This is David & Susan Sifford's journal of what we pray is our sojourn of life (Hebrews 11:8-10) along the narrow way (Matt 7:14), even the old paths (Jeremiah 6:16), submitting to the Bible as a light unto both (Psalms 119:105). It is our prayer that these documented moments in our earthly time benefit whom God might choose to edify, but ultimately that God glorifies Himself through them.

Category: bees

TreeBNB – A Swarm Welcome to the Honeybee Haven

Last week I was walking near the barn and noticed a brown patch in one of our pear trees. My first thought was that they were some dried up leaves, but that didn’t make sense because that tree had really fully leafed out this year. And then I thought…I wonder…

And sure enough…it was a swarm of bees! Wow! So, I thought I’d record the moment…

Here are some pictures:

Bee Swarm
Bee Swarm Closer
Bee Swarm Closer, Different View

And here’s a video. At one point, one of the girlies bounced off the camera and started buzzing around me…I got a little worried she was going to tell her friends, but thankfully things stayed calm! 🙂


I had expected them to move on quickly, but they were there for several days.

With what has been happening to bee populations around the world, we’re always thankful for the bees we have or see, and we pray that God might grant these bees to have found a nice and safe new home, do lots of pollinating, and continue to replicate and make more hives!

— David

A New Bee-ginning

After building a top bar bee hive a couple of years ago or so, with the drought last year, I figured then wasn’t the time to try to start a bee colony. But, after the winter rains we had, I became hopeful for this year; and so, I ordered a package of bees from R Weaver Apiary in Texas. I decided to purchase the standard Italian bees, and have the queen marked (so we could track her more easily) but with her wings not clipped, as I read that it’s possible the colony can interpret the clipped wings as damage to the queen, for which they will kill her and make a new one.

Beforehand, I had to decide on and prepare a location for them. I wanted somewhere in the wooded area farther from the open fields and the cold north winter winds, under oak trees for summer shade, with hopefully a view of the southern sky for possible winter sun; and then I wanted to fully enclose them in so as to further protect them from winter north winds and also various animals (like our cattle and also, hopefully, harmful critters).

And so, here is the location I ended up choosing, shown after clearing some of the underbrush:

Bees 2012 Bee Hive Fenced Area Location

And here it is with the post holes for the fence dug:

Bees 2012 Fenced Area Post Holes

I decided to use treated wood around, including the fence slats (which I chose for maximum wind protection); and here is the beginning of assembling the first wall. After measuring for and attaching the cross-piece 2x4s, I squared the “box” from corner to corner before adding the third cross piece in the center:

Bees 2012 Building First Wall of Fenced Area

And here it is complete:

Bees 2012 First Wall of Fenced Area Complete

And standing:

Bees 2012 First Wall of Fenced Area Raised

Here is the second wall:

Bees 2012 Second Wall of Fenced Area Raised

And the third wall:

Bees 2012 Third Wall of Fenced Area Raised

And the fourth, half wall. In order to line up the fence slats next to each other, it was necessary to use bar clamps to bend over one end after securing the other end; and here I’m using the clamp in the middle to bring the fence slats together before securing them to the cross piece. For the longer walls, I had to string several bar clamps together:

Bees 2012 Fourth Wall of Fenced Area with Clamp Over Fence Slats

And here is that fourth wall raised:

Bees 2012 Fourth Wall of Fenced Area Raised

In the original design for the top bar bee hive, if I interpreted correctly the instructions for the false back, which is used to keep the bees in a smaller area in the hive, particularly during the winter so they can stay warm more easily, I cut the bottom of the false back up 1/2″ from the bottom of the hive. After thinking about it, that didn’t quite make sense to me if using the false back in back of the hive, because the bees could get under it and go to the empty part of the hive that had no exit. And so, to create a true false back, I tacked on that extra 1/2″ piece. After considering it more though, I suppose I could move the bees to the back (which seems to be where they naturally want to go), and use the false back as a false front by removing the 1/2″ extension, which would allow them access to the empty front area, and thus the hive entrance. But for now, I’m not sure which way it will go; but the extension is removable if need be:

Bees 2012 Top Bar Bee Hive False Back Extension

One thing I didn’t consider with the false back was it fitting in the middle of the hive, given that I did not embed into the wood the plexiglass window I installed. And for that, I had to notch out the side of the false back:

