Wednesday, July 18, 2012


As the hustle and bustle of the initial start up winds down and the new hives reach a size that allow them to have a good chance for the winter, I feel it is time to start experimenting with new equipment and methods. I love HTK and plan to remain loyal but lets be real - no store will have EVERY product you might want to try. One of these products I wanted to try was the beveled frames that are made by some companies and are designed for foundationless use.

As many of you may know (if not browse some of my older posts) I chose to use jumbo popsicle sticks as comb guides. Unfortunately, my bees seem to ignore that comb guide and only use it when they would have built in that spot anyway because of the frame spacing. That left me with the choice of buying plastic foundation to cut into strip, beveling my own bars, buying the wedge type bars, or buying the beveled bars if I wanted to try a new type of foundationless frames. So I went ahead and bought 20 beveled top bar frames and I plan to try them out this weekend when I add a new hive super (bring my two hives to 4 hive bodies each!) to each of my hives. Stay tuned for the results of this experiment!

Another experiment I am currently working on is spacing my frames. As you may know from my earlier posts and/or videos, HTK's hive bodies leave a little extra room inside. This is an intentional part of their hive body design and is there for when the wood on the frames expand with propolis. Since my frames are new though, there is about 3/4ths of a frame worth of space left. I wanted to see if spacing them would work to resolve this issue (since I am using foundationless it causes one of my end frames to develop all kinds of burr and bridge comb issues with the side of the hive bodies). I did this spacing the saturday before last so this saturday I will see how the results are. If the spacing doesn't cause too many problems I will make a "spacer", but if not I will probably try to make an insert that fills in the extra space and change that out as the frames expand. It is a bit more work with either method but I really feel that a little extra effort for the first two years of a set of frames is worth it for a little less effort for the final eight or so years of a set of frames.

These two experiments are going to be the main thing I work on before the fall and winter. I plan to expand to eight hives next year so I really want to do as much experimenting as I can in the summer so I can devote my fall to research and my winter to expansion.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Moving on up!

I wonder if it was the fixing of the frames back in April or me suddenly moving to a two week inspection cycle instead of inspecting every week, but both hives have finally starting filling the second medium with comb. What is more, as of yesterday's inspection both hives have brood in all three stages (eggs, open brood, and sealed brood) plus plenty of honey stores. Honestly if I had to put money on it, I would say both hives superceded on me and the delay was from them getting queen right again during this time of the year when the nectar and pollen are coming in. To make sure that they keep building comb centered on the frames, I pulled one or two good frames from the now bottom medium and placed them in the new top medium. So we will see how that goes.

I also wanted to share some videos that were linked by a person on the forums. These are videos from back in the 30s (no sound) so they give you an idea of how much has changed and how much has stayed the same in beekeeping over the last 80 years or so.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Experimenting with Fixing Foundationless

I decided that this weekend was going to be the weekend that I preformed a much needed fix on one of my hives. As many people know, pretty much the only flaw with foundationless is that sometimes it is drawn incorrectly and it needs to be fixed. I was fortunate that in both my hives the comb was just drawn off center (but otherwise perfect). If I had to guess, I would say they built the comb using the queen cage that was suspended in each hive as a guide instead of the comb guides that I have installed. So I prepared everything last night and went to work.

I used frames I just built that did NOT have comb guides in them instead of breaking the comb guides on the already existing frames. I then cut the sheet of comb out of each frame that was in use and then set it in the empty frame on a table. Using five rubber bands, I created a " | \ | / | " pattern with the rubber bands and rested the bottom of the sheets of comb on the bottom bar of the frame. I am hoping that the way I have it, they will reattach the sides and fill in the stuff on the top of the sheet of comb and connect it to the top as well. I didn't take pictures or a video sadly, but next weekend I will probably take pictures of the success/failure of the experiment when I go to inspect the results and possibly try it with the other hive.

While I was about it I did a full inspection on both hives. It occurs to me today especially that it is very important to keep records and use a good hive inspection checklist while you are out there to remind you to check everything. While I was able to find the queen in Hive #2, I wasn't able to find her in Hive #1 (which was the hive I pretty much chopped apart and put back together). It is worrisome and (due to the rough nature of rubberbanding comb to frames) there is a good chance that Hive #1's queen might not have survived the process. fortunately I knew going in that they would have plenty of capped brood and before I committed to fixing the hive I made sure there was plenty of eggs and brood in all stages of development so that if necessary they can create a new queen. I am pretty sure she is ok because I didn't see any clusters forming around what would be pretty much a corpse.

