Spring Events

Today was a very nice spring day here in Albuquerque. The temperature hit 61 degrees, so I went out to the back yard to see what was happening there. It was great to see bees flying from Iramba, Chaga, and Barabaig hives. There was no activity at Masai and Hadza. Hadza is in kind of a sheltered corner, and doesn’t get much sun in the winter time, so maybe they were still too cold there to fly. Masai, however, sits right out in the sun all day long, right next to Iramba. It looks like Masai might have died out. I did not open the hives, so I don’t know what the inside looks like. This was my strongest hive last year, but who knows how old the queen was. Perhaps the queen died in the fall or winter, and they just didn’t have any way to make a new queen. I did see bees flying from Masai during a warm spell in early January. I checked all of the hives a couple of weeks ago and only saw bees coming from Iramba, so today was a nice surprise to see bees in three of the hives.

This winter has been very busy. I have built a number of 8 frame medium boxes and have gotten lots of frames made up. Today we got 12 cinder blocks to use as hive stands for new hives this year. I am also building a chicken tractor, which is a moveable chicken coop. Menchie and I are looking forward to fresh eggs this year. We are also planning our vegetable garden for this year.

Spring time is proving quite exciting again this year as we hope to expand our apiary and gardening activities here at home, and I will be setting up two remote hives.

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Some Thoughts On The Shape Of Top Bars

When I started this beekeeping adventure, I promised my bees that I would listen to them. When I designed my top bars, I gave them a triangular profile, because this would maximize the area for attachment of comb, giving a stronger comb. The sharp point would guide the bees and keep the comb straight. Well, I guess the bees didn’t listen to my advice.

First of all, the bees didn’t build straight comb. It was pretty straight, but any misalignment in one comb was magnified as more combs were built, until the comb was pretty bent by the time it got to the back of the hive. Through the year, I also put empty bars in between full bars so that the bees would build straight comb. What I didn’t know is that if you put a new bar between two bars of uncapped honey, the bees will extend the honey combs already built to fill up the empty space. The empty bar may have a small comb on it, but the two honey comb bars will be extended and have a pocket in the shape of the small comb. Of course, this is not what I intended.

The bees also attached their comb to the bottom 1/4 inch or so of the top bar, making the attachment point very narrow and very weak. In fact the comb tapered at the top bar attachment point to 1/2 inch or less in total depth. This made the comb very susceptible to collapse and any slight misalignment of the comb during inspection caused it to break off. The honey combs mentioned above where they built them out to fill the space of an empty bar was also a problem. They were extra heavy and off balance because of the shape. They were especially susceptible to collapse and damage.

So that is what went wrong last year, what I am I doing to fix it this year? First, at some point I will start using a top bar that has a t shape. The top of the t will be the top bar, and there will be a short ridge, 1/4 inch deep and 1/4 inch wide hanging down from the top of the bar. This should still encourage the bees to build straight comb as much as they will, and will also provide for a much stronger attachment.

It is good practice to add empty bars between two full bars when comb is being built. However, you need to put the new bars between brood comb, not honey comb.

I will also work harder at keeping comb straight, to avoid crossed comb. Of course it is easier now that I have several hives mostly full of straight comb.

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Basic Top Bar Hive Plans

I decided to show plans here for my basic hives. The local standard hive has slightly different dimensions than my first 4 hives so I am going to use the standard dimensions.

1. Cut 2 sides and one bottom board 42.5 inches long. Three boards exactly the same length

The sides.
The bottom.

2. Cut 2 ends 20 inches long. Both are the same.

The ends.

3. Rip the end boards to a width of 10 1/2.
4. Set the angle of your saw blade to 30 degrees and rip the side boards to a long side width of 11 1/4 inch. Note that a 1×12 is already 11 1/4 inches wide, so you are just cutting off the corner on one side and nothing on the other side. Before ripping, you may want to look at the board and see which side of the board is the side you want inside of the hive. I like the inside of the hive to be smooth and blemish free as much as possible.

The side profiles.

5. Mark the center of the inside of each end board on top and bottom. Extend the bottom mark a little bit to help alignment with the bottom board.

The ends marked for the center and bottom.

