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2017 Top Bar Hives

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2017 Top Bar Hives

I love top bar hives. They are simple, effective and efficient.

2017 30" Production Top Bar 

I have been using top bars in our beekeeping business for the past 4 seasons and spent the 2016 season converting my best stock into top bar hives exclusively. During the conversion process, I used top bar hive "supers" to get my bees in Langstroth boxes to build the combs I would need to expand my numbers. These short top bar hives have holes in the bottom to allow the bees to move up into the top bar box. I blocked the bottom entrance and forced the bees to go through the top bar entrances. Since bees abhor empty space, they quickly started drawing combs off of my bars and before I knew it I had 10 fully drawn combs to use.

I would then move some of the drawn combs once they had brood in them to a bigger top bar hive. Where we are located, small hive beetles can really take over a growing colony. To combat this, I built these much shorter than what is typically recommended. I halved Les Crowder's length and went with a 22" length box. The bees were able to maintain this space very well and kept the beetles to a minimum even during the prime beetle time of July and August.

I think that the 22" hive is still a bit too short for my "production" hives. This year I am building the full-size hives at 30". This gives them a volume that fits in with Tom Seeley's recent research covering the benefits of smaller hives for bee health. The standard length usually varies between 4'-5', but every time I've seen a top bar hive in that range locally, the hive beetles have decimated it.

2017 12" Top Bar Nuc

I still have a need for smaller mating nucs and hives to start splits in, so my other length has now been adjusted to 12". This creates a top bar nuc situation and my plan is to use them for housing my queens that I will raise and sell this year. This size allows for 8 top bars, which will be easy to move to new yards.

With Spring quickly approaching, I am very excited about the upcoming season and what will happen. I will continually update this site and our YouTube channel with the progress. I learn new things every year and I know this year will provide more opportunities to grow as a beekeeper and learn about these fascinating insects.

 

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Top Bar Super Update

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Top Bar Super Update

I went and checked the top bar supers that I built. They are all showing growth of comb, although a bit slower than I expected. I think that is because of all the rain we have been receiving. It hasn't allowed the bees to actually store excess honey because just about the time they collect a bunch of nectar it rains for several days in a row and they eat it all.

I attached foundation to the guides and have noticed that the bees chew away the foundation from the guid and have started the combs on the part of the foundation that extended down past the cleat/guide. I will include some pictures that help show everyone what I'm talking about.

I am starting to shake swarms in from my hives into top bar boxes now as well. I am closing them up for a day with a feeder and using vinyl screen mesh. I am taking some of the combs that have been started in my top bar supers and placing them inside the new artificial swarms to give them something to cluster around and make it a little more homey.

I intend to feed them fairly heavily to get them to build combs up and start to prep for winter. I enjoy beekeeping because I am always having to think months ahead and how the things I do today will affect the future. We are always learning something new!

There will continue to be updates as the summer progresses!

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Top Bar Super

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Top Bar Super

So after speaking with Les Crowder, I started thinking about his top bar super idea for transferring bees from a langstroth box to a top bar hive. I finally built a prototype to try it out!

So I made the super the same width as a langstroth and it holds 10 top bars, each 1 3/8". I then used some scrap plywood from building D Coates' nucs to cove up the rest of the top of the langstroth box. There is a 2" hole in the bottom of the top bar super to allow the bees in. 

Then, I closed the bottom entrance and left the top bar entrance open. On the inside I put a cleat on each top bar, from cutting angles on the bottom board and walls, as a comb guide. Since I had some extra wax foundation I went on and added that as well to help get them started.

I had bought a case of creamed honey to use as starters for our own creamed honey, but the creamed honey I bought had a horrible texture. Since I couldn't use it as a starter I decided to use them as feed. Normally, I wouldn't use bought honey to feed the bees but creamed honey has been pasteurized and since I'm not going to eat it they might as well. I placed a jar of creamed honey opened and on its side inside the top next to one of the walls. I figure that will coax them up into the box and it helped them find the entrance holes a little easier.

I'll go back next week and check on them to see how it's going. I'll be sure to post an update when I have more information. 

 

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What a beesy week...

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What a beesy week...

I apologize for the bee pun, but I just couldn't resist. Lauren and I were full of them last week while we did a lot of work in the apiaries.

This is the single busiest time of the year for a beekeeper in our part of the world. Spring is finally here and the bees are building up rapidly, taking advantage of the plethora of flowers and blooming trees available. We will be doing our best to just keep up with our busy girls and if we are lucky, we may get ahead! From now until the end of June, it is full throttle for beekeepers.

Not only are the bees keeping us busy, but preparations for the many farmers' markets we plan on attending are as well. This year, Lauren and I are going to sell at the Monroe River Market, the Ruston Farmer's Market, possibly the Shreveport Farmers' Market and a few sales held by different groups like the Ruston Master Gardeners. We enjoy getting out and meeting customers and other vendors.

