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I've been keeping this blog for all of my beekeeping years and I began my 12th year of beekeeping in April 2017. Now there are almost 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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Monday, April 17, 2017

Package Bees are not Loyal to Their Queen

When the package bees woke up that morning, they didn't know they were going to be shaken into a package with a bunch of strange bees, often not their sisters. Then they were hanging around in a screened cage complete with a syrup can and a queen (not THEIR mother) in a cage. Loyalty to a stranger has to be earned.

So when the beekeeper picks up a package, it's not a bonded group. It's a loosely connected bunch of unrelated bees with an unrelated and heretofore unknown queen.

I took two packages to Stonehurst Place to install the bees on March 29. The packages were about equal in size:

As in the typical package installation, I sprayed both packages with sugar water and then installed them. The hives are side by side facing a privacy fence so that in flying out, the bees have to fly up and over the fence.

Here's the first hive that I installed:

You can see at the front of the box the tape on the top of the queen cage which I jammed between two frames. Although you can see the syrup can sitting on top of the frames, after the bees settled in a little, I removed that and put on the inner cover. Then I gave them a feeder of Bee Tea on top of the inner cover hole.

As you may remember, I have been dealing with an injured shoulder (from a fall in October) that is just now getting better. When I finished the first install and turned to the second my shoulder hurt and I didn't have it in me to be quite as thorough. 

I had a terrible time with the staple holding the Hive 2 queen cage to the package and destroyed the tape in the process. I decided to put the queen cage on the floor of the hive under the frames instead of putting it between two frames. 

When I returned three days later to give them more food, there were about three times as many bees in hive 2 than the first hive. 

And today when I went over to see if they needed a new box, here's how the bees looked in hive 1:

They are in the hive and working, but not nearly like hive 2:

Hive 2 had bright white wax drawn on every frame. I gave them a new box and pulled up two filled frames as ladders to encourage the use of the new box.  

I think all of this is about lack of loyalty and strength of pheromones. The bees were looking for a place to go and probably the pheromone of the queen in hive 2 was stronger than the queen in hive 1. And with queen 2 on the bottom of the hive, it was probably easier to smell her pheromone than the queen in hive 1 who was wedged between the frames.

So the bees who had no loyalty to begin with, gravitated to the queen in hive 2 - whether because of her strong pheromone or advantageous cage placement.

How I will handle this, in the long run, is that the next time I am over at Stonehurst Place, I'll move a frame of brood and eggs from Hive 2 to Hive 1.  If I do that every time, gradually I'll help build the population of Hive 1.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Hive Drape as a Swarm Kit Asset

One of Jeff's friends had found a swarm in her compost bin and told Jeff he could have the bees if he'd like to get them. He texted me yesterday but I was too busy. "No problem," he told me. "They are already building comb and have moved in. We can go tomorrow."

I had just heard Bobby Chaisson talk about doing cut-outs at my local bee meeting. So I packed the car this morning to cut the bees out of the compost bin - big, big rubber bands, two nuc boxes with totally empty frames, a spray bottle of syrup, in addition to my hive kit which has everything. I asked Jeff to bring a sharp knife and a flashlight.

Here's what we found when we arrived at a beautiful Garden Hills home in Atlanta:

You can see the comb that has been drawn through the clutching bees.

The bees were using the air holes in the compost bin as entrance into the compost bin. The holes just fit a bee.

I truly didn't know how we would get them. My first inclination was to spread a hive drape under the bees to help us see the ones that fell. Turns out that was the best thing we did. I started by spreading two hive drapes.

If you don't know/remember, I regularly use flour sacking towels as hive drapes when I inspect bee hives. I cover the exposed top of a box and only uncover the frame I am taking out of the box. The bees stay calmer. So here are Jeff's hands and the hive drapes inside the composter.

My guess is that this is a secondary swarm who left their hive with a virgin queen. Then we had cold weather and the queen couldn't fly nor could the scouts. They decided to remain in the composter and started drawing comb. It's not much different than top bars in Africa inside split barrels. I expect they've only been in the composter for a couple of weeks.

We cut the tiny teardrops of honeycomb one layer at a time and rubber-banded the pieces into empty frames. This piece has pollen in it and we saw bees flying into the composter with pollen on their legs:

Even after we had cut and rubber-banded all of the comb, there were still tons of bees left in to composter. The bees were indicating that the queen was still in the composter.

