It was 90 F today. April 16 and 90 degrees! Poor Boston Marathon runners.  Poor spinach seedlings. Poor beekeeper in her hot bee suit. The bees didn’t seem to mind it much, probably because until Saturday they were in Georgia, where they were bred.  I shook two packages. So glad I got it all done (assembling the framesbuilding the hive boxes, and some last minute painting). Now there are three:

DH took footage of the hiving (almost) from beginning to end:

After the frames, the boxes. The priority is two hive stands and four deeps, two for each of the new colonies and one for a swarm box. The four mediums as honey supers, and one shallow that I want to experiment with will be for later. I still had two bottom boards, among which is one full one which I need to transform into a screened one, and already picked up two assembled telescoping outer covers and two inner covers for a song.

We cut the wood to size  the other day, following this pdf.

You can’t use 1 x 10s for deeps, which are standardized at 9 5/8″  to fit frames that are 9 1/4″ (leaving the “bee space” in between frames). 1 x 10 are not true, not 10 inches wide. I found on the net that when the Langstroth hive was standardized, a 1 x 10  also wasn’t true: it was 9 5/8″ wide, so that’s what the beekeepers and supply manufacturers took as the size for a deep and a deep frame. Since then, 1 x 10s have shrunk some more, down to only 9 1/4″ wide. So you have to use a 1 x 12 to fit in a deep and cut of a bit. You can get one box out of an eight footer. Same for the mediums and shallows: you have to use a 1 x 8″ . The wood we cut off won’t be wasted, really, because we can use it for rim boards.

We routered the rabbets on the short sides that the frames will rest on. Then it was time to cut the box joints, which we did with a dado, a combination of blades on the table saw. Our first jig made the joints too  tight, making the wood split when we knocked it together.  We built a good one.

We  even waxed the sliders that fit into the grooves in our table saw with beeswax. Worked like a charm!

Here’s DH working the jig. He’s so good to help his wife with her slightly out of the ordinary projects!

Oh, did I tell you, that this would be a LOT more work without a router and a table saw? And a dado set?

The pine was giving us some trouble. Some of the planks are bowed, making the fit less than perfect (but the bees will propolyze any gaps). The wood also split on us, like in the picture above. I’ll fix it with glue. It’s just one notch, so it won’t harm the overall strength of the joint.

The frames fits. The box is square. Time to glue the corners together with a bit of Elmer’s exterior wood glue, then to immediately pre-drill a couple of the pins and hammer in the  1 1/2″ 6d galvanized nails so that the corners won’t shift as the glue dries. Then I pre-drilled and hammered  in each pin.

 Here’s the end result of a couple of days work (which could all have been done in one, long day), ready for some paint:

Check out how much it cost to build this and a comparison with a hive kit here.

Last session Amie also took classes with my fabulous pottery teacher, Lisa Dolliver. These are some of the pieces she made:

The unicorn is a piggy bank. At the moment it has a clay blue heart sitting in its slot. Aren’t they lovely?

That, by the way, is a Go board: DH and Amie are learning the game together. Amie has quite the knack for it, and loves it. The read the book and play at least two games every night.

These are my pots.

I was very productive: three small plates, three medium ones, one vase, two soup bowls, one tumbler (pic below), and two large bowls, the largest pieces I’ve ever thrown, but I needed help from Lisa to do it. As you can see if you compare with previous sessions, I’ve found a pattern in the glazing. The idea is to make a dinner set. Also to take the pressure off me when glazing – I don’t like glazing much.

They stack up!

After planting hundreds of fava beans, peas and trellises, and transplanting chard, lettuce and spinach, I looked at that hive, saw the bees hard at work, and knew it was now or never to go deep into the hive to see if I needed to do a brood box reversal.

First I took off the outer cover, then the  and inner cover (with the rim board firmly propolized to it). Then I lifted the top brood box off  and set it aside. They get heavy, those deeps filled to the brim with bees, comb and honey!

I pulled two central frames from the equally busy bottom box and ascertained that it had only food in it, mostly pollen. No grubs, no eggs.  That meant the nest was all in the top box. This, according to many, is an precondition to swarming: the nest moves upward and if it finds there is no more space up there, they might leave (half of the colony leaves with the queen). I would not like a swarm! I’d want to catch it and keep it, of course, but there is no guarantee whether I would be able to.

I had supered the hive – put a honey super on top  - but the bees have only just started drawing out the comb on those frames. I also don’t want the queen in the super, which is supposed to be a honey super, not a third brood box. So I decided right then and there to reverse the two brood boxes. I had read on the forums that the best time to do this is “on the dandelion”. I looked around at the many fat dandelions in my yard and took that as a confirmation.

I was pretty curious about the bottom board. Last year when I lifted off the brood boxes it was carpeted with an inch of dead bees.  Not so this time:

Not one dead bee. The white stuff is the wax paper my sugar slabs were served on. It had disappeared, and there it was, shredded. Did the bees harvest the wax off of it?

