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This is a pretty good example of the rewards of my beekeeping efforts last year: empty comb.
no dead bees, no stores. . . nothing.

This is all that's left of the Bentonville swarm that I caught on Easter in the bait box, forgotten and left out with a piece of brood comb inside. A feral swarm developed the site for three weeks prior and moved in. I thought then that I'd never have to buy bees again. Now, a little more than a year later, even if I were willing to I can't find them.

Not that I'm giving up beekeeping but I don't know where to go from here. . .
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The beauty of the pseudo-skep is that harvests produce beeswax as well as honey. Although the honey crop tends to be significantly less than those from conventional hives (which are designed to maximize the honey harvest to the detriment of all other hive products, including the colony of bees themselves) it does produce significantly more wax. Here, I have separated the honey supers from those beneath it, generally the brood nest area, in pairs. Although they tend to be much simpler to process individually, I wanted to examine the contents of this hive as completely intact as possible. I separated the combs from the inside perimeter of both supers and was then able to pull each box free from the combs still connected to teach other by spales.

There's probably three or four pounds of raw comb, all of it empty of brood, honey and pollen as I suspect the colony from this hive absconded and then robbed out their own stores after securing another nest site.

My solar wax melter is an extremely simple and makeshift affair fashioned from a re-purposed window, a black plastic recycling bin and an oversized sheet of ¼" hardware cloth that serves as a false bottom of sorts. As the wax melts it strains through the hardware cloth and collects in a clean aluminum cake pan on the floor of the bin leaving behind a dark, crispy chunk of pollen, dead bees, webbing larvae, and assorted hive junk. This is a prototype that I threw together in fifteen minutes to satisfy my curiosity as to whether it's effective enough design to actually commit some real time and effort to building. This weekend I hope to re-engineer the basic design to come up with a wax melter that will also serve as a solar food dehydrator. Is designing equipment that's not a "uni-tasker" asking too much?

On a warm sunny day it only takes a few minutes before the beautiful buttery clean wax begins seeping out of the pile of dirty, nasty, smelly brood comb. Interestingly, the strong musty odor and color of brood comb render to a clear clean wax with a beautiful deep lemon yellow hue and a scent that more resembles the sweet/musky teakwood-butter-citrus breath of a functional bee colony in full production. For as much as I prize the local honey that my bees provide I've really come to appreciate the pseudo-skep's capacity for producing beeswax and , although "honey grabbers" are likely to disagree I consider it an advantage over conventional hives.
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The frameless conservation "chimney" hive, or "pseudo-skep". The lack of frames makes this hive very simple and inexpensive to build with simple hand tools and, like a traditional woven skep, provides a very stable environment to raise bees, and yet can be disassembled and reassembled for harvesting honey and emergency intervention by the experienced beekeeper as with conventional equipment. Very Warré-like, eh? Let's take a look under the hood, shall we?

The basement: simple 2x4 construction. ¼" aluminum channel is screwed to the inner sides to allow for a simple catchment drawer for monitoring mite levels and closing off the brood nest from cold winds in the winter, made from corrugated plastic or luann panel. The screws above that support the screened floor.

The screened floor is a simple frame made from 1x2" furring strips with a plastic needle point backing or 1/8" galvanized mesh cut to size and stapled in place. This can be quickly and easily cleaned and replaced in the field.

The atrium stabilizes the screened floor and provides a place to put entrances, simple 7/8" holes drilled on 2" centers and stopped with wine corks fitted with brass screws as grips - very simple and makeshift!

Construction note: the ½" offset between the basement and the atrium as well as the rest of the supers is designed to "lock" the screened floor in place and add stability to the entire structure.

A super, fashioned from common 2x6" reclaimed redwood boards cut to 13" (33cm) length. Common 2x8's would work just as well. Nominal 1" thick boards (what conventional woodenware's made from) would work, especially in warmer climates and would reduce weight. I use 2-by for the added R-value, instead of wraps, etc.

Another super. Same deal as before. Look, Ma. . . No frames!

Super #3. Supers are stacked "wabi sabi" for stability and strength.

