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Some sage advice for all beeks:

– Ian Craig (the Australian Beekeeper, May 2014)

Bees can be stressed by too frequent disturbance by the beekeeper during the year and especially in winter. A great deal of information can be gleaned by observation, without opening the hive. Hives showing some sort of abnormality should be noted and be subject to a closer examination when weather permits.

When bees are confined to their hive for long periods in winter, the appearance of small dust-like particles of wax at the hive entrance is a sign that the bees are uncapping and eating into their stores and that all is well. Hives should be ‘hefted’ from the rear in order to ensure that the colonies have enough food.

Particles in autumn, wax particles up to 2.5mm suggests robbing by other bees or wasps. The robbers are in a hurry to tear down cappings and make their escape.

In winter, if wax pieces up to 12mm are seen at the entrance it suggests that a mouse in residence. Mice can nest in the hive, feed on honey and urinate on combs. Combs soiled by mice never can be used by surviving bees, and should be disposed of and a clean floorboard.

Prior to the start of summer, small platelets of wax can sometimes be seen at the hive entrance. This indicates there is a surplus of young wax secreting bees. A frame of new foundation should be given.

Small pollen pellets on workers’ corbiculae early in the season is an indication that small amounts of pollen are available. At other times large pellets indicate a laying queen with plenty of hungry larvae to feed.

These are often seen on the alighting board when bees are expanding their brood nest in spring. They are usually the size of a worker cell, resemble chalk brood, but are brittle and if crushed, break up into layers.
They are a sign that some pollen stored in autumn had not been covered with honey and sealed. A late autumn syrup feed may have prevented this loss of pollen. Combs with large patches of hard pollen are usually eaten down to the mid-rib by the bees in an attempt to remove the pollen. Combs like this should be removed by the beekeeper at the first opportunity.

These are flatter than moldy pollen and are like poorly developed pupae and do not crumble into layers. They can be whitish or almost black with fungal fruiting spores.

If the colony is on the verge of starvation they eject first drone pupae, then worker pupae. This is an indication that immediate feeding is required. Occasionally long, thin caterpillar-like grubs are ejected. These are an indication of the presence of wax moths. It is also an indication that some very old abandoned combs are in the hive.

If fewer bees are flying from a hive than others in the apiary, especially in winter or early spring, it might be an indication that the strain of bees does not fly in cold weather or that the hive is in the shade, or it might indication a weak or diseased colony. Such colonies should not be united to another until the cause of the weakness is ascertained.

In September, this is a sign of an early colony build-up. In late autumn it is a sign that the bees are unhappy with their queen. She may be un-mated or failing.

This is a normal occurrence in early autumn and is an indication that all is well, in summer it is a sign of starvation or that the hive has been satisfactorily re-queened by supercedure or by the beekeeper and has no further need for drones.

If these are seen flying or on the alighting board of a weak hive, they are a sign that the colony has laying workers or a drone-laying queen. It is futile trying to re-queen such colonies.

During the year, bees are continually removing the dead bees and dropping them some distance from the hive. During a mild day in early spring, bees in a healthy colony can often be seen clearing out bees which have dropped off the winter cluster. Such bees usually form a small pile at the entrance.

In good weather when bees are foraging, if the number of flying bees is less than usual and large numbers of dead bees, usually with their proboscis extended, are in a pile on the ground outside the hive entrance, that is a sign of chemical poisoning.

This could be a sign of overcrowding, lack of ventilation or a surplus of young bees due to a reduction in the queen’s egg laying in autumn or during a honey flow. It is also a common occurrence when supers have been removed from a single brood chamber colony at the end of the honey flow.

This can be caused by a number of factors. The colony could have gone into the winter with some unsealed stores of honey or sugar syrup which had fermented because of their intake of dampness, causing dysentery in early spring. Spring dysentery is also, but not necessarily, a sign of Nosema. On a cold spring day when nurse bees are eating large quantities of stored pollen their rectums will rapidly fill with pollen husks which they struggle to get rid of in poor flying conditions, forcing them to defecate on or near the hive.

