Archive for March, 2007

Construction: Part 3 (Assembly)

March 31, 2007

Today, I was finally at the point that I could start to put things together. I just had a few last little bits to get ready. I also had some other things going on today, so my time was a little piecemeal. I got a good bit done though, even with the breaks.

This morning, I went to a local home improvement store to get the last lumber I would need (I think its the last 😛 ). I needed some pressure treated 2×4’s for the legs. Instead of getting two 8′ lengths, I decided to go with 2 10′ lengths. It was a little more, but would allow me to make the hive a little taller. It should make it a little easier to work (don’t have to bend over as much). I cut 4 legs from each 10′ 2×4. One end was cut at 15 degrees (to sit flat on the ground), while the other was cut at 55 degrees (to meet the 20 off vertical sides of the hive). This puts the leg at 15 degrees off vertical, which seemed about right when I designed the hive (gauged by eye on the computer).

The ends needs some work next. They needed a slot cut to receive the ridge pole of the roof, and I cut this using a combination of the table saw and hand saws. The ridge pole of the roof should slip into this, meaning that the roof can only be removed by lifting it straight up. This should keep the roof from blowing of or otherwise coming off by accident. I have a picture with a leftover bit of the ridge pole slipped into place as an example.

Next, I needed to cut the entrance one one end and slots for feeders on the other. I wanted them to be straight and nicely cut. What I ended up doing was setting up the blade on my table saw so that I could lower the piece onto it and it would cut a slot of the right length. I then flipped the piece over and did it again. This cut a slot, but the end were not square. Due to the curve of the saw, the slot is a dome shaped cut from each side. I used a hand saw and a chisel to square and clean up the slots. I actually lowers it onto the saw three times to make the 3/8″ slot (the saw blade is about 1/8′ thick). I made the entrance slot about 7 inches long. The feeder slot I was not sure about. I ordered two entrance feeders from Betterbee (thats where I ordered most of my other equipment too) . Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten them yet so I don’t really know theirs size. They should fit into a 3/8″ slot (which is what I cut), but I just don’t know how wide they are. I cut the slots in the back 4″ wide. Hopefully that is wide enough. If they are smaller, I can always block the extra opening.

With that all done, I can actually assemble my first parts. I began by attaching the legs to the end pieces. This was done with 2 bolt (and nuts) for each leg. By using bolts, the legs are both secure and removable. Being removable is important for transport. The bolts are 1/4″ by 3″ long. I just judged placement by eye, drilled, and bolted.

I almost started the assembly at this point, but luckily remembered that I had to cut grooves to accept the removable bottom board. Had I put it all together without cutting these grooves, that would have been a problem. I set the blade of the table saw at 20 degrees (the angle of the sides) so that the groove will be horizontal. I ran the sides though with the blade raised to slightly less than 3/8″. To make the groove a bit wider (to easily accept the bottom board), I move the fence slightly and ran them through again.

Now I got to put the main body together. It had a Dr. Frankenstein “It’s Alive!” kind of feeling. I had only seen it on the computer, and hadn’t tried putting anything together until now. With all the measurements on the computer, I cut out and dealt with all the part separately until now. I did a dry for (no glue, screws, or nails yet). It was actually amazingly stable. The side had tabs that kind of form one half of a dovetail. Between that and the legs, the side slip in and are held pretty firmly in place. Even with only one side inserted, it holds together well. After the dry fit, I disassembled it all, pre-drilled holes where the screws would go, and applied wood glue. Then I simple had to reassemble it and screw it together. It all went smoother than I thought it would. With the top on, it is starting to look like something instead of a pile of strangely shaped lumber.

As you can see, I have not attached the clean out doors yet. They will cover the opening at the bottom of the ends. I don’t plan to attach them until after I paint the hives. I don’t want to paint the hinges, and would like to have the wood under them painted. For that reason, they will be almost the last things to go on.

