A brief note from Joanne:
What you are seeing in this picture is the inner top cover of a hive with bits of honey-filled burr comb stuck to it. This burr comb is one of the main reasons that Mike can get me to go on hive-inspections with him. He will scrape off one of those bits of honey-filled burr comb for me and I get to revel in the first taste of honey of the season. That first mouthful of honey tastes like flowers, trees, grass, and the summer sun.
Going on these inspections with him has helped to lessen my fear of the honey bees. Maybe some day you'll see a picture of me in a suit and elbow deep in a hive. But not today. For now, you all get to see the pictures of our inspections and neat things that we find, and I get to have bits of burr comb. -Joanne
Two Kinds of Hives
The "Kenyan Style" Top-bar Hive
One of the reasons for this was because he didn't want the honey per se. He wanted the pollination services and he had read information about top bar hives that persuaded him that this form of hive would be better for the bees over all. So he went and built a top bar hive. We did not have a lot success with that first top-bar hive, whether that was due to his in-experience with bee-keeping, the weather, or the fact that top-bar hives might be more demanding. But we still have 1 or 2 (depending on the year) active "Kenyan" style hives in our home bee-yard. Mike likes the challenge.
Top-bar beehives are "slower." The bees build all their comb on their own. All that is provided for them is a bar with a bead of wax down the spine of it. Inspecting the hives takes a little more time as you can't flip the individual bars of combs around like you can the frames from a Langstroth hive - the only support the combs have is that top bar. Harvesting honey means that you have to destroy the comb. You cut the comb off the top bar, and then you have to crush it and let the honey drain out. Sometimes the draining process can take more than 24 hours.
On the positive side, top-bar hives mean that we can harvest really small batches of honey at a time. We can also then taste how the honey changes through the seasons. The design is fairly in-expensive to make and quick to build. The bees also build the comb they need, the aren't constricted by the cells imprinted on the foundation that is provided in Langstroth frames.
Negatively speaking, top-bar hives are too custom and variable for commercial bee-keeping or for bee-keeping on a larger scale as we're doing in the Chicago area with our sponsors. Equipment, frames, and general maintenance are a lot more difficult with top-bar hives as everything has to be custom made. Langstroth hives are a lot easier to get parts for, and they're standardized. Finally, there is much more opportunity for cross-combing. Cross combing is where the bees decide they are NOT going to follow the plans you gave them and so they build their comb any which way. Cleaning up cross-combing is difficult and messy and annoys the bees.
Mike still likes his Kenyan style hives because they're "fun and different." He says "I can get more distinct honeys out of a Kenyan style hive than I can out of a Langstroth. I also have an observation port on my Kenyan style hives so I can look in and watch the bees without disturbing them."
Joanne still thinks they look like coffins.
Here are pictures from this week's inspection of one of the Kenyan style hives in our home bee-yard. Mike always starts from the "back" of the hive or the part furthest from the entrance. You'll notice as the pictures go that the comb starts out almost white but as he gets closer to the entrance of the hive, the comb gets darker and darker. The white comb is brand new and has barely been used, the darkest comb has been used for 2 or 3 years in a row for brood and has seen much use.
The Langstroth Hive
We use Langstroth hives for our sponsors properties as well as for our own for many reasons including their inter-changeability, ease of building and harvesting, and... well... they're just easier over all.
Here are some pictures from this week's Hive Inspections. We did go out multiple days to multiple sites.