I did a full inspection two weeks ago, but at that time they weren't nearly as far along so it wasn't nearly as fulfilling. Seeing all these small details (like being able to clearly see the difference between capped brood of both sizes, honey, and pollen) really made me feel like I was gaining valuable experience. All in all, it was a very eventful day. Next week's inspection really will be interesting.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

First weekend

So Wednesday I installed my packages (there is a video I may post later) and I definitely feel that it could have gone better. At the same time however, I also felt it could have gone a lot worse and I would have almost certainly made a lot of the same mistakes if I had gone to a class. When/if I post the video I will edit it to be more of a blooper reel to show what NOT to do while installing a package. Here are some pictures I took that first day.

I know a lot of people do not recommend boardman feeders since they can cause robbing, but I don't plan to feed except during package installation (plan to leave the bees plenty of reserves so that I wont need to except in emergencies). I feel that the boardman feeder is a cheap and easy way for a beginner beekeeper to keep track of the amount of sugar syrup their bees are taking in. Additionally, it is a lot easier to refill and causes far less problems than opening the lid to add more feed. I will probably have to refill each hives jar tomorrow for the second time so they are really gulping it down.

Yesterday I also went ahead and took the queen cages out of the hives and pushed the frames together. I tried not to disturb them too much and it was hardly a full inspection but  both hives had released their queen already. Oh by the way, I found out pretty quickly that you absolutely need to use a smoker once they have made the hive their home - even moving one of the frames a little bit got me lit up. Was not fun (although my camera woman was laughing pretty hard). 

Well I hope that next weeks more full inspection goes well. There are a lot of things that I am worried about (such as them killing the queen because I messed with them too much). I still have a lot of frames and hive bodies to assemble and I am kind of holding off until I make sure that they are ok using the foundationless frames and that they are going to make it. I just hope I can wait another full week to inspect them again - I have to say that it feels like a kid knowing where his parents keep his christmas presents. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Its been a long time coming . . .

I finally got "the call" last night! That is right, I got the call letting me know the date that I could come by and pick up my two packages of bees - tomorrow! So in celebration for this I decided to do a section on some of the less commonly thought of tools and practices for beekeeping. So without further ado . . .

1) El' Cheapo Extra Veil. Everyone should at least own one good quality veil (I myself purchased a very high quality bee suit from my good friends at HTK) but almost as important is the ownership of a second veil for someone else to use. Unless you are the world's loneliest beekeeper, you will almost certainly have someone show enough interest in your bees to want to be out there with you while you are working the hives. But since such occurrences are uncommon and the extra person may not be a priority target for the bees, there is absolutely no reason to spend too much money on an extra veil. The one I have above is a white "boonie" cap (i.e. the "old man hat") that has sewn around the edge a mosquito net. Both of these things can probably be gotten from friends and family members who don't mind giving them up or from thrift stores and yard sales for practically nothing. Pretty much this is 98% elbow grease and not even a whole lot of that.

2) Homemade Smoker Inserts. I am always reading stories and watching videos where the people talk about how to start a fire in a smoker. While I cannot claim credit for the idea to just have an insert you could light on fire then insert into the smoker, I will say that I found information on the internet woefully lacking. These are pretty much just old cans that I have stuffed with a roll of cardboard and some packing paper (all of which is free and plentiful). Just light them on fire with any lighter (although obviously long stem lighters will work better) and drop them in the smoker. To get extra thick black smoke put some green grass over top of it once it gets going. NOTE: some people have problems with the use of cardboard to smoke out the bees since it often contains a lot of chemicals. I however first got the idea from reading "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping" which is all about the organic, treatment free aspect of beekeeping. You can use whatever fuel you want - it is the can that is the important part of the insert not the fuel itself (make sure it is well packed in the can though).

3) Fishing Line. Fishing line is mainly used in beekeeping for wiring frames, but it works for anytime you need to tie things together in the hive. I am not exactly sure if it will work but I plan to tie my queen cages to the side of the frames when I install my package since it will be easy to remove and not leave a residue. It is also pretty much free (anyone who fishes will have no problem giving you a few feet of fishing line unless they hate you). 

4) Homemade ledger. Many websites and people will tell you to go out and buy a ledger of some sort to keep track of your hives, but that is silliness. While it is far more important than someone might initially realize to keep good records, making your own ledger is not only more effective (since you can design it to suit your needs and style) but cheaper. Just use any word processor program (Microsoft Word or Writer) and make one. This is just a centered line of text and a table underneath of it that I created. For information on table creation google your word processor program and table creation. Print off 10 or 20 copies of it and they should last you awhile (you can always make more copies). Anyone with kids probably has an old three ring folder lying somewhere that their kids aren't using. It might be troublesome to find someone with a three hole punch however but you can always just use a pencil in the right spot to make your own holes. This is also something that is practically free.

5) Marked frames. Take a sharpie and mark an arrow (or anything as long as it is uniform and not symmetrical) on all of your frames. The purpose is to make sure that when you take a frame out it is easy for you to tell which way to put it back in. It takes very little effort and it is probably better for the bees to not disrupt their hive design too much.

