Red Bucket Farm is an urban farm on a quarter acre property in an average residential neighborhood. We are located in Wisconsin, USDA Zone 5. We focus on chickens, bees, orchard fruit, and raised garden beds for fruits and veggies. We hope to reduce our footprint on the planet by growing some of our food, reducing our use of fossil fuels, and gardening with sustainable practices. Thanks for visiting!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Building Backyard Hives

Last spring our three cherry trees bloomed prolifically and we expected a healthy harvest. By mid-summer, however, we ended up with only a few cups of beautiful cherries, enough to bake one pie. We attributed our reduced harvest to lack of pollination.

Honeybees have been in the news frequently over the last few years. There are enough bugs, viruses and syndromes to make my head spin, and the current monoculture of farming isn't providing a healthy environment for the bees. Studies have shown that keeping backyard bees can contribute to the returning health of the honeybees, and backyard beekeepers are learning that a hands-off, chemical-free approach is producing good results. Also, backyard beekeeping raises garden production substantially, and backyard bees have a wider variety of crops to forage. It's a win-win situation.

In November I ordered two packages of bees from Long Lane Honey Bee Farms. A package consists of three pounds of bees (about 20,000) plus a queen. They are delivered by USPS in a wood-framed box with screening. The queen is in her own small box within the larger box so the worker bees can attend to her. I'm expecting delivery of the bees in late April or early May.

There are various styles of beehives. The most common is the Langstroth hive which is the bee condo, the stack of boxes that you may have seen at the edges of farms. It was developed in the 1850s primarily for commercial production of honey. The brood nest is in the bottom box and the bees build their stores of honey in the upper boxes. Each honey box can weigh between 50 and 100 pounds when harvested. This kind of heavy lifting doesn't appeal to me, so we're looking at another style of hive called Top Bar Hive. A top bar hive is a long, low box that allows the bees to build their brood comb and honey comb in a horizontal manner. Honey is harvested more frequently as the hive box fills up and there is no heavy lifting involved. Some folks think that bees raised in top bar hives are more gentle because their habitat is disrupted less than when a Langstroth hive is disassembled for harvest.

There are plenty of small businesses on the internet that are selling top bar hives. Many of their websites are enormously helpful and they seem like a wonderful group of people concerned about the health of our planet. But as usual, it all costs more than my limited budget will allow, so my trusty husband stepped in to build our own. He's finishing our first test hive. It's a box about four feet long, about 15 inches wide at the top and ten inches wide at the bottom. The sides are tapered so the honeycomb will be harvested more easily. He's added a window on one side so we can peek in and watch the bees work their magic. The worker bees will build comb from the top bar guides at the top of the hive. We won't use any plastic comb foundation. After all, the bees will know what to do without our help. They've been doing it for centuries.

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