Max finds wavy gravy comb

Los Angeles Backwards Beekeeper Max writes:
Wow, look at the gorgeous natural comb the Lincoln Log bees create. It's so pretty.

And such a pain in the ass to inspect.

Erik came over on Saturday to get some open brood from me for his Hollywood Hills trap out. Since he was already in his bee gear, he was nice enough to help me with my problem hive. The Lincoln Log bees swarmed from the Log Hive that we got from Kirk back in January. I captured them in a nuc box and they proceeded to swarm out of their nuc box 3 weeks later to parts unknown. I put the skeleton crew of bees that were left behind after the swarm into a a two-story lang. When I inspected the hive two weeks ago, the bees had built the ridiculous comb in the top super, and the lower super had tons of swarms cells on the bottom of the brood frames. Those bees are getting ready to swarm again. Jerks.

At any rate, I thought I'd try to kill two birds with one stone by checkerboarding. (Go here for the full explanation.)

I used the escape board that I borrowed from Sue to empty out the top super which is mainly honey.

With Erik's help I complete ripped out the crazy comb in the top super, which was gross because there was brood mixed in with the uncapped honey. I threw the brood (which had gone unattended for 48 hours) in the compost bin and saved the uncapped comb to re-feed the "donor" hives.

Then I removed the escape board.

I removed donor honeycomb (capped and uncapped) from our Malibu bees and our Hot Tub bees.

In the top super of the Lincoln Log hive I checkerboarded the honeycomb with empty frames--which means I alternated honeycomb, empty frame, honeycomb, empty frame.

I'm hoping that the addition of all the new honeycomb will trick the bees into staying in the hive by making them believe it's not time to swarm. I'm also hoping that the straight honeycomb will act as an example comb to the bees so they maybe consider the features and benefits of making straight, easy-to-inspect comb, instead of all this wavy gravey business.

Usually checkerboarding doesn't disturb the brood nest because it's all about adding honey upstairs, so allegedly it's less stressful on the bees than putting a queen excluder between the bottom board and the first super to keep the bees from swarming.



Roberta scoops up a swarm

Los Angeles Backwards Beekeeper Roberta writes:

Monty, a science teacher in Harbor City, called in a swarm that a security guard told him about. Monty had worked with bees when he was a child, as his father had a hive. The security guard used to work in his home country (forget to get the name) in a bee farm with 250 hives! They wanted to keep these bees safe but couldn't keep a hive in their community. You can see from the picture that they felt comfortable getting up close and personal with the bees. Monty filmed the entire process so that he could show the children in his class.

The bush made it hard to get a box close to the swarm so I used my newly created bee scoop (a repurposed plastic bottle) and with a few scoops had a majority of the bees and queen in the box. I used vinegar for the first time to mask the smell of the queen in the bush and no bees returned to the original site. It was great!

I packed up my cheapo swarm box with a bunch of duct tape and I think it looks almost professional. They asked me for my card which was kind of funny. I was thanked for a good deed done for the day and was off.


Feral bees are productive bees.

Backwards Beekeeper Vincent recently wrote to our Yahoo group:
I inspected all my colonies yesterday and I always marvel that swarms work so hard. They outperform my regular package bees and my bred Italians and hybrids.

I believe feral bees are the best—maybe temperamental, and swarm a lot if you're not careful, but some of the hardiest all-around bees. They've adapted to all. As a commercial/hobbiest beekeeper with 50 colonies at times, I hope to adapt as a beekeeper as well and do right by my bees.

Amy and I only have 3 hives, and we've only ever had feral bees, but we sure agree about how hard they work. We did a small-ish honey harvest a month ago, then opened up the boxes again yesterday to find frame after frame after frame of capped honey.

The bees were very manageable, especially considering how much carnage and mess we were causing to their homes. We ended up stopping the harvest because we ran out of buckets to cram honeycomb into.

Here's the end result. These are some insanely hard-working bees.

Feral is the way to go.


Next Meeting: this Sunday, June 27th!

Hey all - we've got a meeting coming up!

When: Sunday, June 27 at 11am
Where: Under Spring outdoor space at Farmlab in downtown L.A.

Agenda to come. Feel free to bring snacks to share.

Newbies always welcome. Please take a look through this blog beforehand, as it may answer many of your questions. Also, pick up a copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping—it's a great introduction to the treatment-free beekeeping style that we promote.

We'll also have Backwards Beekeepers t-shirts for sale in small, medium and large. More sizes coming soon.

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.


Roberta's fence cut-out adventure

L.A. Backwards Beekeeper Roberta says:
There was a lot of old comb from a cut out from a fence in Hawthorne—there must have been about 5 feet of it. But there wasn’t any brood, so the hive had gone queenless or had a virgin queen.

There were also 4-5 queen cells, one of which seemed to have been used. There was a lot of honey and a whole bunch of angry bees. It was hard to lure the bees into a box even with honey laden comb. So I tried to use a swarm I had caught but the bees lined up in front of the box but wouldn’t or couldn’t get in.

In the end I just brushed them into a nuc, got stung a lot and the stranglers were vacuumed up.

I’m hoping to add these to another hive.


Viewer mail

Andre writes:

Been keeping bees for 3 years now, 9 hives and counting in the UK.

I'm running all Lang mediums at the moment and I'm thinking of going backwards and foundation less.

