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bees: way beyond organic, bee reverence

 
paul wheaton
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I returned from Jacqueline's bee class having learned a great deal.  I have gobs to say, but I also have about 40 things that have to get done today.  But I want to put a marker here to kinda remind me to say more later.

Quick notes:

She has three kinds of hives.  Langstroth (what we are all used to seeing), top bar, and Warre.  I went into the class prepared to learn why she moved from Langstroth to top bar and then why she moved from top bar to Warre ...  I feel I have lots more information but am still confused.  Later I will elaborate and try to figure this out. 

For a lot of classes I take, I see different levels of respect for the animals.  I attended one class that was all about gentle, low stress ways to move cattle.  They had some really excellent techniques for moving animals and for harvesting.  First rate.  And their fencing was all first class too - something that I think helps.  And there were lots of excellent lessons from that land.  But the lack of trees and shelter for the animals was distressing to me.

I have to say that for every class I have ever taken ... every farm I have visited ..  and I have visited a lot ...  I have never experienced such respect for the animal in question - in this case, the hive.  I would say that in this case it went beyond respect and into a realm of reverence.  I think that there is much to learn about being stewards of the land and stewards of animals from this woman.  If you are a beginner, you should learn how to care for an animal to this depth FIRST and then start to explore how you can profit, as a farmer, without changing the depth of respect. 

And I have a lot more to say on that too. 

Another area I want to talk about is the use of the top bars vs. frames inside of a Langstroth. 

I guess that after this brief class, I have a desire to learn more about the Warre system.  Based on what little I know so far, I think I would want to continue with the langstrth system, but use top bars in that and add viewing windows to each super.  And I would want to put the langstroth in a bee hut.

Another point to talk about:  bees tend to make combs that are several feet tall (long?).  But the langstroth hive short supers encourage a height of no more than a few inches.  Some think that by not allowing them to make really long combs then that cramps their bee style.  I wonder if the bees were given the option between unlimited length or a collection of something shorter, if they might not prefer the shorter infrastructure.  So, therefore, which system really encourages the bee-ness of the bee?  Which makes the bees happier? 

And here is a pic of a bee hut that I built for three langstroth hives in 2005.  Note - no paint on anything.  I'm not a big fan of paint.  These hives were brand spanking new.  You can see the same basic design I put into a lot of my structures:  big roof to avoid the use of paint.  In this case, I got a great deal on a big pile of mid-grade 2x4's.  I go the metal roofing for free.  The hut is faced southeast all year.    The hives are placed wide enough to squeeze a straw bale between them in the winter.  The winter sun would shine on the hives nearly all day.  The summer sun would shine on the hives just for the first couple of hours in the morning.

(gotta stop going on and gotta get to my other things ...)
bee_hut.jpg
[Thumbnail for bee_hut.jpg]
 
Leah Sattler
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I just want to second the reverence for bees. The more I learn about them the more amazed I am. I am also facinated by the human development of be hives. the idea that we have been able to figure anything out about what such sensitive and picky creatures want and be able to construct a home that they are happy with and will stick around is amazing to me.
 
Jocelyn Campbell
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As for the hives, what I took from the class is this:

*Warre hives are smaller than Langstroth - easier for bees to keep warm or cool in PNW climate, and might be their preferred dimension, can be used with top bar

*Langstroth hives - most well-known, lots of locally available parts and supplies, can be used with top bar

*Top-bar hive - designed for Africa, can get moldy in PNW climate; in winter, or with new hives, might need separator to shorten the space for the bees to keep warm; otherwise a simple, accessible design (no stacking or adding supers) with a sweet viewing window.

 
Kathleen Sanderson
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I like the bee hut idea.  I could see adding a bee-proof storage room on the back of it, both to protect the hives from cold winter winds, and to allow storage of empty supers and equipment in a location convenient to the hives.  I've thought that the second floor of a barn would make a good location for some hives -- it would keep the bears out of them, for one thing.  And they'd be less visible to two-legged predators, who can be a problem in some areas.

