Insulating the Top Bar Hive for Winter

Posted by Julie Prescesky in , , , , , , ,


I did a lot of searching around for the best way to protect my bees from a cold Canadian winter. I've read that honey bees like to keep their indoor winter temps at about 20 degrees Celsius. They eat, and snuggle (make a bee ball/cluster) and exercise (flap their wings) to accomplish this. The popular consensus is that it's not the cold that's harmful to the bees so much as it is the possibility of condensation. So, air flow is necessary along with the insulation.



I picked up a package of foam insulation and cut it to size to cover the top, bottom, and two long sides. I had to be careful to cut out sections for the landing bars below the doorways, and, of course, to make sure I made an opening on each side for the bees to escape and to allow some airflow through the hive.

Removing the latches for the window cover.

I also had to remove the door and latches for the window so that the insulation would rest flush against the side of the hive. You'll notice in the above photo that there is soft foam insulation in the window frame to make sure it stays cozy warm - that was always there, even in the summer.



For adding insulation to the ends, I used a follower board as a template and cut some foam to fit inside the hive at each end.  I moved the follower boards closer together and shrunk down the area of the hive the bees would have to keep warm.


I wrapped it all up and secured it with bungee cords. I used four really small bungees to attach the bottom foam insulation to the side foam so that when I remove the large bungees that cinch everything together, the whole thing doesn't come apart. This makes it easier for one person with only two hands to manage. The side foam panels sit snugly between the end boards, keeping them in place when I remove the bungees, and the bottom foam stays in place because it's attached to the sides.  Because the lid/cedar roof sit loosely on top of the hive to begin with, it still fits over the insulation and bungees, albeit more snugly.

I'm a little concerned about the amount of food they have. According to various forums I've read, my hive should feel around 100 - 150lbs in order to contain enough honey for them to survive the winter. We had a lot of thieves in the hive this fall - mostly yellowjackets, but I also suspect from nearby hives (there are 4 others within a kilometer of here) - leaving the food supply quite low. The hive is certainly much heavier since I fed them a few rounds of 2:2 sugar syrup (which I felt necessary), but I'm not convinced that the hive is heavy enough. One of the issues with feeding them late in the season is the time it takes for the new honey they produce to ripen. As it ripens, it can create condensation, which wreaks havoc on the bees when the temperature drops. So, I stopped before the temps dropped too much.  In the last week or so, Montreal has become a frigid winter wonderland.

My other option to supplement their food is to give them organic honey directly in the hive at various times throughout the winter. I'll want to do it on "warm" days, which, for Montreal winters, are few and far between.

photo from www.backyardhive.com


I will use a turkey baster to drop some honey into a shallow dish I placed below the first few top bar/comb. This site suggested first mixing the honey with a little warm water to make it easier to transfer. I'm not sure I will do this. I want to avoid any excess moisture. Because this was my first season with the bees, I don't have any of their own honey on hand (I did get a small amount in the summer, but that is long gone). I can otherwise supplement with organic honey, as I mentioned above.

So, please cross your fingers with me that my bees tough it out this winter. I can hardly wait for spring!

If you have a top bar hive (or otherwise)  and have suggestions for me, please comment!!




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We Draw Animals

Posted by Julie Prescesky in , , , , , , , , ,




Kathy from We Draw Animals contacted me with the idea of creating a custom tutorial for you.

I requested a Honey Bee - because, as you may know, we are first time beekeepers this year.

In five easy steps, you too can draw a honey bee.



Check out her website for tutorials on how to draw a zillion different animals. This is such a great resource for teachers and homeschoolers. At the bottom of the site, you can access a bunch of different categories of animals, each containing some interesting facts and a load of tutorials. She has also compiled an e-book (free) for ease of use.

Now excuse me while I go explore her section on Rainforest Animals.  Oooh, that Asian Hornet looks like a Ninja among insects.




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First Time Honey Extraction

Posted by Julie Prescesky in , , , , , ,


I needed to make room in the hive - they just build so quickly - so I removed a couple of frames. One frame was one of the original frames from the NUC, so it 's been in the hive since the beginning. All of those frames (4 or them) will need to be removed before winter because they don't fit the top bar hive properly, so I figured it was a good time to start. The other frame was a top bar which had only a bit of comb on it, still white - so, very new - with some honey/nectar on either side. I decided to take it because they had a lot of other new builds going on and this one only had a little bit of their food stores on it. I hoped it wouldn't disrupt them too much.


Unfortunately I didn't photograph the white honeycomb on the top bar - the process for the two different frames was slightly different. 

The frame shown here is from a Langstroth hive, I believe.  It has a plastic base in the middle and was once a full rectangle before we cut it down to fit the top bar hive. You can read about that in this post


It was easy enough to prop up on one end in a large bowl, gently slice the wax cap off of the honey with a serrated bread knife and then take a flat wooden spatula and scrape the honey into the bowl.  Notice there is only honey at the top of this comb. This is after the old Queen had swarmed with her crew and there was no new larva.

It's important, generally, to take capped honey - it means it has ripened beyond the nectar stage, or so I've read.  But of course, I've already admitted to taking a frame of new white comb with nectar in it. The final photo shows the difference in colour.


For the white comb on the top bar, I simply cut the comb from the top bar and squished it to release all of the honey.  The next step was to strain the honey and wax bits and pollen and whatever else into a jar.



It helps to mash and stir with a spoon.


Below, notice the colour difference - ripe honey is on the left. The viscosity differs a lot, too. The ripe honey is much thicker. The unripe honey/nectar tastes lighter and fruitier, though.


After resting for a day, or so, the little bits of pollen and wax rise to the top of the honey, so you can choose whether to skim them off the top, or eat them. And that's it!  The ripe jar will be making it's way to BC to my Dad, whom I promised the first harvest. It's because of his childhood stories that I've always been so intrigued by these little gals.






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Bees Being Bees - They Swarmed!

Posted by Julie Prescesky in , , , , , ,


Six weeks into my initiation as beekeeper, the little buggers swarmed! It was dusk when my neighbour knocked at my door with a request to come look at the tree in her backyard. The bees hung there "like a carpet" she exclaimed.  We were losing daylight fast, and a storm was blowing in. I was feeling unprepared as to what I should be doing, exactly, so I decided to leave them there for the night and hoped they'd still be there come morning. 

And ....

They were!

I didn't sleep much that night - I was a ball of excitement and nervousness. I combed youtube for video on others catching swarms. I thought for sure I was going to mess it up somehow.  It just looked too easy.

And it was. Super simple. Not scary in the least. The bees followed their queen. 

I spread out a light coloured sheet below the swarm. This was simply to be able to clearly see any that fell to the ground. 

I retrofitted a cardboard office file box. On the front you can see where I cut an opening/bee door and then duct taped screen mesh over it. At the top, I notched out a place for a top bar, so the bees would have something to hang off of if they so desired.  Here, you see me spaying sugar water on the swarm cluster. This is just to give them something to do - ie, lick the sugar off their backs - and not, you know, get any other pesky ideas, like coming after me! Actually, bees are at their MOST docile when they swarm, so fear not! My grandmother even claims you can scoop them up with your bare hands! Let me know how it goes if you ever try that.

My neighbour held the box directly below the swarm and I gave the branch a decisive shake (or two). 

As long as the queen landed in the box - which was difficult to ascertain, but we assumed she was there - the rest of the bees would follow her pheromone. 

The bees in the box. The yellow in the bottom corner is a kitchen sponge soaked in water so they would have something to drink.

I placed the sponge on a plastic lid to prevent it from making the box soggy.

I placed the top bar inside and closed the lid as much as I could, leaving it open a bit for the stragglers to make their way in.

After awhile when the bees had mostly cleared off the top of the box, I closed the lid and opened the screen. This stayed as such, directly under where the swarm cluster was in the tree, until dusk when most of the scouts and workers would have returned back to the colony for the night.

I taped the screen back up and moved the box 'o' bees back to my yard and left them there over night. 


The next evening, after trying to figure out what I was going to do with a SECOND colony of bees, I recalled the creator of the plans I used for my top bar hive saying that the hive could be split into two colonies if necessary by use of the follower bars. A follower bar is just a full wood divider which is used to section off the hive.  See above.

A look at the original colony, still working away. 

I borrowed - duh, well, okay, I STOLE - this comb full of honey to put in the swarm side of the hive to help entice them to stick around (no pun intended, but do what you want with it).  I brushed the bees off of it and put it in the empty section of the hive. Some forums I read even suggested putting a frame of brood in there, as the bees would feel compelled to stay and look after them.  I did not feel this was necessary (I don't really know why. Maybe I'm just infinitely wise, and stuff).


I set the box on top of the hive and moved slow and careful-like as I removed the box top.

And then, I dumped those lassies in there! The top bar that I had placed in the box was tangled with bees, so I just transferred it to the hive.

By this time they had been in there the box for two full days. They started building right onto the lid.


Aren't they just so beautiful? I couldn't help but set them up for a little photo op.


