Posts Tagged ‘top bar hive’

It’s been quite a while since I last posted.  At that time it appeared that both queens had made it through the winter.  Unfortunately the older queen wasn’t able to handle the drastic warm/cold swings of our spring weather here.  I just added her bees to the remaining hive and hoped for the best.  The queen in the surviving hive was one that the worker bees “created” last year. It’s called “re-queening” and you can learn more about that here. She is now half-New Mexican. I am trying to develop a number of truly local queens for my hives.  Most beekeepers order their queens from California or Texas but I want bees that have local genetics and can handle the challenging conditions here in the high-desert lands.  It’s been interesting following the progress of this colony. She is a large and strong queen but has not been a heavy egg producer.  The hive is growing slowly but steadily.  I have been checking in on their progress every week.  They have filled up most of the combs with brood ( and some honey ) to the point where I decided to add another empty bar for them to expand in to.

Adding new bar

If they get too crowded, they will begin to create another queen and swarm. Notice too, I have a backer board at the end of the bars.  This creates a confined space for the hive. As I add bars, I move the board back until they fill the entire box.  This way the bees are able to control the temperature and humidity in the hive.  It’s been very dry these past couple months and although there is still pollen out there, there will be a lot more food once the mid-summer rains begin. I’m beginning to think this queen is responding well to this condition…. not over-producing brood when food supplies are low.  It will be interesting to see if she speeds up production once the rains come.  In any case, all looks good for now!

( I just updated this post so that it would go out on FB )

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Broken comb

It was so hot last month that one of the combs fell off the bar.  The bees have been cranking out a lot of honey and this comb was so full and the comb was so fresh that the heat caused it to drop off.  I figured something was wrong when I saw a big cloud of bees buzzing outside the entrance…. I had to reach in a pull out the comb. What to do?  I figured that perhaps if I made a pouch or out of bird netting I could replace it back in the hive.  I stapled one side of the netting to a bar, laid the broken comb onto it, folded the netting back up to the bar and stapled it ….pulling the comb close up to the bar. This way I could lift it up and replace it.  All went well.  This is one of the negatives of using a top bar hive…. there isn’t as much support for the comb as with the traditional Langstroth hive. Haven’t gone back in to check it out yet, but next week I plan to harvest some honey, so I ‘ll see how they reacted to my emergency repair!

Repaired comb

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Last week a group of us from the Santa Fe Master Gardener’s Association had the opportunity to visit “For the Love of Bees“;  the farm of Les Crowder and Heather Harrell.

Les Crowder

Les was my first beekeeping instructor and not only did I learn all the details of raising bees in a top bar hive, but he and his wife Heather showed me how to handle the bees in a smooth gentle manner. Their farm is in a lush valley north of Santa Fe, and it is here they not only have their bees but also raise  medicinal herbs, vegetables and pollinator forage crops. They also have sheep, geese, chickens and turkeys, and sell their honey , herbs and veggies at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market every Saturday.

Heather in her herb garden

They recently received a Western Sustainable Agriculture and Research & Education grant to turn their property into a demonstration site for pollinator forage species. This was the reason I visited them…to learn more about pollinator gardens and how to incorporate these plants into my landscaping plan.  Drought resistant shrubs such as peashrub, chokecherry, sand cherry, leadplant,  spirea and lavender are all good sources of nectar and pollen. Herbal perennials such as mints, angelica, St. John’s Wort, hyssop, comfrey and salvia provide additional food for bees as well as attractive foliage and color in the garden. Their farm will be one of 10 featured in the 16th Annual Farm Tour sponsored by the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market. This self-guided tour will take place Sunday, August 28 from 9 -3. If you are in the area and have the chance to visit Les and Heather at their farm, you will be in for a treat! Checkhere for more details of the tour.

Les and Heather at their booth at the Farmers' Market

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The summer rains have arrived, much to the delight of the bees. Flowers are blooming and there is more pollen and nectar for them. I checked the hive this morning and saw this beautiful comb that they are building. Notice how light yellow it is, and glistening with honey.

