There are certain pursuits which, if not wholly poetic and true, do at least suggest a nobler and finer relation to nature than we know. The keeping of bees, for instance. --- Henry David Thoreau

"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best -- " and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do,
there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called. -- The House at Pooh Corner

Saturday, July 18, 2009

First Year of Beekeeping (revised)

March 6/2010:

Below are the posts from the first incarnation of my Whole 'Nother Bee Blog. I edited them just a tiny bit to avoid confusion and to eliminate some obvious errors. I have included these excerpts from this first year because I think it might be helpful if you are just starting out to track my progress and fumblings getting started. As of today, both of Ed's Kenyan Top Bar Hives came through the winter well and are out foraging. Karen's 48" TBH had a very small colony captured in late summer after her first colony absconded. This second swarm was apparently not large enough to make it through the winter, despite feeding them. My mentor beek friend now tells me I should have combined that small swarm with Ed's smaller colony.

Start from the bottom and read up.

Friday, July 17, 2009

It's Hard Out There For A Bee

[Next post from the original first year blog. Edited to update it.]

I have to follow up with a sad story about that oak tree swarming. Just like clockwork the oak tree cast off a swarm right in the middle of the nectar flow. A nice fat swarm about the size of a basketball.

But they ignored the baited Warre` hive I had set up. Instead they headed directly to that same spot in the well house roof that had caused so many problems last year. They slipped in between the roof beams and set up housekeeping between the ceiling of the apartment upstairs (yeah, it's a real nice well house!) and the roof. My friend asked me to see if it was possible to "coax" them back out and perhaps rehive them somewhere else on the property. I was both excited and daunted at the prospect of my first trapout -- I'd have to remove some shingles,and set the one-way escape cone up right in a barely accessible point under the rafters. I had the idea that maybe some Bee-Quick would further entice the queen and her minions to leave. I decided to come back the next day with the proper equipment and get started.

The next morning my friend called and was excited to tell me the bees were vacating the well house and had balled up in a swarm right under the rafter where I had planned to begin trapping them. I hurried over. Sure enough almost the whole of the colony had vacated the interior and were balled up. I spent a while brushing the big colony into my bee box -- it was kind of awkward, what with the almost inaccessible area and being eight feet up on a ladder.

Got stung a couple of times, but I was congratulating myself on how I am starting to get the hang of this swarm capturing thing. I wasn't sure the queen was in the swarm, but I figured I could work out the details after I put the swarm in a hive at home. Either the queen was in there, or she'd just have to make her way out to the rafter area where I could come back and get her later in the day. At worst I could pick up some Bee-Quick at Glorybee the next day and convince her to come along with the rest of the girls.

I didn't really pay much attention to the large number of bees on the ground below, either immobile or slowly crawling in the grass.

I got the swarm home, and shook them all into the Warre', set up a feeding station and a water source. There were some slow bees in the box, so I left them there in the box outside the hive to make their way in. A few more bees were slowly crawling around below the hive entrance after I had everything set up.

The honeybees began dying. More bees were falling from the rafters at the well house that afternoon; and the hive at home was piling up with slowly crawling, dying honeybees. It was only then that I realized that the bees had initially swarmed into and occupied the same area where a year earlier the other swarm had taken up residence. My friend hadn't been able to remove them that time, and reluctantly had had to exterminate them with an insect spray. (The family had not yet been educated about honeybees back then.)

Yeah, I guess that insecticide had enough residue left to terminate this swarm too. I'm sure the queen and her attendants never made it out alive. After one more little ball of dying bees crawled out onto the rafter area, there was no more activity coming from the interior where they had gone in.

I did what I could, ... but really, what can you do that will remedy a situation like that? My friend was upset, and we were all saddened as we watched the poor honeybees over the course of the next few days. Slowly they either fell to the bottom board of the hive or flew off erratically to die out in the woods.

I'm beginning to think that first Warre` hive of mine is a hard luck hive. But that's just some kind of bee karma foolishness, really. Now that it's July, any swarm I catch and put in there wouldn't be worth a fly, as the rhyme goes. I refuse to give up yet.

However, the city bees and the country bees at Ed's rural Eagle's Rest garden are doing just fine. I dunno, I'm still getting a few calls from town to do cut-outs, which I'm ill prepared to do well. But I'll still try to rescue any straggling swarms that come to my attention. We'll figure out some way to hive 'em and get them through the winter if they can't build themselves up on the rest of the summer flow.

Yep ... hard out there for a bee.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Silver Spoon and the Bee Tree

[Next post from the original first year blog. Edited to update it.]

