Bees: the end of the beginning

Yesterday we finally took the last step in welcoming our bees to Bhudeva. I was working (making great progress) on the mobile chicken shelter when Andreea noticed that outside the first hive we had already transferred to a top-bar-hive there was heightened activity. We can’t be sure but it looked like the bees may have been preparing to swarm (a natural instinct where a bee family splits into two resulting in many bees leaving with the active queen). We weren’t really prepared for it but we decided to place another (third) hive next to it with waxed top-bars and inviting scents and hope that if the bees do decide to swarm they may choose it as a new home. However it turned out into a much longer work session 🙂

Fortunately for us Levente was available and joined us – both out of curiosity and to help. We put the new hive in place and then opened up the living hive. For the most part things were looking good.

The hive looked thriving, there was lots of activity. The standard “chop and crop” frames were all filled with bees (we took the opportunity to gently, using a hand saw, cut off the ends of their frames so that they would not interfere with the hive’s lid). The bees did an excellent job cleaning up after the somewhat brutal chop-and-crop.

Some of the new top bars were also coming along. This one had quite a comb built up.

It was fantastic to see inside the hives (sorry … no image) chains-of-bees linked together, supposedly using their body lengths as a measuring tool in building new comb. However there were no eggs to be found … which means we may have lost/injured the queen when we made the initial transition. We did find quite a few young queens … which is when things got interesting.

We decided to do a split. So now instead of hoping that the bees move to the new hive (which wasn’t very likely) we moved into it three frames with one of the new queens. We added to it a few empty top-bars and a failed chop-and-crop bar from the original transition, with honey in it, that was left over from the initial transition. So now we had two hives populated and we managed to capture and set aside four additional young queens.


Then came the third hive – the one that was setup as a transitional hive. As we were warned in the forums the bees showed no signs of moving into the lower top-bar-hive. They were very active in the standard hive sitting on top of the top-bar-hive … but showed no interest in moving down. Our decision was to shake them into the top-bar-hive and remove the standard hive completely. Andreea & Levente took care of this task.

Had we been there on our own we would have a serious mistake that Levente wisely avoided. We would have taken the standard hive down – and that would have probably aggrevated the bees greatly. Instead, Levente opened the hive, inspected the frames one by one and then shook the bees directly into the standard hive – which of course was still sitting on the top-bar-hive … and this time the bees, with no choice left, moved down. They were very frustrated and there were a few stings … however, with the help of much smoke, Andreea & Levente managed to get all the frames out, examined, shook .. and the bees to move into their new home. We also put in the modified follower-boards to prevent bee-leaks.


Because there were three of us and the event was less traumatic we realized that we could easily chop-and-crop a few frames of brood and honey. I had a table and tools setup nearbye and indeed we got 4 frames chopped-and-cropped and reinserted into the top-bar-hive. This time, as I was chopping the frames I also cut the remaining top-bar down to size. Most of the bees found their way into the hive though there was a small bundle under the hive (attached to the netting).


Andreea completed the day by manually squeezing honey from the crops left over from the standard frames. She aso found and left in the honey plenty of pollen. 

This all happened yesterday. Today the two primary hives are very active and the third, split hive, less so. We’ll see how it goes.

We are relieved and happy. We are looking forward to the bees settling in their new homes. We still want to phase out the remaining converted top-bars … but other then that it looks like the transition has been completed. We are expecting our acacia trees to bloom in the coming weeks … and that should result in plenty of honey-stores for the bees … maybe even some for us 🙂

This transition had a wonderful and unexpected side-effect. Levente was very much opposed to our decision to abort the standard hives in favor of top-bar-hives. He is already used to us doing things differently and he usually watches us from the sidelines with curiosity. With the bees he was outright against what we were doing. However yesterday he saw that the bees were actually doing very well. He was impressed. We gifted him with the remaining 6 frames and the 4 queens. We then drove over to their place where we sat with Valentin, his brother-in-law, who is a professional beekeeper (standard hives). This time it was Levente telling Valentin about the top-bar-hives and showing off our queens … and Valentin also seemed curios and impressed. So the bees did an excellent job of making a case for top-bar hives … and so it goes 🙂


yesterday was a car-maintenance-and-some-city-stuff day … all went fairly well (though tomorrow we have to visit the mechanic again to complete some thing tht had to wait for parts (they don’t keep many parts on hand).

