Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Our First Langstroth Hive

Disclaimer: We are documenting our experiences here so we can keep track of what we've done and for others' curiosity.  We are NOT experienced beekeepers (yet).  Please be sure to watch and learn (over time) from our successes and failures!

You may remember me mentioning that Jamey was going to build a Langstroth (Lang for short) bee hive this winter.  Langs are what most people think of when they think of bee hives whether they know the official name or not.  Langs are a series of boxes set on top of each other.  As the colony and their stores grow in size, additional boxes are added.

our first Lang with one deep hive body and a screen bottom

We are enjoying our top bar hives but became really curious about Langs.  They can be quite expensive (much more so than top bar hives) but since Jamey is handy in the workshop, he decided to build one so we could give one a try. The tricky part was going to be getting the top bar bars to fit into the Lang hive. Langs use rectangular frames instead of bars.  Some Lang beekeepers use frames with foundation in between (imagine a picture in the frame).  This allows the bees to draw comb from an established base (the picture in the frame).  Since we're used to top bars which allow the bees to hang and draw the comb on their own (they are very capable), we are using foundation-less frames.

We wanted to move the colony in our nuc (mini hive) into the Lang.  One of the many steps in making this happen was to locate the queen and get her moved over so she wasn't lost in the many other steps to come. Queens are sometimes hard to find.

the brown spots you see on the top bar hive to the right are cinnamon spots- that hive is having some trouble with ants

Once Jamey found the queen, he picked her up, marked her with a red dot on the thorax and placed her safely in a queen cage (the  yellow box).  Beekeepers use different colored pens to mark their queens based on the year the queen was born.  We're too cheap to by different colored bee pens.  We mark them just so they are easier to find.  You can see the queen at the end of Jamey's finger.

Once the queen was safe and in the Lang, Jamey started adapting the top bars to the Lang frames.  A few of the bars were short enough to fit in the Lang frames and could simply be screwed together and placed in the Lang hive.

The bees had just recently started drawing out this comb.

But most of the bars were slightly too long.  In order to adapt them, he brushed the bees off and into the Lang hive (and they immediately clung to their queen in the cage).

I think the picture above is hilarious.  First, note all the bees surrounding their queen- that part is just cool.  The hilarious part is that frame.  Right above the comb (full of capped brood) is the Lang frame that we adapted to our top bar hives last spring (our bees came in nucs with Lang frames).  Above it is the top bar we screwed the Lang bar into.  Above that is now the Lang frame Jamey built to screw the top bar into so it would it would fit into our Lang.  Are you dizzy yet?

Next, and this was the very sad part, the combs needed to be trimmed at the bottom when they were too long (so they'd fit in the frame).  A hand saw worked well for the couple frames that had foundation (ironically, these were originally Lang frames that we adapted to our top bar hives last spring).  A sharp knife worked nicely for combs without foundation.

A circular saw was used to cut off one end of the bars so they would fit.  Then, the adapted bars were screwed into Lang frames and placed in the Lang hive.

It all went so much smoother than we thought.  We didn't know how upset the bees might be at all the commotion we were causing, but they were so cooperative and kind to us.  I wasn't sure I'd be able to be out there much at all (since I have just a veil) but I stayed for the whole ordeal.  I mostly snapped pictures but was also in charge of switching the battery pack back and forth between the cordless drill and circular saw.

We finally got all the combs transferred over, shook the remaining bees out of the nuc and into the Lang, released the queen, and put on the entrance reducer and the lid/roof/top (I'm still learning Lang terms).  We placed the Lang right where the nuc was so hopefully any bees that were out foraging could easily find their colony.

Having access to combs brushed free of bees enabled me to get some close up pictures without bees being in the way.  The first two pictures below show brood in all stages.  Out to the lower edge of the comb you can see tiny eggs (which resemble mini grains of rice).  As your eye moves up, you can see the different sizes of larva.  At the tops are capped brood which will hatch full grown adult bees.

The next set of pictures are adult bees emerging from those capped brood cells- little black heads with antennae wiggling their way out into the world.  These new bees first clean out their cell and then begin caring for the young larva.  Their first job title is "nurse bee".  The ones in the pictures below are drones (you can tell by the raised caps of their cells- they are bigger and need more room.  They just start eating and hang around until they seek out virgin queens to mate with in the air- kamikaze missions since as they mate, they die.

It's all really very odd.  But also dang fascinating.  I'm addicted (if you haven't noticed).

a freshly emerged (as in seconds old) drone

It will be interesting to compare beekeeping in top bar hives with beekeeping in a Lang. As you can probably guess, we'll let you know what we think! :-)
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  1. I just can't say enough about your photography skills. The pictures of the brood comb were amazing. Thanks so much for documenting your journey and sharing it with us. We lost one have this winter. Our other hive swarmed into our apple tree, and we were able to capture them, and place them in the empty have, the one we lost. We were so thrilled to be able to repopulate that hive. Beekeeping is a roller coaster ride, but I love it!

  2. Fantastic. I haven't tried top bar hives yet, but I do enjoy the Langstroths and we have a genuine bee log here on the homestead. Making the Langstroth boxes isn't easy - your husband must be quite gifted. I made a few and quit. ;)

  3. I've just found your blog, and I love it! My husband and I are just beginning the journey of bee keeping.

    Could I give you a book recommendation? The Bees by Laline Paull. A little bit of its language and its dramatization of bee reproductive issues make it unsuitable to read to your kids, but it was a very interesting novel for bee lovers.


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