6) Marked Bottom Boards. In the future you will probably move frames and even hive bodies around so it makes no real sense to put identifying marks on them so you can keep track of which hive is which. The solution? Mark the bottom board! I mark my bottom boards in the back (since I will be working from the back) so I can tell which hive is which. I know it may sound silly since I only have two hives, but it is better safe than sorry and later on if I have hundreds of hives it will surely come in handy. 

I know I promised a great video but there were technical difficulties with the filming. So instead I will just wait to post my video of my installations. As recompense however I will post a picture of my apiary. Enjoy and stay tuned for future updates!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Bee Clubs and Reading

While I would love to post the video I hinted at, I haven't gotten a chance to make the video. I will hopefully have the video up next time my camera woman is up to visit. The video will include my hives and hopefully one or two more things that I think are pretty cool. Stay tuned for it!

In the meantime I would like to talk about local bee clubs. I attended my first meeting of the Northern Piedmont Beekeepers Association ( and I was very impressed with their setup and would recommend that any beekeeper should join a similar organization in their area. The information I received last night was not useful to me (since it concerned nucs and I am going with packages), but the quality of it was something you cannot get in a book or youtube video.

HOWEVER (notice the capitals), I was very saddened to see that after two classes the newbees (like me) who signed up for classes (unlike me) knew far less about beekeeping than they should. I am new just like they are and I am always asking questions to people, but some of them were the kind of thing they would have easily known if they had read one of the more comprehensive books on beekeeping. While I am glad I didn't spend the money on classes (like some apparently dishonest merchants that I will no longer do business with told me I should), this seems a great tragedy because it will ultimately discourage people from getting into beekeeping. That extra $75-100 is a cost they will not recoup and will make the ultimate price tag be higher their first year than it needs to be. I know when I look at how much I have sunk into beekeeping if I actually sell any honey this year it is going to make it a lot easier for me to give up if I think beekeeping is a money sink - and I doubt I am the only one that will think that way. It isn't the bee clubs fault - they need to make a living like everyone else and considering how much time they spend setting things up and their experience it probably is a pretty fair price. It is the people's faults who decide they are going to get into something like beekeeping without sitting down and doing research on their own.

I am going to end this rant by imploring all of my readers to please read a comprehensive book or two (or 5 . . . ) on the subject of beekeeping before you spend any other money on it. Here are two really good examples of introductory books on beekeeping:

Either one of these books will tell you what you need to know to get started. I would however recommend getting both because they both have wildly different opinions on beekeeping practices. If you get only one and treat it like gospel you are going to soon find yourself confused on why everyone disagrees with you on something about beekeeping even though you are just going by what you read. I doubt the authors of these books still agree with everything in them anymore and they are both fairly recent (one or two years old). Read them both if you can and do some research on youtube and and then make your own decision on what is the best thing for you to do. I wager if you read both of these books and take a class in beekeeping you will feel like you wasted your money.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Just a small post since I already covered the updated foundationless frame construction post in that post. Today my work was closed until 2pm so I used the time to go ahead and put the main coat (and final coat) on my hives. As you may have known I had already put two coats of white primer on the outer surfaces of all my hive components, but today I painted over all that with semi-gloss exterior paint to finalize it. I do not currently have pictures of the new color but in my next update I should have a video with them in it. I wont spoil it for you but the next video will probably be of interest to more than just aspiring beekeepers.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Current Progress and Foundationless Frame Construction

UPDATED 02/07/2012

Since the original post I have discussed foundationless frame construction with Michael Bush and given the rather poor quality of the previous video on the subject I made a new video with my trusty camera woman Samantha. Since this video is a better quality and I have changed the final steps of the frame construction I am replacing the previous video and step by step photo guide with a single  video of the process.

I am currently in the process of going back and retrofitting all of my previous created frames (the ones with the popsicle sticks in the middle instead of all the way across) but I already have enough to be ready for my bees when they come at the end of March.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Starting out

Ah the first post! Please bare with me over the next few weeks while I preform tweaks here and there to get this blog up and running. First things first, I received my order from HTK Bee Supply two days ago and last night I went over all the things that it contained in my first of (hopefully) many videos recording my actions as a beekeeper.

Anyway here was a list of what I ordered to start out:
6 Unassembled Medium Hive Bodies
60 Unassembled Grooved Top/Bottom Frames
2 Telescoping Covers
2 Inner Covers
2 Screened Bottom Boards

BONUS: My order came with a free entrance reducer which I really thought was swell.

Notice the lack of foundation. I have decided to go with foundationless as that while not every source agrees that natural/small cell will reduce (if not eliminate varroa), just about every one of them say that bees draw comb on foundationless faster than either type of foundation. Also natural comb lets them build what they want whereas foundation generally tries to make them build only worker bees. I will be using popsicle sticks for comb guides. They would have been in my video but I left them in the car.

BTW: My bees are currently on order so I have until late march to finish all this and get the rest of my equipment.