I’ve spent the last three garden seasons working along with the bees. I enjoy watching their activity in the garden. The bees and I work side by side, each to his own tasks. We plant lots of sun flowers and other colorful items to attract these critters. We have three beds in the garden dedicated to flowers plus two towering lilacs, some apples and a plum tree. We seem to get lots of bees even though one reads that bees are dying at a rapid rate. So far they’ve been thick in the garden.
I wonder where they live. There are not that many beekeepers on the island. There’s lots of competition for these wild bees. It seemed natural to provide a home for some bees near the garden.
A few of us have been having a bee hive building party hammering together four top bar bee hives. Top bar hives are an alternative to the traditional Langstroth hive. You won’t get as much honey from a top bar, but the pollination will be just as good and you won’t have to fuss around as much as you will with a Langstroth set up. And, the top bar people claim they have fewer problems with mites and viruses. One reason may be that the Langstroth hive has pre-printed frames for the bees to work on. The cells in these frames are 5.4mm while the cell size found in nature is 4.9mm. Bees build comb from scratch under the bars of the top bar hive. They have to spend a lot of time making wax. Thus, there is less honey to be harvested from the top bar.
Colony Collapse Disorder has been in the news frequently with all manner of theories as to why bees are failing at such a rapid rate. I subscribe to the view of Greg Willis who summarizes the problem of CCD this way:
“CCD has two Root Causes. The first and major cause of CCD comes from environmental and agricultural chemicals, poisons and pollution entering and invading honeybee DNA and the hive.
The second and lesser cause of CCD are unnatural honeybee management practices that stress honeybees and weaken their immune systems. These can include everything from poor hive box designs, unnaturally sized preformed cell foundations, plastic foundations and boxes that off gas into hives, hybridizing, transport practices, transportation vibrations, availability of seasonal herbaceous perennial native flowers, temperature, distance the hive is from the ground, geographic location, the feeding of artificial food and in general, most if not all of the unnatural practices of modern industrial bee keeping. These practices, in concert with invasive and destructive environmental pollutants, together, weaken honeybees to the point where Nature must remove the weaklings if the honeybee is to survive.
The sources of the problems are enormous and will ultimately require a general overhaul of agriculture, industry, fishing, air, land and water management, government and military practices and in general, the reduction and eventual elimination of all sources of pollution on the planet – if honeybees are to survive.”
Mr. Willis isn’t all that happy with top bar hives either and recommends something of a more cylindrical nature, trying to match the environment of a hollow tree. I’m not quite that clever so will work with the top bar for the time being.
A top bar hive isn’t so hard to make. It’s basically a box up to four feet wide with tapered sides and a mesh bottom. A series of bars span the top of the box. The bees build their comb on the bars. You build a roof to enclose the entire thing. Most people buy a package of bees—about three pounds (10,000) bees and a queen. I ordered a package through the local beekeepers group (Mount Baker Beekeepers Association) and will get the package on April 28. The excitement is building. This video shows how you get the bees from the package to the hive. I was impressed that this guy wore no protective clothing. I think I’ll probably suit up.
A package of bees costs $85-90. A cheaper way to get bees is to catch a swarm, something I would like to try if I don’t have to climb a tree or hang by my heels to coral them. My nephew Schuyler has caught several swarms (and also built the hive we are copying at our bee hive bee.) This guy’s story was a good one.
Keeping bees seems to be a part of transition like starting a garden, learning how to preserve and store food or getting a few chickens. More and more people are doing some or all of these things to improve their self-reliance and resilience.
Our society is having a series of systematic breakdowns. We need to reverse the trend. Assisting bees to do their important work is a necessity.