Got a New Look!

Trying out a different look for my blog.  What do you think?

Good Bugs, Bad Bugs

LangstrothI finally contacted a local beekeeper about purchasing a nuc (nucleus of bees and a queen), but the price has doubled since my former beekeeping days.  He didn’t have any nucs available, but will keep me in mind if the bees decide to swarm on their own.  My brother-in-law, John, had pretty much given up on beekeeping, so he let me have his old beekeeping equipment and used hives & frames in exchange for the honey I collect.  A beneficial exchange for both of us! The old frames will be converted into a Top Bar Hive, or maybe two.  And, after a good cleaning, the old frames will be converted to brood chamber bars.

Spring weather will only last so long, so finishing the huglebeds has been my other time-sensitive priority lately.  While building the beds, I unearthed several creepy crawlies.  Some good, and some… not so much.

These beds will house veges this year and livestock greens in the future.  Sadie is standing at the front-right corner marker of the future greenbarn

These beds will house veges this year and livestock greens in the future. Sadie is standing at the front-right corner marker of the future greenbarn

Soldier Beetle 2Tiny soldier beetles were crawling everywhere in one section of the ground I was moving.  So I sprinkled that wheelbarrow of dirt over several spots in my beds.  These beneficial little soldiers kill and eat all sorts of soft bodied pests and their eggs.  They don’t damage foliage, but will eat nectar and pollen if they can’t find any bugs to munch on.

Soldier Beetle 1The brightly colored beetles look much like lightning bugs, but do not have the fascinating ability to light up their abdomens.  They appear in several patterns of reds, oranges and yellows.  They also look similar to the blister beetle, which is a garden pest that will eat pretty much anything you want to grow in your garden.  These nasty little critters also have a small amount of toxin in their bites that can cause blisters on your skin.  Blister beetles in the Southeastern United States come in several patterns of gray and black, but some species will sport brighter colors.  The best way to tell these two bugs apart is by the way their head is attached to their bodies.  The blister beetles are shaped more like ants, with a distinguishable “neck” section.  Soldier beetles’ heads appear to be attached directly to their bodies, just like the lightening bugs.

Bess Bug 1While moving rotted logs to form the base of my beds, I discovered some “patent leather bugs” or bess bugs.  This type of wood beetle is the most common in my neck of the woods.  They are beneficial decomposters that will break down wood into rich soil.   This species only lives in rotting wood, so they are not dangerous to man-made structures. Similar to ants and bees, they live in a social structure, caring for their young.  So if you take the time to poke around in a log where you find one of these shiny bugs, you’ll find some smaller, bright-red juveniles and white wormy babies as well.

013

I found two of these pupae, both about 3 inches long

These large hornworm pupae are very easy to find in loose soil.  Once they leave their shell, the green worms are much harder to spot because they blend in so well with their surroundings.  Last summer I found quite bit of damage from a stinkbug infestation, but some of the damage didn’t fit with the stinkbug’s M.O.  These monster caterpillars are most likely the offspring of those hungry criminals.  The hornworm transforms into a fairy-like moth that is almost as big as a hummingbird.  Most commonly known as hummingbird moths and hawk moths around here, they have a wingspan of up to 5 inches and can fly around 30 miles per hour.  Pretty impressive for a bug!

Spring is bursting at the seams and so is my to-do list.  It’s difficult to prioritize when everything is screaming for attention.  Hopefully this magical season will hang around long enough for me to enjoy its splendor as well as get my chores done.

