Welcome - Explore my Blog

I've been keeping this blog for all of my beekeeping years and I began my 15th year of beekeeping in April 2020. Now there are more than 1300 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. (678) 597-8443

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Saturday, May 23, 2020

Pesticide Kill of one of my hives

I knew what had happened as I walked up the hill to the community garden. The smell was overwhelming and meant only one thing. I was going to find a pile of dead bees in front of one or all of my hives.

The UGA extension website has an article on The Effect (sic) of Pesticides on Bees.

The article suggests that either the hive will survive on its own without the beekeeper's help, or that I should take out the combs of pollen and wash them all out. I wouldn't begin to attempt that since most of my pollen is on brood frames and the hive is decimated as it is. So I will cross my fingers and hope for the first possibility to happen. If the poison is stored in pollen on the frames, the brood and bees will continue to die.

I videoed a drone, affected by the poison, trying to walk on my hand and trembling and unsure of himself:

The video ends abruptly when one of the men who comes to my virtual hive inspections drove up and we had a six-foot-apart discussion of the hive poisoning.

The article states that bees are affected by pesticides in several ways. If a bee were in the path of the spraying of mosquito poison that occurs all over Atlanta, she would die right there and not return to the hive. If the bee brings the pesticide back in the pollen or nectar she transports, then many, many bees will die. Some will die from contact with the pesticide brought back by the original ill-fated bee. More will die because she (the unintentional poison carrier) will tell her sisters where this marvelous source of nectar or pollen is and they will then go and be affected in the same way.

The effect of taking in all of this poison is seen/smelled by the shocked arriving beekeeper (me) because there will be a pile of thousands of dead bees in front of the hive:

The second photo is around the side of the hive. 

And the stench is unforgettable. It smells like very rotten garbage. I found this on Thursday, one week after my last visit to the garden on the previous Thursday. The only saving grace may have been the weather. The hive was fine at the last visit. We had good weather over some of that weekend. But then on Sunday night, Monday and all day Tuesday we had rain. The way these dead bees smelled meant to me that they had been in front of the hive for a few days. 

I expect that the rain interrupted the visits to the poisoned source and the rain may have also diluted the poison over the several days of it. 

There were still lots of bees in the hive. I barely opened it because they were suffering and I didn't want to make it worse, but in opening the hive, many of the bees were trembling and looking confused. The systemic damage is such that they are disoriented and palsied. I just wanted to cry.

I've only had pesticide kills in two hives - both at the community garden - separated by about four years. I did go back to this hive the next day and bees were still writhing on the ground, but there were lots of bees hanging on the robber screen who didn't appear palsied, and I saw a bee go into the hive with pollen on her legs which may mean the queen is still in there and laying. Cross your fingers! I certainly am.

However the UGA article does say that if the poison is in the pollen, nurse bees and brood will continue to die. This is a wait and see situation.

P.S. Today is Sunday, three days since I found the dead hive. I have just walked up to the hive. The smell is almost gone; the pile of bees does not appear to have grown. There are not as many bees on the front of the hive as in the photo I took (above) on Friday, but there were active bees and they didn't look like they were dying. I forgot my phone so don't have a photo.

At my next inspection of this colony, we will go down into the brood box to see how the growth of the hive is going, given the poison/pesticide event.

May 23 Inspection: A Pesticide Kill and a Tiny Honey Harvest

Here's the video from the latest inspection for the MABA beekeepers in this time of coronavirus. Zoom is helping us to connect and to learn about bees virtually if not in person! In this video, we inspect the three hives at the garden, rob the bees of two frames of capped honey, and I demonstrate how to harvest via crush and strain in the last twenty minutes of the video.


Thursday, May 21, 2020

Avoiding rookie mistakes

I have written about this before, but I gave a talk on Avoiding Rookie Mistakes and thought I'd post it here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Another MABA Hive Inspection

I took a week off for Mother's Day and skipped last weekend, but really made up for it this week. On Monday, the 11th, I moved the little queen castle hive that was only four frames in a two-medium box hive into a nuc. We are going to let it grow in the nuc this season.

On Friday, the 15th, I inspected the two established hives at the garden and gave a quick check to the now-nuc hive. To add a little interest to it all, I did an inspection of my top bar hive which is boiling over with happy bees and honey.

The whole pieced-together inspection (it starts on Monday and ends on Friday!) is below:

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Checkerboarding a hive during honey production

While I was checking on my own hives, I discovered that one needed a new box. I decided to video the process of checkerboarding.

There are two ways to employ checkerboarding to open up space in your hive. First is in the early spring when you checkerboard an overwintered hive to fool the bees into thinking they don't need to swarm because there is plenty of space. In this instance, you move every other frame in the top box of the hive into an empty box and replace their previous space in the old box with empty frames. You do this with the honey box that is typically above the brood nest. This gives the bees more space to use and may interrupt their desire to swarm for more space.

