Tag Archives: back yard hive

Actress Ellen Page talks about the importance of honey bees!

Actress Ellen Page talks about the importance of honey bees.


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Journaling about your hive

Journaling about your hives is a great way to take note of how the hive is doing and a good way to keep track of things that need to be done with the hive as well as a fun way to refer back to what the hive was like during different stages and over several years.

For me, I always think that I’ll remember everything that goes on with the hives but when I don’t journal about it, I sometimes forget those little important details about the hive and then 3 months down the road I notice the hive is doing exceptionally well or maybe they’re not doing as well as they were the year before, than I can refer back to the journal as to weather patterns, what the hive is doing, how the bees seem, what I did with the hive in the past year, etc. It definitely comes in handy and is very informational to be able to refer to each time when going into your hive/s.

I also like to take pictures of the hive through the window before and after going into the hive as another way of observing the bees and overall hive view. Hive journals definitely become very fun and interesting scrapbooks years down the road as well!

Here is a list of some things to include in you bee journal:

~Date bees where placed in the hive (or year of the hive)                                                             ~Overall temperament of the hive and where the bees came from: local swarm, package of bees, nuc, etc. (Include as much information as possible about where the bees came from including hive type and age of hive)
~Date of first pollen coming in and the source if known
~Date of first dandelions blooming

More things to keep in mind and journal about each time visiting your hive:

~ Date, weather, temperature, time of the day, overall mood of bees, clenliness of landing board, drone population and any other observations you notice.

~If opening the hive, it’s helpful to also include reason for opening hive and your observations while working the hive, what you accomplished or hoped to accomplish, note anything that needs to be done in the hive, prospective date and check it off when completed. Any observations about your hive or the local environment and weather.

~ It’s always fun to take before and after pictures as well as photos through the window at different times of year and stages of the hive.


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To use smoke or not to use smoke….


I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about honeybees lately and it makes me wonder about when beekeepers use smoke and the effect it has on the entire hive. We top bar people have it really easy in the way that smoke isn’t at all necessary to use because only one or two combs are exposed at a time in the hive so we’re only aggravating about 1/8th of the bees in the hive at a time and as we file through to the next comb, the last one is closed with the previous one again. It’s a great system in so many ways and for me it’s easy to say “oh, smoke isn’t necessary!” “why stress them out more by causing a fake fire for them and wasting all of that energy they put forth to evacuate and gorge honey when it could be used for cleaning the hive, dealing with pests and collecting food?””Smoke messes up all of the hive’s pheromone sent and ways for communication… it’s hard to get the smell of smoke out of things after being around a campfire and so on… imagine how much smoke residue would be in a hive if it’s been smoked every week for even just one year!”

While I do agree completely with all of the reasons and questions I ask for not using smoke, maybe I’m missing some crucial point about why Langstroth hive users and especially commercial beekeepers tend to use smoke. It could be that the Langstroth hive is designed for speed and to work the hive by quickly being able to take out frames and both because of this and that taking off the lid exposes so much of the hive. Even the organic beekeepers who use langstroth hives use smoke! I wonder what the theory is behind it because it seems so unnatural and rude to just smoke the bees out so blatantly. It could be too that the smoker is a bit of an emblem for the beekeeper and as Corwin has mentioned, maybe we need a new one. Perhaps the artistic hive tool or a grass brush… Any ideas??


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Harvesting Honey with Karen

The other day Karen and I got up bright and early and met at 8:00 am in Eldo. to harvest honey from a totally full and very large custom built hive. We met early  to beat the heat but at 8:00 am it was already 75°. Whew! We could tell it was going to be a hot one that day!  As we opened the hive we realized they had built all the way to the back of the hive and were actually attaching to the false-back of the hive. We came just in the nick of time. What a vibrant colony of bees!!

As we worked through the hive, the bees stayed pretty mellow despite the heat.  While working in an efficient yet calm manner, we were able to successfully harvest a few bars of honeycomb with very little stress or agitation to the bees.