6. Scribe a line 3/4 inch from the bottom of each end. This shows where the bottom board will be attached.
7. Measure 9 1/8 inches from the center on the top of each end.
8. Measure 3 1/2 inches from the center on the line scribed on the bottom of each end.
8. Draw a line between the top and bottom marks on each side of the center. This is where the sides attach to the end boards. This line marks the inside of the hive.

The angles drawn on the ends.

9. Mark the center of the bottom board on each end.
10. Align the center mark of the end board and the center mark of the bottom board and attach the bottom board to the inside of the end boards.
11. Attach the side boards to the end boards, carefully aligning the inside of the side boards to the angled line that was drawn, and attach the side boards to the ends.
12. Attach the bottom to the sides.
13. Cut two pieces of wood to a size of about 2 x 1. These are the spacer tabs. The exact size is not important, but the width should be at least 7/8 inch. This provides stops for the entrance of the hive.
14. Decide which end of the hive will be the entrance end.
15. Attach the two spacer tabs to the top of the entrance end so they stick into the hive about 3/8 to 1/2 inch, forming the entrance to the hive when top bars are added. These spacer tabs should be at the ends of the end board overlapping the sides. The picture below shows the spacers attached in the proper position on the end of the hive.

The spacers attached to the end of the hive.

The spacers should touch the top of the sides on each side of the hive. The length of the spacers can be changed if you want the entrance to be smaller. The hive body is complete.

A piece of plywood or cement board form the top. I usually cut it to 24 x 48 in size. The top just lays on the top of the top bars.

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Top Entrance Feeder Project

Because I am using a top entrance on my hive and don’t have any way to attach a boardman feeder to the hive, the question becomes how do you feed this hive?

I could use a bucket with floats inside the hive. If I put it in a top box by itself with no frames, I am sure it would trigger massive robbing. If I put a bucket in the bottom, I would have to move all the frames over and into new boxes and the bees would probably build comb all over the place making a mess. It would also be hard to replenish. I don’t like the idea of a bucket.

I looked on Michael Bush’s site on the feeding page, http://www.bushfarms.com/beesfeeding.htm, and found a feeder that was interesting called a Jay Smith Bottom Board Feeder. It had a lot of qualities I liked, but some drawbacks too. I decided to think about my requirements.

- A bottom board feeder was good for avoiding robbing.
- I wanted high capacity for the feeder so I didn’t have to fill it up all the time.
- I didn’t want to waterproof it, so I wanted to be able to use an aluminum foil pan in the feeder.
- I didn’t want a big open space for bees to drown in and build wild comb in.
- I didn’t want the bees to drown.
- I wanted to be able to fill the feeder from outside the hive.
- I wanted to protect the feeder from robbing.
- I didn’t want debris from the hive going into the feeder.
- It should be quick and easy to build with materials on hand.

The Jay Smith feeder met some of these requirements, but not all, so I started designing the Wilcox Bottom Feeder, no pun intended, from the Jay Smith feeder as a starting point.

Using an aluminum pan was pretty easy. I just made the walls of the feeder taller, using 2x4s which I have a lot of laying around. I made the box about 24 inches long, so it is bigger than the hive. Like the Jay Smith feeder, the part that sticks out can be used to fill the feeder in the front or back of the hive as desired. I decided to build a solid plywood top for the feeder which will form the bottom board of the hive. The plywood top covers the entire feeder, and has a hole cut in the outside portion where the feeder can be filled. I reduced the size of the opening to reduce the amount of rain and other stuff that might get it. Having a plywood bottom meant that there had to bee a hole, and that would still leave a way for debris to drop into the feeder on the inside, so I decided to create a three layer access for the bees to the feeder. See the pictures below for more details. In order to keep the bees from building comb in the feeder and to reduce the number of drowned bees, I decided to put a 2 inch plastic pipe below the access hole, restricting the bees to this 2 inch tube. Small kerfs were cut on the bottom of the pipe section to allow the syrup to flow into the pipe. A piece of expanded metal mesh as placed in the hole in the bottom of the hive and down to the bottom of the pipe to provide excellent walking surfaces in the pipe. Rather than floats to protect the bees from drowning, I decided to put a stack of rocks in the pipe to fill most of it up while still allowing the bees to get to the syrup. On top of the cover are 1×2 frames to provide bee space for the bottom board and a base for the hive boxes. That’s it. Pretty simple. Here are some pictures of the completed feeder:

The Feeder Box
This is the feeder box. 3/4 Plywood base with 2×4 sides. Pretty simple. The inside dimensions are the same width as my hives, and about 4 inches longer than my hives.

