Friday, March 1, 2013

New thoughts from a would be beekeeper

Well. It's about to become reality. I'm going to try my hand at beekeeping. I've thought about it for a while and - finally - I'm going to do it.

"Why beekeeping?" you might ask. There are a variety of reasons. First and foremost, I want my two sons (currently age 8 and 6) to have something fun to do with their grandfather. He lives about 30 minutes away from us, on 5 acres of land just outside of Stillwater, MN. We live in St. Paul, MN, on a little city lot, and, while we could do beekeeping here, in addition to a small space in which to operate, there are just more regulations. My father, on the other hand, has all the space we need and a workshop in which to build our own hive. Secondly, I've wanted to do this for a long time. I grew up on those same 5 acres. I built bird houses and bird feeders. I helped (sometimes begrudgingly) to till, plant, weed, and harvest the garden. I caught snakes on the dirt road and tadpoles in the pond. One thing my dad talked about, but never did, was beekeeping. Now we get our chance to give it a try, and my boys will come out with me to the wide open spaces I grew up on at least every couple weeks to run, play, visit with their grandparents, and learn about the bees. Third, I need a hobby. I've spent the last 6 years straight in school. I graduated just about three months ago now, and I want something fun to do. Finally, my family loves honey and the stuff you get in the stores just isn't as good as the "real thing" (or so I've heard). I'm excited to try real, natural, raw honey and hopefully have some honey and wax leftover to share with friends and family.

"Why top bar hives?" you might ask. Well, for one thing they're simpler to build yourself and modify to your own needs. For another, they don't require all the expensive equipment used to extract honey from the frames. Another reason is that they provide the beekeeper with more wax to use in candles, lotions, lip balm, and other craft projects. But probably the biggest reason I'm choosing to use top bar hives is that they are simply more natural than the "traditional" Langstroth hive. They are designed to mimic the natural cavities (dead tree or a hollow fallen log) that a bee would likely choose to inhabit if left to their own devices. The bees build the comb without a foundation, thus choosing where and how to build the comb they need (larger comb cells for brood, smaller for honey). They typically use "integrated pest management" (IPM) to control disease within the hive, rather than the antibiotics and miticides used in commercial endeavors with Langstroth hives. Similarly, harvesting the comb along with the honey (rather than reusing the same comb over and over again as you would in a Langstroth hive)allows for the natural removal of old, black comb that may harbor disease within the hive if left longer than is prudent. One thing I have NOT decided yet, however, is whether to use the horizontal "Kenyan top bar hive" or the vertical "Warre hive." More on that in a later post.

"Why this blog?" you might ask. Simple. Two reasons. First, it will be a written and graphical (pictures and videos hopefully!) record of my adventures with my sons and their grandfather. Second, in the process of cataloging our adventures I hope to help other would-be top bar beekeepers in the great, Northern, and ice-cold state of Minnesota. When I first began researching beekeeping most of the high quality materials I found that dealt with top bar beekeeping were from much warmer climates (New Mexico and Texas specifically). Through this blog, I hope to help others who are trapped, as am I, in the frigid North land.

Stay tuned. More adventures to come. Hopefully soon! I'll write some reviews of the books, blogs, and websites I've found useful thus far and try to get up some pictures of the swarm traps/bait hives we're going to build this month to try to catch our first swarm!