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Learn the benefits to your garden, the top bar hive in an urban environment, protecting hives from bears, children observing through the window, how far apart should I place my hives and more!

Pollination is critical to fruit and vegetable production and many areas are severely lacking in pollinators. Having your own beehive will give you your very own work force of pollinators. Imagine having 20,000 plus bees working hard in your garden. The honeybee accounts for 80% of pollination done by insects and the honeybee pollinates 90 crops and one-third of our the food we eat. In short, get a hive and watch your garden thrive!

 

 

Q. I am in the process of learning more about beekeeping, and I am thinking about starting a hive. I live in the Phoenix area and would be keeping a hive in my backyard. Apart from swarming, I am curious about how much the bees would "travel." I notice that in the summer when swimming in the backyard we have the occasional bee around our pool (which tend to sometimes hover around our heads). I also have a dog. My question is how much, if keeping a hive in the backyard, would a person would notice bees
flying around the backyard (how many bees, and how much it would bother the
neighbors)? Thank you!

A. These are great questions that should be considered when thinking of beekeeping in your backyard.

 

Here is the best way to determine the impact of the "bee presence" in your particular environment. The bees are on a mission, there is no reason for them to loiter around your backyard or your neighbors yard. The bees want to get to the most efficient nectar flow in the area. There will be a path, or a spray of bees emitting from the hive entrance. Usually this is about ten feet in front of the landing board. This path is the main visual part of the hive that is noticeable. The stream or path of the bees disperse in many directions about ten feet away. In the hot summer sometimes the bees are outside the hive in big lumps keeping the interior of the hive cool. This is not dangerous, but it looks intimidating!

 

To plan the hive location, look for a place in the yard where you can position the hive entrance so it is pointed away from where people walk or where neighbors have a view into your yard.

 

If the nectar flow happens to be your neighbors crab apple tree, the bees will go for that tree and there will be a lot of bees on the neighbors' tree. But there should be bees on flowing trees, so I don't think the neighbors will think it is out of place. When the neighbors' tree stops flowing, the bees will go somewhere else and the neighbors will rarely even see a bee, unless they have other flowering plants.

 

When neighbors will notice your bees is when they have left soda cans out on the patio. They might notice that there are 15 bees around the coke can rather then 1 or 2 bees.

 

If the neighbors do notice the hive, usually they are happy to hear how much the bees have helped out your garden and fruit trees, how great the honey is from the local area and when you bring them a jar of honey and a comb for their kids they are quite content.

 

I have also found that if you explain that you have a different type of hive, like a bird house its a "garden pollinator hive" this helps. "Oh yes, I have this little "garden pollination hive", it's not a real bee hive, it is mostly used by organic gardeners and people that have apple trees" This line usually works, to calm their fears.

 

The big factor in your environment is the swimming pool. As with collecting nectar, the bees will also go to the nearest source of water. If the bees go to the swimming pool, they will fall into the water and could be a sting factor to kids in the pool. The remedy for this is to put a water source right next to the hive. Bees also love fountains. Give them a fountain and they won't even think of the pool

 

Dogs will usually avoid the bees. Some dogs bite bees and do get stung in the mouth and drool a lot. Some aggressive bees might go after the dog if he/she is running messing around the hive, and then they learn to keep away.

 

If your bees do swarm, it will be a big visual moment. This moment is usually short lived, maybe only a few minutes. Then the bees will be in a tree nearby in a clump and in a day or so the bees will be off into the wild blue yonder.

 

I hope this helps and you can join in the fun!

 

 

 

 

Bears are definitely a problem around our area. There are a few methods used to deter bears from bee hives.

 

A motion sensor sound alarm is one option. This alarm sends out a loud chime for 30 seconds which scares and chases the bear away. I used this method for a while and it worked fairly well, but the alarm was too loud and it usually went off at night. And, we still had a problem with a bear getting to the hives.

 

We now use a solar-powered battery electric fence. This has worked wonders for protecting the hives from bears, as long as the voltage is strong. This method may work well for you, but does require a bit of maintenance. When it is overcast, you will have to check the battery charge and determine if the high voltage is maintained. If the solar charger isn't working at max potential, you will have to plug the battery into an electrical outlet. This means that if you go out of town you will need to arrange for someone to check your charger. For some, having an electrical fence isn’t feasible. If you have, or are visited by young children or pets, you may want to consider other options.

 

Another method that I am impressed with is encasing the hive in a bear-proof structure. Some people build “bear boxes” specifically for their hives, while others place the hives within an existing bear proof building, like a shed, a chicken coop, or a greenhouse. The entrance to the hive, or landing board, needs to be flush with the fence or wall with a hole to the outside -- otherwise, the bees may get stuck inside. Placing a hive in a structure can also help with insulating the hive during the winter.

 

Locating the hive on the level spot of a roof is another way to make the hive inaccessible for bears. When considering a roof-top hive, make sure a bear could not climb a tree or pole to access the roof. If you use a ladder, make sure that you move it away from the house when you are done. And remember your hive needs to be level.

 

Bears are a definite threat to a honey bee colony. We are all aware of the stereotypical pooh-bear-relationship between honey bees and these determined honey hunters. But, don’t let this deter you from enjoying the wonders of hobby bee keeping. With the right plan and action, you can avoid bear incursions.

 

Have your bear proof location set up before your bees begin storing lots of honey. And remember, a bear’s sense of smell is very keen. So, even if your hive is protected, to avoid attracting bears, keep the outside of the hive, the ground, and the surrounding area clean of honey, wax, and propolis.

 

Bears can be a problem, but there are many solutions for you to choose from. 

 

 

Q. What if I don't have a garden, and mostly want the beehive for my children for educational purposes? Is there a certain age that would recommend for the children who will care for the hive?

 

A. I have several friends who are using the BackYard Hive as a learning and bonding experience with their children. The children are 8-10 years old and are working with their parents, tending the bees. Tending to the beehive covers many learning opportunities, including ecology, nature, math and a general body/mind awareness. When you work with the hive, you learn to monitor the feedback from the bees, which in turn encourages the beekeeper to be graceful and relaxed.

With the window Corwin designed into the Backyard Hive the children can watch the bees do their thing, and with a good book on bees the children can learn from the book and actually watch for the bee behaviors.

 

 

 

 

Q. Can I install 2 hives at the same time?  Meaning.....one first followed by the second hive or do I wait a while before the second installation?

 

A. If the hives are thirty feet away or more, you could install them at the same time, although thirty feet is really an arbitrary number - the main thing to consider is when the bees formed their colony and regrouped. When the first bees installed have stopped "fanning", then you can install the second colony of bees.

Fanning is pretty amazing to watch. The bees that are around the new hive will put their abdomens up in the air and rapidly fan the air. The bees are putting out pheromones and sonic vibrations signaling their buddies where the queen and the new hive are. So you can imagine if two colonies are doing this at the same time, it could be a little confusing to the bees.

If you have more than one hive your learning experience quickly increases. The more hives you have the faster your learning curve as each colony will have very different behaviors. And having more hives than one you can interchange top bars of brood or honeycombs if for example one hive is struggling with their numbers or honey stores.

 

 

It is perfectly fine to put the hives in close proximity. Here are some things to think about.

1. You want enough room to walk between the hives and be able to work around each hive. The biggest problem for me has been when I am harvesting honey in one hive and the adjacent hives’ bees catch wind of the honey smell. I now have increased the number of bees landing on the combs I am trying to work. This is one reason I like to do the the single comb harvest with my hives that are close together. I can go in and remove a comb before any of the "other" bees get what's going on.

 

2. If the hives are close together they get used to each others’ proximity and scent and let their guard down, which sometimes results in them robbing the other hive. Disease can more easily spread and infect hives in close proximity; this is much of the problem with big honey apiaries. I like to give the bees their own local territory. If you have the room I would put the hives several hundred feet away from each other.

 

3. I get different honey from these hives.

 

A scenario might be; my #1 hive is right next to an apple tree will be a dark "apple honey" and the #2 hive, in the side-yard is going after the melon patch and the plum bushes across the road.

 

One of my favorite beekeeping joys is seeking out mono-flora areas. I drive and look for sunflower fields, different flowers down by a lake or fields with wild flowers. I will then put a hive in this area for a couple of months just to see what the flavor and color of the honey is.

