Posts Tagged ‘honey bee’

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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There is so much to update you on, I’m not sure where to begin, but I think I will start with the bees. This is our second year with the bees, we went into the winter last year with 4 hives and I’m happy to report that we didn’t lose any of them! Early in the spring Peer checked each hive and found one or two that were running out of food so he fed them enough to get them through til the willows began producing pollen and the bees would begin producing their own food again.

I forgot to mention that we moved the bees in the very early spring, before they began leaving the hive. They use to live right beside my studio and our veggie garden. This spot was a bit crowded and made it not so convenient to work in the garden during the afternoon hours because the bees were flying directly overhead. We moved them to a larger, less active area on the other side of the house. I think they like it there and I like having them there :O)

There are many different systems for keeping bees; different philosophies, methods, different hive arrangements and construction designs, etc. Last year we were using the typical framed hives found here in northern Germany, the ones you see in the picture above. These require quite a bit of care and hands-on maintenance. We personally feel that for a backyard beekeeper it’s more beneficial/healthier/less stressful for the bees if they are left pretty much to do their own thing without a lot of interference from humans. We wanted to try a less hands-on approach, after all, bees have been doing their own thing for millions of years without humans telling them how to do it!

We decided to try a different system, one which was designed specifically with this philosophy in mind. The system was designed by Emile Warre’, who was a village priest in France, during the 1920’s. Peer got a translated version (in english and german) of his writings which include the instructions for building the hives and he just spent several weeks building 5 new hives. The biggest difference with these new hives is that they are much smaller, they do not have frames, they have smaller flight holes and they can be built without needing a lot of specialized materials. Because they can be built with scrapes of lumber and things that most people probably have laying around the property, they are called the poorman’s beehive. The next few pictures show the construction process.

The first thing Peer did was to make a shopping list for all the lumber he would need since we didn’t actually have any here that wasn’t already planned for something else. The lumber yard cut all the pieces to the specifications that Peer gave them.

Peer began by building 20 box frames, 4 boxes for each hive. There is no bottom and no top, just the sides.

These are the roofs…

And the bottoms…

After all the pieces were assembled they needed to be treated to keep them from rotting in the weather. Peer used a mixture of hot linseed oil and melted beeswax, which he painted onto every single piece.

Then set them out to dry…

Instead of frames, which have machine formed wax comb (as seen in the image below)…

…this system uses 9 thin slats of wood per box, each with a single strip of beeswax painted down the center. The strip of beeswax shows the bees where, and in what direction they should build their combs, without actually doing the job for them.

First peer melted wax that we collected during last year’s honey harvest and then just painted it on with a paintbrush. He set the pan of hot wax over a tee light so that the wax wouldn’t harden as he worked.

He had to paint 180 of these!

The next step was to nail all of these prepared slats into the boxes, 9 in each box. They had to be nailed so that the distance between each slat was the same so that the bees will build in a consistent manner.

A completed box…

Actually this system calls for 8 slats per box but there is a theory that by using 9 slats, thus creating a narrower working space, the bees will build smaller cells which may greatly reduce the likelihood of mites.

There are a few steps I didn’t capture on film but these were the main ones. After all the pieces were ready, Peer put them together to form 5 complete hives and stored them until we would need them.

What we are going to do is slowly phase out of the old system and as our bees swarm we will move the swarms into the new boxes…now all we need is a swarm!

Stay tuned!

P.S. If anyone is interested in learning more about this system, just drop us a line!

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