Posts Tagged ‘topbar hives’

"The Casita" early this morning

Sangre de Christo beekeepers demonstrating the inner workings of a topbar hive.

Today was the big day for the 1st Annual Kitchen Garden and Coop Tour. Sponsored by Home Grown New Mexico and Edible Santa Fe,   6 different gardens demonstrating a variety of methods of urban gardening were highlighted. Rainwater collection and storage, graywater sourced irrigation methods, terraced garden beds,  raised bed gardens of all sizes and shapes, some with very sophisticated covers that allowed year-round gardening, 4 chicken coops, and of course….the bees. I’m not sure how many people came through my yard….there was a steady stream from 9 am to 2 pm, but over 350 tickets were sold for this event. The main attraction at my yard was the casita for the chickens, but I was also surprised at the interest shown in the honeybee hives.  Two members from our local bee group, the Sangre de Cristo Beekeepers were on hand  with a demonstration hive and literature on beekeeping.  Lots of kids came with their parents and they got to feed and pet “the girls” in the casita and then got a real close up look at the insides of  a topbar beehive.  It was a great day!

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Almost bee time!

My two topbar bee hives

I have both my hives set out and ready for the bees. I have them facing Southeast so the  sun will warm them up in the morning and they can get an early start on foraging.  I also nestled them in against the pinons and junipers to protect them from the winds. I think this will be an ideal site for them.

This year I ordered early so I know I will be getting bees.  I purchased one nuc from Zia Queen Bee in Truchas, NM ….. about half way between Santa Fe and Taos.  The other nuc will be coming from Steve Wall, who has about 100 hives in and around town….and who lives just down the road from me. He sells honey at the Farmers’ Market as “Buckin’ Bee“.

Steve Wall at the Farmers' Market

It’s early spring here and the queen is busy building up brood.  As the trees and other spring flowers bloom, the bee population in the hives begins to expand rapidly and that is the time beekeepers make their divides. I should be getting my bees in May!

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Topbar beekeeping bible

Another thing to do in winter while waiting for spring…catch up on my reading.

Just got this book, “The Barefoot Beekeeper” by P.J. Chandler, a British beekeeper who specializes in topbar hives.

His three basic principles of beekeeping are:

1. Interference in the natural lives of the bees is kept to a minimum

2. Nothing is put into the hive that is known to be harmful either to the bees, to us or to the wider environment , and nothing is taken out that the bees cannot afford to lose.

3. The bees know what they are doing; our job is to listen to them and provide the optimum conditions for their well-being.


Sounds like great advice…not only for beekeepers, but for all of us on this planet!

For more info about this author and natural beekeeping, check out his website: www.biobees.com

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Yesterday I went down to Albuquerque for my first beekeeping lesson from Les Crowder, an expert beekeeper and assisted by his wife Heather.  With over thirty years of experience, Les introduced me and 18 other students to the world of beekeeping in general, and raising bees in topbar hives in particular.

Les Crowder

His is a chemical-free operation; he uses no antibiotics or insecticides.  After some basic history ( Egyptians raised bees in tubes on barges and moved them along the Nile throughout the year as conditions changed), and general bee biology ( the male drones are produced when the queen lays an unfertilized egg….it has no father), Les gave us an overview of raising bees in topbar hives: placement of the hive in the yard, bee sting prevention, swarm prevention, the role of the queen in the hive, and basically how to keep the bees happy and healthy. After a quick lunch we began our hands-on training. First order of the afternoon was to put on a protective veil.

Suiting up

Bees will sting when they feel threatened…so the idea is to keep calm, move slowly and be aware of their behavior. Light clothing is recommended ( dark, fuzzy pants/shirts remind them of predators…as will hair) and a veil will keep them out of your hair, eyes, nose, mouth…places where a bee’s sting would have the greatest effect at deterring a potential threat to the colony.  A bee’s stinger is barbed and when she stings, part of her abdomen rips off with the stinger and she will die. She is not going to use that defense mechanism lightly, so the best way to avoid being stung is to keep them calm and let them go about doing their bee business. The next step is to fire up the smoker, using dried cow manure and pine needles.

Heather lighting the smoker

Smoking the entrance of the beehive basically distracts the bees; the smell of smoke makes them think a fire is nearby…they rush to the cells to load up on honey in case they need to flee. We then set out to the hives.  A gentle smoking at the entrance and we were ready to go.

Smoking the hive

Watching Heather gently pry out a topbar with comb, hold it up to check for the queen, drone, brood, nectar, and pollen cells I was fascinated by the tranquility of the process. Her motions were so smooth and calming….very Zen-like. We followed her example, each of us picking up one comb after another and replacing it in the hive.

Examining the comb

I never thought working with bees would be so meditative. She explained to us that if we move slowly, bees will hardly notice, and it became obvious the more we were around them. We could hear the changes in the sound of the hive if they became agitated and then covered them back up…. even bees have a limit as to how much we could disturb them! It was such an illuminating experience….thank you Les and Heather.  Our second lesson will be next week, where we will learn summer hive maintenance. Can’t wait!  You can read more about them at their website, For the Love of Bees.

When I returned home I realized that I better get my hive finished, as bees will be swarmng soon, and I want to get a local swarm to start off my first hive.  The opening on the side of the hive will be for an observation window, so I can see the bees in action without taking off the top and removing the combs. I need to finish the “roof”, add legs to the hive, attach the observation door, and paint the outside. Soon!

My topbar hive

My topbar hive with "roof"

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