Flannel Jammies Farm

...praising God on our 1/5 acre of suburbia

Saturday, May 24, 2014

bees in the top-bar hive...

We're newbies, really.  We haven't even had our first anniversary as beekeepers.  We have a few Langstroth hives in the back, and thousands of honey bee guests.  It has been a great gift to create a safe haven for these amazing bees.  But all along, the hubs longed for a more natural way, a style of beekeeping that intrigued him:  a top-bar hive.

We enjoyed hearing Dr. Wyatt Mangum speak at a couple of beekeeping conferences last year.  My husband chatted with him and his wife while he purchased a signed copy of the book, Top-Bar Hive Beekeeping: Wisdom and Pleasure Combined.  My husband then carried this book everywhere for months, reading and re-reading sections, dreaming of starting his own top-bar hive.  We read other material on top-bar beekeeping and watched countless YouTube videos on the subject!

Toward the end of this past winter, feeling bruised from life's challenges, we decided to cheer ourselves with a gift.  A top-bar hive from Bee Thinking, made of cedar with a copper roof, a screened bottom board, several entrances, beautifully beveled top bars, a double jar feeder, and an observation window running the length of the hive.  It arrived and was assembled in moments.  It was a thing of beauty standing in our living room! 

Spring swarm season soon arrived at Flannel Jammies Farm.  I trapped a couple of swarms and tried unsuccessfully to move them into the lovely new top-bar hive.  One swarm obviously did not have or lost their queen, and quickly dwindled, despite our best efforts.  One swarm seemed quite happy and began building gorgeous lobes of wax comb... then moved on to a new home without warning.  *sigh*  Then on a Sunday, driving with my daughter across the state to a funeral, I received a swarm call from a friend and fellow beekeeper.  I asked her to please call my husband at home and he might be able to rescue the bees.  Soon after, he called to say he had the swarm in a bucket and was driving them home to the top-bar hive!

This third swarm settled in nicely, built amazing wax comb, foraged and stored pollen and nectar, and began raising brood (bee babies). 
 A peek inside the top-bar hive through the observation window

Three weeks after getting the bees settled in, we did a hive check and found true wonders inside that top-bar hive.  We are loving this method of beekeeping!  Here are some of the photos from that hive check.
Bee at the reduced entrance to the top-bar hive

Inside the hive: lobes of lovely wax comb

Carefully removing any wax adhering the comb to the hive body before we try to remove the top-bars

Bars must be turned carefully end-to-end, and not flipped, lest the entire comb break off the top-bar; this photo shows pollen and nectar stores

Bees, comb, nectar

Larvae and eggs inside the cells

Wax comb attached to the top-bar

Bees tending capped and uncapped brood

Bees working, building

The carefully removed and turned bars of comb, placed in the order we removed them

Side view of the comb with white bee pupae visible inside the cells on each side of the comb

Working in the top-bar hive

Friday, May 2, 2014

share the (urban homestead) love...

(sshhhhh... don't tell anyone... I'm really only about five years old at heart...

So the hubs and I have been 'farming' this little 1/5 acre for over a decade now.  We grow veg and herb and fruit and flowering everythings, all mixed in together.  We grow intensively and our year-round harvest is abundant.  We're going into our second year of beekeeping, and our first little swarm has blossomed into 2 large Langstroth hives, 2 nuc boxes, 1 nuc swarm trap (in which we have bee squatters, the hubs proudly displayed yesterday), and 1 top bar hive.  We compost and we create 'lasagna garden' mulch and we collect rainwater.  It's all great fun.  Why not share the fun with some tiny visitors?

A couple of moms brought their kiddos for a Discovery Day at Flannel Jammies Farm!  We gathered and chatted about farms and bees and growing things.  Little ones snacked on the fruit and rice crackers set out in the kitchen.  Once all had arrived, we sat down at the big, square kitchen table for a brown bag lunch.  Then the real fun began... 

We started with a Scavenger Hunt.  Each child was given a pencil and a clipboard with a specially designed Scavenger Hunt sheet.  Kids and moms explored the yard and garden beds, looking for and asking questions about all sorts of things:  a rain barrel, worms, asparagus, pink flowers, strawberries, tomatoes, beehives, watering cans, and so much more!  It was a bit rainy that day, but we didn't care!  Boot and smiles were the apparel of the day!

We came inside to wash hands and sit down on the kitchen floor together.  Now to plant!  A pot for each one, a pen to add their names, and a little instruction about how much soil got us going.  We decided to plant some lettuce and grow a salad.  Little fingers poked holes in the top of the soil and gently placed seeds in the depression.  The seeds were covered with a bit more soil and watered just a bit.

More snacks, more smiles, a little imaginary party planning with hats, and sweet hugs goodbye completed our Discovery Day.  I so enjoyed sharing with these small friends!  Share the hospitality, share the wisdom, share the love with those around you... you will be blessed even more than those you share with, I assure you!