Roof #2

March 30, 2007

The last post was actually written last night but I hadn’t transfered all the pictures to my computer yet so it was posted this morning. Last night I worked on the second roof. I did a better job on this one. Imagine that, experience helps. 🙂

I did start for the ridge of the roof this time, and it helped a lot. I first bent the ridge line using a board as a guide (I did this the last time too, but started at the bottom of the roof). This helped to make a straight ridge line. I then folded the sides under and attached them, followed by the bottom. Even without glue, it looked pretty good. I used super glue however to make sure that the seam stayed down. The super glue worked much better than the other glue I had tried, mainly because it dries so fast. Nothing had the chance to come apart while drying. The fact that everything laid flat was also a big help. 🙂 As I mentioned before, I am not worried about the first roof leaking, I just don’t like that its not perfect. This one I am much happier to claim as my handiwork.

The roofs are done! 🙂 Going forward, I need to cut the entrances and slots to receive the roof ridge pole in the end pieces, then I am ready to assemble. I am hoping to have it all assembled and ready to paint by Sat. night. We shall see.

Construction: Part 2

March 30, 2007

So, I had the time a few nights ago to cut out the rest of the major parts and start some assembly. I still haven’t worked on assembling the main hive body, but focused instead on the roof structure. I wanted to have a roof ready to go, since when I assemble the hive bodies, they will have to be stored outside. I can fit the unassembled part inside, but once assembled that will be to big.

The part that I still had to cut out were the short side pieces for the roof frame and the panel board for the roof (which will be covered with aluminum flashing (more on that later). The panel board for the roof was easy, it just had to be ripped down to 15″ x 4′. Like I had done with the plywood, I had the panel board cut when I bought it. I had it cut into three pieces, two 30″ and one 36″ wide. I ripped the 15″ ones in half for the 4 roof panels. The remaining piece will be used for the removable bottom boards. I had originally planned to also use this for making some divider or follower boards (for restricting the size of the hive if needed). I decided however to use some 1/4″ plywood I had sitting around.

The short sides pieces of the roof frame were a little more complicated, but still were not bad at all to make. All the pieces are identical and they fit together when one is rotated 180 degrees. I started by cutting a rabbet the same way I had for the long side pieces. This will be the end that connects with those long side pieces. The other end needs to form a rabbeted joint at the ridge of the roof. For this I did two miter cuts on the end, followed by cutting a rabbet at 20 degrees. I was quite happy at how everything fit together. I assembled it with screws, and it felt very sturdy. I then attached the panel board with screws (sorry, I forgot to take a picture with the panel board attached). So far, everything went together quite well. Planning it in 3D seemed to work nicely, and it was easy to refer back to the model on my laptop to get measurements while working.

I showed my wife the roof and she said it was huge. She hadn’t pictured it being as big as it was. She decided that I wasn’t building beehives, but bee mansions. I had earlier tasked her with helping come up with names for my hives and maybe the queens. I figured that I would need some way to refer to them here and “hive 1” and “hive 2″ seemed too boring. She has decided I should name them after famous mansions/castles, and name the queen bees after corresponding queens. I’ll have to think about it a bit. One thing is for sure, my 4 year old daughter would love the idea. She is obsessed with all things related to princesses. Queens and castles are right up her alley. 🙂 My wife says I already have her brainwashed into liking bees, this will just add to it. I suppose you could call the worker bees princesses, right? 😛

Last night I was able to start on covering the roof with the aluminum flashing. This was part of the construction I had the most worries about. I felt pretty confident with all the wood working, but didn’t have a good feel for how the aluminum work would go. My primary worry was about a seam that was required. This was due to the size of flashing I could find. I got 10′ x 20″ rolls. Cut into 4′ 6” pieces, each would cover a little more than half the roof (including wrapping around and under each end. What this meant was that there would need to be a seam a couple of inches down from the ridge of the roof on one side. The two pieces of aluminum would still be well overlapped with the seam on the downhill meaning that water getting through shouldn’t be a problem. I was just worried about how the seam would lay down. I was hoping that some adhesive and the fact that the sides were wrapped around the ends would help the seam lay flat.

