All kinds of hives make an apiary

Spending the afternoon inside today: a good time for a new post. Beeswax is melting on the stove, my darling wife is crafting, and I am sitting in my favorite chair typing on a keyboard. Given that my blog missed much of the beekeeping year, this post summarizes where I ended up in terms of hives.

181013c Apiary

My hives on October 13, 2018. Lower right is Titan; on the left Saturn, Mimas, and Atlas; and in the back is Pandora, Venus, and Calypso. ©Erik Brown

There are seven hives in my yard right now: four top bar and three Langstroth. Not the year I expected, in more ways than just beekeeping, but it is the year I’ve had. So here is a short introduction to my colonies. Most are descendants of my hive Saturn, so their names are taken from the moons of Saturn.


This is one of the top bar hives (TBH) that I built with my father. It went into production last year and survived the winter. In the spring I was convinced this hive didn’t have a queen, so I moved it to the current spot and attempted to start two small top bar hives with the returning foragers and shared comb and brood. Only one of these became a hive and is now Mimas.

Titan, of course, was just fine and fortunately the queen had already mated. She has laid well this summer and the hive is buzzing along and ready for winter. It is low to the ground and faces a bit north, which may not be the best location. I may rotate the entrance before winter sets in.

181013b Titan

My hive Titan on October, 13, 2018 ©Erik Brown


This is the other TBH built with my father, started from a swarm in 2016. This was one of my most prolific hives in terms of bee population, and my only honey this year came from some cross-comb that I removed from this hive.

The summer included some excessively hot days where the heat index was over 100 F (over 40 C). You can see this hive in my bearding post. Despite the workers best efforts, a few combs fell in the hive and they lost the chance to store a better crop of honey.

I have since learned that if you shade the top of the hive it creates a big drop in temperature. After elevating the roof, the bees stopped bearding even when the temperature was above 95 F (35 C). I will definitely do this again next year when the heat arrives.

180826 Saturn Roof

The roof of Saturn (on the left) is elevated to allow air flow and shade the bars. This also shows Mimas (middle) and Atlas (right) on August 26, 2018. ©Erik Brown


Next to Saturn is my small top bar hive, which I named after the moon Mimas. This moon is the smallest astronomical body known to be rounded because of self-gravitation, so it seemed a good name for a small hive. My top bar combs are larger than a Langstroth deep frame, so I am hopeful the hive will survive the winter even with the small size.

I attempted to start this hive from a queen cell obtained from nearby queen breeder Chris Hewitt. In the end I wasn’t certain whether the queen came from this cell or an emergency queen cell created from brood inherited from Saturn. Either way it is a gentle hive and I hope it survives.

180819 Mimas Marked

I marked a queen for the first time this year (yay!). On the left is Mimas’ queen in the marking tube, and on the right is her on the comb. Not the best mark, I am sure. ©Erik Brown


This Langstroth hive received a queen cell from my hive Venus. Of course, Venus doesn’t have any moons, so I settled on a small moon of Saturn as its name. Atlas is a moon just off Saturn’s A ring, and is not round like Mimas.

Atlas the hive is three mediums, and can get a little cranky when disturbed. She is in the spot where Venus was last year, as I moved Venus so the returning forager population would enter this hive to get it going. It worked pretty well and Atlas was born.

180429 TBH Comb

A frame from Venus (a TBH) wedged into a medium Langstroth comb so I could place it in Atlas. You can see the queen cells on the left side of the comb. ©Erik Brown


Named after a moon of Saturn rather than the fictional moon in a popular film, this hive consists of a deep and two medium Langstroth boxes. Pandora the moon was discovered in 1980, the same year as Atlas, and is located near the F ring of Saturn (in case you were wondering).

As an experiment this spring, I placed a top bar frame with young brood from Saturn hanging in the center of a medium box, so that the frame extended into a deep box below. I placed comb around this frame in both boxes, added bees, and they produced a queen a few weeks later. This is an advantage of having top bars the same length as a Langstroth frame, and I moved the comb back into Saturn once the brood had emerged. This new hive became Pandora.


My first hive, I bought this in the fall of 2014 before I had any hives. A package of bees with an Italian queen populated the hive in 2015 and she has been in use ever since. In her second year, after treating with MAQS, the queen wasn’t present so I purchased a Russian queen locally and the bees currently descend from that queen.

The hive was chock full of bees with comb built end to end in the spring, so I moved the hive to its current position to discourage swarming. I think she probably swarmed anyways. The combs in this hive are smaller than my other top bar hives, with a total area around that of a Langstroth medium. The bees store honey in the top half of most combs so they can access it during cold weather, and so far they have done fine. We will see how this winter goes.

181013d Hives

My hives Pandora (left), Venus (middle), and Calypso (right) on October 13, 2018. ©Erik Brown


My final hive is a Langstroth consisting of a deep and a medium. I had a terrible time with nucs this year. On June 9 this nuc didn’t seem to have a queen, so I moved the queen from Pandora into this hive. It did well and on August 26 I marked the queen (yay!) and moved the bees into a full hive for the fall. I have fed the hive throughout the summer and into fall, and she appears to have plenty of stores for the winter.

Calypso appears in Greek mythology, as you might guess. Calypso the moon is a small body in the same orbit around Saturn as the mid-size moon Tethys. Calypso is located in Tethys’ trailing Lagrangian point, if you care about such things. Calypso was also the name of a ship used by the famous explorer and researcher Jacques Cousteau. Stay with me here, as the ship Calypso was celebrated in song by singer John Denver. The lyrics include the line “Aye, Calypso, I sing to your spirit” in the chorus.

While looking at moon names, I saw the name Calypso and all I could think of was the song and that line. Calypso went through a lot to come into existence, so I sing to her spirit.

180826 Calypso

Moving Calypso frames from a nuc (on the right) to a full box. ©Erik Brown

It takes all kinds of people to make a world

This rather apt proverb appeared to me in my book The Facts on File Dictionary of Proverbs. I was looking at home and house sayings, and had settled on “it takes a heap of living to make a house a home.” When I looked up that entry, this “all kinds of people” saying was after it, and I liked the new proverb even more.

The idea behind this proverb first appeared in a 1620 translation of Don Quixote. The saying recognizes the fact that people are different, and we should celebrate and recognize their individuality. Just like beehives.

May you prosper and find honey.

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