 

Top bar hives and ventilation, honey production in the top bar hive, how the bees use propolis for their entrance, the wood we use to build our top bar hives, the sizes of our hives and more!

 

The top bar hive does not use wax foundation as used in Langstroth hives. The bees draw out their own comb using the top bar as a guide. To encourage the bees to build straight combs in a top bar hive, simply rub beeswax on the triangular, corner edge of each top bar.

 

The bees attach themselves to this triangle edge and begin to deposit bits of wax in a pattern on that bar. Using gravity, they hang their bodies and excrete the wax from glands on their abdomen to create comb on the top bar. The nectar they collect is used to create this wax. It is such an amazing process and it is incredible how quickly the bees can build new comb. You may have noticed that the cells on the combs are geometrically uniform. To create this shape, the bees first make the cell a circle. Then they detach their wings flexing their muscles creating heat to shape the cell into a circular shape around their bodies. When the wax reaches a certain temperature, the molecules in the wax "click" into a hexagonal shape.

 

Just like all the processes in the hive, I feel this is absolutely magical. To find out more information on the inner workings of the bee colony, check out a book written by Jurgen Tautz, The Buzz About Bees. If you are interested, this is an amazing easy read, explaining new scientific breakthroughs about the bee, that will leave you in awe!!

 

 

 

Size

 

The size of the our hives is based on several considerations. The first is to make it manageable for the beginning bee guardian. A Langstroth hive will contain up to 80,000 bees. A High Volume top bar hive will contain about 50-60K bees. Working with a large number of bees can be very intimidating! Both of our hives are smaller. The Golden Mean hive contains about 20-30K bees, and the Backyard hive contains about 10-15K bees. The size and weight of the combs in our top bar hives are manageable for the average person.

 

 

In colder climates our smaller hives can be winterized more effectively and the smaller space kept warmer by the bees. In addition, the smaller hive is easier to transport. The hive can be carried by one person to and from one location to another.

 

 

Finally, in an urban backyard, or in a semi-rural location, the small profile of our hives is not as obvious and intimidating for neighbors. They have a handsome aesthetic look that intrigues and interests, rather than evoking: "Oh my, the neighbor has bee hives!"

 

 

The difference between our two hives is the volume and the shape. Our Backyard hive will produce less honey, but the narrower construction of the hive makes it easier to harvest honey because the brood nest is further into the hive. From the GM hive you will harvest more honey, more quickly.

 

 

BackYard hive dimensions: 36” L x 14 1/2” W x 9” H
GM hive dimensions: 28 ½” L x 18” W x 10” H

 

 

 

 

Wood type

 

We construct our top bar hives from either white pine or beetle-kill pine from Colorado. They’re put together with screws and wood glue. The top bars themselves are made from hardwoods: either recycled pine or poplar. The wood has to be fibrous so it doesn’t splinter when you scrape wax off of it. We have heard of people constructing hives from cedar, but we don’t suggest its use as cedar emits a tannin that repels fungus and bugs. We use a double-strength glass (ds) for the window.

 

 

 

 

 

Mite screen bottom board

 

There are three reasons why we at BackYardHive do not feel a screen bottom is particularly useful.

 

 

 

1) The screen creates a false bottom. The first problem is that the bees do not have access to the actual floor and thus cannot clean it. We have seen screen bottom hives that are full of worms and random growths – we don’t believe this is a healthy house. The second problem is hive temperature. The bees build their combs to fill the space – with a false bottom they cannot regulate the hive temperature because of that extra air pocket at the bottom of the hive.

 

 

 

2) The idea behind the screens was that the mites would fall through the screen This would allow the beekeeper to count them in order to assess the degree of infestation and thus how much pesticide to apply. We believe pesticides are part of the problem, not the answer, and we feel that an observation window (see our hives’ construction) is a far better manner of checking up on the health of your hive.

 

 

 

3) The mites that fall through the screen are dead. The screen is not a preventative measure.

 

 

 

Falseback (or divider board)

 

The "false back" which is included with the Backyard Hives is used when you install the bees into your hive. When installing your bees for the first time, the falseback is placed near the middle of the hive for the bees to establish building their comb towards the front of the hive. This is the brood nest area, where the queen will start to lay larvae/brood. After a few days, the bees will have started to draw combs, the falseback can be moved all the way to the back of the hive, behind the last top bar. There may be a gap in space at the back of the hive, this is for expansion of the wood top bars and it gives a little ventilation at the back of the hive.

 

 

If you are going into the business of beekeeping with only production in mind our hives cannot compete on a hive per hive basis with commercial hives. In our top bar hives the bees have to draw out virgin comb each time one is removed, which slows down the production, but this also helps to keep the hive healthy. Also, top bar hives typically have less bees in them than a Langstroth hive, so production is less.

 

Remember that there is a trade off with production vs. a healthy hive. With our hives the comb is removed and extracted by crushing the comb and filtering it through a screen, which also yields wax. With the Langstroth hive, the combs are removed and the honey spun off. Then the combs are put back into the hive. This process invites disease and contamination into the hive. So "lots of honey" might only last until the hives are diseased. If you run multiple Backyard hives and are selling at the local farmers markets and pricing your honey as "organic" you should be doing quite well.

 

I've heard that Langstroth hives produce about 10 gallons of honey per year each, which is more than twice what a Backyard Hive will produce. Each of my hives produce around 3 to 4 gallons of honey per hive per year.

 

 

 

 

With the BackYardHive you don't need a queen “excluder.” With the right management techniques and timing you can keep the brood separate from the honey stores. We typically avoid queen excluders because they are usually metal, which may disturb the bees’ natural rhythms. Plus, the bees will have to squeeze through the little holes, which may slow down production.

 

Below are some of those techniques that you can use with the top bar hive.

 

When you install the bees into your hive, use the "false back" (follower baord, divider board) which is included with the Backyard Hives. Place the falseback 10-12 bars from the entrance of the hive, and install the bees into this space. Make sure you replace all of the top bars in the back of the hive. This procedure establishes the brood nest in the front of the hive. The brood nest will be located where the bees build their first combs. Remove the false back in 5-7 days. After about 2 weeks you may need to scoot the clump of bees to the 3rd bar from the entrance. The bees will fill the back of the hive with honey stores. You can harvest honey from the back of the hive.

 

During the summer, the queen will lay many eggs to create a “brood bloom.” This bloom will prepare the hive to have a mass of bees to gather honey, pollen, propolis, or to swarm. In the summer you may see this brood bloom extending in a cone shape into the honey stores from the brood nest. During this time, you should only harvest the last 2 bars to prevent the bees from attaching comb to the back of the hive, and to give them more space to store more honey. In the fall and late spring, the brood nest should shrink back to the front of the hive as the nectar sources have diminished, and the colony is preparing to survive the winter. The cells in the honey combs where the brood was once laid will be filled with capped honey. This is one reason why we suggest harvesting your honey in the early spring, so you can avoid having brood in the honey.

 

When you harvest honey in the spring, you may notice a dark circle on your honey combs. These are the cells that once had brood in them. If the cone shape whipped down to the lower part of the combs, the hive was warm and the queen was tying to keep the brood cool.

 

The queen will keep the brood isolated in particular areas. In the fall and spring, the brood nest should shrink back to the front of the hive. If you want to prevent the brood nest from whipping into the back of the hive, you can remove a comb between the brood nest and the honey stores and replace it with an empty bar; the queen will rarely cross this area to lay more eggs.

 

We hope this helps you with your questions concerning queen excluders, what ever method you choose to use, have fun and know you can count on us for offering you support while managing your top bar hive.

 

 

A major difference between Top bar and Langstroth hives is their approach to ventilation. A Langstroth hive is built like a chimney. The result is a large temperature gradient with heat radiating to the top creating a condensation effect that drips moisture down into the hive. Top bar hives are built horizontally and don't have this issue. In our hives, the window glass actually serves well as a condensation site, allowing the bees access to some water in the winter.

 

 

The bees themselves have a genetic ability to regulate their hive temperature. They do this by fanning -- it circulates air out the front entrance of the hive. Natural hives, obviously (!), do not have screened bottoms and usually just a small entrance hole. We believe a screen bottom board creates drafts which waft away the hive scents crucial to bee communication.

