God Save the Queen Bee Hive


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A collaboration with Walker and Will Rollins of 100xbtr.

Sorry, either Adobe flash is not installed or you do not have it enabled

 

This is a quick animation of how this bee hive stacks and unstacks.

A carving of a bee on honey comb is milled into one panel of each four sided cube that make this Japanese style bee hive called a “Multi Tiered Box”

Five of these cubes stack up to make the body of the hive.

There is also a lid and on top of the lid is the roof.

The lid is tied on with a hemp rope that goes through a heavy cement base. The lid and the cement base sandwich the five tiers of the hive, the grand entrance way and the slanted landing pad together anchoring the whole hive solidly to the earth. The roof fits on top like a cap shielding the hive from sun and rain.

How did I get “roped” into making this Bee Hive?  Its a long story.

My friends Walker and Will Rollins live on the side of a hill in Silver Lake, CA.  Instead of having a manicured green lawn their home is built under the canopy of the natural forest. No over-sized mansion dominates all of their property. They have multiple dwellings all connected by quaint paths that lead to the centralized out door kitchen where food is prepared and served on a giant oval table all year long thanks to Los Angeles’s beautiful weather. Spending so much of their time outdoors the Rollins’s are acutely tuned to nature.  They grow much of their own fruits and vegetables with a good sized garden built on a tier carved out of the mountain. A little further up the hill is micro orchard with oranges grapefruit and lemons.  In the works Will is recycling a spa into a fish farm to grow food for his family.

Walker and Will also have bees!  Legend has it that in the mystical past Walker expressed an interest in apiculture (bee keeping).  For her birthday Will made a bee hive. Together they placed the hive on the roof covering their kitchen. Planning to purchase some bees they left the hive vacant while the duties of working and raising two children took precedence over the hive.  During breakfast one morning the Rollins’s heard the intense humm of a swarm of bees whose queen chose the hive Will built as the perfect home.  Since then Walker and Will have three hives that produce 40 pounds of honey a year.

Visiting with the Rollins sparked my interest in bee keeping too.  One day I got a call from Will and Walker.  Do you want to go to a show at the Museum of Jurassic Technology?  “Oh I heard of that place,” I said.

Walker, Will, and a small group of people slowly gather into the large upstairs room of then museum.  The ceiling slopes down towards the front of the building creating a stage with warm acoustics.  Once we are all settled two women are introduced who begin singing acapella.  The old room and the harmonizing live voices make me feel like we are in someones parlor in a time before recorded music.  During quiet parts the hum of traffic on Venice Ave. fills the silence.  After the show we are welcomed to wander the halls of the museum below.  The museum is a labyrinth of beautifully made cases and installations each housing a different display.  One of these is titled The Telling of the Bees.  The installation reveals the different ritual and folk lore associated with bee keeping.  Bee folklore?  What’s better than that?  My interest was ignited.

Then Will introduced me to the Backwards Bee Keepers.  They are a group of organic, treatment-free beekeepers in Los Angeles, with branches now forming in other cities. They are “Backwards” because they rely on observation and natural practices to keep their bees thriving rather than pesticides, chemicals, or treatments of any kind. They’re continually growing as more and more people discover the enjoyment and worth of encouraging a native feral bee population. Their “goal is to do right by the bees so that the bees can return the favor.”

I head out to my first meeting alone on a rainy day in LA.  The location is moved from under a bridge into a warehouse next door due to the weather.  The group gathers around on folding chairs.  The floor is concrete and there are cut up cement slabs used as tables that display old furniture for sale.

The meeting is led by a man named Kirk Anderson. Wearing giant black rimmed glasses he answers questions and gives advise to the group with a twist of humor.   The experience bee keepers introduce themselves to the group so new Beekeepers or “New bees,” have the opportunity to connect with veteran bee keepers.   After the meeting members can set up plans for collecting bees or ask questions about hives.  These experienced bee keepers are called Bee Mentors.  Unlike the soul sucking “De-mentors” in Harry Potter these “Bee-mentors” are dedicated and knowledgeable bee keepers who volunteer to teach you their craft for free.  Yes for free.  Like Hogwarts the meeting has the feeling of a secret magic guild passing sacred knowledge to the next generation, just crossed with a comedy show.  I left the meeting with a stupid grin eager to raise bees.

