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I mentioned the other day that P had built two beehives for me, so I thought I’d show them and share some of the process with you.

These long trough-shaped top bar hives have been used in Africa for a very long time, the design is really simple and the hives can be built relatively inexpensively. You can use regular lumber, even scraps that you’ve got laying around the house, so long as the wood is untreated. There is only one measurement that needs to be exact and that is the width of the top bars themselves (I’ll explain more about that later.).

Another bonus is that there is no heavy lifting with this system, something I definitely find appealing. With conventional systems there is alot of lifting and while those little boxes may not look it, they are really HEAVY! Having to move those boxes around multiple times is not really something that I want to do.

With this system there is only one big box and the only thing you lift is the individual combs.

Of course there are some disadvantages with this system (although not everyone considers them to be disadvantages!)

  • There is less honey produced and the honey can’t be extracted in the usual way, by centrifugal force.
  • The system is not standard so you can’t swap parts with other hives or buy extras from your local beekeeping supply shop
  • They are harder to move once they are full of bees
  • Not as many beekeepers have experience with this system so it might be harder to find advice or help when needed (of course there is plenty of information on the net so not really a problem)
  • The local beekeepers might look at you in a strange way
  • You might be considered a bit of a rebel

Bonuses

  • No heavy lifting
  • instead of just the honey, you get real honey-in-the-comb of the highest quality :O)
  • easy to build and maintain
  • the bees build natural sized cells
  • not as much equipment is needed
  • no foundation sheets or frames to fiddle around with
  • less supplies and equipment needed = lower cost
  • The local beekeepers might look at you in a strange way
  • You might be considered a bit of a rebel ;O)

Ok, so how do you go about building one of these hives…

Well, first of all you download and print out the instruction booklet which you will find here on Phil Chandler’s site

His site is full of great information about natural beekeeping so you might want to have a look around while you’re there.

The booklet will tell you all you need to know to build the hive.

P used wood that was up in our attic, it was left over from when we remodelled our house.

The wood we used was about 4″ wide by 1″ thick and cut to 4 ft. long. P used 3 pieces of wood glued together to form the front and back pieces of the hives, which ended up being 1 ft. tall.

Then he pressed them together with clamps until they were dry.

He built up the side pieces the same way.Here are all of the pieces ready for assembly. Unfortunately I was otherwise occupied and so I didn’t get any photos of the actual assembly.

All of those short slats in the front are the top bars, those are the strips of wood where the bees actually build their combs. As I mentioned, this is the one measurement that needs to be exact. The slats are all 1 3/8″ wide, because that is how wide the bees need them to be to build the comb properly and still have room to move between the combs. P cut 30 for each hive, including some extras. On one side of each of those slats, I glued and stapled a small triangular strip of moulding down the center. This is done to show the bees where they should begin building their comb. Onto each triangular strip I painted a thin stripe of beeswax as a starting point for them.

This is the assembled body of one of the hives, standing on end.

The bottom of each hive is enclosed with a strip of heavy-duty plastic mesh. The mesh-covered bottom aids in ventilation and also, it allows the varroa mites to fall out of the hive while keeping other things from crawling into the hive.

In the middle of the front of each hive, P drilled three 1″ holes, these are the flight holes. These hives are built to allow the beekeeper to make splits right inside the same hive. There are partition boards which are added on the end of the hive and at the back of the hive there is one hole drilled to allow the splits to fly. But all of that is in the instructions if you’re interested.

I didn’t get photos of the making of the legs but you can see that they are similar to the legs of a sawhorse. The bottoms are painted with tar to help keep them from rotting.

It’s a good idea to build these hives at least a few months ahead of time if possible so they have a chance to air out. Bees are pretty sensitive to smells and they would probably not like the “new” smell of freshly made hives. We are keeping these outside and probably wont use them until next spring.

So here is the hive with top bars and everything in place.

When the hives were finished, P painted the outsides with a mixture of linseed oil and beeswax to help protect them from the elements.

And this is a view of the inside with most of the top bars removed. You can see the hole I mentioned at the back of the hive designed for a split.

And the finished hive complete with roof. The roof is just a strip of heavy plastic roofing material. The roof is only there to help keep water out, the top bars are flush so they actually form the true roof of the hive, this is just an additional covering. In the winter we will probably lay a packing blanket or something between the top bars and this roof for added insulation. The roof can be designed in a number of ways, every hive like this that I have seen has a different style roof. We may change this one, but it was fast and easy and cheap and so we are trying it out, we just needed something to keep the water off. This roof is held on with two long bungee cords.