Turns out I had reason to worry. 😦 Notice the two slight bulges in the seam in the second picture. Its not too bad, and I don’t think it will leak, but I still don’t like it. Its kind of hard to fold a completely straight line while your wrapping the edges, and this caused a little bit of a problem. The adhesive didn’t help as much a I had hoped either. Other than the seam, all the other wrapping went very nicely, and I am happy with it. I haven’t given up though. I will still try to get the seam flat, and I have some ideas for the second roof too. I will try starting the wrapping at the ridge of the roof, instead of ending there. Wish me luck!

Construction: Part 1

March 27, 2007

I was able to start the construction of my top-bar hives this last Sat. I got most of the pieces cut out and ready to assemble. The last parts that I have yet to cut are end pieces for the frame of the roof.

Since I’m doing this over a few days of work and am posting in in parts it may get a bit jumbled. Add to that that I am working on the hive parts in no particular order, and it is probably a bit confusing. I plan on making a single page covering the whole construction once it is all done. Thankfully WordPress allows you to make static pages to go with your blog posts.

The first bit of work I did was to cut the rest of the top-bars out of 1×2’s. I cut 35 19″ bars. I haven’t yet finished them. These will be the brood bars and need to be cut down to 1 1/4″ wide (they are 1 1/2″ now). Once they are cut to the proper width, then I will need to run them through the same procedure I used before to form the comb guide. I wanted to get started on other parts of the hive though, so I set these aside to finish later.

The main body of the hive will be made from 3/4″ plywood. Both hives will be made from one 4’x8′ sheet. Since my car can’t handle a full sheet and cutting full sheets can be a pain, I had the plywood cut down at the home improvement store where I got it. They have a nice setup for cutting full sheets of plywood, and the will do two cut for free. I had them cut the sheet into three pieces: 30″, 30″, and 36″ wide (all are 4′ long). The 30″ pieces I cut in half at home to use for the sides (each piece 15″ wide). The 36″ piece is for the ends.

The side pieces are 15″ wide and have a “tab” on the ends. This is to strengthen the connection with the end pieces. It will allow me to use screws in two directions. It also uses the “tabs” so the sides essentially hang on the ends, instead of placing all the stress on screws. Since the legs will be attached to the end pieces, this should strengthen connection between the sides and ends. It does mean a little more work though. I first cut them to length, saving the small piece to use to make a brace later. To make the “tabs’, I did the majority of the long cuts on the table saw but had to finish with a hand saw. I band saw would be useful here, but I don’t have one. 😛 The tabs were cut on both ends of all 4 sides.

I next turned my attention to the end pieces. These by fare are the most complicated to cut. They have a number of angles, and a a bit to large to use the miter gauge. They also have some inside angles that can’t be cut fully on the table saw. I started by cutting the 36″ into pieces the correct size for the ends. This will also leave a 4′ strip that will be used for the clean out doors (at the bottom of the hive ends). I drew the pattern of the ends on each as a guide. These were cut out using a combination of the table saw and the hand saw.

I next cut out the clean out doors that will be the bottom portion of the ends of the hive. These were made from the 4′ strip left after cutting out the ends. This strip was ripped in half and then cut with the proper angles on the ends. These will attached to the end pieces using hinges and provide a way to clean out the bottom of the hive since it will have upper entrances.

With all of the major parts of the hive body cut out, I turned my attention to the roof. I started with the ridge pole. This was made from a 8′ 2×4 (making two ridge poles). I tipped the saw blade to 20 degrees (the angle of the roof) and using the fences ripped along the length of 2×4. The 2×4 was then flipped over and run through again, making a second angled cut with the ridge centered. In addition, this also produces a small wedge of wood with a 20 degree side that I plan on using as the rail that the top-bars will rest on. In order to get enough of the rails, I actually ran the 2×4 through this process twice (first with the fence further out, then with is closer). This produced the ridge poles and the rails for the top-bars.

I next cut the pieces for the long, bottom edge of the roof frame. These were made from 2×2’s and were cut to 4′ (the length of the roof). These were rabbeted to form a stronger joint. I did this by setting the blade to 3/4″ high and nibbling away the material in multiple passes. This will also be done for the shorter edge pieces of the roof frame, but it was time for dinner and I had to end for the day. Once the rest of the roof frame pieces are done, I should be ready to start assembly.

