Search This Blog

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Homestead Update, 25 January 2011

Today I got started on the top bar hive for the bees, and I put together the Geobin for the compost and set that up.

The top bar hive is being somewhat fun, actually.  From all the reading I've been doing, the Kenyan Top Bar Hive (KTBH) was based on the ancient Greek practice of hanging sticks across an inverted basket.  The modern KTBH was developed in 1965 for use in third world countries where folks don't have a lot of money.  The top bar hive is really cheap to put together and they've been fashioned out of all kinds of stuff, even fifty-five gallon drums cut in half.  Evidently, when left to their own devices, bees will fashion comb in the shape of a catenary curve (like the curve you get when you hold up two ends of a chain), and the KTBH has the shape of a trapezoid; the comb fits inside it such that the bees don't usually attach the comb to the sides of the hive, making it much easier to get the comb out when you're inspecting the hive, or robbing it for honey.  The bees also tend to revert to making smaller bees; natural comb is a little bit smaller than the comb bees draw out on pre-formed foundation that most commercial beekeepers use in their Langstroth hives.   And guess what the advantage is that smaller bees have?  The bees tend to ward off Varroa mites more easily because the mites can't fit in them as well as they can in the larger bees.  There are all kinds of good reasons for using top bar hives and I've been having fun researching them, but the main reason that I chose this hive is because I can make it myself. Cheaply.

I was all worried about sticking to the plans that I downloaded from, but it's not that exact a science.  There doesn't seem to be a standard width for the top bars themselves; the plans call for the top bars to be cut one and three eighths inches, but I've found other places that say the bees do better with one and a half inch bars for brood, and one and five-eighths inch bars for honey.  I will use whatever is closest that I can buy already cut so that I won't have to rip any from lumber I have, which means I'll probably use firring strips.  Speaking of lumber that I have, that's what I'm using for this hive.  Because it's not an exact science, I'm winging the dimensions- as long as I get the angles at thirty degrees, that's all that really matters.   So I'm gluing up from lumber I have in the garage.

Picking out which boards go together

Since I don't have a doweling jig or drill press, I'm using finishing brads with the tops cut off for pins.

When I grow up, I'm going to at least have a proper doweling jig

The pieces get glued, smacked together, and then held together with a cross piece which will be on the outside of the hive.

The only piece that isn't nailed together with a cross piece is the glued board that I need for follower boards.

How do you like my clamp?

The follower boards aren't necessary, but they make putting the hive together easier, and they allow you to adjust the interior dimensions of the hive so that you can control the interior volume of the hive, which helps with temperature, mostly.

I'm learning as I'm going, which is nothing new to me.  When I'm not learning by reading, I'm learning experientially!  So tomorrow, I cut and assemble the follower boards, and maybe even put the sides on.  We'll see how far I get.  I hope to make up the entire hive from stuff I already have.  The only thing I'll have to buy for sure is more firring strips for the top bars, and I have to find a number eight hardware cloth for the bottom.  The mesh bottom has to be big enough so that the Varroa mites (should there be any) can be shed, and small enough to keep intruders out and the queen in.  Number eight hardware cloth is supposed to be just right.

But this is exciting- bees!


Miriam said...

This is REALLY exciting! I'm looking forward to hearing how it all goes. Have you found a good source for your bees yet?

You and Kim really are astrological twins - she has been going through the same process trying to figure out whether she can build an incubator herself rather than buying one. My mind boggles at the thought of putting the two of you together on a project sometime!

Paula said...

I found a source- I don't know if it's good or not. But they're really close- Ruhl Bee Supply, in Gladstone, which is the town next door. The bees were around $90 and I can go pick them up when they're ready, so they don't have to ship.

I am sure that Kim can build her own incubator- all she needs to do is research it. Considering the incubator that we saw on Edwardian farm, I'm sure she'll figure something out that will work; maybe even find some old bedside table or something that she can hack.

If she does it, remember to document it!

Marianne said...

Wow! I love the plans; so simple. and the fact that the little bees are less likely to get mites. but most of all I love your clamp. Like I said, sussed! someone who is sussed (don't know the derivation) thinks things through, plans carefully, knows where she's going. our language has grown in different directions on different sides of the world.

becky3086 said...

I have made my own incubator before but have never done the bees. I am totally interested in these hives and would love to try it but I am so scared of bees!

Toni aka irishlas said...

Wow, I'm impressed. Can't wait to see it done and little bees buzzing in and out.

I don't know if you're on Facebook, but, there is a Cold Antler Farm group on there that has input from a lot of different folks. The reason I mention this is someone was just asking for advice/info on top bar hives.

Good luck!

Kathleen Stoltzfus said...

I built a top bar last year. Looking back, I'd do two things differently: First, I'd skip the follower boards. I didn't move them out soon enough and so the bees built comb right on them. Second, I'd build a removable addition to sit on the top, much like the langstroths. That way, I could include a queen excluder and use the top part for honey collection without having to get into the bottom/main part. Would it work? I don't know - but I would like to try.
Good luck with yours!

Paula said...

Marianne- I hear that ours are two countries only separated by a common language! So yeah- you could say I'm definitely sussed. My problem is that I tend to do all this thinking out loud, and it freaks Steve out because he thinks I'm going to do everything I'm talking about.

Becky- I'm impressed that you made your own incubator! But you really shouldn't be afraid of bees, unless you're allergic to them, of course. The thing I'm most worried about is that I'll become allergic to them, because I've (knock on wood) never been stung before by anything other than a mosquito, which are actually more menacing, considering all the different diseases they can carry. There are two things going for me, though. One is that I've ordered Italian bees, which are supposed to be much better for backyard bees because they're so docile (as opposed to Carniolans, which make more honey but are more aggressive), and the other thing is the hive itself. TBHs are supposed to be a lot easier to get into, and you disturb the bees less, so they're less likely to sting, which is another reason for using them.

Toni- I used to do the Facebook thing, but jumped off at one point because I didn't like the direction it was going. I'm having much more fun blogging! I joined the forum on there's a whole lot of information specifically about TBHs there.

Kathleen- you raise a couple of questions for me. How long did you make your hive? For how long did you leave in the follower boards? I ask because from everything I've read, the queen tends to lay brood only toward the front of the hive (near the entrance) and the bees pack honey into the back. Phil Chandler's design has the entrance in the middle of the side, but because of the whole brood in front, honey in back thing, I've already considered putting the entrance on one end instead, which would lead a follower board off that side. They're supposed to be useful for splits, though, so I'm going to go ahead and make two, because it makes making the hive easier. That way I also have one already made for the next hive; I'm considering having two since I have the room for them. Just considering it. Thanks for the good wishes!

Rae said...

Very cool! LJ really really wants bees, but I've been able to keep him off the subject. He doesn't need any more projects! After reading this though, I may start to encourage rather than discourage him. Sounds like fun! Gonna be the death of me. First with the goats... Now I'm interested in bees. :) Next thing I know, I'll have a zoo in my backyard. Lol.

Lauren said...

Wow! I am not ready for bees but I just got a great book (from the library) Storey's Guide to Keeping Honey Bees: Honey Production, Pollination, Health (Storey's Guide to Raising) and it is the first bee book I have read that doesn't intimidate the crap out of me. And I am super excited you are building your own top bar hive out of stuff you HAVE. My favorite way of doing things because we are often dead broke ;). I will be watching with great expectation!

Kathleen Stoltzfus said...

I don't recall exactly how long I made the hive, but I think it is 4 feet. And according to the book, I was supposed to check on things (open up the hive) in a week, but I waited a month because it took me that long to get my nerve up. So for a month, they had a very small area and I suppose they ran out of room and that's why they started building comb on the follower board. You know, putting the holes towards one end instead of in the middle makes sense.