For further inspiration, look around on the net for different body styles, roofs and building materials used. That is the nice thing bout these hives, the possibilities are endless. Here is a Google image search that I did to get you started.

Butterflies

We don’t have as wide a variety of butterflies in our area as I’d wish, but we have a few. These are cabbage butterflies and we have lots of them this year! I keep finding them in large groups sitting on moist earth, like where I’ve recently watered plants. This is how they drink.

This group I saw today under my new Zephyrine Drouhin rose :O)

How to Water your Butterflies

Sometimes it is hard for butterflies to find a good place to drink, especially when it is really hot and dry. You can make a butterfly watering hole really easily. I plan to make a few this weekend. All you need is a shallow dish like the saucer for a plant pot, fill it full with sand, add a few tiny stones or a handful of gravel for the butterflies to stand on, and keep the dish filled with water enough to keep the sand moist. Butterflies don’t need a soggy place, just a moist place since they need to becareful not to get their wings too wet. I’ll post a picture when I make mine.

Anyway, I just wanted to share, I thought it was pretty neat to see so many together like this :O)

Today we’re having one of those slow steady rains, the kind that lasts all day, the kind you sometimes get after an extended hot dry spell, you can almost hear the land sighing with relief. The birds are singing and much more active than they have been, it’s cool and overcast and just what I’ve been hoping for for weeks! It’s also giving me time to finally post on the garden.

We have gotten so much done this season, it probably isn’t as obvious to the rest of the world but we see the work we’ve done and it is looking so much better already.

Here is the truck taking away dumpster #1 which we filled with mixed trash, everything from old rotting stuffed lawn chairs, to broken clothes drying contraptions, to miles of rotting electrical wire, ancient unearthed plastic bags, rusty nails and screws, broken window glass, vodka bottles whole and broken (must have been nearly 100 bottles scattered and buried) you name it, we’ve found it here. This is all stuff that we have slowly been harvesting from the property (courtesy of the old tenants!) as we dig and clear new areas.

Dumpster guy left us another dumpster which we filled with over a ton of rotting wood that was laying around in piles all over the property. I swear this place was like a landfill, we are still unearthing things as we dig planting beds but I think the bulk of it is gone now. We’re talking 2-3 tons of trash…unreal.

So anyway, I’ll give you a little tour of some of what we’ve been planting around here. The pictures all look a bit over-exposed because I took them on an incredibly hot, bright morning a few days ago…too much sun.

Here is a freshly dug bed that runs along the front of the house, next year I’ll fill it with perennials but for this year I’ve planted some sunflowers which will get about 6ft tall. I have also sowed dinosaur kale and raddichio just on the other side of that concrete brick, it is just beginning to sprout.

And here is my long awaited Zephyrine Drouhin rose. It took over 2 months to finally acquire one, I was beginning to lose hope. It is currently about 1 1/2 ft tall and has one very tiny bud. I don’t care about flowers this year, I just want it to establish enough to survive the winter and maybe even reach the first bar of the trellis ;O)

In front of it, I’ve planted 3 ‘Hidcote’ Lavender plants. Everything is so tiny!

This next bit is more of a ‘wildlife installation’. The brush pile has been there since last fall and we have been adding to it this season too. Since early spring it has been taken over by dozens of ground sparrows. I had the pleasure of their company all winter as well, as they spent their days eating all the seed off the ground which fell down from the bird feeder.

The brush pile seems to be a congregating point, a social meeting/mating spot for them. They have built their nests in the roof of the big barn across the street and some are nesting in crevices under our roof as well, but they spend alot of time on the brush pile. I love having them there.

The next addition to my ‘wildlife installation’ was a DIY bird bath. I have felt really sorry for the birds during this incredibly hot and long dry spell so I just used what we happened to have laying around and built this bath.

It consists of a big concrete block that the previous tenants had buried in the ground as an anchor for their laundry thingie, talk about over-building syndrome! Poor P spent an entire afternoon trying to get it out from the bottom of the 4ft hole he had to dug to get to it . He got it out using nothing but long crowbar-like levers and lots of swearing, it weighs a ton.

On top of the huge block of concrete I set a large plastic plant pot bottom, it’s about 2 ft in diameter, in the middle I set a large stone to hold it in place and to also provide an island for any unfortunate critters (like bees) who might fall in while drinking.