 

 

Seeing bees at night on the entrance is very common. They're regulating the hive temperature. The hive heats up as all the field bees return at the end of the day.

 

 

We have had people in warmer climates drill ½” holes covered with screening in the back of the hive near the top. The small size of the holes allows for ventilation while not preventing the bees from sealing the opening with propolis. Listen and watch your bees. If they propolize the holes shut then they didn't need them.

 

 

If your bees did not originate in your area (if they came in a package from Florida, for example), they may not have the genetic knowledge to seal their hive before winter arrives. If the bees have shown no sign of reducing the size of their entrance by late autumn, you can help them out by using a bunch of small sticks. The bees will be able to better regulate the hive temperature by opening the entrance to the extent they need.

 

We are no longer sending out entrance reducers because we have decided that they can cause the hive to overheat. The bees are not strong enough to move the entrance reducer out of the way. Due to climate anomalies, many areas are experiencing unusually warm days during the winter months. Unless the bee guardian is hyper-vigilant, these warm days can catch everyone by surprise. If the bees are not able to open their entrance and get air circulating through the hive, the consequences can be disastrous.

The majority of bees already have the genetic ability to reduce their entrance by using propolis. This natural process is sufficient to close up the hive for the winter months.

If it's necessary, if the bees have shown no sign of reducing the size of their entrance by late autumn, you can help them out by using a bunch of small sticks. The bees will be able to better regulate the hive temperature by opening the entrance to the extent they need.

 

 

Managing the combs in a top bar hive is quite a bit different then the Langstroth hive. Propolis is not really problematic in the top bar hive because of the nature of how the bees suspend the combs from the top bars.

With the Langstroth hive "frames" are provided for the bees to draw out the comb. These frames slide into slots in the Langstroth hive box. Because there is a tight fit and the edges of the frame contact the box, propolis can be a problem. The bees will propolize any crack or surface of wood and will "glue" the frames into place, requiring a hive tool to free them.

 

In the top bar hive there are two things that the bees do to keep the combs steady and to seal the hive. The first is that the bees propolize the ends of the top bars to the top edge of the hive.

 

The top bar is removed by gently prying or loosening the edges of the bar with something like a hive tool. We have created a hive tool for the top bar hive. It works great for prying bars that have been "glued" with propolis and scraping comb from the sides of the hive. You can order it in our online Shop .

 

I first pry vertically about 1/2 inch and then slide the tool in between the next bar and pry about a 1/4 inch horizontally. This is usually all that is needed to loosen the grip of the propolis on the top bar.

 

The second stage of removing a comb is to detach the wax comb from the sides of the hive and sometimes the bottom. Since the wax is warm and pliable I slowly move the hive tool along the side of the hive using the flattened (knife edge) side of the hive tool along the comb to detach the few places that the bees have secured the comb.

 

 

Q. Across the top where the top bars are in place, I have a 3/4" gap at the back of the hive.  Is this normal?

 

 

A. The ¾ inch gap is an intentional design parameter of the BYH, although this space will vary depending upon how you configure your top bars and spacers. If the beekeeper is not paying attention, the bees can fill up the entire hive with comb. In this case the beekeeper would still be able to access the hive due to the ¾ inch gap.

 

 

When the combs are built all the way to the back of the hive, the bees will attach the last comb to the False Back. The ¾ inch gap allows the beekeeper to loosen and pull the False Back away from the last comb into the ¾ inch gap, allowing the false back to be removed and access to the comb.

 

 

The False Back comes with our hives -- it enables the hive space to be adjusted when new bees are installed and to create a smaller space for the bees to heat during the winter. The False Back should always be located at the far back of the hive during the summer/fall months to close off the hive. This keeps other bees and wasps from robbing the hive.

 

Obtaining bees for your hive, installing bees into your top bar hive, hive placement, weatherizing your top bar hive; How much setup is required? What tools do I need?

 

The best thing about the top bar hive is that it is absolutely the easiest bee hive to set up and manage. This is what makes it perfect for the first time back yard hobby bee keeper. There are just a few steps that you will need to take to set up your hive before you install the bees.

 

1. Find the best location for your hive.
2. Place your hive on a platform so it is at a comfortable height to work with, such as on cinder blocks.
3. Level the hive, with the lid off, from front to back and from side to side. You may have to adjust the ground, or add shims under the feet of the hive.
4. Place a custom-made roof or a piece of water-proof material on the top of the hive, to protect it from the rain and snow.
5. Make sure your hive and roof are weighted down, so they are not jostled by the wind.
6. Apply a thin layer of bees wax on the top bars, by rubbing the wax along the edge.

 

This is all you need to do to prepare your hive for your new colony! After this, just introduce the colony to their new home. For more information, please see all of the other articles in this FAQ section (Getting Started), check out our feature article “6 Steps to Getting Started,” and don’t forget to check our our DVD which has a wealth of information including graphic illustrations which will help you to better understand and better care for your bees.

 

Enjoy!

 

 Bees are not included with your purchase of a BackYard hive. There are four ways to get bees: you can buy a nucleus (a “nuc”), you can buy a package of bees, or you can get on a swarm list and either buy a swarm from someone who has already collected them or you may catch the swarm yourself.

A nuc is a starter kit for a Langstroth hive. The bees and their queen have already drawn out comb on Langstroth frames. It’s a bit like a mini-Lang hive. It’s quite difficult and messy to retro fit a nuc into a top bar hive. You have to take the square frames apart, and then cut both the top frame and the comb itself in order to fit it into the angled-sided top bar hive. We don’t really recommend this method.

The most common way of obtaining bees is to order a package. You can expect to spend from $80 - $120 for a package of bees.

If you buy a package of bees, you might be best off buying from a local supplier. There are a lot more suppliers who provide bees locally than suppliers who will ship bees through the mail. See our list of package suppliers to order bees.

Bees are shipped in the spring (which is also swarming season) but you need to place your order by November if you want to be assured of getting bees. Most suppliers sell out quickly because most commercial beekeepers lose a substantial portion of their bees every year to parasites and disease and now CCD-- this creates a constant demand for new bees. My experience with purchased bees is limited to what I've read and heard from other beekeepers.

When you order bees they are usually "created." The Queens are bred or manufactured and then put into a box with bees that are not the queen’s offspring. Then the bees are shipped, which is quite stressful for them. Bees that are shipped to different climate zones may not have the genetic knowledge to survive healthily in their new homes.

My preferred method is capturing wild swarms. I do this because I believe that wild swarms are more suited to my local climate and they have the strongest immune system. You can be sure that a wild swarm came from a healthy hive or they wouldn't have swarmed in the first place.

Check this link to find resources for swarm removers where you may be able to get on their list for a swarm of bees. Or try calling your local beekeeping association and seeing if they have a list you can get on for a swarm of bees. A swarm of bees is free if you catch it yourself or usually up to $50 if someone else catches it for you.

In most cases, when a swarm is called into the bee removers they will first try to call a beekeeper on a list. Bee removers will work through their list to find a beekeeper willing to remove the swarm. If it is an exterminator and the beekeepers don't respond the bees are usually sprayed with insecticide by the exterminators :-(.

It is a very rewarding experience to go get your own bees from a wild swarm. You can read our article about catching a swarm on our website. Getting a wild swarm is very exciting and not nearly as dangerous as it sounds. Much of what people believe about bee swarms is a product of Hollywood and the media and simply untrue.

Generally the bees are not aggressive because they are not protecting a hive. Aggressive behavior from bees is almost always related to their instinct to protect their honey stores in their hive from predators. Bees that have just swarmed and are in the process of locating a new home are not inclined to be aggressive or defensive. They have just one thing on their collective mind -- to find a new home. Collecting a wild swarm is as simple as finding a swarm and dropping it into a box. It seems scary, but it is in fact how bees were collected for centuries.

When you get a call from the exterminators, go to the site of the swarm and estimate if the swarm is low enough for you to reach by cutting away a few branches if necessary. Is it consolidated on a low hanging branch? If so this may be a great swarm to go for. Avoid swarms that are embedded deep in trees or clinging under eaves of houses.

To capture the bees take a cardboard box and cut a hole 3"x3" into the side and tape on a screen of some sort. This will give the bees air and ventilation. You will also be able to mist the screen to give the bees water for cooling, if the trip home is extended.