During a honey flow, bees are flying in and out of the entrance in vast numbers. They are in a good mood, intent on harvesting as much nectar as possible. In the evening, there will be a strong scent of nectar flavored water being evaporated and condensed moisture will be seen on the alighting board.

Bees fanning at the entrance can be a normal process of ventilation especially in hot weather or the evaporation of excess moisture when ripening honey. At first glance robber bees resemble returning foragers during a honey flow, but on closer inspection they usually hover momentarily with their legs hanging down, before deciding to try and enter the hive. The robbers’ abdomens may be shiny due to the nibbling of guard bees and they will never be carrying pollen loads. Clusters of guard bees will be confronting them at the entrance and fighting will also occur.

In early spring, if you put your ear to the vents and give the side of the hive a few taps a queen-right colony will emit a gentle ‘hiss’ which quickly subsides. A queenless colony will emit a characteristic ‘roar’.

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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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I need a new hive design to chase after like a need another hole in my head, but after observing the open comb hive for the last couple of months I'm intrigued by the possibilities.

That open comb hive, by the way, is looking fairly wet, cold, and quite possibly dead this morning after the cold front that moved into the area last night bringing with it cold, soaking rain.
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These are the last of the warm days and Autumn is upon us in the mid-atlantic. I noticed yesterday in the public gardens where I walk frequently, collaring my bees, there were quite a few foragers in the hardy flowers (joe pye, some flavor of Eupatorium best I can tell) that had been mostly ignored by honey bees throughout the Summer's tenure. Without observing much blooming on the highways and empty lots, it's hard for me to determine whether there's currently a flow accompanied by a shift in the dispersion of nectar and pollen bearing plants or whether we're in a dearth that's driving the foraging bees farther afield. Evidence of a small flow the last few mornings and evenings has been the increase of activity at the entrances of both colonies in the Easter Apiary and it's been pretty consistent as the days become shorter and the nights get chilly.

I was showing the hives to a guest the other evening while the bees were very active. I mentioned how I loved watching them come and go from the hives; how their fluid traces in the air and the way they concentrated and dispersed from the entrance causing the brain to switch from the left hemisphere-driven, alpha waves of normal, everyday consciousness to a right hemisphere, beta wave, trance-like state of mind. My guest laughed and admitted that watching the bees felt to him like taking Dilaudid. I can and often do spend hours perched in front of the hives watching what I've come to refer to a "BTV". The gentle motion of the bees coming and going seems to massage the optic nerve in a similar fashion to the way the flickering light from the television lulls us into a relaxing and highly receptive mental state. A fireplace, a fish tank, or falling snow has the same effect and, like a busy beehive (and most unlike the television), these experiences offer no suggestions!
"The more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner peace circuitry of our right hemispheres the more peace we will project into the world and the more peaceful our planet will be."
Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, Neuroanatomist
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Much to my surprise, today I discovered eggs in one of the two comb failure hives I've been nursing through life all summer! It had been more than a month since attempting to remove them and I hadn't been able to find any vacated queen cells in either trap-out attempt and so naturally I feared the worst. My intention today was merely to clean all the putrid honey and SHB maggots out of the comb failure hive, reclaim the wax and combine the two colonies in order to free up some woodenware to house the trap-out that I've been ignoring at my in-laws. At any rate, I'm back in the business of feeding bees (if for no other reason, I wanted to test my cheap n'easy sheet cake tin hive top feeder on bees that I figured were as good as dead anyway).

I cooked up a gallon of 1-to-1 syrup and, per a friend's suggestion, I used some Honey-B-Healthy in the mix despite Mike Bush's warning about any non-native scents in the hive having the potential to disrupt communication within the brood nest, even those that are considered safe and "natural". I think it helped cover the scent a few hundred sudden new arrivals (only a couple frames of bees were left of the queenless cluster) and otherwise kept the colony with the laying queen busy enough to not want to fight about it.