Super #4. When establishing a colony such as a feral or packaged swarm the top box is generally occupied first as it is where the warm air settles, at the top of the hive. New bees store honey and nectar and raise brood in the initial combs and backfill the vacated brood cells with stores after the brood hatch. Hence the oldest honey is at the top of the hive and should be harvested from the top. Supering, or adding boxes to the "pseudo-skep" is done from the atrium up or added from the bottom as with managing a Warré. Cleats on either side are cut from 1x2" pressure treated furring strips. The arsenic in the wood makes for lovely splinters.

Spales are made from 3/8" oak dowels and are suspended between two small divots carved into alternating corners of each super to support fragile comb. The advantage of this design allows the bees complete license over the configuration of their nest and stores and provides very little room for pests to hide and gain purchase in the hive. With and footprint of just over a square ft, the conservation hive keeps the winter cluster compact and precious heat and nest scent from dissipating from around open-ended frames. The drawbacks are that combs can become very long and quite heavy in the uninterrupted space so they are not suitable for locations that get direct afternoon sunlight where temperatures regularly climb above 100°F (38°C). The design also precludes regular inspections although they are possible (on a box level rather than frame by frame) but discouraged and modest honey harvests can be accomplished, as well, but it's not the primary intention of the hive's design.

In the Warré hive frames are replaced with top bars. The traditional Japanese hive takes this a step further and replaces top bars in each super with a single grid at the top of the entire stack for the bees to attach comb to initially. Further attachments are made to the spales and all sides of the supers as the bees work their way downward through the hive (called nadiring) and natural pockets or cul de sacs are formed by the bees that promote nestduftwärmebindung, the retention of the natural anti-microbial "sauna" of propolis by which feral bees reduce mites and other pathogens within the nest.

The crown board of conventional woodenware has been modified in such a way as to stabilize the top bar grid and provide a seal and sturdy foundation for the quilt, or chaff box. The ¼" hardware cloth allows bees access to the burlap floor of the quilt so that the cluster is able to regulate ventilation through the addition or removal of propolis.

The quilt, or chaff box, just as with the Warré hive goes above the supers and is closed off from the elements by the roof of the hive. It is a simple four-sided enclosure with a floor made by cutting common burlap fabric a few inches longer than each side and soaking it in a pasty solution of rye flour and water (3 large spoonfuls to a pint of water or about the consistency of ketchup). Once thoroughly saturated the burlap is stretched across the bottom of the box, folded for reinforcement and stapled a couple inches up from the bottom edge of each side and allowed to dry in the sun.

When filled with a dry material such as saw dust or straw the quilt helps with ventilation within the hive by absorbing moisture from respiration and curing honey and prevents condensation from dripping down and chilling winter brood. The folds along each outside edge of the quilt wick moisture out of the chaff.


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This morning I discovered this open-comb, free-hanging, feral honey bee nest in my backyard at Medford. Naturally I'm wondering where this colony came from and how long they've been in the tree. It's not likely that either of the Easter colonies had the time/resources to swarm again so early in the season. They could be another random product of 2012 Swarmapalooza season, or my theory is that these are the survivors of a colony, Isis, that I kept at this location last year which I thought had succumbed early after I attempted to transition the summer cluster into a framed hive body, but I never did find the queen among the too few dead bees left behind in the hive. I remember being suspicious at the time that they might have absconded. The colonies that I have situated at this location presently were both acquired this season on Easter day, one as an early swarm from my own hive on Easter morning in Strasburg, and the other inhabited a bait box later that afternoon in nearby Bentonville. Hence the name the Easter Apiary at Medford

There are four large distinct combs, ranging in size from a Whamo Frisbee Flying Disc up to that of a standard toilet seat lid. I was hanging out this morning having coffee with the bees and they've been testy for days. Quite out of the blue I was stung on the head for standing there minding their business. I decided it was time to head to work after that and from the driveway, thinking about the sting on the top of my head, I looked up where the large nest apparent. I wonder how I didn't see it sooner.