One time while driving between Philomath (Oregon) and the Coast, we saw a bunch of Langstroth hives up on a platform, on pilings with tin on the pilings to keep bears and rodents from climbing up.  A roof would have been a good addition.

Kathleen
 
paul wheaton
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I've heard that by adding the roof, you can triple or even quadruple honey production.    The bees stay generally healthier since they are much drier.  They are cooler in the summer.  By adding the straw in winter, they are warmer in winter.

 
Jocelyn Campbell
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Cute pic of the kid, Paul! 

The different hives are fascinating - as are the different ways people use each hive. I'm curious, too, in how the bees build longer combs downward in nature, yet a Langstroth hive is stacked upward, with or without the queen excluder. Definitely designed for ease of human harvest by encouraging honey in the top "super" and keeping the brood and pollen in the bottom.

In the Warre hive, I guess folks lift up and add additional boxes underneath to allow the comb to grow down, though this gets more difficult for harvesting the honey.

If bees can build comb more to their liking, will they create more honey? Meaning would a more bee-centric design also benefit a human harvest?

Of course, if you are keeping bees more as pollinators, and/or for the love of bees, not so much for the harvest, I would think bee-centric is the way to go.
 
                          
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Our Warre hives have screen bottoms to aid in mite control, and they're up on stands to keep them out of the grass and away from mice and skunks. You can look up from the bottom to see how much comb they've made, and know when to add another hive body.


 
Emil Spoerri
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Do warre hives have frames? From the thread I think I do, my buddy balked and said "then my hive is superior".
He has created a stack of cube shaped top bar structures into one hive. Is this what a warre hive is? Thanks.
 
Abe Connally
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If you have Africanized bees in your area, go with horizontal Top Bar hive. Sometimes known as the Kenyan Top Bar Hive. They are way easier to manage that way (only one "frame" open at a time).

Warre hives don't have frames.  They are considered the vertical top bar hives.

You can easily make a top bar hive in an afternoon, if you have the parts.  A 1/2 a barrel and some 1.5" wide wood, and maybe a few boards for legs and a piece of metal for the roof.

Langs are good in their own respect, for certain things.  If you want healthy, sustainable beekeeping, you go without frames, or more importantly, let them build their own comb.

Another design that is very similar to Warre is the Oscar Perone hive.  Lots and Lots of honey out of one of these, as it is 5-6 feet tall  But you let the bees build the comb the way they want, you don't open up the brood nest, and you only open the hive once a year.  it is very "hands off" and VERY productive.  Several times better than a Lang.

Check out biobees.com for more info on natural beekeeping.  They have a wonderful forum.
 
Alison Thomas
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As with a Warre hive you only open the hive once a year and harvest once a year BUT ONLY if there's more thn 12kg of honey there - the bees need this much to sustain them over the winter.

I have Warre hives and I'd never go with anything else as IMHO this is the most bee-friendly and the reason I got bees as because I was concerned that we are losing so many.  Some say that's because of all the agro-chemicals but one wonders if modern bee-keeping has to take some of the blame

A fantastic book is by Emile Warre himself - Beekeeping for All.  It's a free download and in English - I'll look out the link and post it but now my children are up and honey toast is being called for (or should that be 'beeing called for'
 
Abe Connally
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Warre hives are very good, but they are small, especially compared to the wild hives in my area.  That is why Oscar Perone's system is so popular.  It encourages HUGE, healthy colonies (mimic nature), and being more than 3 times the size of a Warre you can see why they are able to harvest several times the amount of honey that a Warre produces (reports of more than 100kg). It is very similar to a Warre in management, though, being made with top bars, and only opening once a year (Most Warres I have seen are opened twice a year). 

I personally think a Horizontal Top Bar hive is the most bee-friendly.  They are NEVER completely opened, just a few bars at a time, thus keeping the internal climate and atmosphere of the hive in tact. They also do a lot better in high wind areas.

