It’s hard to believe it’s been more than two months since the last blog post! The bee season is quickly coming to a close and I feel like I’ve got so many tasks left to complete! It’s been a summer full of swarms, trap outs, honey processing, beekeeping events and some massive steps forward with our product line in preparation for 2011. Over the next week I’ll be discussing all of these topics in detail.
Swarms: This year we had a long list of customers interested in populating their top bar hives and Warre hives with natural swarms rather than packages or nucleus colonies. After a chaotic spring and summer catching swarms and doing our best to coordinate pickup with customers, we are investigating simpler methods to provide honey bees to the foundationless beekeeping community. This may include a combination of top bar and Warre nucleus colonies from our own apiary as well as swarms to supplement.
Early this Spring I built around 20 top bar hive nucleus boxes, which are essentially 7 bar top bar hives with two entrance holes that can be closed with corks. They have the same internal dimensions as our full-size top bar hives, making for easy transfers for our customers (and for me!). They are the perfect size to throw in the trunk of your car or in your back seat, as swarms generally choose the least convenient times to make themselves known. As I would catch a swarm, I’d take it home and line it up next to a half dozen others awaiting pickup by customers, or to use for requeening or supplementing our own colonies.
Here are the nucs lined up in our back yard:
Working full-time in another career, running the beekeeping supply business, continuing education and attempting to be a good husband and dog owner makes time hard to come by. With so many swarm calls this season (at least 100), I became relatively picky about the swarms in order to increase efficiency. If the swarm was too far out of the way, or required more than a step ladder to catch, I generally passed the swarms off to more eager, less picky beekeepers and I’m glad I did!
Here are some photos of our Warre hives that a swarmed from neighboring colonies and decided the roofs were good resting places:
Populating a top bar nucleus colony with a swarm:
A very large swarm hanging from multiple branches of a tree:
Lastly, here’s a video of a swarm leaving one of our Warre hives earlier this year:
What a start to the year these first five months have been! After a Winter of building top bar hives and Warre hives in our small shop and getting our store ready for Spring, never in our wildest dreams could we have been prepared for the outpouring of orders and support we’d receive from our friends, family and customers.
By December I was just barely staying caught up with orders, building hives in my shop for hours after coming home from the office. January made it clear that we needed help, and by February we finally got our wood supplier involved in the construction process. In March, however, the floodgates opened, and we found ourselves with dozens of orders outstanding at any given time. Thankfully our customers have been overwhelmingly understanding of our situation, and we were largely able to get everyone their hives in time for the arrival of their bees.
The last two months have been spent streamlining our construction, order and shipment processes, as well as improving the quality of our products. Today violin maker David Rivinus is part of our team, helping us to design new products and improve on their functional and aesthetic quality. Additionally, beginning in late June, all of our top bar hives and Warre hives and components will be precision crafted at a local mill here in Portland, Oregon. All of our hives will continue to be constructed from locally harvested FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) or salvaged Western Red Cedar.
All of our top bar hives and Warre hives will now be constructed using 7/8″-1″ Western Red Cedar using all screw construction and dado/rabbet joints, making for much sturdier and longer lasting products than most of our competitors offer. We have hired a professional photographer to update all of our product photos to reflect the new design of our hives. Stay tuned for the updates.
Due to all of these positive changes, we are excited to be able to offer the highest quality, competitively priced top bar hives, Warre hives and accessories in the world. In addition, we will have enough hives in stock at any given time to ship them within 3 days after your order. With hive construction taking place at our mill, we will be able to focus our efforts on innovating and adding new products to out top bar and Warre hive lineup in preparation for the holiday season and the rush of activity during the Spring 2011 beekeeping season.
Today we have shipped top bar hives and Warre hives to 38 states, Canada and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. We cannot thank our customers enough for supporting us as we strive to provide the highest quality products and customers service to the world’s foundationless top bar hive and Warre hive beekeeping community!