We tried using the bee brush and brushing the bees into a plant saucer, then dumping them into the cardboard nuc we had brought, but that only yielded a few bees each time. Then we figured out how to use the hive drapes. We added a few drapes so that we had about four stacked up. Then we brushed the bees off of the inside of the composter and onto the hive drapes.

Instead of picking up the drape, I folded the edges into the center, picked up the drape which was full of bees and put the cloth, bees and all, into the cardboard nuc. We did this until we ran out of both bees and hive drapes!

Finally the bees let us know the queen was in the hive box. We must have gotten her in one of the drape carries. 

We waited about 20 minutes until most of the bees were in the hive and then put the nuc in the back of my car.

After lunch, I installed them into a hive in my backyard. First I dumped the drape covered bees into the open space in the hive and then moved in the rubberbanded frames. 

This afternoon the bees were all in the hive and doing orientation flying.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Hidden Cost of the Forest Fire in Rabun County

Last year in the fall, Georgia was plagued with two forest fires. The Rough Ridge fire was in the Cohutta Wilderness. The Rock Mountain fire in Rabun County where I have bees engulfed over 40,000 acres. The smoke from these fires was so bad that the air in Atlanta over 100 miles south of the fires was smoky.

This is a photo from the US Forest Service:

My bee hives in Rabun County are on my friends' mountain property. They live on the edge of the national forest off of Patterson Gap road. As Thanksgiving approached, so did the fire. Photos from their land at night looked like this with the forest fire just over the ridge from their house:

Helicopters came to their land to drop big buckets into their pond to get water to dump on the fire.

When the fire was the closest, here's how it looked through their window at night (these photos were taken by their daughter-in-law):

My beehives were about half a football field's length away from this window in the direction of the fire.

This past week I was up in Rabun County and when I went to check the hive, the bees (as one might imagine) were gone. We smoke bees when we inspect the hives to create the illusion that a fire is nearby, distracting the bees to go in panic and address the question, "What should I take with me if my house is on fire?" For the bees, what they should take is honey. 

Of course bees absconding at the end of November would not survive. And where would they go? The county was thick with smoke and the fire moved through slowly as it made its way up to Gatlinburg.

Engulfed in smoke for days, at some point these bees left. There was not a dead bee anywhere in the hive. I'm sure they took what honey they could, but they left behind full supers of honey. 

I brought these supers home to harvest and set both Rabun County hives up as swarm hives since swarm season is just starting in north Georgia. I left the hives with two boxes of drawn comb each and smeared swarm lure at the entrance and on the top bars. Maybe I'll get lucky. If not, I'll make a split later this spring to take up there before the sourwood season.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Discouraging to see mosquito treatment starting

I know everyone is scared of Zika and/or inconvenienced, especially in the south, by the prevalence of mosquitoes. However, there are alternatives to spraying. I posted this on my local NextDoor email site:

I'm starting to see mosquito treatment signs in people's yards. As a beekeeper, I'd like to urge any of you who are considering treating for mosquitoes to consider several things:

1. The bees (honey bees) and other pollinators are in danger. If you must treat, please choose a provider who follows the rules for pesticide use on the container and who will TREAT AFTER DARK. The bees and other pollinators are flying during daylight and WILL be killed by your mosquito treatment. Spraying after dark gives the bees half a chance that the poison will be all dried up by morning and not kill them. And dark is defined as DARK - not dusk.

2. Try alternate methods before you choose treatment - in your own yard pour out any standing water in plant saucers, in containers of any kind. Put sprigs of rosemary on your barbecue coals (repels mosquitoes). Put mosquito repellent on yourself and your family rather than poison the plants in your yard for the bees.

3. Please think of the bees and our environment before you choose to spray.
4. There are good articles all over the Internet for alternative ways to deal with mosquitoes, such as this one.

One man wrote in response to my post on Next Door that he leaves a little standing water in his yard and floats in the standing water a product sold at the big box stores like Home Depot and Lowes called Mosquito Dunks. I looked for research on them and found this which says they are not dangerous to bees.

In general, the pesticide industry needs a wake-up call about the harm to pollinators dealt by all the mosquito spraying. Not only are the pesticides used inappropriately (not according to the instructions on the package), but also trucks carrying the chemicals used in lawns and gardens can be quite careless. My friend Julia was in her car the other day behind a pesticide truck that was totally leaking pesticide all over the road.