The best thing anyone can do is just start.  The design of your hive doesn't matter, as long as it is a top bar (no frames).  Then you can decide on horizontal or vertical.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Hm...I wonder if it would be worthwhile wiring up strain gauges to the hive supports, to do telemetry on total weight.
 
paul wheaton
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Michael "skeeter" Pilarski had a bee hut and, if I remember correctly, he got more than double production from those bees.

 
Abe Connally
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The key to big production with bees is population.  The more you have in a hive, the more the hive produces, but it is not linear. Double the bees produce more than 4 times the honey.

Total Workers 10 000 20 000 30 000 40 000 50 000 60 000
Foragers 2000 5000 10 000 20 000 30 000 39 000
Percentage foragers 20% 25% 30% 50% 60% 65%
Weight of the population 1 kg 2 kg 3 kg 4 kg 5 kg 6 kg
Yield honey 1 kg 4 kg 9 kg 16 kg 25 kg 36 kg

10,000 bees produce one kilo of honey, but 20 000 (double) produce 4 kilos!

40,000 bees (twice 20,000) produce 16 kilos, four times more!

That is from the following:
http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regla_de_Farrar

Ponder this as well please, and do it carefully, it's good for your pocket.
 
Burra Maluca
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We use a smaller version of the Langstroth, probably about the same size as your Warre,  because our aim isn't so much producing honey as to be able to easily manipulate the bees and generate more colonies from them, which is much easier if you can pull out frames to put in new hives!  Also, when we do manage to get new colonies going to supply to other people, it's a fair bet that they have a Langstroth type hive waiting for them so we really need to have them on somthing that is easy to transfer.   Bees here are dying out everywhere and we thought it was best to concentrate on supplying bees to keep the craft alive rather than just honey production, and it seemed to us that to that we had to stay a little more 'conventional'.   

I just found a link for Abbe Warre's book Beeking For all and am downloading it - thanks for the head's up Alison!

http://thebeespace.files.wordpress.com/2008/12/beekeeping_for_all.pdf
 
paul wheaton
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Wow!  I never knew that!  Very cool!

My understanding is that with the bee hut, the bees don't have to work as hard to keep it cool in the summer or warm in the winter (especially when the straw is added).  And, therefore, don't burn as much honey with heating or cooling tasks. 

 
Abe Connally
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There is no reason why you couldn't give folks bees on top bars.  You can make your top bars the length of a Lang frame.  In fact, Oscar Perone's giant hive is made for the dimensions of a Lang.

As long as you are letting the bees build their own comb (no foundation), I think you are on the right track.  But just keeping the craft alive won't save us or the bees.  We need big, healthy, resistant colonies, and I really think the only way to build that up is with HUGE hives.  We need to be finding solutions for why the bees are dying.

Think of it this way, if you are giving splits to friends, would it be better to start them with 20,000 bees or 100,000?  The 100K have a much better chance for survival.

There are many other issues related to bee health, including the feeding of sugar, pesticides, invasive beekeepers, overuse of smoke, and much more.  We just have to do what we can and try and find some solutions.

We should all be keeping bees, even if we don't harvest honey, however, I am going to be harvesting honey AND keep bees.  And with large hives, I don't have to make a compromise.

Paul, do you have a link to the bee hut? 

The heating and cooling issues depend on the size and health of your colony.  Large colonies have less problems maintaining internal climates.  But we have also seen that large, open spaces (like a dead, old-growth forest tree) are not necessarily harder to maintain.  I mean, who is setting the size of the log in nature?  I've seen hives more than a meter wide and 1.5 meters tall in a space several times bigger than the hives. They lived there just fine for many years (and without any help from humans!).  So, I don't think internal climate is as big of an issue when your colony is big and healthy (similar to any other animal).

