decent and the bees had been in the package for around 7 days, so I needed to get them into the hive. The lid on this package was a little more work to pry off. The bees had begun to put wax on the can of sugar water that they had, but it came out easily. The bees seemed to be a bit agitated.
I got the queen box out and checked the queen. She had three attendants in with her. All of the attendants were dead. The queen was still alive. After taking the cork out, I attached the queen box to bar 13. I had the bees between bars 13 and 29 and they had open access to the feeders. Once the queen was in I shook the package to get as many of the bees into the hive as possible.
I noticed a sharp pain in my leg and I ignored it. The pain got worse and I realized that I had been stung. I stopped the installation, cleaned the sting site with rubbing alcohol, and changed my pants. I didn’t want to give these grumpy bees any more reasons to sting me.
The rest of the installation went without incident. Once the bees were in the hive I went inside to check on my sting. That worker bee left quite a welt for me. The area swelled up to about a 4 inch diameter and was bright red. After that I was feeling grumpy too.
The next day is when I realized that I needed to fix the feeders, just as I had with the other hive. In the morning I looked through the observation window to see what they were up to. The bees were all balled up, but they were nowhere near the queen. They were right next to the feeders though.
The sting that I had received was still hurt quite a lot, so I was not thrilled to think about opening this hive and disturbing these bees. Of course, I knew that if I didn’t it would be a lot more difficult to deal with the feeders later and I was concerned about them not taking care of the queen. When it was warm enough out, I opened the hive.
The first issue to deal with was the feeders and putting it behind the divider board. I had two more pencil pieces to put under the divider board to provide space for the bees to go in and out. The bees were not as grumpy this time, so it was a bit easier to be in the hive. I was still nervous about getting stung again though.
After the feeder was dealt with, I needed to check on the queen. I removed the cork from the other side of the queen box to allow her to just walk out. I also moved the bar with the queen cage to  the middle of the ball of bees. The bees had begun to build some comb and some of them were already foraging.
I found it strange that the bees were ignoring the queen and I wanted to talk to someone about it. I called Christy Hemenway from Gold Star Honey Bees. I ordered this package of bees from her. I am so glad that I called her. When we were talking she mentioned that it was possible that there was another queen in there that was not in a separate box. That could explain why they were not taking care of the queen in the box. I had heard of that happening, but I did not think about it. She also told me to give them about 3 days to let the queen out and then check on them again.
On Saturday May 2nd it was time to get back into the hive. I decided to use the smoker to try to help calm the bees. Their sugar water was still almost full, but I think that they have been eating out of the hummingbird feeder and I have seen them bringing pollen in. I took out the queen box and the queen was no longer in the box. I checked the hive a little, but I didn’t want to be too disruptive.
The bees seemed clam while I was inspecting the hive, but I wanted to keep in short. They had started to build a few combs and I looked at them a little. I did not spot the queen nor did I see eggs. There was some cells with fluid in  them and I saw bees continuing to bring in pollen. I will check them again in a few days to see how things are progressing. In the meantime, I can open the observation window to get a quick peek at what’s going on in there.

