Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Minneapolis Legalizes Beekeeping

Good news in Minnesota

Year 2, Week 3: After the Rain

I was finally able to inspect both Plan Bee... and Lib-BEE-taria this morning between classes. The last three days have been cool and rainy. This morning it was sunny and in the 50s as I opened both hives. Maple and plum trees are blooming close by and the first dandelions are flowering as well.

I was very pleased with what I found in both hives. In Plan Bee..., the top bar hive, the carniolans have drawn a significant amount of comb on 5 bars. Three of the combs have a nice, full pattern of capped brood, and some capped honey to the top. The bees were unbelievably calm on the comb as well. I added another bar to the ten that were already available, since they have comb built right next to a bar located adjacent to a follower board.

I found Lib-BEE-taria, the Langstroth, healthy also. They are drawing comb on 4 of the plastic frames. I was skeptical about using plastic but wanted to experiment a bit. I melted some extra beeswax on the foundation to make them more appealing and that seems to have done the trick. Again, as with the top bar, these carniolans seem to have a healthy queen if the brood pattern is any indication.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Knowledge Acknowledged

Except for computer problems which made our powerpoint presentation useless, I would have to say that our beekeeping presentation for my univerity's Knowledge Acknowledged series was a success. We had a very diverse and engaged audience, along with tasty refreshments supplied by the library.

I left with a deep appreciation for my beekeeping colleagues at the university, even though we all came to apiculture from different directions and for different purposes. Gary found his way through the face-to-face influence of another local beekeeper who mentored him in the craft. He has a very non-interference approach that I much admire. Chris's approach is shaped by his involvement in the Univerity of Minnesota's extension courses and Marla Spivak's work. The joy he takes in beekeeping and all of nature was quite evident in his talk. My own approach finds its home mostly at Phil Chandler's biobees.com. I am very happy to have had the opportunity to work together with Gary and Chris on this project.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Year 2, Week 2: Taking Out the Queen Cages

Yesterday, morning I did my first short inspection of the year, primarily for the purpose of removing the queen cages from Plan Bee, and Lib-BEE-taria. The weather was excellent, in the upper 60s, with little or no wind. The bees have been bringing in pollen for the last week from an assortment of trees finally blooming. This had to be the first Saturday of 2009 that actually felt like spring.

I opened Plan Bee first. The bees were drawing comb on 4 bars already and were very calm as I removed one of the bars to inspect it. I removed the empty queen cage and closed the hive up. I was very happy with what I saw.

Lib-BEE-taria, the new Langstroth, seemed also to be doing well. The bees were working on two already drawn frames and drawing comb on parts of adjacent plastic frames. Yes, I know, plastic frames! Not very sustainable of me but something I felt I needed to do. I just had too many problems with cross comb last year and felt I needed to get the hang of beekeeping before I'd return to the challenges of foundationless frames. I did include some foundationless frames in this hive that had fairly "straight" comb. Anyway, these Carniolans don't seem to mind plastic frames, though, as a precaution, I did brush on an extra coat of beeswax on each to make them more "enticing".

I have noticed that I am second guessing myself and being overly cautious during inspections this year, possibly because of the dying of last year's colonies. I do not know whether this is good or bad.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Student Involvement in Beekeeping

Last month, I had my junior-level Global Issues course read and discuss Schacker's Spring Without Bees. The students were required to write a short research paper on CCD (What has been said since the publication of Schacker's book about CCD?) as well.

Today, one of the students in this course informed me that he and his friend are building a top bar hive this weekend and have ordered a package of bees. They are building their hive using Phil Chandler's design available at biobees.com. It is always rewarding when a student takes what you teach to heart, especially when it is something you are passionate about.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Latest News From Beelandia

It's been 4 days since I installed the two packages and the bees seem to be doing just fine. They are not consuming as much sugar syrup as anticipated but they are bringing in pollen from some unknown source. Except for a blossoming forsythia, I cannot see any other sources of pollen in the neighborhood right now, though many trees are about to flower. In three days I will do my first inspection and remove the queen cage from each hopefully.

I have discovered how mcuh my mental health is connected to working with my bees. Since installing these packages and watching the hives each day, I feel much less anxiety and am probably sleeping better. I know the death of my two hives installed last spring took much out of me.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Week 1, Year 2: Picking up Packages at Nature's Nectar

Monta and I got up early this morning and travelled over a hundred miles to pick up our two 2 lb. Carniolan packages at Nature's Nectar in Stillwater Minnesota. We had an excellent trip thanks to google maps and also found that our Vibes' cargo strap system keeps 2 lb. packages very secure over a relatively long trip.

Early in the afternoon I installed both packages in our two new hives: a top bar named Plan Bee From Outer Space, and a green Langstroth called Lib-BEE-taria. The installations went well without much problem. (see videos below). I gave each hive a MegaBeetm pollen patties and filled each hives' feeder with 1:1 sugar syrup.

