“How did you get into beekeeping?!”
That’s the question we are asked most.
In a nutshell, my first experience with honey bees was in the late 1980’s when my dad moved us to a small plot of land in Avra Valley with the intention of exposing us to all the fun of farming and gardening that he had when he was young. Our first hive was established from a package of bees in a Langstroth hive and we crushed and strained all the combs since an extractor was a little beyond our budget at the time. The honey was just as sweet then as it is now.
The current home apiary and farm is less than 10 miles south from that original plot of land. With the intention of making our farm a livelihood, becoming well acquainted with honey bees as they exist in this region became a necessity. To this day we strive to understand, both in the farming and scientific sense, what the bees’ needs are, and then support them as best we can while encouraging the best tempered strains to carry forward.
Through years of observation, study, and mentoring with those who have dedicated their lives to beekeeping, we are successful in keeping small apiaries. So far we have not experienced losses due to disease or mite infestation. In the beginning we imported a small number of honey bee packages, and simultaneously relocated feral colonies to begin selecting for desirable traits that have become the base for manageable, healthy, productive, and heat tolerant bees.
Currently we keep bees using mostly Langstroth hives, but have significant experience with top bar hives. At one point we were managing over 70 top bar hives in the desert. The top bar hive has been used for thousands of years in many forms, and the the design we used tended to be much shallower and wider than typical versions found in more temperate regions. The shallower, wider top bar hive helps to support the weight of honey in a frameless hive. Through trial and error we have found that the honey combs in narrower and deeper horizontal top bar hives used in more Northern, cooler latitudes cannot stand up to higher temperatures causing a host of management problems including collapsed combs.
Top bar hive beekeeping demands a high level of understanding of bee behavior and environmental stresses in order to be feasible as a serious hobby. Processing of honey from top bar hives using an extractor is generally not an option, and destroying the combs via a crush-and-strain method is generally required. This style of beekeeping also results in smaller bee colonies which can tend to be easier to work with when temperament is a primary concern, but minimizing swarming can be challenging due to their limited volume.
We primarily keep bees using the rectangular Langstroth hive. Using wax from our own bees we make homemade wax starter strips and foundation to minimize chemical build up in the combs. We attempt to follow a style of beekeeping that recognizes the successes and discoveries of the worlds best beekeepers and researchers, regardless of whether they might be considered “natural”, “treatment-free”, or “commercial”. Currently we use this framed hive so that we can select at a faster rate the strongest genetics appropriate for our region, while also making seasonal management and harvesting easier. As our apiaries grow, time becomes a precious commodity and straight, removable combs are essential for proper management regardless of what style of hive you choose to work with.
Honey bees do best with a diversity of pollen and plentiful nectar to maintain a healthy immune and digestive system. Our bees keep a significant portion of the honey and pollen they collect for themselves, and feeding them is limited to times when a dearth or other stress event threatens their ability to survive.
Contact us if you need more information on upcoming beekeeping workshops or general honey bee behavior consultation.
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