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Making Our Own Beehive Woodenware

In 2008, my daughter Petunia and I took our first beekeeping class at the Indiana Beekeeping School:


Rachel and Lais making our first beehive Jan 2008

We learned a great philosophy for keeping bees and even assembled our own woodenware (at least part of it) during the class. I’m not sure if the class still includes that time to make woodenware, since I think it’s only a day now. The woodenware came with a beginner beekeeping kit that had all you need to get started in beekeeping: helmet, smoker, even some smoker fuel.

The price of the class, the hive, and the beginner beekeeping kit was pretty costly, in my opinion. As I started thinking about raising more bees, the thought of buying more of those beginner hives made me so afraid of the crazy cost. And, this summer, I really needed more hivebodies as we truly grew our hives from 2 to 11 through splits that we made.

Fortunately, Pat is a woodworker and he decided to try to build our own hives. We found a great website that has the exact dimensions for several different types of hives:

Getting the dimensions correct is critical to creating a hive with the proper “bee space”. Honey bees need a certain amount of space to get through openings and it shouldn’t be too big or the bees will be tempted to make burr comb (which is any comb that really isn’t where it’s “supposed” to be). It is also important to use the correct dimensions so that any hive accessory equipment you choose to purchase will fit properly.

Pat reviewed the various designs but believed that they all had incorporated a bit of complexity that was not necessary. Each additional component of the hive costs money to install, maintain, and eventually replace. Pat believed a “simpler” design would actually be easier to maintain and more durable in the long-run. Our design is based on the “10-frame Langstroth” box hive with a couple of key deviations:

  1. We eliminated the metal tracks that many people say must be used on the hives. The bees can propolis down the frames, but we haven’t found that to be a problem.
  2. We used dovetails to join the hive bodies rather than nails. Nails are expensive and not something that we can easily get. Plus, Pat believes that our dovetail joints will stand up to the elements that the beehives must go through throughout the seasons. That first hive we built in 2008 is already starting to get scraggly looking and it had A LOT of nice expensive nails in it. One of the basic rules of woodworking is that a nail placed into the end grain of a piece of wood will eventually come loose. This process is only made worse when the hive is subjected to the extremes of mid-western weather.
  3. We decided that to purchase the internal frames and not try to make any of those ourselves. Making the frames does not seem to be worth the safety risk to us (to buy them is only about $1/frame unassembled) because the cuts necessary to make the frames on a table saw come really close to your fingers. So, we choose to buy premade frames. We have also decided to buy true beeswax frames and no longer like the plastic foundation (because we notice our bees don’t like to pull it out and make comb on it). These are the frames and beeswax foundation that we typically purchase:

Using dovetails to join the boxes does involve some skill with hand-tool woodworking methods but Pat has found the process to be much more enjoyable than spending hours hovering over a table saw which generates a lot of dust and noise. Cutting the dovetails in the soft pine wood is much easier and does not have to be done with the exact precision that would be typically required of a piece of fine furniture constructed with a hard wood like cherry or walnut.

Pat demonstrates our method of beehive woodenware construction in the series of videos below:


Playlist of Making the Langstrogh Type Beehives using Dovetails

Anatomy of Trail Building at Locust Farms

One of our goals at Locust Farms is to let the available resources determine what we do with the property rather than try to force-fit something that the land was not designed to support.  For example, the main reason we started producing Maple Syrup was simply because Sugar Maple trees are a prominent resource that are available to us and were not being utilized.  About 80% of the property here at Locust Farms is densely wooded, hilly, and inherently inaccessible.  In order to unlock the potential of our land, we needed some trails.

Not long after moving in, we had invited some friends over for lunch who had some experience with trail building. Brian and Amanda Holzhausen own a series of mountain bike and trail running races (http://www.dinoseries.com) and have been very active in the construction of trails in Indiana such as the 10-mile loop around Westwood Park in New Castle, Indiana.  We walked with them in the woods, asked a lot of questions, and got some great ideas about how to design a system of trails for our property.

Absolutely the best resource for designing sustainable trails is called “Trail Solutions” and was developed by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA):

Using the principles outlined in the IMBA book, we started construction on our trails in late 2007 and now have about 2-miles of trail winding throughout our property.


Some of the First Trails Constructed At Locust Farms in 2007

Our trails are designed to be sustainable while offering a more interesting journey through the woods than would be provided by a more traditionally-designed trail system. Sustainability is achieve by minimizing both the trail’s impact on the land and the resources required to maintain the trail. The trail should “flow” with the terrain so that it actually becomes a part of the land rather than something that is constructed “through” the land.

Moving water is the biggest enemy of a trail. The trail should generally follow the natural contour lines (lines of constant elevation) so that water travelling down a hill will sheet across the trail rather than travel along it. The trail should also provide ample opportunities for any water that does make it onto the trail to exit as soon as possible. Keeping the grade of the trail below 10% also helps to limit the speed of any water that does start to travel along the trail.

There are several tools that can be used for trail building and different tools will work better depending on the soil and terrain involved. We have determined that the tools shown here are the best for our situation:


Trail Building Tools

The tool on the left is called a “Rhino” and is best for quickly rough-cutting a trail into the side of a hill. The Rhino is essentially a heavy-duty hoe with a rounded face and a sharpened edge. I purchased mine online from the National Fire Fighter Corp. They can also be obtained directly from Rogue Hoe.

