Saturday, January 22, 2011

Liberty Hall Rescue at Boneta Reserve Visit

One of our installation will be at the Liberty Hall Rescue at Boneta Reserve in Paris, Virginia.  I know, not exactly urban beekeeping but still a lot great foraging area in a beautiful setting only one hour from Georgetown.  I took my kids for a site visit today and got a chance to mingle with their extremely friendly livestock.  They have an assortment of goats:

a miniature horse:
And sheep, ducks, chickens, alpacas and llamas.

The kids had a blast.  The Reserve is a non-profit organization that provides a sanctuary for abused or distressed livestock.  From their website:
We provide a home and safe haven for rescued animals. complete with all the comforts and considerations needed to insure the safety, free mobility, and longevity of the animals. 

They also have a large garden from which they harvest produce for sale at their farm stand and to local restaurants.

I can't wait to get the hives out there!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Arcadia Center Installation of Hives

We got out to Woodlawn Plantation today in Alexandria, Virginia to install the five hives we acquired on behalf of our non-profit friends at Arcadia.  We used inexpensive ratcheted tie-downs for the tops and to keep the hives as one unit.  When we install the bees, we will put them in the lower box only and remove the upper chamber until the lower one is fully drawn-out.

Our tentative date for the installation of the bees is April 17th.  It cannot get here soon enough!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

My Hive Setup Part 2: Bottom Board and Hive Top Feeder Setup

I tend to bifurcate my hive purchases between Mann Lake and Brushy Mountain.  I like the free shipping from Mann Lake and their discounts for large orders.  That free shipping comes in very handy when I am buying hundreds of honey super frames in the spring!  But I really like Brushy’s inner cover for its construction and inclusion of a notch for a top entrance/ventilation.  I haven’t used these yet to see how popular the top entrance is for the bees but I am hopeful.  I also like Brushy’s migratory cover (I am using this from my hives).  They are of excellent construction, are clad in aluminum, and have a dado cut out of the top, allowing for top entrance similar to the Brushy inner cover.

Brushy clad migratory cover with dado
Brushy inner cover with 2nd entrance notch

But it is Brushy’s screened bottom board that I love.  It is of strong construction and includes a bottom cover/grid if monitoring mites is a favorite pastime or if you prefer to close your bottom during the cold months.  Shipping adds to the price of these, but if a few are ordered at a time the per-item cost is reduced.  These are the bottom boards I include in my installations.

Brushy screened bottom board with removable bottom in place

I have begun screwing my lowest super into the bottom board.  Why?
•    I can transport this basic hive as one unit;
•    It ensures everything is square (as the bottom board should be, right?);
•    It prevents the bottom super from sliding around;
•    Rather than manipulate my brood boxes by rotating, I manipulate the individual frames between the boxes to promote brood in both areas.
•    I rarely need access to the bottom board especially as it is screened so trash falls through.  Other trash can be scraped out with a piece of wire or stick.

I use 2-inch deck screws at each of the four corners to secure this hive body in pre-drilled holes.  If I need to rotate hive bodies or remove it for any reason I can simply unscrew these four attachment points.

I have begun to modify my tops and inner cover to accommodate a hive-top feeder.  I have been using mason jars as feeders, both the quart and ½ gallon size.  These jars are cheap, easy to find, and clear so I can see the level of feed.  To create holes in the lid for the bees to access the liquid, and because I don’t have a super-fine drill bit, I simply use my staple gun and drive a few staples through the top and then remove them.  That seems to provide the properly sized holes.

To create the seat for the mason jar I begin by drilling with a hole saw a 2¾ hole about eight inches from the rear of the cover.  This hole will take a quart mason jar snugly, although I rarely use this size.


I then take a stock 1 x 6 in board and cut a couple of square pieces out of it.  One of these squares will plug the top when feeding is unnecessary.  The other will be modified to create the seat for the large mason jar.

With this square of 1 x 6, using a hole saw with a 3½ inch diameter, I cut a hole in the middle of the blank.   

This modified square is attached to the top cover with a few screws (pre-drill first), attempting to center the larger hole over the 2¾ inch hole.  That is it for the mason jar seat.  The jar sits upside-down in the hole and a combination of gravity and friction keep it in place, even when the wind blows hard.  The larger capacity jar means fewer refills.  And the seat can also accommodate a pail feeder, laying flat across the large opening.

Now onto the top.  We saved the two discs from the hole saw operation (the disk from the 1 x 6 and the disk from the top; the disc from the inner cover may be discarded).  I center the two discs, using the pilot hole as a guide, and screw the two disks into the second 1 x 6 blank.  It looks like this:

When the feeder is not in use, the top then looks like this:

The top keeps bees in, prevents rain from entering the hive, and is asthetically inoffensive.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Foundationless Frames, A Simpler Approach

If you have seen one of my earlier YouTube videos about foundationless frames, you will note the amount of time, potential mess with hot wax, and overall pain it is versus a sheet of foundation.  But being a disciple of Michael Bush and his affinity for natural cell size in the brood chamber, I am loath to give up so quickly.