Just an update. The saying goes "a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon." About the middle of June I rescued a small swarm and put it in the hive at Karen and Maria's place. A week later the colony is thriving and has filled about 1/4 of the 48" TBH. They seem happy, productive and quite content in their new home, despite the last swarm we introduced there absconding a week or so later. The girls act like they know they are a 'silver spoon'.

Another friend called to have me come look at a giant old oak tree that had a colony inside. What lovely, docile bees! A year or so before the colony had a swarm leave the tree and settle in the well house 50 feet away in a very inconvenient area for bees and humans alike. All indications appear to indicate that the oak tree colony isn't a good candidate for a cut-out. And although the tree is close to the house and other outbuildings that have lots human activity, we decided to try to set a bait hive up to control the swarms as they leave the oak tree. We'll just let the main colony remain in the oak forever, nobody is disturbed by the presence of the bees.

I set up the Warre' I had at home (where the bees also absconded) next to the oak tree and baited it with lemongrass oil and some pieces of the leftover comb. Hopefully any swarms will just take up residence and not stray any further.

We'll see.

Meanwhile K&M's new bees are carrying in lots of pollen and have taken over pollination chores in their lovely garden.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Easy Come, Easy Go Bees

[Next post from the original first year blog. Edited to update it.]

Absconding. I learned about it over the last couple of weeks. Two of the swarms we captured decided they didn’t like the accommodations, and moved on. We watched one of them leave, being unable to discourage them. They decided to swarm first to an inaccessible branch and then within a few minutes take off for the treeline over the fence. Gone.

I came home from that absconsion to my brand new Warre` hive to find that they, too, had decided to vacate, not even leaving word for the poor half-dozen foragers who came home to find an empty hive too. They’re still hanging out on the little comb the colony built. Two hives, absconding on the same day at about the same time.

Like any newbeek, the first question I asked was “What did I do wrong?” Was it the hive? Did the bees hate plywood? Did the paint fumes offend them? I thought for awhile that the advice I got about opening the hive and removing that piece of a branch I had installed with them on it was the culprit action. Too much manipulation in a short time. Then a couple of guys from the Beekeepers Assoc suggested that perhaps there were too many yellow jackets around. The bees absconded just as the yellow jackets were getting established in the areas near both hives. Turns out that both Karen’s hive and my Warre` hive had mowing right around them just before the abscondings. So there's a lot of clues, and you can take your pick of what to blame for the leaving.

It’s been two weeks since the bees left, now. I don’t think I’m gonna pinpoint why it happened. Seems to be a favorite topic for beekeepers to theorize, guess, and pontificate about; why bees abscond. There's no definitive answer, even in all the literature. I’m writing this into the notes for a future newbeek manual as another of those questions they don’t tell you about when you first get started.

Meantime, the two hives at Eagle’s Rest are doing just fine.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Week o' the Swarms

[Next post from the original first year blog. Edited to update it.]

I filled all the hives with bees this week. It taught me to have faith in the weather. The first sun-drenched dry days of the Spring happened this week and the bees were ready to take advantage. As I wrote earlier, my friend Karen had been hunting for swarms. She came up with a treasure! She happened to know of someone with a grove of bee trees, just beginning to swarm.

The owner happens to be a guy in tune with his land and the natural rhythms involved. He has a wonderful grove of mature Ash trees next to a pond. There are about 6 colonies of honeybees living in the hollows in the trunks. He watches and sees them swarm every year in the springtime. This year Karen happened to be there. We immediately got the first swarm (well, second swarm, really. The first swarm had already moved into his duck box high on another Ash tree.) and transferred it to Karen’s Top Bar Hive. Two more swarms followed in the next four days. The weather was perfect: warm, cloudless days with great sunsets.

And on Mother’s Day, the local Swarm List finally granted me a call to retrieve a swarm. City bees! A big fat swarm on the side of a condo in downtown Eugene. It was a dry swarm, and I got stung a lot though my own carelessness and newbeek mistakes. Molly even got a bee in her hair that stung her. But the swarm ended up in Ed’s Eagles' Rest Beeyard, after a trip to the country in a cardboard box.

By the time I got the two other swarms from the Ash tree grove, I kind of got the hang of moving the bees, and no more stings (so far). Now all the hives are filled with new swarms of delighted, happy bees. Two at Ed’s, one at Karen’s and now one in my hastily assembled and not-quite-fully-painted Warre` hive in my back yard.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Warré Thing

[Next post from the original first year blog. Edited to update it.]

So I ended the last blog entry by stating that I had a brand new 48” TBH for the garden, didn't I? I just finished putting the last coat of paint on it last Thursday. I was looking forward to putting away the table saw and concentrating on catching swarms for awhile.

