Archive for the ‘bees’ Category

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


  • 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.


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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!


(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!

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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.

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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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This spring has blossomed for us with new ideas and a new direction. Many things have remained the same, our view of the world and how we wish to interact with it is the same; self-sufficiency is important to us, living as green as possible is very important to us, eating and living a vegan lifestyle is important to us. Doing our best to NOT support the “Evil Empire” better known as “big business” is also very important to us. We’re only two people who can’t really hope to make a huge difference in the world, but that’s not the point, we feel that our efforts, in concert with two other people, and two other people and two other people, is what will make the difference so we do all that we can even though things look fairly hopeless sometimes.

Our dreams of being totally self-sufficient I think were a bit too ambitious for us. In our perfect fantasy we would have the most beautiful and prolific garden you can imagine, free of pests and disease, we would make all our own clothes, candles, furniture, etc. We’d only use bikes or public transportation as a means of getting around, we’d power everything with solar energy, we’d barter for everything else we needed, our land and home would be paid off, we’d be free from money and all the problems is causes. Nice dream, isn’t it… But for us it simply isn’t possible. So, we’ve reined in our dream just a bit, into something we can actually achieve. Some people will say, “you’re just giving up!” But I don’t think so, rather we are being realistic; given our age, our level of fitness, our experience and knowledge, given that we have to work full-time jobs, we aren’t left with enough hours in the day, nevermind enough energy, to achieve all we’d like to…We haven’t given up, we’ve simply discovered what is actually possible for us and being totally self-sufficient isn’t one of those things.

So we finally gave in and bought a new car which we hope will last us for many, many, many years. It’s a Twingo, the tiniest most fuel efficient, environmentally friendly (ha!) car we could find. We try to only go through 1 tank of fuel a month which means quite a bit of bike-riding during the week for my husband to and from work. It adds about 1 hour a day to his commuting time, but it also adds fresh air, exercise and beautiful scenery and a peaceful quiet time each morning to just think and enjoy being outdoors without the stress and frustration of traffic jams.


We hope this year to increase our bee hives. We’ve had a few rough years where we had weak struggling hives and ended up losing some of them over the previous winter. We never take much honey from our bees even at the best of times, honey isn’t the main goal for us, we mainly just like having the bees here and knowing that they are helping to improve the land around us which is a good thing for the planet in general. But we haven’t harvested honey from our bees at all in the past 2 years trying to give them the time and resources to build themselves up again. I think those efforts have paid off because our two remaining hives came out of this past winter very strong, healthy and hardy. We should see some swarms from them this summer which will give us the opportunity to create more hives. We will probably take a bit of honey (20-30 jars worth) and leave them the rest which will be quite alot.

This is a shot of our two hives taken about 1 month ago, as they are just starting to wake up and become active. We have since added additional boxes to the top of the hives for honey storage. We had to add the boxes much sooner than usual this year as they are collecting so much. :O)

Our plan is to hopefully move the bees into Warre’ style hives  as I have mentioned before, and to increase to as many as 6 hives during this season. We also want to build 2 or 3 Kenya Top-Bar style hives and keep those on the other side of the property under our apple trees. Those will be my hives :O) It should be an easier system for me to work with, with much less heavy lifting and shuffling around of boxes. Both of the systems we will use are in general less intrusive and hands-on so that we don’t have to disturb the bees as often as is necessary with the more common/commercial style bee hives.

One problem is that we have always had trouble catching our swarms because our bees insist on sitting in the highest branches of the tallest trees on our property, there is absolutely no way we can reach them. So this year we are doing a little experiment, we anchored an empty Warre’ hive to the roof of our porch, we’re hoping that maybe a swarm will move into it (not necessarily a swarm from our bees because when bees swarm they instinctively move a greater distance from the mother hive so they will have enough food, but there are also 2-3 other bee keepers in the area so we might possibly attract one of their swarms, just as they might acquire one of our swarms… it all works out in the end  ;O)

You can see the hive up on the roof in this picture. The box behind and slightly above it is a bat house…we love having bats in our area and will be adding more bat houses on our property in the coming years.

We’ve decided that our main focus crop-wise is going to be fruit. Fruit trees and berries. The reason for this is that for one thing, it’s the perfect thing to grow with bees. Another reason is that not as much space is required for the yeild you will get, we don’t have much space here. And another reason is that fruit is so very expensive! We eat alot of fruit over the growing season and around here we are paying 4 euro for a tiny 1 cup container of berries, it’s really quite insane! Vegetable crops require alot more space and effort to actually make a substantial difference and besides the prices are pretty reasonable by comparison, so growing fruit makes the most sense for us.

We will of course grow a few select vegetables in and amongst our future flower beds and in containers, but not many and nothing formal. I’ve decided that I don’t want any straight lines in the yard, no square beds, no straight rows, which carry the feeling of being man-made and controlled. I want a very informal arrangement which doesn’t feel forced or “contrived”, but which feels natural. Lots and lots of flowers and flowering bushes. In short, we’ve decided to create a cottage garden which will be created in such a way that it will become a sanctuary. Not only for us, but for the local wildlife as well, including the insects as well as the birds and animals.The wildlife in our area has a very rough time these days  just as it does most everywhere on the planet with all the farming, building, pollution, hunting and the ever increasing intrusion by man into their habitats…really, they need all the help they can get and it is what I want to spend my energy and space helping them with. I want to do what I can to create a place which helps and doesn’t hinder them. Of course with our limited funds, time and resources, this is going to take years but now that we have a clear goal and vision, we are off to a good start.