So when faced with an installation that included five hives of two deep supers each, I began brainstorming other ways to promote natural comb without pulling an all-nighter prepping 100 frames.  Note that I am using Mann Lake grooved top and bottom frames.

1)  I cut one-inch strips of "thin surplus" wax foundation lengthwise.  I then cut two-inch strips of crimped wire foundation top to bottom.

2)  I lay the thin surplus foundation in the groove of the top bar.  Perpendicular to that goes the strip of crimped wire foundation, in the middle of the length.
3)  I push a popsicle stick in the grove in the area the two sheets of wax overlap.  The friction of the stick in the space makes this insertion tight.

That's it.  The tight fit of the three materials together and their respective stickiness hold all the pieces together in the grooves.  The horizontal wax strip provides a starting point for comb production (there are some who argue that one does not need this) and the vertical strip provides a guide for the bees to help keep their comb straight.

Will it work?  Stay tuned!!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

My Hive Setup Part 1: Supers and Frames

With cold and damp weather hanging around, it is an excellent time to assemble equipment for our coming spring installations.  Including my kids in the process makes indoor weekends a little less boring and frankly gives me some time to update this journal.

Today I am assembling the hive parts for our Arcadia installation (see their link in our Blog Roll).  This is a five-hive installation, and the initial configuration I recommended was a two-deep setup.  I have made the stands for the hives that will elevate them 16 inches above the ground and I will level them prior to setting the hives.
Buster with his handiwork

Here is Will with the boxes he assembled (he gets $2 per box from me).  Note that rather than nails, I use screws (waterproof deck screws, 1 5/8 inches long) to assemble the boxes.  The pro’s:
•    Will can handle a drill better than a hammer;
•    I get really tight and square joints as the screws pull the edges together;
•    The screws resist rust, good for both aesthetics and longevity;

The con’s:
•    It probably takes me longer to assemble the boxes;
•    My drill is heavy so Will takes frequent breaks;
•    The screws are more expensive ($7 per lb);
•    Splitting of the wood is a risk if the screws are countersunk.

I also label my boxes.  These are just ink jet mailing labels from Target that I affix and then cover with a piece of clear packing tape to keep them from loosening due to weather.  Here I have my DC Honeybees label and above it is a label describing the colony.  If I re-queen a colony in the future or take a split from this colony I will replace this label with updated information.
Screws also play a role in my frame assembly.  These are grooved top and grooved bottom bar frames.  I first pre-drill the top bars at the rail connection point.  I then use 1-inch drywall screws to attach the rails to the top bar.  I think that I get a very sturdy and square frame and the screw does an excellent job of seating the rail tightly in the rabbet in the top bar.  I can also create a bit of a production line by laying out all the top bars right side up and setting the screws in loosely into each of the predrilled holes.  No more banged fingers trying to hold a nail on top of a wobbly frame!

For the bottom bar, I use a staple to attach it on both rails.  I just make sure I get some meat from both pieces of wood on each of the points of the staples.  As the bottom bar provides little structural support beyond keeping the rails square, this staple alone works well for me.

We are going foundationless in the brood boxes so we will use popsicle sticks and beeswax to create a guide for the bees.  See our earlier video demonstration of foundationless frames here:

Next:  Part Two:  Bottom Board and Hive Top Feeder Setup

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Arcadia Rocks DC Honeybees

Arcadia Center For Sustainable Food and Agriculture is an organic farm that is the brainchild of Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s leader, Michael Babin.  Babin, the culinary prodigy behind such local favorites as Birch & Barley, Churchkey, Tallula and The Evening Star CafĂ©, has partnered with The National Trust For Historic Preservation to locate his farm at the historic Woodlawn Plantation near Mount Vernon in Alexandria.  A great article from The Washington Post about the initiative is linked here:

 with a gallery here:

Their blog is located here:

Michael is joined by Farm Manager Maureen Moodie and Executive Director Erin Teal Littlestar in the non-profit project, which funds its operation through donations, sale of produce, compost, and soon: HONEY!

I read the article about Arcadia in the Post and reached out to Erin and Maureen immediately to see if they needed any pollinators to support their operation.  I thought I could convince them to install one or two hives as a trial run.  Little did I know of their own personal interests in the movement, and their intent to harvesting local honey.

Five hives.  Yes five.  And Michael has indicated that he’d like to expand above that if it makes sense.  This is precisely the kind of partnering DC Honeybees has been looking for, and their timing is perfect for a spring installation.

Stay tuned for more information on our progress.  This should make for some fun videos this coming May!!  I better start building….


Friday, January 7, 2011

Are You Eating Contraband Honey?

The following article describes the influx of honey coming from Asia.  It is most likely of Chinese origin that has been "laundered," like drug money, to make it appear to have been produced by other Asian countries.  Chinese honey processors are widely thought to adulterate honey to extend the end product, mask antibiotics illegal in the USA, and reduce its health benefits.