Test yourself! How much do you know about doing a good hive inspection? Here's the "Buzzle" I created for the monthly GBA newsletter this month:
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I began this blog to chronicle my beekeeping experiences. I have read lots of beekeeping books, but nothing takes the place of either hands-on experience with an experienced beekeeper or good pictures of the process. I want people to have a clearer picture of what to expect in their beekeeping so I post pictures and write about my beekeeping saga here. Along the way, I've passed a number of certification levels and am now a Master Beekeeper Enjoy with me as I learn and grow as a beekeeper.
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Monday, April 25, 2022
I got home from helping my friend with bees she tried to rescue from the airport at 5:30 PM today.
When I left at 3:00 there were bees in my carport all over some stacked hive boxes there to be painted. I thought maybe a swarm was moving into the stacked boxes. My shed where I store all my bee equipment was getting a lot of activity too. I even left the door cracked to the shed because there were so many bees visiting the interior that I didn't want to leave them in there. And an empty hive box was getting lots of visitors.
It's April and the height of swarm season in Atlanta. If you are a seasoned beekeeper with unoccupied equipment in your bee yard, it's not unusual to see scouts or to get a swarm interested in your empty properties.
I came home and took my dinner out to the back deck to eat outdoors. I watched the hive while I ate, and noticed that there was still some activity - scouting - going on at the hive. I had almost finished my dinner when I heard a loud whirr and looked up to see a swarm moving into the hive.
The whole process took a mere 15 minutes so I filmed it all - it's kind of calming to watch the bees claim a home for themselves. These are truly free bees. They didn't cost me anything in terms of time, effort, preparation or money. Enjoy the video:
A fellow MABA beekeeper got a call from a commercial beekeeper in Alaska yesterday. The beekeeper was calling to report that a huge order of packages had been rerouted in error from Sacramento to Atlanta instead of Alaska. Makes you wonder, doesn't it, if the cargo handler could read - the only thing Atlanta and Alaska have in common is that they both start and end with the letter "a."
So hundreds of packages of bees which should have been in Alaska three or four days ago arrived at the Delta cargo building yesterday. Many were dead. The beekeeper who got the call, Edward Morgan, arrived at the airport and assessed the situation. The bees would not make it until they could leave again at 3:30 on Monday (today) to continue to Alaska and the ones surviving would surely not make it alive to Alaska.
An emergency email went out to the members of the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers that if you could and wanted to try to save these bees, they were yours for the taking. Just come to the airport. My friend and partner in beekeeping at SPARK Elementary, Meghan, took her daughter and went down to the Delta Cargo building. They brought home fifteen packages of mostly dead bees.
The packages were nailed together in groups of five and wrapped in soft window screen wire.
I still am holding virtual hive inspections and think it is a good value. In person is great, but COVID has taught us that you can learn a lot by asking questions on Zoom as well. This is the hive inspection that I shared last week on Wednesday on Zoom. We start with my top bar hive and then look at my Langstroth hive in my daughter's yard. It ends with a hive that is in the last throes because of a queenless situation and an overtaking by the small hive beetle. I included it so you could see what it's like to lose a hive like that. This hive was fully functioning and doing well three weeks ahead of this inspection.
Tuesday, April 12, 2022
When a swarm issues from a beehive, the bees gather around the swarming queen on a bush or tree and cluster together. They aren't just resting and they aren't settling in for the long haul. Instead the swarm is sending out scouts every minute to find a new home for the hive. As the scouts return to the swarm, they dance on the surface of the swarm and campaign for the place they think would be a good home.
Tom Seeley explains in Honeybee Democracy that the dancing scouts are trying to convince other bees to go scout out the place they have found. If the convinced bees visit the new home and like it, they return and campaign to get others to go. If the bee doesn't find the place appealing, she returns and doesn't name call or belittle the choice. She doesn't bully the bees who want to move to the new place. She just doesn't campaign for it or try to get any of her sisters to go and visit.
In the end, some new home place will have convinced enough bees in the swarm that it is a good place to resettle. The swarm rises from the tree or bush and flies to the new place and moves in.
But if a beekeeper comes along and captures the swarm, we interfere with honey bee democracy. We have autocratically decided that our hive box is where this hive should live.
Sometimes the bees don't agree.
