Beautiful!

Some beautiful, golden-hearted friends are supporting bee-centered beekeeping by allowing me to set a colony of honey bees, in a Bee Tree hive, on their five acres that is intersected by a year-round creek.

They practice permaculture and the creek comes complete with beaver dams!  Another win-win-win for the bees, for my friends, and for me.

OConnors Hive

A Win-Win-Win!

New, lovely friends are allowing me to set some of my own hives on their 5 acres right along the river.  They practice permaculture, and the surrounding fields of clover and alfalfa are not sprayed with pesticides or herbicides.  My friends are supplying the habitat and I am supplying the honey bee colonies in Bee Tree™ hives.

It’s a win-win-win.  The bees enjoy a healthy, diverse, nutrient-rich, pesticide-fee habitat, as well as a hive designed to allow them to live much more like they would choose to live in the wild; my friends enjoy a more flowering and fruitful property through the pollination of the honey bees; and I am provided with a wonderful place to pursue my bee-centered beekeeping goal of propagating an ecotype*.

I closed up the hive, and moved the colony to this location early the other morning with my friend’s help.  After setting and leveling the hive, I opened it up to let the bees re-orient and begin foraging.  Within just a couple of hours, they had found the sand cherries, as well as other flowering plants and trees, and were bringing back multiple colors of pollen.

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*Ecotype: a genetically distinct geographic variety, population or race within a species, which is adapted to specific environmental conditions.

Holy Smokes!

I was adding a box to a hive, and spotted the queen just in the knick of time to…

… watch her fly away!

I quickly put that hive back together and then suspended all activity while I watched.

Thankfully, she flew back to the hive and crawled in within just a couple of minutes.

Beekeeping and Perfectionism

Backyard beekeeping is becoming more and more popular amongst retiring baby boomers.  And, the retirees with the financial means to take up this hobby, oftentimes, are people who were successful, perfectionistic professionals during their careers.  Many, in fact, may have had careers where perfectionism was not only an advantage, but a necessity.

So, for all you surgeons, and engineers, and the host of other professionals whose calling required perfectionism, our entire society thanks you!  Thank you for the accurate diagnoses, and the skillful surgeries, and the safe bridges to drive our cars on.

But, if you’re a perfectionist, you are going to be frustrated with beekeeping!

Are honey bees perfectionists?  Absolutely!  They are most definitely perfectionists…

…but at a micro level that we cannot see.

And, frustratingly for human perfectionists, honey bees are definitely not perfectionists at the macro level that we can see.

The bees will often build cross-comb, even when we provide them with such perfectly straight frames to help them get started correctly.  They will often put burr comb in the perfectly measured bee space we have provided for them.  They will put propolis where we wish they wouldn’t, and not put propolis where we wish they would.  They will often put the honey anywhere but in the honey supers we provide for them.  And they might swarm three weeks prior to when all the YouTube videos we’ve been watching said they would.

We so misunderstand honey bees.

And we so anthropomorphise them.

Perfectionists expect honey bees to keep their hive neat and tidy in the same way they expect their children to keep their rooms neat and tidy.

But…

what if the bees are using the cross-comb, and the burr comb, and the propolis, and all the other things we think they’re making a mess of, to actually get all the things that really matter to the them

perfectly right?

What if they’re using all those things to control the factors inside the hive that are really necessary for them to survive and thrive?  Things like:

  • Amount and orientation of the ventilation
  • Relative humidity
  • O2 to CO2 ratio
  • Ambient temperature of the hive
  • Specific temperature of the brood
  • Placement of stores relative to the brood
  • Anti-viral and anti-bacterial qualities
  • pH balance
  • Structural integrity of the hive
  • Insulative qualities of the hive
  • Travel routes between combs
  • Communication levels using scent
  • Communication levels using vibration
  • Their symbiotic relationship with the other 8,000+ known organisms in their hive

What if the bees are actually more perfectionistic than we are, just on a micro level, not a macro level; just in the things that we cannot see rather than in the things that we can?

Perhaps we need to redefine what a “perfect” honey bee hive is.

Perhaps a “perfect” honey bee hive is one in which the colony survives and thrives… year after year after year.

Perhaps a “perfect” honey bee hive is one in which the colony is becoming an ecotype; a genetically distinct geographic variety, population or race within a species, which is adapted to specific environmental conditions.

Perhaps a “perfect” honey bee hive is one from which the colony casts a viable swarm each year that repopulates our region with honey bees that can survive and thrive in the wild.

When we look in “perfect” honey bee hives like this, will they be neat and tidy?  Not at the macro level; not when measured by things we can see.  But they may be “perfect” in the ways that protect the hardiness and long-term health of the colony.

Truly, the bees know best what’s best for the bees.

Cherry Pie - video & web

A Report on Bee Tree Hives™ Inner Covers

It’s mind-boggling all the things that honey bees are doing to manage both the micro-climate and micro-ecology that they share with over 8,000 other known organisms inside their hive.

