Friday, March 26, 2010

Article I wrote for local Environment Centre .


Would you like to keep honey bees, Apis mellifera, for pollination and honey in your garden or orchard ? In an urban or rural setting ? If so, then I believe this is the perfect hive to keep them in !

The TB hive has been used for centuries in Africa and Asia, not quite in the same shape as the one pictured, but a similar idea of a single box used as the hive body, as close as possible to the bees natural home in a tree or cavity.

TB hives are made from untreated wood, usually macrocarpa or cedar, wood that does not need painting or any chemicals applied to it to last a number of years. It is also thick enough to keep the bees warm over winter and cooler in summer – plus it smells good ! The legs are made from treated wood just so they will last weather-wise and the roof is water-proof, shaped so as the rain will run off – I have had no problems with moisture getting into the hive after heavy rain.

The name TopBar is taken from the bars of wood that lie across the hive, (see pics), to which the bees attach the wax comb they naturally make to fill with nectar, pollen and baby bees ! The bars are all the same width and length and when all are used, form a roof of sorts which the bees propolise to make water tight. I do also have another more waterproof roof over that, see above. The plans for my TB hive were down-loaded free from an excellent English website called `Bio Bees` - I suggest anyone who is thinking about keeping bees read Phil`s words, he is very informative and enlightening.

With a TB hive there is no need for much of the equipment that seems to accumulate with the Langstroth hive commonly used by beekeepers in NZ. You don`t need any extra honey boxes as the hive body is all you use, there is no heavy lifting ( ideal for people in wheelchairs or others with bad backs), because it is a more natural way of keeping bees there seems to be alot less stress on the bees themselves which makes for a far more pleasant task when opening the hive – only taking a bar or two out at a time, allows the hive temp to stay more or less the same, the bees being less anxious and annoyed at the intrusion into their home.

The photo to the left shows a completely natural piece of wax comb built by the bees. They start from underneath the bar and work down to form a beautiful half-moon shape consisting of hundreds of hexagonal cells, everyone exactly the same size, in which they store nectar and pollen or the queen will lay her eggs in.

I firmly believe that this is the way for hobbyists to keep bees, you might not get a huge surplus of honey but the advantages of having happy, healthy bees in your garden to pollinate your fruit and vege is more important than jars of honey ! We need to really start to care for our bees, stop manipulating them and upsetting the delicate balance they have for living their lives in a productive manner – we as humans, will benefit from this far more than we ever realise. Start caring for what is around you and you will be amazed at what you can change !


If you are interested in these hives, please ph or email me on 07-8566468 or

Yours in beez ... Marcia

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Baby Kotare . .

Our New Zealand native Kingfisher or Kotare as the Maori called it, the name meaning a`scrounger, someone who lives off the genorosity of ones friends` - called that may be because kingfisher typically hang around ponds, rivers and lakes waiting for the fish to appear.

Don`t mess with me !

She/he is only a baby, we took it to the local `bird man` and he said it was the 2nd one he had in over the last week. The tiny bird with a very sharp beak, sat quietly while I took pics, excuse my finger in the top one, I will try and get rid of that when I print them out ! It still needs acouple more weeks of being in the nest before it fledges - bill the birdman will keep and care for it until he releases it. And that isn`t my hairy arm - just so you no I`m not a yeti !!
This beautiful native bird was found by a student on the ground, must have tried to fly and couldn`t get back. Kotare nest in holes in banks or trees by waterways normally, they feed on fish, and small creatures like mice and insects. They can often be seen sitting very still on power lines, or branches hanging out over water. Their adult plumage is electric blue - all you usually see of it is a flash of colour and thats that - so special to have held and seen this precious gift up close.

bees in their own places . .

very friendly pair of Pekin ducks..

we found this bees nest in the ground under the alder roots, I thought it was wasps at first, unusual to see bees nest in this sort of place. The alders are planted along the river bank.

Last Sunday I was invited out to dinner to friends who own a beautiful garden and home right on the river bank, just out of the city. Stephen and Janet have owned Moondance for about 5 yrs, they inherited this amazingly formal garden, based on an English theme, and have added their personal touch with an aviary and more planting. The trees are huge , with flowering borders, hedging and areas of NZ native trees planted. There is a large pond that is home to a pair of persil white Pekin ducks and some rather big goldfish, with Swamp Cypress planted on the edge for stunning autumn colour - autumn is breath-taking out there - liquidambers, pin oaks, liriodendrons, copper beech. cercis and other exotic trees adding their colour to the mix.