 

 

Bars in a Box

finished

notched bar

Although I’m still not finished with my hive, I did make quite a bit of progress this weekend, even with the never-ending deluge we’ve had for the past year.  Actually, I should say “we,” because I couldn’t have managed this part of the project without my sweet hubby!  He’s always so good to help whenever I need an extra pair of hands.

lipedge

exterior view of lip

If I had used straight pieces of purchased lumber that are the correct width, this project would have been completed much quicker.  Also, it would have made the job easy enough for one person to handle alone.  My scrappy project only cost me a small box of 1-inch screws because I ran out of that size before I finished.  But even if you purchased all of your supplies up front, this would not have to be an expensive project.  Truly, anyone, on any budget, could make these beehives.  They are very simple and affordable to build.

closelip

interior view of lip

So, let’s pick up where we left off.  Last week, I notched the ends of my bars so they would hang in the hive box.  Here are exterior and interior views the “lip” I made on the sides of the box by screwing a 1×2 strip about ½-inch above the edge of the top horizontal  board.

barside

The bars fit nicely on the lip and are easy to slide from one end of the hive to the other

endview

View of the end of the hive. You can see the horizontal piece of lumber peeking out th bottom

I made the hive box from the straightest pieces of lumber I could find in my woodpile.  Most of what I have is reclaimed 1×6 fencing.  The boards are actually ½ x 5 ½ inches, which must be taken into account when measuring.  The finished box needed to be 19-19 ½ inches across as the interior measurement and 48-ish inches long as the length.  The depth needs to be just enough to house the brood frames I hope to get from a local beekeeper.  I’ll put in the bottom of the hive when I know for sure what depth I need.  It should be somewhere between 7 and 10 inches.

boxlegs

You can see the lighter colored wood filler on the inside of the hive box.

I made the sides and ends by laying two 4-foot lengths of board on my table horizontally, which created about 11 inches of depth for me to work with. Then, after placing the lip, I attached several short sections of board vertically along the 4-foot length with 1-inch screws.  The screws will hold this old lumber more securely than nails. Having two layers of wood will also help insulate the hive in extreme weather.  The total thickness of the walls of my hive is one inch.

Even with two layers of wood, I still had some drafty little gaps, so I filled the interior holes and gaps with wood filler and sanded it smooth. Wood stain would make it look nicer, but is harmful to the bees, so I just left it plain.  Trust me, the bees will be laying propolis (bee glue) all over the place and remodeling it to their satisfaction anyway. They really don’t care about our sense of interior design.

The 2×4 legs are cut at a 15-degree angle to make the hive sturdy and hard to tip over.  I made the ends of the boards long enough to stick out as far as the bottoms of the legs to prevent me from tripping over them.  I’m a bit of a klutz.  When working out the plans, I could just visualize me moving around to the end of the hive with a comb of honey and accidentally kicking one of the legs causing an uprising of ticked-off bees.  That would really mess up my day!  Ha!

My woodpile is a beautiful mess!  Those cedar limbs will someday become an end-table for my living room.

My woodpile is a beautiful mess! Those cedar limbs will someday become an end-table for my living room.

The hive legs are 30 inches high so the hive will be at a comfortable height for my vertically challenged body to work with.  I stood at my kitchen table, which is about the same height, and pretended to lift a frame from that position.  I didn’t have to bend over to reach the pretend-comb of honey, or lift it too high to get it over the edge of the pretend-hive.  When making your hive, be sure to make the legs at a height that is comfortable for your back and arms to lift and move the bars. Because my bars are 19 inches long and the hive will be 7-10 inches deep, each bar will weigh around 5 pounds when filled with comb and honey.  Remember, these bars must be held out away from your body and moved slowly and evenly when working with the bees.

A shorter bar length and shallower depth would create less weight to work with, but would require even more frequent visits to the hive to keep the bees from running out of room and swarming (leaving the hive).  When deciding on the size of your hive, you’ll need to keep these things in mind.  Your own needs and preferences will be the determining factors in the size of your hive.  For me, using wood from my woodpile was preferable to purchasing the wood, even if it took me a little longer to build.  That may not work for you.  Top Bar hives can be built less than 4 feet long, but I preferred having the equivalent of a brood chamber and 2 supers because that’s the size of my previous vertical hive.  Do a little research before determining the size you build.  While you are surfing the web, you’ll see designs for the straight sided Tanzanian style, like mine, as well the slanted Kenyan style.  I chose the straight side for my first hive for reasons I’ve already mentioned, but you may like the Kenyan better.  Actually, I think the Kenyan design is sleeker, and the pre-made ones I’ve seen for sale on several websites are much prettier than mine. These Top Bar hives are a wonderful choice for an aging back, but most American beekeepers prefer the more common Langstroth style. One is not better than the other, each just has different advantages and disadvantages. To each his own.