The tool on the right is a heavy-duty mason’s hoe that I purchased from The Home Depot. I then sharpened the front edge so that I can easily scrape the trail tread to create a flat finished surface. This works similar to the Rhino, but the flat edge on the mason’s hoe makes it easier to use for the final finishing of the tread.

We talk about these principles and demonstrate the method we use for trail building in the series of videos below.

 


Trail Construction Video (Part 1 of 4)

Trail Construction Video (Part 2 of 4)

Trail Construction Video (Part 3 of 4)

Trail Construction Video (Part 4 of 4)

I have found the process of trail construction to be enjoyable in and of itself. The time required can be overwhelming, especially when working alone, but every bit adds up over time. I typically try to spend about 30-minutes per day for about 3 days every week. Besides, I figure the workout I get is more productive (and cheaper) than a gym membership.

Making Nuc Candyboards for Over-wintering

This winter is the first time we have ever had nucs going into the winter. Maybe some of my gentle readers are not familiar with a “nuc”. It is a shortened term for a nucleus of a bee hive, meaning it has a queen and some frames with honeycomb and bees, but it is still young and small in size. Because of its age and size, the nuc didn’t have enough time to store the quantity of honey it takes to make it through the winter (honey is the carbs of the bee world, they need it to have energy to stay alive). We humans think of winter as just lasting through February, but to bees it is a little longer due to waiting for the first nectar plants to bloom (maple trees being some of the first). Those rainy days of March and April keep the bees inside too…they hate the rain, so if they can’t harvest their food, they need some reserves at that time as well, even if it isn’t technically winter anymore.

There are probably many recipes for making nuc candyboards out there and I am not here to say that the recipe that we use is the best, but I got the recipe from a trusted bee mentor, Danny Slabaugh, member of the Michiana Beekeepers Association. Plus I don’t like to reinvent the wheel that someone smarter than me invented already 🙂 Danny is the beekeeper that I bought my nucs from when I first started keeping bees in Spring 2008. I went back to buy nucs in 2009 and 2010 as well…did I go back the two hour drive just because of his bees, well, his bees are healthy and non-medicated…but I’ll share a secret with you. I went back to his place, because he packs the nucs and goes through his apiary (beeyard) with me while I am going around with him asking loads of questions that he patiently answers. I got an education from him each time I spent that time with him. He uses candyboards to get his summer-split nucs through the winter and he lives close to the Michigan state line; I thought these candyboards would probably work for me down here in central Indiana.

Here is Danny Slabaugh’s candyboard recipe (it was in a word document that we reformatted):

I enjoy the art of beekeeping as it is always work in process. I make a tray for a standard size hive candy board with the rim made of ¾’X1.875”boards.
I drill a 2″ hole in the center of a 5.5″ 2X4 placed in the middle of a tray.


Danny Slabaugh's Picture and Candyboard

Start with a container that will hold 16 quarts of liquid or more and a good strong stirring device.
The heat source needs to have twice the BTU that a cook stove burner top would produce.
Bring one quart of water to full boil
Add ¼ cup of white vinegar
Slowly add three five pound bags of white sugar. stirring all the time.
This will boil down to soft fudgelike candy after 30-40 minutes and needs to reach 242 degrees.
Add optional ingredients
stirring all the time.
1 cup dry powder HFCS
This will allow you to add five more pounds of dry sugar.
Stir to soft ball. 242 degrees.
Turn off heat and stir in 1 cup of honey
stirring all the time.
Last whip in one oz of Honey –B- Healthy
Pour into a mold and cool off.

Here’s a link to Danny Slabaugh’s recipe on Mel Disselkoen’s website with some more details and pictures.  We found this after making the recipe and this link has more details:

When we made the candyboards, we used the honey bee healthy and the honey, since we didn’t want to use the HFCS (I guess we didn’t understand the necessity to be able to add more sugar).  We constructed two types of trays to use for the candy board molds. The frame on the left fits on top of a 10-frame hive whereas the frame on the right is designed for a 5-frame hive:


Empty Candy Board Frames

The trays are designed to be placed upside-down on top of the hive once the candy in the frame is hardened. This allows the bees to easily access the candy without moving far from the bee cluster. We also drilled a 3/4″ hole in front center of the tray (not shown in photo) and then covered the hole with hardware cloth. This hole provides an easy method for checking the amount of candy consumed by the bees without having to open the hive. The hole will also provide additional ventilation and could be used as a top-entrance in the summer once the candy is completely consumed.

To heat the sugar, we used an outdoor propane burner that was originally part of a turkey frying system we got at The Home Depot. We used an old pressure-canner for the pan which worked wonderfully since it is so thick and virtually eliminated the tendency for the sugar to scald during heating. We also constructed a long wooden paddle so we could stir the sugar without bending over the pan, but this was more of a convenience than a necessity. We found that the recipe above results in enough candy for a single 10-frame tray or two 5-frame trays.

It seemed that the candy boards were completely hardened in less than 24-hours.  We placed the small candy boards on each of our nucs a few weeks ago and had the opportunity to check the hive during an unseasonably warm day.  The bees had already discovered the board and had started eating away at the candy.  We just completed construction of a series of full-size candy board frames that we are going to place on a few of our large hives that did not have time to store up enough honey before the foraging season ended. This should provide plenty of carbohydrates for the bees until spring and has provided us with a peace-of-mind that we haven’t had the past couple of winters. Stay warm out there, bees!