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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The "Hal's Hives: Part I - Preparing The Hive" Story

It was an ordinary day.  The white boxes are stacked four high and held together by nothing other than friction and their own weight.  Soon these boxes, made of catalpa wood and measuring approximately 16" x 20" x 10" deep, will be full of honey bees.  Standing in the basement of my friend Hal's home, looking at his latest creation that he has so skillfully made.  For years Hal and I taught Industrial Arts together at Manheim Township High School in Neffsville, PA.  He is a master at woodworking and just about everything he attempts.  His beehives are meticulously made from wood that he purchased from a nearby farmer.  He chose this species of wood, which is soft and light in weight, because of the lasting qualities of the wood.  It probable weathers better than most woods that are available in the north-eastern part of the United States.  Hal has a shop in his basement and spent the better part of last winter preparing his beehives for the "brood" that he now has in his back yard.  He gave me a run-through of what parts comprise a beehive and the reasons for all the different sections of the hive.  In order for you to understand the art and hobby of bee keeping, it may be better to give you a visual journey of all the necessary parts needed.  The following is a brief photo-illustrated idea as to how bee keeping is accomplished.  Tomorrow I will take you with me as I explore Hal's hives and the amazing world of honey bees.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Here Hal is showing me the Bottom Board which includes a screen in order to collect any debris that may be brought into the hive by or on the honey bees.  The catalpa wood that Hal made his hives from came from a nearby farm.  
This is called a "Super".  Hal made his using dovetail joints in the corners for extra strength.  The light brown colored pieces of wood are removable and are called Comb Frames.  They are made of wood and plastic and have a miniature honeycomb design to them.  This is where the Queen bee will lay the eggs or the "brood" and the other bees will store honey and pollen as well.  This is an 8-frame bee-hive.  Notice the distance between the frames.  It should be 3/8" since that is the distance that the bees like.  Any wider and they will fill the excess distance with bee's wax or "Burr Comb".  When you start a beehive, the bees ususally start filling the frames from the center out.  When you notice that the frames are starting to fill, you need to place another super of 8 frames on top to make sure there is room for expansion of the bee hive.
This is known as the queen excluder layer.  It is a plastic screen that has openings large enough for the worker bees to get through, but will not allow the queen bee to go through.  The queen bee should be kept below this so she doesn't lay eggs in supers placed above it.  On top of this layer is another super that is called the Honey Super.  This is the super that will be filled with only honey which Hal will be able to extract and use.
This is a Top Feeder.  It is the same size as the other supers, but can hold sugar water that may have to be introduced into the hive for feeding during the times when there are no flowers or plants that the bee can use to extract honey and pollen. When there are fewer flowers available to the bees Hal can add food in the feeder.  The mixture is 1:1, sugar to water.
Then the outer cover is placed on the top.  
Above is a top view of a "Smoker" which is used to blow smoke into the beehive when the beekeeper plans to open the hive.  The smoke makes the bees in the hive think that a fire may be approaching and begin to consume the honey, preparing to leave the hive and start another hive at a different location. Inside the smoker you can see the pine needles that Hal ignites to create the smoke.  Below is a side view of the smoker. On the right is a bellows that can be pushed to force the smoke from the main cylinder through the spout.

Here Hal is preparing to open the hive.  He wears a light colored jacket that can be tightened around his waist and neck, a hood that can be fastened to the jacket and gloves to prevent him from getting stung by the honey bees.  Honey bees are not an aggressive type of bee, but could sting you if they feel threatened.  

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