I added a second box underneath - empty of frames - hoping the bees will draw nice double-deep uninterrupted combs from the open-bottom frames for winter optimization (more comb area with fewer gaps) and so didn't separate the two boxes with a sheet of newspaper with slices in it, as is customary when combining colonies. This technique creates considerable lag time between the bees of disparate colonies having to deal with each other and by the time they do everyone's pretty well taken on the scent of the hive and adapted. Luckily everyone seemed to get along okay right off the bat. Although the honey from the comb failure's ruined from the standpoint of human consumption, the bees were busy cleaning up all the little details I spilled. Everything out if the dead hive went into a large plastic trash bag and into the chest freezer to eliminate the SHB infestation, and after a week I plan to let that thaw and drain further and feed it back to them throughout the remainder of the season if they'll take it.

In the mean time I'm hoping they'll make good use of the extra space to ramp up the population a bit in case there's a secondary nectar flow later, as there often is here in the mid-atlantic toward the onset of autumn; the fantasy being that I'll transfer combs containing the survivor stock to a frame bearing variant of the Perone hive in the spring.
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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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It's been almost a month now since a week long stretch of 100°+ days and with the Strasburg hives in direct sunlight most of the day the heavy, honey-laden combs of Brigid collapsed just like those of her daughter hive back in May. I first noticed activity of individual bees and scavengers busy underneath the hive where liquid honey had run down the inside of the cinder block support and despite my worst fear I held out hope that perhaps the high daytime temps were merely causing uncured nectar to ooze out of open cells. I gave them a week after when I'm fairly certain the collapse actually happened to observe what the colony themselves might do to remedy the problem. Mostly their response was limited to permanently clustering in the dormer of the roof and drawing a pathetic little comb and wait for death. . . This episode proved to be far more destructive than the last and likely killed the queen in the deluge.

I confirmed the collapse when my anxiety overcame the apprehension to reach underneath the hive to touch the screened floor - the entire comb structure failed and ripped the plastic screen of the floor right out of its frame (a possible disadvantage of the one piece bases). Once again the smell of small hive beetle infection was unmistakable and I tore the entire hive down, leaving the worm-infested comb in a large pile to be cleaned by all the scavenging skunks and yellow jacket wasps. Although I resisted the primal response, I admit that I was pretty depressed. Again, this incident was my fault for not taking a couple boxes of honey off the top when my initial fume board design failed.

The following day was Monday and the solution, if indeed there were any at this point, was obvious: I could employ the trap-out concept, taking a frame of day-old eggs from a donor hive, put them into a conventional super with other drawn frames and sweep the survivors into the new box and hope they re-queen. I emailed Chuck who was at the dental lab 60 miles away to run the idea by him. Initially he offered me a entire nuc to replace the loss but sent me a long at any rate to his apiary in the FV, even without his oversight, to fetch what I thought I might need from his hives.

Now, a week after transferring the survivors to a Lang hive I've witnessed bees returning bearing plenty of pollen and, although I could easily check on their progress, I'm confident that they are attempting to re-queen and rebuild. The biggest problem at this point is the fact that all of their summer stores were destroyed in the collapse, ruined by SHB and otherwise scavenged by other colonies. I'll end up feeding them throughout the remainder of the season and ultimately will transfer what frames they manage draw and cap in the mean time and attempt to over-winter them as a nucleus colony.

I always say that "experience is what we get when we don't get what we want" and this calamity is no different in showing me the lessons of my limitations. At the least it proves that the pseudo-skeps are not viable options in very hot climates and at the very least ought to be situated in a location on the edge of a wooded cluster or other sun break that allows for early morning exposure and dappled shade in the afternoon (the same situation that's often best for conventional hives). It also points directly to management practices concerning how long I can leave honey on the hive - The pseudo-skeps are best harvested at the onset of the following flow. Ultimately, the most valuable lesson in all this is patience; that only in the still, silent, and calm place can the mind devise a reasonable response to adversity in the apiary and never while under the cloud of frustration or in the heated rush of an emotionally charged reaction.
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The 2012 session of the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation establishing the Beehive Grant Fund in an effort to address the loss of honey bees in the Commonwealth. Beginning January 1, 2013, money from the Beehive Grant Fund will be available to assist Virginia beekeepers in establishing new beehives. Funding for the grant originates from appropriations in the State Budget and any gifts, grants, or donations from public or private sources. Grants will be awarded in the amount of $200 per new hive, not to exceed $2,400 per individual per year. The funds are available for the purchase of a new beehive or construction of a new beehive. Grants will be issued in the order that each completed eligible application is received. In the event that the amount of eligible grants requested in a fiscal year exceeds the funds available in the Beehive Grant Fund, such grants shall be paid in the next fiscal year in which funds are available.Illustration of beehive.

