How did you get into beekeeping?
Funny story, actually. Our youngest daughter, Kimberly, would come to our house to hang out and have dinner with us at least once a week. I noticed she spent a lot of time just sitting and watching the honeybees that foraged in our front yard. My wife has converted what was once a postage-stamp sized “lawn” (mostly crawl grass and non-flowering weeds) into a herb/vegetable garden. Everything in our garden is either for use by us (medicinal or edible) or by pollinators. Since the conversion, we have seen lots of native bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and birds. Anyway, I got interested in watching the bees as well. As I became more fascinated with what these beautiful critters were doing, I started reading more and more about beekeeping and the possibility of keeping a hive or two in our front yard. I started attending meetings of the Sonoma County Beekeepers’ Association a full year before I decided to buy equipment. I also took Randy Sue’s class in beginning beekeeping and bought her dvd Organic Beekeeping 101. Her ideas were very much in line with the way I wanted to house my bees. So, this past Spring I brought two nucs to a local beekeeper and purchased 2 colonies. I also caught my first swarm in May! I currently have two top bar hives and one Langstroth hive.
Why top bars?
One of the books I read while doing research was Phil Chandler’s “Barefoot Beekeeper,” and it just resonated with me. I wanted to “keep” bees in a way that was more “natural” and “sustainable” than what I saw from commercial beekeeping. I have since dropped the term “beekeeper” and call myself a “bee steward.” I also love the term “bee guardian” that was first coined by the Backyard Hive website, www.backyardhive.com. I believe top bar hives are a better way to give the bees a home without meddling in the way they want to be. The bees build their own natural comb, the way THEY want to, not the way we WANT them to. My top bar hives all have observation windows, so you can check on them without disturbing their comings and goings. It’s better for the bees that having to open a Langstroth-style hive, as every time you open the hive, you set the bees back at least two weeks! Because the bars on a top bar hive don’t have space between them, the hive stays at a more constant temperature when you open the hive. And because you only have to remove one bar at a time (when you want to do some hand-on work) the inside temerature doesn’t fluctuate as much. It’s been such a wonderful experience and from it I’ve started my own company, Heritage Beehives, building my own version of a top bar hive, as well as other woodenware for keeping top bar hives. (www.heritagebeehives.com)
What is your favorite beekeeping tip?
Don’t be a “worry-wart” when it comes to beekeeping. What I mean is, let bees do what they do best. Just give them a home and enjoy the benefits! And don’t get into beekeeping just to take and sell honey. Respect these beautiful creatures for what they have done for the past tens of millions of years, and marvel at how they do it!