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I've been keeping this blog for nine years and now there are over 1200 posts on this blog. Please use the search bar below to search the blog for other posts on a subject in which you are interested. You can also click on the "label" at the end of a post and all posts with that label will show up. At the very bottom of this page is a list of all the labels I've used.

Even if you find one post on the subject, I've posted a lot on basic beekeeping skills like installing bees, harvesting honey, inspecting the hive, etc. so be sure to search for more once you've found a topic of interest to you. And watch the useful videos and slide shows on the sidebar. All of them have captions. Please share posts of interest via Facebook, Pinterest, etc.

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.

Need help with an Atlanta area swarm? Visit Found a Swarm? Call a Beekeeper.

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Analytical Thinking about the New Dead Hive

So the hive that appears dead today (it rained and was too cold to open it today) needs some careful thought and I have not been able to get it out of my mind today.

First it originally was my Northlake swarm hive - a swarm from a hive of bees that had been living "for years" in a column in a business condominium complex.  So potentially these were feral survival bees.  They lived through the winter of 2013 and I was thrilled to have a survivor hive.

But this year, as my son-in-law called it, was the Year of the Foot.  I dealt all through bee season with my injured leg (now all better after a YEAR) and it really hampered my beekeeping attentiveness.  I have to acknowledge that my hives were neglected more than they were cared for in bee season 2014.

So the Northlake Swarm hive went queenless some time midsummer.  Because I was not in my hives every week with a cast on my leg, I missed the queenless situation until it had probably gone on a while - not long enough to develop a laying worker problem, but still long enough.

When I recognized the queenless problem in the hive, I didn't have any swarm survival hives, so I gave them a frame of brood and eggs from the Sebastian hive (the one that we moved from the yard of the GSU professor in spring 2014).  I did that three times before they made a queen.  Two frames came from Sebastian and one from my Morningside hive in the community garden.

So the queen that developed in the Northlake hive was no longer a survivor queen.  She had been made from eggs with a less clear history.

I just grabbed a frame of brood and eggs from a hive that seemed to have a lot and didn't give the genetics much thought.

This year if either my nuc that has overwintered or my neighborhood swarm hive that has overwintered go queenless, I'm using each of them to provide brood and eggs for the other.  That way they will still get survivor genetics.  I am resolved to be a much more involved and careful beekeeper in this year of NON-INJURY - crossed fingers that that remains true.

Tomorrow I'll check on Stonehurst and see if it survived - it's not a feral hive - it came from Mountain Sweet Honey last year, but it may have made it.

My ongoing goal should be to use survivors to make queens for any queenless hives.  If Tom's hive which came from Bill Owens and also appears to be a survivor hive made it through this cold period, I will split it in late March for the same reason - it's a survivor.  The nuc currently alive in my backyard came from that hive as a split in 2014.

Great GBA State Meeting

Last weekend was the "spring" meeting of the Georgia Beekeepers Association.  In 2013, they barely had 120 people.  This year we had 240 registrants!

We have a fabulous president of the association now who had built up the numbers of local clubs and has encouraged each of them to join GBA.  We also have better ways to publicize it since the newsletter comes out every month and people seem to read it.  And we had a program that was really good.

Here is the slideshow. Bill Owens took five of the pictures (the wonderful ones). I put captions on them but if you don't click on the slideshow, you won't be able to see the caption saying that he took the five that he did. Thank you, Bill, for sharing them with me. We will also put this slide show in the GBA March newsletter.

 We had a great program with four keynote speakers: Cindy Bee, Erin MacGregor-Forbes, Gretchen LeBuhn, Ph.D., Jennifer Leavey, Ph.D. We had breakouts done by the keynotes as well as Bob Binnie, Julia Mahood, Jennifer Berry, me and other Georgia beekeepers.

I Think I have a Dead Hive Post the Freezing Weather

I have had three thriving hives in my bee yard at home and every time we go up to 50 degrees, I have looked out of my window with relief to see the bees flying.  We've just had a week of temperatures in the 20s or below and today it is raining and in the 50s.  Yesterday when it was up to 45, I saw bees flying from my overwintered nuc and one other hive but not the Northlake swarm hive.

Again today bees are flying (in the rain) from the nuc and the neighborhood swarm hive but no bees from Northlake.  There is such a large pile of dead bees in front of this hive that I think they must have had a disease filled winter and couldn't make it.  I feel sad about it, but that is the way it is when you are trying to raise bees that can beat the varroa mite.

Seems like I will be starting the spring in rather sparse bee condition.