The box from another angle
Here is another picture of the box from another angle, proving it is pretty simple.

The box with the aluminum pan.
Talk about simple! Place the pan in the box. Now it is water proof.

The top of the feeder/bottom of the hive
Here is the top of the feeder, which is also the bottom board for the hive. There is still one piece missing so the hole in the bottom can be seen where the bees access the syrup in the feeder.

The filler hole
The filler hole, which is outside the hive. The feeder can be filled without opening the hive.

The underside of the top of the feeder
The underside of the feeder top, showing the ceder fence board with a hole in it, the screen to give the bees something to walk down easily into the syrup is simply rolled up and stuck in the hole in the fence board. A screen also covers the filler hole and is stapled on the under side as can be seen. This screen prevents robbing by other bees and critters, when the feeder is used with syrup. If the feeder is used with dry sugar during winter, the screen keeps the bees on the inside too.

The screen insert
A closeup of the screen insert.

The pipe added
Here the pipe is added. With the screen, the pipe might be unnecessary, but I included it anyway. Notches are cut into the bottom of the pipe so the syrup can get into the pipe. The notches rest on the bottom of the pan once the top is turned over into the pan. The pipe is not connected to anything. It just rests against the bottom of the pan and is held in place by the screen. I did it this way so I can easily remove the pipe and screen if I want and use the feeder to give the bees dry sugar in winter.

The Notches
A closeup of the notches in the pipe.

The Pipe as it will sit in the pan
The pipe is now sitting in the pan, the way it will when the feeder is fully assembled. When I set up the feeder, I threw some large gravel into the pipe. The rocks left enough room for the bees to go all the way to the bottom, but filled up most of the pipe so no floats are necessary. There is always a rock or the screen close by for the bees to grab onto.

The Complete Feeder
Here the feeder is fully assembled. The final piece has been added. It is a 1/4 inch plywood piece to cover the hole in the feeder top. This prevents, as much as possible, hive debris getting into the feeder.

A hive box sitting on the feeder
This shows a hive being assembled. A hive box is placed on the feeder, using the feeder top as a bottom board. The hive has a top entrance, so there is no opening at the bottom.

The whole assembly with the filler cover added
This is the complete setup with the filler cover added. The filler cover is just a 2×4 in this case. It could be anything that will cover the filler hole and prevent rain and other things from entering the hive through the filler hole.

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The Cutout One Week Later

I inspected the cutout. There were lots of bees with lots of brood and eggs. I actually saw the queen, which was big and beautiful. There wasn’t much honey left, although there was some fresh nectar coming in. They had lots of pollen. I am very concerned that this hive won’t have enough stores for winter, so I need to feed them. The only problem is I don’t have a good way to feed them. Hmmmmm. Anyway, since the queen was there and the hive is doing good, I named this hive Barabaig again.

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I did a cutout a few weeks ago. It was interesting. The bees were in the floor of a shed, so I cut out a piece of the floor and lifted it up. The comb was all on the floor board that I pulled up, so I took it outside, sat in the shade and put the comb into cutout frames using rubber bands. Then I put the frames in the 8 frame medium boxes. I kept brushing the bees from the combs into the boxes too to get as many as I could inside. I couldn’t get all the bees inside, and I didn’t have a vacuum, so I decided to leave the box overnight and see if the bees would go in.

I came back the next day and the bees were bearding all over the box. You couldn’t even see the wood of the hive. Bees were also all over on the outside of the shed and on a rabbit hutch that was next to the shed. I used the vacuum to clean up the bees, but tried to get as many as possible to go inside the hive without the vacuum. There were a couple of scraps of comb inside the shed that I put into frames and then cleaned up in the shed and put the floor board back down and screwed it in.

