Tag Archives: hive

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Yeah, not a single post from last summer's bee raising experience. That could be that last year, beyond a shadow of a doubt, sucked ass. This post is about why that is and what we are going to do this year in an effort to do better.

Last Year

We ordered six boxes of bees. I built two new langstroth hives and two new top bar hives. We had our original two hives at my mother's house. Our efforts to overwinter the bees there was a failure, despite doing our best to insulate the hives. One hive had apparently become a block of ice, and in the other, it looked as though the bees starved.

This time we had the two hives at my mother's, two hives at our place, and two hives at Sarah's mother's place. Each location started with one top bar and one langstroth. At our place we found a spot in a small clearing of trees up a small hill near where we planned to have a garden. At Sarah's mom's we placed the hives just inside the tree-line near the rear of her large property. She lives on the same main road outside of town that we do, but a few more miles down, towards Chena Hot Springs.

Top Bar: Start of 2016
Top bar at our place right after adding bees
Bee hive: start of 2016
One of the hives at my mother's place after we added bees.
Hives 2016
The hives at Sarah's mother's place.

This year we decided to mark our queens. We didn't do that the previous year and we could never find the queen when we looked. I think this is where one of our problems came in. It's tough to get a bee to go where you want it to go, particularly if that place is a tiny queen marking tube. I wound up being rougher on the queens than I wanted, which I suspect led to issues later.

Bees installed, it was now time to let them do their things. Enter crappy weather, and lots of it, for most of the summer. Within the first few weeks it was obvious one of the hives wasn't going to make it. The queen was not laying, the population was dwindling and no stores were being kept. We eventually moved what bees were left to another hive. We had quickly gone from six hives to five.

Things didn't improve much from there. No hive was bringing in much in the way of stores. Another hive eventually collapsed, leaving us with four hives. I blame the combination of a summer of bad weather and my abuse of the queens when trying to mark them. Road construction near my mother's house continually disturbed the bees there, which kept them extremely agitated and on the verge of swarming several times.

Even with four working hives, at the end of the season, we got about as much honey as the previous year, when we only had two. We did get more wax, which was nice.

This Year

This year we chose to do only four hives. My mother is going all chemical warfare on some of her outside plants due to a mildew infestation, so we won't have the two hives there.

Sarah found a local supplier of bees here in Fairbanks in the form of Toklat Apiaries. They also have classes, which we are thinking about taking. A ton of good information can be found at their website. A bonus: Toklat marks their queens for you! No more roughed up queens because of my clumsiness!

Overall, we refuse to be discouraged. It's always sad to lose bees, but last year was only our second go at it, and we learn from each mistake.

Totally late on this post! Sorry about that.

With two different types of comb, we used two different extraction methods to get the honey. For the two frames pulled from the Langstroth hive, we used a two frame drum extractor. This holds the frames and you spin them to force the honey out. The natural comb from the top-bar hive will not work in this type of extractor, so it has to be crushed to release the honey.

For the Langstroth frames, the first step is decapping. This removes or breaks the wax cap the bees place over each honey cell. If the cap is in place when extracting, the honey cannot come out!

Decapping honey frame
Sarah decapping the honey frames.

I think most people use a decapping knife for this, but the inexpensive starter kit I purchased came with a tool that looks a lot like a many tined fork that you rake over the cells to cut through the cappings. It worked pretty well, so we will likely continue using it.

We caught the cappings and any honey that drizzled out in a cookie sheet. I've seen a number of better ways to do this online, but had not had the time to try to build something. I think that is something I will do next year, as this was a bit messy.

Once the cappings were removed, the frames went into the extractor. Our extractor fits two frames. It has a handle that you crank which, in turn, spins the frames around. You start out slow on one side, flip the frames over, and go slow again. You can then flip the frames over and go fast. Going slow at first helps prevent damage if you wish to reuse the comb in the hive.

Honey extractor in use
Sarah spinning the frames on the honey extractor.

As you spin the extractor around, the force flings the honey onto the sides of the extractor where it slowly finds its way to the bottom. It's pretty good exercise!

It takes a while, but eventually everything finds its way down. There will be bits of wax and maybe some pollen in the raw honey, but these will be filtered out. That cheap-o kit I purchased came with a pretty decent strainer to get the bigger things out. It is actually two strainers that connect to one another, a larger mesh first to get out really big things, and then a finer mesh below to get smaller items.