After an early, extreme spring warm up, the past few weeks have been very cold and wet. We even covered our tomatoes last night just in case. We have worried, hoping the bees would have enough honey reserves for the extended chill. So far, all seem well enough.
In March Matt had the opportunity to take part in Gunther Hauk’s beekeeping conference at the Portland Waldorf School. We provided the bees at the event in our most thriving Warre hive as seen in the picture below:
The unseasonable warmth last month had Matt out catching swarms regularly, 11 or so in total, but we haven’t seen any more or had a call in a couple weeks. We did manage to repopulate some empty hives and get swarms to the first few customers that have ordered from us. (For those who are unaware, we provide swarms to customers as we are able – this is especially helpful for those using Warre and Top Bar Hives!)
We expected that hive orders would pick up in spring, but we never expected how many we would receive! We feel very blessed by all of our customers and folks that have attended our classes and appreciated our products and offerings. In order to fulfill all of our orders we found need to further streamline our production and have recently partnered with David Rivinus of Rivinus Violins, who has kindly offered his epic artistry and stunning craftsmanship to our hives. We continue to maintain the quality of our hives, and with an eye to the future and with David’s innovative ideas, we have new plans in store for Top Bar and Warre beekeeping.
While it’s been a few months, we thought it would be appropriate to announce on the blog that we have a new more aesthetically pleasing and function leg design on our horizontal top bar hives. Check it out:
While we diligently work to get caught up on outstanding top bar and Warre orders, we want you all to be aware that we also offer hive tools, accessories and protective equipment, making us your one-stop shop for foundationless beekeeping supplies! In addition, we are now one of the first suppliers (if not the first) to offer Abbe Warre’s book “Beekeeping for All,” in print form. Please contact us if you would like to purchase it immediately, or It will be available on our website in the near future.
Next week my dear sister and brother in law will be here, visiting from Texas and we are so excited; January through April has been non-stop busyness. We are exhausted, and ready for the bees to sort themselves out for the summer.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there, and to the dear queens of the hives!
Jill (and Matt)
Spring! Too early. At least two weeks too early as evidenced by the bustle of the bees and the grape vines at my day job. Daffodils and Crocus are long since up, and the cherries are blooming actively… in February! We have seen pollen on many bee legs for the last three weeks. It will most certainly be an interesting growing season.
Early spring has found us cleaning out dead hives, checking on thriving ones, finally finishing our honey processing, and hosting basic bee keeping classes. I can’t believe I’m going to say it but, we actually could have used an extra two weeks of winter to catch our breath before bee season. However, here we are. Our dog, Polly, is completely happy with the early spring, as it means that not only does she get more time outside, but her feet need less wiping before she comes in!
We have our first retail honey customer! Immortal Pie & Larder in Portland, Oregon placed an order for twelve, eight-ounce jars of Bee Thinking honey. The order kept me busy conceiving of initial packaging, and sourcing jars. I am very happy with how it they turned out, as I came up with something eye catching. (I know our customers will be happy when the taste the delicious honey sourced from our hives, all located on organic sites and from foundationless hives. As you can see, I’m very proud of our bees, hives and honey!)
[readon1 url="http://immortalpie.blogspot.com"]Visit Immortal Pie and Larder[/readon1]
Matt has spent a lot of time building out the store portion of our website. In addition to Top Bar and Warre hives, we are now selling smokers, jackets, hive tools and other bee keeping basics making us a one stop shop for foundationless beekeeping supplies![readon1 url="/store"]Visit the Store[/readon1]
Despite the needs and activity of spring knocking on our doors, I know Matt and I could most certainly use a long, quiet, private and very relaxing vacation…
It’s the dead of winter here in the Pacific Northwest (Oak Grove, Oregon), and the bees are buckled down waiting eagerly for the arrival of spring 2010. On Tuesday there was a freak snowstorm that brought our city to a standstill, but the bees perservered in their Warre hives as well as their horizontal top bar hives. Here’s a picture of our backyard with two horizontal top bar hives, two Warre hives and the natural stump hive that is currently vacant.