We had a large clean metal pot with a lid to place the clean comb into that we wanted to harvest, a crate for resting bars with bees on them to give us extra space while working in the hive (we would put these combs back into the hive when we closed it up) and a few empty bars and spacers. After herding the bees off of the false-back with the hive tool (slowly moving the flat side of the hive tool over the comb and into the hive), we cut off the attachment comb into our metal pot making sure to scrape off any pattern they  created from the comb on it so they won’t have an incentive to build comb on the false-back in future. Then, we went through the hive as if going through a filing cabinet, detaching the brace comb and inspecting the honeycombs for harvesting.

After setting the first few (smaller) combs in the crate to give us space to work in the hive, we got to the first fully built comb with about 80% capped honey. We decided to leave this one in the hive and go back to it later if we decided to harvest it. It was such a perfect comb that we thought it might be good to leave for the bees because of how straight it was. This turned out to be a good call because as we suspected from looking in the window of the hive, the combs started to get a bit wonky and not necessarily straight on the bar. This hive has the older style top bars with only a small notch in the wood as a guide for the bees to build their comb and many of the hives with these bars (rather than the triangle bars) didn’t stick to the part of the bars we would have like for them to build on. They built their combs across several bars making it harder for us to work in the hive without braking any comb as we worked. The triangle bars solve this problem by giving the bees a very clear indicator as to where the best place would be to build their comb. We worked our way through a few more bars bit by bit and chunks at a time to prevent any of the crossed comb falling into the hive. The comb was getting a bit melty at that point because of the heat. We knew we should finish up fairly quickly.

As we continued to work through the hive, we ended up harvesting quite a few of these little honeycomb sections, making sure to scrape off the old (crooked) pattern on the bars. When we started to see brood and the temperature kept climbing, we decided it was time to close up the hive and to put the combs we didn’t harvest back into the hive making sure to keep the combs in the correct order they were in the hive and the same orientation (front-back facing) they were in before we took them out. We harvested the equivalent of 4 top bars from a custom size hive similar to the golden mean hive but longer.

As we closed up the hive, we replaced the 4 bars we harvested with 3 empty tri-angle bars near the outskirts of the brood nest and 1 in the very back leaving all the other comb with bees on them near the same place they were in the hive originally. We also added spacers in between all of the honeycomb bars in the hive to help them keep in line with their natural “bee space” (1.38ths for brood and 1.58ths for honey).

Hopefully these bees will start building straight comb on the new triangle bars and have a great rest of the summer season.

Karen and I brought up the pot filled with honeycomb and crushed what we weren’t using for comb honey with our clean hands feeling a bit like wine makers as the comb and honey squished through our sticky fingers (what a treat licking our hands was afterword. Yummy!). We then poured the mashed up honeycomb into a strainer secured over the top of another stainless steel pot with the lid over it so the honey could strain down into the pot without attracting more bees.

We were both totally sweaty and hot by that time as it was nearing 11:00 am and with a mutual unspoken need to get cool, we jumped in the river (ah, the cool relief) before venturing forth to the next honeybee endeavour of the day!

(Written and photos by Claire Anderson)


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Difficult Decisions: Honeybees and Humans


This is a story Una Morera wrote about her recent trip to Mexico, difficult decisions and her encounters with honeybees and humans in Tecate, Baja California, Mexico.         Enjoy!   Claire


At times we are asked to reflect about the qualities we like about ourselves.  We come up with list in our head, we look in the mirror at ourselves, we contemplate on our meditation cushions, or we discover it in a meaningful conversation with someone we barely know or someone we know really well.  One of qualities I really like about myself is my ability to love and care for honeybees.  It’s a deep concern and profound love I have for these amazing insects.  I am always in awe when I meet others who share this love, or at the very least, this respect.  Currently, my boyfriend and I are the proud guardians of two top bar hives.  These hives not only provide us with honey but also relaxation, curiosity and the kind of pride that happens when you know you are doing something right.  We both feel that it’s improper to try and make money from the honey or even mess with the honeybee’s way of life.  We take a truly hands-off approach. Continue reading