Had they been there all winter? If this colony is Isis it means that they would've had to overwinter in the open, and for me not to notice them especially without the coverage of summer leaves the cluster would have to have been a lot smaller. Is overwintering like that feasible? Or are they just a random wild swarm? If so, when did they arrive and why there? They would've likely had to have developed that location before I moved the Easter swarms, in that I find it an unlikely choice for a feral colony to take up in such a close proximity to established colonies.

The nest is about fifty feet up in the storm-torn maple tree that hangs over the tiny Easter apiary. Can you see it there? (just left of top dead center) Last year Isis sat in the little shady cloister behind the chair.
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The conservation hive adapted to utilize standard frames begins, like most houses, with a basement. The basement is as simple as possible, built from reclaimed untreated 2x4 lumber with some aluminum ¼" channel screwed to either inside surface near the bottom to hold a simple sliding catchment drawer which I made from a sheet corrugated plastic, a reclaimed sign I found blowing down the road. This arrangement serves to make mite counts and much intuitive information can be gleaned from observations of the garbage that drops from a colony of bees. The pins driven partially into the inside perimeter are to support the mesh floor. That's about as technical as these hive designs get. I call it a basement because like most basements this too gets dark and scary and fills up with spiders, eventually.

The floor is a simple frame fashioned from 1x2 furring strips with a sheet of plastic needlepoint backing cut to fit and stapled into place, allowing hive junk to drop through. I've also used reinforced pet screening with some success as it's actually strong enough to deter skunks and other vermin from infiltrating the the brood nest in areas where that might be an issiue, but I prefer the needlepoint backing because it's a little more rigid than screen and, most importantly, it's cheap!

The next thing to go on is what I call the atrium, a place to locate the entrance above the floor and for bees to congregate inside the hive. The footprint of this piece and everything above it is an inch shy in length and width of the dimensions of the basement, not only as a aesthetic consideration but also, when centered, helps stabilize the floor. I consider this two part base to be an improvement over the one-piece basements I was making prior, if for no other reason they're easier to build. To complicate things a bit, I've built a couple of these with a series of dowels or slats laid cross-ways in rebates along the top inner edge, after the concept of the slatted rack of conventional woodenware that supposedly improves ventilation when used in conjunction with a screened floor. We'll see, I'd like to run a couple of those configurations in the field before I go building them.

The type of entrance that I have here, a series of three 7/8" holes drilled on 2" centers are perfectly adequate for a bustling hive and are easily closed off by inserting a simple wine cork. I've experimented with other types of entrances, from making one side 3/8" shorter than the regular 2x4 leaving a beespace-sized gap that can be further reduced using conventional methods, to interchangeable "inserts" with pre-configured entrances drilled into them. Three holes stopped fast with wine corks won out for the sake of simplicity and as Bruce Lee once said, "the height of cultivation always runs to simplicity." Make no mistakes - this is Kung Fu bee keeping!

Next is a box, a DIY version of the standard 8-frame medium pictured here with a full array of "frames" (mostly the top bar with a starter strip of milled foundation and side bars). Just as with the smaller frameless conservation hives, bees draw all their own comb. If this works I'll be buying supers, prefabricated, in the future and adapt the dimensions of the rest of the equipment to them.

Another box! I've removed a couple frames from the center, hopefully, facilitating the bees to move downward (not only in direction but also a descent from free-range, feral, hippie bees to Dilbert-style, "cubicles-for-honeybees" frames) and this will be the first box they'll encounter into their progression into the "working bees" area of the hive. Last year I tried to integrate a couple of frameless boxes into framed hives without success and I've heard from other beekeepers, as well, that it can be tricky to convince them.

I can't say as to where I blame them. . .

After any supers comes the most makeshift piece - the adapter, or flange - a simple piece of 3/8" plywood cut so that the outside perimeter is larger than that of either the framed super or the frameless box, and the inside perimeter of the "hole" is smaller than either inside perimeter. If I get enough time to transition the brood nest out of the bait box before the sun, wind, and rain rot the flange to pieces I'll consider it a smashing success!