Today my wife and I stopped by two Warre hives at Sokol Blosser Winery that we hadn’t visited for months.
The good news: The bees are alive and the hives are heavy.
The bad news: Both hives had mice take up residence in the bottom box.
Thankfully it was caught before the mice completely decimated the hives and I was able to remove the mice, their nests and the smelly mess they left. After that I added 1/4″ hardware cloth to the entrance to keep the mice from returning. Hopefully both hives will overcome.
The mouse nest:
We’ve had 3 hive orders in the past two days: a great start for the 2010 year at Bee Thinking, and we look forward to preparing hives for the Spring Rush. Again, if you are looking to get a horizontal top bar hive or Warre hive in 2010, please get your orders in soon!
Happy New Year!
As the 2009 year winds down we are working diligently to keep up with Horizontal Top bar Hive and Warre Hive orders. We anticipate the top bar hive orders of both styles will continue increasing as the 2010 beekeeping season draws near. We’ve got our suppliers lined up in preparation for an increase in production and while there have been a few hitches here and there, we believe we’re providing the best top bar hives for the price, produced from as many sustainably harvested and long-lasting materials as possible. But the question remains, what other top bar/foundationless supplies are our customers looking for, if any?
We’re considering a number of options, such as top bar nucleus boxes that will work interchangeably with our top bar hives; top bar observation hives for those who enjoy showing off their bees beautifully constructed comb to neighbors and other events. What are you looking for in a top bar beekeeping supplier? What products would you love to see readily available to the top bar beekeeping community? It is our goal to provide the best service, best products and source for all things related to top bar beekeeping, and without you we cannot do it.
Please respond to this post or use the following link to send us your comments, concerns or suggestions for the 2010 beekeeping season!
What a year! We’ve been so busy since July that we’ve had little spare time to update the blog.
Here’s a recap of the 2009 beekeeping season at Bee Thinking: In April this year we started 8 horizontal top bar hives and 12 Warre hives throughout the Portland area as well as at three wineries: Cameron, Sokol Blosser and Lachini. 20 packages and numerous swarms populated the hives, ultimately reaching a peak of around 25 hives.
Horizontal top bar hives: We kept all of our top bar hives close to our home in Oak Grove due to the frequent visits needed during the honey flow to keep them from becoming honey bound – 2 top bar hives in our yard, 4 at Eleanore’s, 3 at Carol’s. All of these hives were started from packages from Ruhl Bee Supply, who received them from a supplier in northern California.
We are aware of at least 3 swarms from the hives at Eleanore’s house – all, we believe, from Carniolan colonies. This is likely due to the increased sun exposure at that location and less frequent visits than recommended to keep the hives from becoming honey bound. Toward the end of the season we became aware of one of the Carniolan colonies that had absconded and subsequently removed that hive and are storing it in preparation for the coming season.
No known swarms from the top bar hives at Carol’s house – a beautiful orchard filled with bee-friendly plants. All of these colonies are Italians, which could make the difference. In addition, there is less sun exposure at this location.
In our yard we had our two largest colonies – comb built from one end to the other in the hive, almost entirely filled with brood and honey. Sadly, toward the end of the season we noticed that one of the colonies was getting decimated by Varroa, both from seeing the mites themselves, as well as numerous bees with deformed wings. In October the hive perished and we promptly got the honey before it was robbed out. One horizontal top bar hive remains in our yard and we are excited to see if it makes it to the 2010 season.
Warre Hives: In the beginning of the season we placed all but two of our Warre hives in wine country at the aforementioned wineries. These bees were purchased from Cedar Glen bees up in Washington – a company that has received a lot of bad press this year due to dozens of failed package deliveries. Thankfully, we received all of our Minnesota Hygienic and Buckfast bees alive and kicking. In fact, these are some of our strongest, most resilient hives it seems.
