What Type Of Beehive For A New Beekeeper

First of all I need to say that I have yet be successful in over-wintering a beehive, however I did start from nothing in my beekeeping experience so if you are a completely new beekeeper my trials may help you. Let us consider the types of beehives and my suggestion will be at the bottom.

Langstroth – This is the most common in the US and is what you see most beekeepers using. This hive consists of movable frames that go into a hive body that holds either 8 or 10 frames with 10 frame hive bodies being the most common. The height of the hive bodies come in different sizes, called deeps, mediums & shallows. Being the most common you can easily buy all the parts you need from a variety of places. I have been keeping bees in a couple of Langstroth hives for several years now and have been thwarted by mice finding their way into the hive in the winter and eating the honey and, I think, the bees. This type of hive is really designed for the commercial beekeeper that needs to maximize honey production and have the ability to easily move the hives to new locations to provide pollination services. In fact many commercial beekeepers make more money off of pollination contracts than from selling honey. One thing to keep in mind the hive bodies can be very heavy, up to 90 lbs for a deep full of honey.

Inspecting A Langstroth Hive
Inspecting A Langstroth Hive

Top Bar Hive – When I first started beekeeping I tried a top bar hive. A beekeeper in the UK by the name of Phil Chandler strongly recommends them as a better way for the hobby beekeeper to keep bees. Plus the can be built yourself with only the most basic of tools for a low-cost. Thus they have also become popular in Africa as a way to enable those without much money to start a beekeeping business and better their life. You can read about this type of hive at www.biobees.com with full plans available. However the problem I ran into the two times I tried to install a package of bees in my top bar hive is the bees just left. It is not easy to find someone else with a top bar hive that can sell you a nuc (more about nucs later) so unless you already have bees I was not able to get a hive started in a top bar hive. Others haven’t had any problems. A top bar hive can need more tending as you have to make sure the bees to not fill up all the space you have allocated to them. However honey harvest can be easy and done in small amounts, perfect for the home beekeeper. These are available to buy but I think shipping will hurt, so look for a local builder if you don’t want to build it yourself.

Installing Package
Installing Package
Our Top Bar Hive
Our Top Bar Hive

Warre Hive – This is called the “people’s hive” because it is very easy to build with plans also available on the biobees site. The philosophy behind Warre beekeeping is very much hands off and you work the hive at the box level, not at the fame level like the Langstroth or Top Bar Hive so it can be less work. However adding to the hive requires lifting the whole stack of boxes and adding a box to the bottom, this can mean lifting well over 100 lbs. Because of that Warre beekeepers have designed and built various lifts to make this task easier, but building such a lift is not particularly easy for one with limited building skills. Honey harvesting is usually done in the fall by taking boxes off of the top and generally the comb is crushed to extract the wax. This provides a natural rotation that means the oldest wax (which can be contaminated by chemicals and pesticides) is removed from the hive. Some beekeepers feel this is of value, others feel it is making work for the bees requiring them to build new comb. There is a “fact” out on the internet (so it must be true) that it takes 8 lbs of honey to make 1 lb of wax so when you use a beekeeping style that removes the honey comb from the hive (Like the Warre or Top Bar) you are loosing a lot of honey while the bees create new comb. However I have not been able to find clear proof anyplace that this is true and personally do not believe it and even if it was true I would still take whole combs as I have use for bee’s wax. This is a very old method of beekeeping and many of the beekeeping supply places sell Warre Hives.

Perone – A Perone is like a super-sized Warre in that it is frame-less except it is much larger. Also you create the large bottom brood chamber and never go in it again, you put shallower boxes on top for you to get honey. Oscar Perone developed this hive in South America and I have followed a few people in the US that have tried it but none of them have been particularly successful.

Horizontal Hive – This is like a cross between a top bar and Langstroth hive. There a frames like a Langstroth, but each frame is much bigger and deeper and you only have one box, you do not stack them like a Langstroth or Warre. I have not found many people who are using this method of beekeeping even though the site claims there are a million of these hives in use. This is I’m considering as I move forward with beekeeping. You will have to build it yourself as I do not believe anyone makes these commercially. This does address the biggest problem I have with Warre or Langstroth, you only lift one frame at a time which is much less weight. However the whole hive has to be hundreds of pounds, but since I wont be moving my hives very often, if ever, I don’t see this as a problem.

Slovenian Bee Hive – I have recently discovered the Slovenian or AZ Hive and am very intrigued by it. I really like the concept of a bank of beehives to help keep each other warm in the winter and being build into a shelter. Further you work the hives a frame at a time, again eliminating any heavy lifting. I will be following the Facebook Group and see if this is something I want to take on. The construction of this type of hive is much more complex and tends to be a more permanent structure and is not mobile unless build onto a truck or heavy-duty trailer. Since I have no intention of becoming someone who moves hives around every year it is appealing to me, you have your bee hives and honey shack in one structure. I think there is one or two people building them in the US so this would be a build project for me and I have too many other projects right now.