Last time I was at Stonehurst, those bees were fine so I'll have to check by there tomorrow to see if the bees made it through the intense cold (and before any of you comment about how cold it is where you are and the bees survive, this was unusual for Atlanta in late February).  We have ordered bees from Mountain Sweet Honey for Stonehurst so they will have bees this year even if the hive does not survive.

I also haven't checked with Tom about his bees which were flying after the last hard freeze.  And I haven't been to Rabun County.

For sure in a couple of weeks, I'll move the nuc hive to a full sized hive situation.  And a week or two after that I'll split the neighborhood hive.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Dead....... and the Living

At this time of year, all of us beekeepers are crossing our fingers that our bees make it through the winter.  Today the icy wind is blowing and Atlanta will have temperatures in the 20s tonight.  This occurs after several balmy days.

Thus is winter in the south.  We just had the anniversary of Snowmagedden, the ice-covered snowy road storm that stopped Atlanta in its tracks last year and left the city with egg on its face.

I never open my hives even on the warm days in winter because to do so breaks the propolis seal and who knows when the next frosty wind will blow.  But I am just as interested as those who do in the survival of my hives.

One way to tell if a hive is alive is by the number of the dead in front of the entrance.  I was over at the Stonehurst Place Inn on Monday to see if my bees there were alive.  The temperature was in the 40s and no live bees were going to show themselves to me.  But I knew the hive was alive by the pile of dead bodies in front of the hive.

In order to create the pile of the dead, there have to be living mortician bees, inside the hive, carrying out the bodies.

My hives prove it to me because of the yard guys.  On a warmish day, the hives do housecleaning and the ground in front of the hives is scattered broadly with dead bees.

This is a hive in my backyard.

Look closely at the concrete in front of and at the sides of this hive entrance.  There are dead bees everywhere.  Even if we couldn't see a live bee, we can tell by the dead ones

that the hive is alive.

The yard guys come every two weeks and when they do, the area around the hive is clean as a whistle because the bee bodies are blown away with any fallen leaves.

So if I look out on the next sunny day after the yard men have been here and there are new bodies strewn around, again I'll again be reassured that my hive is alive.  The "new" dead bees will have been carried out by live ones.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Warm Temps Equal Flying Bees

The temperature is milder today and the bees are flying.

I have three live hives in my backyard which means I lost two over the winter.  One was the tiny hive we moved from Jeff's yard that never really got off the ground.  The other was the Sebastian hive which made good honey and were surprisingly strong.   I'll open that hive soon to see if I can determine what was wrong.

The three who are vigorously flying and bringing in pollen (from where?) are the nuc hive that is going great guns, the Northlake swarm hive - now entering its third season, and the Va Hi Swarm that I caught just up the street from my house during last year's swarm season.

The Va Hi swarm hive looks like they have nosema:

You can see all the bee feces around the entrance.  Still there are tons of bees coming and going.  It's my most vigorous hive.  We didn't harvest from this hive and also didn't consolidate the boxes going into winter (I know, bad beekeeper...) but they are alive and surviving so far.

In Atlanta you never can tell.  We can have snow as late as mid March.  Last year around Valentine's Day we had the worst snow jam ever, ever, ever with really cold temperatures, so who knows what will happen.

There are a lot of dead bees just outside the hive with all of my hives.  This is natural in that the dead accumulate inside when the bees can't fly because it's too cold, but as soon as it warms up, they carry out the dead.

You can see dead bodies on the ground in the above photo.

The Northlake hive is bringing in the pollen as well as the nuc hive.  I saw three bees on several occasions while I watched the nuc hive practically fall over each other trying to make the entrance.

The bees that were coming in carried heavy pollen loads.

These kinds of days make me feel hopeful for the spring!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Honey of a Dinner 2015

The table is set for the Honey of a Dinner 2015.  The people coming to this dinner purchased it at auction in September 2014.  There will be eight people in all including me and my helpers.

I've got honey bee skep napkins that my daughter Sarah gave me, bee napkin holders some of which my brother Barry gave me as well as my friend Debbara, beeswax candles on the table, honeycomb trivets that my friend Julia gave me - I'm all set.

Here's an up close photo of one of the bee skep napkins and the napkin ring:

The menu for tonight is:

Cocktail:    Bees Knees made with lavender infused honey simple syrup
Appetizer:  Flatbreads with Honey and Thyme
Soup:         Carrot Soup with Sesame and Miso (and honey pickled scallions as a garnish)
Entree:       Pork Tenderloin (marinated in honey) with Gremolata
Bread:        Canadian Buttermilk Honey Rolls
Salad:         Leaf lettuce with oranges and avocado with a Champagne Honey Vinaigrette
Dessert:      Profiteroles with Honey Lavender Ice Cream

I've served some of these items at previous honey dinners but as they say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it!

