Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A random hodgepodge

Wanted to write another update before we started building the hive on Saturday, just to go over a few things.

First, I found out that Mann Lake, Ltd. was still taking orders though the end of this week. I guess that answers my question on whether or not to purchase packaged bees or trap a swarm! I did end up purchases a 3lb package and now am feeling some mixed emotions. I was excited about the possibility of testing out my swarm trapping abilities, but this will probably be better in the end. My 8 and 6 year old boys would have been very disappointed if we made it the whole summer without getting any bees through our trapping efforts! I'm a little frustrated that I have to drive 3.5 hours one way to pick them up though (I live in the Twin Cities Metro Area and have to pick them up north of Brainerd, MN)! But that's my fault for ordering late. Plus I don't know what the pick up day will be yet. Probably the first or second Saturday in May. I'm hoping the first, then we'd have them in time to take pictures before my boys' science fair. Plus I work the second Saturday at 3pm, which would make for a LONG day, driving early in the morning to get them in time to get home, install them, and get to work...

Second, I also ordered a bee suit for me, a smoker, a hive tool, and some beeswax from eBay. I'm using the wax for a little starter strip on the top bars, as well to help seal the hive (see point four below). I also need to figure out a less expensive bee suit option for my dad and two boys. McCartney Taylor (Learning Beekeeping) has some good ideas about that. I'll explain more (also in point four below).

Third, here's a link to the plans we're using to make the Warre Hive. We're going to make a few modifications, however. We're making at least two of the four boxes with windows, and I like the look of the windows and the simpler construction on the hives as seen at Bee Thinking. Also, we MIGHT try to do something similar to their screened bottom with removable board to keep track of Varroa mites. We'll see how construction goes on Saturday. We're going to make the hive out of high quality pine from Menard's because the red cedar is about 3 times more expensive. We'll seal the hive with a combination of linseed oil and beeswax. Hopefully we'll have it all done and set up by the time the bees get here!

Finally, I wanted to mention McCartney Taylor's excellent resource on top bar hives (Learning Beekeeping) . I mentioned his book Swarm Traps and Bait Hives in my last post, and I would highly recommend browsing through his You Tube videos (Out of a Blue Sky). This is one of the first resources I found when beginning my research on top bar hives, and still one of the best. Almost makes me feel bad that I decided to tray the Warre Hive instead of the Kenyan style. Only issue I have with the information he provides is that it all is in relation to beekeeping in Texas. Not all of it translates to this northern climate, which is part of the reason I started this blog. Of special interest today are his videos on using beeswax for starter strips on the top bars and sealing the hive with linseed oil and beeswax. Also his video on inexpensive bee suits. I'll probably go that route for an extra suit for my dad to use when we're both there (he can use mine if he wants to get into the hive and I'm not around) and for my boys (I don't want to purchase actual suits as they're still a bit young to do hive maintenance and they're growing so fast). If you didn't watch the video, he basically recommends to use a wide brimmed hat with a mosquito net over it, and then to purchase a disposable, plastic painter's coverall (found them for about $7 on eBay). Won't necessarily protect you from stings if the bees really want to, but should be sufficient coverage for someone just standing nearby observing.

Hope this info helps someone out there. Pictures will be up after we make the beehive on Saturday!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Book reviews and preparing to build our first hive

Well. It's been over a month. I fully intended to write some reviews of the books I've read sooner but got swept away in orientation at my new job as well as by a much needed family vacation. So here's what's happened in the last month:

1) I've read four beekeeping books and am in the middle of a fifth.
2) I've decided on the Warre Hive ("The People's Hive") rather than the Kenyan Top Bar Hive
3) I've been rather indecisive and tossed back and forth between whether or not I want to trap bees or purchase packaged bees. And...
4) I've set a date with my father to go out to his place and build the hive.

Here's a little more detail on each of the happenings for the past month.