Uh uh.

Karen and Maria fixed that. Like everyone around me in the Willamette Valley, these two friends experienced a near total dearth of honeybees as their early gardening began. Their wonderful landscaped garden had been doing fine for a long time, thanks mostly to a secret honeybee colony that had taken up residence in an old duck box. This year the racoons made short work of it, and voila (translation to english: wahl-lah) … no honeybees.

And then somehow my 48” Top Bar Hive came to rest in their garden, and not in mine.

Before I gave up my 48” Kenyan TBH, I had been corresponding with Nick Hampshire about Warré top bar hives. After I gained awareness of their advantages and disadvantages, I had halfway decided to build a couple for me and Ed to add to the small apiary in his rural Eagle’s Rest garden next season. Relocating the new 48-incher just put the Warre`s higher on the "to do"list.

Now Nick has about a ton of information on Warrés including great plans for newbees. Fortunately/unfortunately I found it hard to discover where the notes were to the actual configuration of Warré top bars themselves. This led me back to the quest at the center of this blog: collecting information newbees ought to have but somehow is made obscure by the wise. I say fortunately, for this led me to David Heaf and to his great discussion group in the UK. Through his wisdom and advice, I got on with the Warré construction project with renewed confidence in the wider application of natural and organic methodology.

So … now having given up the 48” KTBH, table saw still in place, and a ton of plywood left, it's become obvious that Warré hives are soon to be a reality.

Uh … plywood? Yes, that is the very first of the by-now-not-surprisingly-unanswered-for-newbies questions: is plywood okay for those heat and scent-sensitive and more precisely cut out Warrés? Nick got me an answer in record time. Yep, newbees, it’s okay. Here’s proof in a very kewl backyard plywood hive. (Oh and forget about that “gassing” issue re plywood. It’s less than negligible levels when compared to the trace elements of toxic crap your bees are going to carry into the hive in their little pollen baskets ….)

The core of this new development for me is the idea that we can start this year to gain some experience in beekeeping the natural way in both horizontal and vertical top bar hives. That's worthwhile, don't you think?

Okay. Karen is busy searching for new bees (no … not newbies), Maria is gardening, Ed’s monitoring the KTBHs at Eagle’s Rest for signs of occupancy now that we’ve got the lemongrass oil baiting those hives; and me, I’m busy converting all those decimal inch-fractions on the most familiar Warréhive plan to simple (real) english measurements so that a normal person can use them with a normal tape measure or ruler. (I'll notify the Wise Ones, and ask them to consider revisions for us newbees.)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Redecisions, Redecisions

[Next post from the original first year blog. Edited to update it.]


Hmmm. This week two of the top beekeeper experts over on the Organic Beekeepers Yahoo group posted that for their length 2-foot or 3-foot Top Bar Hives aren’t a good idea. Basically their reasons were first that the volume would be too small -- that the honeybees would “swarm too much”. Second, there wouldn’t be much production of honey; at least that’s what I took to be one comment. One of the experts cited the case of some African hives that were 5’, 6’ and even longer. The other expert felt that 5’ was about the max. At any rate neither of them would consider 24” or 36” TBHs.

So this is exactly the kind of contradictory information that hangs up us newbees when we’re starting out. This is the kind of stuff I’m hoping the blog will acquire information to clarify.

Half of the websites, books and magazine articles about top bar hives recommend 36” hives to us fledgling TBH beeks. e.g., If you look on the links list below there are many plans and pictures of 3-foot top bar hives. PJ Chandler (whose site first convinced me there was hope of natural, sustainable beekeeping) says this, “If you are a first-time beekeeper and currently have no ambitions to keep more than one or two hives, I suggest you start with a 36” long box. If you have some experience with conventional hives and want to start nucs and run four or five or more colonies, then go for the more capacious 48” model” [it’s on page three of the ‘How to’ plans]

There are a surprising number of 38-40 inch hives. Actually they are 97 centimeters and above. I suppose that’s a legacy of the original Kenyan and Tanzanian hives? Now when you look at these pictures of hives in developing countries, they look to be less than 4 feet, don’t they? And these are for serious beekeeping.

Sam Comfort’s video showing him working TBH’s was a big source of new information for me when I first saw it. He was using Top Bar Hives that appeared to be around two feet and three feet long, as well as some Langs. (I didn’t see any Warre’s.)

Christy Hemenway of Gold Star Bees posted something on the Top Hive Group “I don't see the need for you to be discouraged so much as I see the need for you to become very well-versed in how to maintain a three foot hive!”

