Monday, April 13, 2009

Opening a Beehive

Clay has talked about having bees for years. He lucked out this year when the gentleman farmer that sold us our pigs informed us that he was moving and we offered to buy a couple of his hives from him. Also, Clay works with a young architect that has been dabbling in bees since he was a teenager and Clay peppers him with questions that fueled his desire to get into the apiary business sooner than later.

The young architect let Clay borrow his bee suit so he could take a look inside the hives without getting stung to death. The young architect is just a tad smaller than Clay which is obvious when you see how we had to duct tape the suit and around his ankles and wrists. Clay felt a bit trapped. Have I ever mentioned that Clay is horribly claustrophobic? He hates the feeling of being trapped.

Note that little orange tool in Clay's pocket. That is called a hive tool and it is crucial when you want to open a hive, especially one that hasn't been opened all winter because the bees glue everything shut with something called propolis or bee-glue or virgin wax.

He's suited up and protected from any stinging bees. The next step is to create some smoke to sedate the bees before opening the hive. We don't have a smoker yet, so we created one in a metal coffee can. Not the best solution, but it worked, mostly because it was a cool windy day the the bees weren't very active.

Dryer lint and leaves make a good smoke. Kansas wind makes it difficult to start a fire.

But that same Kansas wind was very helpful blowing the smoke into the hive. A little smoke into the entrance below and then....

take off the lid. The smaller white box on top is where we will collect the honey, it's called a super. The lower two boxes are where the bees live and work and breed and most importantly, it's where the queen reigns.

All of these things have names like supers, boxes, brooder, nukes, blah, blah, blah. I would fail a test right now, so bear with me as I learn. Clay is using his hive tool to take out all the things that the bees will build wax comb on and then insert golden honey, we call them frames.

The frames come with wax or plastic bases that have a hexagonal shape embedded on them. The bees build their wax directly on top of the hexagon grid. You can see a bit of the yellow wax that has already been built on top of the white plastic grid.

Down in the that oval shaped hole you can see the bees. Clay blew a few more puffs of smoke in the top of the hive so I could rush over and take these photos.

After taking out all the grids Clay loosens the top. The bees glue down everything. That is why you have to have a hive tool.

I can't remember what this board is called but it can be used to invert a jar of sugar syrup inside the hive to feed the bees and you can place a little one way door in the oval to keep bees in one part of the hive.

It was glued down pretty tight. The bees were calm and stayed inside the hive because it was incredibly windy and a tad chilly. You should never open the hive if it's below 55 degrees F.

There are approximately 40,000 bees in this hive. They could product up to 50 pounds of honey.

The brown specks are the bees. Clay was contemplating his next move. This was the first time he had opened the hive and he was excited and nervous.

In the end he decided it was too darn windy to take out any of the frames inside the hive for fear he would find the queen and she would blow away. So he removed the wooden board with the oval hole and inserted a queen excluder which looks like a metal grate. You can see it lying on the ground on top of the white lid. It allows the worker bees to crawl up to the top super and make honey but the queen is too big to get through the grate, so she stays below to lay eggs.

Here's what we have spent on our bees thus far:

$200- for two completely built hives includes two queen excluders, only one hive had live bees.

$50- to attend a bee conference and become members of the Kansas Beekeepers Association which sends out newsletters and crucial information for beginners.

We still need to buy a suit for Clay ($70-90), hive tool($5-7) and new bees for the second hive ($????).

Stay tuned I'm trying to get another post written about our hive that died.


Anonymous said...

I'm not seeing an e-mail address for you on your site. And lawsy mercy, if yours isn't on there, mind doesn't need to be. So, ask your sister for ks grandma's e-mail, and write to me. I can send you a hive tool and a smoker. Be glad to know they are going to a happy home. (Considering it small enough payment for the days you make me laugh!)

Gladys said...

You will have to show us your progress. I love honey and fresh local honey is always best. Now you can make your own royal jelly cream and sell it on QVC and become a zillionaire

Clayvessel said...

Go Clay!


There was a good article in the Oregonian on Friday about how bee-keeping is the new hip hobby. The writer was at Ruhl Bee Supply where people were lined up to get their new bees. A package of 10,000 bees was $80.

Years ago, a homeschooling friend in Michigan kept bees and we had a homeschool field trip day observing him taking the honey frames out of the hives and extracting the honey in one of those spinny machines. It was very cool. Their honey was always so delicious and they got gallons from one hive.

Good luck!

cndymkr / jean said...

40,000 bees? Clay is crazy. Can I sign up now to buy some honey? I'm very serious.

E said...

I just saw this on TreeHugger after I read this bee post.

This DVM's Wife's Life said...

Where is Preacher's bee suit?
I'm sure the "honey" jokes run rampant in your household!

georgie said...
This is a blog by an English man who is just started beekeeping last year. hope things keep buzzing and you get a great crop of honey!

Lauri Bernet said...

Hi April!! I hope you plan on selling this honey-I will help you peddle it in the after-school car line if you want. :) Please let me know-Lauri

April said...


April said...

Hopefully we will harvest honey this year and you will be my first customer.

You are so honey! I'll probably be donating some to the auction.

Leila said...

It's making me very nervous that suddenly beekeeping is popular, because it means that we won't find cheap stuff on ebay to keep our bees with! :(

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