It’s not much to look at but the price was right and the birds love it!

Here’s what the studio is looking like currently. The rose to the left has been there for about 3 years but I haven’t been too successful about getting it to climb up and over the roof, I hope the trellis P built this year will make a difference, I’m also, admittedly, giving a bit more attention than I had been doing, it is definitely showing progress so we’ll see.

In the tub in front of the studio I have sown some beautiful pink rose mallow. It’s growing but not fast enough for me ;O)

In the cracks along the stone path I have planted creeping ‘Bressingham’ thyme, also very tiny at the moment.

Here’s a clematis I planted earlier this spring, it’s grown about 2-3 ft since then! It’s an early bloomer, with large lavender flowers, called Mrs. Cholmondeley.

This is a late blooming clematis that we planted on the wood shed, it’s called Jackmanii and has gorgeous dark violet flowers.

These are red currants which are nearly ripe, we only have a few canes currently so I just leave these berries for the birds. Next year we will plant a large berry garden on the other side of the house and then we’ll add more of these so we get a decent harvest.

Apples slowly ripening on our Roter Berlepsch apple tree, these are good eating apples. We also have a Gravenstein which is mainly a cooking apple.

This is an attempt at making a bumblebee house, but unfortunately no bumble bees moved in. I think maybe the hole is too vertical and so there would be rain getting in and falling on the little bumblebee heads…not good. They do however live in the crevices in this stone wall, so that’s ok, at least they are here. I still haven’t given up on the idea of bumblebee housing, but I think the hole needs to be horizontal. Anyone ever tried this with flower pots? Any suggestions?

And speaking of bumble bees if you look closely you’ll discover that the center of the pink flower is actually a bumble bee bum :O)

I am growing two varieties of cherry tomatoes on my porch. Tomatoes don’t do well here unless they are kept out of the rain, they are borderline greenhouse plants here, you can grow them outside with alot of care and attention but they do so much better in a greenhouse, or under cover. They are doing well for me in pots on the porch so this is what I will do until we eventually get a greenhouse.

And lastly, a few pics of my poor kitties who can’t stand the heat and tend to move from one shady patch to the next until they finally get to where they are going.

Any little patch of shade will do!

Well, that’s not all we’ve done but the rest of the pictures didn’t turn out so well. I’ll give you an update as things grow. Hope you are enjoying your garden too!

Image by Björn Appel (honey bees fanning their wings to circulate and cool the air in the hive)

We have had the busiest “bee” year that we have ever had since we got our first hives in 2007. If you’ll recall, we came out of winter this year with these two hives, both of them super strong and healthy.

This is what we have now…

I couldn’t fit them all into one photo so I had to splice two photos together. We are up to 6 hives, well above our goal for this year!

I’ve mentioned before that our main goal is to get all of our hives converted over to Warre’ hives which allow the bees to make their own comb and is a less intrusive/controlling method of beekeeping. We’ve currently got all but one hive moved over to Warre’ hives, we’ll probably move the last standard German hive over next year.

So how did we get so many hives? Well, it’s a long busy story, but I’ll try and condense :O)

This year P volunteered with the local Swarm Hotline. When people find swarms in their garden, they can call and the nearest beekeeper is contacted and goes to access the situation, either catching the swarm or counselling on how best to deal with the bees.

"The Bee-Mobile"

Over the past month our tiny Renault Twingo has been converted into “The Bee-Mobile” loaded with swarm boxes and containers, veils, bee suit, smoker, branch cutter, a swarm catching bag-on-a-stick, even a special bee vacuum-cleaner attachment for those pesky hard-to-get-at swarms! Anything that he might need is in there. So far P has responded to a dozen or more calls, many of the swarms flew away before he could get there, some were way too high to catch, and one unfortunate swarm apparently had been poisoned and died. Out of all of those phone calls, P managed to bring home 3 healthy swarms…but then the swarming season isn’t quite over yet so there is a chance, if we’re lucky, we’ll get one or two more.

Strange Incident of a Queen in the Morning

The strangest occurrence, which led to one of our new hives, happened about a month ago. P went out to check on the bees early one morning and sitting there all by herself on the side of one of the hives was a virgin queen bee. It was strange because it was still too cool outside and none of the bees were flying yet so what was this queen doing out on the hive-box all alone? Possibly she had been out on a mating flight the previous day and for some reason didn’t re-enter the hive, or possibly she was one of a group of just hatched queens and she left the hive, or was kicked out? Or maybe she wasn’t even one of our bees at all! Who can say… it remains a mystery but P caught her and commenced to making a hive for her.