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) is in the process of developing general requirements for individuals to qualify for the grant program. The registration process is likewise being developed and will be available prior to the January 1, 2013 start date. Individuals applying for the Beehive Grant will be required to register with VDACS. Grant applications and registration information will be posted on the Apiary Inspection webpage as they become available. Anyone interested in making donations to the Beehive Grant Fund should contact the Office of Plant Industry Services.

For additional information contact the Virginia State Apiarist at:

Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Office of Plant Industry Services
P.O. Box 1163
Richmond, VA 23218
Telephone: 804.786.3515
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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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an attempt to trap-out a colony of honeybees ensconced within a brick wall The idea behind the trap-out is to engineer a method by which foraging bees of a colony ensconced within a wall or other structure where their presence is unwelcome are able to exit their nest but aren't able to return. Within eight to ten weeks the economy of the feral colony is gradually interrupted to point where the ensconced queen will eventually cease egg-laying and vacate the occupied structure. In the mean time, the beekeeper provides an empty hive body that holds a frame of day-old eggs and is otherwise filled with drawn comb so that the returning foragers that are at that point "trapped-out" have a place to shelter and the motivation and means to rebuild via the frame of fresh (queen-worthy) eggs. The cone is fabricated from a piece of 1/8" mesh hardware cloth and installed over the original entrance by means of a makeshift flange. This is usually a piece of plywood drilled to allow the mesh cone to slip through the front and then be stapled and caulked on the back. The flange or adapter is then caulked or otherwise sealed around the edges so that bees aren't able to push their way back in through the original entrance. Because of the optical illusion of many, many holes created by the mesh cone and because of the force of habit to return the location of the original entrance the returning bees are unable to navigate their way back into their nest and are instead prompted by the smell of brood and eventually queen-rightness of the surrogate hive body. For this reason the "empty" hive body or bait box should be placed as close to the entrance of the ensconced colony as possible, preferably touching so that returning foragers can walk, and not fly, into the replacement hive.

On a recent visit to his parents my brother-in-law noticed the activity of this colony of bees at the top of an eight foot exterior brick wall right beneath the soffit of their split-level home in Colonial Heights, VA just outside of Richmond. Only a couple days after he and I had installed this boondoggle in front of the house he reported that the bees had already pushed a hole through the thick layer of caulk I sealed the edge of the 2x4 I used to mount the mesh cone over the entrance. I might employ a thick clay for this step in future applications. It's worth mentioning, as well, that the mesh really ought to be made from 1/8" mesh hardware cloth and not aluminum screen, or any other woven mesh as it is wont to unravel when being scrunched into the tiny end of the cone, the opening of which should only be large enough for two drones to exit simultaneously.
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a Warre hive wears a thick coat of honeybees Thursday and Friday were considerably warm enough to cause the comb to fail in hive #2, Brigid's first swarm of the season. It didn't help in the least that I left the catchment drawer in place all week, which might've prevented the bees from supplying adequate ventilation which might've mitigated the impact of direct sunlight had I the foresight to leave it open. The original hive, Brigid, is only a few feet away and doesn't appear to have been affected at all, but also doesn't get quite the exposure as this one.

