The Bee Guy

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Rot Resistant Wood for making Bee Hives

<> The question of using decay risistant lumber comes up frequently in discussions in discussions of hive construction. Wood doesn't rot until it reaches a certain moisture content somewhere above 20%. If a hive sits directly on the ground, a rot resistant wood will last longer than a non rot resistant wood. If your hive is 15 inches off the ground, any wood will last 50 or more years. If your hives are somewhere between 0 and 15 inches off the ground and you put a vapor barrier on the ground and keep weeds trimmed, and you paint your hives, your pine or poplar hives will still last 50 years or more.

The bottom board is the only part that might benefit from using a rot resistant wood. Here are some rot resistant species. I'm sure there are many others.

White Oak









In all these woods, the secret ingedient is tannic acid which is water soluble. Soak the wood long enough and it will lose it’s resistance to decay. In addition, the heartwood contains more tannins than the sapwood so you need to trim off all sapwood. Note also that rot resistant woods tend to be more expensive than non resistant woods and some are denser than others. White oak and locust are nearly twice as heavy as sassafras, cedar or hemlock. The disadvantages of weight, price and workability in most species don't justify the greater longevity.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Excelsior Hive Cover

While scanning Garreson Publishing's website I noticed that the book Making the Eight Frame Hive had plans for an Excelsior Cover. What is an Excelsior Cover? Nothing came up on Google except a reference to this book and some unrelated stuff. Here's what the author says<>: “About a hundred years ago, A.I. Root Company used to sell the once popular Excelsior cover. The original design required a minimal amount of lumber but required specialized equipment to manufacture.The design covered in the book can be made with a small planer and table saw. It’s cute, quaint and works well but needs to be kept painted because it is all wood. The book also shows how to make a telescoping cover which will probably last longer.”
There is a drawing on the book cover at the above site.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

pesticide free beekeeping

In the August issue of Bee Culture, Dr. Malcolm Sanford, columnist and editor of the Apis newsletter,confesses that he doesn’t actually keep bees. This is like learning that Dr. Spock didn’t raise his own children and almost as bad as learning the truth about Santa Claus.

Dr. Sanford’s reason for giving up bees: he doesn’t like dispensing pesticides to keep his colonies alive and to keep bees today it’s just too much work and expense. I agree.

Good news! Not everybody uses drugs in their hives or even practices labor intensive control measures to keep their colonies alive. I’ve kept bees drug free for four years (sort of). It's not the same as before mites. I spend most of my bee work propagating colonies that survive the winter.

Five years ago, I manned the honey bee exhibit at the county fair with Dan King, a stubborn eighty something beekeeper. We talked about our own beekeeping practices during lulls in the crowds. He “never used Ap’stan”, never “seen a mite in any of his hives” (the inspector claimed to find plenty ), and had nothing good to say about “them perfessors over ta Cornell that don’t know what they’re talking about.” Dan suffered big losses for years, but kept propagating bees from the surviving colonies. He medicated with wintergreen oil and was sure that killed the mites. I suspect Dan was practicing natural selection.

If Dan kept bees without pesticides, I thought I’d try. By the second year, all my colonies died of American Foulbrood. I caught several swarms and divided them in year three. All but two died the third winter, again with foulbrood. This spring a bear tore up one of those. I grafted queens and split the strong hive into seven small hives. That’s not usually a good idea, but 100 years ago, beekeepers frequently set aside a small number of colonies and split them to increase their stock or replace winter losses. In 1899, Dr. C.C. Miller split 9 weak hives into 56 without feeding and let them make their own queens (Fifty Years among the Bees). I improved my chances by early feeding and grafting queens. On the other hand, it’s nearly impossible to split a hive evenly 7 ways. Some started with only a few hundred bees, and not all queens were equal.