We had the flatbreads a couple of years ago and the pork last year.  I make the rolls every time.  I've made the profiteroles for this dinner at least once before.

I'm hoping the guests have fun.  I've had a great time getting ready for it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Soap-making, John Campbell Folk School Style

After a weekend at the Folk School taking a soap making class, I came home with all of this soap.  It has to cure for a month.

You remember how I like to find uses for the queen excluders I bought when I first started beekeeping?  On two occasions in ten years, I have put them on a hive for overnight to solve a problem.  Other than that I use them for cut comb honey draining!  Now I have found a new use: curing soap!

Soap has to sit for four to six weeks to cure before it is in its best shape for use and lather.  You are supposed to turn the bars over occasionally.  My basement smells lovely.

At the school, we learned how to protect ourselves against the danger of being burned by lye.  We wore goggles, rubber gloves, long sleeves.  We were very, very careful.  Everything in making soap has to be measured in a precise way.  Saponification (turning lye and fat into soap) is a chemical reaction and the ingredients have to be controlled exactly. 

We carefully stirred the lye into cold water and then began to melt our precisely measured fats.  By the time the fats had melted the lye would have cooled down.  The teacher had fancy laser thermometers - I ordered one from Amazon the minute I got home.  The lye and the melted fats plus olive oil had to end up with an average temperature of somewhere between 80 and 120 degrees before you could mix them together.

When the magic temperature was reached, the lye solution is gently poured into the fat/oil mix and you begin the thickening process.  We used stick blenders and "trace" occurred rather quickly.  "Trace" is the point in the process when you can see a line on the surface of the soap solution when you pull out the stick blender or make a circular drip with a rubber spatula on the surface of the soap solution.  At that point, you can add fragrance or color.

I made six different quarts of soap.  I think these were the types I made:

1.  Tuscan wine soap with calendula - turned out red and smells divine - shea butter was in that

2.  Apple jack and orange peel with cornmeal was next and I didn't use shea butter for it

3.  Then I think I made a soap with dirt/smoke as the fragrance and I added both activated charcoal and cornmeal for texture.  It turned out black and very masculine in smell

4.  Cucumber with parsley flakes and ground up oatmeal

5.  Vanilla soap with chamomile.  This one was made with shea butter.  The dark places are chamomile flower bits

6.  Lavender swirl soap with only lavender flavoring and no texture, I don't think.  I did almost everything in a quart milk carton and the lavender I made in a half gallon carton.  I tried the swirl technique and although it isn't the way it is supposed to look, I wasn't unhappy with how it turned out.

There's a slide show below (click on it to visit the Picasa web album page) where you can see the process and the teacher at work:

Thursday, January 15, 2015

What Do Beekeepers Do in the Winter.....?

And your answer was make soap - right?

That's what I am going to do this weekend.  My sister and I are going to the John C Campbell Folk School to take a class in making lye soap.  I love spending time with my sister and I love going to classes at the Folk School, so what could be better?

I haven't taken a Folk School class in seven years, so this should be lots of fun.  It's like going to grown up camp, complete with a dining hall with community tables.  Back in 2006 when I first started beekeeping, I took a beekeeping class at John Campbell from Virginia Webb and learned about bees, pollen, and wax.

Jeff (my son-in-law who keeps bees with me) and I have already experimented with glycerin soap, but some people don't like that type of soap and the "real thing" is made with lye as they did in the old days.  So I am thrilled with the opportunity to learn an old-fashioned craft and maybe figure out how to put my beeswax into soap.

Jeff wants me to teach him so he can make his favorite soap and not have to buy it.  The soap he likes is flavored with DIRT, SMOKE, and bay rum.  I went on the Internet and would you believe, you can buy oils that are scented with earth, campfire smoke, and bay rum.  I guess he and I will try to replicate the soap he loves.

I'll take photos of what I learn and post them here when I get back.  It's pretty old-fashioned at the Folk School and I doubt I'll have Internet access for posting while I'm there.

I heard a lecture from Marcy, a member of our bee club, on how to make lye soap.  She said her jeans were now full of holes from the lye, so I am taking pants I could care less about and old shirts.  We'll see how it goes!

My first Folk School class was when Atlanta hosted the Summer Olympics.  The Olympic committee asked the Atlanta citizens to get out of town to lessen the traffic problems during the games.  So I signed up for a quilting class for a week at the Folk School and thus began my grown-up camp fun and games.

More after my adventure.  BTW this is my 2015th post on Jan 15, 2015!

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