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Top bar hive vs. Langstroth (I’ve tried both and here’s my verdict)

19 Sep

Forget beekeeping ideology, I’m a pragmatist. And here’s what I’ve come to realize about the benefits and drawbacks of top bar and Langstroth bee hives.

[Download the PDF version with more notes]

The "Ann Hive" with new occupants The "Goose Hive" settles in
Characteristic Top Bar Hive Langstroth Notes
Easy on your back A TBH is a dream for anyone with back problems.
Hive management To me, TBH requires more time to manage due to frameless combs and non-moveable boxes.
Ventilation Lang hives make better use of the chimney effect by allowing heat and moisture to rise up and out of the hive if you’re using a ventilated top cover.
The naturalness factor There is something so lovely about watching bees hang comb according to their own whims.
The beauty factor Personally, I find TBHs gorgeous.
Standardization Langs make it easy to lend out brood comb to a friend in need on the other side of town.
Cost I know a guy in town who builds his TBHs for $20 a pop.
Harvesting honey There’s nothing like the ease of harvesting honey from a Lang using a clearing board and extractor.
Moving hives Langs are far easier to deconstruct and move across town if you happen to have a too-assertive hive in a densely populated part of town.
Build Your Own Several options for TBH plans 10-frame Langstroth plans (PDF)

The Verdict?

I started my beekeeping adventure 3 years ago with 2 TBHs. Last year, my husband and I switched to Langstroth hives for a variety of practical reasons perhaps idiosyncratic to us and our lifestyle. It was a tough decision for me as I learned the craft with TBHs and felt a strong emotional pull to their beauty.

Though I continue to harbor an aesthetic love for TBHs, for now we’ve found it easier to work Lang hives in the city with our full-time jobs.

[Download the PDF version with more notes]


Bosque fire licks my beehive!

2 Jul

Fire licked so close this week to the beehive we manage for City Open Space that leaves on the cottonwood tree above were singed. Ouch!

It was a 5 acre fire that torched a chunk of the riverfront forest (that’s “bosque” if you’re from New Mexico) burning down the entire field of trees next to the beehive and starting a grassfire  just yards away. Driving up to the hive, once the area was open to access again, we had no idea what to expect — did the bees abscond? Did honeycomb just melt off its foundation?

Surprisingly, the girls were buzzing along seemingly oblivious to the smoldering forest and the hive itself was filled with combs of honey and worker brood. We sampled a buttery chunk of honey, half expecting it to taste like smoke but it was pure and warm and… to its proud keepers, perfect.

We packed up our gear soothed by this amazing survivor hive. And I swear, as we pulled away, the bees were bearding in the shape of the Virgin, like any other modern day miracle,

Need to move your bee hive? Here’s the lazy way.

8 Jun

Inspired by Bush Bees, we decided to ignore the standard admonition about losing bees if you moved your hive more than 2 feet but less than 2 miles. (The rule of thumb is that if you’re moving your bees across the yard more than 2 feet, you’ll need to move them temporarily out 2 miles away so they don’t fixate on the old location.)

Too much damn work.

Instead, when a neighbor seemed fearful about a hive near his fence, we happily offered to move it on the other side of the yard… that same night.

Here’s how it works: Continue reading

My new Serge Labesque hive

31 May

Ventilation is not what most new beeks consider when crafting their first bee hive. But that’s just what Sonoma beekeeper, and my personal favorite philosophe des abeilles, Serge Labesque recommends to keep your hives healthy.

After 2 seasons keeping bees, I couldn’t agree more. Even in the American Southwest, known for being dry as a bleached cattle bone, I find condensation, mildew, and even lichens each spring after opening our hives. To me, the girls don’t need more insulation, they actually need less.

In fact, a survey I conducted with local beekeepers in 2010 shows that nearly twice as many beeks winterize their hives by ensuring there’s adequate ventilation than by suffocating their dames with a downy blanket.

From the 2010 Albuquerque Beekeepers Survey

But Serge Labesque takes ventiliation to a whole ‘nother level by leaving his hive bodies unpainted, save for the joints. As he described at last year’s NM Beekeeping Summer Seminar, the idea is that unpainted wood can breathe, allowing the bees to have more control over ventilation. Here’s what Labesque’s hives look like.

And so voila! We’ve decided to go au naturel this season, leaving our new boxes unpainted. We simply bought unassembled hive bodies from Mann Lake, uncorked a bottle of champagne one Friday night and set to work.

Learn more:

Beekeepers visit Chispas Farms

30 May

The local pollinator posse took a break from beekeeping this weekend to visit a small organic farm in Albuquerque’s South Valley. Hosted by Amanda and Eli from Chispas Farm, we dug our feet into the warm dirt and walked rows of garlic, asparagus, fennel, and freshly-planted heirloom tomatoes all nurtured with love and wisdom by their caretakers, two self-described “born again farmers.”

Field trip to Chispas Farms Field trip to Chispas Farms
Field trip to Chispas Farms

Find more beekeeping events in Albuquerque

What do honey bee eggs look like?

3 May

It’s what every beekeeper loves to see — fresh eggs in an uncertain hive.

The queen is a-laying.

For newbeeks, the black Ritecell foundation makes it easier to find eggs when hunting around your hive. In this case, the sign of a fertile queen is unmistakable.

Spring Field Day with Albuquerque Beekeepers

18 Apr
TJ's truck Spring Field Day for Albuquerque Beekeepers
Spring Field Day for Albuquerque Beekeepers Spring Field Day for Albuquerque Beekeepers

[View the full slideshow]

Despite a 60% chance of thunderstorms threatening to ruin our day like a bad breakfast burrito, our hands-on spring demo was perfect — warm, friendly, and informative. Thanks to the 25+ local beekeepers who donned a veil and came out for the afternoon. And big ole thanks to Steve Cox for sharing his roomy backyard.

Visit our group at

3 Great Reads for New Beekeepers

5 Apr

Get prepared mentally

Aiming for the roof? 6 Questions for Beginner Rooftop Beekeepers

10 Tips to Establish Your First Hive

Albuquerque beekeeping meeting: March 27, 2010

26 Mar
Albuquerque beekeepers gather to talk shop.

Albuquerque beekeepers gather to talk shop.

Fellow Albuquerque beeks, our first meeting of the season is tomorrow! Get details and RSVP.

Tomás Urrea (The “Biopark beekeeper”) will be sharing ideas for how to make hive splits. Learn more about Tomás.
And we’ll also talk about “what to do now in your hives.”
This meeting is FREE and casual. Bring honey for tasting if you’d like.

Bees no longer public enemy in NYC

4 Jan

Soon, beekeepers in New York City may no longer be breaking the law.

After months of prodding from rooftop beekeepers and proponents of community agriculture, the Department of Health on Thursday took the first step toward removing honey bees from a list of animals that residents are prohibited from raising within the five boroughs.

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