I guess the most definitive answer to hive length I read was from BillSF9c over on that same Top Hive group, “A medium [hive] may swarm sooner, but that enables another hive if you split before it does. It's not good or bad. It's choices, depending on need &/or intent. Why, do you want bees? Why, do you want a TBH? Why do you want a hTBH? (horizontal, as opposed to vertical...) Engineers say, "Form, follows [needed] function. Function is defined by need/desire(s.) Write yours down, in order of importance, and go from there. See what fits.”


Even though I’m desperate for bees, I turned down a chance to do a cutout this week. It is a 12+-year-old hive in a well house. I don’t even have a full bee suit, nor the expertise to know how to attempt the capture, so I politely declined and sent the offer on to a longtime beek in my area.

So far the two hives in Ed’s garden are empty, but I refreshed the lemongrass oil on Sunday. This is about the first week in the Willamette Valley where our weather hasn’t been below 40 at night and constantly rainy. On those few days in March and in early April where there was sunshine, I saw just a few bees out and foraging, however Ed’s rural garden is suddenly alive with ‘em.

I’m thinking very soon something will happen to get us some free bees. My little 24” hive is ready to put next to an inaccessible wild hive that’s close to swarming, the owner says. (We’ll see.)

Meantime, I have a brand new 48” TBH for the garden.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Decisions, Decisions

[Next post from the original first year blog. Edited to update it.]

With the call from several prominent organic beekeeper folks to get more new people helping the honeybees to recover, I decided to be one of those involved; I spent last Fall and Winter reading, researching the net, and amassing a ton of info (check out the links section), … and making a plan. Long story short, here’s some of what I came up with:


Originally, like you and every other new beek, I only knew of the standard Langstroth hive system. As I got into research, the drawbacks multiplied. They cost a lot, what with all the parts. And – paramount for me – the whole system seemed to be if not anti-bee, rather cruel and exploitive. My wife came to the rescue, understanding my reluctance, but wanting me to succeed with an effort to help the bees. She showed me a link to P J Chandler’s Barefoot Beekeeper site. Immediately I found that I had been correct in my displeasure with the Langstroth system. Chandler was the first to enlighten me to what was wrong, and how to proceed. By the time I got to Anarchy Apiaries’ site, I knew I was on the right path.

I started with Chandler’s plan for a Top Bar Hive. After doing a lot of research on TBH designs, I modified it to incorporate ideas that seemed important for my area. I ended up with hives that are closer to Hirschbach Apiary‘s New TBH plan. Abundant rain in Oregon means a watertight cover. Screened bottom boards at the time I was constructing seemed necessary for mite control, at least until my bees could be regressed and their resistance strengthened. Later, I realized there were ventilation issues with a closed TBH hive in high moisture areas (rain again), so the screens stayed, but I added a closed bottom board. My only addition to TBH design ideas was to realize that the closed bottom board didn’t have to be attached, but could simply be a tray the hive sat on. The screened bottom board (SBB) is then able to be adjusted with spacers, and the tray/bottom board is easy to move and clean.

I chose a Kenyan style. I just like the lines. (I hadn’t paid much attention to Warre` hives when I was building my TBHs, basically because until I looked into them more carefully I assumed they were just Langstroth hives done “organically”. I’ve since learned better and next year I may build some.)

Acquiring Bees:

After reading comments from Dee Lusby, Michael Bush and others I didn’t want to buy packaged bees. Not even small cell bees. I thought it was better to go with local feral bees already adapted to my area, and naturally ‘healthy’. There have been feral bees in my little part of Oregon since they first escaped from the original pioneers almost 200 years ago. After WWII the farms and poultry ranches in the area began to shut down, and this resulted in another big wave of abandoned bees swarming into the surrounding forest and savanna areas in the Cascade foothills. There are some really old colonies up past the treeline. I’ve got people alerted to watch for swarms.

I decided upon two other strategies for acquiring those bees.

First, I found the best place to get the best, most organic lemongrass oil for luring swarms. You can’t grow your own and process it and end up with anything more pure and organic than the stuff from Mountain Rose. This weekend I set up two hives in my friend Ed’s wonderful rural garden and baited them with the lemongrass oil.

Second, I’m on the local swarm list through the Beekeeper’s Association. A friend of mine who keeps bees said she got more than a call a week all during swarm season last year, so I’m hopeful.

If toward the early part of Summer I haven’t been successful with either of these ideas, I know this nice lady who raises organic bees down the road from Ed’s garden. I’ll just whine at her until she gives me some bees.