Filtering the honey
The honey goes through a mesh filter.

For the most part, that's it to extracting from the Langstroth frames. The comb from the top-bar hive is completely built by the bees. It can be an odd shape or size and it doesn't have the rigid frame around it, so you can not use the extractor to get at the honey. Instead you crush or chop it up to release honey.

Cutting up honey comb
Roger mashing the hell out of honey comb.

We used nothing more than a potato masher in this process. No special tools needed here.

Straining mashed comb
Straining the mashed comb.

We then moved the results into the strainer. As the honey filtered through we stirred up the wax from time to time to let any honey trapped on top get through. This process definitely took longer than the spinning extractor, but since you are cutting up the entire comb, you do get to reclaim more wax. The general rule that I've read both in books and online is that you get more honey from a Langstroth hive, since the bees spend less time building comb on premade foundations, but you get more wax from a top-bar hive. So far, this first year has certainly borne that out.

One gallon of honey
Just a bit over a gallon of honey extracted.

In the end, from the three frames, we extracted a bit over a gallon of honey. Not sure if that is normal or not, and frankly, don't really care. I think it is awesome that we were able to get any in the first place.

Once all of the honey was in the bucket, we did a final filter by passing the honey through a cheesecloth. Because this process can introduce a lot of air bubbles into the honey, we let it sit overnight before doing anything else. This also gives anything that made it through the filters time to either float to the top, where it can be skimmed off, or sink to the bottom where you can avoid it while bottling.

When we checked back the next day, there was very little to skim off. Between the mesh filters and cheesecloth we seemed to have removed anything that might be a problem (there's always some pollen in honey - it's good for you!)

We got thirteen jars of beautiful golden honey. It has an amazing flavor. Can't make any claims on where the nectar came from, it is truly a mix of whatever has been blooming. All I can say is, it beats store bought soundly!

Jars of honey
Finished jars of honey in the window sill.

 

Ok, so a lot has occurred in the past few days, so this is going to be broken over two posts!

This past weekend was the day of reckoning for the two hives we have been working with this summer. Time to crack them open and rob those bees of their precious, golden treasures. Since these were first-year hives, we knew we were not going to be getting a lot. Our plan was to take two frames (or combs in the case of the top-bar hive) from each hive. We would then leave a brick (errr... loaf?) of bee candy in each to help the bees replenish their suddenly dwindled honey supply.

After getting geared up we cracked open the Langstroth hive. Even though this hive was three supers deep, the bees had never really moved into the top super above the queen excluder. They had, however, pretty well filled out the two bottom boxes. It wasn't difficult to find two frames that contained just honey.

Honey Frames
Honey frames pulled from the Langstroth hive.

If you want to piss off bees, steal their honey. One managed to get a sting through my pant leg and just above my knee. It only hurt for a second, but itched like mad for a few days - like a mosquito bite from hell.

After that, we took two empty frames from the top box and placed them where the two honey frames had been. Then in went the bee candy.

Sarah with bee candy.
Bee candy placed in top box.

Closed up the box and then proceeded over to the top-bar hive where I failed to take any pictures. Sarah, however, managed to get this awesome shot of me glaring at a bit of tiny comb.

Roger with top-bar comb.
A tiny bit of comb on one of the top bars.

Apparently, I get cranky at tiny combs.

When we had inspected this colony before, it seemed like there were a number of heavy, honey-laden combs. However, this trip we only found one worth harvesting. Sarah cut the comb from the bar into our container, and I placed the bar back into the hive. Like the Langstroth before, a brick of bee candy was placed inside the hive.

So other than my sting, we got out of there pretty unscathed. It did, however, show the different temperaments of the two hives. The bees in the Langstroth hive were very aggressive. They did not like the honey frames being removed and replaced by empty frames. Or maybe they just did not like the intrusion. The weather had been pretty crappy leading up to this, so foraging had been at a minimum.

In contrast, the top-bar hive seemed pretty chill about the whole ordeal, even when the bees that were on the comb we took were jarred from it. They may have had a rough start in spring with robbers, but they definitely grew into their hive and became quite productive.