I really suggest you read through Oscar Perone's stuff: http://www.oscarperone.com.ar/docs/propuesta.html#googtrans/es/en
 
Alison Thomas
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Ok I like Oscar Perone's way too    I read the link and figure he's actually very like Warre.  But my question is - how long do you wait for the ees to arrive?  A friend had said that e'd get a swarm for me but now says that because of the late frosts the swarms are all mssed up and now it's too late    Does that mean that it's too late for any hope of 'wild' bees finding my hives as well?  Can I make them more attractive?
 
Chelle Lewis
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velacreations wrote:
I really suggest you read through Oscar Perone's stuff: http://www.oscarperone.com.ar/docs/propuesta.html#googtrans/es/en


I second that. It is the way I am going..... He is very helpful if you have any questions.

Chelle
 
Abe Connally
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Alison - try putting in some lemongrass oil to attract a swarm.  Also, get your bait hive up, like 3-4 meters off the ground.

If you can get a split from someone in your area, all the better.

What I like about the SuPerone is that it is both bee-friendly and productive.  I mean, who gets 100Kg of honey from a Lang, and only visits the hive once a year?
 
Alison Thomas
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No probs with the lemongrass oil but how the heck do I raise a hive that far off the ground safely?  Is that a whole hive or just a bit of it? And can it come back down when the bees arrive?
 
Abe Connally
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Not the whole hive, just a bait hive (brood box only).  If you can, set it on a roof (tie it down) or in a tree.  it is not a necessity, but it does help.

And yes, once a swarm moves in, you can bring it down.

It is basically a box with top bars to capture a swarm, so when there is a swarm moving through the neighborhood, they see your box and decide to move on in.  Some people call it "fishing" for bees.  To increase your chances, put boxes everywhere, especially near nice, calm water sources and good flower areas.

Another way to get bees is to call your local animal control or police department.  Give them your name and number, and when someone calls in with a report of a swarm, you can show up and put them in a box.  You'll also get calls with folks wanting you to remove bees from their attics, barns, tractors, etc.  Probably a lot of calls with folks that have wasp or bumblebee problems as well. But it is nice to have a lot of eyes and ears looking for swarms for you.

You can remove a hive from an attic, but I would not recommend that to a beginner.  I think the easiest is the swarm.  Just put a box under the ball of bees, and gently shake the ball loose from the tree limb.  Close the box, bring them home, then gently dump them out into your hive.  Easy as that.

 
            
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There are a number of problems with Langstroth hives, I think.  The primary one is that they are not bee friendly but rather beekeeper friendly, although that's increasingly less and less the case today.

1) The frames have pre-stamped foundation which is one size cell fits all.  Bees make different cell sizes according to their needs - smaller for workers and larger for drones.  If the standardised cell is large for drones (and more honey),  then large cells with workers in them will have room for mites.

2) A deep super full of honey will weigh in excess of 60 lbs. If you don't have back problems, you will.

3) If you're going to buy hives and frames,  prepare to spend dollars.

4) Ongoing medication is part of Langstroth beekeeping.

On the plus side, frames with foundation allow for centrifugal extraction of honey.

A far better option is top bar beekeeping because it allows bees to draw comb naturally and build cell sizes exactly to their needs.  There are a number of options - Kenyan, Tanzanian, and Warré.

I'm partial to a Tanzanian hive for a number of reasons.

1) It's a horizontal box which suits my back just fine.

2) I can use frames which make the comb easier to handle.  The frames are foundationless. If you wanted added comb support, you could add a couple of horizontal wires. This might be enough to allow for centrifugal honey extraction.   

3) No ongoing medication.

4) I can build the hive and the frames myself very cheaply.  The only power tool that you need is a circular saw with a guide (or use a chalk line) to rip the wood you need.  I use 1" x 6' pine which is actually ¾ inch thick and rip 1 ¼" top bars, ⅜" thick sides, and a ½" thick bottoms. After cutting to length, I glue them together in a jig that I built so that the frame stays square. Being square is critical if you are to consistently maintain the ⅜" beespace between the end bars of the frame and the sides of the box.  On my first frames, I used a brad gun with 1½" brads at each corner.  I switched to 1¼" #6 screws in pre-drilled holes and countersunk to stop the wood from splitting.  To get the comb starter strip under the top bar,  I used a piece of pine cove moulding and sand the face side of it to create a wider surface for gluing to the top bar. 