I guess I am a Newbee and Will and Walker are my Bee Mentors.  So, to get me started Will aranged our little trade.  He commanded his robot to carved the glued up oak dunnage that was soon to become the cloud pony and in return I agreed to help Walker make a new bee hive.  Will and Walker already had three Langstroth Hive so they were interested in trying something new.  We looked at a top bar hive and eventually settled on this Japanese style hive because it is easy to make and use.  On a Monday morning Walker shows up at my door with a a jar of her honey, some fresh baked corn bread and a few dirty 2 x 12 Douglas fir beam that used to be her garden picnic table.

First, I ate the cornbread and honey while we watched this video “How to make traditional bee hive of Japanese honeybee.”  I know! The animations and the sound track rock!  Pumped up from the video we milled the old picnic table wood straight and true.  Walker was kind enough to translate and scribe down the measurements for the hive the night before so the cuts went quick.  We screwed the boards together and we had a hive in about  4 hours.  The video made the process easy and fun.

A few days later Will came by to see the hive.  We kind of dissected what Walker and I made.  We came up with some changes. We both were drawn to finger joints.  Will described some old timbers he and Walker salvage from an old building in Mt. Washington ten years earlier.  After much discussion we agreed to take the fast and easy project we saw on the video from Japan and make it a long drawn out process with special wood and fancy over-sized joints.  Were we going over board?  Maybe, but it was for bees that have been dying and disappearing from insecticides, molds and cell phones.  They are the base of the food chain.  Without there pollinating we would have no food.  So who better to hook up with a palace?

Will brought the old beams over that week and Walker came the following Monday to work on it with me.  She explained that bee’s natural hives are located in old trees hollowed out by rot or burned out by lightning. Therefore, we decided to keep the full 2″ thickness of the beams so the walls would be dense like an old tree.  Then Walker proposed not cleaning up the beams.  We settle on cleaning up three sides to keep the hive straight but leaving the outside of the hive rough to look like tree bark.  Then we wouldn’t even have to burn the outside of the hive to seal in from the weather, which is the traditional Japanese way to finish your hive.  We spent all morning setting up the jig to cut the 7/8″ wide finger joints.  It took a while but when it was complete we had joints so tight they don’t need glue and without glue the honey was sure to be chemical free.  Plus Walker explained that the bees actually secrete a black glues substance that seals up any holes in their hive to protect from weather or intruders.  Therefore, the bees would do all the gluing that needs to be done. Running out of time Walker left and I finished up the finger joints for the rest of the hive over the next week.

The most fun part was designing the main entrance way and imaging coming home to the hive as a bee. Walker insisted on angling the landing pad for the entrance way so it was easier for us, umm. . . I mean the bees, to land. Walker burned a giant bee etching into scrap wood with a wood burning tool.  She imagined it above the entrance to attract the queen as she swarms with her hive.  After I had all of the joinery cut and assembled Will came and picked up one side of each tier that Kristy Velasco helped me disassemble with a five pound hammer.  We had to clamp down each tier and bang the panels off with strong strikes because the joints were so tight. Earlier Will organized for a fine English Chap named Chris Day to design the honey comb and bee that Will commanded his robots to carve into the wood.  Finally, Will cast the cement block with a honey comb impression and a copper pipe for the hole to tie the hemp rope through.  It all turned out real nice like.

The roof was the last piece.  The funny thing is that the hive looked so good Will decided to pull some strings and got it into the Dwell on Design Expo in Los Angeles where he was already showing his notorious “Chicken Tractor.”   With no time to spare I started the roof at 7am and Will was coming to pick it up to bring it to the Los Angeles Convention Center at 11:00.  It was last minute.  I just built without a plan.  I made it by using the same finger joint jig I used for the hive walls.  That naturally put the roof at a 90 degree angle.  That’s why the roof is so steep.  It kind of makes the Japanese style hive look like it came from Finland.  Oh well. . . it kind of grows on you and I am a 1/2 Finnish mutt so there you go.

Our fuzzy grandfather clock looking hive was displayed at Dwell on Design where good folks from LA wondered through the overwhelming display of shiny new stainless steal appliances and found themselves staring at our hive and of course Will and Brandon’s chicken tractor which had real hens in it.  How does this fit into Dwell on Design they wondered?

Of course there were no bees in the hive so naturally viewers were left to imagined how this gnome skyscraper could fit into their landscaping.  That is until Brandon and Will kindly explained its function as a bee hive. Walker wrote a beautiful story about why we should make homes for bees which was also displayed with a petition that Dwell guest could sign to legalize bee keeping in Los Angeles.  Overall, Will felt it got a very nice response and in his and Brendan’s opinion it would have been best in show if Miele had not come out with their kick ass “Diamond G 5975 SCSF,” prefinished, fully-integrated, full-sized dishwasher.  Cursed Gütersloh, Germany companies!  That’s it next year I am making a dishwasher and you can be damn sure it’s going to be fully-integrated.