I've looked on the blog and can't seem to find anything on swarm control?

Do you approve of artificial swarming or do you just let them spray swarms and casts every where? I cant really afford to let them swarm every where as I have hives in urban areas (the odd one or two is unavoidable though :) )

I have only been using oxalic acid when brood less in the winter. (I'm gonna find it hard not to do that)

I like what you are doing.



Kirk responds:

Wondering what Kirk means by "starter strips"? Find out here.

The Yahoo Organic Beekeepers group is here.


Helping out the speaker bees

L.A. Backwards Beekeeper Roberta says:
Robin asked for some help with some bees that had “taken over his life”. The bees had set-up shop in a speaker box after he chased them out of a wall.

Bees just love speaker boxes. Robin is very creative and made a custom hive out of scrap lumber. We talked about bee space and he made some quick adjustments to his design with a circular saw. He even made his veil out of old tent netting and plans on making his own smoker.

His frames were super deep but they seem to work really well. The comb on the right resembles Africa. We removed the comb and tied them in and the bees seemed to feel at home right away.

He’s already recruiting more beekeepers on his block.



Viewer mail

Mike writes:
Hi Kirk,

First off huge fan of the website, its lookin great. I am a hobbyist beekeeper in San Diego with about 45 hives. I have set up a deal where i can recive a few times a month a swarm or hive of bees that are similar to a package of bees. Yet these come from removals. Me and my dad feel that the 45 hives we have are about as much as we want to handle, yet its hard for me to turn these bees away.

So my question to you is instead of just trying to start a new hive with these captured bees, who may or may not be queenless. I thought that i could send these bees through a queen shaker and find the queen of the captured hive/swarm (if she is there) then kill her and add the bees to a weak or even strong hive in order to get better honey production as well as s stronger colony. What do u think of this idea?

Also, how should i go about adding the bees and is that ok to do? since they are queenless bees now i thought to place the existing hive on the bottom of the new bees in between them will be newspaper and to have put talc on the bees, and hope that the new bees combine with the old ones! what do u think? cant wait to hear your input!

Mike D.

Kirk's reply:


OMB Podcast

Craig in southern Maryland runs the podcast and blog somdbeekeeper.com, and episodes 9 and 10 are extended interviews with Kirk.

That's right: Kirk is so entertaining that he won't fit into just one podcast.

Kirk on the OMB Podcast: Part 1, followed by Part 2.


The melting-pot bees expand

Backwards Beekeeper Roberta says:
I inspected my queenless hive last week and was surprised to see a tiny bit of new comb. This was the first new comb in a month. When I looked closer I saw what looked like a queen on the one inch of comb! I didn't think it was possible so I checked again this week and found more comb, eggs, larva and capped brood! I'm not sure where the queen came from but it's much better than a worker laying.

I'm going to call this my melting-pot hive as it was a combination of 9 swarms from all over Los Angeles.

I also looked at my pallet cutout hive. There was a lot of new comb including cross comb that I cut and fixed. Another frame had two combs. I removed the small comb and put it into a new frame making everything very human friendly. I saw the queen in this hive too which was fun.

But the best part was seeing the eggs and cute little larvae. I never expected to love little bee worms but I do and I'm so proud of these little ladies.



Kirk improvises with his materials

Kirk's dealing with a bunch of grumpy but very productive bees on a trap-out job:


The birdhouse bees

Backwards Beekeeper Roxana writes:

Just over a week ago fellow Backwards Beekeeper member Sandy mentioned that I could have the bees that were in a birdhouse at her home. The caveat was we needed to extract them from the birdhouse. Since the swarm that had graced our compost bin the week before had left, we were prepared and very willing to do whatever was needed.

As an initiate I asked the knowledgeable and heartfelt John Lyons to help out with the task. John, his son Arjuna equipped in his bee suit, Greg and I descended on Sandy's home at 9am. We were greeted by her gracious husband Michael who offered to help out.

The little wooden birdhouse sat on top of an air conditioning unit toward the back side of Sandy and Michael's home. After surveying the scene the birdhouse was carried to a more manageable location. John then carefully began removing each of the boards that made up the roof and walls of the birdhouse.

Once half the boards had been removed we all stood back in awe as we observed how the bees had organized their combs like cards on rolodex. We cut out the more vital portions of the combs and placed them onto the frames, which we had already prepared with starter strips.

We then placed the frames into the bees' new temporary home, a nuc box. While John worked on cutting and attaching the comb Michael and I brushed the bees into the nuc box. In the meantime Arjuna had discovered the honey stores and was contenting himself with the liquid gold elixir.

When all the frames were filled with comb we placed the top onto the nuc box. All the stray bees slowly marched into the box following the scent of their queen. Once the bees had made there way into the box, we placed it on the ac unit where the birdhouse was originally located so that the field bees could return to their home. At twilight we returned to pick up the nuc box and take it to the bees' new home.

Since then we have moved the frames into the periwinkle colored box where the rockin' birdhouse bees now dwell. I placed a rock with holes into a terra cotta pot saucer which I add water to each day.

I am so grateful to John Lyons and the Backwards Beekeepers who have been tremendously helpful as Greg and I enjoy this adventure into visionary beekeeping, where backwards is the new forwards.

You can read this story in its entirety with more photos at my blog.