She took a video from her car (you can hear NPR in the background). She sent the video to the Pollinator Stewardship Council whose spokesperson, Michele Colopy, was a speaker at our recent GBA meeting in February. Michele helped Julia learn how to report to EPA, the GA department of agriculture, etc.

It's important that we take action as spillage and improper use of pesticides is harmful to our bee population.

POST SCRIPT: Julia went to court. The driver plead guilty. He fixed his truck already and he was fined $1000. Yay for Julia for standing up for the bees (and all of our health).

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Birthday Week of the Blog

My blog began in April 2006 on Easter Sunday. This week upcoming marks the birthday week of my blog. My twelfth year begins this month. That's a long time to keep a blog pretty continually.

I look forward to this year of posting and seeing what kind of year my bees and I have as another bee season gets fully underway with the blooming of the tulip poplar which began in Atlanta last week.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Honey for Breakfast

My daughter and her family are in Ireland for spring break. This morning they sent a photo of my granddaughter, Lark, at breakfast in Killarney. Look at the full frame of local honey to eat with their croissants!

Installing a Package at Stonehurst

On Tuesday, I got an email from Stonehurst that our bees were ready for pickup at Mountain Sweet Honey in Toccoa, GA. I called Mountain Sweet and they said the bees needed to be picked up right away, so I drove up early Wednesday morning to pick up the two packages. Luckily I had the time and it was a pretty day for a drive. Also, the section of Atlanta I-85 which is one mile from my house had not collapsed and caught fire yet! That happened the next day.

So our bees at Stonehurst died during the winter of 2015. In 2016, a swarm moved into one of the hives and they chugged along but didn't make it through the winter. The owner really wanted bees there again, so she ordered a package of Italians and a package of Carniolans for this spring.

I haven't shown photos of a package installation in a while, so thought I'd share these.

I drove the bees back in the back of my car so when we got back to Atlanta one and a half hours later, they couldn't wait to be put in a hive. I stopped by my house and got two rapid feeders (because you have to feed packages). Packages of bees consist of bees who didn't know that they were leaving home when they woke up on the morning they were poured into a package. If they were swarming bees, they would have filled their bellies with honey in preparation for the swarm.

A package is an artificial swarm in a sense in that the bees have no comb or established brood. Instead they are a bunch of bees with a queen who isn't their mother. They have to draw wax and get started the minute they are installed but without honey in their honey stomachs, they have no resources to make wax. Thus, the beekeeper MUST feed a package.

So I picked up two rapid feeders, mixed up some bee tea, grabbed a squirt bottle of sugar syrup from my swarm kit, and got a couple of empty boxes to use as a funnel to pour the bees into the hive.

I set the packages on the ground while I worked on the hives. I squirted both boxes with sugar syrup on both sides to calm them and give them something to do.

I wasn't planning to do this on Wednesday, so I had to clean out both hives before installing the bees. This meant pulling off the boxes all the way to the ground to clean out the dead roaches, wax that had been consumed by wax moths and other detritus in the hive. I had brought clean new frames. I set each hive up with two medium boxes. Then I planned to leave the rapid feeder inside an empty medium box above the inner cover.

I pried off the wood cover and pulled out the feeder, shaking the bees back into the box and covering the hole with the wood. Then I gently pulled out the queen cage, again shaking the bees back into the box.

The queen cage was wedged between two frames (pretty easy to do in an 8 frame box). Then I put the "funnel" empty box above the two hive boxes and shook in the bees. Usually I bang the package on the ground to loosen the bees' grip so that it is easier to pour them into the hive.

I brushed the bees on the top edge into the box and put the top on to allow them to calm down while I installed the second package. I then returned to the hive and using my bee brush, got them down off of the funnel box. I then slid the inner cover on and put on the rapid feeder. I filled it with bee tea, put on the telescoping cover and left the bees to adjust to their new surroundings.

All of the bees never leave the package so I set the package up facing the hive so the remaining bees could go inside at their leisure.

I edited the above photo to rotate it, but in my new computer without Picasa, I can't get it to save my edit. Sorry you have to twist your head around, but I wanted you to see that the opening of the package faces the opening of the hive.

I went back on Friday and gave them more food and plan to go again on Sunday. But the tulip poplar started blooming today so our nectar flow has begun and I'll not feed them for much longer.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Rookie Mistakes in Beekeeping

It's the beginning of bee season in the south and many people are getting their packages and nucs. We are having a discussion at the Atlanta Beekeeping Meetup tomorrow night about rookie mistakes. That made me want to write about them here.

