When you think of the garden, what comes to mind? Is it the flowers which warm your heart or the anticipation of the fruits and vegetables which you will harvest this season? For me, it is neither of these, for me it is not what is planted which makes me buzz with anticipation, but the critters which will help propagate the flourishing foliage: the bees. I have always had a passion for flying insects. Its seems that with our short summer months, the novelty of find bugs always found me on my hands and knees leaning head first in to a bush or flower bed. This passion has taken me on a life path that I had never expected but always fantasized about:  I am a glorified bee guardian.  As a young woman (I had my 24th birthday a few months back) this was an unlikely career, if not in the stereotypical sense. I am not an eccentric, overall wearing man over the age of 55, peering in to white boxes in a clover field. If I have learned anything, it is that stereotypes are rarely accurate. There is a diversity of individuals interested and taking part in beekeeping across the globe.  For me, it was the idea of doing something unconventional that made my excitement for beekeeping grow. Beginning A.B.C, Apiaries and Bees for Communities (www.backyardbees.ca), was more of a gut instinct then mechanical. The concept of zero-input, Top-Bar urban beekeeping just felt right. Not only has anyone else done it in Alberta before, but no one in Canada has done what A.B.C is doing: creating open educational programming for Top-Bar beekeeping!

So what is a Top-Bar hive you ask? Well, to be blunt, it is a beehive that mimics a fallen over log and allows bees to behave freely again. It is designed to have removable combs for inspection, but the bees choose their comb size, shape, thickness, and organization which the conventional box-hive does not allow. All in all, it allows the bee guardian to maintain bees living in a natural habitat!

As I said before, I am young and new to beekeeping, and I needed a mentor, someone who has experience and knows  the ins and outs of Top-Bar beekeeping.  So I went to Eldorado Canyon in Colorado to work with Corwin Bell and Karen Sadenwater of Backyardhive (www.backyardhive.com). The mythical city of gold was found, but what I found was liquid gold! Corwin has been tending bees in a Top-Bar hive for 11 years and has a network of bee guardians across the United States. Corwin is an activist for the honeybee and pursues an open genetic system for beekeeping, allowing the honey bees to swarm and mate openly. “Honeybees have en encyclopaedia of information which they inherited from their ancestors over the last 100 million years. It is important that we let them maintain their genetic  independence and freedom so they can survive.”

Read more: Why Top Bar Hives

Beecoming a Bee Guardian

Corwin with bees

Bee Class starts at 10:00 on Saturday morning. At 10:01, Caren announces that her hive is swarming again. We have gathered at this farm in Paonia from as far away as Salt Lake City to learn how to be bee guardians. A swarm is a bonus none of us could have anticipated.

Bee guardian and farm owner Caren Vongontard has hosted this workshop, offered by the Soil Academy in Paonia, for the past three springs, with bee charmer Corwin Bell and his team from Back Yard Hive in Boulder. The night before class, Bell gave an introduction to his pioneering philosophy of bee guardianship.

“A bee colony’s immune system is its ability to react and adapt to its bioregion, and to pass that knowing on,” he says, his gestures as graceful and expressive as a bee’s dance. Bell began collecting “feral” bee swarms on the Front Range fifteen years ago, and housing them in top bar hives of his own design. Through workshops, and selling both architectural-quality plans and hives, Bell has fostered honeybee colonies up and down the Front Range, in the North Fork, and in other communities across the state and around the world.

Bell points out that honeybees in their capacity as pollinators are critically important to the survival of the human species, and he believes that we can help them survive and thrive by offering them safe haven in our own back yards.

It’s easy to think of an aspen grove as a super-organism, because underground all the trunks are connected through the root system. Bell describes the super-organism of bees as something larger even than a single hive. Not only are the honeybees of a given hive connected by something intangible, but by periodically throwing off swarms, and moving to a new hive when they become honey-locked, bees of an entire region are linked by common knowledge and genetics in a single super-organism. By the end of the evening’s presentation I am completely enchanted with both honeybees and Corwin Bell.

Read more: Sitting with Bees

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By Rita Clagett, North Fork Bureau Reporter  (June 18, 2013)  

Bee On Honeysuckle

Yesterday the honeybees descended on the blueleaf honeysuckle. Today the aroma of this amazing shrub burgeoned as the sun warmed the morning. Also known as blue velvet honeysuckle, or honey rose honeysuckle, it is amazing to behold for a few weeks a year. The rest of the time, it’s quite nice, too. But this week and next, Lonicera korolkowii is in its glory, and the bees have exactly four yards to fly from their hive to their feast. The bush is alive with bees.

And I’m not afraid anymore. After a visit from the bee doctor last month, we’re all getting along smoothly. I’d been anxiously awaiting the arrival of the bee doctor for eight months, three of which I’d spent back east and the previous three here in a deep freeze. One missed message or weather delay after another led me to arrive home just two days before his expected visit.

He pulled up about 4:30 that afternoon. While I went inside to put on my bee suit, Corwin Bell walked around the hive. “They’re speaking a language I don’t understand yet,” he said, when I joined him outside. “They’re very aware, very wild.”

I told him they’d come out of a cottonwood known to have had a hive in it for at least twenty years. “That explains it,” he said, “they’ve got a very old language.”


He spent the next hour slowly moving into the bees’ space, gradually getting on their wavelength. He circled the hive a few more times before settling down to one side of the door and watching for a long time, as bees came and went. He gently waved his hand a few inches in front of the door to determine the level of defensiveness of the hive, and a few guard bees flew out to inspect it. The level of the buzz ramped up for a few seconds, then settled down to what he called “a nice sense-of-self hum.”

Read more: Back In Harmony With Bees