Viewer mail

A reader writes:
I have the concept of foundation-less hives, but how do you install a new package of bees? Surely you can't just dump bees and queen on the bottom board, even if you have starter strips in the frames, and expect them to get to work.


But in fact we do expect that to happen, and it does. The key is to give them some food to get them started, as Kirk explains:

When I install a Package I remove the queen cage and put it between the frames. I like to hang it with a couple of straight pins with the hole (filled with the candy plug) facing up. This way if the bees inside the cage with the queen die, they don't block her exit. I then simply dump the rest of the bees in the top of the hive were the queen cage is hanging...Real simple. Then feed the bees with a baggie feeder.



Assembling Knock-Down Frames

I just posted about how to assemble a medium box, now it's on to the frames.

For each frame there are 4 pieces: top, bottom, and two identical sides. Start with one or two sides and the top. Apply glue to the surfaces that will touch.

Now just hammer a nail into the top bar through to the side. Go slow and make sure it's straight and try to make direct hits with the hammer so that the nail doesn't bend. I sometimes use the hive box to support the opposite end or sometimes I put the other side on with the glue just to support the top while I tack in the nail.

Next glue it up (if you haven't yet) and nail the other side. It should look like this.

Flip it over and glue the bottom bar and the bottom of the side bars.

Press it in place...

..and nail it in.

Voila! One down, nine to go.

The next step is to put in your starter strips so the bees have something to attach the comb to. For starter strips watch this video of Kirk in action: How to make starter strips. If you are wondering why we don't use foundation read Russell's post about that.

Oh yeah, things don't always go perfectly. Sometimes the nails bend or pop out the side a strange angles. When this happens (and it will) don't stress out, just try to pry it back up straight and hammer it in again, or pull it completely and use a new nail.

This only works about 30% of the time though so when it goes badly a second time, cut your losses.

When that happens hammer it flat, hope that some of it grabbed on the other side and/or that the glue will do it's job and move on to the next nail.

Happy Beekeeping!

Assembling a Medium Hive Box

I recently put together a medium hive box with help from my boys. Some people have asked how to do this so I thought I'd document the assembly. This is just the box. I'll post again to show how the frames go together.

Start out by applying glue to the "fingers" on the boards that will fit together. The glue goes down in the "U" shape but not on the top of the pegs - those don't get glue.

Then just fit one side together and tap it into place lightly with a hammer. Then glue and do the same with the other side. It should look like the picture below.

You can hit it a few more times for good measure if you really want to. Now you are ready for some nails.

Start the nails by putting one in the middle "finger" on each side of the piece facing up.

Then flip it on it's side and put one in the bottom of the side piece. After that flip it back on the other side and put one in the bottom there.

Now you are ready to glue and tap in the fourth board. Do the same thing with the nails: One in the middle on each side and then flip it each way to put in the two nails at the bottom of those sides.

Now it's glued up and nailed together. It should be sturdy enough for you to handle without worrying that it'll fall apart and it's time to drive the rest of the nails in.

I numbered the nails here to show how I do this part - kind of like tightening lug nuts when putting a wheel back on a car, I try to nail them in alternating order. After the last "2" is in I put the 3s and 5s on that side then rotate it and put in the 4s and 6s on that side, turn again, 3s and 5s, etc.

The last thing to do is to nail in the strip that the frames will sit on. I guess this is a separate strip so that you can replace it when it wears out after years of removing and replacing the frames. I can't actually imagine this happening with my hives so I glued mine in. I may be screwing the next generation of beekeepers to use my boxes provided I did everything else right.

One thing I recommend is that you go kind of slow, making sure your nails are headed in the right direction. If you go too fast your nails will either bend or angle out of the wood which although not disastrous can be annoying.


Corey harvests honey

Check out Backwards Beekeeper Corey (and daughter Chloe), doing some Very Urban Beekeeping.


Jules does her first inspection

Backwards Beekeeper Jules says:

I gotta say, there's no fear like new-bee fear, but I opened 'er up and took a look and Greg took some shots for posterity. I worked it into this brief slideshow.

I got one sting but am relieved to see that I must not be too allergic. I smoked the sting immediately and it didn't even bother swelling much until late last night. Took some benadryl and this a.m. it looked fine.

They're doing very well so I'll keep the lid shut except for sugar water bag changeouts for a while now. I know it's old hat for you all but I know I will never forget that sensation of holding the frame, crawling with little furry bodies as a brand new bee emerged from her cell. Total coolness.

Kirk adds:

Julian I'm so Proud of you I can't stand Up yippieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee Hurray


Robot Bees!

Harvard University was recently awarded 10 million dollars to build robotic bee swarms. Wouldn't it be easier to take them out of their neighbor's garage?

The whole story here.


Yesterday's Bee Meeting

Bee people!

We had another great turnout at yesterday's Backwards Beekeepers meeting, held at downtown LA's Farmlab.

Kirk brought the amazing log full o' bees (previously seen here) and showed how to make pollen patties to feed your bees during this lean period of the year.

