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Swarm Catching & Rural Top Bar Beehives

Julie's Top Bar Beehive Yard

Originally posted at Top-Bar-Beehives.com:

Traveling back to Boulder County today, I was able to spend time with Jule Finley and Tom Nangle.  In the morning, I went with Julie to her top bar honeybee yard, a beautiful space nestled within the gardens of her friend Cece.  With dozens of chickens foraging nearby, we sat amongst her five top bar beehives and discussed her path to becoming a beekeeper, past and present challenges and her hopes for the future.

As the worker bees brought in loads of pollen and nectar to the hives, Julie shared that she enjoys top bar beekeeping because it requires less equipment and the natural comb let’s you read into the work being done by the bees; showing you what kind of wax is being drawn, where in the hive is it being created, the strength of the honey flow and the queen’s health.  Because of this intimate relationship, Julie can better care for the bees, helping them through the harsh winters so that they become more adapted to the Colorado climate.  Two of the hives we looked at after our discussion were recently split from a three year old colonyChecking Top Bar Beehive Combs, illustrating the survival capabilities of some of her bees.  While she has also lost plenty of hives over the years, she remains committed to the bees, working with them to become more sustainable.  With this goal in mind, she consciously does not use chemicals on her hives and is focused on building up colonies rather than the amount of honey produced.

With these lessons in mind, I headed over to Tom Nangle’s home in Longmont, CO.  Upon arrival, I called Miles McGaughey, another beekeeper in the area to confirm our meeting for tomorrow.  Mentioning that I was about to talk with Tom, he encHoneybee Swarmouraged us to go over to his house to catch a swarm since he wasn’t home to do so.  After meeting Tom, we went to Miles’ house and found a large, elongated swarm that had recently left one of his packages that was in the yard.  As we climbed up onto the roof of the storage shed, we quickly realized that we wouldn’t be able to easily reach the swarm and cut off the branch it was attached to.  Since we couldn’t use a latter on the slanted roof, Tom decided that we would have to knock the swarm off of the branch, into the cardboard box he had brought; a way of catching a swarm that he had never done before.  With the video camera rolling, I hit the branch above the bees with an extended metal tent pole, causing most of the mass of bees to fall into the cardboard box that Tom was holding below.

As the bees quickly fell, most of them landed directly in the box while the others flew frantically around us in the air.  Tom then placed the box down onto the shingles and we got off of the roof to let the bees calm down and regroup in the box.   Shortly afterwards, we checked on the bees and they had started to cluster on and around the box.  Tom then taped up the large gaps and we headed back to his house with the swarm of bees in the back of his pick-up.

Tom Nangle HoneybeesAt Tom’s house, the bees were placed into a small nuc box and given a few combs to begin to work on.  If all goes well, the bees will accept their new home and stay around for awhile.  With our swarm tasks complete, we sat on his lawn and he told me about his experiences, which began around 2000.  As a long-time landscaper, he had always been fascinated by the calmness of honeybees, which were usually around the flowers and trees he was working with.  Upon attending a Boulder County Beekeeper’s workshop, Tom decided to start a few backyard hives and has since enjoyed their presence in his gardens.  Acknowledging industrial agriculture’s impacts on honeybees (due to the use of pesticides, stressful demands for migratory hives, exposure to more diseases, et cetera), Tom hopes that we, as a society, can find more sustainable ways to grow our food and he feels that backyard beekeepers will play an important role in transitioning.  With recent closures of some large scale beekeeping operations (i.e. Jim Doan from New York) and countless others on the verge of closing, it seems that backyard hobbyists may become the ones who are able to keep bee colonies alive and thriving.  Like Julie, Tom is less concerned with honey production but is currently working on keeping the honeybees healthy and happy, a shift that is necessary for long-term honeybee survival.