Which is where I'm at right now.  Having a mentor is great.  I'm lucky to have a commercial top bar apiarist about
1 ½ hours away.  I've also found that Michael Bush and Dennis Murrell are a wealth of knowledge based on experience and doesn't seem to mind naive, confused questions. Dennis also has detailed plans for  Kenyan, Tanzanian and vertical hives.

I've also identified a source of Buckfast bees.  Now I just have to wait as patiently as I can until spring.  Maybe I'll do some reading on mead ...........   

 
paul wheaton
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Kirk Marschel
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That's a brilliant and thoughtful idea, thank you Paul for sharing! I've never considered that aspect of Bee care and it's great to see it done in such a caring way. Great lead-in comment at the beginning too! Another great brick to making the world a better place.

Thanks Paul!
-Kirk
 
Mark Lipscomb
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Just watched the bee water video with my (8yo) daughter. She said we need to up our bee watering game...

Great video.

 
andrew curr
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Thats a pretty edgy bee watering point!!!
 
john giroux
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I have some old planter saucers and kid sand buckets filled with water and rocks and leaves. My bees love them. The last few warm days, the girls are all over them. Full of rain water. Also... They are munching on my letuce leaves! I am assuming they are using it for propololis...but all the big leaves are full of holes and the bees are the only thing on it now. Never would have guessed that.
 
Rebecca Hanson
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Thank you for the video. I love this idea especially because I grow sunflowers which brings bees that I have not seen many of other wise. We also have wasps and others less desirable. We used to have a pond that encouraged them which I no longer have but still the wasp in smaller numbers remain. I'd love to try this idea for the bees but don't want the wasp numbers to increase. Any advise on that? Have a wonderful day and thank you again for the great idea.
 
Cam Mitchell
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Rebecca Hanson wrote:I'd love to try this idea for the bees but don't want the wasp numbers to increase. Any advise on that?

There's lots of different species of wasps, and some wasps can be good predators for killing garden pests, though obviously you don't to be stung or bitten. Ask me how I know
IIRC, I heard somewhere that as bee numbers increase, wasp numbers decrease. It *might* have been Paul? Dont remember where I heard it.
I know I'm sure going to try to encourage bees more this year. I heard that it can increase your yields tremendously, but YMMV!
Good luck!
 
ken koch
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We have seen a lot less wasps since having bees. Sometimes I spot wasps hanging out near the entrances to the hives, and occasionally the bees will engage with the wasps in a stinging battle... usually the wasp just flies off. Our hives were out frantically housekeeping the other day when it was warm out... nice to see them again. Not much of a winter this year so far. Spring will be here before too long now. Planning on planting more borage, mints and thyme, they love it!
 
Claire Skerry
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Rebecca~
Try and find out what kind of wasps you have, because that will help you a lot with deterring them.
On that note, watch their behavior, because that is very telling. If it's walking along wooden structures nibbling away, you have paper wasps, which I find to be the most mild mannered bugs. I've gone and destroyed their homes [was tearing down an old barn] and they didn't even put up a fight. Sort of made me sad to take them out.. However, if they go for your hot dog or some other meat things, you've most likely got Yellow jackets. Those buggers will sting you as soon as look at you, and their hives are usually underground with one guy guarding it. Those are the ones you need to get rid of because they really are overly protective and rather dangerous if you've got a kid or animals around that might stumble on their hive. Also, they make picnics a nightmare. Problem is paper wasps and yellow jackets look almost identical. I was the only one in my entomology class that could tell the difference without watching the behavior.
In trying to get rid of them, look at their food source. If they are using something you can't just get rid of then you'll have to hunt out the hive. Also, a good yellow jacket trap in the spring is worth more than you know. You'll catch the queen most likely then, and the paper wasps can get out of them usually. You might not like them but that made me happy. Come August [northern hemisphere] there's nothing you can really do, and the colony will collapse soon anyway.
 
paul wheaton
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Jacqueline Freeman of Friendly Haven Rise Farm is my favorite beekeeper. Rather than raising thousands of colonies and focusing on honey production or crop pollination, she raises just a few and focuses on the happiness of the bees. I have visited beekeepers that show respect for the bees, but Jacqueline takes it much farther and shows reverence for the bees. In this video she shows us her bee shelter, or, as she calls it "a bee house".