today started out completely clouded and gray and uninviting to the outside … so it started with some writing.

then the sun came out and drew me out too … I spent most of the day completing the structure of the mobile chicken shelter … very happy with the results.

yesterday evening the neighbors lent us a brooding hen, at night Andreea candled some of our eggs to choose the good ones … and we have one brooder at work sitting on 17 eggs … then today our neighbors called again and offered another brooder … and she is already in place sitting on 3 eggs to which more will be added tomorrow … we are still hoping at least one of our hens will get the idea and become broody 🙂

two fighter jets flew overhead today … I was used to hearing and seeing them in Israel … definitely not used to them here … as I looked up at them I thought how vulnerable self-sustaining life is in the face of mass-destruction!

Bees Take 2

Following the difficult first hive transition we chose a (supposedly) softer approach with the second bee-hive. We adopted Phil Chandler’s approach of a natural migration from a standard hive into a top-bar-hive. I started with an idea for a kind of apron-adapter which would enable us to mount the existing hive directly onto the designated top-bar-hive (instead of building a dedicated intermediate box for the transition).

When that seemed to work out OK I prepared a few top-bars with passage holes enabling the bees to move between the hives. I organized the bars so that there was one standard (sealed) bar and one passable bar in the hope that in the future we will have to transition less bars into regular sealed top-bars.

With everything ready to go we waited for a day with good conditions for placing the top-bar hive in place of the existing hive and then mounting the existing hive on it. It should have been a simple procedure. It wasn’t.

To place the existing hive onto the top-bar-hive we had to separate it from its bottom. It didn’t take much effort but when I got the first crack open bees poured out and attacked. Within seconds I was stung numerous times. We decided to follow through and within a few more seconds had the standard hive mounted on top of the top-bar-hive. We left it sticking out towards the front a bit so that the bees would be able to continue to enter following the known scent. Only later in the evening I came back and closed it completely. When I did so, the slightest move of the hive caused the bees to stir like crazy. An unnerving sensation.

We then realized there was another slight problem. This top-bar-hive was the one I tried to build out of construction-grade lumber I planed on my own. My work conditions and tools do not enable me to reach a uniformly planed surface so the seal with the follower boards was not good enough and bees were leaking out from there rather then from the hive openings. We left it as is for a few days … until today I came up with a simple solution. I glued (not sure the glue will hold) and stapled some pond liner that is sticking out from the sides and bottom.

I tested the solution in the 3rd hive and it looks like its working fine. We have unsteady weather, but as soon as possible we will place in the modified follower boards in the hope it will encourage the bees to use the existing openings.

It seems that the bees are much less agitated around Andreea then they are with me. The day after the transfer I sat a good distance away from the hives to watch the bees for a few minutes and a bee came after me and stung me in the forehead. Andreea spoke to Ildi and Levente (our neighbors) about this and Ildi said that she has the same problem. The bees are perfectly fine around Levente but very aggressive towards her. I wonder what it could be?

We are committed to natural beekeeping (we don’t consider standard beekeeping an option – but we are going to purchase a smoker just in case) but we are also a bit exhausted and overwhelmed by our first contact with it.

With this post published I am off to visit Biobees forums. We hope to find some comforting and advice on how to move forward from where we are now.


After a Storm

The night before last was horrible for me … I felt attacked and as if I had to defend myself … so I didn’t get much sleep. Then yesterday felt horrible (tired and achy). Tonight I didn’t sleep much either but I wasn’t attacked again and so I did manage to get some rest. I’m feeling better today. So,before I do anything else today I wanted to share this panorama image taken a couple of weeks ago. A short lived rain storm has just passed over us and the sun broke through the clouds again. This images is facing east … the dark storm clouds with the sunset-lit greens is one of favorite color palettes (you are welcome to click the image for a larger view).


another loooooong day … started earlier in the morning to get a head start on the heat … made good progress in shoveling composted manure onto the raised beds.