Hive Plans

March 22, 2007

I have posted before about my preliminary hive plans. I have made some revisions, but the overall plan is quite similar. One of the things I had gone back and forth about was the length of the top-bar and the overall volume. I finally decided to go with a 19″ top-bar. This is the same length as the frame in a Langstroth hive, which would allow comb to be move to conventional hives if that was ever wanted. Using 19″ bars left me with less volume than I would like however. It was a reasonable volume (~80 liters) but might not have left a lot of room for honey storage. Those plans had sides that were 30 degree off vertical. Some people have suggested that 30 degrees was a good angle to discourage the bees from attaching the comb to the sides. Others however don’t see much of a difference in attachment. A good discussion of the advantages of sloped/straight side can be found here. Since I still like some of the advantages suggested for sloped sides and I prefer how they look, I am still using sloped sides. I did however change the angle in order to get more volume. The sides are now at 20 degrees of vertical. I also changed the angle of the roof slightly so I can still make both hives from one sheet of 3/4″ plywood. With these changes, the hive volume is now ~112 liters. I also added a couple of small braces at the bottom to strengthen it (since the bottom is only a screen and not structural).

As I mentioned earlier, I used Google’s free SketchUp program to design the hive in 3D. It was very easy to learn, and allowed me to fiddle with the design and see the results. It also hopefully helped my get my dimensions right so it will all fit together in real life like it does in the virtual world. 🙂 Since I think I now have my plans essentially finalize, I uploaded the whole thing to Google’s 3D Warehouse. You should be able to find it and download it if you are interested (Kawayanan’s Kenyan Top-bar Hive). Looking at it in 3D definitely makes everything clearer. I also made each piece a component, so it can be virtually disassembled and reassembled. You can also measure everything and check angles and such. I also included a 4′ x 8′ example plywood sheet showing how to get all the parts out of one sheet.

Here is everything that I think I will need to build two full hives (though I am sure I will forget something):

  • 1 4’x8′ 3/4″ sheet of plywood (for the sides and ends)
  • 2 8′ pressure treated 2×4’s (or 10′ depending on how long you want the legs)
  • 12 8′ 1×2’s for the 60 top-bars (I think thats probably about right, but I will most likely make more to have a few extra)
  • 4 8′ 2×2’s for the roof frame
  • 1 4’x8′ sheet of panel board for the roof and removable bottom board (I actually got tile board because it has a nice white finish on one side)
  • 2 10’x20″ rolls of aluminum flashing to cover the roof (for a nice weather resistant and shiny top)
  • 1 8′ 2×4 to make the ridge pole of the roof
  • 2 linear feet of 36″ wide #8 hardware cloth for the screened bottom
  • 8 hinges for the clean out doors (and some sort of latch to keep them shut)
  • nuts and bolts to attach the legs
  • screws, nails, and staples (I won’t count how many 😛 )

Hopefully I can get started this weekend and will have some actual pictures instead of the model to show off. I am pretty sure I won’t completely finish them since I have other Sat. responsibilities too, but hopefully I can get a good ways. My bees should be here in almost exactly one month.! 🙂

A Table Saw and Top-bars

March 18, 2007

I have been wanting to get a table saw since I left home. My father had a nice, very solid old one. Growing up around tools, I never realized how useful it was to have them around until I didn’t have them. I think I started telling my wife that I would like a table saw shortly after we were married. Being a student, we never lived in a place that had room for one though. We currently living in a condo while I finish grad school, but I finally decide that I would make room some how. Building the bee hives was a push for me to finally get the table saw. Where to put it still had to be dealt with though. After a bit of looking I found a reasonable portable table saw that folded up to be 15″ thick, and would fit in the small space in a closet next to our hot water heater. It fits with about 1/4″ to spare. 🙂 When I got it home, my wife mentioned that it would work well for when we put up crown molding…all new toys have a price I guess.