When hives are on the south side of a bee hut, or bee shelter like this, then they get shade in the summer, sun in the winter and all year protection from rain. They are up, off the damp ground. This makes the hive easier for the bees to care for, healthier bees and an increase in honey production. Sometimes honey production can be increased as much as five fold.

Jacqueline points out that the pacific northwest has the same weather as the United Kingdom: wet and drizzly.

These hives are mite free. What does Jacqueline use to keep the mites off? Nothing. No miticides. No insecticides. None of the so-called "organic" solutions (powdered sugar, essential oils). What she does do is provide three season nectar forage close by. If the bees don't have to go far to get their nectar, then that is less stress. And they are getting nectar that is high qaulity and free of pesticides or herbicides. Plus, since she has just a few hives, the bees get all the nectar they need from nearby - jacqueline's property wouldn't be enough to feed a hundred hives, so the bees would have to venture farther and to lower quality nectar sources.

Since the hives are protected in the bee hut, then they don't need paint!

The Friendly Haven Rise Farm website is at http://friendlyhaven.com/

I want to thank Barthélémy Glumineau http://studiomelies.com for editing this video and making it look so damn professional!
 
Aaron Festa
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God I love this women. Her warmth is so inviting and comforting.
 
David Livingston
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The problem I have with the Langstroth is also about money .
To use a langstroth you need a lot of kit, the cost forces you into commercial production even if you dont want to go there .
You buy some hives ( $100 plus per hive then you need knives , sperating equipment , centrifuge etc etc ) soon you have spent a grand no problem then you need to sell the honey to get the grand back So to do this you get more hives then you are back round the spiral again .
For me TBH and Warré are the way to go although I must admit thinking about building a Perone.
Anyone else tried a perone ?
These three hives can be build from scrap wood for nearly free by perople with little skill ( that means me !)and produce enough honey for you and your family . How much honey do you need for goodness sake ? one warré box will provide over 15kg thats about 40 plus jars of honey ! a Perone about 40kg ! I hope to have just three hives and to harvest once a year maybe nadir the warré in the spring . Otherwise let the bees do there thing .

David
 
michael kinnear
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Listening to the new podcasts (thank you!).

I thought the plexi glass was a great idea and I want to try it.

In fact -- what if we make plexi glass inner covers? heat and scent loss would be minimal and all I have to do for basic checks would be pull off the top cover.

I plan to make some this year.
 
tel jetson
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michael kinnear wrote:Listening to the new podcasts (thank you!).

I thought the plexi glass was a great idea and I want to try it.

In fact -- what if we make plexi glass inner covers? heat and scent loss would be minimal and all I have to do for basic checks would be pull off the top cover.

I plan to make some this year.


a couple reasons you might want to reconsider your plan: the bees will very likely propolise the plexiglass, making it rather useless for observation. they'll also glue it down pretty well making it difficult and disruptive, if not nearly impossible to remove in one piece. a wheat-pasted top cloth is much better in this regard, in addition to being vapor-permeable.
 
michael kinnear
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thank you for this. I will try that instead!
 
Cj Sloane
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You can still make a plexiglass or lexan window. I just did one.

I bought some screen to try that as well.
 
michael kinnear
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Awesome. I was thinking if it becomes a problem I could make a screen barrier to keep them from propolising the glass. Although I would like to avoid preventing the bees from doing anything they want this could help them maintain the heat and vapors in the hive during my hopefully few observations.
 
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