He put her into this queen cage and then went out to our strongest hive and collected enough bees to give her a decent start.

He put everyone into this Warre’ hive then put them into the cellar where they stayed for 3 days. This gives them time to become acquainted with the new queen and hopefully accept her, they spend a day or 2 eating a plug of honey or candy away from the cage opening which then frees the queen, at which point they are ready to go outside and begin building their new hive. So far this hive is doing really well, it went smoothly with none of the numerous complications that we had last time we tried this.

So that unusual incident gave us our first Warre’ hive of the year!

Honey!

(Sorry about the recycled photo, forgot the camera this year, this image is from our 2008 harvest.)

Yes, we harvested this year, last time we harvested was in 2008. We don’t harvest every year as a rule, we don’t sell honey and there is only so much honey that two people can eat in a year! We do give it away quite often and still one harvest typically lasts us for 2-3 years. We got a record harvest this year with a total of 100lbs of honey! That was from just 2 hives.

During the honey harvest P shook all of the bees from one of our standard German hives into one of the Warre’ hives which leaves us with just the one standard German hive.


Kenya Top Bar Hives

In addition to all the other bee activities, we also built 2 Kenya Top Bar Hives, which are my official first hives. I will write about these in a separate post.

So to sum up…

1st new hive this year came from our Mysterious Queen Incident

2nd new hive was a captured swarm we learned about from our neighbour who is also a beekeeper.

3rd new Warre’ hive was a transfer of one of our established hives during the honey harvest.

4th and 5th new Warre’ hives came from swarms located through the Hotline.

Oh yeah, I nearly forgot. On the same day that P caught the first swarm, one of our original German standard hives threw a very large swarm which of course flew to the very top of the tallest tree on our property and were way too high to catch, so we lost 1 swarm of our own, but gained 3.

Whew! Did I mention it has been a VERY BUSY SUMMER?

I haven’t even mentioned all the work going on in the garden. I think I’ll save that for another post!

Nope, the unhygienic growing practices which go hand in hand with mass production have finally made their appearance on this side of the pond. I’m sure it’s not the first time but it’s bad enough – with 10 people dead in Germany and thousands sick – that people had to sit up and take notice. Tainted cucumbers from Spain are supposedly the culprit, but they’re not sure that this is the only source ( and of course it isn’t). It’s just the one that was spotted.

So in light of this….

(German farmers destroying their lettuce and other  salad  crops)

…I’m so glad that I decided to do this…

You don’t even need to dig, this is a huge tub of lettuce that sits on our porch, nothing could be easier. I bought a pack of 6 starter plants of each type (these are plucking varieties as opposed to head varieties), dumped some good potting soil in the tub and planted them. I water them with a bit of liquid fertilizer once every 2 weeks. They look like this after just one month of growth. I just go out and pick off what I need and it keeps on growing. Lettuce has shallow roots so you don’t need a tub as deep as this one, it just happened to be what I had on hand. You can grow lettuces in window boxes or in any plant pot or container that you’ve got on hand. Anyone can grow safe clean lettuce…no bugs, no slugs, no digging, no pesticides….no E.Coli!

Yay!

Grow your own people!

P.S. yes, I’ve got lots to tell you about, especially with the bees, just haven’t had time to get pictures organized and a post written, I’ll do that in a just a few days, but this seemed more important, considering…

Ok, not really,  I just thought it would make a catchy title :O)

Bees prefer hot dry weather to swarm in, which is what we have right now. It’s still a bit early in our area but the bees don’t care about calenders, they’ve decided that this is a good weekend. On Friday we went to a really neat nursery owned by a fellow beekeeper. He keeps a few hives there at the nursery, but the neat thing about it is that he specializes in native plants and insect friendly plants, you don’t really find the typical garden center plants there. And my favorite thing is that he has created over the years a lovely garden which you can walk through complete with large pond and wandering trails full of flowering plants. It’s so inspiring and beautiful, we are going to visit there 3-4 times over the season to see what is blooming and how plants are looking at different times of the season.

Anyway! Back to the bees.

