Sunday, July 19, 2009

Harvesting our first super of honey

Today we removed our first super of honey!
About a month ago, Keith and I supered two of our Langstroth hives. We chose to put the empty super above the brood chamber, but below the other super of drawn honey comb.

Early in the spring the bee's we having trouble building on the comb without foundation, but Keith and I have chosen not to use foundation in our hives; in fact we are going to be phasing out our Langstroth hives and switch completely to top bar hives that are either Tanzanian or Kenyan top bar hives. In the meantime we chose to let the bee's continue on their way and draw out the comb. However with the progress that they have made, we decided to super them earlier than planned. With that progress that has led us to take the plunge, and harvest our first super of honey! Keith and I took the comb out carefully so we could harvest as much cut comb as possible. We took it home today (in our filled five gallon bucket!!) to crush the comb and extract the honey. We filled lots of lovely mason jars, various sizes and with both cut comb and strained honey, and are ready for the purchasing!

I must admit that it was simply thrilling to harvest our first honey super! It was so exciting to see all of that drawn and capped honey, and the variety of color! There was golden straw colored honey down to deep, almost molasses colored! The taste is magnificent! It's so floral, yet light, I don't want to brag, but I think our bee's have created the world's best honey! Plus, it's medication free. Many conventional commercial beekeepers choose to medicate as a preventative measure, but I, first of all, do not find it necessary to medicate something that is not sick, and secondly, to put an unnatural chemical onto a natural, agricultural, process that has been around for million's of year seems to me, pretentious. Hooray for honey! Save the honeybee!

I must also mention I have entered a new chapter in beekeeping by re-queening our first hive! Keith and I had noticed that we had a very creative, yet slightly unproductive, colony. We have a few pictures of the intricate comb they established, but that along with a heavy drone pattern (a lot of male bee's, which are not a integral part of the hive's survival) it is a sign that the hive should be re-queened to insure the entire colony isn't lost in the cold of winter. So far the progress has been promising, I think it has helped and we didn't even feel too guilty squashing the queen; but a little guilty, I must admit! Off to dream of sweet honey and saving our lovely honeybee!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Top Bar Beekeeping and the Nucleus Hives: To combine or not to combine?

So as mid-summer approaches, we find ourselves thinking about winter, and over-wintering our bee's. It also has us considering what path we want to take as beekeeper's. Are we in it for commercial production?For manipulating for maximum honey production? Or do we want natural, productive, happy and disease free bee's? Yes, the answer was that simple for us too. It's just a matter of making use of all the materials we have invested in. Not to say that every beekeeper out there is a commercial beekeeper that trucks hives cross country to pollinate and produce maximum stores of honey; but if you're a beekeeper that only practices beekeeping using the conventional methods, then aren't you really just participating in their weathered ways of beekeeping?

Beekeeping started out as a hobby, but the more we've read, researched, and learned, the old ways of beekeeping could be what is making our bee's sick in the first place. We've now dedicated ourselves to the research of honeybee behavior, and how we're manipulating the bee's, and ultimately extinguishing their population with our practices.

We have 12 colonies (13 if you count the hive that we sold!) four top bar hives, and eight Langstroth hives.

The hive we sold was also a top bar hive, we now have a new design that is easier to construct, has a bigger observation window on the side and is much lighter! Though the top bar hives are not as portable as the Langstroth hives, when you think about it, beehives do not need to be portable.

The great benefit of using the top bar hive is that it is self-contained. A standard Deep Super (Langstroth box) holds 10 frames and measures roughly 9 5/8 inches deep. On average, a strong colony will have two of those deep boxes for brood, or baby bee's. On top of that, a first year beekeeper could figure to have three supers of honey stores. The honey supers are more shallow than the brood boxes, measuring about 6 inches deep, but are still the standard ten frame hive. Within each of those frames is a stamped piece of wax foundation. You will also need a coil of wire to crimp into the foundation to hold it into place (meaning you need a foundation crimper as well.)

