Posts Tagged ‘bee beekeeping green honeybee honey bee natural sustainable TBH top bar hive’

Ground bees? They are not always wasps, hornets, yellowjackets…

April 6, 2012

A lovely and informative post about “ground bees” from Soulsby Farm’s blog by Denise Ellsworth – honey bee and native pollinator education from The Ohio State University Department of Entomology.

With great pictures too!  Check it out…




The internet is a very big place! Or… sorting through it all – Part I

December 20, 2010

Since I got interested in beekeeping, waaaaay back in 2007, and went to “bee school”, as you do, the whole world has sort of exploded with an AMAZING amount of beekeeping information.

The internet being what it is, and especially with YouTube being so accessible and easy to publish on (maybe too easy!) – you can now search the internet for just about anything and get a ton of bee-related information!  Some of it is great, and some of it… well not so much.  You might even find you’ve got way more information than you can digest in an entire lifetime!  Eventually you come to realize that there are some folks with some really good things to say, and that some of those same folks are also really good at saying it.  The websites and blogs and YouTube videos that those folks create and make available to everyone are wonderful good resources, and we’ve come to appreciate some of them a LOT, and we’d like to share them with you.

This list is in order more or less chronologically – in other words, in (almost) the order I discovered these sources, so it creates a sketch of how Gold Star Honeybees came to be what it is as well.

I began by going to “bee school”, as you do, by attending the classes that the Knox-Lincoln County Beekeepers Association held at the Knox-Lincoln County Cooperative Extension office, in 2007.  I am grateful to Al Maloney who was the webmaster for the KLCB at that time and hooked me up with the start date of that class, to Jean Vose and her husband Dick, who organized that bee school for many many years and still like to brag that KLCB was my “alma mater”, and to Tony Jadczak, our State Apiarist here in Maine, who continues to march forward and does an awful lot with not very many resources (Maine is very big place too!).

But I found Langstroth hives and conventional methods a bit disconcerting.  Something didn’t strike me as quite right about all this “help” that the bees seemed be getting.  Hadn’t somebody told me that bees had been around for literally MILLIONS of years?   And we’ve only been here for a couple hundred thousand.  There seemed to be a disconnect there.  Obviously bees must have been pretty capable of survival before we showed up to save them.

So I kept sort of idly digging around, and pretty soon I hit paydirt.

First –  After Googling for about 4 months in early 2007 and somehow coming up empty, all of a sudden, there on my screen – was this English guy’s website.  With a free document available for download called “How to Build Your Own Top Bar Hive”.   I imagine that everybody in the world knows about Phil Chandler by now – he keeps a Flag Counter on his website showing the flags of all the countries of all the people who have visited his site.  And there are so many flags on that counter page now – flags of countries whose names I can’t even pronounce, much less could I say where they are – he is truly an international source for beekeepers.  Phil also runs the Natural Beekeeping Forum – which you can join, and share information with beekeepers the world over.  One of the things in my  short beekeeping career that I am most proud of was that I got to meet Phil on a trip I made through the UK in 2008/2009, and I thank him for that, and as well for the Podcast interview he did with me back in August 2010, which can be found here. Phil probably has more to do with the existence of Gold Star Honeybees than I could ever accurately convey to him.  Thank you Phil!

Second there was Michael Bush.  He’s at Now I don’t know about you, but sometimes, if I really want to keep track of something I found on the internet, the only effective method is to print it out.  I don’t always like to do that, since it’s not the greenest method of keeping track of things, but when it came to Michael’s website, I chose to do it anyway.  By the time I was done, it represented quite an investment in paper and printer ink – not to mention a special trip to the store for a three-inch, three-ring binder to keep it in.  Huge.  History, math, opinion, tips and tricks, pictures, explanations… Michael is a very pragmatic sort of beekeeper and is frequently bemused by how difficult people sometimes seem to want to make beekeeping.  A tag line on his website says:  Everything works if you let it.  I’ve also seen a presentation he’s done titled, quite frankly, “Lazy Beekeeping”.  It really hits the nail on the head – it doesn’t make any sense to make things more complicated than they are – yet us humans, (with our big brains, and our opposable thumbs) sometimes seem to do just that and for no good reason.  Michael clears up a lot of that silliness and has clear and practical answers to a lot of the questions that come up in the world of natural beekeeping – never mind the type of equipment you are using.  I am pleased to say that I know Michael as well and he has devoted a significant chunk of time to clarifying some of my juvenile questions over the past few years.  I’m also proud that Michael has a Gold Star top bar hive running in Nebraska and reports that it is doing well, and that the Gold Star top bar design works really well!