The adapter, in this case, is made to transition a colony out of the bait box that I captured a swarm in on Easter at my Dad's house in Bentonville. The floor of bait box is a thin, light panel of wood secured with a a bungie cord - nothing elaborate, minimal futzing about with stuff on a ladder. The bait box has the same footprint as the frameless conservation hives and it's designed to be dropped on top without the use of a flange. (KISS - keep it simple, stupid). After the colony has moved down I'll incorporate a crown board, a quilt, and a gabled roof just like the other conservation hives.

So, that night I crept up on the bait box and wadded up a damp paper towel and stuffed it in the entrance and taped it shut. After moving the colony to the new location I un-bungied the floor and dropped them right on top, centered as best I could over the hole in the flange and, viola! My Easter apiary is complete. Except that's not exactly how it went down. . .

When I turned back around to collect the floor panel there was a mass of bees, like a brick, like a little cake iced with living bees occupying the nasty chunk of brood comb that I had placed in the box the previous year as a lure, welded to the floor with propolis. In the dark I couldn't determine whether or not they began making stores there or if the queen had laid in it and, so, was a little fearful of scraping it up like burr comb and dumping it in the new hive, bees and all. It had a lot of bees on it, probably not the entire swarm but a lot! After a couple minutes of high-velocity worrying and bee-havioral speculation, I ended up taking the hive down again to the bottom-most box and placing the entire floor of the bait box vertically in the hive in place of the an outer frame. The arrangement extended upward into the next box so I tilted it some to allow it rest in the gap I left in the upper box, hoping the cluster would transition off of the board and up into the ceiling of the bait box where, I was hoping, the queen and the rest of the cluster was gathered. Residual honey on the catchment tray the next morning confirmed my suspicion that they'd at least used the old comb as an initial pantry, and probably had started a small patch of brood there, as well, and had spent the nighttime hours reconfiguring their nest to adapt to my remodeling. Now, I need to go back in a take the board out before it becomes a fixture but only after enough time has passed to allow the bees to settle in and feel at home.
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a swarm of honeybees alighting on a fence rail between two bushes in the dark It was the evening of March 28th, 2012 when Mrs. called through a network of people (mostly, my brother) who have access to me on weeknights because I stubbornly refuse to carry a cell phone. She wanted to tell me that Brigid had swarmed earlier that day causing a ruckus at the neighbors and the bees were last seen clustered on the rail fence between us and the Yates' house. I asked her to check for me if they were still there, as it was near 9:30 at night and I was just turning in. Sure, enough! they hadn't moved on yet and would stay put throughout the night time. I dropped everything a drove back the 70 miles to Strasburg and this is what it looked like when I found them an hour and half later.

the beekeeper proudly displays the hive where he housed his first swarm. I spent a couple hours and never seemed to have enough hands to scoop up a swarm in the dark, otherwise a low-hanging fruit because I didn't have to go up on a ladder in the dark trying to manage a brush, a bucket and flashlight at he same time. Even after getting the majority of the cluster into a hive, and relatively certain of having captured the queen it was difficult to sleep that night for all the excitement. I was up early and unplugged the bung at the entrance of the hive releasing the cluster into the warm day to forage. As the sun exposed the front door of their new home the bees gathered and started fanning their Nasonov glands into the air in the manner they do to attract any stragglers of the swarm to the new digs. According to my very limited experience of bee wrangling that was pretty much their approval of the terms of lease and the agreement was sealed. My wife took this picture of the victorious beekeeper and I went to my day job confident of having just expanded my apiary by 100%!

heavy bearding on a newly hived swarm is a sign that they plan to abscond No sooner than I arrive at work and Mrs. calls to inform me that the new colony were bearding at the entrance. I couldn't tell her whether this was normal or not and asked that she keep an eye on them as best she could. The behavior in this instance made me uneasy. A hour later she called again after having run an errand. The bearding had grown since and even she had the impression by then that they had no intention of staying. She described the cluster at the entrance in terms of a tub draining in reverse, and as she watched while on the phone with me the bees began leaving the hive in droves and filling the air! Time to beg out of work and stage an interception!

