Bees

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I, with one of my housemates (Jack), have recently set up two honeybee hives in our backyard.

Background

While non-native to the western hemisphere, the European Dark Bee (Apis mellifera mellifera) pollinates a huge portion of our fruits and vegetables, and are generally cool creatures. They operate basically as a hive mind, centered around the queen-who secretes pheromones which keep the whole hive synchronized.

Beekeeping, from everything I’ve learned so far, seems to be equal parts art and science. Everyone’s got different opinions, everyone has success stories with their particular technique, etc. 

I’d like to use this blog to chronicle some of our developments with our hives.

What we’ve got

2 Langstroth hives, each composed of
4 medium-depth boxes, each with
10 foundationless, wedged top-bar frames, ie.
80 frames total. Additionally ordered 
20 wired wax foundation frames
Leaving 10 foundation frames per hive, or 3 per box.

I like the idea of foundationless frames, but the main drawback is that without any guide, the bees have a strong chance to not build comb along the centerline of the frame… remedies are manual intervention, straightening out the comb using a hive tool and your hand before it gets too big, or cutting off the misaligned portions entirely.

IMG_4424Also learned that the bees do what the bees want to do. You can’t really force bees to do what you want them to. Bees are a force of nature.

But bees do tend to continue to build straight comb once they’ve got other straight comb built. So the few evenly interspersed frames with wax foundations should help guide the bees and it should all work out.

I ordered the two packages from the Ballard Bee Company, one Italians and one Carniolans.

Status

The two hives are next to each other in the backyard, in the corner made by the side fence and one wall of the shed. The hive on the left is inhabited by the Italians and the one on the right by the Carniolans. There are a few differences between the races: Italian bees are supposed to be more likely to rob other (especially weaker) hives, Carniolans are known for rapid growth of colony size and a slightly increased propensity to swarm (as a result of rapid growth). They’re both some of the most gentle and non-territorial races of honeybees. They are slightly different in appearance, supposedly; I am thus far unable to tell the difference.

Putting the two different races next to each other shouldn’t be a problem. There can be a tendency of bees to drift from one hive to another if one is particularly strong, but that shouldn’t happen at least initially. And as a plus, if one hive starts struggling as we enter wintertime we can donate brood and honey frames from one hive to the other (even mixing races of bees living in a given hive isn’t a problem as long as there’s only 1 queen).

We got the bees on the 15th of April, so as of my writing this we are are 5 days in. I checked on the bees this morning and saw that they had been drawing out comb nicely on both types of frame.

Currently the hives are 3 boxes high in frames, with the 4th box empty. It’s providing a nice top area for putting the ziplock bag feeders.

The bees seem to be ignoring the lowermost box and favoring the 2nd and 3rd boxes (on both hives).

Goals

  • I’m slowly working towards working without gloves. Partially because then I could use my phone camera and take more pictures of everything.
  • Producing a good batch of honey for our first year
  • Possibly setting up a stall some Saturday at Pike Market and selling our homemade honey (at huge markup)
  • Learning more about bees.
  • Get stung. Likely many times.

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