The goal is to capture, all at once, the bulk of the bees and the queen who is usually clustered in the center of the swarm. Hold the box under the ball of bees, get a good grip on the branch, and in one firm movement shake the bees into the box. Or cut the branch and lower it into the box with the bees still attached. This way there will be fewer bees flying around.

Gently lower the box to the ground and let the bees gather into the box. If you got the queen in the box, all the bees will eventually collect into the box. If the queen is in the box you will also see the bees fanning, sticking their butts in the air and flapping their wings, sending off the colony’s pheromone to alert all the bees that the queen is inside. It takes about an hour depending on the time of day for the bees to all collect inside the box with their queen. The best time to get a swarm is close to sunset as during the day there are many scout bees out looking for the colony’s new home and also some bees out fetching water for the rest of the swarm.

 

 

 

The first step is to prepare your hive. Before you install your bees, place the false back near the middle of the hive. This will encourage the bees to establish their brood nest in the front of the hive, and their honey stores in the back of the hive (which makes the honey easier to harvest). The false back also creates a smaller space for the bees to keep warm while they are getting started.

 

 

 

Where you place your false back depends on the size of the swarm or package. For the average size swarm or 3 lb package of bees, place your false back 10-12 bars from the entrance for a small hive or our Backyard Hive and 8-10 bars for our Golden Mean Hive. Note that a very large swarm will need a slightly larger space or they may abscond.

 

 

 

Make sure all the bars and spacers are in the hive. The spacers are used to increase the spacing between the top bars to allow for the wider dimension of the honey combs. To install the spacers, start behind the false back and insert the spacers in between each top bar moving toward the back of the hive. The top of the spacers should be flush with the top of the top bars.

 

 

 

Before installing your bees, remove a few of the top bars to create an opening through which to put them into the hive.

 

 

 

To get the bees out of their container (for either a package or a swarm) you will have to tap firmly or give a vigorous shake to get the bee ball to drop into the hive. You will want to replace most of the top bars before bees start to climb out and cover the rim of the hive. Replace all the bars leaving a one bar space. Place the container next to the hive and the rest of the bees will find their way in.

 

 

 

With a swarm you will not see the queen as she will be in the middle of the ball of bees. When installing a package of bees follow the instructions that are provided with it. The main difference with the top bar hive is that you will need to secure the queen container by putting the metal tab between the 3rd and 4th bar from the front of the hive. Come back to the hive in 2 to 3 days and release the queen if she is still in the container.

 

 

After about 4-6 days the false back can be moved and placed at the back of the hive.

 

 

You all are on your way!

 

 

At the moment there are limited top bar beekeeping organizations. However, there are some out there, and you could be lucky and find one in you area. So, search for a local bee club or association in places like Google or yahoo groups, or on other top bar websites. You could also put a physical post around your town stating that you are looking for top bar beekeepers in the area.

 

Often times a local beekeepers' association harnesses support for beekeepers using the “new” top bar hives. Unfortunately, a lot of the old-timer Langstroth beekeepers' associations can be discouraging or cynical toward the top bar method. I am not sure why, but I know there is a lot of fear concerning the current state of bees, and sometimes people can be uneducated about how effective this chemical-free, organic, sustainable beekeeping method is. The top bar method is a successful way to keep bees that supports their health and well-being. If you decide to join a bee keeper’s association, or attend a meeting, just be prepared for the possibility of encountering some resistance. If, however, the organization is open-minded you can learn a lot about bees and beekeeping.

 

It may difficult for you to find local advice on how to use the top bar hive, but here at BackYardHive.com we are working hard to offer new hobby top bar beekeepers with as much support while getting started as we can. You can keep updated with our website, join our email list through which you will receive articles posting updated management techniques, attend or host a class with us, order our DVD, or come to our apiary to train as a bee-guardian educator. And who knows, maybe one day you could start a top bar bee club for your area! With a few basic ideas the top bar method is quite easy to pick up. So go for it!

 

 

The BackYardHive Tool list is fairly simple:

 

 

Bee Suit (see discussion below)

 

Smoker (see discussion below)

 

 

 

Hive Tool

 

We sell a customized Hive Tool which works really well. This tool is used to pry the topbars gently apart when working the hive. It also slides between the comb and the wall of the hive enabling the beekeeper to unattach the comb from the walls. This tool is very nimble in the hive and enables the beekeepers' hand to be outside of the hive, thus minimizing the disturbance within.

 

 

 

Putty knife

 

Used to clean the sides of the hive and topbars,.

 

 

 

Extractor

 

This is an expensive necessity for the Langstroth hive that is not required for the top bar hive. The combs are cut off in a bowl, mashed and put in a mesh strainer draped in a five gallon bucket. The honey drips out into a five gallon bucket and is ready to put in jars. You can put a plastic tap into the side of the five gallon bucket to fill the jars more easily.

 

 

 

I really enjoy harvesting one comb at a time during the summer. This method is very quick and gives the best sample of the different honey produced from the various flower blooms. I cover this approach in an article "A Simple Harvest" on our Website.

 

 

 

Beeswax

 

You do need to get bee's wax to coat the triangular edge of the top bars. You can melt it and then brush it on, but its actually easier to simply rub the wax directly on the edge. We sell pure beeswax on our web site. If you purchase it else where make sure it is bee's wax and not paraffin.

 

 

 

Miscellany

 

With the Langstroth there are many tools and equipment that are simply not needed with a top bar hive. Queen excluder, mite screens, Supers, foundation, pesticides, fungucides, Superframes, HiveTopper Feeder, Medication Kit, Shallow Honey Super, bee brush, Frame Grip, Manipulating Cloth, Hive Strap, Frame Cleaner, Frame Runners, Castellated Spacers, Snelgrove Board just to name a few.

 


Bee Suits: Do I need Protective clothing?

 

This is your choice, I cover this in one of the FAQ's on the website (click here to read). When you are just starting out beekeeping wearing protective gear will give you an added comfort when working with the bees. And it is one less thing to think about when working with the bees.

 

 

 

Whether or not you should wear a bee suit depends on your comfort level. Our suggestion is to start with maximum protection. Be mindful to move gently and smoothly without jarring the hive. Pay attention to the reaction you receive from the bees and be prepared to close the hive if the situation becomes too stressful. As you become more comfortable with your skill and the bees, you may begin to remove the protective gear as you feel appropriate.

 

There is no reason why you should feel stressed or nervous while tending to the bees. Bee-guardianship should be a fun and relaxing experience, so don’t push yourself beyond your limits.

 

Keep in mind that each bee colony has different attitudes. I have hives where the bees are very gentle and have never stung me, and others that are very defensive of their home. The particular mood of the moment, the time of day, and the time of year, are also variables. So, feel the energy of your hive, go in the hive before the heat of the day, in the later morning while many bees are out foraging, and try to stay out of the hive at dusk and in the fall.

 

You have many options for protective gear. You can create your own unique outfit or purchase a half- or a full-bodied suit. Here is a link to the bee suits we have online.

 

If you would rather not purchase a bee suit, you could start out with just a veil, leather gloves, long sleeves, and pants. You can tape the opening to your sleeves shut, as well as your pant cuffs. This will prevent bees from crawling into your clothes or shoes, and from stinging you on your face or hands. Or, if you are comfortable, this can be an outfit that you choose to work slowly toward, after starting with a more sting-proof option. As you feel comfortable you may play with removing gloves, and so on.

 

Keep in mind that because of the design of the top bar hive, the bees do not get as agitated and reactive as with working in the Langstroth hives. The top bar hive differs substantially from Lang hives in that there are not spaces between each frame that expose a large area to the outside. With the top bar hive, the bars are flush with each other and you will only expose a few inches to the open air. This design comfortably contains the bees, and from my experience, will keep them less reactive to your activity. Of course, if you breathe into the hive or if something jars the hive you still risk being stung.

 

So, deciding on your protective gear is up to you. Regardless of what you wear, you should work in the hive with the same awareness. Just make sure you enjoy your time with the bees, and stay in your comfort zone.

Do you need to use a smoker with a Top Bar Hive?

