3/11/2013

Top Bar Beekeeping

When I was a senior in high school, I saw this short, five minute documentary about a backyard beekeeper. All this guy ever gave people as a present was a slice of honeycomb. Which honestly sounds a bit weird, but I totally loved the idea. Sure, I'll still be a bit more creative with my gift giving, but the premise of backyard beekeeping just clicked with me.
I would have started a hive of my own that very day, if I could have. But there were a few issues at hand. First off, I still lived with my mom (who was not so stoked about a swarm of bees in the backyard), and even more so, I was about to head off to Europe for the entire summer and then take off to Clemson for college.

With that said, beginning beekeeping got put on the back burner, for the foreseeable future.

A couple of months into living at The Tipi though, I went to the State Fair, with my then girlfriend. One of the booths there was for the Mid-South Carolina Beekeeper's Association. After a quick chat, I was hooked again. I wanted a beehive. But, unlike the last time around, I now had the land and means to keep them.

Project Beehive got sidetracked again in lieu of cellar digging and cider making, for the same girl that I attended the fair with, but it all worked out, I suppose. As I recently discovered, beehives are kind of like Summer Vegetables, you have to start/plant them in early to mid Spring time. If you start a beehive any later in the year, they will perish in the dead of Winter.

So, two weekends ago, my grandfather and I set out to build a top bar beehive, in time for Spring. I found some plans online (see source links below) that seemed solid enough. The guy at the fair had told me to try a top bar hive, so that's what I was going off of really. The lumber and supplies only cost around $100 (Note: I made a few changes to the roof design. Instead of hardiboard, we went with plastic roofing over white pine/the same wood as the body. Neither we nor the hardware store had the facilities to safety cut hardiboard).

One of the more interesting things I learned is that you have to be very careful what you make and put on the hive. The bees are apparently very sensitive, so you can't use treated wood or any strong chemical in the construction process. Even when painting the hive, you have to use latex paint on the outside and well, nothing on the inside. All you want in there is bare, unfinished, untreated wood. Anything else can negatively affect the bees, I'm told. And even after you paint the outside, it's best to let the hive sit for almost a month before keeping bees in it... and I though my cat was fickle.

The picture above is of the unpainted hive, but it is now sporting a brilliant, white paint job (light colors are preferred because they keep the hive cool in the summer months). For a quart of paint (that was good for two coats with some still left over), a brush, and a paint key (only 50¢ but still, they use to be free) I paid around $30.
My hunt for feral bees was unsuccessful, so I'm set to get a 'bee pack', as their called, from Bee Well Honey of Pickens on April 13th (another $80), and the rest of my supplies: head garb, smoker, hive tool, and bee brush, are going to cost around another $40 to $50.

Now, I had all these gears in motion to make the beehive and such before I really even knew what I wanted to do with the fruits of my labor. Eat the honey, sell the honey, make some candles? I didn't really know until a few weeks back when I shared some of my cider with the head of brewing at Clemson, and he suggested mead... Mead. Hmmm. Hogsmead? No. Hm, what's in that exactly?

So I looked it up and by golly, it's almost as simple as making cider: honey + water + yeast => mead (or honey wine, as it's sometimes called). But unlike cider, I wouldn't have to buy the juice (which costs around $50 per 5 gallon batch), I could just use the honey from my backyard. In essence, after the first batch/reusing the yeast, I could have free alcohol/live every college kid's dream.

And thus, the end goal of mead has been set. As for the beeswax... I'm still looking to make candles.

Side Note: In regards to my not so vegan, vegan diet, I'm still sticking with it, over two months in, but I would just like to clarify something: honey is vegan. That is all.

If you're looking to learn how to hitchhike, check out my book- The Hitchhiker's Guide to: Earth.

Source: Mistress Beek: Plans and Notes



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