Within the first couple weeks we found that one of the Minnesota Hygienic colonies at Sokol Blosser Winery had absconded. This brought our total Warre hives to 10 (9 in wine country and 1 in Oak Grove). Overall we visited the wine country hives no more than 5-6 times during the season, largely leaving them alone per Abbe Warre’s command! We are unaware of any swarms, and care little either way.
We did have issues, as many throughout the world did this year, of bees unwilling to draw comb below the top box. This could be attributed to many factors, but it was a particularly bad honey year in the Pacific Northwest, and we plan to do nothing different next year with the surviving hives. We’ll add boxes at the start of the season as warranted and remove them at the end of the season. We’re hoping that the 2010 season will have better results.
Due to the burden of driving 45 miles to wine country, we decided to bring all of our Warre hives (except for the Sokol Blosser colonies) in from wine country and back to Oak Grove for the winter. This is also due to the fact that our Warre hives in Oak Grove filled 3-4 boxes with comb/honey, while the winery hives maxed out at 3. This makes us think that there are far more nectar sources available in the city of Oak Grove/Milwaukie than in the desolate wasteland of Yamhill county.
Swarms: In April-June we received dozens of swarm calls, a good number of them we responded to. The earliest swarm call proved to be the largest and most fruitful colony that we had all season. It came from a neighborhood in SE Portland by Reed College and weighed at least 4 pounds. We populated a second Warre hive in our yard with the swarm and they were amazing bees: Foraging in sub 50 degree temperatures in the rain, while all of the package bees next to them were unwilling.
Honey: This season we largely left our foundationless hives alone honey-wise, as honey production was so low this year that we didn’t want to make it harder on the new colonies. From our lone Langstroth hive that was started in 2008, we did manage to harvest approximately 80 pounds.
Store: In June the Bee Thinking top bar beekeeping store opened and the response has been amazing. We’ve received numerous orders, inquiries, e-mails of support and we are thankful to all of you for making our foundationless beekeeping store the best on the internet. This Winter we are working diligently to prepare our stock of horizontal top bar hives and Warre hives in preparation for the influx of orders that we anticipate in the Spring.
Please get your order in soon if you are looking to start a top bar hive – horizontal or vertical – during the 2010 season. Or, if you can’t make the order yet, please contact us to let us know that you are planning to make an order later so that we can have your hive ready.
We love your suggestions and advice, so please feel free to contact us and let us know your opinion of our site, our hives or anything else that’s on your mind!
If you haven’t visited the top bar beekeeping store yet, please take a look here!http://www.beethinking.com/store
Classes: In the first quarter of 2010 we are planning to host a number of top bar beekeeping classes for beginners as well as seasoned beekeepers looking to try their hand at top bar beekeeping. Stay tuned to http://www.beethinking.com for updates.
The past few weeks we’ve been slaving to finish our 170′ fence to enclose the apiary space, as well as create a safe area for our new dog — an Australian Shepherd we’re rescuing from Idaho Falls, Idaho — to romp about. This week we’ll finish the gates and we’ll finally have a beautiful space to host bee classes and wonderful parties.
The first sections being built:
Swarm season is winding down, though between trap outs, Zenger Farm and a few swarms here and there, I’ve still been busy. This coming season I plan to do a lot more trap outs and don’t expect to buy any bees whatsoever.
Over the past couple weeks I’ve noticed a lot more drone corpses piling up below the hive entrances. A few days ago I noticed the workers of one of the Warre hives had corralled the drones and were forcibly removing them one by one.
Drone in the process of being evicted:
A few of many drone corposes found below the hive entrance:
A shot looking in the window of one of the top bar hives:
Recently my wife informed me that the head chef of Lovely Hula Hands restaurant on N Mississippi Ave in Portland was interested in some comb honey for one of his dishes. This, of course, was most exciting news, and after being too busy to fill the order for weeks, I was finally able to harvest a bar of capped honey from one of the top bar hives in our back yard yesterday.
