The Alternative Conventional Hive

I believe there is not a keeper that hasn’t experienced the emotion of discovering one of their hives has died. The sadness, the feeling of some how we failed those bees. “Did I do something wrong, could I have done more?” For me, there was a period of time, in my bee keeping career, that felt I wasn’t smart enough, that I didn’t know how to keep bees alive. I felt I was failing miserably at something I wanted so badly to succeed at. I took any colony loss personally but it wasn’t about my ego. I realize there is always some colony die outs in beekeeping, it is actually normal and should be expected at a reasonable level. Still, I felt that the colony depended on me to do my part and be smart enough to keep them alive and I had failed. Then it struck me- It’s not about a single colony survival. Don’t get me wrong I would save every colony if I could but it is about our “apiary” surviving, our personal population of bees living on.
A small group of members from the Olympia Beekeeper Association are embarking upon a big mission. A way of keeping our apiaries alive. This new movement is so exciting for me the I have taken the liberty of naming the group the South Sound Sustainable Apiaries group. The name may change pending the group’s decision. For me it is an endeavor I had already started myself and for years is something very personal to me- keeping bees alive. The concept of the group is to create sustainable apiaries. Viewing your whole apiary as a self-sustaining unit. Be it a single hive apiary or a 100 hives. How do we get off the treadmill of keeping bees by buying packages every Spring? I will say just a few words about packages then move on. “The least successful source of bees is packages, the most successful source of bees is locally grow bees. Bees grown right in your own apiary with queens that at least born, raised and bred in your region of the country.” There I said it in exactly 40 words :-). In the Spring it hurts to see your package colony has died. However, seeing a nuc you made from that colony last Summer with a strong local queen survive the Winter and bursting with bees is a joy. You may have lost one colony but you have not failed your bees, you have sustained your apiary.
There are several ways to make winter nucs and during the November 14th 2016 club meeting Thomas Mani introduced the Over Wintering Double Nuc hive method. It is a way to make our club members self sustaining beekeepers. The Alterative Conventional Hive is a prototype double nuc system that enhances the "one hive" mentality of two nuc colonies. I researched Thomas’s theory and built a prototype double nuc system that sits on a 10 frame Langstroth foot print. Basically it is two nucs side by side with a thin wall between the two colonies. When I build equipment, I try really hard to keep as much of my tweaking and refining compatible to our existing bee equipment. Trying to keep everything as standard as possible. Inside a double nuc the two separate colonies will tend to cluster against the inner wall during the winter. If they don’t at least sense each other, they will feel the thin center walls to be slightly warmer because of the colony on the other side. A good way to think of the benefits of making a winter nuc is that it is an insurance/investment for your apiary. It is an insurance policy if your main hive doesn’t make it through the Winter. If your main hive does make it through the winter strong, that insurance policy nuc just became an investment that you can sell. There is a huge market for over wintered nucs.
It’s all about the bees,

Native Pollinators Study Group

Where? Traditions Cafe, 5th and Water St, downtown Olympia
When? Monday Oct 24, 7 pm

Pollinators play a significant role in successful crop production.

Research suggests that native pollinators are responsible for a larger percentage of crop success than had long been supposed.

Modern agricultural practices can disrupt native pollinator reproduction. Eli Bloom, a WSU PhD candidate, has been researching pollinator abundance on local organic farms, as well as practical solutions open to organic agriculture. Tonight Eli will present his preliminary results to our program.

Join us 4th Monday most months at Traditions, 7 p.m.

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Does a Multi-hive Style Apiary Make for a Tired Beekeeper?

Does incorporating Alternative style Top Bar and Warre hives into a Langstroth hive apiary make one a better beekeeper? It does make for a lot more work! 3 different hardware styles, none of the parts are interchangeable. The reason and purpose why the 3 hives were developed are different with 3 different management styles. But- keeping a multi-style hive apiary can’t help but hone a keeper’s skills. Working with the bees under different conditions, using different methods of management in different hives does make one a more aware, skilled, and tired keeper. Keeping bees in 3 different style hives at the same time can be used as a measurement of skill but may also be used as a measurement of sanity :-). One important fact I learned is that each hive style was developed with different reasons, purposes and expectations in mind. Each requires a different management style. Learning the technical side of managing 3 different styles will expand a keeper’s knowledge and patience. The bees in Alternative hives are given more “free rein” to do what they want. Managing bees under those conditions does require a bit of patience. My often used description of this “free rein” management style is- “Bees don’t read the instructions” Briefly, here are descriptions of the 3 hives of a multi-hive style apiary.

Rev. Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth developed the Langstroth hive in 1852. He saw honey as a resource and the honey bee colonies as little natural industrialized societies that, with the proper habitat or “factory”, could produce a large amount of products for humans. He saw the bee colony as an industrial factory and the apiary as an industrial complex. His hive and management focused on a maximum production concept. This hive has different size boxes and frames and can be managed by the frame and box.

Abbe’ Emile Warre developed his hive and management in the early 1900's attempting to incorporate a happy medium of the bee’s natural world and mankind’s desire for products from the hive. Emile called his hive The People’s Hive and it is managed vertically and although it can be managed by a bar at a time it is easier to work the hive by the box. Of these 3 hives it requires the least management and hive products are less then the Langstroth.

The Top Bar hive has the “deepest” past with versions of it being mentioned as far back as ancient Egypt. During an era of skeps, clay tubes, and hollow logs, versions of top bar styles began to appear as methods of managing hives without struggling with fixed combs. Credit for the present day Kenyan Top Bar hive seems to go to Dr. Maurice Smith of Canada who developed today’s sloped sided version of the hive in the early 1970's. This hive is managed horizontally, in a single box, and by a single bar at a time. As with the Warre, produces less hive products then the Langstroth.
The most important thing I learned that is the most valuable for me to realize and the greatest benefit to the bees. “One can not assume that the health of a colony can be guaranteed based solely on the style of hive they are kept in.” Choosing any particular style of hive didn’t grant me a freedom from management as in “hands free”. Each hive style presents a different style of management. Alternative hives may require less management but it is less management in relation to maximizing hive production. For many reasons in today’s beekeeping, all hive styles require a vigilant management for colony health.

It’s all about the bees