By now the ladies were pretty excited. Obviously. Foragers were returning to a hive that was cut up into many parts, all spread about, and there was light everywhere (bees like it dark in their house), and the wind was either chilling them or the sunshine was overheating them. The bees were all over me, taking a special liking to my gloves. I have never been stung through those calfskin gloves, and I didn’t want this to be the first time, just when I was handling a 60 lbs deep full of already agitated bees. So, no dwindling, no camera work – better get on with it!

Switch boxes, quick check for swarm cells (queen cells that will be at the bottom of the frames), then add super, rim board with inner cover, outer cover. Done! Walk away.

Reversing brood boxes is a pretty stressful action for the colony. Imagine someone comes to your house and reverses first and second floor! Some beekeepers won’t do it, as it’s unnatural, but others do it as part of swarm prevention. I did it last year but the situation was very different then (there was no action, no food, no bees, no nothing in the bottom box). Still, this colony is so strong, they’ll handle it. If not, they’ll swarm…

It’s one big puzzle of which I don’t have half the pieces. But the uncertainty and surprises are part of the fun.

Last week some of our BEElieve group met at the house of A., who was the first to pick up his bee package (that morning). The package looked very robust, with very few dead bees at the bottom. We went out to admire the setting of the hive, then A. hived the bees as I talked him through it. Seeing someone shake those 10.000 bees into the box is incredibly empowering. All went well and the bees seemed happy in their new home. A couple of days later it turned out the queen had been released and was moving about the hive, which means the colony accepted her.

Most BEElievers, myself included, will pick up our bees on April 16. On that day we’ll go from one home to the next, hiving.

I am adding two more hives to my apiary, bringing the total up to three. I ordered two packages ($100 each), then tallied up how much it would cost to house them. Well, whew! Forget about ordering the hive parts online: the shipping kills the deal (which is as it should be, of course). But even buying the hives locally came with too steep a bill. So I decided to buy the frames and foundation, unassembled, locally, and to assemble them myself, and to build the rest of the hive bodies myself (I should say, ourselves, since this requires major help from DH).

A friend who was being funny (you know who you are!) suggested we have a beehive building barnraising (tongue twister), using a human-powered staple gun, nails and hammers. Think of what a grand story that would make! The self-sacrifice, the endurance, the courage and solidarity, the hand cramps! I said I understand the power of stories and the importance of setting up occasions for them, but this ain’t one of them! Just consider the assembling of the frames, the one hundred and ten (110) frames, to be exact. Ten brads each.

That requires…. coffee, especially so early on Easter Sunday morning.

The beekeeper at her “desk”

So, first up, the frames. Unassembled frames come in five pieces: top bar, bottom bar, two sidebars, and foundation. It first looks like this:

Straight from the beekeepers supply store

A little while later it looks like this:

Frames without foundation

And then, eventually, likes this:

Frames with foundation, all ready to go

{What follows is a technical, detailed explanation about how these frames are put together.}

I bought frames with wedge top bars and grooved bottom bars, and my foundation is Duragilt, a very thin sheet of plastic entirely coated with clean bees wax that is stamped in the shape of cells, with a strip of metal on each side for strength.

Not finding a pneumatic or electric staple gun, I turned to our finishing nailgun: it’s pretty heavy and overkill, but it can handle the brads I needed, which  are 3/8″. The 1/2″ ones proved to be too long: when shot into the topbar at the installation of the foundation, they emerged on the other side, on the top of the top bar, a place where you want to be able to scrape without meeting sharp metal points.

Step One. Snap the wedge piece off the top bar and put it aside:

Step two. Assemble all the pieces and fit them together, tapping them snug with a hammer:

Step three. Nail the top bar into the side bars (two brads each I was told is sufficient). I used the square (see in the background)  to make sure the frames was squared. With well-milled pieces that fit together snugly, it shouldn’t be a problem:

Step four. Nail the sidebars into the grooved bottom bar (one brad into each of the four corners). Again use a square:

Repeat 110 times. I did this factory-wise: the same brads in the same place 110 times, then flip it over, next nails, etc. Gets boring but it’s more efficient and faster.

Step five. Install the foundation by first slipping it into the grooved bottom bar (make sure the communication holes are at the bottom):

Step six. Lay the piece against the top bar and fit in the wedge piece that was snapped off earlier. This piece now keeps the foundation in place. Nail that in (three brads, this is where you need the 3/8″ brads – 1/2″ will poke through up and out of the top bar):

Done.

Next!

We also managed to cut all the boards for the hive bodies to size, and routered the ledges that frames will rest on. But then we lost time figuring out a box joint jig. With the first jig the joints  came out too  tight and the wood split on us. Not something you want happening to a box fill of bees! So we had to adjust the jig. Here’s DH pondering the puzzle:

By the time we had a new one built, it was dark, and as we do the big woodworking on the patio, we had to pack up will have to wait till tomorrow to get started on joining those boxes. That will be for my next blog post.

Also check out how much it cost to build this and a comparison with a hive kit here.