paused when heat and tiredness kicked in … did some website work in-cool-doors … rested …  went to the workshop and started cutting up the lumber for the mobile chicken coop … and then joined Andreea (who earlier also attended a[nother] funeral) back at the raised beds … managed to get 3 out of the 5 covered with manure and as I write these words Andreea is finishing (mulching) covering them with hay (not the best mulch material, but its what we have) … so that when the rains arrive moisture will go in but not out 🙂

wood is burning in the boiler (can’t wait to get started on the solar hot water experiment) … soon showers … and another day gone by 🙂

strange day … startd with a visit to the market … which totally drained me … I’m not sure I started off with much energy but I am pretty sure not much was left after the market .. which, byt the way, is getting livelier as spring moves into summer … the crowds may have something to do with my energy … no stiu

then we got home and I wanted to rest a bit … BUT … 37 uprooted trees were waiting in their holes in the field waiting to be planted and it was hot and time was not on their (or our) side … so a nice breakfast (duck eggs!) and then out to the field. Using a bulldozer to dig out planting holes was very efficient and easy … however getting all the dirt back in was not. The holes were detinitely an overkill … we didn’t close them up completely … we put in just enough dirt to replant the trees … which now benefit from a small ditch to collect water for them (rains are expected during the weekend). It was hard work but we managed to get it done. Very satisfying to see a long line of planted trees marking our property line 🙂

THEN a quick shower followed by much coveted rest. Then we went to visit Ildi and Levente and meet with Levente’s uncles who are joining Cutia Taranului making another 10 boxes available in Cluj. Finally we made our home … and though we missed the post-death-pre-funeral meal we stopped to say hello and offer our respects … they were happy we came and we found in ourselves (because we simply couldn’t get out of it) in a small post-[post-death-pre-funeral-meal]-meal … that was interrupted by a visit from the vet who, at our request, came over to give our dogs shots against ticks & fleas.

AND … now we are home, making tea and about to let this day come to a soft end 🙂

wow what a day … sooooo many things happened all at once … is was a tractor day … Florin our fantastic tractor bulldozer guy was here for a day 🙂

the main project was covering the raised beds with earth … where did we get the earth you ask?  from our small new lake of course 🙂 more words and images to come on this ongoing project … when that was done we had him move over one of our piles of hay and a pile of fertilizer we had sitting next to the barn (from last year when our neighbors cows were housed in it) … both to be used on the raised beds.

in the background both our neigbors were busy hand-plowing / tractor plowing, seeding their fields in straight lines … there was a huge contrast between their tried-and-true traditional methods and our mostly-uknown-somewhat-rebellious methods … if our efforts work (as I expect they will) this time next year we will be drinking coffee (or conducting some other strange experiment) while they will be doing the same hard (for them and for the land) work … as they have been doing for years …I’m very curious 🙂

as he was finishing this part of the work the mayor appeared to ask if he could steal him for half an hour (which turned out to be almost 3 hours) … and got a quick tour of some of our experiments 🙂 we also had a chance to show him Cutia Taranului so that hopefully he too can spread the word.

when Florin finally returned we fed him (poor guy was starving) and got back to work:

  1. scratching weeds and some top-soil (leaving bare surface) of an area of a field near the raised beds … that is for an experiment that Andreea has in mind … I don’t know enough about it yet 🙂
  2. closing some of the open ditches from last years water infrastructure installation
  3. digging a new ditch and hole for our grey water treatment,
  4. uprooting lots (~50) young ash trees all around the house.
  5. discovering and uprooting large surfaces of concrete that we discovered just under the surface of the ground.
  6. carrying the uprooted out to the field
  7. digging 40+ holes for the trees in what will be an initial wind-break and property line.

so lots of stuff … very satisfying, rewarding and much happiness … and though the tractor did most of the work we are dead tired … it’s been a long day … the wood-boiler is fired up … looking forward to a warm shower.

tomorrow we plan to visit the market in the morning … then we’ve been invited to another customary post-death-pre-funeral meal at a neighbor whos mother passed away tonight … and sometime very soon we need to go back out and plant all the uprooted trees lying in open holes in the fields … rains are expected during the weekend … perfectly times to saturate the beds, water the trees … all around greatness 🙂