Meredith is a gung-ho gardener and raising honeybees is
a natural extension of that passion.
enjoy providing habitat for the song birds and
butterflies, water gardens for the gold fish and dragon
flies, so why not add a home for the pollinators,"
lives in Smithfield, Va., but grew up in nearby Yorktown
where she always had a corner of the family garden for
her own plants.
mail order seed catalogs were my ‘comic books’ when
I was growing up," she says.
remember as a young girl visiting the local garden
centers with my mother on the weekends. And my father
has built me a greenhouse at each of the houses I have
lived in. My mother has always enjoyed gardening and
birdscaping, and that love of nature has been passed on
attending Virginia Tech for a bachelor’s degree in
horticulture, Ruth read a book on beekeeping, and was
immediately taken with the idea. Having no place for a
hive, she shelved the idea. Even so, she gardened in a
bee-friendly way, allowing good bugs instead of
chemicals to control bad bugs.
2008, she began hearing about the Colony Collapse
Disorder, or CCD, that kills honeybees. Knowing that
honeybees are crucial to crop pollination for our food
sources, she wanted to do something to help foster their
numbers and good health.
yard beekeepers have increased in number since 2010, as
the plight of the honeybee has made headline news,"
says Ruth, now a business systems manager at McDonald
Garden Center in Hampton, Va.
as I once again looked into all the necessary equipment,
I decided that I still couldn’t afford the time or
expense. And due to CCD, beekeeping books were
recommending prophylactic treatment of the bees with
miticides and antibiotics to keep a healthy population.
I just wasn’t interested in that type of
however, was interested in a different type of
beekeeping — top-bar beehive — she first read about
in April. A top-bar hive is different from the
traditional white square boxes, called Langstroth hives,
which we associate with honey production, she says. The
top-bar hive is trough-shaped with sloping sides that
have thin bars laid across the top to form the lid. The
bees are able to draw out their own comb on these bars
in a natural shape and cell size, like they would in a
hollowed out log.
the top-bar beehive was the way to go, she found a
website that sold a complete top-bar bee hive for less
than $170 — www.honeybeehabitat.com.
It arrived unassembled, so she had the opportunity to
put in an observation window along the length of the
hive before she stapled it all together.
observation window is a must for hobby beekeepers,"
love to sit there watching them work, and my friends
like to be able to take a quick look inside the window
to the bee world."
she needed to locate some honeybees. Since suppliers
were sold out, she reached out to local beekeeping
groups, and a member helped her adopt some of his
like gardeners, are a very friendly group of people who
love to share what they know," she says.
they have lots of different opinions on what is the best
the process of establishing the hive, Ruth struggled
with some failure due to the lack of a queen bee in the
first batch of honeybees. Once that was fixed, the
process went smoother.
normal routine for a beekeeper when the colony is just
getting started, is to open their hive about once every
two weeks to determine if the queen is continually
laying more eggs, and to check for small hive beetles,
which is the newest threat to honeybees," she says.
screened bottom to the hive with a removable board
underneath covered in oil, helps control the larvae of
these beetles. They will fall thru the screen and get
stuck in the oil and suffocate. The same thing will
happen to the varroa mites that attach themselves to the
honeybee. Dusting the bees with powdered sugar also
helps control the mite population as the other bees will
knock the mites off the infested bee as they clean up
tend to look inside my hive more frequently than every
other week, as I am fascinated with the process of the
bees building the comb and filling it with brood, pollen
and nectar. Pulling out the individual bars lets you
watch that up close and personal. I also take a lot of
digital pictures to document how the hive is progressing
and also to update my bee’s Facebook page — www.facebook.com/topbarbeehive.
said she hopes her Facebook page educates the curious
about the beauty and importance of honeybees — and
that it dispels some myths about the bees.
many people have a misunderstanding that honeybees are
aggressive and sting for no reason," she says.
is just not the case. Honey bees can be defensive when
guarding their babies or honey stores, but a single
sting means death for that bee; so they only sting as a
addition to watching the bees while they work, Ruth
likes the top-bar’s easy honey harvest — whenever
the bees have an extra bar of capped honey to spare, you
just reach in and take out a single bar. With the
standard beehive, called a Langstroth box, a honey
harvest is usually reserved until the entire box of 10
frames are filled, which means the box can weigh 75
pounds or more.
harvest honey off the top-bar comb, you cut the comb off
the bar, and either eat it straight from the comb or
crush it over a strainer," she says.
top-bar weighs five to seven pounds and yields about 1
pint of raw nutritious, pesticide-free honey."
now, Ruth’s major concern is getting the bees through
their first winter. They rely on honey stored in the
hive to get them through the winter, until February or
March when plants like dandelions begin to bloom and
provide food. When winter temperatures get above 50
degrees, bees also come out in search of pollen, so she
plants plenty of cold weather-flowering plants like
pansies, camellias, mahonia and hellebores to supply
bees also need a large enough population to cluster
together in the winter to keep the queen and brood
warm," she says.
I got a late start, I plan to be feeding the bees in
their hive as well."
STORY CAN END HERE)
books Ruth Meredith read:
Backyard Beekeeper" by Kim Flottum
Hive Beekeeping: Wisdom & Pleasure Combined" by
Beekeeping: Organic Practices for Honeybee Health"
by Les Crowder & Heather Harrell
Practical Beekeeper: Beekeeping Naturally" by
for Dummies" by Howland Blackiston
bee hobbyist: The care and keeping of bees" by
Resources at http://www.beesource.com
Basics at http://www.bushfarms.com/beesbasics.htm
Top-Bar Hives at http://www.tbhsbywam.com
Beekeeper at http://www.biobees.com/
beekeeping Facebook page at www.facebook.com/topbarbeehive.
attract honey bees to your yard, Ruth recommends
planting any of the "old-fashioned" flat,
open-faced flowers. Honeybees have short tongues and
cannot reach very deep into flowers, says Ruth, who has
a degree in horticulture from Virginia Tech in
Blacksburg, Va. Here are some honey bee-friendly flowers
clover/dandelions in the lawn
have many more flowers to choose from during this time,
so you don’t have to plant specifically for the
honeybees — avoiding pesticides is more important —
but they do like: