We opened our hive for the first time since we relocated it to the farm! In order to prepare for the visit, we watched a Top Bar Bee Hive video (put on by Backyard Hives), given to us by my co-worker, a fellow apiarist. It was worth countless hours of reading and we really enjoyed referring to ourselves as almighty “Bee Guardians” after the video.
A top bar bee hive is so different than the ever popular Langstroth Bee Hive, which looks like white wooden boxes stacked into a small tower. Farmer Bill at City Farmer’s says that Top Bar Hives are the “vogue thing” right now (I’m always happy to be at the cutting edge of style). According to the folks at Backyard Hives, a top bar hive “honors the true nature of the honeybee and respects it as an organism, never over stressing the hive.” A Langstroth Bee Hive incorporates artificially made wax (often laced with pesticides), pushing the bees to produce more honey than what is natural because they no longer have to expend materials and energy to to build a wax structure. The wax is reused time and time again, often introducing disease to the hive. This unnatural system stresses the hive, leading to decreased hive immunity (so cool that the hive itself has an immune system!), therefore contributing to problems such as Colony Collapse Disease, one of the reasons bees today are becoming endangered. (Did you know we need bees to pollinate 1/3 of our food? Without bees we’d go hungry!) Another benefit of the top bar hive is that you don’t have to smoke the bees because you only expose a small area of the hive to the environment at a time (versus exposing an entire rack of frames with the Langstroth Hive) making the bees a lot less aggressive. Smoking causes added stress because it signals to the bees that fire is coming, triggering them to gorge on honey for the long journey ahead. One final benefit of the top bar hive is you get virgin, or pesticide free beeswax. Beeswax candles and beeswax soap here I come!
The Backyard Hive video told us to “move with grace and fluidity” while checking on our bees, which I reminded Chris of many times. We were sure to visit during the late morning, when most of the bees had left the hive to forage, but not too late in the day, or the comb would fall off the top bars from the heat. It is important to turn your head away from the hive whenever you exhale because CO2 actually triggers an alarm pheromone to be released by the bees, which can cause problems. And never wear furry clothing, or else they’ll think bear, and again with the alarm pheromone. Eating honey right before, as well as wearing a lot of fragrant perfume is obviously, a bad idea as well.
The visit went well, minus Chris being stung on the left side of his face (his eye was swollen for a few days). I think he stopped moving with fluidity and grace… We were able to move the false back to the far end of the hive, making room for more comb, and also removed the plastic mesh and staples we used to attach their (wild) comb during the hive transfer to our top bars. Our reward for the visit- lots of wax to use however we please!
We’re hoping we’ll be able to harvest a single comb of honey comb this fall (a comb typically holds 6-8 pounds of honey), but if not we should have a large spring harvest. In the meantime, I’m hoping to make some beeswax candles! More on those soon.
Bees are truly amazing creatures. It is comforting knowing that our vegetables are being pollinated and a joy to watch them move in and out of the hive throughout the day, busy as bees. When you get your box of veggies this week, thank the bees! And don’t forget, you can be a Bee Guardian too!