the beekeeper in a veil manages a severed branch clustered with bees with his bare hands. Seventy miles and another hour and half of gasoline and traffic I'm back in Strasburg. The bees have taken up in a bush very near where they were the night before. Sensible people, perhaps, might've allowed the swarm to escape at this point but I was galvanized in my resolve to catch them again by the fact that the queen in the initial swarm of the season - this queen - was my survivor stock, the queen that reared a colony so strong that they decided to expand; and second year queen at that (generally regarded as their most productive season). Daylight was a huge improvement over trying to determine any sense from the swarm within the beam of a flashlight. This time I had the foresight to make up a baggie feeder of sugar syrup to hold them over for the couple days they were to spend confined to hive before I was able to make it back to the valley again. The sugar gives workers the nutrition they need to start drawing comb and stimulates the queen to begin laying. Once there were some eggs for the house bees to watch after the swarm will stay pretty well put. I think the proximity to the mother hive is what prompted them to abscond.
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While observing the hives on a mild afternoon in early January I realized that Lada was being robbed by her sisters from Brigid. Brigid's bees were all returning to the nest with pollen (even in January, wtf?) while the bees from Lada were coming and going with barren pollen baskets and and some acting nervous at approaching the entrance, indicative of robbing bees. My suspicion was confirmed after watching a couple foragers fly directly back to their own nest just a few feet away. The hive garbage drawer in the back had also been remarkably clear of mites for a couple of months, which I had thereto interpreted as nestduftwärmebindung working its magic, but also clear of the normal debris and cappings from honey cells as the cluster should surely be eating into their stores at this time of year. I rapped the side of the hive with a stick to excite the cluster and listened with my stethoscope for the low rumble of a thousand shivering bees but could not determine a locus for it from any side of the hive. I knocked harder trying to instigate the bees to rush out from the entrance and attack me which, much to my disappointment, didn't happen.

Although I'm loathe to open the hive for all but the most drastic of scenarios, my concern got the better of me and I removed the lid and quilt only to free a couple of the robbing culprits where I was hoping for a full frontal assault. No doubts, there was not a living bee in the nest and I decided then that I'd need to tear her down to minimize exposure of my last remaining colony to any possible residual pesticide or pests that might still inhabit the "ghost hive" that was Lada. I divided the hive bodies into manageable pairs and, as I expected the upper most pair was heavy with stores while the lower sections were considerably lighter. What was unusual was that I wasn't seeing the cluster of dead bees starved or frozen in an upper corner of the comb as I was accustomed to finding in the dead-outs of previous seasons. The colony had abandoned their entire summer stores and absconded completely. The separated sections of hive bodies each fit into large trash bags and were sealed closed with tape to prevent corruption by moths and ants and stored on the porch out in the cold until I could gather the meager materials I needed and make some in my schedule time to extract the honey.

The grid, serving as an array of top bars, is fixed over the upper-most hive body, first just by gravity and later by the bees with propolis. Just as I expected, the bees began drawing comb here and raised their first batches of brood as a fledgling (artificial) swarm. After the young bees vacated their cells they were cleaned out and back-filled with foraged nectar. Large folds of honey filled comb can be seen through the bars. (click through for larger views, and here for a close-up)

A view of the drawn comb in the bottom most hive body. Comb acts as a baffle for the currents of air entering the hive from the bottom entrance giving natural comb this beautiful undulating pattern. At this point the boxes are still firmly connected to each other by the internal attachment of comb which extends uninterrupted through the depth of the space created by stacked boxes. The sections are easily separated with a length of cheese wire.A view of the drawn comb in the bottom most hive body.

Using the longest serrated knives I could find at the local thrift, I separated the combs from the inside perimeter of the hive body to which they are secured by the bees when drawing comb. The spale, the length of oak rod that extends diagonally, is put in place before the swarm was introduced to provide support for the fragile comb as it's drawn. Although this design precludes regular internal inspections of the brood nest the bees in a conservation hive are not discouraged from making attachments to any and all surfaces within the hive. Much like the honey badger, honey bees don't give a shit, either!

