Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Buzzing with Excitement

I’m getting my own bees!

That is, once we can find a swarm somewhere to put in a box. It still hasn’t been decided where they’re going to be kept (I want them at home so I can give them cuddles every now and again) but what I do know is what kind of hive my new babies will be living in.

Being the predictable, unadventurous and, to be blunt, rather boring individual that I am, I will be using a Langstroth hive. This is the most common design for beehives and is apparently used by around 75% of the world’s beekeepers… Mr Lorenzo Langstroth clearly knew what he was talking about when he wanted some honey from his combs.

Langstroth hives take advantage of bee space, the space that a bee needs to crawl freely between two structures. Therefore, rather than sealing the frames with propolis or filling them with comb to join adjacent frames, the bees can comfortably live and work in their artificially created environment. The reinforcement of the frames with wire also means that it is possible to spin the honey out of the comb. Once the honey has been extracted, the frames can then be returned to the hive for use by the bees. Depending on which way you look at it, you could say this creates either lazier or more efficient bees – they don’t have to waste the massive amounts of energy required to create a new honeycomb!   The estimates vary, but it’s thought that approximately six and a half kilograms of honey are needed to generate one measly kilogram of comb in a temperature climate, although the amount of energy expended by bees in the subtropics is less due to the fact that they don’t have to build elaborate nests to insulate themselves from freezing temperatures.

Below are the beehives at the community garden from which I drink litres of honey every morning, exhibiting the seven components of the modern Langstroth hive: hive stand, bottom board, brood box, honey super, frames, inner cover and outer cover.  

Even though Langstroth hives are what we are using at the moment, I think Dad and his beekeeping mates are looking to give the French-design Warré hives a go. Warré hives are a type of top bar hive and  much more simple in construction, consisting of hive body, top bars and a cover. They have their own set of advantages for both humans and the bees and personally, I’m excited at the prospect of trying this design. Some of the selling points of this model include…

  • Everything that was in the comb (pollen, propolis, antibiotics and ezymes in the honey) ends up in the honey. When you think about how much health food stores sell these ‘super-foods’ for in tiny plastic tubs, you realise just how much of an advantage this is for your health (not to mention your wallet)
  • You never have to buy beeswax again – use the leftovers from the honey production for anything you can think of (e.g. waxing two strings of hemp together to make a stronger strand, which can then be used to hemp up joints on bagpipes… a story for another day)
  • The probability of environmental toxins building up in the comb is much less because the bees rebuild the combs each season.
  • As a result of the comb being rebuilt each season by the bees, for the bees, the colony can build it in such a way that allows them to reset their cell sizes, communicate more effectively and generally be a happier and healthier hive.
  • No equipment is needed to extract the honey (you just mush the comb up and let it drip out!)
Photo sourced from internet
It also happens to be easier to build, more adaptable to different building materials and conditions, doesn’t require as much beekeeper exposure and is an ideal urban and educational beehive. In fact, the school I used to attend are making some Warré hives to take on a volunteer trip to Tanzania later this year. The only scary part about that is that they’re building the Warrés on Dad’s recommendation… eek. I really hope that it works out.

I’m sure it will be great though; I think that by writing this, I’ve convinced myself that I need to jump on the Warré bandwagon!

- Matilda 


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