The comb with bees still covering it:
With the hive from which it came in the background:
To harvest this honey I used a method called the “evacuation method” to get the bees off of the comb. The idea is to harvest the honey around dusk, and the hope is that the bees will quickly evacuate the comb and move back to their hive as darkness encroaches. However, I believe I harvested a dash too early, and I ended up with thousands of bees in the air, on the deck, on the comb, on the honey puddles, fighting vigorously over the smallest droplets. Next time I’ll do it a bit later.
Prior to cutting the comb, I weighed the entire bar and it was a decent 7lbs. This provided around 3lbs of comb honey squares and the rest I placed in the jar to be crushed and strained.
The comb prior to cutting:
That which will be crushed, strained and placed in jars:
Within an hour of harvesting I was at Lovely Hula Hands, doing my part to make Portland one of the best farm-to-table dining experiences in the world!
I leave you with a bee chain hanging on by a single leg!
As many of you know, when my wife and I purchased our home it came with an ancient willow tree in the backyard. Shortly after moving in we had an arborist inspect it and learned that it was rotten and required removal. As they were cutting it down they found a honey bee colony inside and I had them leave the remaining phallic tree standing in the yard for months until I had time to deal with it.
A few weeks ago, due to a number of circumstances, we had to get the remaining tree down, hive and all. I piled mulch up at the point where I expected the hive opening to hit the ground. Thankfully, as the tree fell, the hive opening landed directly on the mulch, leaving the bees unable to escape for 20-30 minutes as the rest of the wood was removed.
Finally, after removing the wood, my friend and I heaved the massive, bee-filled stump onto it’s end so that the bees could resume foraging. The bees were completely calm after their violent ordeal.
Moving the stump:
Last week we finally had the truck and people available to drag the 500+lb. stump next to my two top bar and Warre hives in the yard. The dragging went well, and I left a small hive at the old stump location to collect the remaining foragers who returned to find their hive missing.
Moving stump again:
This past week the weather has been terribly hot (for the Portland, OR area), reaching the mid-90s on some days. The bees in all my hives have been bearding accordingly, but the tree stump hive was especially beard-y, with what looked like at least a few thousand clumped over the small entrance all day and all night.
Three days ago I was squatting in front of the stump hive, observing the mass of bees as they would gently part to allow foragers to push their way through. Then the swarm began. Thousands and thousands began billowing out of the stump, tumbling, rolling and falling out of the hive onto the ground, into the air, onto me, etc.
The cloud hovered for a moment and then began moving up, up into our neighbor’s maple tree to a branch at about 25-30 feet high. The stump looked almost entirely depleted of bees. Fresh, yellow-white combs could be seen where thousands of bees once rested. A few fuzzy, obviously young bees remained, wandering aimlessly around the entrance of the hive, deserted by their colony.
I was eager to use a crazy German method of removing swarm clusters from high branches that makes use of a combination of 4″ pipes, a funnel and a stocking. I attached the funnel at the one end of two 10′ pipes and tied one of my wife’s stockings to the other. The idea is that while prodding the bee clump with the funnel, the bees fall down the pipe into the stocking. Once they are all in one can simply dump them into a hive and all is well.
One suggestion: Buy schedule 200 pipe — nothing larger! 20′ of thick pipe becomes very unwieldy when you’re attempting to finesse 30,000 bees into a funnel.
With the help of my wife, our neighbor and a couple of ladders, we were finally able to reach the bee clump and I prodded them a few times with the funnel. It began working. Bees were falling down the pipe into the stocking. We brought down the contraption carefully and set it on the ground. At least half of the clump was buzzing unhappily in the funnel. I dumped them into a small nuc-sized top bar hive I had on hand and then unattached the stocking and dumped the remaining bees in the box and closed it up most of the way.
As I was closing it, however, I noticed something odd: Hundreds of disfigured, blackened bees. Some were missing heads, abdomens, legs, etc. Two gentle prods with a funnel constructed out of a political sign couldn’t do this, I thought. They looked like bees that had been overheated or had water poured on them. Update: While reading American Bee Journal I was reminded that when bees overheat they often vomit up their stomach contents, which can give them a wet appearance. This often happens to packages when they overheat. This could explain the wet, blackened look of the bees.
