Field Notes, Foodshed

Natural Bee Hives

For the benefit of the bees, we sell only natural bee hives.

Standard commercial bee hives are made for the convenience of the human who harvests honey, not the insect that produces it.

While we know the joy of eating honey and the good crunch of comb, what we really want from bees is to coexist with them, enjoying the chance to observe their fascinating lives.

We prefer natural hives because they allow bees to create comb the way that they would in the wild, with smaller cells that help protect against mites and other predators.

Among the natural bee hives we carry is the Warre hive, named for the French monk who popularized it in the late 19th century, calling it “the people’s hive.”

Warre designed the hive so that one could add an empty box to its bottom each spring and harvest the honey from a box on the top each autumn.

The Warre is a “top bar” hive which means that the bees can build their combs from horizontal wooden bars that run along the hive’s top, making it lighter and easier for a human to examine the comb periodically without unduly bothering the insects.

The Kenyan, or horizontal top bar, hive is thought to be the oldest and most commonly used type of man-made hives in the world. Long and handsome, these hives come with their own stand, so that they sit about waist height, allowing for easier access.

We are glad to sell Warre and top bar hives both online and in our Healdsburg store. At our HomeFarm property, we have those and other hives for the bees.

The Golden Hive is so-named because its proportions align with the Golden Mean. Designed to minimize interaction between humans and bees, the Golden Hive benefits apiary health by reducing insect stress.

Woven from rye grasses, the biomorphic Sun Hive was developed by a German sculptor and is really something that is best made in with a group.

Tall and with a full belly, the Sun Hive has its portal at the bottom, allowing the bees to come and go freely. Once made, it is mudded with manure to provide insulation.

The Log Hive is as it sounds — a tree trunk that has been hollowed out to accommodate a hive. Many wild bees nest in trees and the Log Hives fashioned by humans work for the bees while providing us with a nice glimpse of the insects’ intricate life.

Helping honey bees to thrive by providing appropriate places for them to nest is one small thing that we can do to support this endangered population. Planting nectar-rich flora for pollinators is another.

Want to learn more? We have more info on natural bee hives, planting a bee-friendly garden, natural beekeeping, and supporting pollinators throughout our site.

Farming, Foodshed

The Elegance of the Honey Bee

Michael Thiele removing the bottom of a Sun Hive.

 

Around this time of year, a healthy honey bee hive prepares to swarm. Most urbanites might be alarmed by the sight of 10,000 bees clinging together like a living beard hanging from a tree limb, but our ancestors would have been cheered. After all, a swarming hive is one that is reproducing.

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Farming, HomeFarm

Bees: The Mammal with a Thousand Bodies

SHED co-founder Doug Lipton with a hive ready to swarm on HomeFarm; photo by Caitlin McCaffrey

 

You can hear them in the video before your eyes have a chance to understand what you're seeing. The hum is loud and unwavering, not melodic, but not unpleasant. It sounds warm.

And in fact, it is warm. Not the sound, but the mass of honeybees that the man is holding in his hands. Working with the bees just as they are about to swarm, he gently cups hundreds of them and, just as gently, shakes them from his hands, like sloughing delicate grains of sand onto the log he's suggesting they occupy. The phone recording this movement wobbles. "Oh. WOW," a woman says.

For holistic beekeeper Michael Thiele, moving a swarm of honeybees without smoke or fuss — with his bare hands — is not only a natural thing to do, it's the kind thing to do. The bees are ready for a new home, a reincarnation if you will, and he is merely their midwife.

Also called a "radical" beekeeper, Thiele owns Gaiabees and co-founded the Melissa Garden pollinator sanctuary in Healdsburg. He presents two workshops at HomeFarm Saturday-Sunday, April 26-27. Saturday is "Biodynamic Apiculture for Beginners"; Sunday, "Zen and the Art of Living with Bees."

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Farming, Modern Grange

Bittersweet

"One-third of our food wouldn't exist without bees. But the bees are in trouble. A few years ago, they started dying. And not just our bees. They're dying all over the world."

So intones narrator John Hurt in Markus Imhoof's 2013 documentary, More Than Honey. Universally acclaimed (achieving a rare 100 percent approval score on the rancorous film review site Rotten Tomatoes), More Than Honey takes an objective look at the international state of the honeybee.

We're proud to screen this new film in our upstairs Grange on Sunday, Feb. 16, at 7pm.

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