The coverage on the front of the hive is obvious from across the yard, like a thick rustling fur coat, but on closer inspection there is a significant amount of uncured honey oozing out from underneath the hive, and as the weekend progressed the carnage started to become more apparent as dead bees and contents of ruined brood cells were emptied onto the front porch. This is a pretty major set-back for this colony and not something I feel I can do anything to remedy, even if it were conventional woodenware. Hopefully, it's a result of my negligence and not a design flaw that prevents these hives from being placed in direct sunlight. I love the weathered look from a completely aesthetic point of view and figured that the inch and a half thick walls would offer enough R-value to guard against overheating as much as it prevents freezing but it's time to consider giving these hives a coat of white paint, too.
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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 in a lilac bush April 10th: I must be doing something right (or as conventional beekeepers would probably say: "wrong"), this was a third swarm kicked off by Brigid. I'm pretty sure she's honey-bound and every time a queen cell hatches She sees a full pantry and doesn't even bother killing the other unhatched queens, just up and hauls ass. Again, Mrs. called for me to intervene. I didn't have an available hive so I ended up gifting them to a beekeeper Mrs. is in contact with in Culpeper who was able to drive out to Strasburg after I retrieved them.

I spent the following weekend putting together a makeshift fume board and bee escape. The weather on Monday (bagged out of work) was ideal for taking honey with a fumebaord - 80°'s, sunny, very little breeze. The Bee-Quick label claims the bees will vacate the supers between the board and the escape after about 5 or 10 minutes. Two hours after the fact I think I had more bees in the honey boxes than I started out with. The mistake I made was putting a thin wood panel lid on the fume board rather than making it just piece of sheet metal, so the heat of the sun wasn't able to penetrate and fully vaporize the benzaldehyde (Bee-quick's active ingredient). I've got a design in mind that I hope will right the issue, so I'll try again next weekend if the weather cooperates.

I have no shortage of bee-box-building to do. I'm currently gearing up to place a couple of conservation hives with packaged swarms at a small farm in Winchester by May 12th, but I have to build them first. Swarmapalooza is providing bees faster than I can build hives - and that's beautiful thing! Even having gifted this swarm, I'm one colony up from where I was this time last year! In addition to the six splits Chuck procured from Frank he also ordered a couple of Italian packages from Georgia. He said that when he went to pick them up there were beekeepers reporting that they had also captured a number of swarms. 2012 is already known around here as the "Year of the Swarm". The last two weeks of March were unseasonably warm caused, I believe, by a very active sun cycle which I think triggered these early and copious swarms, and is directly related.
Swarming is the way by which bees reproduce. Being a super-organism, when one colony divides into two or more it's true reproduction, whereas laying eggs to replace workers is akin to an individual growing hair and fingernails.
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"Another fun sensory beekeeping experience is to try to smell the breath of your hives. Each will have its own unique 'body odor' and you may also find you can tell if honey is being made, and if they have much brood. You should enjoy and animal-fur smell reminiscent of a clean mink coat, plus a hint of lemon-grass (nasanov pheromone) plus a teak-hinting-vanilla woody scent (this is the smell of queen-rightness, queen mandibular pheromone and retinue pheromone are chemically similar to the benzoin perfume -fixative that this smell somewhat resembles). You are of course familiar with the floral-acidy-sweet smell of honey production, and the resin-smells of your local propolis. The presence of a lot of brood adds a milk/cream odor to the mix. A healthy productive hive smells wonderful. Aside from being enjoyable, smelling the stream of ventilated air from the hives is also good practice because if you take note of the normal smell you will immediately notice if their is mould, wax moth, or foulbrood"
~Kale Kevan (contributor to forum)
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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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Pollination Agreement

I,(name, address)hereby provide(name, address),live honeybee colonies for the intention of crop pollination. The colonies are maintained on the property at the above address year-round as of __________. The provision and condition of all necessary equipment (the hives, any support structures or accessories, supplemental feed) and bees, including their management, any liability incurred in servicing the hives, and any damage to them resulting from wildlife, weather, etc. will remain my responsibility. I will occasionally require access to the hive site and will provide at least ______ advance notice by phone or email. At any time should they present a nuisance in any manner described by their hosts I agree to remove all hives and any related material within 10 days.