The dead and dying bees:
Notice the blackened coloring of the bees, as well as the wetness:
After 20-30 minutes the bees were piling out of the box, an obvious sign that the queen was still up on the tree branch. I looked inside the box after most of the bees were out to inspect the remaining bees, corpses and parts. It was a ghastly sight. My only conjecture is that when the hive was 20′ up in the Willow Tree, shaded by leaves and branches, they never experienced the temperatures that they did when they were cut down and moved to the direct sunlight next to my other hives. While all of the other hives have ample room to cluster, fan, and manage the hive temperature, the stump entrance is only a couple inches wide and was covered from top to bottom with thousands of bees, with no noticeable fanning. Over the week of high temperatures they were essentially cooking inside of the stump and finally couldn’t take it more and decided to abscond.
Some of the bees could have certainly been injured by the funnel prodding, but the extent of the damage was far greater than could be sustained by a couple pokes with a flimsy funnel.
I spent the day in wine country today doing a trap out at Cristom winery. After that I figured I should check on my 9 warre hives at the other wineries since I hadn’t seen them for a few weeks. The first 6 went swimmingly and I was making good time.
Then I got to Lachini vineyard. These bees are notoriously hot, but I figured it’s helpful due to the rural, wild space in which they reside, as their ferocity should thwart skunks and other would-be intruders.
I checked the bottom boxes for comb building — hive 2 was full up and ready for a third box. Hive three was exceedingly violent, and as soon as I tilted the top box up to check inside I received a face-full of bees and quickly closed it up and walked back to the car speedily.
As I normally do after checking on my hives, I took off my suit and began e-mailing my hive update e-mail address with the status of each hive. Then out of nowhere I was bombarded by 5-10 angry bees. In my hair, on my face, buzzing angrily. I was caught off guard fumbling with my phone and began moving away. Their assault continued and I soon I began running away, swatting furiously attempting to get them out of my hair.
At 50 yards they were unrelenting — the assault continued. At this point I was sprinting…thump! I tripped in a hole and my glasses went one direction and my phone the other. With bees in my hair I was able to find my glasses, but had no time for my phone.
100 yards and still going. The bees wouldn’t cease. I’m panting, spluttering and somewhat hobbling away, hoping that the enraged guards would give up the chase and return to their abode. I trip again. At this point I’m attempting to crush the bees in my hair to no avail.
At around 200 yards their attack finally ceased and I clutched my knees breathing heavily. I’m phoneless, exhausted, in the middle-of-nowhere and in the distance I can see at least 10 bees patrolling in massive, sweeping circles at least 100 yards wide. My water and suit were in the truck right next to the hives, and my phone is in foot-high grass somewhere. I began laughing at what any onlookers must have thought watching me swatting, falling and swearing in the field.
Slowly I began to creep back toward the truck, hoping the bee patrol wouldn’t notice me. 50 yards in and they were on me again. There I was again swatting and galloping away with a parched mouth. A few more attempts to get back to the truck and finally I decided to bolt for it, get in the driver seat and come to my senses. I ran, bees following closely behind, hitting my head a few times. I opened the door, jumped in and to my frustration the window was open. I fumbled for my keys, turned on the truck and got the window up, somehow avoiding any bees.
At that point I moved the truck far from the bees, suited up and got out and spent 20 minutes searching for and finally procuring my phone.
Needless to say I will be crushing all three of the queens at Lachini and replacing them in the near future. In addition, at any site with hot bees I plan to park farther away and only remove my suit once I’m safely in the car!
- buddy martin on Difference Between Bumble Bees, Hornets, Wasps and Honey Bees
- We Save Bees on Photos of our Store
- We Save Bees on Difference Between Bumble Bees, Hornets, Wasps and Honey Bees
- matt on Difference Between Bumble Bees, Hornets, Wasps and Honey Bees
- Steve on Difference Between Bumble Bees, Hornets, Wasps and Honey Bees