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Top bar hive with cedar roof

Last weekend, I installed my first top bar hive. I have been planning and building the hive for a couple months so I was excited to move a recently captured swarm into this hive and see how they do. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as smoothly as I’d planned. I’ve included lots of pictures here to show off my hive, and then I’ll describe what happened.

My top bar hive

The roof of my hive was made with a bundle of cedar shingles that cost about $10 at my local lumber store. I made a ridge cap out of some old aluminum that I had lying around.

Cedar Singles

I decided to build a window on my hive so that I can open it up and see the bees without disrupting the colony. I built the window out of thick glass instead of plexiglas because it won’t warp in the heat and is much more natural of a product than plastic to have inside the hive.

Top Bar Hive Window

Top Bar Hive Window Open

Most of the hive was built using 1″ x 12″ pine material but the follower boards were made from plywood. The design roughly follows Phil Chandler’s top bar hive design, available for free. I also included a screened bottom on the hive using #8 screen that has 1/8″ openings.

Top Bar Hive Follower Board

As an added bonus on my screened bottom, I constructed a second bottom that sits roughly 1″ below the screen and has a removable tray that pulls out easily to discard Varroa and other debris from the hive.

Side of Top Bar Hive

Removable tray on top bar hive

The entrance to the hive is a 1¼” hole that I drilled while I was on-site, after the hive was situated and set up properly. The bees had no problem finding and using this entrance immediately.

Entrance to top bar hive

I used some small flagstones to keep the legs of the hive off the ground.

Leg of a Top Bar Hive

Disaster strikes

After setting up my top bar hive, I started moving bars of drawn comb from my top bar swarm trap to the full size hive. The first few bars were perfectly drawn and completely straight, but by about the 7th bar, I noticed that the drawn comb was beginning to curve a tiny bit off the bars. By the 11th bar, the comb started on one bar and then curved onto the adjacent bar, making it nearly impossible to pull out the bars cleanly, without ruining comb.

I initially solved this problem by simply separating the part of the comb that was curved from the bar, and then gently placing it in the hive, ensuring that the wax was straight under the bar. I had to trim more and more of the comb off the bar, and finally by the 14th bar, I had trimmed too much. The entire drawn comb of capped brood fell off into the hive! Oh no! Then as I was packing up the hive, two more combs fell off. And as I was trying to repair those, a fourth comb fell off! Complete disaster!

Fallen comb in a top bar hive

It was at this point that I took a breather, stepped away from the hive and tried to determine the best course of action. I had 4 fallen combs with brood and a lot of angry bees circling me. I didn’t have any tools to successfully repair the comb but I remembered a tip that I had just learned in my current beekeeping read. You can move fallen comb to the back of the top bar hive, separated by sticks to leave room for brood to hatch. After the brood hatches, you can remove the old wax. So that’s exactly what I did:

Comb separated with sticks

My first ever top bar hive installation could have gone a lot smoother, and I’m not sure if there was a better way to deal with the cross-combing within the hive. I’ve since researched some better solutions for preventing cross-comb in the first place, which I will be certain to start implementing right away. I’ve also read of ways to try and repair comb that falls off like this, so I may be adding a few more tools to my beekeeping kit for future visits.

This is counted as a strike against top bar beekeeping in my opinion. This was one of the harder things I’ve ever had to deal with while beekeeping. If this was my first time ever handling bees, it would have been overwhelming. But I walk away with another notch on my belt and I’m glad that I experienced this. I’ll now be better prepared for the future.

A bowl of gourmet yogurt

I have two people to thank for this recipe: my good friend Brendan – who first introduced me to the concept of gourmet yogurt, and my wife, Heather – who makes this for me every single morning.

Here’s the recipe for the yogurt depicted above, but the beauty of this is that you can use whatever ingredients you have available to you. We usually have a bag of frozen berries in our freezer and then thaw a cup of them in the fridge every week.