Using standard Langstroth hives, you must have this equipment on hand, but you cannot store the un-used equipment on the hive. The bee's are designed to fill the space they are provided with, but to do so at too quickly a rate overworks the bee's and stresses them out. The stress causes them to gorge on more of their stores; to have to consume more food to work harder to either heat more space or work twice as fast to establish that space. So the material must be stored appropriately elsewhere.

The foundation also poses another problem. It conforms the cell size to one universal size. This is easy for the beekeeper, but detrimental to the bee's. If that particular genus of bee is smaller than the cell size, then the excess space is left open to disease, mites, and bacteria. If that particular bee's genus produces larger bee's than the cell size given, the bee's are forced to develop sub-standard brood and thus rendering some of the population developmentally delayed, or even mentally retarded. Over time the constriction of the cell size will gradually de-evolve the bee, and they will begin to show deficiencies that they could previously stave off. Does that sound like foundation is the way to go? That's like saying that once size fits all, for everyone, even if you are a colony, a million bee's strong.

Though Keith and I have decided we definitely want to continue using our top bar hive system instead of the Langstroth hives, we have two weak Langstroth Nucleus hives we got in the spring, late May, that have stopped progressing, and we aren't sure the next step we should take. They are in the standard Langstroth hive body, but they are a hybrid hive of both Langstroth frames and top bar frames (The pictures at the top of the blog are of an enclosed standard frame, and that of a top bar.) we cannot decide what we need to do with them to get them strong enough to over-winter? We are considering re-queening the colony, by buying a new, mated, queen and installing her into the hive after removing and killing the defective queen. We are considering combining the two weak hives into a top bar hive and letting the superior queen kill the weak queen, and use the strength of the bee's combined to take splits in the spring and possibly get two or three colonies out of it. We are also considering a method we have never practiced: Two queen colonies. We sat in on a seminar about it at a beekeeping convention this winter, but we aren't sure they are strong enough to be that productive. One queen may gain dominance and kill the other queen, in which case we would still hopefully end up with one decent colony.
The deadline to re-queen a colony in time for them to build up adequate stores for winter is August 1st. So I will surely let you know the status of our dilemma!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The White House gets Beehives

You can even see the White House in the background! I think this is truly a breakthrough for the agricultural world! Honey bee's are responsible for every third bite of food that we consume, yet not even every third person knows this fact. I think it says tremendous things about what this President wants to convey during his term with his actions and I couldn't be more pleased! Regardless of the social and political views, it is the actions they take that will truly be there Presidential legacy. I cannot say I have agreed with everything President Obama has done thus far in office, or will do throughout his term, but I will tell you this: It gives me pride in our president to know that they are a family, with a backyard garden, a swing set, and most importantly, a beehive! The White Hose kitchen isn't the only thing to benefit. The Obama's will enjoy bountiful harvests from their vegetable garden with increased pollination, as well as an eight mile radius around the White House! Not only will you get a direct benefit of having bee's but the indirect benefits to you and to your neighbours should be more than enough to convince you! Michelle Obama is the first First Lady to plant a vegetable garden since Eleanore Roosevelt did after World War II, which she called her "Victory Garden." I certainly don't think we need to be involved in a war for our President and his family to see that we've lost value in the fact that we used to be an agriculture and farming land. Mass agriculture poses threats to humans as well as to our honeybee's, so why not consider alternatives? The alternative is something as simple as picking up a shovel and sowing some seeds!!

Monday, July 6, 2009

We've sold our first Top Bar Hive

We currently use four top-bar hives. We also have standard Langstroth hives with top bars in them in place of standard frames. We've found that we've had tremendous success and progress with our top bar hives thus far into the season. There are typically two honey flows in a given year. We have finished our first honey flow season, so now it's a wait and see with how well these top bars have progressed. We got up early and made our way out to Dearborn to meet our first clients that bought an observation top bar hive, which has a 4 in. x 15 in window in the side for easy viewing pleasure, and we put one of the feral swarms in the hive body! It's so thrilling to see our first business transaction go so smoothly!! Save the honey bee's! We'll post some pictures soon of the progress our hives have made so far, and a picture of our top bar hive that we hope to manufacture and begin selling on the market and at conference's! Lots of people looking for information and we're just dying to get our name out there!!