I expect that I’ll end up with some sort of feral hybrids. Then I can spend the next few months identifying the strains, if possible. I don’t think it really matters, do you?

There’s a lot more to it all, but as of today that’s where I’m at with my plans and my decisions.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Ho Hum

[Next post from the original first year blog. Edited to update it.]

Another blog from another new beekeeper. The web is full of them, the webrings overcrowded with ‘em. Lots of ‘em are dead, or long forgotten, or languishing with no posts for the last half a year, prolly ever since the package bees first absconded, or the blogger died of anaphylactic shock next to his new hive, or maybe the spouse found other tasks to assign ….

So why put one more beeblog up on the net?

Well, I was standing over by the fence in the cyberspace beeyard and noticed a couple of things: First, there was a closed gate so that it was hard for a certain group to get in. That group is all the world-savers, tree huggers, environmentally conscious and aware activists who are busy doing their world-saving, tree hugging activist best to deal with their own tasks, whether it be whale saving, tree sitting, anti-nuke protesting, or the thousand other pieces of business that we desperately need to get on with across the planet. But in the back of all their minds is one more nagging thought that somebody ought to be focusing attention on the poor bees and doing something about their plight before they all go missing like all the dolphins did a la` “So long and thanks for all the pollen!” Beekeepers as a whole – while a sizable minority of them are themselves world-savers and environmentally aware folks who “get it” – beekeepers as a whole are speaking another language. Since I have some (ahem) readership amongst these world-savers, I figure I could blog my way towards switching that nagging thought with some information that would be understandable to them.

Second, the organic, sustainable, no-treatment-no chems, bees-know-best, survival-of-the-fittest, regress-back-to-the proper-bee-size Bee Guardians have yet to make a serious stab at providing adequate cross-over information that Warre`/Top Bar Hive using newbeeks (Beek = slang for beekeeper) find it very difficult to acquire in their beginning efforts. There is the tendency for the established beeks to speak code based upon Langstroth language and trust that TBHers can translate, surmise or generally apply non-TBH methodology to their fledgling operations. (There are a few notable exceptions, and you’ll find them in the links section of this blog.) But on the whole there are gaps in the beginner’s knowledge base that remain unbridged.

I figure that as I go along, I’ll get us TBH newbees some real answers that we can write down somewhere and pass on to the next class. Less reinventing the wheel; and less trying to adapt inadequate search engines to scrounge through disorganized bee forums where the information lives in dribs and drabs. Maybe we’ll eventually get a little pamphlet, website or smallish paperback full of how to actually do TBH splits, engineer SC foundation to TBH shapes, redesign hive plans to account for regional temperature and ventilation issues, blah blah blah, yadda x 3. See? There’s some stuff left to learn in Beginning Bee class. I’m gonna take notes and post ‘em here.

Okay. So I start out as a newbeek, with one skill in my favor as I go about beginning beekeeping. My dad was a Master Carpenter and I worked with him for a lifetime. I can build stuff outta wood. Killer bee hives. (No … not “Killer Bee” hives, Killer “bee hives”) I’ve built two Kenyan type TBHs that now sit in my friend’s garden out at Eagle’s Rest. I’ve got two more in the shop, and I’m studying Warre` designs for next season.

I joined the Beekeepers Association
and I’m on the Swarm List,
and the hives have been sprinkled with lemongrass oil
and the lady beekeeper down the road will prolly give us some bees if all else fails.

Lemme know what you think, what you need asked and answered ….


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Why Bees?

[This is the first post from the original first year blog.]

It’s kind of a Postcivilateum idea.

After you’ve come through the several stages of Earth Crisis Awareness (denial, despair, my x equals world saving, ... yadda x3) you arrive at this perceptual clarity where the actual possibilities of doing some actual good – rather than sending a check and singing Kumbaya – are actually apparent. By y’self … can’t save the whales, nor the amphibians, nor the coral reefs by acting locally, even if you think globally.

But …

You can save the bees. Locally. All you need is a back yard and some scrap lumber. It’s a whole movement, ya know? Organic, sustainable, hands-on beekeeping. One voice says that beehives should be more plentiful than televisions. The respected queen goddess of beekeeping says we need hundreds and hundreds of new beekeepers to get involved.

We H. Saps made Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), weakened the honeybee to susceptibility to varroa mites, and umpty other diseases that are killing them off. We should take some responsibility to fix this. Imean, do you like having the plants that provide your food supply pollinated or not?

Yeah. So I’ve started a whole ‘nother blog to rant all about it. Check out the links and resources and see if ya wanna save some bees too.

And, besides, ... the Goddess wants you to save them.