I have an apiary site in the community garden at Morningside in Atlanta. Like many community gardens, this one is on Georgia Power land and huge power lines run over the hillside apiary site. Georgia Power "maintains" the land because it belongs to them. I put maintains in quotation marks because they do not go near the beehives and the grass grows very tall there.
I don't think the bees like the power lines. I have housed three swarms on that hillside over the years and not a one of them stayed.
Most recently I caught another swarm on April 4. I think it was from my own hive. I have a very large hive that has now swarmed three times. It had some beautiful queen cells in it - huge. One had opened and the others seemed to be left untouched. The first swarm I took to Morningside and they didn't stay.
I think the second queen was in a small swarm about fifty yards from my house. My neighbor who didn't know I would come to get it, promised it to someone else, but I feel pretty sure they were from my beehives. By the time the person she called returned to Atlanta, the bees had left for parts unknown.
As I was driving home from out of town on April 4, my neighbor called me to report that he had seen a huge swarm swirling around in his backyard (just over the fence from my hives) and that it had landed in a shrub across the street. I was about an hour from Atlanta and told him I would rescue them as soon as I returned if they were still there. They were and here is the capture in my new box from Hive Butler:
Every bee hive tells a story. From the minute you approach the hive for an inspection, the story begins. Watching the bees fly in and out of the hive is the first part of the story. You can read the story of the hive in many ways before you even open the top.
What do you see?
- Are the bees regularly and rapidly flying in and out in large numbers?
- Does a bee leave almost at the same time as another enters the hive?
- Are they bearing pollen?
- Do you see any drones?
- Is the energy busy and peaceful or is there fighting at the front door?
While this isn't a choose-your-own-adventure story, each observation leads us down a path to the next part of the story.
If the bees are flying in and out in large numbers, you know that your hive is busy and the bees are doing their jobs, whether they are collecting water, pollen, nectar or resin for propolis, they are hard at work. You also know that you have a good number of bees in the hive.
If the bees are leaving and flying in at about the same rate, you still know that the bees are working, but the lack of high level of activity may make me worry about the numbers of bees in the hive and wonder ahead of opening the hive if this means there's a queen problem or that there is another reason the bees haven't built up as fast as the hive with large numbers. (This, BTW, is a reason to have two hives at least so you have grounds for comparison.)
If the bees flying into the hive have pollen on their legs and there are lots of them (a bee with pollen every five bees or so) then you are likely to have a laying queen. It also has to do with the time of day. You'll notice with your own hives when the pollen comes in. My hives are more likely to be bearing a lot of pollen in the morning. However, I have had a queenless hive where bees still bring in pollen to feed the brood still developing after the queen has died.
If you see drones, that tells you two things. If it is early spring, drones flying in and out of the hive means it is time to make splits successfully. Why? Because in order to succeed with a split, the new queen has to get mated. She can only do that if there are drones flying. Later in the year, drones flying is a sign of an ongoing healthy hive which produces workers and drones and all are doing their jobs.
If there is fighting at the front door, it's probably late summer and a robbery may be starting. Bees don't fight with their own sisters, but invaders are a different story. Without even opening the hive, you know you need to take preventive measures - start a sprinkler, put on a robber screen. But many new beekeepers confuse the activity of orientation with robbing and these are two very different events. In orientation, the bees fly out of the hive and turn around to look at it. Then they fly back in and do it again. They are learning how to recognize the hive so that when they are foraging, they can find their way back. The hive looks really busy, but not angry.
Here's a video of orientation flying:
This is an old recording before I had a good camera, but here's what robbing looks like - you'll see it's much more violent than orientation:
Wednesday, April 06, 2022
These days I am creating monthly crossword puzzles for the GBA newsletter. This month I made one up about installing a nuc or package since many people will be getting their nucs or packages in April. You can work the puzzle online! See how much you know, and good luck - it's not terribly hard in any month, not at all like the New York Times crossword.
If one of the clues stumps you, write me for the answer key.
Wednesday, March 23, 2022
Tonight I held a virtual hive inspection for Metro Atlanta Beekeepers. We watched the video below to see three inspections: a Langstroth hive that overwintered from a split in 2021; my top bar hive into which I installed the March 2 swarm I caught in Decatur; the split I made in my own backyard which has finally made queen cells.
If you'd like to see what we watched, minus the ongoing discussion that we had on Zoom as we watched it, the video is below: