Top Bar Hives

It’s hard to beat a Langstroth hive for its modularity, productivity, and convenience but it can also be interesting to play with bees in a different configuration. I was introduced to bees and learned beekeeping in New Zealand and I’m always looking for opportunities to see bees in new locations and contexts. In reading about beekeeping volunteer opportunities, I came across some different hive designs used around the world where access to materials and budgets are limited and was intrigued by top bar hives (TBH).  The beauty of a top bar hive is in the flexibility of design and low cost possibilities.   Greeks were…

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Notes From Swarm Season in NorCal

Spring has always been my favorite time of year - it seems that all living things are bursting forth with enthusiasm, and bees are no exception! Despite the huge variation in local climates and weather patterns, beekeepers in every region experience a swarm season, when the bees receive cues from nature that it is time to reproduce. Increased day length, warmer temperatures, increased food sources and lack of space are all responsible for encouraging bees to swarm.  Other causes of swarming include poor ventilation, mite infestation or disease, and old/failing queens. Here in Northern California it feels like spring begins in January (sorry midwesterners don't mean to…

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Beekeeping Equipment: Excluders!

The options for beekeeping equipment are seemingly endless. Lids, hive tools, suits, smokers, pallets or bottom boards; even backyard beekeepers need a lot of stuff. But how much of this equipment is really necessary? The answer is probably not much, but it definitely makes certain aspects of beekeeping easier. Today I want to look at one piece of equipment in particular, the excluder. Over the years I’ve heard many views on whether or not they are necessary, financially worth it or good for a hive (and of course the only thing beekeepers have more of than equipment is opinions). Called honey excluders or queen excluders…

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Transferring established packages from the USDA to our rooftop hives at The University of Maryland

Sadly we lost 2 of our three rooftop colonies this winter, and the third is very weak. So we decided to establish some new colonies as replacements. Usually when you are starting new colonies in the spring you buy packages, or nucs, but this year  Bart Smith from the USDA generously offered us three of his new hives that he had established from packages a few weeks earlier. Left USDA hives with several week old established packages. Right rooftop hive bodies. We brought our hive bodies over to the USDA, and removed 3-5 new frames from our hives to make room for the 3-5 frames…

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2013 Honey Extraction in Oroville, CA

Here is a video I put together a few months ago from a honey extraction. As you can see from the footage, I did not have the best set-up but still was able to extract with the tools available. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlF-_KwSEr0

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Using Pollen Traps, and Processing Pollen Samples

Installing pollen traps onto your honey bee colonies can provide many benefits.  First off, you can harvest the pollen granules from a hive for human consumption.  Bee pollen is marketed as a “Nutrient Rich Superfood,” and is sold at various health stores.  While there has not been much research into the potential benefits of taking bee pollen as a nutritional supplement, some people swear that it is a cure for many different ailments.  At the UMD lab, I seem to be the only person that has mildly enjoyed the taste.  If you do decide to harvest pollen from your bees, make sure that you leave enough for…

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Last Minute Winter Prep

As in the courageous worker ant from the fable, we beekeepers know that winter requires preparation starting in the summer. Bees spend their whole year building strong stores to allow a small fraction of their pairs to cluster around the queen all winter long and launch the colony as soon as possible in the following spring. Winter preparation varies according to your region, but in the end, the core of the winter preparation is always the same: check your hives food stores and feed if necessary, reduce the size of the hive to the size of the cluster (you don’t want to give them too…

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Some Good Neighbor Policies for Urban Beekeepers

A few weeks ago, we had an incident at the University of Maryland involving the bees from our rooftop apiaries.  A group on campus was giving away free Rita’s Italian Ice, and our bees felt inclined to participate in the event.  I had a few friends send me pictures of what was going on.  We have also heard that the bees have been getting into the trashcans on campus in search of soda and other “forage.”  Currently, bee groups on campus are working towards having all of the campus trashcans fitted with lids that are animal-proof and insect-proof.  Hopefully this will decrease the unwanted attention some…

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The Basics of Moving Hives

At some point every beekeeper will need to move hives, whether it’s a beginning hobbyist bringing home their first colony or a seasoned professional moving an entire operation across the country. Here at the NorCal Bee Informed Partnership “headquarters” in Oroville, we recently relocated 4 rooftop colonies about a half mile away because some of the maintenance staff felt did not feel comfortable working on the AC units near the bees, and we wanted to avoid any issues before they happened! In this blog I would like to go through the basics of moving colonies and some lessons learned from our recent experience. Step 1:…

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Why your drones are getting the boot

Drones, male bees, are not physically capable of doing work around the hive. They can’t sting, can’t collect pollen or nectar, can’t take care of the larvae, etc. They pretty much do only two things: eat and mate. Queens are produced when the weather is nice enough for them to mate, preferably over 70 and not windy. When the weather turns cold, drones are unable to perform their sole function. If there are no queens around to mate with, then drones are a suck on resources and worker bees stop rearing drones. Any drones left get booted out of the hive. In fall, it is…

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