Once all the attachments along sides of the box are severed the spale can be cut free and combs are removed individually. Pictured are brood combs from third hive body from the top. This comb is newer than the comb from the top two boxes and bore a cycle of brood but was never filled with nectar, likely having been drawn toward the end of the summer flow. A closeup of the abandoned brood comb reveals a few cells of capped brood and probably contains residual evidence of what might possibly have destroyed this colony. Although the sparse, patchy brood pattern suggests that this (packaged) queen was probably failing. In hindsight I should've kept the size of the hive at four medium boxes for the first season encouraged them to swarm rather than providing new empty framed boxes underneath.

After all combs are inspected all of the salvageable honey is collected in a capping tank where it's crushed by hand and allowed to drain through a double sieve in order to strain out the majority of the solid bits. Wax is reserved for the solar melter next summer.

The conservation hive is designed around the concept of the honeybee colony as a superorganism, where the hive itself acts as the exoskeleton. Colonies raised in this style of hive are free to progress without human interaction just as a feral colony would except with easy access for a bee keeper to increase his apiary by splitting strong colonies or to collect honey. Contrary to conventional woodenware, its smaller capacity maximizes the retention of nest heat and scent which bolsters natural colony immunity to pathogens but at the expense of large honey harvests. This hive yielded about 14 lbs. of raw honey that will serve to make a couple small batches of mead.

Bittersweet. . .
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cross comb in a Kenyan top bar hive I really have no idea how people work these top bar hives. Clearly I've a lot to learn. Upon lifting the first bar it was obvious that these bees don't give a rat's ass for guides or order anything beyond their own. I couldn't really tell from here how extensive this pattern was throughout the hive so I closed it back up on this end and started at the other end of the hive where the follower board divides the space. . . .

cross comb in a Kenyan top bar hive When I established this hive I put in a couple of top bars in this end (roughly the middle of a ~4' hive) which had been drawn and harvested with "well-formed" comb and a couple others with guide strips in place. Oh, so this is where they drew their inspiration! Clearly, not from any serving suggestion on my part. . . But then, what do I know about organizing a brood nest? A lot to learn. . .

cross comb in a Kenyan top bar hiveIt is also fairly apparent that Brigid has swarmed. Without opening the hive I guess that I'm missing 6 to 10 thousand bees. Last week the daily temps were in the upper 90's and they looked mostly like the photo, only worse. This week in the mid 80's there's nary a bee on the porch that isn't coming or going and the lemon yellow comb has been drawn all the way from the ceiling to the floor (almost) and is visible at the entrance of the hive, Hell, the entrance of the hive is visible!!! Lada appears to be well on their way to doing the same. Godspeed, ladies! Go forth into the world and do some good!

I can't say that I wasn't warned that Russians had a particular tendency for swarming. That, their hygienic behavior and a gentle temperament are what attracted me to give them a try to begin with. Plus, it's not like I had plans to take any honey from them this year anyway. This is the year of quiet observation and laissez-faire beekeeping; not trying to control everything; asking rather than demanding. I only wish I could've been present to recover the leavers. That was a prodigious set of ovaries that took to the wing.


Apr. 11th, 2011 11:07 pm
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I don't know how this happened but while others are lucky to be getting their packaged bee orders fulfilled at all, I got an extra shake in the mail that I wasn't expecting. To sweeten the deal I wasn't charged for them, either! How fortunate!

The down side is that I now have to scramble to get a hive together to put them in. They're not like a pair of shoes that you can just send back. I called Chuck to see if he might have an open box and if he was interested in them but he didn't think he'd be able to get out to the Valley again before Friday evening. I'm very glad now that I took the extra time off work.

It was my sincere intent back in January when I was making the appointment for my snip, originally sheduled for the second week in February, to get it out of the way so as not to interfere in any way with hiving honeybees. As it turned out I had to reschedule the vas-cation due to funding and, sure enough, the next available Thursday coincided with the weekend my bees were to ship up from KY. I managed just in time to finish some last minute details, like the mite drawer in the back and establish the hive's situation on the morning before going into Winchester for surgery. Here's the hive, set up and waiting to hold the colony I'll call Brigid. Each will be named from references in pagan mythology concerned with Springtime, fertility, and abundance.

