They say “a swarm in May is worth a bale of hay,” and working on the farm, I know the value of both! Last February I attended the Honey Bee Symposium at Sommerfield Waldorf School, where renowned Biodynamic beekeeper Gunter Hauk discussed the loving being that is the honey bee, with a panel of Northern California apiculturists. I left the event with a keen desire to build my own hive as a sanctuary for the honey bee. On my quest for a hive design I came across work being done internationally with the “top bar” model, which utilizes the bottom half of a hexagon (the shape the bees draw in wax) as the principle structure. Because of these dimensions the bees are able to draw honeycombs in perfect, heart-shaped arcs, as they would naturally do if they were not impeded by man’s engineering. My husband Daniel and I created two such hives using wax to seal cracks. We added features of which we hope the bees will be able to regulate themselves, such as really small ventilation holes that can be filled with propolis as needed.
Katrina and Marie, on their respective Melissa quests, have found a Biodynamic hive popularized in Germany that has similar aspects to a top bar hive, but with some fancy features added. Called the “one-room-hive” (in German: “Einraumbeute”), it includes such additions as a waxed cloth that can be kept over the hive while one works with the bees, to minimize the disruption of opening the hive. Additionally, these new models offer observation windows to watch the queen cells as they develop. (Knowing the mature cell dates are important in Biodynamic beekeeping, which allows the hive to swarm, as Hauk describes, for the joie de vivre the bees experience). Beveled frame edges, a special insulation layer, and dove-tailed carpentry make these hives a special gift to the bees.
In late May, Katrina and I journeyed down to a local organic beekeeper’s apiary in Healdsburg and collected our bees in the twilight. We brought all of our unconventional hives with us and shook the bees in, all 40,000 of them per hive. With a total of 4 hives in the back of the car, it was over 100,000 bees buzzing as we made our late night sojourn home. Suited up in full regalia, just in case, we unloaded our sweet vessels on the Frey Ranch under the midnight moonlight.
The next morning, at the break of dawn, our bees found their new foraging grounds on the ranch. Daniel’s bees got a little disoriented and decided to swarm. Luckily, they opted to settle into a nearby apple tree in our orchard. We were able to catch them again and put them back into their hive, after which we made some improvements on the design. Katrina’s bees decided to swarm too, and it was quite the climbing expedition to recover them high up in another tree. Katrina and Marie caught another swarm, and this one decided to make its home in a wine barrel. Now, at the beginning of July, all the hives are blissfully buzzing away, gathering sweet nectars from the summer garden blooms.