Maurice also gave a talk about the many species of bees other than honeybees and how to encourage them as local pollinators. He's got quite a handle on flowering plants as well.

Kirk finished the meeting by moving the bee log into position near Farmlab's already-established hive. He pulled off the screen and skeedaddled away—those bees inside were a testy bunch.


Kirk is unstoppable.

The rain does not slow Kirk down:

I got a call to pick up a swarm. It was raining. This swarm was the size of a softball—it had been there a week or so. I'll use it for a trap-out.

Kirk is also an occasional lumberjack:

Jock called today, and said his friend knew of someone who had bees in a tree that fell down. Here are the pictures of the limb with the bees; I had to cut some of the tree branch off so I could lift the log. I cut the ends off, put a screen over the opening, put it in my truck and took it home.


Bee Hive Ruins

This week we had the first storm of the season with buckets of rain and pretty high winds. I had to go up to Santa Clara for work the next day and while walking from the office to the hotel I found the remains of a bee hive on the ground with no bees in sight.

The pictures were taken at dusk with my phone so they aren't the greatest quality but you can still see the freshly drawn comb, brood and honey if you click them to enlarge.

The thing that struck me is that bees are everywhere and that it is preposterous to restrict people from keeping them in their backyards.

In the picture above you can see a snail eating either brood or honey from the comb.

The pieces were all sitting in or around a driveway so my guess is that they are all squashed flat by now.


Bee Meeting this Sunday, October 18!

The third Sunday of the month is the 18th, so it's time for a bee meeting! Come on out and hobnob with fellow and future beekeepers.

Kirk's going to talk about getting your bees ready for fall/winter. There will almost certainly be spirited conversation about ants as well.

I can bring a ton of shredded paper if anyone wants some for their smoker.

When: Sunday, October at 11am
Where: Under Spring outdoor space at Farmlab

Farmlab Directions

You want to follow the above directions most of the way, but park on Aurora and walk through the alley (under Spring) to the meeting.

Check out this view to see what it looks like from the street.

Snacks/questions/newbies always welcome.


New Beekeeper tells all

Backwards Beekeeper Jules writes:

We’ve had bees for years. Several years ago I noticed a steady stream of bees going in and out of a narrow crack in between our side and back fence walls.

It was an unused area of yard until my husband put in a small waterfall fountain. That was so lovely I put out some chaise lounges and suddenly it was my corner paradise, with a great view of bees coming and going and the relaxing sounds of the steady trickle of the water.

My two eldest sons have big ambitions. They decided one day that we really needed to get the bees out of the wall so we could harvest honey. They would be the Bee Brothers and they would make honey barbecue sauce and honey mustard potato chips and honey infused shampoo and use that natural local honey as a homeopathic allergy cure. “PUH-LEEEEEEASE MOM! Can we? Can we?”

Could we? It’s not a cheap hobby to start up what with boxes and gear but we already had a functioning hive in the wall. I promised them when their younger brother turned 4 I would think about it. I was sure they would forget. They didn’t. “PLEASE MOM, HE’S 4 NOW!” Okay, okay, okay. I found the Backwards Beekeepers site, got Kirk’s info and dropped him an email.

Kirk said he could do a trap out any time. But before I committed to taking that leap I had a lot of reading to do. I read like a freak, got the supplies on hand and called up Kirk for the trap out.

In my reading I found that in my neck of the woods it is unfortunately against city ordinance to have bees in a yard. Since they are located in a corner of the yard that meets 3 other yards with trees and thick vines at all corners I wasn’t horribly concerned with getting turned in by neighbors—heck, the bees have actually lived there longer than two of their families. My long-time next door neighbor is very supportive (he actually wants his own hive) and theirs is the only yard with any bee traffic flow. I popped an email to the BB group about what to do when it’s not allowed where you live and my fave piece of advice was “bee low profile”. The day Kirk came I felt oddly giddy. In my 42 years of life, this was my first true act of civil disobedience. The world needs bees and last I checked my city was in the world. I’ll claim ignorance when they take me away in shackles.

I watched and filmed and shot pics as Kirk filled the crack in the wall except a small escape, then affixed a one-way escape to the hole.

He then expertly balanced my deep and shallow supers to make a stand for the nuc box directly in front of the escape hatch.

It looked kind of wonky but it was exactly what they needed.

I went to my first bee meeting that weekend and though my youngest son couldn’t sit through it all I felt that knowledge and experience everyone shared was invaluable.

Over the next few weeks I watched the hive trap-out progress, enthralled by how they just naturally took to the tiny nuc box as their new home. After a while at night it grew thick with bearding bees—due in part to the 100 degree+ weather and also to their crowding.

A plumbing emergency happened a couple weeks back and as part of the final inspection a city worker had to come check all the work—including a new clean out in the back yard. I stealthily constructed a fence using trellis sections affixed to a dark bamboo curtain and set-dressed the scene to make it look like it had been there for years on the off chance the guy would see the box set-up and bust me before I began. It worked (and it also will shield people from seeing it for years to come and keep their flight pattern away from the yard, too.

Thanks for the story, Jules!