 

Enough design blufoowy. Its bee time!  Walker draws a bee in the Sand as we mentally prepare to rescue bees from a hive found in a water main in Venice Beach.  It’s not good to extract bees until you have soaked up enough sun and swam in the ocean.

I am an alien in a bee suit, that Walker kindly brought for me. Or perhaps I look like a Quonset hut. Or I'm the absence of light, sucking matter into my void. My dark pic exists probably because I am holding the camera out to take a photo of myself.

This is Walker in her bee suit. The hive is reduced to two tiers and we taped on a plywood bottom to transport the bees back to Walker's home.

 

Walker prepares to smoke the hive. No not like a bee cigar. You put dried grass, bark and sticks in this contraption light it and then pump the back like a fire place bellow to keep the fire going. Smoke comes out the spout so you can direct it at the hive.

 

The strange philosophy behind this “trick of the trade” is that the bees smell the smoke and instantly think they are about to loose the whole hive to a forest fire.  In this worried state they stop everything and start eating and collecting as much of their honey as they can because they know the fire will consume it if they don’t.  In their busy state they are distracted and less aggressive to the humans in space suits extracting their honey comb from the hole they built the hive in.

It is a cute little hive in a water main.  The majority of all bees are in fact female.  It is the “Ladies” as Walker likes to call them who forage for all of the pollen to make honey.  There are very few males compared to the women and their job is to guard the hive and keep the Queen constantly pregnant.  In the winter,when supplies are low, the ladies often escort the males out of the hive where they are left to die.  It is quite the matriarchal society.


Because I can’t take any more pictures with my gloves on I will describe the rest of the extraction.  Walker uses a long knife to gently cut the honey comb from the top of the lid it was attached to.  The wax is soft and the knife glides through it smoothly causing honey to ooze out.  The bees swarm around us but they don’t seem that fierce.  It is a small hive and still the buzz of the bees engulfs us.  It is the familiar humm of a bee times 5,000.  We are completely emerged in the hive now.  Walker gently takes each piece of comb she extract and checks it for the queen or a queen cell.  Like chess the idea is to capture the queen.  If you get the queen in the box all of the other bees will swarm in to protect her.  You just simply leave the entrance way open and the bees fly in.  Unfortunately, this hive is small and new.  There isn’t even a queen yet or even a queen cell.  The honey comb looks fresh and there is very little honey in it.  Walker finds pure pollen stuffed into one of the cells that would eventually have housed a queen cell which grows into a queen bee.  But no queeny is seeny.

This means we are reduced to capturing all of the bees we can and scooping them into the box with our hands. “Whatever bees we leave behind will die,” Walker explains so I gently try to extract as many bees as possible from the water main hole.  By gently running my gloves along the sides of the hole I scoop up whole hand fulls of bees. It is like shoveling up fists full of buzzing black and white pop corn.  Then Walker teaches me to shake them off with a quick flick into the box.  Having that many little lives in your hands is amazing and intimidating. However, I have a deep abstract sense that they are one being with a body that can spread out over 7 miles to gather food.   The buzzing is even more intense as the bees scatter from my hand.  But I keep scooping knowing that whoever is left behind is dead.  I am not sure how long we scooped but finally Walker is satisfied with our progress and we stop.  There is probably 1/4 of the hive left flying around our protected heads confused.  Poor guys.  Walker feels bad but the alternative is the whole hive gets poisoned by an exterminator.  So I think we are doing something good.  By creating homes for bees in our lives we are recreating a population of native bees that lived in the area before they were pushed out by urban sprawl. In return the bees fertilize our food and flowers feeding us and indirectly giving us air to breath.  Thank you bees!

Success!  We take the captured bees back to Silver Lake and set up the hive next to the Rollin’s hive. Over food and small glasses of beer Walker explains to Will how I just jumped in without fear, reached right into the hive and scooped out bees.  But there was fear.  I was scared all day but with Walker’s mission of saving as many lives as possible the fear went away and I did whatever it took to save them.  I tried to explain how I felt like a god scooping up all the bees with my hand and Walker corrected me,”No Andy they are the gods.”

With tales of mini gods and my bravery, I shall leave you now.  However, I would like to thank the Rollins’s for simply existing.  They are guardians of nature in the dark ages of the environment.  Thank you for sharing your time and knowledge with me!  Special thanks to Andrea Lee Mitchell for the photographs and to the creator of this blog, Omnipresence Web, who helped install the code for the animation.