Last week, we finished arranging hives that we have on blueberries for pollination at Homestead Hills Blueberry Farm near Choudrant, LA. 

After that, we headed to an out yard and made 9 single deep body hives from 12 hives there by doing some even (even-ish) splits. It was hot and difficult, but Lauren kept going like a champ. It's the first year I've ever had help and it makes a huge difference.

I also started raising queens to sell as cells and mated queens. Follow our Instagram to keep up to date with our queens and bee breeding. 

On Saturday we were at the first Monroe Downtown RiverMarket of the year. We had a great time and got to meet some new people. we also sold some new products and got some great feedback! Thanks to everyone that came out and took the time to talk to us. 

Along with all of that we are busy building more hives, frames and getting our top bar supers ready. Those are based off of the interview I did with Les Crowder last week. I'll keep the blog updated with our progress on transitioning into top bar hives.

This really is an exciting time to be a beekeeper and me and Lauren are looking forward to see how the rest of the year turns out. Thanks for taking the time to stop by!

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Bees and Such Podcast Episode #1

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Bees and Such Podcast Episode #1

I have wanted to start a podcast aimed at people doing similar things in beekeeping to our own plans. I finally got my first interview done and am going to post it here.

Our first interview is with Les Crowder. We talked about top bar hives and transitioning from Langstroth hives to top bar hives and a few other topics such as his work in Jamaica.

I will admit that this is a rough recording. Les was actually traveling to LA to catch a flight to Jamaica and stopped on the side of the road to have the interview. I really appreciate him taking the time to do that.

If there seems to be an audience and interest for this podcast I am willing to invest in some better sound equipment and the time to do some post processing and clean up the episodes more. I have several more interviews lined up in the next couple of weeks that I am excited about. If you are a beekeeper trying to, or already running a sideline or small scale commercial operation and want to be interviewed send me an email at jenningsapiaries@gmail.com

If there are any questions, feedback or suggestions please feel free to let me know :)

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Simplify, simplify, simplify

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Simplify, simplify, simplify

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” - Henry David Thoreau

I first read Thoreau's Walden in the 10th grade. I didn't know it then, but it would have a profound impact on my outlook towards life and what it means to be successful. It took years to absorb that book and I still try to reread it once a year to continue gaining more insight from it.

One of my favorite aspects of the book and Thoreau's approach is to simplify life as much as possible. Cutting out distractions helps one be able to live more intentionally and fully in the moment. As with most things in life, simple doesn't always mean easy and to simplify one's life in this time can be difficult and met with resistance from every direction.

When I decided that I wanted to be a full time beekeeper, I saw a way of making a living that could help me transition to a simpler lifestyle. After getting my first hive I knew I wanted to keep bees as "naturally" as I could and I thought that keeping bees in general seemed fairly simple. Ah! Ignorance is bliss! I didn't realize how difficult and complex keeping bees could possibly turn out to be. 

If someone goes the "conventional" route of beekeeping it can become quite complex and costly. The experts and books will present beekeeping as a complex routine of treatments, medications, manipulations and techniques to coerce the bees into being productive. I went this way, minus hard chemical treatments, myself. And the whole time, I thought there must be a simpler way to keep bees. Most modern beekeeping runs under the assumption that without beekeepers and our constant diligence, the honey bee will cease to exist. I find that hard to believe and actually have come to the conclusion that the honey bee continues to survive in spite of what beekeepers continue doing. It is a true testament to the versatility, adaptability and the innate wisdom of the honey bee.

It cannot be true that all of the artificial tactics of the modern beekeeper are necessary for bees to continue to prosper. Humans have kept bees, which in itself no matter how hands off the approach is not truly natural, for thousands of years. For most of that time, the methods of keeping bees were very basic and usually resulted in killing the entire hive to harvest the honey. Beekeepers made more hives by allowing some of them to swarm. The modern approach to beekeeping is credited to Langstroth and his framed hives, which allowed for an easily removed and inspected comb. Of course, he borrowed ideas form people before him such as Huber but I won't dive into the history of apiculture. I only bring up this point to demonstrate that the modern methods of beekeeping are still relatively new and while there are many advantages to keeping bees this way, they are not the only ways to keep bees successfully. Most of the new "innovations" in beekeeping since the mid-19th century have really focused on making life easier for beekeepers, not bees.

After keeping bees in these industrial friendly ways for a generation or two, diseases started appearing. Isle of Wight disease decimated bee populations in the late 19th and early 20th century. The 20th century seemed to have waves of disease and pests going through apiaries. Nosema, tracheal mites, American and European foulbrood, the dreaded Varroa mite and small hive beetles have all occurred in greater numbers since the invention and widespread use of industrial beekeeping. Along with these pests have come the widespread use of antibiotics and pesticides in hives. These chemicals are almost all lipophilic, and beeswax being a lipid based substance has absorbed these chemicals and allowed a build up of chemical residues in our beehives. This is compounded by the beekeeper's desire to keep reusing the same combs over and over because it causes the bees to be more productive and easily split. In nature, bees will abandon combs after a time because each generation of larva and pupa that go through them leave excrement and waste behind that also builds up in the combs. The bees don't want to keep on using these old combs because they are great carriers of disease and viruses.

On top of the "hardware" methods and techniques of modern beekeeping, there is the shallow gene pool of modern beekeeping. To maintain pure breeding lines for certain behavioral traits such as docility, fecundity and honey production, queen breeders have resorted to artificial insemination and the vast majority of queens are produced from only a handful of queen breeders. There is also a strong belief in preventing the natural instinct of swarming. Swarming is the natural way that beehives divide and multiply and most beekeepers now make artificial splits and add unrelated queens, which causes a whole other set of problems to be dealt with.

I know this all seems very technical and wordy. And it is. It is increasingly complex and far from natural and that is why I started looking for simpler ways of keeping bees. I have more trust in the bees and their own abilities to live and solve problems than I do in our ability to comprehend the natural balance of microflora, pH levels and the other beautiful intricacies that 150 million years of evolution have created. 

It became increasingly apparent to me that I wanted to help my bees return to a more natural state of being and living. I think that by allowing the bees to regulate themselves they will adapt to pests and diseases in the ways that best serve them. I may not produce the quantity of honey or bees that can be made through more manipulations and treatments, but I am confident that the bees and honey I do produce will be the healthiest and highest quality. I started by reading a biology textbook of the honey bee. That changed my approach to bees and has been the single most important piece of knowledge that I have gained.

So, how do I keep bees and plan to move forward?

  • I am moving to horizontal hive designs. This allows me to check single frames or bars of bees without disturbing the rest of the hive at the same time. I also don't have to completely tear a hive apart to look into it. I will be using horizontal framed hives and top bar hives.
  • I'm promoting the swarming of my hives and split them just prior to the swarm actually leaving. This is tricky and I'm sure I will not catch all of them. This will allow me to put related queens and bees into new hives and locations.
  • For instances when queens are needed in an emergency or for some other reason, I am using the Hopkins method of queen rearing with a Cloake board. There will be an entire post covering the way I am doing this.
  • I harvest the entire comb with the honey. This allows me to remove older combs and promote the drawing out of fresh new comb in the hive. I will also have a separate post on this topic.
  • I will trust the bees to handle and adapt to pests and diseases. Yes, I will lose bees in the process, but the surviving bees will produce a stronger and more locally adapted bee that will require no chemicals. Over time I will selectively breed for traits that are desirable by open mating and following similar methods of Brother Adam of Buckfast Abbey.

Thank you for taking the time to read all of this. I know it seems like a lot of information but it's necessary to understand the reason behind my approach. I welcome all questions, comments and suggestions.

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Welcome!

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Welcome!

It's an exciting time of year to be a beekeeper. We have been getting all of our hives ready, frames built and extra gear ordered. This year is looking to be our most expansive and busy year yet!

It was decided last year after playing with a few top bar hives that we would be shifting our entire operation over to top bar hives. That is still true but we decided that to better serve local beekeepers that use Langstgroth hives, we will also maintain 10 frame deeps and 5 frame nucs for sale. 

The plan is to start breeding bees and rearing queens this year from our best stock. We are dedicated to not using treatments of any kind and allowing superior genetics and natural selection to provide a local bee that doesn't require constant chemical inputs. These bees will be for sale starting next Spring and we will start taking reservations as early as this summer. Queens and queen cells will be available starting in April of this year and going for as long as the weather permits.

In addition to selling Langstroth style nucs and single deep body hives, we will also be selling top bar style nucs and full top bar hives. We have decided to go with a modified version of Les Crowder's top bar hive plan. We are encouraging all of the local beekeepers interested in top bar hives to also use this plan so that we may have interchangeable frames. The modifications that we've made include a slot cut into the bottom board to hold Beetle Blaster beetle traps and entrances on both sides of the hives. There will be a post later to fully explain and demonstrate the changes I've made to adapt this hive to local conditions and my methods of keeping bees.

We are going to start using a GoPro camera to make videos of our practices and help educate the public about bees and beekeeping in Northern Louisiana. Also, we intend on posting interviews with local and well known beekeepers in the near future. More details on this will be coming soon!

Thanks for taking the time to visit our website. If there are any questions or comments, don't hesitate to let us know!

Aaron & Lauren

 

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