Most of the cuts needed for my top-bar hive should be pretty simple, but the top-bars themselves could be a little more complicated. The top-bars are have the most critical dimensions of a top-bar hive. The length of the bars depend on the hive design, and I am using 19″ bars so they will fit in Langstroth hives. The width of the bars does not depend on the hive design, but is dictated by the bees. The idea is to provide bars of the right size so that they build comb cleanly, each comb centered on each separate bar. The most common width used seems to be a combination of 1 1/4″ and 1 1/2″. The different sizes is to accommodate the different depth of comb bees build for different purposes. The smaller are used in the brood nest and the larger for honey storage. Most people also provide a guide of some sort to help the bees build their comb centered on the bars. There are a number of different ways provide a guide. Some examples on the web can be found here, here, and here. I didn’t want to try to insert foundation, and I don’t have any beeswax yet to insert in a kerf, so I came up with my own plan. I wanted to simply cut two equal rabbets on the bottom of the bar, leaving a ridge ~1/8″ tall (the width of my saw blade) and 1/8″ wide.

My first order of business was to make some feather boards. These will make the cutting of my top-bars much easier and safer. Feather boards are used to hold the wood being cut either down, against the fence, or both (both in my case). They are also pretty easy to make. I used two scrap pieces of 1×6 (actually I found it in the scrap pile at my local home improvement store and paid $0.51 for piece long enough for both). I cut the ends off at a 35 degree angle and marked a parallel line to serve as a stop line. Fingers are then cut in angled end, stopping at the stop line. These fingers are about 3/8″ think and now have some give to them. When they are attached, pressing against the wood bing cut, they not only keep the wood held against the table or the fence, they also help prevent kickback. Because of the angle of the fingers, they give when wood is pushed through forward, but don’t let the wood move backward. In addition to preventing kickback, they also increase safety because you don’t have to use your hands to keep the wood pressed in the correct position. You can safely use a push stick and keep your fingers well away from the blade. The feather board to hold the wood down is easy enough to attach to the fence (actually to a sacrificial fence – though mine is just a piece of scrap wood clamped to the fence). The feather board holding the wood to the fence needed a little more work. The miter gauge slots on my table are 3/4″ wide and ~3/8″ deep. I cut a piece of the left over 1×6 that was 3/8″ wide (its 3/4″ thick). This can fit into the miter gauge slot. I cut slots into the feather board and attached the two with bolts and wing nuts. This sits on the face of the table and can adjust to press various sized wood against the fence.

Before I could test my setup, I needed wood for the top-bars. I tested ripping 2×4’s in thirds length wise. It was doable, but a pain. It was much easier to simply use 1×2′. Since they are actually 1 1/2″ wide, thats perfect for the honey storage top-bars. For the brood nest, I will have to rip them down to 1 1/4″, but thats not to bad. With 8′ lengths, I can cut 5 19″ top-bars with only 1″ wasted. They are also 3/4″ think witch should be plenty strong. I went to my local home improvement store carefully cherry-picked the straightest, flattest, least knotty 8′ 1×2’s I could find and bought 6 (only $1.19 each 🙂 ). This should make 30 top-bars, a little less than half what I need for two hives. I cut them down to 19″ (notice the stop block, don’t make cross cuts using a fence, it can cause kickback), and get set up to cut the comb guides. You can see the feather boards both set up in the picture. I simply run the top-bars through on one side, then flip them over and run them through on the other. The blade is raised to cut ~1/16″ less than half way through, which leaves a guide of ~1/8″ thick. A scrap piece of wood is used as the sacrificial fence so that I can cut a rabbets instead of a dado. Once set up I ran all 30 top-bars through in about 15 min without hurrying at all. It was safe and easy. Writing this all up has taken my longer. 😛 The very last bit of work to finish the top-bars was to remove the guide at the very end of each bar. This is so that they will sit flat in the hive which will have a small shelf for them to rest on. I did this with a hand chisel. I went quickly, and my 3 year old daughter entertained herself collecting all the curly little shavings. You can see her leg in the photo (in pink pants). I now have 30, 1 1/2″ top-bars all ready. Now I just have to do the 1 1/4″ ones (and make the hive 🙂 ).

Why Top-bar Hives?