 

We don't use smokers; we don't feel it's healthy for the bees. The smoke is basically making the bees feel that there is a fire in the forest and that they have to gorge on honey and get ready to run. This is why the bees seem calmer, only because they are full of honey. The smoke actually stresses out the bees and makes them vulnerable to disease and the bees begin to associate the beekeeper with a smoking trauma.

 

Most of the people we have taught to work with top bar hives do not own a smoker. The beekeeper can perfect their technique when working the hive, and eventually be comfortable not using a smoker. When working with the bees, much depends on your timing (both the season and the time of day that you choose to work with them) and the personality of the bees. If you listen to the bees they should tell you when it's ok.

 

When working with the bees during a nice warm day, many of the bees will be out foraging so you’ll have less bees to "interrupt" when going into the hive. You do want to be careful it is not too hot of a day (like 90 degrees) as the comb will be very soft and can be more susceptible to falling off the top bar. The idea is to be calm -- move slowly and with care.

 

All this being said, if you are just getting started with bees, it is not the end of the world to lightly use smoke and it might make you feel more comfortable.

 

 

You will want to place the entrance of the hive away from foot traffic. The less foot traffic at the entrance of the hive the better for the bees and you and your friends. You'll need to consider the winter weather in your area and which direction the wind comes from. Face the hive entrance away from strong winter winds. The ideal direction would face somewhere between east and south. It is a good idea that the hive gets some shade in the afternoon in the summer and plenty of sun in the winter months, especially if you live in cold climate. An ideal location is something like under a tree where it will get shade in the summer afternoons (12-3pm) and in the winter it will get sun most of the day when the leaves are gone from the tree. Putting it next to a building or some structure can have the same effect: the east side is best. You may also want to raise it off the ground a few feet so that it is easier to work with. A couple of cinder blocks works well for this.

 

 

Our top bar hives do not include a roof. Our decision not to add a waterproof cover was based on several considerations. The main reason was for people who do not want non-natural elements on the hive. Also many people wanted to have the hive match their house roof and wanted to use tiles from their roof. Others wanted to use their own natural/earth based paint. Some backyard beekeepers just wanted to be creative and put some of their own unique ideas to work. Many of our customers have made their own using stone, roof tiles, corrugated metal, plastic or wood. If you have a unique Backyard Hive roof to share, we would love to see it!

 

 

Roof
You will, however, need some sort of roof to protect the plywood cover from the elements. I have one hive that I have purposely exposed to the elements. The top is just now showing signs of separation.

We offer a ventilatd roof foro our top bar hives. The vented roof functions just like a house roof. it has ventialtion all along the top and vents on each end. This allows the hot air created by the sun beating down on the roof to flow out and not overheat the hive.

A roof of some sort is critical to the hive to allow proper ventilation and air flow.

 

 

Painting your Hive
We have designed the Backyard Hive to have good longevity without painting. This includes choosing wood with minimal, cambered, end grain on the side panels and orientating the panels inward to minimize warping. The holes in the hive are all pre-drilled and counter sunk to limit splitting. Not painting the hive is based on the holistic approach to bee keeping. We believe paint fumes can interfere with the bees’ pheromone-based communication. There are, however, several natural alternative paints. (See below). Keep in mind many natural paints have beeswax as an ingredient. If you have bears, like I do, you don’t want to use these!!

 

 


Painting your hive really comes down to personal philosophy. I suppose science could find nothing dangerous to the bees if the hive was painted with non-toxic paint, but from a Bio-Dynamic point of view, chemical paint is "Energetically" not appreciated by the bees.

 

When I showed the Backyard Hive to Günther Hawk last summer he spoke in detail about the importance of not painting the hive. Günther is a highly sought-after speaker on Bio-dynamic gardening and runs several natural beekeeping seminars a year. See the link to Günther’s book below. I would really suggest this book as it talks about many of the aspects of holistic beekeeping that you will not find in most books on bees.

 

Small cracks are going to develop in the hive, whether painted or not, but the bees will seal these up with propolis.

We do not have any personal experience using Linseed oil as a sealant.

 

Günther Hawk’s book: Toward Saving The Honeybee

 

Does my hive have a queen? When can I harvest honey and how much? Winterizing your top bar hive, crooked combs, all about swarming

You will know when your bees are preparing to swarm when you see queen cells (large cells that look like peanuts) on the edges of the comb.

When your bees actually swarm you will see a large cloud of active bees flying around the hive within about a 10 foot space in every direction. You’ll then start to see the cloud of bees move off to find a resting spot on a nearby branch. At that point they form into a ball by holding onto each other’s bodies while the scouts go out to look for a new hive location. The time to catch a swarm is when it’s in the ball of bees before they set up in a hollow tree or wherever they find suitable.

Swarming season in the Boulder/Denver area of Colorado usually starts in late April and ends mid June.

There are several contrasting view points concerning swarming. One is that swarming is to be avoided at any cost. Economics is the main motivation here; in a commercial setting, having half of the bees swarm off cuts production in half. The other concern is that the bees would not be successful in "re-queening,” or producing another queen. This would render the hive lifeless in a month.

In our bee guardian practices, we support swarming in our hives, especially in the first years. When a hive swarms, the old queen will leave the hive with a portion of the bees. The new queen will mate with 10 or so local drones and acquire genetic diversity from that area. From an ecological standpoint, swarming is a natural process. It makes the bees healthy and happy, promotes genetic diversity, and encourages them to be productive. Suppressing a swarm discourages the population growth of the bees. It also forces a higher number of bees to live in the same space. Cramped hive conditions produces stress which lowers the immunity of that community of bees. And finally, suppressing a swarm prevents genetic advancement. We love the concept that swarming helps to re-establish bees in the wild, thus maintaining the genetic diversity of the bee species.

 A genetically-strong bee colony will be successful at re-queening their hive after a swarm. The main reason why bees would not be successful at re-queening is that current bee cloning practices and splitting projects have depleted their genetic “innate knowledge" for the re-queening behavior. Naturally, a bee colony that does not re-queen will be "unselected" from the gene pool, which is disastrous if it is your hive, but once you have established a healthy hive, the possibility of swarming without re-queening is very low.

 In saying this, we do manage some swarming. For many reasons we suggest harvesting honey in the early spring. One benefit of this is that early in the spring, the colony will know to focus energy on building more comb and storing more honey and not on sending out 3 healthy swarms. They may just send out one or none for the season. We also want to prevent the bees from completely abandoning the hive. This can happen when the bees have lived in the hive for 3 years or longer. The brood nest is re-used each year to hatch new bees. Each time an egg is laid in a cell, it is coated with propolis. Over time the propolis makes the cells in the brood nest smaller and the comb darker. Once these cells get too small to produce a healthy body size, the bees will leave the hive for a new home. To prevent this, we suggest harvesting the darkest brood combs after the hive’s 2nd or 3rd season. To do this we remove the comb from the brood nest and place it in the back of the hive to allow the bees to hatch the brood. It is very important to make sure that the queen is not on this comb before it is moved. We then place an empty bar in the front or back of the brood nest, to give them space to build fresh brood comb. When the brood have all been hatched we harvest the wax, or let them fill it with honey.

Therefore, we suggest supporting swarming in your hive, while finding holistic management techniques that allow the colony to produce maximum amounts of honey. If you want more honey than one colony of bees can efficiently produce, don’t suppress swarming, just start with two or three BackYardHives! And if you would like to capture your hive’s swarms look into purchasing a swarm trap which is sold by beekeeping supply companies. You can then put these swarms into a new hive.

Good luck, and have fun!

Also, please see our article about Catching a Swarm.

Tips for luring a swarm into a hive.

You can either try to lure bees who have already swarmed (perhaps they’re in a tree or a bush waiting for their scouts to return) or you can put out a swarm trap near an existing hive in the hope that they’ll simply move right in.

An older hive that once had bees in it is a good choice. If you have any, you could add some empty brood comb from one of your other hives. Queen pheromone lure also works well. Michael Bush’s suggestion is to use lemongrass essential oil (put it on a Qtip). Rubbing organic beeswax on the tip of the top bars is also definitely a good attractant as well as helping the new bees build straight comb once they start.

You could also buy a swarm trap. It is necessary to check these traps everyday during swarm season because it can become a terrible mess when you try to transfer the bees to a hive if they have already started building a lot of comb.

