Thursday, April 22, 2010

Our Taylor Made Hive, part two.


Our beginning beekeeping saga continues. You can click on the highlighted text to read about how our friend Taylor was raising bees for us. And how we caught not one, but two swarms of honeybees. Also, about collecting the bees from Taylor's back yard.

(I'm not likely to write a very lucid post, because I'm sick with some ghastly stomach ailment, and have no energy or attention span.)

We drove a hive-box full of honey bees over to our house, in the back of a station wagon. (Encased in a custom made cardboard box, and wrapped in a sleeping bag, for those who wondered.) And before we integrated Taylor's bees into the hives with our swarm-bees, we took a moment to see how the swarm-bees were doing.

Robb and I had decided to let the bees make the decisions about building their own honeycomb, and the photo above is what the "frames" of comb looked like after a week of work. A beekeeper can buy frames with embossed wax (or plastic) templates, with the idea that these foundations will help the bees structure their construction efforts.

We've read how commercially produced beeswax can be full of all sorts of agricultural chemicals, and we wanted to keep our hives as "clean" as possible. We'd also heard a lot of anecdotal evidence that the bees don't like to build on plastic foundation. We'd also read about how over the last fifty years, beekeepers have been using larger-celled foundation in order to increase the storage size of the honey cells. There have been catastrophic side effects of this transition to larger-celled honeycomb, most notably an explosion in the population of destructive varroa mites.

So, we opted to give the bees a single strip of small-cell wax foundation, as a starting place. Robb had bought me entire sheets of this stuff for Christmas, and we cut it into strips, and mounted it on the frames. (You can see this in action here, and here, and here.)

And after a week, the bees were happily making the most beautiful honeycomb you could possibly imagine. It's pure white, and smells heavenly. You can smell it from across our (admittedly small) back yard. Delicious. The bees made this wax out of secretions from glands on their abdomens. How amazing is that?

So far, the swarm-bees aren't laying eggs in this comb, and this isn't a surprise. Furthermore, a break in the reproductive cycle of the bees means that the parasitic varroa mites have their birthing cycle interrupted as well. Any reduction in mite population is a very good thing.

Here's a video from the always-awesome Backward Beekeepers, down in Los Angeles, showing another method of making "starter strips" for the bees.

And here is a long, and totally disgusting video about the life cycle of bees and mites.


Meredith said...

I skipped the totally disgusting video. I can't handle parasites this early on a beautiful Friday, sorry!

But the comb looks lovely. It's amazing that they've created this perfect structure, with geometric precision in the cells, and all held within a beautiful organic curve.

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

That really is one of the lightest colored combs I've seen, it's beautiful (I wasn't sure it was real at first). I love the smell of honeybees and their hives. How fun that you have your own now!

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Aw, c'mon! Not vile parasites, first thing in the morning?

Anonymous said...

Stumbled across this and thought of your bees.I'm learning more than I imagined about bees this spring. Who'd have thought?

Megan said...

The comb-in-progress really is gorgeous! Thanks for sharing.
Lisa, it seems like you've had a lot of nasty stomach ailments these past few good! Fingers crossed that you're on the mend and this is the last one for a while.

Corner Gardener Sue said...

I enjoyed scrolling down, reading your posts on bees. I love the photos of the swarm of bees up close. The comb they are making looks like artistic perfection. It's beautiful! How exciting for you!

Thanks for your comment on my kale salad.

Gail said...

Fantastic posts...I never knew the combs could be so white! I had a fantasy of keeping bees once, but I think they are for others! Instead I do all I can to encourage native bees! gail

Thomas said...

Fascinating and wonderful!

Barbarapc said...

What a great hobby. Kevin & I visited an in-town farm in Portland and the owner of the very small property was using intensive farm methods - oodles of fruit, veggies and bees and of course, a sweet little honey stand. Had we not been taking a flight the next day, I would have loved to have sampled some of that honey.

lkw said...

Wow, I'm so impressed with taking on bee-keeping!

I'm like Gail; I just try to encourage our native bees (bumblebees, squash bees, blueberry bees, carpenter bees, etc.) however I can.

Hope you're fully recovered!


Kurious Jo said...

Interesting how the mites look similar to ticks. I imagine all creatures have a purpose but it's hard to understand what blood-sucking, disease-spreading insects are good for.
I learned a lot. Thanks for the oh-so-fascinating post, Lisa!

Nancy Lewis said...

Thanks for the bee information. I'm going to pass it along to my neightbor who just ordered 10,000 bees who are busily setting up housekeeping. She has the old kind of frames.
I really love your writing and your blog.

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

I'm really impressed by just how may small-scale beekeepers there are in California. I really had no idea, until about six months ago.


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