Another Top Bar Beehive and DWV

We lost our beehive last winter. Well, we didn’t LOSE the hive itself, it’s just that the colony of bees occupying it died, and their death was probably our fault!  We felt soooooo bar beehive death in winter

However, since we thoroughly enjoyed being beekeepers, we decided to just go all in, make another hive and order two sets (one queen and 3 pounds of bees in each set) so that we would have two!  Not only would we have more pollinators for our fruit/nut orchard and our vegetable/herb garden, but we would also enjoy more honey and bees wax with another hive.  Besides, it would also double our chances of success getting a hive to survive the winter!

new hive 1This spring, once Ray was up to it and well on his way to healing (that story here), he made another top bar hive box in pretty much the same manner as our last one.  We did change a few things so there would be better ventilation, but the dimensions are pretty much the same so that we can share the top bars with each other.  Making this hive took a lot less time because we knew what we were doing.  We will see how everything goes this year and if the colonies make it through the winter, but we are hoping to make our third hive next spring!  🙂 a new top bar beehive

We bought our bee packages from Oliverez Bees, just as we did last year.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of the install.  I could give you some excuses, but the truth is that I was so excited and nervous that I simply forgot!  However, I did get a shot of the bees through the window viewing area just a few short weeks after they were installed.  Holy cow, these gals are building comb like gangbusters!

But then, one day about a month ago I saw this…

new top bar hive

Ugh!  Is that the deformed wing virus caused by the varroa mite?  I did a lot of research and, yes, it was probably the DWV.  UGH! UGH!  What were we going to do?  We wanted to have organic hives and not use miticide.  In fact, one reason we decided to use top bar hives was that the cells are smaller in Top Bar Hives (TBH), which produce smaller bees faster, which reduces the impact of varroa mites!  We knew that, unfortunately, there was probably no way to get around having varroa mites, which can kill a colony, but instead we could try to control them.

new top bar beehive

The California Buckeye, sometimes called Horse Chestnut, has a beautiful bloom and is a gorgeous tree when in full bloom. Unfortunately, the pollen causes Deformed Wing Virus in honeybees!

Another potential cause of the deformed wing virus, however, is pollen collected from the California Buckeye tree, which causes this deformity in brood.  And we have seen some California Buckeye Trees around.  If this was the cause, and all the brood was not effected, then the colony might be okay.

Well, when the bee with DWV was found, we were at the beginning of another honey flow.  There were lots of flowers blooming – especially the blackberries! And the weather report said that we were in for a week or so of 100+ degree weather down in the valley, though thankfully it wouldn’t get that hot here.

In researching miticides, I read that you do not want to apply during either a honey flow or during extreme heat, so even if our hive was being infected with the DWV, we had no choice but to watch it die right in front of our eyes.  The worst part of watching the hive die was knowing that the other hive would probably also be effected.  UGH!

So, the heat came and went!  Let me tell you, it was Hot Hot Hot!

When we checked on the hives a couple of weeks later, it was amazing!  They had literally doubled in size!  They weren’t dying at all, they were thriving!!

new top bar beehive

The colony as seen through the observation window in the side of the hive.


So…  how could this be?  I was actually prepared for another funeral!  Time for more research (don’t you just love Google?), and I think I may have found the answer.  I read on an entomologist’s research paper that while honeybees can live in 130-140 degree temperatures in the hive, the varroa mite cannot!  Wow!

So, if the DWV was caused by the varroa mite, the heat may have come at just the right time!  Of course, if the DWV was caused by the California Buckeye tree, then we will probably see some young bees with DWV every year in the future because we cannot cut down all the Buckeye trees within a honeybee’s foraging radius, nor would we want to.

Our tango mandrin in full bloom. The honeybees just maul this tree when it is blooming!

Our tango mandrin in full bloom. The honeybees absolutely maul this tree when it is blooming!

What we can do is plant more flowering fruits and vegetables and ornamentals that are good for bees, to keep them foraging at home.

Right now we have a small vegetable garden where our bees forage, and there are also numerous wildflowers around. In the spring the bees can forage from our fruit and nut orchard. Once our house is built we plan to have grapes, boysenberries and blueberries and will also plant a few more fruit trees here and there.  Furthermore, I want to expand our herb garden, which at this point includes rosemary, thyme, oregano, lavender and sage, which I know the honeybees just adore!

Here it is mid-summer, and during a hive inspection I took a picture of some of the comb while Ray was lifting them up.  Although we didn’t plan to harvest any honey, we felt it was necessary to take one comb from the larger hive (the new one) as it was almost full. new top bar beehive The bees already had comb on about 2/3 of the top bars! A full hive is one that will potentially swarm, which is something you definitely do not want!  We also moved a few empty bars in around the center of the hive, to let the bees see that there was still a lot more room in there.