Will they survive this winter? We’ll see. by Sept. 1 I'd guess most wouldn't survive this winter but the fall flow lasted an extra 4 weeks and the boxes are almost full of honey. I’m hoping global warming pushes us into USDA zone 5 this winter.

John Wesley’s Honey Cures

<> John Wesley, the founder of the Methodists, wrote the run away best seller of the 1700’s titled Primitive Physic which could be translated, “Simple Medicine for Dummies”. At that time, physicians were busily lining their pockets by catering to the rich, concocting exotic potions containing numerous weird ingredients. Wesley felt medicine ought to be available both rich and poor. He promoted good health through good hygiene (“cleanliness is next to godliness”) and curing with common and inexpensive ingredients, including honey. Wesley didn’t make these recipes up. He collected remedies from sympathetic physicians and tried many of them himself. Here are some honey cures according to Wesley: <>

Boils: make a plaister of honey and wheat flour <>

Colds: To one spoonful of oatmeal, and one spoonful of honey, add a piece of butter, the bigness of a nutmeg: pour on gradually near a pint of boiling water: drink this lying down in bed. <>

Cough: make a hole through a lemon and fill it with honey. Roast it, and catch the juice. Take a teaspoonful of this frequently: Tried. <>

Costiveness (constipation): Take the bigness of a large nutmeg of cream of tartar mixt with honey, as often as you need. <>

Deafness with a headache and buzzing in the head: Peel a clove of garlick: dip it in honey and put it into your ear at night with a little black wool. Lie with that ear uppermost. Do this, if need be, eight or ten nights. Tried. <>

Gravel (kidney stones): Drink largely of warm water sweetened with honey. <>

Hoarseness: Boil a large handful of wheat-bran in a quart of water; strain, and sweeten it with honey. Sup of it frequently. <>

The King’s Evil (scrofula or swelling of the neck glands): Set a quart of honey by the fire to melt. When it is cold, strew into it a pound and a half of quick-lime beat very fine, and sifted through a hair-sieve. Stir this about til it boil up of itself into a hard lump. Beat it when cold, very fine and sift it as before. Take of this as much as lies on a shilling in a glass of water, every morning, and hour before breakfast, at four in the afternoon, and at going to bed. <>

Rheumatism: mix flour of brimstone with honey, in equal quantities. Take three tea-spoonfuls at night, two in the morning: and one afterward, morning and evening, till cured. This succeeds oftener than any remedy I have found. <>

To cure baldness: Rub the part morning and evening, with onions, till it is red; and rub it afterwards with honey.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The American Perceptor from 1817

This is the oldest book I own, a collection of essays for students, including such jolly pieces as The Child Trained up for the Gallows, On profane Swearing, and the Story of Logan, a Mingo Chief. Published when L.L. Langtroth, the father of modern beekeeping was seven years old, he may have read this essay as a youth:

The Bee

The Bee is a noble pattern of industry and prudence. She settles upon every plant and flower, and makes the most insignificant, nay, even the most hurtful of them, useful to her purpose. Thus she toils all the summer, while the days are fair, in order to get a stock, which she lays by to serve for winter, when the herb and flowers are dead, the trees deprived of their leaves, and the weather unfavorable.

Then the Bees retire to their hive, which is formed like a little state, and governed by a queen, who dispenses justice to her subjects. It is said they bury their dead, punish criminals, and drive the drones from their hives. They keep a regular order, whether in war or peace; and, as soon as their queen dies, appoint another to succeed her, and rule their little state, which may serve as a pattern for a well ordered community.

The Bee is one of the aptest emblems of industry, and the art of extracting good out of evil, that can be found in nature. It is endued with an instinct, which justly excites our admiration: and its perseverance is an admirable example for the wisest of us to follow.

As the Bee, in the summer, provides for itself that which may serve for its support in winter, so should we, in the summer of our days, take care to lay in a store of profitable virtues and good qualities, which may render us justly admired in age, and enable us to set a good example to posterity.