She's not alone, now. I actually had the presence of mind to build an "extra" hive; mostly because I had almost enough materials for another hive left over in scrap wood. So I dug out another cloister into the birm this one sits on and set the 2nd Front Royal hive up in the dark tonight rather than in the rain tomorrow. The weather should help convince the un-named swarm to stay put when I introduce them to their new digs sometime tomorrow afternoon. I'd have loved to get the girls into the boxes tonight but I'm out of light, patience, energy, and my stitches ache. Waaaa!
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Undaunted by legal technicalities, production of the Warré-Thür-traditional Japanese mash-up, fixed comb hives has continued unabated! Some cleats for each super, a serviceable entrance reducer, and something of a simple drawer in the back of the base in which to place sticky papers are all these babies need before they're ready for a shake!

No bees, yet! The boxes have been scorched, inside and out. The screened floor is in place, and a simple spale runs diagonally between alternating corners of each super and will support the fragile comb.

This particular hive is built with common, untreated 2x6's using Johann Thür's relative dimensions (the combined internal volume of every two supers equals a cube, or 3x3x3); whereas the rest of the other hives I constructed using common 2x8 lumber from Warré's relative dimensions - 3x3x4. I say relative dimensions because to use his absolute internal dimensions, 30cm x 30cm x 20cm, would require ripping a common 2x10 (or 1x10) lengthwise: Easy if you have access to a table saw, pain in the ass for me. The actual width of a 2x8 board, 18cm, is plently close enough to 20cm and is the dimension that impacts the bees the least as they experience the depth of a hive as a singular, uninterupted space. And, the fact that I'm using nominal 2-by's rather than what passes for 1 inch (~1.8cm) lumber makes for a very heavy box. The mere centimeters of volume we gain through this are not worth the additional expense and effort. Trust me!

Moveable frames have been modified into top bars. With a traditional Japanese hive top bars have been modified again into a fixed grid, here fashioned from oak stops, that serve as the surface that bees attach their comb to. Foundation and guides, being conventions which existed for the convenience of beekeepers and to the detriment of the bees themselves, have been completely eliminated. Solely, the bees determine the best configuration for their comb, which will likely run from corner to corner and be attached to all sides of the supers. The "footprint" of each super is considerably smaller than the 10 frame Langstroth and the bees are given complete license over every cubic centimeter of the hive's volume. The spaces in the grid are left to promote ventilation and to allow bees access to the underside of the quilt that is set directly above the top bars . . .

But first a crown board of sorts covers the top bar grid. This is a feature unique to the traditional Japanese hive, consisting of a frame (or, in the case of the TJH, this frame is a solid, outer-most cover) and a screen of ¼" hardware cloth. Here, the frame provides a sturdy foundation for the quilt, which is placed directly above it while stabilizing and positioning the top bar grid and holds the mesh which is in place to discourage bees from making attachments to anything above it. This arrangement allows the bees access to the underside of the burlap floor of the quilt by which, through the addition or subtraction of propolis, they are able to regulate the relative humidity within the hive all by themselves (sorry, helicopter beekeepers, but your constant intrusions won't be necessary!)

Contrary to conventional Langstroth hives, colonies in tiered-topbar hives, such as this, draw comb from the top box down, called "nadiring" (expanding the hive space is done by adding additional supers at the bottom). Hiving a feral swarm is as simple as building a bait box with the same size "footprint" as the original hive. Fitted with a temporary roof and floor and, otherwise, designed to be light-weight this box is baited with brood wax, lemongrass oil and/or pheromones and positioned strategically in a tree where, hopefully, it'll soon be inhabited by a feral swarm. . .

Once inhabited, the bait box is simply deposited on top of an awaiting hive, swarm and all. The temporary floor and lid are removed, the entrance is bunged shut and the quilt and hive roof are put back in place above the baitbox. It serves as an integral super until the following spring after the colony has moved down into the permanent supers, at which point the bait box is then cut off with a length of cheese wire, the honey and wax harvested as with any other super and it's re-commissioned for swarm catching.