Once the combs were safely packed away in our plastic storage container we took them home for extraction. I took lots of pictures of that process and will create a separate post for that.

Cliches aside, this really has been a busy week. Sarah has been running around the kitchen making jelly from locally harvested chokecherries and rhubarb. Our landlord has a number of chokecherry trees and kindly let us grab as many as we want. My mother grows a couple of rhubarb plants, as does one of Sarah's friends. Sarah can cook up some yummy jelly.

Sarah making jelly.
Sarah preparing delicious rhubarb jelly.

For my part, I've been playing around with stuff for the bees. In preparation for colder weather, I made a bunch of bee candy. Bee candy is a supplemental food for bees to help them get through winter. It is primarily carbs in the form of pure sugar. I've added pollen for additional protein. I also took the small amount of wax we have collected so far and melted and filtered it. I'll go over both of these projects below.

The Candy Man

Usually, first year hives don't produce a ton of honey. The bees spend a great deal of their energies building comb, sealing cracks and general housekeeping. However, Sarah and I are going to be robbing their larders anyway. Well, at least a little. We want to test out our extractor for Langstroth frames, and see how much honey we can get from a few combs of the top bar, as well.

Since I want to try to over-winter these bees, that means I need to be able to replace what we take. To do this, I've made bee candy following the general guidelines I've seen on a few web pages. No two recipes seem to agree, but they all generally have one thing in common - crap-loads of sugar.

Making Bee Candy
12lbs. of sugar and three cups of water.

Started with 12 pounds of sugar and three cups of water. In retrospect, I probably would have used less water. While I was able to get solid blocks, they did have sticky wet spots.

Added to the sugar was about half a pint of pollen granules for protein. Most of the recipes I saw called for putting a pollen patty into candy. However, while we were at the Tanana Valley State Fair this year, a vendor booth was selling jars of pollen. Always love to support Alaskan businesses.

Bee Candy With Pollen
Adding the pollen to the bee candy.

Finally, with everything well mixed, I used bread pans as molds. This makes a rather thick candy, but I couldn't find anything thinner. In Langstroth hives, a thin board is used that fits above the supers. I have no idea how top-bars do this. My plan was to use some wood blocks to support the candy above the bottom mesh.

Bee candy in mold.
Bee candy in a bread mold.

This is really soft when placed in the mold (and sticky!). As water evaporates, it becomes harder. Everything I read said give it 24 hours. However, with these being thicker, we gave them several days before placing them in the hive.

Makin' Wax

Ok, the bees technically made the wax, I just melted it and cleaned it. At this point, we didn't have a lot of wax, but my curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to see if I could melt and clean it up.

I used a double boiler with the wax on top. It was mostly a combination of bridge comb and cross comb we pulled out of the top-bar hive.

Raw bees wax.
The raw bees wax pulled from the hives.

There was rather a lot of dirt and dead bees in this. It looked pretty gross as it melted.

Raw melted wax
The brown sludge that the wax became as it melted.

I wasn't exactly feeling hopeful at this point. Bees, pollen, dirt and god knows what else was floating in the melted wax. Still, the next step was filtering, so surely it would look better.

We had recently purchased a stand to hold a jelly filter, so I figured I'd give that a try here, too.

Filtering bees wax.
Filtering the bees wax.

This is a pretty basic set up. Some cotton filter cloth is pinned to the stand, which is above a pot of cold water. Both wax and any residual honey pass through the filter. The wax solidifies and the honey either dissolves or sinks. Worked better than I expected.

Filtered bees wax.
Bright yellow bees wax after filtering!

I was impressed with how clean this came out with such a basic setup. Gone was the brown goop that was in the pan and in its place, nice yellow wax. This I remelted in a small aluminum bread mold (amazing how versatile bread molds are!)

Finished bees wax.
The finished bees wax.

You can see there are still a few impurities, but its way better than I was expecting for a first try. It did crack in the mold, I didn't have enough wax to make a very thick bar. I love the way this wax smells.

Sarah and I did harvest honey today and placed the bee candy. I will go over that in the next post!

 

 

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Ok, while I can honestly say I've never quite "got" this particular Beastie Boys lyric (I'm gonna guess it's *gasp*sexual*gasp* in nature), it's also a fairly accurate description of what the bees have been up to lately: making new comb and honey.

