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.
The 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.
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).
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.
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.
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!)
Top 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Purchasing 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!)
I found this old chair at a flea market for five bucks. Other than the seat and back needing repair and the bolts tightened, it was pretty sturdy. So I thought I’d “gussie it up” a bit. After a good cleaning, I removed the seat and used it to cut a new one from some scraps in the woodpile.
Rather than painting it, I thought it might look nice in a “shabby chic” style. So I just roughed up the old white paint with a sander and finished out the tight spots by hand.
Sitting on a hard wooden seat didn’t seem very comfortable, so I cut a piece of scrap material a little larger than the newly cut seat, covered the wood with batting, and glued the material to the underside of the wood. Then I cut off the extra material and glued the seat to the chair. In just a few hours, we have a sturdy “new” chair that’s nice and comfy too.
I can’t wait to see how it looks in my granddaughter’s study!
I love to peruse gardening magazines in the winter. Actually, I love to do that year round, but I have a legitimate excuse to do it now! The only downside to my “window shopping” is that it makes me want all the great gadgets and gizmos they offer. I love time and labor-saving devices as much as the next gardener, but you can spend a small fortune if you’re not careful. So I’m always looking for ways to save money without spending too much time and labor.
One of my favorite thrifty-green ideas is to make seed starting pots out of empty toilet paper tubes. It’s super-easy! Just cut four slits on one end of a toilet paper tube. Make the cuts about one inch long and at equal distances apart, creating four “tabs.” Then, fold the tabs down, and place a piece of paper tape over the end to secure it. Be sure to use paper tape as it will compost best. Easy-peasy!
Didn’t save any toilet paper tubes over the summer? No problem! Just use one toilet paper tube to make lots of newspaper pots! The first ones I made using a small glass, but even if the sides of the glass are angled even a small amount, it was too much work to roll it up straight. I think the tubes work much better.
First, fold a single sheet of newspaper lengthwise into thirds. Remember not to use the shiny or highly-colored paper. Mostly black and white pages are better for your plants. Next, you just wrap the paper around the toilet paper tube and secure it with paper tape. Then cut and tape the ends just like we did with the tubes in the pictures above.
Finally, you just fill all your little pots with potting soil, add some seeds, and get growing!
Space is limited here at the Wild Garden Burbstead, so I need to make good use of every square inch of it. I can’t afford to waste any sun-drenched, crop-producing ground by placing a building in the wrong spot. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west and lowers toward the south in winter (generally) on my little corner of the globe. Because of the sun’s patterns of movement, buildings cast a mostly northern shadow here. If I build my greenhouse, chicken coop, barn or any other structure on the southern side of the property, much of the remaining ground will be shaded, reducing the amount of growing space I’ll have. So placement of a greenhouse, a chicken coop, or a barn is pretty much a no-brain-er. The biggest problem I had was deciding what to build, because I just don’t have room for all those buildings! I’ve drawn at least two dozen combination ideas for my back yard burbstead before coming up with this one.
The plan is to build it in 3 phases. The first section will be built on the farthest northeastern corner with the greenhouse portion facing south. As each section is added, the west-facing wall will be altered to encompass the new section with a minimal amount of effort. I’ve marked off the area for the completed 3-section green-barn so there will be enough walk space left between the farthest possible northwest corner and the existing shed. Starting small and leaving space for potential additions seemed like the best way to tackle this project. The first section will contain a passive solar greenhouse for starting seedlings and provide me the opportunity to learn how to grow tropical plants, if I can at all. It will also have a coop portion that will house the beginnings of my poultry flock, which will consist of a couple of miniature ducks and three or four hens. This small beginning will allow me to troubleshoot and experiment with my ideas before expanding.
In section two, the existing greenhouse will become an aquaponics setup with tilapia. And the new section will, hopefully, be my little tropical garden. The coop will be enlarged and become more barn-like. Vermiculture bins will most likely be added in there somewhere to feed fish and fowl. I’m still debating over whether or not to add rabbits. I love crocheting and weaving and have thought about Angora rabbits as a natural fiber source. But there is still more research to be done and I’m not yet in a financial position to reduce my hours at the hospital, so that phase will have to sit on the back burner with section three for a while. Section 3 is just more barn space if needed for more rabbits and/or miniature goats when I have enough time to properly care for them, and if we are able to acquire one or both of the lots adjacent to ours.
Combining the coop, barn and greenhouse will save on time, energy, money, and lumber as well as space. It’s designed to use easily accessible and less expensive 8′ lumber and roofing materials without wasted cuts. Meeting each animal, fish and plants’ diverse needs presents a bit of a challenge, but I have collected some ideas from other gardening experts and enthusiasts as well as coming up with a few ideas of my own. If you have any suggestions or questions about how the combo will work, please feel free to post a comment. Brainstorming is the best way to overcome obstacles and inspire new ideas… and I just love sharing!