Bees 2012 Top Bar Bee Hive False Back Notched to Fit Over Plexiglass Window

I decided to place the top bar bee hive on sawhorses, using them as a stand, to get them off the ground and keep the entrance “suspended” in mid air, thus hopefully making it harder for little critters to get to the entrance:

Bees 2012 Top Bar Bee Hive on Sawhorses

And I “tied” the bee hive legs to the sawhorses using plummer’s tape:

Bees 2012 Top Bar Bee Hive Plummer's Taped to Sawhorses

Here is the bee area fenced in with the door hung and closed:

Bees 2012 Fenced Area with Door Hung

And then with the door open:

Bees 2012 Fenced Area with Door Open

And here are the delivered bees!

Bees 2012 in Shipped Box

After donning the folding bee veil (something I read suggested a folding veil was easier to store away) I purchased from Weaver, which slides over a hat (I’m using a hard-hat helmet now, which works better and doesn’t deform my straw hat), putting on some gloves and taping the wrists closed, and spraying the bees in the package with sugar water (which I read distracts them and calms them very well), I took the bee package box, “clunked” it on the ground one time (I read doing it multiple times can disturb the bees more) to get them all to the bottom of the box, and went in and placed the bee package in the hive:

Bees 2012 Placing Box in Top Bar Bee Hive

After trying to figure out how it was all put together (I thought the top of the honey water can was just a lid), I removed the honey-water can using my knife to slide it up slightly but enough to grab it with my fingers:

Bees 2012 Removing Honey Water Can

And then removed the queen cage:

Bees 2012 Queen Cage

I had heard to hang the queen cage between two top bars, and so I taped the little cage “handle” to one of the top bars:

Bees 2012 Placing the Queen Cage
Bees 2012 Top Bar Bee Hive with Queen Cage Hung

And here are the bees in their package box in the hive, moving in to their new digs:

Bees 2012 Box Placed in Top Bar Bee Hive

And then I replaced the missing bars and carefully closed the hive by trying to sweep the bees out of the way with my hand.

The next day, I went back and opened the hive to see how the queen was progressing in being released from the cage. There is apparently a candy plug that the bees eat away eventually to release the queen, but in my ignorance, figured it would only take a day, having since learned it can apparently take longer. At any rate, I had read that some people poke holes through the candy plug to help along the process, and had decided to do that if the queen was still in her cage, which she was. I brought an awl with me, began trying to push it through, and it popped the whole candy plug into the cage, and here came queenie waltzing out onto the top of the top bars. Uh oh…panic! She flew into the air, but then I found her again on top of the top bars, with other bees surrounding her; and I quickly took the small sweeping brush I had brought, and tried to sweep her and cluster of “attendants” into the bee hive through the space of one of the top bars I had removed. At the time, I thought I had swept them in; and so, I closed everything up and hoped and prayed that I had and for the best of the situation.

After doing a little more study, that bees could just abscond (leave) the hive for whatever reason, even after several days; and after watching a video on tips for installing new bees, I dropped in a few drops of food-grade lemongrass essential oils into the hive, as apparently bees perceive the smell of lemon as home. I also took the remaining honey water and put it in a little bowl on the ground with lots of twigs in it, especially ones leaning against the brim going into the water, so the bees would have something to stand on, as they can drown in open water.

Well, over the next several days, it appeared I did get the queen in there, as there was a continuous large cluster of bees in the back of the hive; and, after about two weeks, here are the bees congregating in the front:

Bees 2012 Comb Being Built

And after a about three weeks, here is the progress!

Bees 2012 Comb Being Built
Bees 2012 Comb Being Built

We are grateful to the Lord for the example of these busy workers, and we pray we manage well these little well-ordered creatures, so we have more pollinators around, and for honey eventually for food preservation (and a little sweetener!), for His glory and the benefit of His Church.

— David

Homemade Top Bar Bee Hive

In our desire to live separated from the world, we need methods of food preservation; and one of the methods is via sugar. One of most practical ways we could obtain sugar is from honey, which of course comes from bees. Well, in our hopes to be able to produce honey, for its preservation use and for its health benefits, we needed a bee hive. We had heard top-bar hives were better than regular stacked hives, in ease of use for us and the bees; and so rather than purchase one, I found a design on the Internet, and decided to try to build one. The following is the process based on the design provided by Backyard Bee Hives, at http://www.backyardhive.com/images/backyardhiveplans_a.pdf.