New comb

Once the cells are full, the bees fan them to evaporate the liquid  to the right thickness, then cap it off.  The small orange dots are cells filled with pollen. Notice too, the shape of the comb. This is the natural shape that bees will make in the wild, which then explains the shape of the top-bar hive. The wax is produced by special wax glands in the abdomen that are extruded out through their abdominal plates as thin scales. Other bees pick up the wax scales, chew it with their saliva and then build the cells. It takes a lot of energy to produce and build the comb: about 16 pounds of honey to make about 2.5 pounds of wax.  This then will be enough wax to make over 100,000 cells…..and fill up a normal hive.

Wax scales

This amazing photo of the wax scales being extruded from a worker bee was taken by Helga Hilmann and is from the wonderful book “The Buzz about Bees” by Jurgen Tautz.

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Bee Hives

I was familiar with the Langstroth hive, as it is the one used by almost all the commercial apiaries. There is a ton of information out there about them, and many catalogs from which you can order supplies. This type of hive provides bees with a honeycomb foundation, so more energy can go into honey production, and it is easy to extract the honey from the removable frames. There is a queen excluder to prevent the queen bee from laying eggs in the honey storage comb.

Langstroth hive

A top-bar hive

Then there is the Top-Bar hive, the one that I got introduced to here in Santa Fe. The bees create their own natural comb from the “top bars”  and the queen bee is free to roam the entire hive. There is a naturalness to the hive; when a comb is removed, only that section of the hive is disturbed, keeping calmer. The comb is crushed to release the honey, and productions is less than that of a Langstroth hive. There seems to be a lot of debate of which hive is “better” for the backyard beekeeper, but talking with experienced beekeepers, I realize it comes down to personal choice.  What I wanted is a hive that is easy to build and maintain without pesticides. I am not interested in maximizing honey production.

Since I have had no practical experience with either of these hives, and since almost all of my contacts and mentors are using top-bar hives, I have decided to build a top-bar beehive.

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Top-Bar hive ( in winter)

Last summer I went on the Garden Tour sponsored by the Santa Fe Botanical Garden.  At one of the gardens I noticed a number of unusual beehives in the yard. I met  Kate Whealan, the owner, and she explained that they were called “top-bar” hives. She was so enthusiastic and full of information!  Turns out Kate heads the Sangre de Christo Beekeeping Club here in town and she invited me to join and attend their monthly meetings.  Well…..other projects and activities got in the way over the summer but the idea of setting up a beehive in the yard was in the back of my head….if I could do chickens, why not bees?

Winter came and I began to think about bees again… started checking out info on the web. Wow!  So much information….too much information!  Being a biology teacher I knew all about their anatomy, habits and life cycle, but the practical part of raising them seemed intimidating.  There seemed so much to learn. What kind of bee hive should I get:  Langstroth, Top-bar, Warre hive? … and a whole new lexicon of bee terms: chalkbrood, nosema, propylis, starter nuc,, foulbrood, varroa mites.  The thought of setting up a bee hive in the yard drifted further into that section of my brain titled ” good idea, but….”

In January, I went to my first beekeeping meeting, and got energized by the lively group of bee enthusiasts, joined the local news group, and saw the announcement for the “Northern NM Rocky Mountain Sweet Spring Sting:A Symposium for Bee Stewards”    I decided to spend this year learning as much as I could about bees , take some classes, and then set up my bee hive next year. Yes, that was my plan.

Then I attended the Bee Symposium.  What an eye-opener!  Organized by Melanie Kirby and Mark Spitzig who run the Zia Queen Bee Co., it was a real eye-opener!  They put together a great day of speakers and shared so much information with us about beekeeping.

Corwin Bell from Colorado spoke about bee guardianship, and how bees can reveal the connection between humans and the natural world.     www.backyardhive.com

Kirk Webster spoke about his commercial small scale , chemical free apiary in Vermont

Nate Downey from Santa Fe Permaculture talked about incorporating bees into the home lanscaping as an integrated unit.


Corwin brought along a young woman who at the age of 16 set up her own successful hive in one summer under the mentorship of Corwin   It was then I saw that if she could do it, so could I!

The thing that finally clinched my plan to jump right in and start beekeeping this year was winning the door prize….. a queen bee  from the Zia Queen Bee Co! ( they will let me know when she is available)

OK … I have my contacts, some good mentors, classes lined up…….I’m ready to go.  Now to build me a bee hive!

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