Like that industrious insect, likewise, we should learn to make every occurrence of life serviceable to us; for nothing is so small or minute but it may be made of use; nothing so bad in nature, but we may draw from it some profit or instruction. And thus, by choosing the good, and avoiding the evil we may purchase to ourselves, peace here, and the hopes of a brighter reward hereafter.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Putting the hives to bed for the Winter

My colonies sit on 4x4’s which sank into the ground. Today I laid 4x4’s crosswise underneath to raise them farther off the ground, then added shims until they tilted forward. Soon, before the mice move in, I’ll staple hardware cloth to the entrances. That at least slows them down.

I broke the rules with these hives. Two survived last winter. A bear tore one of them apart twice in two days, killing the queen. Putting the pieces together again, they actually recovered, although not enough to harvest a crop. The remaining hive I split seven ways in June. You’re not supposed to do that. I decided it was a bad idea until recently. We had a good fall nectar flow. The mother hive which received the most bees from the splits (all the older ones flew home) made 3 surplus supers of honey. The weaker sisters, ranged from almost no honey to 135 lbs total weight. Two won’t make it through the winter, four might and one I gave to my little beekeeping friend, TT. So if the winter has lots of snow and spring comes early and I feed them…

Farm/City Day

Hosted by Steuben County Cooperative Extension


It’s a pretty big deal . A large farm hosts the event and Co-ex does all the work. They get thousands of visitors. We set up a lumber and honey exhibit. Lesson #1: when they put you in a merchant tent, your booth is supposed to face the inside of the tent. We set it up the backwards. I noticed when the crowds started walking through and everybody else faced in.

My young bee apprentice helped. “Mr. Sieling, may look at the displays?”

“Sure.” As soon as she left, the crowd thickened. I had to switch from lumber talk to bee talk as fast as a TV switches from one camera angle to the next. TT returned as the crowd thinned. She brought cartons of free chocolate milk.

“Mr. Sieling, may I go up in that thing?” Steuben Rural Electric had set up a truck with a twin basket cherry picker. They were giving rides in the baskets. The truck’s grill stared at our booth and the engine ran in my left ear all day, making it hard to hear, especially the little Chinese man with the two pumpkins who bought honey and tried to tell me something about our figured ironwood sample. “He paints on wood!” Shouted the large white woman with him.

TT returned with string cheese. Later her family came. They got lost in the corn maze. She brought back two of everything: Food samples, magnetized signs, compasses, thermometers and two rain gauges. I wondered if we could sell them.

Lesson #2: Prepare displays to handle wind. Our honey variety poster blew over 1,000,000 times. Lesson #3: Price everything to the even dollar including tax. There’s no time to use a calculator when there is a line of people grabbing jars of honey. The wind especially wanted to grab twenty dollar bills and blow them into the parking lot. Rather than carefully sort bills, I finally stuffed them straight into my pockets until they bulged.

Lesson #4 Take along an 11 year old that likes to talk. “Mr. Sieling, what color are your eyes? What color was your hair when you were my age? Did you know a compass doesn’t point to true North? It just points to the nearest metal object. So if you follow the needle, you’re sure to find civilization, or at least an old junked car or steel barrel. I think you’d like the corn maze. Could we go through it after we pack up?”

Three hours later…TT has her compass out. “Which way now, Mr. Sieling?” I’ve seen that same flyer on the ground at this intersection three times. There should have been a sign in/sign out book at the maze entrance. How many people could be lost in here? I imagined sometime late in November, the farmer would come upon two skeletons while cutting corn, lying in a primitive corn hut—an unidentified adult male and female child. Around them he’d find a few rude stone implements and some woven corn leaf blankets. Their two compasses pointed toward the man’s mouldy steel toed shoes, the two rain gauges were set up to catch water. A short journal was scratched onto a flat rock nearly obliterated by weathering: “33 days, thirst, can’t go on much longer. TT wants to do this again next year…