Another name that came up early on for me was Marty Hardison.  Marty doesn’t keep up much of a website presence, but he’s currently out in Denver, CO keeping bees in places like Delaney Farms – part of DUG  – the Denver Urban Gardens system.  In 2010, Denver Urban Gardens celebrated the groundbreaking of their 100th community garden – and in a city that recently legalized beekeeping.  Go Denver!  Marty has a Gold Star hive out at Delaney Farm and they have been doing great.

Some other significant names that I fell across early on include:

Dee Lusby.  Dee runs the Organic Beekeeping Yahoo Group.  At last count, there were almost 4000 people on that list!  With over 88,000 posts, you can bet the answer to your question has probably been posted there.  Michael Bush is on that list a lot as well, so you get some great input from some very experienced beekeepers!

Dennis Murrell writes a Word Press blog called Bee Natural.  And that’s a guy up against some very harsh weather – located in Wyoming, Dennis was blogging about 5 to 15 degrees F BELOW ZERO on Thanksgiving.  Lots to say and loads of experience.

Jim Satterfield used to keep a great site, with a long list of good info here:  When I spoke with him to ask to be made a part of it, he said that he didn’t maintain it anymore, and in fact at this writing, it appears to be gone altogether.  The Northwest Arkansas Beekeepers website has a top bar link that closely resembles it but if anybody’s got a mirror copy, it would great to know about it.  NWA’s site is here:

Along the way I devoured a copy of Gunther Hauk’s book “Toward Saving the Honeybee”.  Gunther is a biodynamic beekeeper, who’s moved on from the Pfeiffer Center in New York to Spikenard Farm in Illinois, and from thence to a new location in Virginia.

Then there’s Sam Comfort.  A self-proclaimed “wing nut” with an anarcharist’s attitude.  We first met at a North East Treatment Free Beekeeping Conference in Leominster, Mass.  And if you’ve ever heard him play the ukelele, then you understand why he’s so well-loved.  There’s a video of that very phenomenon on our YouTube channel.

Now, with all this said, it turns out I still have more to say.  So let’s take a break – we’ll call this Part I and you stay tuned for Part II – coming soon!

Recommended Bee mags…

December 18, 2010

So just last night my friend Bethany sent me a message on Facebook – asking for recommendations about good bee magazines to subscribe to.  Now you’ve got to understand this about that — that frankly, the magazine format has always sort of annoyed me – because I mostly prefer to read “stories”.

And when I read a story in a book, the story starts at the beginning and marches right on through to the end, page after page, without skipping around to different places; – it goes straight from start to finish.  But magazines, as you know, are set up to distract you from the story with other interesting stories, and fascinating advertisements.  So that I sometimes feel a bit fragmented by the time I get to the back cover!

But it was a good question, and as it turns out, I actually did have an answer despite my preference for my stories-all-in-a-row, and here is what I told her:

  • There are two good US choices – the ABJ – American Bee Journal, and Bee Culture Magazine.
  • About the ABJ –The American Bee Journal was established in 1861 by Samuel Wagner and has been published continuously since that time, except for a brief period during the Civil War. The Journal has the honor of being the oldest English language beekeeping publication in the world. Today, Dadant and Sons has the privilege of publishing the American Bee Journal for subscribers throughout the world. Readership is concentrated among hobby and commercial beekeepers, bee supply dealers, queen breeders, package-bee shippers, honey packers, and entomologists.


  • Bee Culture is another great magazine. Edited by Kim Flottum, a real good guy in the bee world, especially well known amongst the 26 states that are part of EAS – the Eastern Apiculture Society.  The magazine is published by A.I. Root, whom I have come to think of as the candle people. They have a digital subscription available for only $15.00 and Kim sends out the Catch the Buzz email with current news tidbits and interesting stuff.  You can sign up for Catch the Buzz here:
  • Bee Culture’s website is located here:  The link to their digital edition information is halfway down the page on the left side.
  • A completely great thing that Bee Culture does is they maintain an on-line “Who’s Who in North American Beekeeping”.  So if you want to find a beekeeping association in another US state, or Canadian province, it’s easy!  The link to the Who’s Who is:
    Alternatively you can click on the Contact Beekeepers link on their home page.


  • Then, coming out of the UK is a good resource called Bee Craft UK. Easy to get digitally, a 12-month subscription costing 29 pounds British Sterling, which is right around $45 US.  Lots of good information and helps to keep an American beekeeper aware that there’s more than one way of looking at beekeeping!