My next bee post will about building the top cover of the hive, as well as the bottom portion if I’ve located my supplier.  In the meantime, let me know what you’ve found out about bees and Top Bar hives. I love sharing information!

112 Cuts Closer to the Top

I still need to cut flat ends on each of the 28 bars I made this weekend

Last weekend’s work

We had a very busy birthday weekend, but I did at least manage to finish the bars for my first hive.  If life were running at a normal pace, I would be able to finish this whole project in one weekend.  So please don’t be discouraged by my piecemeal presentation.  If you find yourself with an interrupted weekend and a little lumber, you could easily build a complete hive in a short period of time.  Also, if you have the right equipment, your time investment could be reduced even further.  My tool collection is very basic.  So it does tend to take a little more time for me to complete a project.

Last week, I cut the lengths and “points” on 28 bars.  I plan to make the hive long enough to fit 30 bars, which will be about the same number of frames in three Langstroth supers.  Two of the bars will be replaced with traditional Langstroth frames loaded with foundation sheet and hopefully comb already built.  My bars are 19 inches long so that they are interchangeable with those frames.

mark endmark sideThe bars are shaped with a point for the bees to attach their combs to.  And the ends are shaped so the bars will hang in the hive body the same way as regular frames hang in a Langstroth super.  Using a ruler to measure the cutting lines on the ends of the bars was awkward.   The “lip” of the bar needed to be about ½ inch deep and wide, like the Langstroths.  So I searched my toolbox for something that was about ½ inch wide to use as my marker.  The little wire brush you see in the picture was much easier and quicker to work with than the ruler.

marked

It only took two easy cuts with my trusty little jig on each end of each bar.  That’s 112 cuts in all.  No matter which type of cutting tool you use, this part of the project is going to take you a minute!  I anchored each bar to my fancy cutting stand (an old computer desk frame) and cut in from the end of the bar as I steadied it with my other hand (the one holding the camera).

jig

Then I made the next cut at an angle from the point of the bar to the first cut where the two marked lines intersected.

angle cut

The angle toward the point will encourage the bees to build away from the edge of the hive body and hopefully discourage them from attaching the sides of the comb to the inside of the hive.  If they do, I’ll have to pry it loose every time I move it.  Not an impossible task and one that I will most likely have to do on occasion anyway.  But it will be much easier for me if they don’t make  a habit of attaching all of their combs to the sides of the box every time they build new comb.

Ready to hang

Ready to hang

All 28 of the finished bars now have a lip on each end and are ready for the hive box to be built, which, HOPEFULLY will happen next weekend.  So everyone keep all your fingers and toes crossed to wish me luck! (except when you are walking… that could be dangerous… or funny, depending on your point of view!  HA!)

Making the Bar(s)

dadant bookTop Bar Hives can be constructed of just about anything that can create a trough-like shape.  There is quite a bit of conflicting information about the best way to construct the hives.  But, from the books, blogs and forums I’ve been combing through, the most practical information has been from Small Scale Beekeeping written by Curtis Gentry for the Peace Corps in 1982 at www.beekeeping.com/articles/us/small_beekeeping/, and The Practical Beekeeper by Michael Bush at http://www.bushfarms.com/bees.htm I also have an old version of First Lessons in Beekeeping by C. P. Dadant that I bought years ago with my first hive.