Mann Lake ltd. is mainly a chemical beekeeping company, but they do sell traps and pheromone lures.

Queen pheromone lure

Swarm Trap

We use swarm traps to lure swarms into a hive and we'll put an old comb as well as a queen pheromone lure from Mann lake ltd. It's not the most natural thing in the world but the pheromone lure they make really works well. You could also buy a swarm trap and put it up during swarm season somewhere about 20 feet away and 10 feet up in a tree. The main thing with this is that you'd need to check on it The queen pheromone and swarm trap are probably the only things you'd want to buy from I know lemon balm and lemongrass essential oil is another good smell that lures swarms.  

 

The answer to this question depends on your local climate, the strength of your colony, when the colony was installed, and other environmental issues.

First Year Hive
If this is your first year and you started early in the spring with a new hive, you may be able to harvest 1-3, maybe more, honeycombs before fall. You can harvest these combs to give the bees more space, and to prevent them from attaching a comb to the back of the hive.

After the First Winter
If your bees have just overwintered you will want to harvest honey combs in early spring. How much to take and when depends on many factors. Is there available nectar for the bees yet in the spring? Will the weather still get cold? When you see dandelions blooming that is a good marker that it may be time to harvest some honey combs in the spring. But here in Colorado we can get snow storms in late April so taking just a few combs at first may be what is needed so that the bees still have food and warmth
 from the honey combs.

Overall, we leave the bees with as much honey comb as they gather during the season for them to overwinter on these stored honey combs. But you will want to harvest honey cob so that the bees do not attach combs to the end of the hive. As it is difficult to get that comb out without it tearing from the top bar. Plus harvesting honey is a great reward for caring for your bees!

Harvesting Honey Comb
Start at the back of the hive and "file" through the top bars like folders in a filing cabinet. The last few combs will be only partially drawn out honeycombs and probably won't be capped honey yet, just open cells with nectar in them. You will want to file through those partially capped combs and  move forward until you find a honeycomb that is about 80% capped honey comb,
as seen in this picture below.

Capped Honey Comb Top Bar Hive

Our DVD illustrates filing through the combs in the hive in Chapter 9: Working with the Bees when Corwin carefully goes through the hive inspecting the combs.

Capped Brood and Capped Honey on top of comb Top Bar Hive

The picture above: The lower half of the comb is capped brood, the very top has white capped honey cells and
in between there is a band of uncapped honey cells.

You could take 2 honeycombs now and see how they do. You may need to go in again before the end of the year to harvest some more honeycombs.

In your second season, during the early spring, you will likely harvest 3-7 combs giving the bees ample space to build up again for the new season. The bees do not want the overwintered  honey once there is fresh nectar available from all of the spring blooming flowers. They like fresh nectar and pollen to feed their young.

Crush and Stain Method for Harvested Honey Comb
See our Article on the Single Comb Harvest- A Simple Harvest

For the Original BackYardHive, each top bar produces 5.5 lbs of honey. For the Golden Mean Ratio Hive, each top bar produces 7.5 lbs of honey. Each of my hives produce around 3 to 4 gallons of honey per hive per year.

Comb Identification
Also see our Article on Honeycomb Identification and Brood Nest

 

Generally you will be able to tell that something is out of balance in the hive if your bees suddenly seem agitated or upset and everything external around them has stayed normal. When you go through a hive that doesn’t have a queen, you’ll notice a lack of larvae and worker brood in the hive. If the queen died recently you may still see some capped worker brood that has yet to hatch out and no worker larva at all. As a hive progresses without a queen, you will start to see an excess amount of drone brood and an excess number drones in the hive.

 

 

The overpopulation of drones happen when a hive has lost its queen because the queen creates a pheromone that suppresses the worker bees from being able to lay eggs. Without that pheromone, a worker bee will become able to lay eggs, but as she cannot mate she can only lay unfertilized eggs which become the drone bees. This becomes the last effort of a hive to spread their genetics before they eventually dwindle off. The remaining drones will mate with queens from around the area and thus the hive’s genetics will survive in other hives.

 

 

 

When you find that your hive doesn’t have a queen, you have several options to help them get a new queen.

 

 

 

1) Find a swarm cell (peanut shaped cells found on the edges of the brood comb) from another hive that has many filled swarm cells such that its removal wouldn’t jeopardize the health of that hive. This is the best way to go if a swarm cell is available because the queen will emerge from the capped cell in less than 3 days and go on her mating flight shortly after that creating a shorter lull in the amount of time that young worker brood is not being laid.

 

 

 

2) If an extra swarm cell isn’t available then another option is to transfer some worker bee brood larvae that is less than three days old from another hive into your queenless hive. This only works if the worker brood comb has larvae that is less than 3 days old. Putting this larvae into a queenless hive stimulates the hive into drawing out an “emergency queen” cell. They expand the cells of some of these larvae and continue to feed those larvae royal jelly.

 

 

 

All worker bees are fed royal jelly for the first 3 days of their life before getting fed a pollen mixture called “bee bread” that the worker bees get for the rest of their life. A bee that continues to only get fed the nutrient rich royal jelly is what makes her reproductive organs develop making her able to mate and lay fertilized eggs therefore becoming a queen.

 

 

 

The hive will eventually replace this “emergency queen” with a “true queen” once the hive is doing well again because the “emergency queen” wasn’t laid with the intention to become a queen. She just served as a sort of steward to the throne until the new queen starts laying eggs. It takes 18 days for a queen to hatch out from an egg and then there will be more time she needs to go out and mate until she starts laying new worker larvae into a hive.

 

 

 

3) The very last option, if all else fails, is to buy a queen from a bee breeder. If you do decide to do this, be sure to find the most natural source available and buy an open-mated queen if possible. The main problem with buying a queen is that she will probably not be from your local area and thus will not necessarily have the genetic make-up to allow her to overwinter successfully. Your hive will also have a slightly harder time accepting the new queen because they didn't raise her out from her cell.

 

 

 

Similar to the above operation, bee breeding works by transplanting worker larvae less than three days old. The larvae are placed into queen “cups” (usually some sort of plastic) attached to the top row of a top bar. Some beekeepers will also artificially inseminate the queens with drones from the same hive to create a specific bee breed (buckfast, carnelian, etc.) which in addition to being unnatural creates a sort of hybrid bee that does not have the same genetic variations as queens that are able to open mate in the local drone congregations. The only thing preventing your bees from killing these bought “emergency queens” (because she isn't a bee from their hive) is the queen cage.

 

 

 

However, buying a queen may be your only option. Zia Queen in Santa Fe sells open pollinated queen bees.

 

 

Here in Colorado we experience very cold winters. Most of the content in this article is directed toward those who live in cold winter climates. Insulating the beehive and keeping a full hive of honey is important in areas where you will experience below-freezing temperatures for many days at a time. Obviously, if you live in a very warm climate like Florida it will not be necessary to winterize your hive. Understand that you may need to adjust this information for your specific climate and area.

 

Because of how the bees use honey over the winter, we have changed our thoughts on the best time to harvest honey. We find that it is more supportive of the bees to harvest honey in the spring instead of in the fall in colder climates because the bees will need the honey for warmth. Not only do the bees eat the honey, but they also take advantage of the honey’s incredible heat-storing properties as thermal mass. During the day, the honey absorbs warmth from the radiating sun, stores it, and slowly releases that warmth back into the hive throughout the coolness of the evening and night. That being the case, we feel the last honey harvest in the fall should only be to prevent the bees from attaching their comb from the false back. Do not remove more than 1-2 honey combs. Labor Day is a good reference date to keep in mind as around the last time you want to harvest honey.

 

 

There are four fall “chores” to prepare your hive for the winter:

 

1) Move the false back forward
2) Install a feeder cup if your bees don’t have enough honey stored
3) Monitoring the hive entrance
4) Insulate the hive

See our Article on Winterizing the top bar hive

 

 

Q. I don't see bees in my hive. There are a few dead bees not a lot. I did see some bees lodged in the comb they were quite a distance from the honey combs. I last checked the bees about mid March . The hive was active. Since it was around 60 degrees in temp. I did not open the hive. I placed a gallon jar of sugar water on the hive for feeding. I had two hives next to each other. The sugar water was consumed. I am wondering now if the one hive was robbing the 2nd hive.