If you think of the honey bee colony as a superorganism: The queen being the ovaries; the drones being the testes; the comb, depending on where it is located in the hive and at what stage of the colony's development is either, the liver or the placenta; then the hive is the colony's exoskeleton.
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I lieu of working my own hive this weekend Chuck invited me out to "the Fort", his place in Ft. Valley, where he manages four hives, 2 of Italians, 1 of Carniolans, and a "split" that he created from a few frames of brood from each. He's been at this a few more years than have I and can do fun things like that with entire colonies. I hope to split my hive next spring, but first I have to see them through the coming winter, so that's a post for another day. He makes no claims to being a mentor but the truth is I wouldn't have gotten this far without his help, insight, and guidance.

Because I'm obstinate I don't regularly wear gloves when working my own hive, and because I'm dumb I left my wedding band on while working Chuck's hives. And bees, being bees, generally are all about the bling in the worst possible way - as in "Oh, Shiny! Let's attack that!" So while Chuck was going through the frames on hive#2 and I was taking pictures I was stung on the back of the hand, and then again on my left ring finger which is now swollen to the point that I can't get the ring off. So far, it's not so bad as to cut off the circulation but it certainly hampers my already meager typing skills. I'll attempt to get a point across with as much cutting, pasting and pictures. . .

Hmmmmm. . . accessing these files lends a whole new dimension to "buggy" software. Chuck uses an 8 frame version of the standard 10 frame Langstroth hive and I probably would, too, had I met him earlier. They make lifting a super full of honey much lighter and easier. Notice also the tool he's holding in his right hand. He's gotten me in the habit of using a painter's 5-in-1 rather than the classic hive tool or even the "improved" modern version (the one with the yellow paint) We've just found that the 5-in-1 allows us to apply a lot more torque when prying loose sticky, propolis-bound frames.

Happy birthday, Beautiful! From a group of capped brood cells a brand new bee chews her way into the world! She'll begin life as a nurse bee staying within the confines of the hive until gradually transitioning to foraging duties as she gets older. Within the span of a few weeks she will have worked herself to death for the greater good of her sisters. Don't we all wish we had family that dedicated!

As fun as it might sound, the point of regular hive inspections is not getting stung repeatedly but rather checking the health of a colony. The best way to determine how well the hive's doing is to locate the queen, and in a burgeoning colony this becomes an increasingly difficult task. Sometimes the mere evidence that she's been there recently has to suffice, such as the presence of brood and, especially, eggs. The maggotty-looking things toward the center are larval bees. In the upper left-hand quadrant you might be able to make out eggs resembling tiny grains of rice anchored to the bottoms of the cells. (click through for full-size) This is good news! It means the queen has been there sometime earlier that day.

Of course, nothing beats meeting Her Majesty in person! She's the one with the enlongated abdomen. Within a few days after hatching from her special over-sized cell she'll take to the wing for her mating flight where she copulates with dozens of drones, or male bees. Bee breeders attempt to control the lineage of their bees by restricting her access to certain drones usually those of the same species, and specifically those with desirable traits of productivity, gentle temperament, and disease and pest resistance. After returning to the hive her sex life is pretty well over. Although it's a common practice for beekeepers to replace a queen every to every other season, she can live a (re)productive life for as long as three. At this point she's basically an egg laying machine.

Can you spot the queen?

Here, take a closer look. . .

Still no luck? Now imagine trying to find her in a box of eight to ten frames as she moves from one to the next among hundreds of other bees milling throughout and you stand in the hot sun, sweating head to toe in your full length bee overalls and veil while the rest of the colony flies ass-first into your face in an attempt to kill you by stinging your eyes and mouth shut! Still photographs on the internet leave a lot to be desired. . . I consider it an exercise in patience and presence. Lapses in mindfulness during a hive inspection are punished with swift certainty!

Ha ha! Bees. . . so called the "angels of agriculture". The real point of all this masochistic craziness is the honey harvest (granted, bee folk love their bees for their own sake) It's an age old arrangement of housing-for-honey, like taxes we attempt to get Nature to do what we want, and we're "The Man". We estimated that there's probably at least 7 lbs. of un-extracted honey within this single shallow frame. If you can visualize ten or more of these per hive twice a season you'll get a sense of why we bother.
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