Sarah and I recently opened up the top-bar hive to see how things are going. The answer appears to be "very well." The bees have been busy building new comb and setting up stores of honey and pollen. They now occupy at least two-thirds of the space in their box, with fresh comb both in front and back.

Comb in hive
Comb farthest back in the hive.

This was the furthest back comb. Not much activity on this side. It was a bit more eventful on the other.

Sarah with the bees.
Bees fill comb with honey and pollen.

This side is nearly all honey. There is a bit of pollen near Sarah's finger. This is the dark patch, filled with the blue pollen of local fireweed. Most of the new comb is being filled with honey and pollen. It seems the bees are in winter-prep mode.

In cutting some cross comb we did hit a few spots that let the honey flow. We could not resist tasting and I can say, in all honesty, that it is so much better than store bought. Store bought honey goes through so much processing that it just does not taste the same. I look forward to harvesting time.

We have had quite a bit of rain lately, and I have not seen the bald-faced hornets since the last post. Even though they were killing bees, they were fun to watch. I suspect that something happened to their hive, though I was never able to find it. Yellow-jackets still fly near the hives, but I've never seen them harass the bees. They seem to look for already dead bees. Maybe our yellow-jackets are just freakin' lazy.

Tomorrow, weather permitting, we will go check out how the Langstroth hive is doing.

One of the amazing things about keeping bees is learning about things that are not bees. There is a lot to learn, after all. In recent weeks, Sarah and I have noticed a number of other flying insects interacting with our bees. Usually, not in a good way.

One of our first encounters was about a week and a half ago, while we were checking on the Langstroth hive. We were worried, as we had not seen much in the way of larva the last time we checked, and suspected we may have lost the queen. While this trip proved that assumption incorrect with a plethora of larva, we apparently caught the attention of some sort of wasp.

While sorting through the frames, one of the workers stung my glove. I brushed her body onto a nearby empty hive box and continued my work. A few minutes later, Sarah called for me to look at something.

wasp with bee
Wasp with dead bee

It is kind of hard to tell, but that wasp is just a tad smaller than the dead bee it is attempting to cart off. It was trying its damnedest to bite the head off of the dead bee, but utterly failing. I have no idea what kind of wasp this is. I am used to yellow jackets, but they are, well... more yellow than this.

A second bee made some valiant attempts to rescue her dead sister, harassing the wasp until it flew away.

Cue to this weekend. I usually have dinner with my mother on Saturdays, and I arrived a little early to check on the bees. As usual, we hung out on the deck for a few minutes just chatting. While chatting we noticed what we thought was a large, dark bee fly by. I didn't think much of it, though she commented that since we had bees this year, she thought she was noticing other insects she hadn't seen before.

After a few minutes of chatting, I got up to check the hives. I could tell from a distance that something was up with the top-bar hive. Bees were weaving haphazardly around the entrance, and the last few feet of their flight path. The entrance was covered with guard bees. As I got closer I could see a few dead bees on the ground.

I sat and watched for a few minutes and noticed two of the dark "bees" occasionally would fly into the area and attack the bees, grabbing them in mid-flight and sending them falling to the ground. Once the bee was dead, they seemed to lose interest and would fly off seeking another victim.

But the dead bees were not left alone. A single yellow-jacket was also flying around, picking through the corpses and enjoying a free meal. What was left over from the yellow-jacket, carpenter ants were picking through and hauling off.

My closest guess to what the dark "bees" where is the bald-faced hornet. Bald-faced hornets will kill bees to feed to their larva. However, if this is the case, these hornets sucked at their job. First, they were not killing many bees; they had a high miss ratio, either missing when they went for the kill or getting run off by defenders. Second, they never ate a single bee while I was observing. Usually, the dead bee would fall to the ground completely ignored by the hornets. The yellow-jacket and ants seemed to be the beneficiaries here.

The hive entrance has been wide open for a few weeks. We initially had trouble with robber bees, so I sealed the entrance until only a couple bees could pass through at a time. This makes it easier for the bees to defend the hive. However, after a few weeks, that issue passed and I opened it back up. Now, faced with aggressive hornets, I sealed it back up again, though not as tightly.