Skeps – These hives resemble a upside-down basket and is the really old school style of beekeeping. We do have much of a history of this style of beekeeping in western hemisphere as when Europeans settled in this part of the world wooden box hives were the way to do things.

My Suggestions – If you are a completely new beekeeper (in North America) I recommend you start out with a Langstroth hive with all medium 8-frame equipment. When it comes to getting bees the best would be an over-wintered nucleus (nuc) hive from a local beekeeper and install that in your equipment. Make sure when you talk to the beekeeper that it is a nuc on medium frames if you do get all medium equipment. A nuc hive is 4-5 frames of a fully functioning colony with a laying queen, worker bees, a couple of frames of brood and a couple of frames of honey. This gives you the best chance of getting started. You can also put up a swarm trap in the spring and hope to catch a swarm, if you do this is considered by many the best way to start a new hive. The reason I suggest starting with Langstroth is I have only seen nucs for sale on Langstroth equipment. Also I should mention that this advice might not be the best for folks in other parts of the world, I know the UK has several types of hives not available here. Basically buy the type of hive you can get a nuc to go into.

I would be interested in hearing from others on their experiences on getting started in beekeeping

My Thoughts On Machetes

First of all let me say I love machetes (I have 7 of them) and all my experience is in the brush and woods of S.E. Michigan, however I’m beginning to question if it is the best tool to carry with me as I do things on my 10 acre property of which 7 acres are covered with woods with a lot of under brush.

One thing that machetes have going for them is they are inexpensive, usually in the $20-$30 range. Frequently they are nowhere near sharp when you get them, but 1/2 an hour with a file will turn something into a very usable tool. My favorite machete that I currently is a no-name with a 22″ blade and plastic handle. I’ve had it for more than 10 years and is still my go-to when I’m heading out. My only complaint is that it doesn’t do that well in woody brush, I don’t think it has enough weight at the end where you usually try to chop through branches.

After more than 10 years still my favorite
After more than 10 years still my favorite

I picked up this one from Tractor Supply on sale for about $5 and it is called a “corn knife”. I’m thinking the shape with more weight up and the head might be what I’m looking for. However it is about as sharp as the edge of a ruler, the bevel grinds do not meet to form a point. I’m OK with that as I can take a file to it to product what I want, a stocky cutting, well chopping edge.

Very dull new, but good potential
Very dull knew, but good potential

Now for a purchase I’m not happy with. I bought the SOG Machete shown below with the thought that the saw blade on the back will be good for when I need to deal with the woody brush. However the grind on the edge is concave which produces a very thin cutting edge. My 97 lb teen age son with skinny arms chipped a section out of the blade – TWICE. The first time I sent it back for replacement and the second time I wasn’t willing to pay shipping again for something that I think is a poor product. It just sits on my shelf as a reminder to be careful what you buy.

Very disappointed in this ones performance
Very disappointed in this ones performance


Time for some pure speculation on my part. The machete comes from a part of the world that needed a tool for cutting sugarcane and other undergrowth. I believe that the material I deal with is more woody then what the machete was designed to deal with. Thus it can take a lot of chopping with a machete to get through the honeysuckle bushes and wild grape vines that are my biggest problem. The Indians that lived in my geographic area did not have metal-working before the arrival of the Europeans so I don’t think we can ever know for sure what tool the natives would have developed if they did have metal working skills. Common knowledge is that the Tomahawk was what the Native Americans used and originally had stone cutting heads until the Europeans brought metal heads. My speculation is the Tomahawk is the equivalent to the machete for my area of the world.

However a machete is still useful in my area as I do have some areas of tall grass and I find it very helpful in the garden and comfrey patch. But it is just not the tool I expected it to be in the woods so I’m looking to find a new obsession, I mean option. I’m considering a Cold Steal Tomahawk or a Woodman’s Pal. While the Tomahawk is very cool I think I’m leaning more towards the Woodman’s Pal, the hook knife will be very useful in dealing with vines and brush. On second thought I should just get both. The other option I’m considering is a bolo style machete which has a lot of metal at the end to give you the weight needed to chop though wood.

Let me know your experience with machetes in the comments.

Keeping Chickens

I’ve been keeping chickens for about 3 years now and today was moving day again. For the first couple of years I moved them through the grassy areas of my property, but then I lost 3/4’s of my flock aerial predators so I started keeping them under the cover of the brushy areas of my property. This is not ideal as there is not as much greenery for them to eat, but it does keep them from being killed by hawks and owls. This does make moving them a fair bit more effort as I first have to clear brush along the path I want the electro-net fencing to run and the fencing has to be pulled up and the whole section folded and moved. When I was on the grass I could just move the fencing a few feet at a time, but you cannot do that when there are trees and brush in the way. Therefore the chickens do not get moved as frequently as I would like. If you go with the portable electro-net fencing like I did by the 80′ lengths rather than the 160′, they are much easier to move and give you more options.

