Thursday, February 27, 2014

Warré Bee Hive Construction - Part I

From relatively early in the process of planning for greater self-sufficiency, it became clear that honey bees would be would be an important part of the design, and implemented early.  Of course the honey harvest is eagerly anticipated, but their service as pollinators cannot be overrated; according to EcoNews,[1], "Honey bees—wild and domestic—perform about 80 percent of all pollination worldwide. A single bee colony can pollinate 300 million flowers each day. Grains are primarily pollinated by the wind, but the best and healthiest food—fruits, nuts and vegetables—are pollinated by bees. Seventy out of the top 100 human food crops, which supply about 90 percent of the world’s nutrition, are pollinated by bees."  The EcoNews article claims an estimate higher than most I have read; nevertheless it seems inarguable that the impact is significant.  Another key reason for early implementation, even before we might be permanently on-site, is that bees are relatively low maintenance.  Depending on the type of hive employed, and whether or not the beekeeper chooses to feed and medicate the bees, only a few visits to the hives may be necessary each year.  As a general rule, we intend to let our bees fend for themselves, save for a feeding upon initial installation of the colonies this spring; a sole harvest would be made in late August or early September each year.

This is a photo of our first Warré
hive almost ready for exterior finish
Having decided to be beekeepers then, there are some other early choices that need to be made: 1) the species of bee, and 2) the type of hive.  We have chosen Italian bees, and the type of hive will be the Warré (pronounced WAR-ray), designed by Abbé Émile Warré in the early 1900’s.  The building of the Warré hive  (aka, the People’s Hive) is the primary subject of this post.
  In choosing the type of hive, there are several factors to be considered, and until only recently I was on the default path of using Langstroth hives.  The Langstroth hive is the most popular in the United States, and is the hive of choice for the vast majority of commercial beekeepers; because of its popularity, a large selection of accessories is also available.  The Langstroth hive is perhaps also the most complex of the common hive designs.  The Warré hive is of the top bar, frameless hive variety, and is a favorite in so-called “natural beekeeping” circles.  It is much simpler, and therefore less expensive and easier to build.  Interestingly, Warré was an ordained priest, and the Langstroth hive was designed by the Reverend L. L. Langstroth.

To build the Warré hives, I have referred to two books, Building Beehives For Dummies, [2], by Howland Blackiston, and Beekeeping for All, [3], by Warré.  The former has designs for several hives, including both the Warré and the Langstroth, with materials lists, cut lists, and detailed assembly instructions.  In Beekeeping for All, Warré explains his design in all its particulars, and gives his original specifications for some critical dimensions.  In general I have executed the Blackiston design, though on occasion I have reverted to dimensions in the original design, specifically with respect to the dimensions of the entrance to the hive.  Obviously I have chosen to build our hives, rather than to purchase new or used assembled hives, or hive kits.  The decision to build instead of buy came down to a matter of “dollars and sense,” and to my desire to actually build something from time to time.

Now then, let’s get to the building of the hives.  The first step is to acquire the materials, and while I will leave the details to Blackiston, my list is:
  • five (5) 1” x 10” x 8’ mid-grade pine (not knotty pine, Blackiston calls for knotty pine) boards (hive boxes, the “quilt,” tops bars, and the roof)
  • one (1) ¾” x 2’ x 4’ sheet of exterior plywood (floor of the hive, and the inner cover board (roof assembly component)) ( Blackiston calls for 3/8” plywood)
  • one (1) 2” x 3” x 8’ pine stud (legs of the hive)
  • waterproof wood glue (optional according to Blackiston)
  • approximately 150 - #8 x 1-5/8” stainless steel deck screws (Blackiston calls for a combination of #6 x 5/8” and #6 x 1-5/8” deck screws, and 6d x 2” nails.  I opted for stainless steel screws exclusively, to cut down the screws to 5/8” with a small bolt cutter as necessary, and to use deck screws instead of nails elsewhere; I bought a 1 lb. box.)
  • primer and paint suitable of exterior use, or boiled linseed oil, or varnish, or some other combination; the point being to protect the exterior of the hive from the weather (avoid dark colors to prevent overheating the hive in summer)
  • basswood (due to availability, substituted for balsa wood called out by Blackiston), one sheet 3/16" x 12" x 36"  (cut into "starter strips" for each top bar)
  • burlap fabric, one piece 13-5/16" x 13-5/16" (permeable, forms the bottom of the "quilt" box, allows moisture to pass from the hive to the quilt.)
  • twenty 3/8" staples (for a heavy duty staple gun, to staple the burlap to the quilt box)
  • insulation for the quilt box; e.g. wood chips, coarse saw dust, dry leaves, straw, etc.
  • beeswax, 1/2 pound (brushed onto the basswood/balsa wood strips as foundation for new comb)
Floor of Warré hive on the deck of a 1975 Craftsman
Radial Arm Saw (RAS)
The hive is built from the bottom up.  The two-piece floor of the hive is pretty straightforward; I made the
cuts to establish overall length and width of the floor and "landing board" on my "new" radial arm saw, and I made the cuts in the floor (that in combination with the lowest box forms the hive entrance) with a jig saw.  The width of the opening in the floor, and the thickness of the floor, establish the width and height of the hive entrance.  Warré recommends 120 mm by 15 mm, or 1,800 sq. mm, for the hive entrance.  Since the 3/4" plywood floor is 18 mm thick, I made the width of the opening 100 mm to attain the same 1,800 sq. mm opening.  The size of the opening controls not only access to the hive, but ventilation of the hive as well.  In winter there are numerous ways to make the opening smaller to reduce airflow, and to prevent rodent access.