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How to Treat a Bee Sting

While working with honeybees there is always the rare occasion of getting stung. Being stung can be very healing for the body and it is also important to know how to treat stings to minimize pain and swelling for you or the people around you. Continue reading

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Honey Drinks on a Summer day

From Hives to Honey, Wax and Larva

By  Claire Anderson

Claire going into hive

Last summer I found myself on an unexpected bee adventure in a little town called Eldorado Springs, CO. Corwin, Lacey and I were working on some hives doing the Bear-snack-put-back to help a homeostasis hive reclaim its energy and vitality. The idea was to remove some combs of honey and brood as if the hive had been attacked by a bear, in order to try and revitalize the energy in the hive. (The concept is based on observations made by Corwin and Karen of another hive that was in fact attacked by a bear.)

This hive in particular hadn’t done any building for a month or so and the bees had a generally low level of energy so Corwin thought that this might help them reclaim it. If absolutely needed, we could put some combs back later in the fall. We knew the hive wasn’t queen-less or being robbed because we saw newly laid eggs and the general feeling of the bees as we opened it up was that of them protecting their home.

We opened the hive and moved from back to front through the combs observing the bees. I love the smell of a just opened hive. It smells sweet and earthy with a delicate aroma that I can’t quite pinpoint. We paid attention to the honey stores (what combs were full and which were still in progress), where the brood nest started, how many combs of brood there were and if they looked healthy. We were also keeping mental notes of which combs we wanted to take out based on the combs surrounding them, and the amount of brood combs as well as honey stores.

Uncapped Honeycomb

Corwin and Claire with honeycomb

After leafing through the rest of the hive, making our final decision and removing the chosen combs (a combination of brood, pollen, nectar and honey), Corwin and I walked back up the hill to his house where we squished the combs of honey into a pudding-like pulp and strained it through netting into a large pot sitting in the sun. I extracted the pollen through the cells and put it into a little glass dish while Corwin found some royal jelly in one of the young brood combs. I now know it is royal jelly; the nutrient-rich substance made especially for the queen and young larva. It is a sort of honey bee colostrum.

Next we processed the combs of brood. It was a bit sad to see the chalk white newborn bees emerge from their cells outside of the hive and all alone. Luckily there weren’t too many of them. Before cleaning and processing the wax, we took a little break. Corwin set up the crock pot on newspaper and filled it with water to boil while I, using only hot water, rinsed the dishes that we used to process the honey. I saved the honey-flavored water and Corwin added ginger and lemon, creating a wonderfully refreshing drink. Karen joined us and we sat talking of bees and sipping this delightful concoction. As the water boiled in the crock pot, we started adding the leftover and brood wax to clean it in the water and then later strain the large pieces out creating bee patties which got added to the compost. At one point the conversation turned to the unborn brood bees and in some way or another I found myself looking at a brood comb with Karen and choosing which ones to eat. Eeaakkk…. did I say eat? I totally wouldn’t have been brave enough to try one if it wasn’t for Karen! But I bit my tongue and did it.  I am happy I tried it though! This bee was going to die anyway and at least it became nutrition. I wouldn’t eat too many of them but it’s one of those things -like octopus- that I’m weirdly glad that I’ve tried. Maybe I’ll think about eating brood again when the world turns dry and all that is left are me and the honey bees. Somehow though, I think that story would be reversed. I’m not too sure that the world could dry up as long as honey bees are alive and working their magic on this beautiful earth.

Circle of Comb Full Golden Mean Comb

As I headed home that evening, I remember thinking about just how wonderful my life is and how lucky I am to get to spend a whole day out in wild nature with honey bees, sharing it with wonderfully inspiring, uplifting and thought-provoking people! How lucky am I really!?!

Lemon Balm hive '08

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