The honeybee colonies are provided in good faith that best land and watershed stewardship practices are upheld, however I would appreciate to be contacted in advance of the event that any known genetically manipulated crop, or pesticide proven or implicated in the destruction of honeybee habitat is planned for use on the property. It is at their behest (Farm Name) reserve a perennial location and safe forage for up to ______ conservation hives. The purpose and design of the hives, for restoring and localizing honeybee genetics, precludes that inspections are performed within the nest as with conventional hives managed for harvesting honey, relying instead on some minimal observations most of which can be performed at a safe distance from the entrance of each hive.
A healthy hive:
∙ has plenty of bees coming and going during daylight, beards on hot evenings
∙ remains free of any obvious infestation of moths, flies, ants, or marauding hornets
∙ has foraging bees returning with pollen, a good sign of a present laying queen
∙ breeds bees of a gentle and non-offensive temperament
∙ smells wonderful!
In times of drought or dearth it may become necessary to supplement a colony with a premixed sugar syrup and bottles of feed will need to be replaced often, sometimes daily. This normally being the exception; most often bees in conservation hives maintain themselves as would a feral colony. Regardless, I should be contacted immediately in any event of the following:
∙ any obvious damage to the hives, or equipment malfunction
∙ presence or evidence of pests
∙ no activity at the entrance of a hive on fair weather days (temps above upper 50’s °F)
∙ a swarm on the property

office (Business Name - weekdays 0:00am - 0:00am) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
home (weekends, message) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
urgent (cell). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
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Conservation hives are places in the northwest corner of the yard behind an existing fence which serves as a windbreak. Lada, the hive pictures on the left is unoccupied.I've gotta make this quick because I've been trying to get around to an update for weeks! We've divested of the U.S. housing boondoggle and are in a rented 3 bedroom house in Strasburg, Virginia 10 miles west and over the Massanutten mountain. The move has been arduous and is still not entirely complete, but the good news - and this is what I've been holding off to report - is that Brigid has survived our very mild winter, where the top bar, then Isis, and finally Lada all succumbed. Moving the conservation hive wasn't nearly as difficult as I had anticipated. Although a two-man job, it took more time to figure out the ratcheting tie straps used to secure the roof, supers and base together with a couple of makeshift handles than it did to hoist the whole caboodle into the back of Pop's pickup truck, secure it and drive it over the mountain.

Now we're far into a early bee season here in the NSV with the quince, forsythia, Bradford pear, cherry, red buds and apple trees blooming thickly. Brigid has a beard of bees that are as thick now as the picture I posted back in June and has built up entirely more quickly that I ever anticipated, but then I need to consider also that I am for the first time in my life and after three years of trying a second year beekeeper!

There's a lot of other developments that have started happening since the move as well that I don't have the time now to elaborate on but one I'd like to touch on is that last week while organizing lumber for new hives I came across the bait boxes that I built and employed unsuccessfully (late) last season. I set one of those outside on my father's stone wall, still with the same old comb and lemongrass lure in it, as a reminder to make some time to mount it in a tree somewhere. The very next day got a picture from Pops in my email of multiple scouts congregating around the entrance. Observation over the following days has been inconclusive but it looks like I might just have a colony or two developing the box as a potential nest site! This is exciting to me beyond words. I'd love the opportunity to test the efficacy of my bait box design and this might be my chance and nothing's better than expanding the apiary using free local bees.

Nonetheless, the pragmatic and faithless part of me broke down and ordered three more packages of Russian bees from Kelley's on Saturday which are scheduled for May 12th delivery. I suspect that the flow this year and in this area will be pretty much over by then so this will really test the conservation hives and the ability of the Russian strain and their purported thriftiness when it comes to stores. I wouldn't mind, for once, having more bees than I know what to do with rather than fewer.


• Updated and (maybe even) improved hive designs

• Honeybees of Adama Farms of Winchester

• Local honeybees and local wood
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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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