Character leaning against question markSo you’d like to keep bees. You’ve read, or perhaps experienced how awesome beekeeping is and you’d like to give it a shot. However, you have a small property or you’re worried about having bees in a residential area. Fair enough. I was in the same boat. So, how can you find somewhere to put a beehive?

Start with friends and family

If you don’t personally own a chunk of land that would be suitable for beekeeping, perhaps you already know someone who does. Check with your friends, and friends of friends. Maybe you have a coworker with a piece of land just outside the city? The best thing to do is to talk to people, get them excited about bees (in my experience, that’s not very hard), and then ask if they know anyone that would like to have a beehive on their property.

Ask a farmer

Most people – especially here in Canada – only live a short drive away from a rural area, filled with fertile land and plants that are just begging to be pollinated by honeybees. If this sounds like your area, then I have a suggestion that is almost certain to help you find a place. This plan comes with a 90-day money back guarantee, given you follow my directions precisely:

  1. This Friday night (put it in your calendar), sit down and draft a friendly letter to a farmer. Introduce yourself, and explain that you are beyond excited to keep bees, and you’re currently looking for somewhere to put a hive or two. Ask if they would be interested in having bees on their property and let them know that you will take care of the bees completely on your own, and require nothing of the farmer other than their land. Keep it short and sweet. Just about any farmer will understand the pollination benefits of having honeybees nearby, and many farmers actually pay people like you to come and install hives. The fact that you’re offering to do it for free should be enough.
  2. Don’t forget to include your contact information (Name, phone number, email address) on the letter.
  3. Print off about 20-30 of these letters. Stuff them in envelopes.
  4. On the weekend, get into your car and start driving out into the country. Whenever you see a farm, a property, or rural area that has good potential for your apiary, pull over and drop a letter into the mailbox on the side of the road. For an added touch, write the farm address on the outside of the envelope so that it has a personal feel for the recipient.
  5. Do not go any further than you would be willing to drive every time that you would inspect your bees. Remember you’ll have to drive there and back for every inspection.
  6. Come home and wait by the phone.

I must be honest… I haven’t personally used this tactic for finding a home for my bees, but this is only a small variation for how I found a home for my own family – dropping off letters in mailboxes. The hardest part is getting up and doing it, but once you’ve done it, you stand a very good chance of finding somewhere to put a beehive. Possibly even multiple locations.

In closing

One other point that I would like to make is that you should not be fooled into thinking that keeping your bees in a rural area is better for the bees. It’s often the case that urban areas are in fact better. Why is this?

Rural areas are often farm land, and farms are often mono-crops. In other words, only one type of plant would be available to your bees. If you surround your bees with a few kilometres of corn, they are not going to do so well, especially if those crops contain harmful pesticides. In the city, avid gardeners make it their mission to provide a variety of flowers that bloom from the first thaw in the spring to the first frost in the winter. This is perfect for bees, so don’t be afraid to consider the possibility of setting up a rooftop or backyard hive. As Luke Dixon puts it, “If you have room for a composter or water barrel, you have room for a beehive.”

Good luck, and please share your own stories about how you found a location for your apiary in the comments below.

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).

The Thinking Beekeeper - A Guide to Natural Beekeeping in Top Bar Hives

I have been anxiously awaiting the publication of this book since I first heard about it. The Thinking Beekeeper: A Guide to Natural Beekeeping in Top Bar Hives, by Christy Hemenway explains – in fantastic detail – what it means to practice truly natural beekeeping, specifically in top bar hives.

Towards the end of last beekeeping season, I read Phil Chandler’s book, The Barefoot Beekeeper (full review here) which introduced me to the concept of top bar hives and what it means to be an intervention-free beekeeper. While Chandler’s book is wonderful, and highly recommended, I found that Hemenway’s book, The Thinking Beekeeper, provided a more complete explanation and breakdown of becoming a top bar hive beekeeper from scratch.

This is a perfect book for a beginner beekeeper and may actually become one of my top recommended books for anyone that is new to beekeeping and wants to approach beekeeping as naturally as possible.

The book begins with a history lesson on beekeeping and offers a look at some of the most common beekeeping practices – such as the use of wax foundation – and the impact that these practices may have on bees.

Further into the book is a full instructional guide to getting up and running with your first top bar hive. Aside from full plans and instructions on constructing your hive (which are regularly available for free on the Internet), Hemenway breaks down everything that you need to know as a first-time, top bar hive beekeeper. From installing your bees to collecting honey, overwintering, and then even managing your hive the following spring to ensure you’re left with the strongest colony possible.

One of the best parts of this book are the top-down (bee’s eye view) diagrams of the hive at specific stages along the way. These diagrams are extremely helpful for understanding how you manipulate the bars and follower boards throughout the season. I now have a much better understanding of how to have a middle entrance in a top bar hive and still allow the winter cluster of bees to move in a single direction consuming honey. Pure genius.

Towards the end of the book, Hemenway briefly describes the most notorious pests and diseases that every beekeeper should be on the lookout for, and finishes the book with a few of her personal thoughts and stories.

If you’re even remotely interested in top bar hives, or learning more about intervention-free beekeeping, I highly recommend this book to you.

Order this book from Amazon.ca:

The Thinking Beekeeper: A Guide to Natural Beekeeping in Top Bar Hives
By Christy Hemenway
Published Jan 1, 2013

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.

Queen Bee Closeup

Photo by Claire Woods used under Creative Commons

It may come as a surprise to most people – even experienced beekeepers – that when a queen bee mates with a drone bee from another colony, she is essentially having sex with another queen bee.

Well, perhaps this isn’t 100% accurate, but please let me explain…

To begin, it’s important to understand how drone bees are created. Drones are the male bees of a colony and their only purpose (as far as we know) is to mate with a queen from another colony. Drones hatch from unfertilized eggs. When the queen lays an egg in a cell, she dictates whether it will become a female (worker) bee by fertilizing the egg with sperm she collected on her mating flight. If she doesn’t fertilize the egg, it will become a drone.

Fast forward 24 days, and the unfertilized egg emerges from his cell as a drone bee. Since this drone was created without a “father”, its genetics are made up of 100% of it’s mother’s genes. The drone is a direct product of only the queen.

From this point, when a drone then mates with a queen from another colony on her mating flight, he is depositing sperm that contains the genes of his mother. It’s essentially as if the two queens were mating directly!

There’s probably a joke in here somewhere about women ruling the world, but us beekeepers already know that. 😉