March 12, 2007

See, I told you I would get the the top-bar question eventually.

Why top-bar hives? To explain that, you have to know a little bit about a normal (Langstroth) hive. If you already know this stuff, just skip ahead. 🙂

I am including some pictures so this doesn’t get to dull (I think to many posts without pictures seems to be missing something). These picture are not mine since I haven’t gotten my bees yet (and I won’t have Langstroth hives). The pictures here were all found on Flickr, searched through Creative Commons. The Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that provides licenses and tools for those who want to share their work. It allows you to license your art/music/picture/writings/etc. in a variety of ways. The picture I am using here are all from nice people who allow other to share/use/reproduce their pictures. Thanks!

The Langstroth hive is named for L. L. Langstroth who invented an patented this type of hive in 1852. It was not the first movable frame hive, but it is probably the most common typeBees by theparadigmshifter ( used today. The basic idea is that an outer hive body holds movable frames in which the bees construct their beeswax comb. This allows the bees to attach the comb to the top, sides , and bottom of the inside of the frame while still allowing the frame to be easily removed from the hive for inspection. The frames are made to fit together will still leaving space between the combs. Bees naturally build comb to be a set distance from each other (called bee space). Having the proper bee space between the frames generally keeps the bees from building the comb in the “wrong” place. Plastic or wax foundation (a surface with the honeycomb pattern embossed for the bees to build the comb on) is commonly put in the frames. The frames and hive body also leave space at the top and bottom. This allows multiple hive bodies (with their own set of frames) to be stacked on top of each other. The bees are freebeekeeping 101 by mattprice ( to move between separate frames and hive bodies. Normally, one or more hive bodies (with frames) form basic hive. These hive bodies contain the brood nest where the queen will lay eggs and the brood will be raised. Depending on the seasons and the whims of the bees, there will also be pollen, nectar, and honey. During nectar flows (when the bees are collecting nectar), beekeepers will add additional hive bodies called supers meant for honey storage. These supers are where surplus honey is stored by the bees, and this is the honey that the beekeepers can harvest (being careful to leave the bees as much as they will need).

Top-bar hives (TBH) can be a good bit simpler (sorry, couldn’t find picture through the Creative Commons). They simply consist of some type of hive body with bars across the top. Instead of having spaces between the bars that the bees can come up through, these bars generally fit together forming a roof of the hive. The bars are sized so that the bees can hang honeycomb from each bar with the combs kept the correct “bee space” apart. This way, each top-bar can be lifted and removed for inspection (similarly to the frames in a Langstroth hive). Since there are no sides and bottoms like in a Langstroth frame, it is possible for the bees to connect the honeycomb to the sides and bottom of the hive. This would make it impossible to to remove the top-bar for inspection, so if the bees connect the comb in this way, it must be cut away from the sides and bottom. Most often, the bees should not reattach the comb once it has been cut (hopefully thats true 🙂 ). Since the idea is pretty simple, you can build top-bar hives in many different way and using many different materials. Top-bar hives are well suited to use in developing countries for this reason (can be made simply from whatever you have). If you would like to see pictures of different types of top-bar hives, check out Dennis Murrell website. Marty Hardison’s hive shows how simple one can be to be accessible to people in developing countries.

Okay, but I’m not in a developing country, and my design isn’t really all that simple. Why would I want top-bar hives?

First, I get to design it. I get to make it mine, built as I see fit. If I follow some basic idea (bee space, reasonable volume, etc) I should be able to make a workable hive the way I want it. I’ll be the only one who has hives like them. 🙂 Unless of course someone later follows my plans (which they would be welcome to do). I think the designing is fun, and the building should be fun too. On top of that, I like the idea of letting the bees build the honeycomb as they see fit (cell size, amount and placement of brood/drone/storage comb, etc.). If they are going to help me out by making honey, I like letting them do it how they would like. 🙂

Second, even though my design may not be really simple, its still relatively simple. I can build it with a table saw and widely available (and reasonably cheap) materials. Langstroth bodies may be simple, but making lots of frames would be more difficult. With top-bar hives, I just have to get the top-bar the right size (and no joints between the tops, sides, and bottoms like with frames). I should be able to build two hives reasonably cheaply compare to buying the Langstroth equipment needed for two hives.