Short side of hive boxes showing rabbet, and stack dado set
and guard installed on the RAS
The design and materials list include the construction of four identical, square, hive boxes.  Warré thought that a square was the next best thing to a circular cross-section as would be found in a hollow tree.  He also thought that relatively smaller was better; the more cross-sectional area, the more empty space that the bees need to keep warm in winter.  Cutting the sides of the hive to the specified length and height is a simple matter of cross-cutting or ripping on the RAS.  However, there is a rabbet on the top edge of the short sides that will eventually support the top bars; to cut this 3/8" x 3/8" rabbet, I fixed a stack dado set and guard attachment to the RAS.

Completed hive box less handles; note three #6 1-5/8" square-drive deck
screws securing each joint, holes of 7/32" are pre-drilled and counter-sunk
The construction of the quilt box and roof, preparation for finish, and finishing, among other things that might be of interest, will be presented in Part II.

Your comments and criticisms, your inputs and acknowledgements, are welcomed, and will help me to improve my posts.  Please "follow" the blog.

Special thanks to Russ W. for having maintained the 1975 Craftsman RAS so well, and for agreeing to sell it to me.

-- John, 27 Feb 2014.

[1] EcoNews, “Worldwide Honey Bee Collapse: A Lesson in Ecology,”
[2] Blackiston, Howland. Building Beehives For Dummies.  Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2013. Print.
[3] Warré, Abbé. Beekeeping for All. Translated from the original French version of L'Apiculture Pour Tous (12th edition) by Patricia and David Heaf. Sixth electronic English edition thoroughly revised February 2010.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Spring 2013: In the beginning...

…it took a long time and a lot of discussion for a sufficiently complete picture of a desired future for my wife and me to form in my head.  No doubt each of us comes to a decision to hit life’s big red “reset button” in our own way and time, and does not come to the decision lightly; I have hit the button before, and it is not always a pleasant experience.  In April of 2013 I wrote in my journal, “It seems that in the past two to four weeks, I am heading in a direction that suits me, in the direction that perhaps I should have been heading for a long time.  For months Geri and I have been talking about moving out of the area, having a second home, or both.  It feels like I have been walking around in the dark, groping for who I am, what I should be doing, and where I should be doing it.”

So how did I come to this feeling of needing to hit the reset button?  For me, “providing” for my family has always been a chief aim.  In our society as I have come to know it, or have come to believe it to be, to provide is to provide money; money to exchange for food and water, shelter, heating and cooling, vehicles, vehicle maintenance and repair, television and telecommunications, clothing, healthcare, and recreation, not to mention “toys” of every description, and so on ad nauseam.  I came to realize just how brittle, how easily shattered, was my ability to provide through the earning of money.  As examples, I could fall out of favor with my employer, I could become disabled, worse yet I could contract disease and die a slow and very expensive death, leaving my family with nothing but debt, or the government could radically devalue the currency, or choose to redistribute much more of the so-called "wealth," the promise to provide in our old age through Social Security and Medicare could be broken, or a natural disaster could take our home and belongings; each of us I am sure could cite innumerable ugly possibilities.  Frankly, the more I dwelt on these issues, the angrier I became, to the point that it was practically disabling, but also motivating.

I also realized that what I do for money, provides directly for precisely none of my or my family's needs, in fact I am quite practiced in doing nothing that can be bartered for anything, except for money.  This last piece of the puzzle is tantamount to having one's "man card" revoked, or at least it was in my opinion.  Until 1995 I had never had a vehicle in a repair shop, I had never had a maintenance man of any sort in a home I owned, I had never paid anyone to mow my lawn, I was a fairly proficient welder with oxygen and acetylene, and could recharge my air conditioner properly with Freon, I had fairly recent memories of successfully hunting and fishing, and if I dug deeply enough, trapping.  Until only recently though, I had done none of that for the better part of 20 years.  And for food that is grown from the earth, I was almost completely blind to its sources; I didn't know that broccoli was a seed head, or that Brussels sprouts were a bud and the plant a cultivar of the cabbage group, and worse.

My wife Geri and I celebrating the future of our life together in 2012.
Due in part to those reasons, also due in great part to a desire to be closer as husband and wife, and in search of  "pursuits of happiness," we made the decision to buy a homestead, and to begin the journey towards greater self-sufficiency, greater self-reliance, towards a life lived closer to the earth, closer to our friends, closer to the people in our community, and closer to each other.  Some skills will need to be learned anew, a large number will need to be learned for the first time; many, many mistakes will be made, and failures surmounted.  It will be hard, hard work.  A dear friend, Peter, recently opined that I should blog as we go, if for no other reason than as a way of "paying forward" <my words> the debt I owe those who to my great benefit have posted to blogs and Facebook and YouTube of their experiences.  Having reflected on Peter's observation, I must agree, and therefore, the blog starts here.

Your comments and criticisms, your inputs and acknowledgements, are welcomed.

-- John, 18 Feb 2014.

p.s.  Obviously I have written above about events that took place several months ago.  I will continue to work from my handwritten journals and other records regarding what has happened to date, while posting contemporaneously from this time on.