Category Archives: equipment

Winter Tasks

Although it didn’t feel like a winter day today, I spent the morning putting together my new hive. Based on last year’s experience with Large Marge, I bought six medium supers for the second hive. Considering last year was an exceptional year for weather and rainfall here in Austin, I think having six supers will be more than enough for a new hive starting out this spring.

I bought unassembled supers this year to save on cost and shipping. They are easy to put together with some wood glue and nails, but it is always important to assemble them soon after they arrive so the pieces do not warp.

Hive Body Parts

Putting together supers

Here is a picture of the finished hive with only three supers on. I still need to paint and level out the ground at the 2nd hive location, but I’ve knocked out the big task of putting it all together.

Newly completed Hive

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Second Hive Syndrome

All the pieces parts of my second hive arrived this week, and I’ll soon be putting it all together in preparation for the spring package. While I was adding all the necessary components into my shopping cart, my wife accused me of having “second hive syndrome” as I was initially opting for some cheaper options.

For example, for my first hive I went with a 8-Frame Garden Top:

I had planned on going with the cheaper Telescoping Top for the next hive:

In the end, I went with the exact same configuration as my first hive. Not only will they look nice side by side, but I would hate for the new queen to be jealous of Large Marge’s hive.

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Bee-Z Smoker

I’ll readily admit that it took me awhile before I got the hang of lighting a smoker, but I never found it so difficult that I needed a special gadget to get it going. Maybe this product is great for commercial beekeepers who have hundreds of hives to check, but I really can’t see the justification for the urban beekeeper with just a few hives to inspect.

I guess it would be nice to just push a button and have smoke come out, but I enjoy the process of lighting the smoker. To me, the few minutes of setting up the smoker allows me to get into the inspection mindset and think through all the tasks I want to accomplish.

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2011 North American Beekeeping Conference and Tradeshow

I just found out that the 2011 North American Beekeeping Conference and Tradeshow is going on right now in Galveston and ends tomorrow January 8th. According to the website, it was in Orlando last year so I’m assuming it alternates cities. Maybe I’ll get lucky and they will pick Austin next year.

It is a  joint effort of the American Beekeeping Federation, the American Honey Producers Association and the Canadian Honey Council. I am not familar with any of these organizations so I will have to take some time to check them out and see what they are all about.

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Honey Dispensers

Now that we have quite a bit of honey stored up for the winter, we needed a practical dispenser for every day use. My brother gave me a really beautiful sterling silver honey jar shaped like a beehive, but it doesn’t hold a lot of honey, and it is really too nice for just everyday use in the kitchen.

My wife did some research on the interwebs, and found this article about various dispensers. She ended up getting me the WFM Satin Steel and Glass Honey Dispenser as a Christmas gift. Not only does it have a nice streamlined design, we have already put it to the test, and it passed with flying colors. It didn’t drip at all after pouring and holds about 1 cup of honey.


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First Freeze and Mouse Guard

Austin had its first hard freeze last night and the temps dropped to about 27 degrees. This appears to be an isolated incident as the 10 day forecast has the lows back into the mid-40’s, but it is a good reminder that winter is just around the corner for those of us in southern climates.

By mid-afternoon it was sunny and back in the 60’s so I went to check on the girls. The top hive feeder was completely empty so I added another 2 quarts of sugar solution to make sure they have enough food for the winter. I didn’t go into the hive at all since it was so cold last night, and I want to disturb them as little as possible during these colder months. It may be back in the 70’s by next weekend so I’ll probably do one last inspection before closing up shop until next spring.

I also took this opportunity to install a mouse guard to prevent unexpected house guests in the hive over the winter. Here is a picture of me modeling the latest in mouse guard fashions.

Karl with Mouse Guard

After initially putting it on backwards, I finally got it right. It basically fits over the hive entrance and has 3/8″ holes that allow bees free access to the hive but keep out the meeces. It also acts as an entrance reducer so the bees were a bit confused at first, but quickly figured it out.

Mouse Guard

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Today’s inspection was bananas!