Third, no supers. Top-bar hives aren’t usually made to take supers. You let the bees build their brood nest where they want (usually the front), and let them store their surplus honey toward the back. I live in a condo and will be keeping my bees on someone else’s land outside of town. I would have no place to store supers (they normally wouldn’t be kept on the hive year round and would have to be stored).

Fifth, simple harvest. When the bees fill and cap surplus honey, you simply remove the whole comb from the top-bar and replace it. You have comb honey that can be crushed and strained if you want liquid honey. Because you remove the honeycomb, the honey harvest should be less than that of a Langstroth hive (where the comb is returned), but as I explained in my last post, I don’t need a lot of honey. The beeswax that is harvested is a nice additional product too.

Sixth, hopefully it may help with pest management. This is a topic all to itself, and I will go into more depth later. Simply though, there are those who argue that allowing the bees to build their comb in the size that they would naturally help in the fight against the Varroa destructor. Foundation commonly used in Langstroth frames is embossed with a honeycomb patter, and can influence the size of the honeycomb bees build. By not using foundation I should be able to allow the bees to build their comb in a natural size.

Pollination and Honey

March 12, 2007

In my last post, I said I would try to answer the questions “Why bees?” and “Why top-bar hives?” Some people may have noticed that in explaining “Why bees?” I left out two very obvious answers, pollination and honey. Don’t get me wrong, both honey and pollination are both really good reasons to keep bees, and they did play a part in me wanting to start beekeeping.

I promise I will get to “Why top-bar hives?” eventually. 🙂

In the case of pollination, though it nice, I won’t have a garden anywhere near bees. I don’t know if there are crops or gardens near the bees that will benefit from the bees service, but I won’t (directly anyway). Although its not a huge factor for me in beekeeping, pollinations by honey bees is quite a big deal. The US Dept. of Agricultural has estimated that up to 1/3 of our diet depends on insect pollination and honey bees do about 80% of that pollination. Honey bees are important for almonds, apples, avocados, blueberries, cantaloupes, cherries, cranberries, cucumbers, sunflowers, watermelon and many other crops. In 2000, the value of honey bee pollination to US crops was estimated at $14.6 billion.

Honey bees are not native to the US and there are many native pollinators. One of the ones I see most often around my house in NC is the Eastern Carpenter Bee. Where I grew up in Colorado, I commonly saw Bumblebees while hiking and backpacking, but I have no idea which of the many types they were. Many of the native pollinator can do a good job pollinating crops, but we’ve made it hard for them. In addition to pesticides and lose of habitat, the way we farm makes it hard for them to pollinate our crops well. Our farms are often large (hundreds or thousands of acres) and monoculture. A single crop may only bloom and provide nectar for one short period during the year. If there are hundreds or thousands of acres of that crop alone, there is little or no nectar during the remainder of the year. Honey bees couldn’t live in this type of situation either, but due to the way we keep bees we are able to bring the hives in for the pollination and then move them to other crops for nectar later.

If you are interested in native pollinators you should consider putting out houses for them. Its like putting up bird or bat houses and can enhance the wildlife around your home. This site for example has information about bumblebee houses in addition to lots of other interesting info.

When it comes to honey, of course I want honey. There are lots of other fascinating insects, but you don’t see me wanting to raise them right? Besides, honey tastes great.  I just don’t need tons of honey.  Of course it depends on the year, location, and nectar sources, but I have seen discussions of 50-100 pounds of honey per hive.  Honestly, I have no idea what I would do with that much honey.  My family can use maybe 5 lbs. of honey a year.  I can give some to family and friends.  Aside from that, I wouldn’t know what to do with it.  I don’t drink, so mead is out.  I don’t really want to start selling honey on my weekends either.  I guess the whole point here is that if honey was the main point it would be much easier and cheaper to buy it.  Even at high end prices, I could get a lot of honey for the amount I am spending on the bees.  Honey is wonderful, but its not the only reason to keep bees.