Above is a pic of another bees nest in a bird box placed on a Liriodendron or Tulip Tree in the garden . I am going to go back this week sometime, climb up a ladder and lift the lid ! i would love to have a quick peep inside and maybe leave a small piece of varroa (organic) treatment inside so may be they will survive the winter. Both wild hives were still quite busy.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

TopBar Heaven . .

I pulled the heavy bar out very gently, it was a warm day and the wax comb was soft - the last thing I wanted to happen was the whole lot collapse into a sticky mess on the floor of the hive !I did rest the bottom of the comb lightly on the bars, luckily a friend arrived and I persuaded her to take some photos.

I was thrilled to pull this bar out and find brood and nectar, the queen is obviously laying well with the pattern being healthy - click on the pic and you can see the larvae ready to be capped - exciting stuff !!

Beautiful wax comb being built from the end bars, note the bright red propolis.

Yesterday was the perfect day to open my TB hive, warm with little wind and busy bees out doing their thing .
I had been abit worried that there was not enough room in the hive after I had made it smaller using the divider board - but on taking the end bar out discovered 2 empty bars still waiting for comb. The hive is absolutely humming, I am thrilled to bits at how it has turned out, better then what I expected, so beautiful to look at, even for afew minutes !

The bees were quiet and co-operative, I did wear my veil but didn`t light the smoker as I think smoke tends to send them into a panic which must add stress, (I like to avoid stress of any kind), but with only taking afew bars out at a time the temp stays pretty much as it should be in the hive and the all important pheromones from the queen are not totally lost into the air - the wonderful natural TBH allows for much kinder treatment of your bees - thats my opinion, for what its worth !!

I noticed on opening the hive the bees had been doing a fair amount of propolising with a bright red resin or gum. I do wonder where they are getting it and from which plant or tree. I know there is a large stand of Australian gum trees not far from here which could be the source. One of the (many)things I want to do, is build up a list of local flowering flora in this area, where it is and when it flowers.

A friend of mine down-loaded off a BBC programme, the story `Who`s killing the Honey Bee ?`, a doco similar to `Silence of the Bees` which I already have, but made by people in the UK. It is very good, if you get a chance to view it, do, as it really makes you think about what is happening to bees and how we can do something about it. We don`t have CCD here yet, but it will come if we don`t take notice now of what is happening overseas, learn from what has happened and care for our bees. But I am afraid that the big chemical companies and the like won`t give a fig, it is very hard to fight huge corporations with their endless budgets. We hobbyists all need to unite as one large voice and YELL for the bees, 0k ? Enough of my ramblings . .

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Good Life !

I spoke to the group before opening the hive, I asked one of the ladies to take some pics, they were either miles back or dark - it was a bright sunny day to . . Never mind, at least it gives you as idea of what it all looked like ! Interesting look don`t you think ?? - bee suit and jandles on my feet - I get really hot feet in boots ..
I am standing on this rather old pergola which I had to climb a ladder up to get to, plus it wobbled and I nearly did `freak out` as my daughter would say !
I took one frame of capped honey out of one of the boxes to show the people gathered below, we didn`t get to close as no one had any protective clothing on. The bees were very well behaved, especially as they had had varroa strips put in the day before.

Last Saturday I was part of the yearly summer festival held at the beautiful Hamilton Gardens. A number of different talks were given in the sustainable gardens, including Earthtalk@Awhitu, (check out their great website) 2 women who have developed an incredible garden from a desolate piece of land out on the Awhitu peninsular, Wiremu Puke gave a guided tour of Te Parapara, the first and only authentic Maori garden built in NZ since pre-European days and is one of the Gardens highlights, one of NZ`s well known TV gardeners, Xanthe White spoke about her personal gardens, there was a `keeping hens in the city` talk, composting lessons, worms, a guided tour of our large walled vege garden, herbs for children and finally, me - on bees of course !! It was a very successful day, I had a great group of people with lots of questions and many really keen to keep bees. I have had acouple of emails and by the feed back I got, there are so many interested organically minded future beekeepers out there - even in little old NZ or `Godzone` as it has often been referred to.

This part of the 2 week festival is run by the Hamilton Permaculture group and is always very popular - they had a great band playing, with food stalls, Touchwood Books (another good NZ website), the Green Party, Enviro groups - a really interesting selection of things to look at and learn from. I look forward to it every year.