We go through a five gallon bucket of honey every ten months, which we’ve been buying bulk from a local beekeeper. Last year we thought we’d try beekeeping ourselves, so we visited with the beekeeper who told us most of what we needed to do to keep bees. First thing was having a beehive. We had already identified what we wanted out of a hive: mainly better pollination around the grounds, honey, propolis, wax, and comb, and something that wouldn’t grow out of proportion to the previous goals. Everything we heard or read about the Langstroth hives indicated that they eventually lead to commercial production, which is not our dreamsong. While reading all the beekeeping information, we stumbled on a type of hive that seemed ideal for our purposes: a top bar hive, which apparently originated in Greece.
What made us interested in it was the fact that unlike the Langstroth hives, which need more boxes added to them as the hive grows and then new hives set up into which more growth gets transferred, the top bar hive seems easier in terms of management. Apparently when the colony grows too big, the extra bees can easily be released into the wild; how great is that?! Also, what appealed to us is the fact that the bees are left to their own instincts as to how they want to set up their colony as opposed to the Langstroth into which pre-drawn foundations are inserted. Most literature seems to validate that top bar hives are healthier, perhaps because the bees are following their own dreamsong while building their homestead, rather than forced to work with what we have provided for them. Either way, we settled on a top bar hive rather quickly, and our neighbour . . . . a blacksmith, silversmith, and woodworker by trade . . .. built us one out of locust with the plans we gave him, although we did play with the idea of using a barrel plan instead. It’s four feet long roughly and has dividers, so we can increase the number of bars as needed. That was last year and by the time it was done, it was too late to put any bees into it.
Forward to this year. Our friendly beekeeper got us a box of Italian bees with a queen. She’s called Elizabeth. The box was picked up yesterday and brought home. Along the way a bee suit was borrowed from another beekeeper who lives down the road. Once suited up, we all checked out the bees . . . . they were balled up around Elizabeth in a cluster, a quiet cluster . . . . then we followed Michael (the bees are going to be his domain :0) to the hive and watched as got the bees into their new home. First he banged the box on the ground a few times to loosen the bees up from the cluster they were in. Then he removed the syrup can and the queen’s cage, after which he poured the bees in . . . . he had removed four top bars first and he put these back on after the bees were in. This is when he opened up the queen’s cage, plugging the hole with his fingers while he removed one top bar and released her into the gap from her cage. Bar back on, he put the metal roof back on and weighed it down with four bricks, leaving behind a small tin of sugar syrup on the roof. He also left two of the three entrance holes open. Last night was pretty cold, so we’re assuming they’re huddled inside and keeping warm as we haven’t seen or heard them. Can’t wait to see where this goes . . . .
. . . . well, five days later, it went empty; as in we went to take our daily look and the bees were all GONE instead of clustered up on one side like they had been, with a few bees coming and going from the tin can of syrup. We began thinking over what had happened. First we looked over the hive carefully, to see if it had been built right. It was built exactly to the specifications of the design we picked, which was to a hive in use by it’s designer: successfully. We concluded that the hive is sound. Location? We had it placed with a northern windbreak from trees, mostly dappled sunlight and some shade late in the evening, on a flat surface close to a water source but not so close as to be damp …. figured the location was good. Then we came to food . … we ended up with the realization that a tin of syrup, even replenished daily, is simply not enough to get a hive up and running. After all, the bees have to draw out their own foundation from the top bars before they can set up house, and a tin of syrup sitting outside suddenly seemed very tinsy and paltry for this task. From a bees perspective, the hive and location may have been good but if they didn’t have food they’d all be dead, hence they chose to buzz off and find greener pastures. At least this is what we have concluded. So when hiving bees, we have learnt that food is extremely crucial and since we’re going to try it again, we have a new plan for the feeding, stay posted to see how that comes about :0) Suffice it to say, a tin can of sugar syrup daily is probably NOT enough and we will not do it like that again!!!!