Top Bar and Warre Hives: 2009 Season Recap

What a year! We’ve been so busy since July that we’ve had little spare time to update the blog.

Here’s a recap of the 2009 beekeeping season at Bee Thinking: In April this year we started 8 horizontal top bar hives and 12 Warre hives throughout the Portland area as well as at three wineries: Cameron, Sokol Blosser and Lachini. 20 packages and numerous swarms populated the hives, ultimately reaching a peak of around 25 hives.

Horizontal top bar hives: We kept all of our top bar hives close to our home in Oak Grove due to the frequent visits needed during the honey flow to keep them from becoming honey bound – 2 top bar hives in our yard, 4 at Eleanore’s, 3 at Carol’s. All of these hives were started from packages from Ruhl Bee Supply, who received them from a supplier in northern California.

We are aware of at least 3 swarms from the hives at Eleanore’s house – all, we believe, from Carniolan colonies. This is likely due to the increased sun exposure at that location and less frequent visits than recommended to keep the hives from becoming honey bound. Toward the end of the season we became aware of one of the Carniolan colonies that had absconded and subsequently removed that hive and are storing it in preparation for the coming season.

No known swarms from the top bar hives at Carol’s house – a beautiful orchard filled with bee-friendly plants. All of these colonies are Italians, which could make the difference. In addition, there is less sun exposure at this location.

In our yard we had our two largest colonies – comb built from one end to the other in the hive, almost entirely filled with brood and honey. Sadly, toward the end of the season we noticed that one of the colonies was getting decimated by Varroa, both from seeing the mites themselves, as well as numerous bees with deformed wings. In October the hive perished and we promptly got the honey before it was robbed out. One horizontal top bar hive remains in our yard and we are excited to see if it makes it to the 2010 season.

Warre Hives: In the beginning of the season we placed all but two of our Warre hives in wine country at the aforementioned wineries. These bees were purchased from Cedar Glen bees up in Washington – a company that has received a lot of bad press this year due to dozens of failed package deliveries. Thankfully, we received all of our Minnesota Hygienic and Buckfast bees alive and kicking. In fact, these are some of our strongest, most resilient hives it seems.

Within the first couple weeks we found that one of the Minnesota Hygienic colonies at Sokol Blosser Winery had absconded. This brought our total Warre hives to 10 (9 in wine country and 1 in Oak Grove). Overall we visited the wine country hives no more than 5-6 times during the season, largely leaving them alone per Abbe Warre’s command! We are unaware of any swarms, and care little either way.

We did have issues, as many throughout the world did this year, of bees unwilling to draw comb below the top box. This could be attributed to many factors, but it was a particularly bad honey year in the Pacific Northwest, and we plan to do nothing different next year with the surviving hives. We’ll add boxes at the start of the season as warranted and remove them at the end of the season. We’re hoping that the 2010 season will have better results.

Due to the burden of driving 45 miles to wine country, we decided to bring all of our Warre hives (except for the Sokol Blosser colonies) in from wine country and back to Oak Grove for the winter. This is also due to the fact that our Warre hives in Oak Grove filled 3-4 boxes with comb/honey, while the winery hives maxed out at 3. This makes us think that there are far more nectar sources available in the city of Oak Grove/Milwaukie than in the desolate wasteland of Yamhill county.

Swarms: In April-June we received dozens of swarm calls, a good number of them we responded to. The earliest swarm call proved to be the largest and most fruitful colony that we had all season. It came from a neighborhood in SE Portland by Reed College and weighed at least 4 pounds. We populated a second Warre hive in our yard with the swarm and they were amazing bees: Foraging in sub 50 degree temperatures in the rain, while all of the package bees next to them were unwilling.

Honey: This season we largely left our foundationless hives alone honey-wise, as honey production was so low this year that we didn’t want to make it harder on the new colonies. From our lone Langstroth hive that was started in 2008, we did manage to harvest approximately 80 pounds.

Store: In June the Bee Thinking top bar beekeeping store opened and the response has been amazing. We’ve received numerous orders, inquiries, e-mails of support and we are thankful to all of you for making our foundationless beekeeping store the best on the internet. This Winter we are working diligently to prepare our stock of horizontal top bar hives and Warre hives in preparation for the influx of orders that we anticipate in the Spring.

Please get your order in soon if you are looking to start a top bar hive – horizontal or vertical – during the 2010 season. Or, if you can’t make the order yet, please contact us to let us know that you are planning to make an order later so that we can have your hive ready.

We love your suggestions and advice, so please feel free to contact us and let us know your opinion of our site, our hives or anything else that’s on your mind!

If you haven’t visited the top bar beekeeping store yet, please take a look here!

Classes: In the first quarter of 2010 we are planning to host a number of top bar beekeeping classes for beginners as well as seasoned beekeepers looking to try their hand at top bar beekeeping. Stay tuned to for updates.

Happy holidays!

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