Settling In

The bees have had a little more than a week to settle in to their new home. I checked on them two days after they were installed. The queen was still in the queen box so I decided to hang the queen box on one of the top bars. While in the hive, we got to see that the bees are very busy building their comb. They had started three combs and they were building them following the guide on the top bar.  Brand new comb is pure white and looks so beautiful.
I went back to the hive a couple of days later to check on the queen. The workers had released her and I removed the queen box. I did not look for the queen, I was trying not to be too disruptive.
Then I needed to go back a couple of days later to fix the feeder set up. I spoke with customer service at Bee Thinking and I learned that I had set up the feeder wrong. I didn’t put the divider board between the bees and the feeders. Bee Thinking let me know that I needed to raise the divider board by putting something under it that was about 3/8 inch to allow the bees to go in and out of the feeder area. I found some large colored pencils and broke them in half. The pencils are the shapes of hexagons, so they have some flat surfaces to prevent them from rolling.
When I went to fix the feeders, I also checked the level of sugar water. Both of the jars were about half full.  I decided that I would return to refill the feeders and to do another inspection in a few days. When I returned to the hive, it had been almost two weeks since the bees had been installed.
This was the first time that I had used the smoker. For fuel I had blank newsprint paper, cedar wood chips, and I tossed in some dried lemon balm. I have read that bees really like lemon balm and I have a bunch dried from my garden. I made sure that the smoke was cool. The bees seemed pretty calm when I opened the hive, I am not sure if it was the smoke or they were just relaxed.
I filled the feeders first and then replaced the top bars in that area. Then it was time to inspect the bars where the bees are living. The bees have 9 bars right now and they have started comb on about 6 of the bars. I inspected 3 of the bars. I found the queen and I spotted eggs. There was also some pollen stores in the comb and either nectar or the beginning phases of honey. I still have some learning to do on what to look for, but I am sure that with time it will get easier.

The bees are getting familiar with their new home.
The bees are getting familiar with their new home.
A nice little surprise when I opened up the hive.
A nice little surprise when I opened up the hive.
It's good to see the bees making the hive a home.
It’s good to see the bees making the hive a home.
Very fresh honeycomb.
Very fresh honeycomb.
The bees are very hard at work building up their comb.
The bees are very hard at work building up their comb.
A view of the bees from the observation window.
A view of the bees from the observation window.

Home Sweet Home Part 1

The bees for the top bar hive that is at the host house arrived this morning. I got up early, got everything ready, and then went to pick them up from New England Beekeeping Supplies. There were hundreds of packages of bees, many were in a trailer with a fan blowing to help cool them down. The package that I got to take was already out of the trailer.
It’s quite something to ride in the car with approximately 10,000 honey bees sitting next to you. While we were driving, they made an occasional soft humming noise. The drive home was uneventful.
I stopped at my house to pick up my family before we headed over to the host house. We made sure we had everything we needed. When we got to the host house the first thing that we had to do was make sure the hive was still level. We also needed to tighten the stand and set up the feeders. I had placed a drop of lemongrass essential oil in the hive before I went up to get the bees. I wanted the oil to have a little time to air out before the bees moved in.
Once the hive was ready and the feeders were in it was time to open the package. My daughter was very excited to help with this part. I used the hive tool and opened the top of the package. My daughter held the queen cage up as I pulled out the can of sugar water. We got the queen box out and brushed off the bees that were on it.
The queen is alive and she was walking around in her box. The cork needed to be pulled out of the queen box, but I had some difficulty. My husband had to get his knife out to finally dig the little piece of cork out. Then the queen box was ready to go into the hive, so I set her on the bottom.
Now the exciting part: I got to bang a box full of bees onto the ground to try to force them all to one area of the package. Then I poured them into the hive! I had to bang the box a few times to get the majority of the bees into the hive. There was still a big clump of bees in the box that I could not get out. I set the box under the hive to allow the bees to come out and find their new home. I carefully placed all of the top bars back in the hive and closed the lid.
I came back several hours later and all of the bees that were in the box when I left were still there. It had been raining all day and it was cold. I needed to get the rest of the bees into the hive. I decided to open up the bars that are over the feeders in the hopes that less bees would be right there. It was a good decision.
Once the hive was opened again, I tried to bang on the box a little more and shake the bees out. Some of the bees came out, but not all of them. I broke open the box and tore off the screen to get the rest of the bees out and into the hive. I was able to get most of them and I placed the box back under the hive to give the few bees left a chance to find the opening.
I will go back tomorrow to check on them and see how things are going. It has been raining most of today and there is rain in the forecast for tomorrow morning. I will wait until the rain has ended and then I will see how they are doing. Hopefully I can just look in through the window so that I don’t have to disturb them by opening the hive.