Some people feel they need to provide a coop that is well insulated and completely free of drafts for the winter and some even supply supplemental heat. I have not found this to be the case in S.E. Michigan. I do what is best described as a 3-sided coop and I have not lost any birds in the winter. However I do have the coop in a place that is naturally sheltered from the wind. In some magazines from the late 1800’s that talked about farming in the mid-west talked about having large windows on one side of the coop (preferably the side opposite the wind) and just having them covered in chicken wire, no glass. The claim was the biggest problems with chickens in a fully closed coop is the build up of humidity and ammonia and having good ventilation takes care of that. While I cannot comment on if it is better because I have all my experience is with these “well-ventilated” coops, I have not experienced any problems with not having a tightly sealed/heated coop. Breed may also make a difference, I’ve had White Leghorn, ISA Brown, Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks & Australorps.

To date I’ve only lost two birds to something other than predators. One got her neck caught in the fork of a honeysuckle bush and basically hung herself, the other was an adult bird that died 2 days after we got her. Since this works for me I do not plan on changing. I’m not claiming what I do is what you should also do, however if it works for me you might want to consider it for your flock.

Thoughts On Re-Discovering Lost Skills

Learning about traditional skills has always been an interest of mine. When I was a kid there were a couple of years my family had an annual pass to the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. I loved watching the blacksmith and glass blowers. Also when I see an old homestead/farm we speculate what the purpose/use was for the out buildings. They weren’t built to store junk like we do today.

However we run the risk when doing research of not finding what in the research world are called “primary source materials”, these are items that directly record something, not someone else’s research and findings. For example when I post something that I have direct experience on, that post can be a primary source. That is one of the goals I have for this site is to either learn by doing and reporting that or get someone with direct knowledge to share their information. However when a post just contains information gathered from other places it is a secondary source of information and should be subject to scrutiny.

In regards to re-discovering lost skills I feel the goal should be to learn how to do something in our time. While it may be interesting to figure out exactly how it was done in the past as that may lead to insights on what will work best for you, I also don’t feel we should just do things the “old way” as if being old automatically makes it better. Granted there is likely a very good reason was done a particular way for hundreds if not thousands of years, but that may not be the best way now. In times past people were always trying to improve on what they were doing. Feel free to ignore what I just said if you just want to do things a particular way or you feel it adds a desirable look or feel to the item you are producing. However know that you are choosing it that for a reason.

One area I’m struggling with right now is a smoke house. I have enough room that I would like to build a dedicated smoke house. However I am finding conflicting information, some claim that the meat was stored in these houses even after it was smoked and others say that isn’t true. I haven’t been able to find much primary source material online, the Foxfire Book 3 is supposed to have a section on building a smoke house, but I haven’t found a copy yet to see if it also tells how to use one. Also I cannot find any information if there is a minimum size to make it usable, i.e. does building one the size of a phone booth not work because there isn’t enough mass to hold the temperature steady. Further while I have found some write-ups on people building them, it is more for BBQ rather than producing meat that will keep at room temperature.

In conclusion don’t get too hung up on trying to replicate exactly how things were done in times past, however also question how those of today interpret how and why things were done in the past if they have not replicated it themselves. Further when you do learn something that you had to do a lot of digging research on, please share with the rest of us. I am willing to post it here on Save Our Skills if you do not have a web site of your own.

Making Comfrey Oil/Salve

Many are the benefits of comfrey however in most of the country you cannot cut green leaves from sometime in the fall until well into spring, something like 4-7 months depending on how far north you are. One option is to make comfrey oil and then turn that oil into a salve. I did this by taking a 2 gallon cheap stainless steel stock pot and filled it 3/4 of the way full with coarsely chopped comfrey leaves and then covered it with olive oil. I put a couple of bricks on my wood stove and set this pot on them. This provided a bit of space between the pot and the stove so it wasn’t as hot. This provided a gentle warming over several days and turned the olive oil even more green and gave it a different smell. Now I do not have any way to test this to determine how much of the comfrey goodness is infused in the oil, but this is the best I could do under home circumstances. The final step was to pour the contents of the pot into a sieve to strain out the leaves.

Comfrey SlaveI like something thicker than oil to apply to my skin so my next step is to add beeswax at a 1:5 ratio which produces a firm salve. I melt the beeswax first and add oil to it and re-heat as needed. Doing it this way means you do not need to get all the oil heated up to the melting point of the beeswax, them more oil you get incorporated into the melted wax the lower the melting point of the mixture. Lastly I don’t particularly care for the smell of the comfrey oil so I added enough Lavender essential oil to make the smell something I found more pleasing. My son has real problems with dry cracked skin on his hands during the winter so he will be applying this every night and we will see what happens.