Marking a straight line in the center of a 2x2 deck spindle

Marking a straight line in the center of a 2×2 deck spindle

The Peace Corps book was written several years back and gives a really practical view of how these hives are used in other countries.  You can download and print it for the cost of your paper and ink.  There are tons of practical drawings and it is a very easy read.  Bush‘s website is also very practical and has lots of pictures for those of you who, like me, are visual learners.  He also has a book for sale by the same name.  There is a wealth of information on the website, but if you’d rather have everything in your hand, the book would probably be worth the money.  On his website, he doesn’t try to convince you that “his way is the only way,” but rather gives you his observations about the strengths and weaknesses of each type of beekeeping from his own experience with both horizontal and vertical hives.

Cutting a 45 degree angle with my circle saw

Cutting a 45 degree angle with my circle saw

Since I’d had the vertical Langstroth hive before, I had a frame of reference to build from when reading this “new” information.  If you’ve never kept bees, and you find all the conflicting ideas on the web confusing, I would recommend using these two references as your starting point.  And, even if you don’t intend to have a vertical hive, any beginner’s beekeeping book, or web information, would be of great help.  The two methods are, at their core, basically the same.  You are managing this tiny creature’s needs so that it will be mutually beneficial.  The Langstroth method is more economical in a commercial situation, and the Top Bar is a little better suited for the backyard individual.

Follow the line with the 45 mark, not the 0 mark

Follow the line with the 45 mark, not the 0 mark

I intended to have a completed hive ready to photograph for this blog, but my weekend didn’t go as planned.  I suppose that’s to be expected though, since “life happens,” right?  At least I did manage to get started on my beehive project.  After going through my woodpile, I decided that I would use some 2×2 pieces of lumber I got from someone’s leftover deck project to make the bars for my hive.  The lumber was treated, but has been out in the weather for a couple of years, so I think it should be safe for the bees.  I know the wild bumbles around here don’t have any problems building their nests in our shed.  We used treated lumber, some of it new, and it hasn’t slowed them down one bit.

I still need to cut flat ends on each of the 28 bars I made this weekend

I still need to cut flat ends on each of the 28 bars I made this weekend so they will hang neatly in the hive chamber

My bars are not as perfect as the ones I saw on the internet.  I don’t own a table saw, so I had to do the best I could with my small circle saw.  I figured if the people over in Africa and Asia could make their hives out of whatever they could find, my slightly imperfect angles shouldn’t make that much of a difference.  The “point” on each my bars follow a line down the center of the bar and are pretty straight.  So I think the slightly uneven angles on each side of the point shouldn’t make that much difference when the bees are building their combs.  From what I’ve read and experienced, bees are just like us and do whatever they dang well please anyway!  I’m going to use a couple of pre-fab frames with sheet comb to encourage them to make their combs straight using the method described on Bush’s website as well as other sites and forums.  I plan on keeping those combs in the brood and won’t be extracting wax and honey from them, so it isn’t important to me that those particular combs be completely built by the bees.

I’ve debated back and forth over whether to build straight (Tanzanian) or angled (Kenyan) sides on my hives.  Since the Langstroth hives are more readily available, and I’ll be working with local beekeepers who use them, my first hive will be shaped and sized like theirs.  The straight sides will be more interchangeable if I run into trouble and need to swap out a few frames of brood.  Squared shapes are also easier to build than angled shapes.  If I can manage to build two hives before spring swarming season gets here, I’d like to try attracting a wild swarm to a Kenyan hive as well.  I’ll keep you posted as I go along.

“Top” Bees

Sorry I missed posting this past weekend!  My granddaughters kept me pretty busy and I’ve spent most of my spare time lately brushing up on beekeeping.  I kept a hive several years ago and had to give my hive away when life got too hectic to take proper care of them.  Now that our little burbstead is taking shape, I’ve been longing for the little buzzers again.  My short arms and aging back, however, caused me to dismiss the idea of beekeeping because of the heavy lifting involved.  A super full of honey weighs around 90 pounds and must be moved slowly and smoothly to prevent alarming the bees.  That fearless feat of strength is one I am no longer capable of, and as I get older the prospect grows even dimmer.  Luckily, I live in an area that still has a fair number of wild pollinators, so I can still garden.  But that number is dwindling every year.