When Sarah and I returned the next day, things were looking much better. The two bald-faced hornets were gone, though a yellow-jacket was still there probably wondering where all the free food had gone. I did see a few carpenter ants, probably wondering the same thing. I'll leave the entrance narrowed for now and see how things go.

So my mother may be right. Or maybe these things have always been around in plain view and we are now only noticing them. Raising bees has certainly brought me more in touch with the sting-y bits of nature.

Too many words, not enough pictures:

Bees vs. Wasps

 

 

 

Top-Bar BeekeepingThe top-bar hive is an amazing, almost natural way to keep bees. It tries to mimic the way bees would naturally build hives in hollowed out trees and stumps. While Sarah and I have a Langstroth hive, I also built a top-bar hive and love to keep track of its progress.

There are a ton of YouTube videos out there on keeping top-bar hives, but I always like to keep a book or two around on any given thing I'm working on, so began scouring around for one on working with top bars. I'm really glad that the first book I found was Top-Bar Beekeeping: Organic Practices for Honeybee Health.

One of the things I've noticed when scouring the myriad YouTube videos on beekeeping is the prevalence of mitacides, fumigants and antibiotics used by both professional and hobbyist alike. I'm more of a fan of allowing things to progress naturally without much interference from me and a medicine cabinet load of other things. This book takes that approach.

Crowder and Harrell take you through everything you need to know about raising bees using a top-bar hive. From the various designs to the complexities of hive management, the book covers each aspect in detail. A first person narrative guides you through the trials, successes and failures the author's have personally experienced. I feel it is this story telling way of getting out information that most drew me into this book.

Les Crowder has worked with bees nearly his entire life. His methods strive to be as organic as possible. Instead of antibiotics and mitacides, he instead stresses bee health and genetics. Many bees are resistant to disease and queens from these bees can help build strong hives without the use of potential toxins.

Heather Harrell is an organic farmer and emphasizes the philosophies of permaculture, or designing agriculture to mimic that natural environment. The top-bar hive fits into this system quite nicely.

Together, they have written a book that even the novice can read and learn from. Their methods fit in with a desire to do things as naturally as possible. In a world that is seeing bees die off at alarming rates, and more indicators that this is due to a complex of issues that includes pesticides and other pollutants, it is really good to see a book that recommends natural alternatives.

Late last month, I was about to go on a week of vacation, so wanted to build the next box for the Langstroth hive. Now, bear in mind, that a hive box is just four sides, no top or bottom. This should be simple. And it seemed simple. But failure is just a measurement away.

Anyway, let's get on with this. I'm gonna build a simple box. Only takes three measurements: height, length and width. Again, pretty simple. Apparently, I'm not good at simple. Below is a photo of the finished box. Looks ok, right?

deep super hive box
A deceptively simple looking box.

Pretty simple construction, three screws per joint. All of the frames fit, sort of. The tightness of the frames in the box should have been my first clue something wasn't quite right. It wasn't until I put the frame on the hive that I realized things weren't measuring up.

New deep hive box doesn't fit
New deep hive box doesn't quite fit!

The box wound up being just around an inch too narrow. It had the right length, but somewhere I either screwed up a measurement, or my math skills betrayed me once again.

I left the box on the hive while I was on vacation. With a few shims, there were no gaps allowing things to get in the hive. But I resolved to come back and build a new box.

Of course, I forgot to take pictures of the building of the new box. But with Sarah's help, we got a new one made. And it fit!

For a bit of fun, we decided to let Sarah's kiddos paint it.

Painting the hive box.
Sarah and her kiddos painting the new hive box.

Not sure which wound up having more paint: the box or the kids. But we had a good time painting in the sun on my mother's lawn. When we finished we set the box aside to allow the paint to dry.

I came by the next day to put the box on the hive, transferring the frames from the too-small box. The new box fit nicely.

New box on hive
Two sides of the new, painted, bee box.
New box on hive.
The other two sides of the new bee box.

We've placed the queen excluder on, so the new box shouldn't be used for brood. Hopefully, we'll see the bees move into their new space, soon.

I promised a post about building a top bar hive, and here it is.

When Sarah and I started looking into keeping bees, the idea was to build the hives we needed. In this case, a Langstroth hive and what we knew as the "honey cow". A little digging suggested that the honey cow was just a different type of top bar hive.

