Beekeeping 101. (Top-Bar-Hive-Style)

Bees finding their way back into the hive. En masse.

So much going on in the garden and I haven’t had any time to write about it! Things coming out, things going in. I’ve got some new photos coming shortly of the end of July garden so you can check them out in the next day or so. In the meantime, I’ve got beekeeping tales to tell.

Despite my bee swarm disaster earlier this spring, I am still hellbent on having bees in our backyard, but I’ve decided that rather than just taking another swarm on without any preparation or experience (which wasn’t my plan last time, they really were just thrust upon me) I would like to learn a little bit about them first. So I’ve been hunting around for just the right type of course – one that wasn’t full already, and even more difficult, one which incorporated some other methods of beekeeping besides Langstroth. Specifically, I’ve had a bit of a fascination with Top-Bar-Hive beekeeping ever since my friend Kyla introduced me to the The Barefoot Beekeeper last summer.

So was I ever tickled to find out that Ward Teulon at City Farm Boy and Brian Campbell at Blessed Bee Farms were offering a Top Bar Hive Course right here in East Vancouver over the weekend! And not only that, my friend Sam and I ended up being the guinea pigs of the workshop and having all Brian’s expertise (and Ward’s top-bar hives) to ourselves for the day.

Brian Campbell runs a Community-Supported-Apiary out in Richmond and is a certified bee-master and master gardener – and without a doubt one of the most knowledgeable people I have ever met on the subject of plants and bees. Additionally, he practices and teaches ethical beekeeping, stressing that while urban hives need management and intervention, it is to assist rather than exploit in the pursuit of healthy urban bees. Which is exactly what I’m looking for in backyard bees – while the honey is nice, I’m more interested in raising the stock of urban pollinators and having a healthy hive.

The writer dressed as beekeeper for the lesson.

The course covered bee biology, bee population dynamics, integrated pest management, potential pests and predators (of which we are numero uno) neighbourhood plant survey, and the basics of the top bar hive (plans for these hives are online, so we didn’t talk construction of them much). Plus we had sideline conversations about the politics of commercial beekeeping, the history of beekeeping in North America and a ton of other things. And of course, there was the hands-on part where we donned bee hats and looked into the hive, handled the frames full of wax, honey and bees, did surveys of the brood cells, pollen and honey – and as a “test” – picked up a bee by the wings with our bare hands (drones don’t sting – and they are really easy to tell apart from the workers).

Also, because of a little accident, we ended up eating some honeycomb straight from the hive, though that wasn’t really supposed to be a part of the course. All in all, it was pretty awesome, and I’m pretty sure about two things now:

  1. I am totally, even more, into having bees in our backyard.
  2. There is so much to know about beekeeping!

And as much as I’m going to go with top-bar-hive to start (it just seems like good bee practice, and I don’t need 200 pounds of honey), while leafing through a book from Brian Campbell’s library – The Quest for the Perfect Hive: A History of Innovation in Bee Culture – I found myself taken with so many of the hive designs throughout history. Like the beehouses! I would love to build a little bee house if I ever had enough space one day.

In any case, the course was really worthwhile, and I learned enough to get started without being too overwhelmed. Ward was a great host and Brian was such an awesome teacher (he is great at making analogies to explain things, covers the material thoroughly, and doesn’t make you feel stupid when answering your really basic questions – plus he’s really accessible) – that I would highly recommend any of these bee-school courses at Ward’s place. It’s great to be able to get this kind of training only a bike-ride away from my house rather than going all the way out to Langley or Abbotsford as so many of the agri-learning courses are.

I’m going to build my TBH this autumn in preparation for bees next March – and I am more than a little “buzzed” at the prospect!

5 Comments on “Beekeeping 101. (Top-Bar-Hive-Style)

  1. Pingback: Beekeeping 101. (Top-Bar-Hive-Style) « Among the Weeds | Beekeeping Central

  2. What a bee-eautiful day it was!
    I’m totally in love with learning about bee self-organization now. And practicing more puns to drive you all crazy.

  3. Pingback: Gardening | Sam Bradd Designs

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