When I went home, I set up the hive on a stand but unfortunately the bees in the vacuum got too hot and most of them died. That was really sad as there were about 20 pounds of bees in there. I had no idea where the queen was, so we crossed our fingers. As I was buttoning things up, I got stung, so I tried to use an epi-pen and did it backward, stabbing my thumb instead of my leg. It went clean through my thumb. Anyway, off I went to the hospital!

There were several lessons learned from this experience.
- It was very hot sitting in the bee suit for hours cutting out frames and then getting stung. I decided to order an ultra breeze suit.
- Using rubber bands to hold comb, especially honey comb with gloves on is clumsy, messy, and destructive. I investigated other options and I think I will try a variation of the Idiots Guide to Beekeeping cutout frame with nails and string or fishing line.
- Putting honey comb in cutout frames is very messy. I think I will use a cutting board on my lap in the future to use as a work surface and try to reduce the mess on my bee suit and everywhere else.
- The vacuum has to have better ventilation. I need to have my own bee vacuum if I am going to do cutouts and it would be useful for swarms too. I researched vacuums and decided to build a RoboVac this fall/winter.

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Some Lessons Learned

The last few weeks have been chock full of lessons learned. The split (Barabaig) is no more. Here is what happened. I decided to move the split into a langstroth hive. To do that, I basically did a cutout. The combs were too deep to fit into the frames, so I had to cut the combs. Of course, doing so exposed a lot of honey, and honey dripped all over the place. At the time I didn’t think anything of it, figuring the bees would clean it up. I was right, they really cleaned up.

The open honey and the honey splashed around on the ground and the new hive triggered robbing and within a week, Barabaig had been stripped of honey, for the most part, and most of the bees were dead, including the queen. I left the hive in place for a week so I could find out what would happened next and come up with a plan of action. The next week I opened the hive to be greeted by wax moths flying out. Uh oh! I didn’t see any wax moth larvae, but some of the comb was destroyed. I don’t know if it was destroyed by the moth larvae or the robbing bees. I had made an “adapter” to fit the langstroth hive onto one of my top bar hives, so I combined Barabaig with Chaga, taking one medium box out of Barabaig when I did so. It took a few hours for the bees to figure out the new entrance of the hive, but they seem to be getting along fine now.

Lessons Learned:

1. Don’t cut comb and make splits during a dearth. It stimulates robbing.
2. If you have to make the split for some reason, reduce the hive entrance to a size that the colony can manage.
3. Reduce the space in a weak hive to make it easier for them to defend against wax moths.

The bees are brutal teachers. I feel bad that I caused the death of a new colony.

This weekend, I am going to do another cutout. The bees are nesting below the floor of a shed. The plan is to cut out the floor of the shed and then flip it over so the combs are exposed. Hopefully if things go well, I will have a replacement for Barabaig again. This time I will reduce the entrance so that the bees can defend their hive.

Also, last week, two people asked me to put a hive on their properties. One is in Corrales where they have huge yards, and the other is on top of the roof in an urban area by the university. Both seem like ideal places for hives.

As we approach the end of the summer, we are starting to think of the winter. Because of the recent rains, flowers are starting to bloom. Hopefully, the bees will start bringing in honey that they can store for the winter.

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Catching Up

It has been a while since I have posted, and lots of things have happened since my last post. I think I will start with a couple of weeks ago.

One of the people who worked for me the last couple of months came over and we inspected Iramba and Masai. It all went pretty well, except that I had to retrieve that broken piece of top bar and the broken off comb from Masai. When we did that, we really had to open up the hive and the bees got really annoyed. We had to walk around the yard for about half an hour after that before we got rid of the bees flying around us.