I am starting a company, called Bee Tree Hives™, that will design and build hive components – still using standard Langstroth frames – that allow honey bees to live much more like they do in the wild… giving them back the control that they need to more successfully manage the health of the micro-climate, and micro-ecology, of their hive.

One of those components is my insulated, ventilated inner cover that has six screened vent holes in strategic locations.  The bees have taught me that they will propolise screened vent holes in order to control both the amount and the orientation of the air moving through their hive.

I checked several hives that I monitor in my valley today and, after less than two weeks in their new hives, virtually all of the colonies were propolising their screened vent holes in various degrees in various locations.  Here are photos of three different vent holes from three different apiaries:

Vent partly propolised

Vent mostly propolised

Vent fully propolised

More info on Bee Tree Hives components will be coming this summer.

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Feral Colony Removal from a Downed Hollow Tree

This old, hollow cottonwood tree was cut down and then I was contacted to remove a colony of honey bees that had been living in it for years.  It took three evenings to get them out of the tree and into my hive box.

The colony was in a cavity about 14″ in diameter and about 6′ long.  I started cutting-out comb but I could only reach about halfway in.

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The second evening, I put my hive box against one end of the log.  There was an open entrance on the top of the box, outside the tarp, and an open entrance in the end of the box facing into the log.  I put frames of honey and drawn comb in the box for them to move onto.

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The other end of the log I blocked with a piece of plywood.  Now, the only way in and out of the log was through the box.  I left them like that for the next 24 hours.

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On the third evening, I removed the tarp and the plywood, and using my bee smoker, coaxed them out of the log.  After a day of going in and out of the box, and working on the comb in the box, they decided to all just go in the box instead of trying to go back in the log.  They landed on the top of the box and marched in for about 45 minutes.  This photo doesn’t begin to capture the energy in the air around me.

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The bees in the box, the entrances corked shut, and the box in the back of my truck to take back to my apiary and install in a hive.

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The Gypsy Queen Colony

April 2nd, 2017.  Sunny, slightly breezy, and 58°.

This colony has been so active since I last checked it on March 14th, and so many more bees have been foraging at the bird bath, that I thought I had better see if they need more room.

In the photo just below, you can see what the top feeder looked like on March 14th.  This photo is from the hive check that day.  You can see that there is quite a bit of honey left in the half-frame of foundationless honey comb I had put in the top feeder for them.  There is also quite a bit of sugar.

top feeder

In the photo below, you can see that they have virtually emptied the honey comb in the top feeder and the sugar is all but gone as well.

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On March 14th, I had reversed the boxes, moving the bottom of the two boxes into the top position.  At that time, the bottom box had some pollen stores in it but no brood.  Today, that box was full of brood.  This photo below is looking at the top of the top box with the plastic tray from the top feeder removed.

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And here’s just one frame of brood:

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Because this top box was so full of brood, I decided to add a third box.  I added a Bee Tree Hives box:

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This box is built on the footprint of an 8-frame box, but has two permanent follower boards of rough-sawn wood, thus creating a 7-frame space.  This addresses three of the differences between how honey bees live in the wild and what they’ve been subjected to with conventional beekeeping practices.  The first is that honey bees tend to live in a much smaller cavity in the wild.  The second is that they tend to live in a cavity with much thicker walls.  The third is that, in the wild, honey bees choose cavities that tend to be rough inside.  That promotes the production of propolis that they use to smooth the surfaces.  Propolis, of course, is a natural anti-viral and anti-bacterial.  So, in the wild, honey bees create a much healthier “envelope” to live in than they do in smooth, man-made boxes that do not promote a coating of propolis.

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Another component of Bee Tree Hives is that each box has two 5/8″ diameter entrances.  As many as 5 bees can enter at once, a single bee can fly straight in, the entrances are easy to defend, are mouse-proof, keep skunks from bothering the colony, provide a consistent and uniform flow of ventilation, can’t get clogged with snow or blocked by weeds, and the openings are small enough that the bees can propolise any openings they don’t want to have open.

Again, in the wild, honey bees typically have a single, small, top entrance to their hive; not a large bottom entrance like conventional beekeeping provides.

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Below is a top view with the Bee Tree Hive body sitting on top of the hive.  You can see the permanent, rough, follower boards and the seven frames.  There are three frames of drawn comb checker-boarded with four foundationless frames.  The bees immediately came up into the box.

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I then added another half-frame of honey comb to the top feeder:

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And here’s a photo of the new hive configuration.  I’m going to leave the DOW scoreboard insulation, that’s been on all winter, on the hive until night-time temperatures stay up in the 40s.  Once this hive has been converted to all Bee Tree Hives components, the exterior insulation will not be necessary.  The hive will function much more like a hollow tree with many of the same characteristics.

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The bees were “business-as-usual” and very docile the whole time.

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