An Experimental Year

An Experimental Year

When I first started keeping bees a couple of decades ago, I was a system administrator at a college, running the email, web, calendar, and other essential computer systems. I had a windowless office and long hours behind the keyboard with a lot of stress. 

I came home to 10 acres, a dog, a couple of cats, and varying numbers of beehives. Technology changes rapidly; beehives have hardly changed since L. L. Langstroth invented this particular style in 1851. The hives I used (and still use) are made of wood, and the frames that hold the wax are likewise wood. The contrast gave my life balance.

Life changes. Now I have the workshop in Newfield with 30 acres, plus a couple more acres around my house in Ithaca. I have bees in both places this year after a hiatus for shoulder surgery last year. And so I’ve decided to mix it up a bit and experiment.

The first experiment is Broodminder, a system of sensors and software to keep track of a hive’s weight and internal temperature and humidity. Those are things that tell you a lot about what’s going on in the hive: are they bringing in nectar and pollen and either building up or storing honey? Are they losing weight because of drought or swarming? Over the winter, how are their honey stores holding up? I’m looking forward to collecting data this year! I have the system set up on one hive, but I’ll likely get a second for my Newfield yard.

The other experiment is the FLOW hive from Australia. As much as I love my bees, I do NOT love pulling honey. Because I have to set up and break down my extraction equipment, it takes a couple of days to do, and is hot, messy, sticky work. Sometimes I pull the supers and take them to someone else, if I don’t have time. We have two honey flows in this area: a summer flow and a fall flow. The second one especially comes at a bad time for my business, just as things are ramping up for the holidays. The FLOW hive, though, lets you harvest directly from the hive from specially built frames. No pulling supers, no setting up the extractor and other equipment, and no clean up. Just open a “tap,” fill a jar, and be done. Or so I hope! I’ll let you know if it works out as advertised. 

I have one more hive that arrived too late to assemble and include (but I will get to it soon, and split a hive to put bees in it): the Ivry-B. It is a unique hive with round frames and an internal clear dome that allows you to see the bees. The shape mimics the long, round clay hives used in the Middle East for millennia. In these horizontal hives, bees store honey on the edges of the broodnest, so openings at the ends allowed the beekeeper to pull out the honey-laden comb. The bees would rebuild from scratch. In the modern version, the entire dome comes off so all of the frames in this long hive are exposed, and I can both examine and harvest relatively easily. 

I’m looking forward to an interesting beekeeping season with a lot learned about how my hives progress and how these unique designs work. I'll write more about the journey.


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