The packages seemed very healthy, if I compare them with last year's two. Only a few dead bees, and very, very few damaged in transit. I am quite pleased with Nature's Nectar.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Mackenzie in the Garden With Bees

As I failed to mention, Monta finished her mosaic, Mackenzie in the Garden With Bees. (Try singing this title to the tune of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds".) I am quite taken by this work of art. It so captures Mackenzie's " live-and-let-live" attitude toward our bees, besides being so beautiful. Monta told me a photo of this mosaic was used in some Winona tourism materials this month.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Model of Reality vs. Reality of the Model Part II

I was meandering through youtube.com this morning watching bee videos and saw this interesting video on the installation of bees. While the video is well done for an amateur video, this was really not what caught my interest about it, however. It was actually the reaction of some of the commenters who criticized the makers of this video for not "installing bees correctly". Yes, the video maker's method was a bit uncommon and I've never used their approach myself, but it is the method suggested by Furgala, Spivak, and Reuter in Beekeeping in Northern Climates, therefore, well within the realm of beekeeping "orthodoxy".

The comments toward this video illustrate a pet peeve of mine I've had throughout my lifetime: people who make knee-jerk criticisms of others without being fully up on the area of concern. If I've learned anything, for every successful experienced beekeeper, there is, quite likely, some unique successful technique I can learn from him/her. Once I, especially as a novice, close my mind to learning a new method, I am doomed.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Top Bar Hives and Sustainable Beekeeping

Last night, I began preparing for my 10 minute presentation for the Knowledge Acknowledged series. I will be speaking about top bar hives and sustainable beekeeping. The following are my notes for this talk. Even though no references are provided with these notes, I recognize that very little of what I will say is of my own creation. Much of what I will say comes from the ideas of Phil Chandler and all the great people who participate at biobees.com, as well as the information I've read at Michael Bush's website. Thanks all.

One of my chief concerns when I took up "bee having" last year was how to do it sustainably. When I speak of sustainability, I'm not speaking only about my own bees but all bees. Bees and humanity are currently involved in an enduring conflict. Bees produce products and do services we want. Yet many of the bee management techniques we use in the name of efficiency and productivity stress the bees. How do we gain these benefits without placing honeybees on a "production treadmill" that hurts them in the long-term?

One sustainable approach I've been exploring is the use of top bar hives. Top bar hives have their origins in ancient Greece and are now primarily associated with development projects found mostly in Africa.

The chief differences between top bar hives and the box hives most people associate with managed beekeeping are:

* Bees build comb on bars rather in frames surrounding beeswax foundation.
* The beekeeper guides the bees in expanding their colony horizontally rather than vertically as in box hives

A top bar hive looks simply like a long trough with 35 mm bars suspended across the top of it. (Kenyan beekeepers have nicknamed the hive: Honey Cow) The bees draw comb down the middle of each bar using either a wax starter strip or a beeswax covered popsicle stick as a guide on where to start. As the bees fill the bars, the beekeeper expands the colony area by moving movable walls (called follower boards) out and adding more empty bars. You harvest capped honey by simply pulling out the bars when ready.

Top bar hives offer some advantages over the regular box hives:

1. They are significantly cheaper and easier to manufacture than the entire set-up needed to start a box hive colony. When you add up all that's needed for a box hive, you could spend as much as $300. Material-wise, our first top bar hive cost us $80. This might've been significantly less had Monta and I done what others have done, built the hive using found, and recycled materials. You can make a fine hive from an old bureau draw, pieces of an old pallet, or even a large clay pot. One individual I know has weaved together old stalks from last year's sunflower plants, allowing the bees to fill in any gaps with propolis. Another person has made hives from papercrete. As long as each comb in the colony can be removed individually, these hives are completely legal in the U.S.
2. Except for the width of the top bar which must be 35mm wide, there are no other crucial measurements to follow.
3. Bees are easier to work with in a top bar hive. They behave less defensively, primarily because you only disrupt the brood nest one bar at a time. With boxes, you not only examine the bees frame by frame but also separate boxes, stressing the whole colony in the process.Many beekeepers I know work their top bar hives without protective clothing or a smoker
4. Bees build cells to whatever size suits their needs, not according to the dimensions demanded by the foundation the beekeeper uses. This may also eliminate another possible stressor.

The beekeeper considering top bar hives should recognize that there are some distinct disadvantages as well.

1. Because top bars are often built from found, recycled objects, there is no uniformity in bar length or comb depth from top bar hive to top bar hive. This means that bars may not be interchangable between these hives.
2. A comb filled with capped honey in a top bar is fragile and cannot be extracted in an extractor. The beekeeper is left with either cutting honeycomb into squares, or using a crush or strain system which may not be efficient for larger honey producers.
3. Because the frameless comb is fragile, the transporting of top bar hives is very difficult and dangerous for the colony. Migratory beekeeping would not be very easy with top bar hives.
4. Hives tend to produce more beeswax and less honey, which is not really a problem if you are an encaustic painter.
5. Winter preparation of the hive is a bit more involved for a top bar hive compared with a box hive.
6. I have personally found feeding a top bar hive during dearth a little more difficult than a box hive.
7. There is little face-to-face mentoring available for the beginner. I have depended on websites and internet forums for support and help.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Preparing for "Knowledge Acknowledged" Series

Gary, Chris, and I met at Ed's No Name Bar last night in order to prepare for our joint presentation on beekeeping on April 21st for the "Knowledge Acknowledged" series at our university. This was the first time I'd ever spoken to Gary, and it was good to meet someone with the same passion and enthusiasm for bees. Over the last 20 or so years, Chris and I have actually collaborated on a number of projects, mostly of a musical nature.

We decided to each focus on a different topic during the presentation. I will be discussing top bar hives and sustainable beekeeping. Over the break, I'll work with Monta on a brief power point. As always when it comes to bees, I have to figure out how not to talk too much.