If I ever had any doubts about how useful a smoker is to a beekeeper, today’s inspection put those to rest. Today was a clear cool day, and when I arrived to check on the hive, I realized I didn’t have matches to light my smoker. I decided to press on anyway thinking the cooler weather would keep the girls docile for a quick fall looksee. My main goals today were to verify they still had plenty of honey frames as well as to make sure Large Marge was still around and laying eggs.

When I removed the inner cover, I caught a huge whiff of bananas which is not something you want to smell as a beekeeper. Technically it is called Isoamyl acetate, and it is a pheromone marker that tells other bees to converge on the area and attack the bad man opening the hive. Things got dicey pretty quickly, and I was forced to put the cover back on and go ask a nice neighbor for some matches so I could light the smoker. Once I had the smoker lit and in use, the girls calmed down nicely, and I was able to proceed with my inspection normally.


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Packages vs. Nucs

To follow up on my previous post about ordering bees, most apiaries offer two options in this regard: packages or nucs.

Ordering a package of bees is probably the most common way to get bees. A package consists of anywhere from 3-5 lbs. of bees in a large meshed box with a queen. You can refer to my previous post on installing Large Marge if you want to see what one looks like.

This is the cheapest option, and you can install these bees in any type of hive and/or hive type configuration. It also may be a little easier for a new beek to work with as all the bees are contained in one easy to dump out box. The downside of a package for someone starting with all new equipment is the bees have to draw out comb on all the frames before the queen can start laying eggs. Once the eggs are laid, you are then looking at another 21 days before you have new workers. This means you are waiting over a month before new bees start emerging to replace the ones you received with your package.

Ordering a nuc gets you the same number of bees in a package plus a queen, but you also get the added benefit of several frames of drawn comb you can put directly into your hive. The advantage of this method is the comb will most likely have some honey as well as workers in various stages of development plus empty cells for the queen to lay eggs. This will give your hive a jump start on the season as they will be able to build up more quickly.

Nucs will cost you more, and you must have a hive to accommodate the types of frames the apiary uses. Most will use frames for deep body hive boxes so if you were like me and decided to standardize on medium boxes, this ruled out this option completely.

I don’t think one option is necessarily better than the other, but you should at least be aware of your choices so you can make the best decision for your hive and location.

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Time to Order Bees!

For anyone (especially those in Texas) who are thinking about starting your first hive, now is the time to place your order for a spring delivery. Beekeeping has become very popular in the past few years so if you wait too long to order, the apiary may no longer be able to fulfill your request. If that happens, you are either stuck waiting for an additional year, or getting lucky enough to catch an early spring/summer swarm.

Your local beekeeper association should be able to give you a list of reputable aparies that supply bees with good traits. The only two I know of in Texas are R Weaver and B Weaver aparies. I personally used B Weaver, and I’ve had great success my first year into beekeeping. I liked that fact that B Weaver had a local pickup option for your package (instead of them arriving in the mail) plus they stopped using chemicals to treat varroa mites in 2001 meaning their bees should be better adapted to cope with these pests.

So if you are thinking about taking the plunge into the exciting world of beekeeping, don’t delay and get your bees ordered!

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Top bar hive vs. Langstroth (I’ve tried both and here’s my verdict) (via mistress beek)

Back in August, I posted an opinion that I thought Langstroth hives were probably better for beginner beekeepers, but as I have never used a Top Bar Hive, it was based purely on what I had read about them. Mistress Beek has used both and has an excellent summary on how she rates the two that I think is great.

Top bar hive vs. Langstroth (I've tried both and here's my verdict) Forget beekeeping ideology, I’m a pragmatist. And here’s what I’ve come to realize about the benefits and drawbacks of top bar and Langstroth bee hives. Download the PDF version with more notes Characteristic Top Bar Hive Langstroth Notes Easy on your back A TBH is a dream for anyone with a back problems. Hive management To me, TBH requires more time to manage due to frameless combs and non-moveable boxes. Ventilation Lang hives make better use o … Read More

via mistress beek

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