So, as these things go, I left them to themselves in the new section of the hive and hoped for the best. They seemed to find the door opening okay and within a day or two they all seemed well oriented.

See a Queen cell hanging down in the sunlight.

A week, or so, later, I decided to check and see if the Queen Cells had hatched in the original colony yet - they need to raise up a new queen when the old one ditches them. It didn't seem so.  I checked the swarm colony and I was able to identify the old queen (she had a green dot on her back).

A friend came a week later and we decided to check the original colony again. The queen cells were empty, all three of them.  AND - this is where it gets crazy - we couldn't find the green marked old queen in the swarm hive. Uhoh.

Well, truth be told, I wondered if she'd be engaged in the Battle Royale when the others hatched mostly due to the not-quite snug fitting follower board I had placed in there. I discovered that they could squeeze in and out of the next-door colony.

"Honey we're home!"
Does this mean that they've become one big happy colony again? It's still to be seen.
The follower board is still in, and in the original side of the hive, we noticed brood - but nothing new, as in, no larva. In the swarm side of the hive, where the green queen was, there were plenty of larvae. But bees from both colonies were actively bringing home pollen, which, I've read, is an indication that there are babies that need feeding. So, it seemed that the queen was actively laying in the swarm side, but no new queen had started laying in the original side, at last inspection. I'm not sure what the deal was, but I have my suspicions. Mostly, I figure they know what they are doing. I'll just try and stay out of the way.

Today I went in briefly and gave the swarm side of the hive a little more room - as those babies will be bees soon and it'll get crowded. The goal, at this point, ill advised or not, is to eventually remove the follower board all together and see if we can all just get along.  There are all from the same family - but as most of us know, getting along with family can sometimes be tricky.

Check out this beauty loaded down with bright pollen. She had difficulty flying, she was so loaded down. It was like watching a drunk helicopter pilot coming in for a landing. 

Here you can see four different colours of pollen. So amazing.  From center bottom to top right: yellow, white (going in the door), orange, and ocher/brown.

Burdock grows like mad in these parts. I found out that bees love them, so I decided to encourage a few in my yard. they also love dandelions and clover, so for the love of bees, accept them as a part of your lawn!

They land on me all of the time. It's amazing to think that there was a time when that may have frightened me. 



  
Check out the light coloured pollen on her hind legs.

A friendly and lovable Bumblebee.  So fuzzy! Don't you just want to hug it?

So that is where we are at for now with the colony (ies). Stay tuned for further developments.




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Make a Pallet Lemonade Stand

Posted by Julie Prescesky in , , , , , , ,


As a community fundraiser we thought it a good idea to build a lemonade stand to take with us to the Montreal Mini Maker Faire last month. 

We found a pallet project on pinterest - just check out her beautiful photos. We had easy access to pallets at the neighboring business, so we gave it a go. We changed it up a bit, adding a wrap around counter, salvaged from a table top that had recently been broken. 

Below is a smattering of photos show the kids hard at work, some adjustments we made,  and, near the end, the easy Chalkboard recipe we used. 


We stapled  thick, dense cardboard panels (that we had on hand) to the front and painted them white.



We made simple braces on either side.


We placed a shelf inside for extra cups and other supplies, and added the table top, cut out and fixed together to create a horseshoe shape. We used thin plywood underneath to join two cut pieces together.  We fixed the counter top to the pallets with metal L brackets - two in front and one on each side.


DIY Chalkboard Paint:  

I keep going back to this site for chalkboard paint recipes. We used the Calcium Carbonate recipe ratios, but used dry wall powder because that's what we had on hand. Worked like a charm.

The recipe is:


  • Dissolve 2 tablespoons Calcium Carbonate Powder (or dry wall powder) into 1 tablespoon water.
  • Mix well into 1 cup black or dark blue latex paint. 


We used Bistro Markers to write in our price lists, but please note, it left a bit of a ghost layer behind when wiped off. We thought it was worth it for the vibrancy of the colour - and we'll just repaint with another coat of chalkboard paint if we want to reuse the boards. Easy peasy.

It's perfect and wonderful with regular chalk, though.



We added a cover over the top to protect the kids from the hot sun. It's a crazy zoo-themed sheet, but life with kids is kind of like a zoo, yesno? We has to cut openings in the front sides of the counter. We started by drilling holes, and finished with a jigsaw. 


We added a pallet (with the gaps filled in) as a step in behind the counter. The counter top is pretty high up!

We had to dismantle it for transport, but re assembling it was quick (less than 10 minutes).


We had a successful lemonade/bake sale and the kids loved helping out. 




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