So we got home from the nursery in the afternoon only to find that a swarm had flown by. Our neighbor, who is a farmer and is outside ALL the time, saw the swarm flying round shortly before we got home…naturally. As you know, we have horrible luck when it comes to catching swarms. We still don’t know if it was ours or someone else’s and we have no idea where they finally ended up. P  could have torn the hives down to check, but there isn’t much point really. So, another one lost.

But wait, there is more!

Then Saturday afternoon P gets a phone call that there are not one but two swarms reported in a nearby village and will he please come and get them…please?! So he gets all of his swarm-catching paraphernalia together and heads out. He gets to the first place and discovers that the bees had been sitting on a bush in the lady’s back yard, how convenient! No ladders involved! Only problem is that it flew away again just 5 minutes before he arrived…Doh!

So off to the next address. Here the bees had landed up in a roof in an old shed. When P went in he said a nasty toxic chemical smell hit him and he thought it was strange that a swarm would go into a place that smelled like that. He found the swarm, or what was left of it. Below the swarm was a pile of dead bees and the only thing remaining of the swarm was about 2-3 handfuls of bees in a clump. He put them in the swarm box and set them out in the shade so that the stragglers could join the others and he planned to go back in the evening a get the box.

When he went back the bees were back in the stinky shed again and this time there were only about 1 handful of bees left. He left them there, they were obviously dying and nothing could be done for them. He thinks now that they were poisoned. Either by the home owner who maybe first tried to spray them and then when they didn’t die right away, called the swarm hotline. Either that or someone else sprayed them, or they flew through something toxic. Really hard to say but they are done for. He is going back today to check on them.

So 3 swarms in 2 days and we struck out again. I think there’ll be several more opportunities though so we’re not giving up yet :O)

Oh, forgot to mention that the picture above is from a swarm we caught in 2007. That one was from our own bees and it was a success but I think it was the last one we managed to capture without a hitch.

And finally, just a reminder, although I know it is not needed for most people who read this blog, please don’t try to kill bees if you happen to get a swarm in your yard, most places have a removal service or a local beekeeper that will be happy to pop right over and take them away for you. Remember that they wont hurt you, they are very passive when they are swarming and they will remain in their protective clump (they are protecting the queen who is in the center of the clump. Best thing to do is just stay away from them so as not to stress them, call your local beekeeper or removal service. Many times the swarm is just passing through so they wont be there long in any case.

Busy as a Bee

We’re just coming out of a week long cold snap where our temps dipped down to 0° c. at night and right around 10°c. during the day. This is a bit too cold for the bees and so they haven’t been out much which is a shame because we currently have several fields in our area filled with bright yellow canola plant blossoms, the bees love it and it gives them a large part of their spring honey supply. Today our temps are back up and the bees are zipping around like crazy.

Here is a picture of the hives with their additional honey boxes.

Currently there are 4 boxes to each hive, boxes are added as needed for honey storage. In the bottom two boxes the queen lays her eggs and all the new bees are born there. So unless you want bee larvae mixed in with your honey, you have to keep the queen out of the honey storage boxes, you can see in the picture a thin board right in the middle which I’ve marked as “queen excluder”. You place that thin board, which is actually a metal screen, on top of the brood box (where the babies are). The worker bees can pass through the slots in the screen but they are just a bit too narrow for the queen to fit through, so she can’t go up into the top boxes.

My husband has been making good progress with the garbage removal, he’s got the first dumpster filled and we will get another one on Monday which is only for wood. There was heaps of stacked wood left to rot behind the house, we’re not allowed to burn it ourselves so have to pay to have it hauled away.

This mixed material dumpster will end up costing around 500 euro… getting rid of garbage around here is not cheap! The wood container should be a bit cheaper since it only contains one thing.

I haven’t been able to do much around the garden since the weather turned cold so I’m just dreaming about what to plant where :O)

Next year I will plant a large herb garden, but for this year I’m only growing a few things on our bridge, just the stuff we use the most, like parsley, thyme, chives and later I’ll plant some basil.

This is flat leaf parsley that I planted a few days ago.

And here are some plants that I ordered from an online shop. They arrived packed in hay and looking a bit rough but they’ve popped back into shape nicely. I want to use as many native plants as I can, and also insect friendly plants, I’ll probably end up with a yard full of plants that many people would consider weeds, but those are of course the ones that are most attractive to wildlife.

Here I’ve got some lady’s mantle, two types of comfrey, black-eyed Susans, and some hardy “Munstead” lavender.

And these are my catmint babies. Hopefully the cats will give them time to grow before rolling around in them ;O)

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