Top bar hives proved interesting to me for several reasons. First, they are simple to construct. They don't require any fancy joinery, just straight cuts fastened together with nails or screws. Second, the rounded or angled shape both mimics the shape bees naturally make comb in, and it looks nice. Finally, the setup more closely replicates a natural hive location, such as a hollowed out tree or log.

There are disadvantages, of course. With no frames, the comb is very fragile and care must be taken not to break them when lifting the top bars. They cannot grow larger than you built the hive, unlike Langstroth hives to which you can add boxes.

I found a few plans online, but ultimately wound up buying the embarrassingly named Building Beehives For Dummies. I like this book because it contains plans for several different types of hives, including Langstroth and observation hives. The hive I built is from the chapter on building the Kenya Top Bar Hive.

So let's get on with it and post some construction pictures!

The wood used in the construction was all 1"x12" pine of varying lengths. It starts with the two end pieces that define the slope of the box. In this case the top is 18" and the bottom is 5".

top bar hive construction
Top bar hive construction. End pieces.

Per the instructions, I made the sides 34.5" long. This defines the living space the bees will have. I didn't quite follow the instructions for installing them, which suggested butting up against the inside of the end piece, instead opting to screw them into the sides. Just seemed stronger that way.

top bar hive construction
One side of the hive installed.
building a top bar hive
Both sides now attached. The basic shape is there.

With all the sides attached, the basic hive is there. This will be the living space for the bees. Not shown is a mesh that is placed on the bottom to allow debris and mites to fall out of the hive and to provide ventilation.

The next step is to make the top bars. These have to be a fairly specific size. A measurement known as "bee space" determines the bars width. Bees are picky about space. Too much space, and they will build comb where you don't want it. Too little space, and they won't build comb. Like Goldilocks, they want a space that is just right. This space depends on the type of bee, but for this hive, the books suggests a bar width of 1.3".

I took another departure from the book here. The book suggests cutting a kerf down the center of each bar and slotting a piece of balsa wood in it. I'd read about a simpler method online of pasting a string down the center with beeswax. I decided to give that a shot.

building a top bar hive
Setting up top bars by using beeswax to glue down a central string.

While I made a pretty big mess, this would prove to work. It also took less time (and money) than cutting and fitting balsa wood. There are 24 of these on the hive.

building a top bar hive
The hive with top bars in place.

The next step was to build a roof. Bees do not live in this section, it is meant to assist in ventilation and provide some protection from the elements. It is wider than the hive body to allow rain to flow off and away, but maintains the overall look.

building a top bar hive
The hive with the roof in place.

The only thing left at this point was to cut a hole for the bees to access the hive and put it in place. We chose a spot behind my mothers' firewood stack that would provide quick access to our garden.

After placing the bees they seemed to take to it quickly.

building a top bar hive
Bees accessing the top bar hive.

That access hole is a bit over an inch across. If, as I mentioned in a previous post, we are being robbed by other bees, I'll need to reduce the size.

I know I posted the below picture last time, but hey, proof that this hive works!

bee hive comb
Comb and bees! Lots of capped cells. These girls have been busy!

I definitely encourage anyone interested in beekeeping to try their hand at building a hive. If I can do it, anyone can.

 

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And then the little shit stung me in the face.

Wait... that's a horrible place to start. Let me back up a bit.

This winter I started dating a wonderful, crazy woman named Sarah. As people navigating that whole tricky thing people call relationships we invariably started discussing things we liked, bizarre obsessions and hobbies. Turns out, we both had an interest in raising bees and robbing them of their sweet, delicious honey. Awesome!

We talked about it, read every book we could get our hands on, scoured the internet for info, and I ordered a bunch of crap online, 'cause that's what I do when I get obsessed with a new hobby. So, in the middle of winter, we had everything needed for bees except for hives and, well, bees.

Eventually, we ordered our bees from Northwest Bee Supply, a company out of Washington that supplies bees to, obviously, Northwestern states. Our bees were set to arrive on April 26. Ok, so now all we need are hives.