We chose one comb that had mostly capped honey and very little brood.  I extracted the honey by crushing the beeswax comb and hanging it in cheesecloth above a bowl for about twenty-four hours.  Once most of the honey had drained out of the comb, I put the beeswax on a paper plate and set it outside about 20 feet away from the beehives.  The bees clean the honey off the wax in a day or two.  I flipped the wax over and the bees obligingly cleaned up the rest of the honey.  I put the almost clean beeswax into the freezer and will finish cleaning it up later.

new hive 4

We got about a cup of honey from this small harvest.  This honey is very sweet and a bright golden yellow – perfect for cornbread!  Yummmmmm…


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Kenyan Top Bar Beehive – Part 2

After deciding to raise honeybees, mainly for their pollination of our garden and orchard, but also for their honey and beeswax, we decided to build our own beehive.  If you missed part one, you should go back and read it HERE.

Once the body of the hive was built, we needed to add the actual top bars, an entrance reducer (I will talk about that later) and a feeder.

This is sometimes called a "follower".  We used it to separate the body of the hive from the mason jars.  That way the bees couldn't get into this area and we would be able to replenish the sugar water without too much disturbance.

This is sometimes called a “follower”. We used it to separate the body of the hive from the mason jars. That way the bees couldn’t get into this area and we would be able to replenish the sugar water without too much disturbance.

We decided to put the feeder inside the hive at the back.  That way, we wouldn’t be feeding every sugar loving creature out there and fewer critters and insects would be attracted to the area.  The downside of putting the sugar inside the hive is that we have to lift the roof to get to the feeders.  While that really shouldn’t be a problem, we decided to put two pint mason jars into the hive so that we would need to feed them less often, which means lifting the roof less often.

Ray cut two circles into a piece of wood and then attached that piece of wood to another piece of wood cut into a wedge shape (sometimes called a “follower”), to fit snugly inside the hive.

Two pint sized mason jars hold the sugar water solution to feed the bees.  When attached to the "follower", the bees cannot enter the top chamber of the feeder.  Small holes are punched in the metal lids to allow the bees to get the sugar water from below.

Two pint sized mason jars hold the sugar water solution to feed the bees. When attached to the “follower” (not attached yet in this picture), the bees cannot enter the top chamber of the feeder. Small holes are punched in the metal lids to allow the bees to get the sugar water from below.

This assembly was then attached to one of the top bars, so that it could be hung from the top of the hive, just like all the other top bars.  A one inch opening was left at the bottom for the bees to enter from the main chamber of the hive into the feeding chamber.  With the jars in place, bees could not get into the top where the mason jars are, which helps when refilling the jars.  We just used the canning jar lids and poked several small holes in them.  Yes, they dripped a little bit, but the bees were sure to clean this up anyway!

Our next task was to make the actual top bars.  Again, we used poplar as the main crossbar, but then we used pine lattice as the downbars.  As you can see, the top bars are actually made of two pieces:  the main crossbar that rests on top of the hive body, and the downbars, which is what the bees attach their comb to. We simply cut the top bars to length, cut a groove down the middle of each bar, then glued the downbar into the groove. Done!

How to make a beehive

The down bar was glued into the groove of the top bar to complete assembly.

I did a lot of research on top bar versus traditional Langstroth hives, and it was suggested on several websites that we coat the downbars with a little bit of honey so that the bees

Make a Kenyan top bar beehive

My little trough to melt the honey/beeswax/pollen mixture so that I can dip the top bars in.

would understand that this is where the comb is supposed to be.  This is especially important if your bees come from stock that was raised with the traditional Langstroth hives, where a comb foundation is already given to the bees.  I found some organic raw honey that also had pollen and honeycomb in it and used it to coat the downbars.  I made an aluminum foil “trough” for the honey mixture, placed it on an insulated cookie sheet and set that over a pan of hot water.  This gently melted the honey mixture and I was able to dip each downbar about 1/4 inch in, which was perfect!

The top bars all loaded with honey and ready to go!

The top bars all loaded with honey and ready to go.  Now all we need are bees!

The last little piece of equipment for the hive was the reducer.  All a reducer does is actually make the entrance/exit hole into the hive smaller, and all we needed was a block of wood!  The reducer is needed for a new hive to help guard the hive from predators, like wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, etc..  When a bee package is purchased, it usually comes Beehive part 2-6with a queen and about 3 pounds of bees.  That sounds like a lot of bees, but it really isn’t, so with the reduced number of bees, they can’t protect a huge opening.  So, we placed a piece of wood on the landing board of the entrance/exit to the hive.  This closed up about two thirds of the opening to the hive. Sorry, I didn’t get a picture of the reducer on the hive. Every month or so, the wood will be cut smaller, so that after several months, the reducer shouldn’t be necessary at all.  That doesn’t ensure that the hive won’t be raided by the predators, it just helps the bees build up their hive numbers so that if they were attacked, they might be able to to stave off the predator and claim victory.

About an inch of olive oil in a small tupperware container will prevent ants or other crawling bugs from getting into the hive.

About an inch of olive oil in a small tupperware container will prevent ants or other crawling bugs from getting into the hive.

One last thing we added was olive oil.  Olive oil?  Yes.  Where the hive will be sitting there are a lot of ants.  Ants can quickly take over a hive, if you aren’t watching.  However, they cannot (or will not) cross over oil.  So, with each leg of the hive in a plastic tupperware container, we poured in about 1 cup of oil.  With a new hive, every precaution  helps!

Now, all we need are the bees!


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