1) The books I've read are:
 "Top Bar Beekeeping" by Crowder and Harrell
- This is an EXCELLENT resource for anyone interested in beekeeping, whether or not you will be utilizing the top bar method. I got this one from the library and will definitely be purchasing it later. When I do get it again, I'll  put up a more detailed review. My only issue with the book is that all the information provided is in regard to beekeeping in New Mexico. Not so user friendly when trying to keep bees in Minnesota!

"Beekeeping" by Ryde
- This resource was not as good. Besides having factually wrong information in certain places, the information that was provided was too simplistic to actually help anyone keep bees. If this were the only resource I had available, I feel that I would fall flat on my face. It was a good, simple book, for my boys to browse through, however. Got this one from the library and won't be getting it again.

"A Short History of the Honey Bee" by Readicker-Henderson
- This book wasn't necessarily on beekeeping methods, but more on the honey bee itself. The information provided was beneficial for someone, like myself, who was just getting involved in beekeeping and didn't actually know much about honey bees. In addition, the pictures are breathtakingly beautiful and mesmerizing! Got this one from the library, and while I may not purchase it, I will definitely check it out again if for nothing else that to get lost in the photographs.

"Bait Hives and Swarm Trapping" by Taylor
- More of a field guild of manual than a book. Don't waste the money on a full, printed edition. Just get the less expensive Kindle version. That being said, there was excellent, practical information if you'd like to try trapping bee swarms to expand your apiary for free. And he guarantees a 30% success rate!

And, finally, I'm in the middle of "Beekeeping for All" by Abbe Warre
- While a bit tiresome at times as he goes into explicit detail about why "The People's Hive" is superior to the other common hives of his day, it was fun to read about the strenuous process undertaken by Warre to produce a superior beehive. It is especially helpful, as this is the type of hive I ultimately have decided to build. Plus you can get it as a free PDF download, and who doesn't like free?

2) Why did I decide on the Warre hive?
Well, for a couple of reasons. First, it's still a top bar hive, like the Kenyan style hives, and, as such, the bees will produce more comb themselves, rather that use foundation. Plus, without frames, I'll be able to use the crush and strain method for extracting honey, thus eliminating the need for an extractor, and providing a surplus of wax to make candles out of (and my wife can really go through candles!). Second, the vertical style seems to more naturally mimic the hollowed trees bees would be using nature and appeals to their preference to build from the top down, rather than side to side as they would in a horizontal hive. Third, it will be easier to adjust the hive's size by adding or removing boxes. Fourth, I can use a queen excluder if I want to, to keep her from rearing brood in the honey stores. Fifth, from what I've read, there is less hive maintenance to perform in a Warree hive as compared to a Kenyan style hive. And, finally, as I've toyed with the idea of using bait hives to capture my first swarm, I thought it would be nice to be able to utilize the boxes from the Warre hive as the bait traps themselves, rather than needing to build a Kenyan hive, along with three or four bait hives.

3) So am I gonna trap my first swarm or purchase packages bees?
As I mentioned, I've gone back and forth. I originally intended upon trapping bees. I'm a little strapped for cash, having just finished school and started a new job, and the idea of free bees drew me in. Plus it sounded fun. And, if I'm building boxes for the Warre hive that are the right size for bait traps, why not just use them as such? However, as I get closes and closes to the beekeeping season, I feel that I just really want to guarantee that I've got bees. I mean, how much of a let down would it be to hype this up with my kids (their using the beehive as a science fair project for goodness sake) and then not end up with bees? I'm a little late to the game to purchase packaged bees, however. Most places I've contacted have been sold out for about a month. I've got one more email out to a local beekeeping supplier, and I guess when I hear back from them I'll know if I'll be purchasing or trapping, right?

4) When is this all going down?
The boys and I are heading over to Grandpa's this Saturday to build our hive! I've got the plans, and we'll try to get to the lumbar yard before then, but if not, we'll just go with Grandpa, no big deal. It's so exciting that this is finally happening! Hopefully another blog post soon... with pictures!!!