Michael Bush wrote this on Beemaster to explain the basics of checkerboarding:
"For a bee colony:
o  Survival is the primary motivation
  - Survival of the existing colony takes priority.
  -  Bees will not do a reproductive swarm if they perceive it to jeopardize survival of the existing colony.
o  Survival of the species runs a close second.
  -  Generation of a reproductive swarm is the secondary objective of every over-wintered colony.
  -  The over-wintered colony expands the brood volume during the build-up by consumption of honey.
  -  When the colony has expanded the brood nest to the amount of reserve that they consider appropriate, they are now able to move into the swarm preparation phase.
  -  The first activity of swarm preparation is to reduce the brood volume by providing additional stores. As brood emerges, selected cells are filled with nectar or pollen.
  -  Alternating empty drawn combs above the brood nest "fools" the bees into thinking they don't have enough stores yet for swarming and causes them to expand the brood nest, giving both a bigger field force and avoiding reproductive swarming.

During honey production, checkerboarding can help open up room for honey production. In fact the bees will not draw wax or store nectar when there is no nectar flow. I've found during the nectar flow, though, that employing checkerboarding in honey boxes increases the storage of honey. I did this in my hive today (we are still in an ongoing nectar flow).

I use foundationless frames and it is essential to provide checkerboarding when you add a box of foundationless frames. The full frames moved up to a new box provide a "ladder" for the bees to get to the tops of the frames to draw wax.

Here is a video of how to do it:

Saturday, May 02, 2020

Hive Inspection during the coronavirus - Inspection on May 1, 2020

We can't gather in groups and I continue to offer virtual hive inspections to members of my local bee club, including the people who took our short course this year. Every virtual inspection has about 15 people in attendance and while some people come more than once, I also have new people each time.

In this inspection one of the key things was to notice the difference in honey production between the over-wintered nuc, the swarm I installed on March 11, and the tiny new hive from a three frame nuc in a queen castle. My biggest conclusion after I made this video is that the three frame nuc hive needs to be in a nuc and not in a hive. The space is just too big for them. I will move the hive into a stacked nuc hive before the next inspection.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

MapMyDCA.com and my friend Julia

My friend and beekeeping buddy, Julia Mahood, is a multi-talented woman. Among other things, she designed the license plate now sported by lots of Georgia cars; she was beekeeper of the year for GBA in 2018; and she is a Master Beekeeper. She, her son Noah, and I went together to Lithuania on a beekeeping tour back in 2013.

Always up for becoming an even better beekeeper, she is working on her Master Craftsman level of certification. The focus of her research for this is the drone bee. She has developed a citizen science website for mapping where the drone congregation areas are throughout the world. If you know where one is or are just interested in drones and their behavior, you'd enjoy her website.

So imagine my delight when wallowing in the middle of the depression of social isolation and never seeing anyone I care about in person, Julia suggested that I meet her in a field where she is catching and marking drones. It would be easy to do that and stay six feet apart!

I believe the way it works is she is interested in how often drones who don't "get lucky" return to the same DCA. She catches drones, marks them in a color representing this DCA, releases them and returns another day to see how many of her painted drones she catches a second time.

On this day, she was using a helium weather balloon for catching the drones.

The helium weather balloon is about a yard in diameter if not a little larger and flies high above the trees. If you look at the photo of Julia holding the balloon down at a lower height, you can see the trap hanging about ten feet below the balloon. The trap has a velcro part at the top where the drones can't escape.

Julia told me that drones only have enough fuel to fly for thirty minutes before they need to be back in the hive for more honey (fuel). So she flies her balloon for about five minutes at a time and takes three minutes or so to mark the drones before releasing them and sending them on their way.

In the photo below, if you look closely, you can see lots of little black dots, all of which are the comet of drones trailing the trap. The trap is baited with queen lure hanging in it (which entices the drones). I am sure the little black dots are all drones - Atlanta air in the pandemic is remarkably clean because there are no cars on the road since everyone is staying home!

Once back on the ground, Julia takes the drones out of the trap one at a time; marks their backs with a permanent red marker and releases them. At another nearby DCA, she uses a yellow marker. So if she sees her red-marked drones in the yellow district, she knows that the red-painted drone frequents more than one DCA.

It was interesting to look closely at the netting of the trap - it's a wide netting and very soft, unlike what I have seen in fabric stores. 

At the end of the whole process (Julia has found that she catches the most drones in the 4PM - 5PM time slot), she puts the balloon in her car and drives home very carefully because the balloon is so BIG that the hatchback will not fully close!

Julia's project has made me much more interested in the drones in my hive and more curious about their behavior in general.

Inspection of the Community Garden Hives April 24, 2020

On April 24, I videoed an inspection of the three hives at the community garden. In this time of COVID-19, we can't do gathering around the hives to inspect and this is a way to share how an inspection might go with new and old beekeepers.

I have bad timing for these videos. Most of the time, it's windy on the hill, but this time we were plagued with yard guys - incredibly noisy yard guys! First Jeff and I went to the garden to put on the robber screens and the Georgia Power people were weed whacking the garden. They stood to get their photos with us doing our bee work in the background.

Then several days later, I went to the garden to video the actual inspection. This time the yard guys from the house next door began loud leaf blowers or weed whackers as soon as I opened the hive. ARGHHH.

When I show these videos to the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers, we do it in a Zoom meeting with lots of questions and interaction. So far I haven't recorded the meetings. Maybe I should but for now,
here's the video:

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