The dramatic nationwide decline in our bee population has even made the cover of Time magazine, so you are probably already aware of the dire consequences of losing these amazing insects.  If they disappear, life as we know it will soon follow.  The desire to help protect this vital resource coupled with my own personal affinity for the little critters has led me to the discovery of a practical way to resume beekeeping.  It’s not a “new and improved” method.  Rather, it is an ancient method that is still practiced in other parts of the world.  The Top Bar Hive method doesn’t require lifting anything more than one rack of honeycomb at a time.  The management of these hives is only slightly different from the traditional Langstroth hive that most of us are used to seeing.  With both methods you must manipulate the brood (bee nursery) and honey combs to keep the hive strong and productive.  With the Langstroth, you move an entire super (box) of combs each time you make a change.  In the Top Bar,  you have only one, stationary “box,” so you’re only managing (moving) one bar of honeycomb at a time.  Because you are making small adjustments, they must be made more frequently than you would with the Langstroth, so managing the bees this way as a business might not be practical.  But since I only want a few hives in my back yard, and I already know that I enjoy working with bees, the Top Bar method sounds like a dream come true to me!

BEEstuffPurchasing constructed hives is quite expensive no matter which type of setup you choose.  But with the Top Bar hives, it’s ridiculously easy to build one yourself.  There are several different plans on the internet for building these hives and just as many arguments for which one is best.  At this point, I think I’ll build one each of the Kenyan and Tanzanian type hives and let experience help me decide which I prefer.  I hope to finish both hives this weekend and will publish photos of my efforts in my next post.

Looks like I’ll have to pull my old equipment from the shelf and dust it off.   (I’m just buzzing with excitement!)

Preparedness

14 snow 12I don’t know how folks react to a bad weather warning where you live, but around here the bread and milk isles are emptied in just a few hours.  Heaven help you if you actually need to buy groceries during one of those raids!  It seems most people don’t think about preparing for an emergency until it is staring them in the face.  And, judging by recent events, some of our local government officials are also guilty of this folly.  I’m not advocating an “extreme prepper” mentality like some of the ones portrayed on those TV (un)reality shows.  But we could all benefit from a small dose of preparedness paranoia.

14 snow 5It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this world is not devoted to your care.  The weather doesn’t give a hoot whether or not you have flashlights and candles when it loads the power lines with ice.  And contrary to popular belief, the government, any government, is not looking out for your best interests either.  I’m not saying there are absolutely no altruistic souls in Washington, or that our government is evil.  (I am very grateful that I was born in this wonderful country!)  What I am saying is that government officials are just as human as the milk and bread raiders at the grocery store.  Most of those panicky food-isle looters don’t race to the store with the intent to harm anyone. They are simply looking out for their own interests.  But beware if you get in their way.  The ugly side of human nature won’t hesitate to rear its beastly head without warning, as newspaper headlines will attest!

14 snow 2So, how do we prepare?  And for what do we prepare?  Fire, flood, drought, ice, wind, thieves, murderers… there’s just no end to the horrifying possibilities.  We cannot possibly be prepared for every unforeseen event.  So do we build a bunker and shut ourselves off from the world or do we just throw our hands in the air and let everything go?  Neither choice is healthy.  We must strike a balance we can live with.  We won’t need to panic when a weather warning is announced if we have already made sure we have enough food, water, batteries and the like to see us through.  When walking through a parking lot to our cars, our heart shouldn’t race with fear that some nut-job will steal us away in his van if we’re careful to park our cars in a safe area and are aware of our surroundings when walking to and from it.

14 snow 1Small, common-sense actions carried out on a daily basis are our best preparation against misfortune.  And a prepared mind is the best weapon against panic.  There are a multitude of websites containing valuable information about thrifty ways to be prepared for all sorts of disasters.  Even the government has preparedness information for you to browse.  The information is there, you just need to take a little time to gather it and put it to action.  Radical paranoia really isn’t required in order to be prepared.  All you need are a couple of brain cells and your own two hands.

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