The next week, one of the team I am running with had some bees. I went over to take a look, and then made arrangements with Ron to do a cutout. It turns out that the hive was in the ceiling of the garage of the house, so last Sunday we went over to clean out the bees. We cut a big hole in the ceiling and vacuumed out the bees as best we could, then we started cutting out the comb. I was assisting, giving Ron tools and the vacuum when needed. In my spare time I was cleaning things up, and vacuuming up bees out of the air or off the floor. At one point I was vacuuming up bees right next to Ron, and he dropped a piece of comb on my neck. Unfortunately there was a bee on the comb. Needless to say I got stung. Nothing happened immediately, so I started gathering up my stuff and putting it away in my truck just in case I had to leave. About half an hour later, my palms started itching and my lips started swelling up. I took a couple of Benedryl, called Menchie to tell her we were going to the emergency room, and drove home. By the time I got home I was starting to feel some discomfort in my chest. Menchie had the other car ready, so I hopped in and we went to the hospital. By the time I got there, I was having trouble breathing. They put me on oxygen right away and gave me some Prednisone and some anti-histamines, as well as an EKG. They let me go about 2.5 hours later, fully recovered. That was just one not very good sting! Allergy confirmed.

On Tuesday, I took the day off work and my nephew came over and I inspected Chaga, Hadza, and the split with him. It was fun, and the hives were extremely calm. He enjoyed his morning with the bees. I think he will probably start a hive one of these days.

This morning, I inspected Iramba and Masai again. They were fine. Masai was a little hot as usual. I think there will be bars for harvesting the next time I inspect. The hives were almost full of comb, but there was lots of empty comb for honey. I also decided a few days ago to put the split into the Langstroth hives. I got some rubber bands a few days ago and we were set. Menchie came out and helped me with the comb. Since the combs from the hive were about 9 inches deep, and the frames are about 6 inches deep, I had to cut most of the combs in half. The first one was pretty messy, but Menchie and I worked out a system for cutting it and fastening it into a frame with the rubber bands. There were 5 frames with comb, I think, one of which wasn’t a full comb, so we ended up with 10 frames, I think. That meant that since my boxes hold 8 frames, I had to expand into a second box. I put 4 frames in the top box and 6 in the bottom I think. I will check that next time I take a look in there. The bees seem to be pretty happy with the move. I did learn one thing, don’t bang a hive on the top of the frames. I did that and the top bar of the frame broke. OOPS! Anyway, we closed things up and let the bees do their thing. The population of that colony is BOOMING. That is really great news, and it will be fun to watch their development in their new permanent home. Because that is a new permanent home, I decided to name the colony. The name for the split is now Barabaig. That is a tribe in central Tanzania where I visited when I was a kid living in Kiomboi.

We got new bottles for honey, and we started printing our own bottle labels. I created the art work from the labels we had before, and bought a bunch of oval labels. The results look great! We have sold about 10 more pounds of honey, donating the proceeds of all of our honey sales to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

I am considering making more 8 frame medium boxes. I would be using biscuit joinery with pocket holes to hold things together. There are a couple of jigs I would like to build to assist in making the boxes. We are also building a solar wax melter, although we haven’t gotten very far along with that.

That’s whats happening here at Mzima Apiaries!

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8 Frame Hives are Ready

After spending a weekend with Michael Bush I was inspired to try 8 frame medium hives. I ordered the frames and boxes. The frames came first, so we started out putting together 80 foundationless frames. I still have 20 to make. The boxes came this last Friday, so we put 10 boxes together on Friday and Saturday. Today I built 3 bottoms and 3 tops for langstroth hives.
Another project has been bottling our last honey harvest. We used up all the bottles, so we ordered a bunch more bottles. Instead of ordering labels, we created our own and ordered some blank labels. The labels arrived in the mail yesterday, so we can start printing labels on our own now. We have sold out of honey with people waiting for more. Wow.

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More Honey, More Frames, More Bees

Ron and I went to look at the bees under the shed yesterday afternoon. Ron thinks the easiest thing to do would be to do a cutout on the inside of the shed. Cut a hole in the floor over the bees, pick it up, and voila, the bees should be right there. Now I have to convince the homeowner to let us do it.

Today I made some more frames. The frame company didn’t send enough nails so we got some nails at the store. These seem to be much better nails. They don’t split the wood and they go in much easier, so the process was much faster. I made 10 more frames. The boxes haven’t arrived yet so the frames are just piling up in the garage.

We have sold almost all of our bottled honey, and Menchie has orders for a bunch more, so Menchie bottled honey tonight until we ran out of bottles. 10 pounds more honey bottled and we still have a whole bunch in the buckets and the strainer. We need to order some more bottles, caps, and labels too. Menchie has collected $70.00 for her fundraising efforts.

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