 


A. Here is what I think. I have had the same strange situation occur in a few of my top bar hives. The fact that there was still honey in the hive leads me to think that it is not a robbing situation. Every time that I have experienced a robbing situation, the robbed hive is completely cleaned out of honey. There should be no reason for the bees to stop and leave honey behind. Also, robbing is more of a fall activity then in the spring. What I have found is that when a colony gets depleted or is small at the beginning of the winter they have a rapid dwindling in the late spring.

 

 

The bees form an orb, like a watermelon, amidst the honey stores. The bees on the outside of the orb, near the honey, uncap the comb and pass the honey along to the bees in the center of the orb. This is in slow motion because of the cold. When the stores begin to be depleted, the bees will move the honey closer to the orb, or the orb of bees will move closer to the stores. But what if the stores are on either side of the bees or there is an extended cold period? Often the bees are too sluggish to efficiently move the stores inward.

 

This could actually have happened in February and caused a big die off. In this case there would be an insufficient amount of bees to relocate the honey. The bees can really only move well when it is fairly warm. What seems mysterious is that the bees are gone! What actually occurred is as the die off happened, the dead bees were taken out of the hive during warm spells.

 

 

The tip off to me, that this is what happened to your hive, is that there were bees lodged in the comb. It looks like they were trying to get warm, but most likely they were attempting to get honey and found themselves "out in the cold" away from the orb during a cold night. I have seen the same situation in several of my hives. Imagine the heroines leaving the warm orb, venturing out in the cold, dark, hive to the distant honey stores to bring back the fuel desperately needed by the whole colony.

 

 

The way to keep this from happening again is to feed the bees, like you did, but I have found in Colorado there are a couple of crucial days in winter when we have the opportunity to feed them. I try not to miss those days. See "Feed the bees article" on our website. I actually describe the picture of finding the hive empty in the spring.

 

 

With the topbar hive design I have what is called a "falseback" (divider board, follower board) and I move all the combs forward in the hive before winter and then put the falseback right behind them. This really reduces the space the bees have to keep warm. Moving the combs also gets the honey stores right around the bees.

 

The last thing I do is to put insulation panels on the hive. Since I have been doing these winterizing techniques, I haven't had a problem and the bees are really up in numbers in the spring.

 

 

Cross comb usually happens for several reasons:

 

1. The hive wasn’t leveled and then re-leveled after a few days when the bees were first installed.

 

2. The spacers weren’t used in the hive correctly.

 

3. Recently we’ve noticed that bees like to build their combs north to south and when the hives are at odd angles, they sometimes build the comb crooked to compensate.

4. The beehive is close to power lines or over the main power line from the house, which is underground.

 

And yes, sometimes everything is in place and triple checked but the bees still build crooked comb. This doesn’t happen too often but here are some tips about what to do.

 

 

When working with a hive that has cross comb, it's sort of like solving a puzzle. Bit by bit, cut off little sections along the bars in an effort to get the combs in fairly whole pieces. If you have spacers, you can pop them out as you go in order to peek in along the next bar. The least amount of cutting through the honeycombs keeps things as clean as possible.

 

 

When you do remove a bar, be sure to scrape off all of the crooked comb pattern on the bar as the bees will start drawing comb again by tracing any residual pattern. They are more likely to build straight on a clean bar. You can also realign any comb that is almost straight. Gently push and straighten the "off" parts of the comb. Be sure to leave any combs that are straight in the hive as a guide for the bees to start building more straight combs. 

 

 

If a comb breaks and falls in the hive, do not try to grab it -- it will just smoosh into a messy glob. Instead, you can lay the comb that is breaking or has broken onto your open hand to give it as much mass support as possible. Or you can try to support it with hive tools and gently lift it out of the hive.

 

 

Remember, if things get messy or if you need to re-organize and think about what to do next, you can use the false back to close up the hive. Always stay 2 steps away from closing up the hive and know that the more relaxed you are the more relaxed the bees will be. 

 

 

We're working on a 2nd bee DVD where we'll show more of these techniques, so keep your eye out for it!

 

How do you deal with Varroa mites? Do I need to feed my bees? Natural, treatment-free options for bee diseases, wax moths, foulbrood, nosema My bees didn't survive the winter, how do I clean out my hive?

 

We have chosen not to use treatments for mites. We believe that one of the biggest problems contributing to the decline of the bee population is weakened genetics caused by overly selective breeding. As certain genetic traits are selected, such as high honey production, other necessary traits are lost, such as propolizing the hive and cleaning for mites. Through selective breeding, the bee species has not been allowed to adapt to upcoming diseases and stresses. Because we allow our colonies to swarm and mate naturally and because we supply most of our hives with captured swarms, we feel that the genetics of our bees are stronger and ever-adapting. Some of the hives in our apiary do have mites, and most have managed the problem quite well.

 

We don’t partake in any treatments for mites, but we do focus on preventive actions that help strengthen the immunity of the colony.

 

In our bee-keeping practices, which we refer to as bee-guardianship, we choose management methods that lessen stress on the colony. We also strive to provide a nurturing environment which honors the true nature of the bee. You can read all about our hive management techniques on our website; each technique we choose is an important step for the well being of the bees. These methods enhance the colony’s immune ability, therefore their ability to independently handle the mite problem.

 

Below are a few of our practices which increase health of our bees...

 

The design of the top bar hive contributes to colony health. When a person opens the hive, only a small portion is exposed to the outer elements. You can work these hives while keeping the majority of the colony comfortable and closed in the structure. The window also reduces stress for the bees. You can simply look through the window to check on the status of the bees, and not open the hive as often. In the top bar hive, when the honey is harvested, we harvest the entire comb, therefore preventing any cross-contamination of disease, which may be picked up in the centrifuge.

 

While working in our hives we practice attentive listening. We focus on the sounds and movements of the bees to tell if they have become too stressed. If the bees become overly agitated, we will close the hive and will continue our project on a different day which may be better for the colony.

 

When necessary, we feed the bees honey and not sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or industrial bee food. We also do not harvest pollen at the entrance of the hive. In this way, the bees are consuming their natural food sources and keeping healthy.

 

We do not use miticides which promote the development of super-mites as well as chemically-affecting our bees. We do not use mite traps, believing that they mainly catch dead mites. We avoid smoking the bees. Smoking creates an unnecessary stress for the bees and taxes their immunity.

 

We do not believe that mites should be such a huge problem for the bees. Bee keeping practices which stress the immunity of the bees, prevent genetic adaptation, and weaken and alter genetics. At BackYardHive, we are dedicated to help the bee population rediscover genetic diversity and strength. Therefore, we have chosen not to treat our hives for mites. We can only offer tips on how to prevent mites. However, if you are interested, there are many resources online where you can find information on natural treatments.

 

Good luck and enjoy your bee guardian experience!

 

 

It depends... Bees collect nectar and pollen as food, and use their honey stores as a food supply when nectar and pollen are not available. If you obtain your bees after the flowers have begun blooming in your area you will probably not have to feed your bees. Below are some of the most common scenarios:

 

 

--In the Spring, if you have received a package of bees before the nectar flow has begun in your area, you’ll need to feed them until it starts. If you have heavy rains or snow, or high wind soon after the nectar flow starts, you will probably have to feed them (until the plants recover) because they may not have had time to build up enough stores. This same scenario might also hold for an early season swarm affected by adverse weather.

 

--In the Summer, if you get a late swarm you may have to feed them if you get adverse weather, and you will most probably have to feed them through the winter as they often do not have a chance to build up sufficient honey stores to overwinter.

 

--In the Winter you will generally not have to feed your bees (excepting the scenario above) unless you harvested to much honey in the Fall. We generally suggest harvesting in the Spring in order to allow the bees to build up their honey stores.

 

 

Keep in mind that feeding your bees too much honey might give them a false sense that there is a nectar flow which would cause them to use unnecessary energy when nothing is available or the weather is too cold.

 

 

You can use a spacer to feed your bees. Simply put some natural honey on the tip of the spacer and slide it under the entrance of the hive under where the clump of bees are gathered. Add more honey to the spacer as you feel is needed.