Sarah and I had been looking around online at various hive types. One that kept us interested was called a honey cow. The design was based around a hive body made of a half of a plastic barrel. But screw the design. I just liked the name "honey cow." We eventually decided on a standard Langstroth hive and what is called a "Top Bar" hive, similar to the above mentioned honey cow. We chose two hive types to learn more about how bees... uhm... work. Or something like that. If nothing else, building a top bar hive would give me an opportunity to improve my, admittedly feeble, woodworking skills. I'll get into the construction of that hive in a later post.

The Langstroth hive I was happy to find at Alaska Feed Company. I do like supporting local businesses, and this one has been around for a long time. It was pleasing to find out they sold beekeeping supplies. The basic hive kit came with a base and cover, a single deep brood box, and ten frames with foundation. Alaska Feed also sells additional brood boxes and all the odds, ends and tools.

Now all we needed were our bees. And since I haven't posted any pictures yet (I freakin' love to post pictures!) let's move ahead to bee arrival day: April 26.

Back of the bee van.
Back of the bee van.

Yup. That's a van full of bees. A bunch had already been given out by the time we got there. Wouldn't want to be the guy driving this thing, there were loose bees everywhere.

Boxes of bees and (somewhat impatient) customers.
Boxes of bees and (somewhat impatient) customers.

The bees were delivered near Pike's Landing, which made it awfully tempting go grab a bite and a drink. After waiting for a couple of Russian guys to stop haggling (no, you can't haggle for bees. A lesson everyone present learned.), we were given our two boxes of bees. We departed for my mother's house, where the hives had been set up.

The hives together. They were moved about 30 feet apart after this.
The hives together. They were moved about 30 feet apart after this.

I wish I had taken a picture of us dumping bees into the hives. It was a surreal moment where these little critters one usually avoids for fear of a sting are unceremoniously plopped into the middle of a wooden box. Overall, they don't seem to care about the whole ordeal.

Sarah and I had help in the form of her kids. This is an AWESOME hobby for kids to get into!
Sarah and I had help in the form of her kids. This is an AWESOME hobby for kids to get into!

In the hive now, the bees chilled for a bit. We came back a few days later to make sure the queens had been released, and found that they had indeed escaped into the inner reaches of their hives. Since late April, early May in interior Alaska is not known for its abundance of flowering plants (see the snow in the picture above?) we set up a couple of feeders full of sugary water for the bees to feast upon, which they did with relish.

Our makeshift bee feeders. Yes, they are cat feeders, but they seem to work fine. Some rocks in the feed area provides additional feeding locations.
Our makeshift bee feeders. Yes, they are cat feeders, but they seem to work fine. Some rocks in the feed area provides additional feeding locations.

Since then we've been visiting the hives from time to time to check on progress. An additional brood box was quickly added to the Langstroth hive, as they seem to be reproducing really freaking quickly.

We stopped by today to have a look. Sarah pulled one of the bars from the top bar hive.

Sarah pulling one of the bars. Is that comb I see?
Sarah pulling one of the bars. Is that comb I see?

Now, there's something important going on here. See how Sarah was wearing good, proper protective gear? Yeah, I was a cocky bastard and didn't do that. See, last week I'd stopped by to visit my mother and on a whim checked this hive. Didn't have any gear with me, so just winged it. The bees didn't seem to care, and I got away with it.

Not this time. One of those cranky bastards stung me on the cheek. Lesson learned. We knew the bees were riled up about something before we started. There were a bunch gathered around the entrance and they seemed aggressive. Poking around seemed to reveal some other bees, with a different color pattern (mostly dark abdomens, not as pronounced stripes) near the entrance. Perhaps we were in the process of being robbed. I'm still uncertain.

Anyway, karma is a bitch and she kicked my ass, or my face, whatever, today. That said, it's obvious that even after a few weeks, these bees have been crazy busy. The bees were released at the center of the hive and have already built up comb a few bars forward and back. They are collecting pollen and producing honey and more brood. I'm shocked at how fast these queens are producing brood.

bee hive comb
Comb and bees! Lots of capped cells. These girls have been busy!

And that is where we are today. Our goal with this blog is to post the things we see and learn. To complain when shit isn't going right and to cheer when it is. Sarah and I are now 1 to 1 in terms of stings and it is bound to go higher!

Look at this bee. This be if fucking awesome!
Look at this bee. This bee is fucking awesome!