 

The package of bees.
The package of bees.
Opening the top.
Opening the top.
Pouring honey bees into the hive.
Pouring honey bees into the hive.
Look at all of those bees!
Look at all of those bees!
Putting the top bars back into place.
Putting the top bars back into place.
Closing up the hive.
Closing up the hive.
Peeking into the window.
Peeking into the window.
All moved in.
All moved in.
Home Sweet Home
Home Sweet Home

All Ready for the Bees

The new top bar hive has been built, oiled, and placed in the garden. If all goes according to plan the bees will move in toward the end of next week. I plan to number the top bars to keep track of each bar and the movements that I make with it.

While I am waiting for the bees to get here, I have been rereading Top Bar Beekeeping by Les Crowder and The Thinking Beekeeper by Christy Hemenway. I want to make sure that I feel as ready as possible. I have a notebook that I am writing notes from the books in to remind me of good practices and timelines.
I have also spent time on www.hivetracks.com updating my hives and to do lists. I had fun looking at the map to see where the bees in my yard may travel to. There is quite a bit of conservation land near here for the bees to visit.

Honey bees need to have access to water, so I set up a waterer for them that has rocks in the bowl to prevent drowning. I set it up between the raspberries and the fruit trees. Soon they will be flowering and the bees should find it.
The other top bar hive has been set up in the host yard. I will be picking up the bees for that hive on Monday. That will be my first package installation. I practiced lighting the smoker. It took me a few tries to get it going. I feel comfortable with it now.

One of the final things that I need to do is to get the feeders ready. I will be feeding the bees equal parts sugar and water to help them get started. Hopefully I will not need to feed them too long, but I want to do what I can to help them succeed.

To make the hive smell appealing to them, I am going to add a drop or two of lemongrass essential oil to the hive before I put the bees in. It looks like it will be raining Monday for the installation, so I am hoping that the bees will just stay in the hive for the day. Hopefully after being in the hive for a while, they won’t have any issues calling it home.

I am hoping to get some video of the installations to share and of course there will be pictures. Now I need to make a list of everything that I need to bring, so that I do not forget anything. Wish me luck!

 

Top bar hive in my yard.
Top bar hive in my yard.
Top bar hive in host yard.
Top bar hive in host yard.

The Garden

     Last year was a busy time in my garden. I planted several fruit trees, blueberry bushes, raspberries, grapes, lingonberries, and more strawberries. I also added raised beds for vegetables. Then when I got the beehive, I wanted to do more pollinator friendly planting. I added some perennials that the bees prefer and I planted some spring bulbs for the bees to have access to pollen earlier in the season.
     This year, I have decided to expand my garden even more. Two almond trees and two more peach trees are on their way. There is a greenhouse in my basement with lots and lots of seedlings growing. There are veggies and flowers down there getting bigger every day.
     One of my big projects this year is ripping up the front lawn so we can have a “no mow” front yard. I am planning to plant native, pollinator friendly plants and sweet potatoes. Last year I tried growing sweet potatoes in pots, but it did not go well. I am hoping that giving them more space will allow them to do better and we will get to enjoy sweet potatoes.
     I am also attending a workshop on high bionutrient crop production with Dan Kittredge through the Bionutrient Food Association. Learning about properly caring for the soil and the plants that I put into it is good for me and for the bees. My goal is to have a well nourished garden to provide nutritious food for my family and the bees. Healthy soil also means that my plants will be able to better protect themselves from pests and diseases without the use of chemicals.
     I have stayed away from commercial chemical use in my garden, but I have used products labeled organic. Recently I have learned that even with the organic label some of these things can be toxic to the bees and not beneficial to the garden. This year I am going to focus on using only products that will not harm the bees and will help make the soil more nutritious. I have spayed my fruit trees with diluted neem oil to help keep pests away and give the trees a chance to improve their health.
     The compost bins are also getting a boost this year. I have added some humates and minerals to the bins. I have also started a worm bin, the one pound of red worms arrived earlier this week. The garden will benefit from all of the goodies that the worms will leave behind. I still have a lot to learn about the bees and the garden, hopefully all will be patient with me while I learn as much as I can.

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!)