Here are the sides and bottom. As per the instructions, the angles were 13 degrees:

Homemade Top Bar Bee Hive Side and Bottom Pieces

And here are the sides and bottom put together. I used 1 1/2″ wood screws and wood glue. Also, notice the window hole — I cut this out before joining everything together:

Homemade Top Bar Bee Hive Side and Bottom Together

For the window, I cut a piece of plexiglass to fit over the hole (I used similar plexiglas to what I used on our solar food dehydrator). In working with the plexiglas, I pre-drilled a small hole, and then bored it out just slightly using a larger drill bit, the same size as the head of the wood screw, to allow the declining angle of the head of the wood screw to fit almost exactly in, making the top of the head of the screw flush with the plexiglas:

Homemade Top Bar Bee Hive Top View with Plexiglas Window in Place

And here’s a close up:

Homemade Top Bar Bee Hive Close Up of Plexiglas Window

This is a view of the front side, where you can see the entrance area at the bottom:

Homemade Top Bar Bee Hive Front Side

After getting the main box together, it was time to build the top bars. To make these, I ripped (using a table saw) 1x4s to the width of the top bars, and then cut those “strips” of 1×4 to the width of the hive box. These would be the top of the top bars. For the bottom of the top bars, I ripped 2x wood at probably somewhere around 26.5 degrees I believe for a 1 1/2″-wide top bar (you would need to figure the angle out based on the width of a top bar) down one direction and then down the opposite way, which basically created long strips of the pointed top bar bottoms (with the point running down the middle of the top bar); and then I chopped the end of those at 13 degrees (beveling each in opposite directions) to be able to fit inside the top of the hive box, accounting for the width of the sides of the hive:

Homemade Top Bar Bee Hive Top Bar Pieces

And here they are put together. I glued them and used wood screws:

Homemade Top Bar Bee Hive Top Bar Bottom View
Homemade Top Bar Bee Hive Top Bar Top View

Here is the false back that’s part of the design. Moving the false back up to the last bar with comb on it during the Winter creates a smaller space in the hive to help the bees stay warmer:

Homemade Top Bar Bee Hive False Back

And here is the false back and some of the top bars in place. I had to file down some of the bottom parts of the top bars to get them to fit into the sides of the hive box:

Homemade Top Bar Bee Hive with False Back and Some Top Bars in Place

And then here is the hive with all of them in place, including the front and back handles that book-end the top bars. For those, I installed one handle first, placed all of the top bars in place not too tightly, and then installed the other handle up against the top bar next to it:

Homemade Top Bar Bee Hive with All Top Bars in Place

I changed the lid design a little, making it gabled instead of just flat. This was more complicated, but allows for the use of 1x wood for the top instead of plywood, and hopefully will allow the rain to run off easier:

Homemade Top Bar Bee Hive with Lid On

In joining the boards at the roof peak, I drilled pilot holes from one board to the other, and drilled out the hole a little more with a larger bit to allow the head of the screw to sink farther in; and for this part, I used 3/4″ wood screws:

Homemade Top Bar Bee Hive Lid Joined with Screw at the Peak

I also angled downward the tops of the edge pieces of the hive top to allow for better water run-off:

Homemade Top Bar Bee Hive Lid with Angled Edges

And here’s a picture of the end of the lid:

Homemade Top Bar Bee Hive Lid Side View

Once built, to weatherize it, I painted all of the external parts with water sealer. After that was dry, I caulked the lid on the outside and inside to help keep water from getting into the inside of the hive:

Homemade Top Bar Bee Hive Painting with Water Sealer
Homemade Top Bar Bee Hive Underside Painting with Water Sealer

Once painted, I attached the window cover with hinges:

Homemade Top Bar Bee Hive Side Window Hinges

Here it is open:

Homemade Top Bar Bee Hive Side Window Open

I also added wood latches I cut to keep the door closed. I originally tried aluminum butterfly latches, but those were pretty flimsy and bent easily:

Homemade Top Bar Bee Hive Side Window Latched Closed

We are grateful to the Lord for allowing the provision of this hive; and we pray we are able to husband bees well, to His glory, for preserving food, and having more bees to keep our gardens and trees pollinated.

— David