Currently we are working on clearing the land of all the garbage that has collected over the years, left by two generations of homeowners who lived here before us. They were anything but kind to the land here and used it as their own personal landfill. It will take alot of work to replenish the soil and just get the place cleared of junk so we can start planting. We rented a huge garbage container this week and are working to fill it. It will probably take 1 or 2 more containers before we’re done. Unfortunately these things aren’t cheap! But we can’t do much until the garbage is gone.

Another goal for this season is to plant the rest of our hedge, it will cost about 500 euro to finish. We started our thorn hedge about 4 years ago but couldn’t finish it until this year. The hedgehogs, birds and other little critters especially love living in thorn hedges. We’re using hawthorn, blackthorn, wild dog rose, wild apple and wild pear plants to create the hedge. The hedge flowers in early spring which is good for our bees since not much else is flowering at that time. It will take about 4 years until it starts looking like a proper hedge.

One of the things I’d like to grow aside from fruit trees and berries is tomatoes which are also quite expensive. I’m experimenting with cherry tomatoes in our veranda this year, tomatoes don’t do very well here without being covered or grown in a greenhouse so I thought they might do well in our south-facing veranda.

Well, this post is getting quite long now so I will wrap it up here. I’ll continue to post on our progress over the season and share pictures with you. I will leave you with this shot of a trellis my husband built the other day. One of the first plants I bought this year was a climbing rose called “Zephirine Drouhin”. No true cottage garden would be complete without a few climbing roses. So we’ve made a beginning! The rose hasn’t been delivered yet, I had to order it,but it should be here and planted by next Monday :O)

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I’m brushing away the dust on this sorely neglected blog to bring you a brief update on the bees.

If you’ve been following the blog you know that last year was not a good year for our bees. The weather was cold and rainy and most of the hives were weak, even without us harvesting any honey, they had a hard time. A few weeks ago the weather started to warm up enough that the bees could leave the hive during the warmest part of the day. Going into the winter we had 4 hives, all still using the traditional German style hives (still no established Warre’ hives unfortunately).

It became obvious during those first few warm days that at least one of our hives was dead, it was silent as a tomb, while the others were all active. Peer opened the hive and sure enough, there was nothing but a big mount of dead bees laying at the bottom. The other hives quickly discovered that this hive was not being defended and they began to raid it taking anything and everything that would be of use to them. Robbing other hives is not something to be encouraged, but we let them do it mainly because they still have a while to go before they will have a reliable food source, nothing is blooming yet. We’re hoping that with what they gathered from the dead hive, they’ll make it through the rest of the winter.

This year we’ll try again to establish some Warre hives and strengthen the ones we have.  More soon!

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Hi everyone, I know it’s been a long time, I apologize. There just hasn’t been much to share that anyone would find of interest and life in general is keeping me pretty busy in other directions. But we’ve had a few questions about our Warre’ hive experiment and how it is going, so here’s a brief update.

We started in June of 2008 by building 5 Warre’ hives. The plan was to gradually move the bees from the standard German boxes that we were using, into the Warre’ hives as the bees swarmed. Well, it sounded like a good plan…

That year we had 2 swarms, the first one we caught and moved into one of the hives, unfortunately it did not thrive and died out over the winter of 2009. The other swarm we were unable to catch.

Next, we followed the advice of a local beekeeper and tried to create an artificial swarm. He gave us a queen that he was  going to replace in one of his own hives (he does alot of experimental breeding and so forth). Well that was a complete and total disaster from start to finish. Despite Peer’s best efforts to keep it together, that hive never took and it gradually dwindled down to nothing. The queen kept crawling away (she had a clipped wing and couldn’t fly). The hive was in complete and utter chaos and many of the bees few away…total, TOTAL disaster. Do NOT try this at home kiddies.

So we began the spring of 2009 with 1 dead Warre’ hive and 4 hives in standard German boxes. Two of those hives were really weak and the other two, while not quite as weak, we felt were not strong enough to harvest honey from and so we didn’t. We left them completely alone for the most part to see if they could build themselves back up over the summer.

With the exception of one hive, they continued to be weak. The summer was not a great one for bees, it was cold, dark and rainy much of the time so this didn’t help matters. There were no swarms at all over the summer so we never got the chance to start another Warre’ hive.

Since they were doing so poorly, we also checked them early for mites and they seemed to have quite a few, even though Peer had, as per standard mite treatment recommendations, treated them the previous autumn. So he treated them again. We think that we’ve lost yet another hive this autumn due to the mites and then the wasps moved in, the hive was not strong enough to fend them off. So we are down to 3 hives. I think we may lose another one or two over the winter since they are already weak going into it…

It might be that we have to buy new bees and start over again, but Peer wants to give these guys a chance first. We’re in no rush, we don’t really care about the honey, for us it’s not about the honey, we just enjoy having the bees here. So we’ll be patient and give them a chance.

And so, needless to say, it was a very bad, bad, bad, bad year!

I hope that next summer I’ll have better news!

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