 

 

 

Here's how to install the feeder:

 

We recommend feeding the bees organic honey instead of sugar syrup or sugar water, as sugar is not a natural food for the bees. Get a shallow bowl or container - it can be a plastic container reused from a grocery store purchase. It is important that it is shallow enough to slide under a comb or 3, but deep enough so that you will not have to fill it too often (opening the hive in cold weather may dangerously cool the bees). Slide your container under 1-3 combs.

 

 

This is important, because when the bees are cold they cannot move very fast or far, so their food source needs to be close. Place sticks in the container so that when the bees visit the feeder they will not fall in or drown.

 

 

Besides the combs that the feeder is under, the feeder should stick out 1-2 empty bars or partial combs in the back of the hive. Place your false back as close to the feeder as you can. Mark on the top of the empty or partially-combed top bar that is above where your feeder is located so that if your bees need more honey you can quickly pull off just that one bar, and pour honey into the hive.

 

 

Be sure to move quickly so the hive temperature doesn’t drop too much.

 

 

See also our article on Winter Feeding!

 

 

At the moment we are having neither of these problems. If you already have hives that have these problems locate your Backyard Hive away from the other hives, and let us know how it is going. If you know how to identify these problems, and find them in your hive, you could medicate, but I am using no medications.

 

How to remove bees from a wall, how to catch a swarm, can I harvest honey from bees in a birdhouse? and more!

Q. Help, I have a big about 12 by 12 bird house, bees have made there hive in it and it's full, how do I get the honey? and save the bees and me?

A. Harvesting from the birdhouse would be very tricky. I have a birdhouse about the same dimensions as the one you described that someone brought to me and it is amazing how well it pollinates my garden.

I would let your bees do their thing. You might also be able to catch a swarm from the bird box in the spring. I have captured 3 swarms from my bird box hive. I then install them into a proper hive and they go like gang busters.

You seem to be interested in bees and honey..... I would get yourself a hive!

 

 

Q. We have just acquired a "volunteer" hive in a wall of our house, just above the water heater - a nice warm spot! I want to move these bees to a hive where they will be safe. I do not want to call in a company who will simply remove the bees and kill the queen.

 

A. First, it would be best to identify what kind of insects these are if you haven't already. They actually may be Yellow Jackets, which tend to make hives in the sides of houses.

 

If a property owner suspects that a honey bee colony has entered the wall of a structure, he/she should attempt to confirm the insects are indeed honey bees. Other possible insects that might invade the wall of structures are carpenter bees, yellow jackets or European hornets. Honey bees vary in color from yellow to black, have black or brown bands across the abdomen and are much smaller than a carpenter bee. Honey bees are about 2/3 inch long and covered with hairs or setae. The foraging honey bees have pollen baskets on each hind leg, which will often be loaded with a ball of yellow or dark green pollen. The honey bee is the only stinging insect that can normally overwinter as a colony inside the wall of a structure.

 

The carpenter bee can be identified by having bright yellow, orange or white hairs on the thorax (chest region) and a black shiny abdomen on the dorsal side. Carpenter bees are robust, heavy-bodied bees that range from ¾ to 1 inch in length. These insects bore ½-inch diameter holes that appear to be perfectly round on exterior wooden surfaces.

 

Yellow jackets lack the dense body hairs that are found on carpenter bees and honey bees. Yellow jackets do not have the pollen baskets on the hind legs. The yellow jacket is about ½ inch long, and the abdomen is characterized by having alternating yellow and black bands. European hornets are much larger (1.5 inches long) than honey bees and sometimes establish colonies inside structural walls.

 

Here's a link to a pesticide free way to get rid of them if they are Yellow Jackets:
http://www.doyourownpestcontrol.com/spec/pick-yellowtrap.htm

 

If they are honey bees, I would recommend calling your local exterminator and inquiring as to whether or not they will remove the bees and place them into a hive. If they won't, ask if they know of anyone who will.

 

 

 

 

Q. A colony of bees have formed a hive in a stack of old tires on my property. How can I move them to a more appropriate place, and when is the best time to do this?

 

 A. Overall it is REALLY difficult to move a whole hive that is inside of something like a stack of tires, in the siding of a house, under a deck, in a tree, etc. If the colony is in a tree or a house, please call a bee removal expert to help you. It is illegal to spray bees; if you do and do not remove the comb, a new swarm will return there almost every year!

 

 Here are your options:

 

1. If the hive is in the siding of a house, call a bee remover who will vacuum the bees out and save the colony. You can then put the bees into an empty BackyardHive and you can start beekeeping with this colony. Or, call your local beekeeping association and give the hive to a beekeeper. Check our link of bee removal experts and national beekeeping associations.

 

2. Get a new, empty hive, and get some pure beeswax to melt and brush onto the rib of the top bars. Use some propolis on the hive and spray some queen pheromone around it. Put the new hive it by the tires and wait until spring. They may swarm into it...no guarantees. (See some more info on luring a swarm here.)

 

3. If you want to try to remove the colony from a stack of tires and put them in a top bar hive, you can try. You will have to be able to access all of the combs and colony, especially where they are connected to the structure. Get a bee suit, head veil, and sting proof gloves. Make sure the bees cannot get into your pants, shoes, shirt, etc. Get a BackyardHive ready for the bees, click here to read an article on how to get started with a new hive. Gather some tools such as a putty knife, kitchen knife, etc., or you can get a hive tool sold on our shop page (click here to check it out). You will want to follow some of the same steps as you would if you were harvesting honey from an actual top bar hive. Click here to read an article on harvesting honey. Familiarize yourself with the differences in appearance between brood combs, honey combs, worker bees, the queen bee, and drones. Come up with your plan of action. Rehearse the steps in your mind, and prepare for the worst scenarios.

 

So, first find a new location for your new hive. Keep in mind that you can only relocate a colony “3 ft. or 3 miles.” Bees have an internal honing device which works like a GPS. If they are moved far enough away from their original location, they reset this information with an “orientation flight.” If they are moved anywhere in between these distances, the bees will be confused and the gatherers will return to the original “tire” location and try to build a new home. To find a solution for this, you can place the new hive 3 feet from the original "tire" location and scoot the hive 3 feet across your property every other week. Or you can put the colony in the hive 3 ft from the original location, wait a few days for them to settle in, then at night, tape the entrances with screens and move the hive 3 miles away. Then bring it back to any spot on your property after 2 weeks has passed. 

 

Now for the maneuvers… Make sure you are doing this in the spring so the bees will have plenty of available flowers to collect food for their new home. Have the hive as close as you can to the tires. You will be placing the bees and the brood combs into the new hive, and harvesting the honey combs into a pot with a secure lid. You will want to brush the bees off of the honey combs and into the hive with a handful of grass. Now to do this get your tools ready. Hold the comb with 1 hand so when you cut it from the base, it will sink horizontally in your palm. When grabbing onto the comb you can put a little pressure on the bees then let go and bounce your fingers and palm again and the bees will move out of your way, so you can get a good hold on the comb without squishing or getting stung through your gloves. Now slice the comb at the base where it is attached to the tires. Determine if it is a brood comb or a honey comb. If it is a honey comb calmly brush the bees from one side of the comb into the hive, flip the comb over to your other hand, and brush the bees from the other side; quickly place the mostly bee-free comb in a large pot with a secure lid. Breathe and relax. Always scan the combs, looking for the queen, she has a much bigger body and appears to have little short wings with a dark circle on her back. Familiarize yourself with how queens look before you begin. When you come to a dark brood comb, prepare your slice the same way. Move quickly, as the queen will most likely be on one of these combs. Put the comb with all of the bees into the hive leaning on the side of the hive as not to squish anybody. Scan your gloves and the surrounding area for the queen. Once you are done removing all the combs from the tire, try to brush the remainder of the bees into the hive, or into a box to shake into the hive. Place all the top bars on the hive, and observe. If the queen is in the hive, the bees will be fanning at the entrance and flying into the hive. If she is still in the tires, the bees will be flying back out of the hive to their queen. If this happens, try to brush the bees and the queen into a box or the hive. If you can’t get her in the hive, please call a bee removal professional to assist you.

 

Please attempt this at your own risk. It is a complicated maneuver that can only be done if you can get to all of the combs. You risk being stung many times, even through your protective clothes. If the situation is too daunting, don’t hesitate to contact a local bee keeper or bee removal expert.

 

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