Now if you’re anything like me, that’s enough “bee reading” to bury you for a month! So check them out while you sit by your holiday fire and enjoy!  And Bethany – thanks for asking!

Package? Swarm? How do I get bees into my top bar hive?

December 3, 2010

As you may already know – until we can make “top bar nucs” available for top bar beekeepers – you need “loose” bees for starting a colony in a Gold Star Top Bar Hive.  Loose bees means bees WITHOUT any of the conventional Langstroth hive equipment – no frames, and especially no foundation – because we are ALL ABOUT THE WAX here!  A conventional “nuc” or nucleus colony won’t work for starting bees in a top bar hive because they are already installed on and working conventional equipment – with frames and foundation.

More on this later – but first, let’s talk about what does work in a top bar hive.

There are two good ways to start bees in top bar hives:

Capturing a swarm

Capturing a swarm

1)  With a swarm.  The beautiful thing about a swarm is that swarming is the natural reproduction process of honeybees.  That means that the bees in a swarm are a finely tuned, well organized “colony”.  The bees are the right ages for the tasks they will be performing in their new home when it is found, and they are all related to each other, and they are all related to their queen.  This is about as close to natural as you could ask for – if you are willing to ignore the rude experience they had when they were knocked off the branch of a tree and carried off by a beekeeper, to be introduced into a man-made beehive.

The difficulty with starting your hive with a swarm is that you cannot predict its arrival time – or even if a swarm will come your way at all.

Happy to have bees!

Happy to have bees!

2)  With a package.  A package of bees has not had the best time of it just before they come to live in your beehive.  They are bees of random ages, tumbled together with bees from many other hives in an apiary – they are unrelated, disorganized, and expected to get on with an artificially raised queen that they have never met before.  This is a bit further from natural than one could ask for.  It does however, have the advantage of being something you can “order”, with an expectation as to an approximate arrival date.

It’s an artificial process and not so good for bees, but they seem to be able to adapt and overcome, and organize themselves into a colony and go forward.

So – with those options before you – you need to make some choices.  Swarm or Package?  Think about that and we’ll go on and talk some more about nucs.

We said there would be more later on conventional nucs  and here it is.  Just what is a nuc?  A nuc is the nickname given to a “nucleus colony”.  It’s like this – you buy a  tiny little starter hive of bees – you take it home, and you remove five frames from your Langstroth hive, and you replace them with five frames and the accompanying bees, from the nuc.  Voila – instant beehive.  If you are using Langstroth equipment, this works beautifully!

But sometimes novice beekeepers don’t realize that a conventional “nuc” isn’t what they need in order to start a top bar hive.  And they may not be quite sure what questions to even ask, so the company they are purchasing from doesn’t even know how to keep them from making this error and buying bees that won’t fit in their top bar hive.

Primarily, it’s a question of non-compatible, non-interchangeable equipment.  Top Bar Hives do not equal Langstroth hives.  Yes, there are tales of brave beekeepers who cut apart a conventional nuc in order to make it fit into a top bar hive – we call that a “hack and slash” job.  But we encourage you not to do that – it’s hard on you and it’s very hard on the bees.

And since you’re here looking at a top bar hive manufacturer’s website – you know that beekeeping is best when it’s good for the bees.  And easy for the beekeeper.  So obviously chopping up a nuc is not the best choice for populating your top bar hive.

Make sense?  We thought it would.

Thanks for listening!

Weekend Intensive – Top Bar Beekeeping Class Dec 11/12

November 28, 2010

Hello all — thought we’d let you know about the next Weekend Intensive Top Bar Beekeeping Class we have on the calendar.  It’s scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, December 11 and 12 and will be held at Gold Star Honeybees’ Global Headquarters, in Bath, Maine.

Regular tuition is $175 – but earlybirds save $25 when they register before December 4th.  That’s only $150 for two full days of bee buzz!

Tuition includes breakfast and lunch both days – and be aware that when we say we feed you – we look for the very best organic food we can come up with – because we’ve got to make the connection sooner or later — ORGANIC IS A BEE’S BEST FRIEND!

So sign up soon – we’ve only got about 7 spaces left as of this writing.

Here is the link to our website with the details for this class.

And here the link to a description of the Weekend Intensive.

And if you’re interested in hosting this class in an area near you (and that could mean anywhere on earth) – email us at  We will be happy to send you our Hosting Package and the Planning worksheet with details on how you could host one and may even find that it raises some amount of funds for you as host.

Get ready for spring 2011!