Monday, May 16, 2011

Thinking of Bees- Part two

I have spent more than a little time thinking about my next hive.

My first hive has been so fun and interesting that I just couldn't stop at one. Another reason I wanted a second hive is that there are several ways to use two hives to help each other. For instance, if you lose the queen in one hive, you can transfer a comb of brood from the healthy hive to the queenless hive and since the only difference between the formation of a worker or a queen is the specialized food the workers feed the larva, the workers will raise a new queen for themselves from the comb.

But more than anything I wanted to correct some of my mistakes I made with my first hive.

The main issue with hive #1 is that the bees began building their comb crooked, which makes it very difficult to check on the inner workings of the hive if the bars are glued together. To pull a bar up causes such major disruption it is not worth the damage. Only time will tell if hive #1 will be fine without my meddling. In theory they will, but Honey bees
are not "wild", they are not native to this continent. They are European and they are essentially a domestic animal and need to be tended to some degree.
It may be for several reasons that hive #1 started the crooked comb, but the main ones that I can do something about are making sure the bars are constructed in such a way that they guide the bees to build them straight and to keep an eye on them in the early building stages to bend their comb straight and get the pattern started right.

So first on the list was making better bars. After much research I have decided to just do my own experiments. There are so many opinions out there that I have decided to just do what makes sense to me.
So this is the bar I have developed. Time will tell. I have, since these photos
, already modified it so I would not recommend anyone following my directions but rather just following my posts to see how it turns out. In a month or two I will have some real results to look at and then I will post my successes and failures and maybe a real pattern.

Before I cut my top bars I needed to trim the 1x2's down to make them 1 3/8" wide.

I don't have a picture of it, but I then ran the trimmed 8' 1 3/8"s through my table saw with the blade adjusted to only cut a 1/4" groove down the center to put my comb guide into later.

I made a 17" bar pattern and then proceeded to make 40 bars. I make extra so when I change out combs I will have extra bars to replace them with.

I marked and cut 1/2" wide 15" long strips of corrugated cardboard to use as comb guides. I have since tried a couple of these bars in Hive #1 and found the bees were chewing the cardboard strips down to 1/4" then building on them. I trimmed the rest down to that size yesterday.

I cleaned the grooves on the bars so the cardboard would slide in better

Then I put three spots of wood glue

pinched down one edge of the cardboard

And slid it into the slot
As you can see I am wearing my fancy coat for this project

Then I snipped the corners off so they would fit the slanted sides of the top bar hive
When the glue was dry I painted the cardboard with melted bees wax
As an added experiment I "seeded" a couple bars with comb from hive #1. We'll see how that goes.

Now for the hive body construction:

It's the easy part since the bees really are only very particular about the bars. Here is the template I used to screw the boards to AND make follower boards, so I cut 5 of these. I used old scrap 1/2" plywood.

I used 48" 2x6 stock and a 1x2 for each side. this made several things easier. I didn't have to purchase expensive 1x12"stock and there was no gluing needed and it made the hive body nice and heavy which is very good for our windy, bear occupied homestead. The cool thing about top bar hives is you never have to lift them again. I used screws for everything. I had a couple nail failures on hive #1 and let me tell you, it will really put your deodorant to the test when your hive starts to fall apart during a hive inspection!
This is the bottom of the hive body. It has the winter board in place in this picture. under the white board is metal screen door screening for summer ventilation and mite reduction (the mites fall through and can't get back up).
Looking inside the hive body

I used heavy 1/2" bolts to put the legs on. You only get one chance to do it right. Who wants to be using power tools on a hive full of bees?

This is the roof I made of scraps. The main idea with my roof design is that the roof has a nice overhang both front and back and tips sharply to the back, directing the rain and snow melt away from the entrance and dropping the water far away from the back. Just one rain drop can knock a bee out of the air and doom her to death in the grass (bees can't move if they are cold). Imagine those poor bees trying to get in their hive with a sheet of water to go through first (I have seen hives for sale that had a little "house" style roof on them!)
My design also has a nice "attic" space to put insulation in in the winter. The roof is missing its back board in this picture so you can see the frame better. I used scrap cedar siding to cover the front and back.