Gourmet yogurt with honeycomb

  • A couple huge spoonfuls of Greek yogurt
  • 1 heaping spoonful of berries (thawed from frozen or fresh in the summer)
  • A half-dozen almonds
  • 1/4 teaspoon powdered probiotics
  • A huge pinch of ground flax seed
  • A hefty slice of honeycomb

You can, of course, use liquid honey as well, but I’ve recently been using whole honeycomb. The wax is fine to eat and you get the benefits of pure, raw honey, untouched by air, moisture, machines or heat. I mix up all the ingredients thoroughly and  enjoy as a side-dish at breakfast.

Having tried several times to find a true mead at the LCBO (and failing), last month I decided to purchase some mead from Munro’s Meadery in Alvinston, Ontario. The online ordering system does not incorporate shipping costs, so it was a bit pricey ($73 for 3 bottles) to order online. Needless to say, I’ll be saving these for special occasions. Pictured below are my three bottles: Black Currant MelomelSweet Mead and Mead.

Three bottles of mead

 

Last weekend we received over 30cm of snow in a single day. 48 hours after that, I decided I should probably go check on my hive to make sure it wasn’t buried. I was especially nervous after seeing Phillip’s hive buried after a Newfoundland Blizzard over at Mud Songs.

When I got to my hive, I could see that the entrance was in fact blocked with snow and ice. I then also noticed signs that bees had relieved themselves (somehow) out of my inner cover ventilation and down the side of the hive. This was probably because they had no way out of the entrance. Things didn’t look good.

I went around to the entrance and scooped away the snow and ice. Behind this, there was a layer of dead bees. I found a nearby twig and used it to scoop out some dead bees from the entrance and clear the way back out of the hive.

While I was doing this, I could hear a faint humming coming from my hive. I pressed my ear up against the boxes and sure enough, I could hear bees inside – alive and buzzing beautifully! It was literally music to my ears.

Of course, it’s only February and much too soon to consider this a successful overwinter, but things are looking sounding good! (Knock on wood).

Last night I tried rendering some beeswax for the first time. During my hive inspections, I always brought a jar with me, and I used it to collect any stray beeswax or burr comb that I found in the hive.

Beeswax in a pot

I put all this wax, along with whatever was stuck to it (honey, dead bees and other impurities) into a pot. Be sure that you’re never going to use this pot for cooking ever again. It will forever be your wax pot.

Beeswax in a pot

I then added a tiny bit of water to the mixture to help dissolve some of the honey and cook the wax more evenly. I used about 1/2 cup of water, but it shouldn’t really matter because the wax will float on top of the water and you can separate it in the end.

I then gently heated the entire mixture. Emphasis on “gently” because wax is flammable and if you heat it too fast and hot, it could start on fire. You can see in the photo above that as you do this, a lot of the impurities will float to the top.

Beeswax and cheesecloth

After heating the entire mixture to a liquified state, you can then strain it through a cheesecloth. I secured a chunk of cheesecloth over the pot and then poured it into an aluminum pan. It’s also worth noting that you should use a pan that you don’t mind destroying as well. All the impurities will stay behind in the pot, and you can throw them out.

Beeswax cooling

At this point, I just let the wax sit and cool. You can see from the photo above, that it’s already starting to solidify. Once the wax is solid again, it’s very easy to drain out the “honey water” from the bottom and keep the wax on top. Note: Just to be safe, I discarded the water/honey mixture outside rather than pouring down my drain. I didn’t want any chance that there was still liquid wax in the mixture, which could then solidify in my drain.

Raw beeswax

From a single mason jar of discarded comb, I filled a small container with pure, filtered beeswax. I’m not sure what I am going to do with it yet. Perhaps I’ll make some lip balm or use it for coating pans while cooking.

In the future, I’m likely going to do this on a cheap hotplate burner rather than on our fancy gas range. I can see how this might get pretty messy doing larger batches.