You'll notice the z flashing on the edge of the roof. That is to keep any rain that may be driven under the tin by wind, out of the hive.
Follower boards are basically room dividers for top bar hives. With them, you can expand and contract the size of the hive according to your needs. I made 3 follower boards, one of them is slightly shorter on the bottom to leave room for a step/ entrance feeder. When I am not using the feeder I will replace the short follower with the longer one. Keeping a hive tight and crack free is very important. Many of the pests in hives come through cracks and unguarded entrances.
Here is a picture of the screen on the bottom and the little twist boards I screwed onto the edges to hold on the winter board
Finished hive upside down with winter board on

The hook and eye on each end was another improvement.  I did this so I wouldn't have to put a heavy rock on top to keep the roof from blowing off.
Buck was a good sport and trimmed dead limbs (while it rained and rained) out of the maple tree I wanted to place the hive under. An ounce of prevention...

I put more entrance holes in this one since it is 10" longer but also because I noticed that the bees in hive #1 get very congested in the heavy nectar flow season with just 3 holes. I will plug the unused holes with wine bottle corks. I also put the holes as close as possible to the screened floor since I have watched the poor bees in hive #1 struggling to get the dead bees and debris up to the holes. You really want the bees to keep the hive clean, so why not make their job easier?
I also added a landing board since I have noticed that hive #1 bees spend a great deal of time and energy falling and colliding at the doors. I also made a point of facing the hive away from the prevailing wind and that just happens to be North. And that addresses one of my, admittedly, loony sounding theories- that hive #1 is building their comb North to South. We'll see.

If you have read this far and you would like more details (hooray for bees) I have started a sub blog for the bees so I don't bore the pants off everyone else. It's Homesteader Bees. I will be putting more bee details and observation on that blog, instead of here. I am also planning a forum capability for Homesteader Bees in the future so we can share our experiences and all benefit.


  1. Well, Phoebe, you're making me think now. My dad kept bees when we were kids, and I remember building frames, wiring them, and putting in the wax foundations. Your hives look so very different than the square boxes we used to have. I guess I'll be visiting Homesteader Bees to find out why! I'm toying with the idea of taking up beekeeping as well, it's just too bad my dad sold all his equipment, so I'll be starting at square one. Add that to the long list of future projects...

  2. I really hope we can find another wild swarm this year. We were really disappointed last year when the swarm we caught ditched us.

    Hope the new design goes well!

  3. Shim Farm, I know what you mean. I helped my grandfather with his hives when I was little and it was very different working with the Langstroth hives. Top bars are so much cheaper to build and maintain. They are also easier to open and peek into. The bees don't get all excited like a Lang hive will. (Look at my last post on homesteader bees for pics.)You won't get as much honey from a top bar but the bonus is that you harvest both honey and wax. Lovely fresh and clean wax which I can use for all sorts of things.It's really fun and does not take much time to have bees, it's just a little time at the right times.
    Robin, I thought of you guys when I caught the second swarm. Have you looked into the swarm list?

  4. I know this is an old post, but I would suggest wedging popsicle sticks in your grooves instead of cardboard.

  5. Thanks Big D, I think that is a great idea. I did not use wood in this experiment because I wanted to keep the process flexible. You might notice that I had to trim them down to 1/4" early in the experiment because the bees were voicing their disapproval by chewing the cardboard down to 1/4" and then building on it. This is a piece of information I would never have had if I had built the comb guides out of wood (they can't chew down wood). I then used a box knife at the hive to trim all the bars down. In the end the cardboard worked fine because the bees built their combs well up around the cardboard and did not depend on it for structural support. They merely took it as a suggested trajectory for straight comb.I have a post on Homesteader Bees which shows the resulting straight comb on hive #2.
    In the future, when I am very sure of the bar design, I plan to use wood and popsicle sticks just may work.


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