Some rookie mistakes that come to mind:

1. Not knowing what to do about the bees that stay in the nuc box you just installed or the package you just shook into a hive.

My first installation (and others after that) stopped the instructions with shaking the remaining bees into the hive. No matter how much you shake, bees remain in the nuc box or the package that still smells like home to them. So when you are finished with your work of installing, there will still be a large number of bees clinging to the old box or remaining on the package's screen wire. When I installed my first nucs, I called five beekeepers before I found someone who told me to stand the "empty" nuc box on end in front of the entrance and all of the bees would eventually find their way home to Mama.

2. Failing to light the smoker

I often only use the smoker once to puff at the front door to announce my presence to the bees. Then I set it in front of the hive and rarely use it. I get away with it because I use hive drapes. The very day that you, the beginner, go out to the hive without the smoker is the day that the hive is roaring mad and you really get stung. Never open the hive without having lit the smoker.

3. Not having enough equipment ready to use

Beekeeping is not a cheap hobby. But that being said, the worst thing that can happen is to run out of equipment. The bees don't understand that the equipment that they need to be happy (a new box, more frames) is on a UPS truck. They need you to have it when they run out of space. Always be several boxes ahead of your bees.

4. Feeding when the bees don't need it

You'll have to feed a package and you might want to feed a swarm. A nuc comes with its food already being stored in the hive. If a nectar flow is on, the bees don't want/need your sugar syrup. If you keep feed on the hive when there is a nectar flow, the bees may back fill all of the brood cells as well as their honey cells, leaving no room for the queen to lay. Also I am convinced that much of the honey in the US is partially sugar syrup because new beekeepers are so eager to feed their bees.

5. Leaving frames out of a box (not respecting bee space)

When you put a hive box together, you need to fill it with the requisite number of frames. If you don't the bees will make a mess. They only need bee space, and the area left open by the lack of a frame is an invitation for them to fill the space with unsupported comb. Once I fed new hives by putting baggie feeders on top of the hive bars instead of on top of the inner cover. I returned to find that the bees (all eight hives of them) had built beautiful comb from the bottom side of the inner cover. What a mess.

6. Cutting queen cells when you see them

Often nucs are so crowded in their nuc box before they are picked up, that they are eager to swarm and make more room. When they do, they leave queen cells behind. The rookie beekeeper may see these cells and cut them. But guess what? The hive swarmed when you weren't around and by cutting the queen cells, you render your new hive queenless. Besides as you work harder at bee-ing, you'll discover that the best way to deter a swarm is to use checkerboarding and that those queen cells can be used to make splits!

7. Opening hive too frequently

Great way to kill your hive. PN Williams in Atlanta always said to start with two hives: one to kill by over inspecting it and one to survive! Always have a reason for your hive inspection (just to look is not a reason - checking to see if the queen is laying is a reason). That might keep you from opening more than about once a week at most.

8. Going out to hive with no protection, wearing black, having drunk a coke, and at 4:30 in the afternoon.

Many beekeepers cut down on the amount of protective gear they wear as their beekeeping experience expands. However, at first, we are typically awkward and may drop frames, smash bees, or have a hard time handling the bees that fly into your face/veil. Wear your gear. Also bees don't like black (makes them think you are a bear), don't like caffeine (don't drink coffee right before an inspection) and are a little frantic at orientation time (around 3:30 - 4:30 in the afternoon. Avoid all of the above when you are inspecting.

Yes, there is a story here - I was singing in a choir in my early beekeeping years and was so enamored of my bees. We had an all day choir workshop and I had on black, had drunk a coke and we got a break at 4:00 before an evening get together at 6. So I went home and sat down between my hives at about 4:30. I was just peacefully sitting there, but the bees were orienting, I had on black and had drunk caffeine. So one of them zapped me on the side of my face. I was teaching at Emory at the time and had to go to work with one side of my face totally swollen and red. I don't get those large local reactions anymore, but at the time, I was a sight to behold!

9. Dropping a frame.

My second to the worst sting occurred when I dropped a deep foundationless frame of brood in my second year. I forgot that I couldn't hold the frame at a slant to look at it (you can't with foundationless because they are often not attached at the bottom of the frame). The honeycomb and brood dropped off and all the angry nurse bees came after me, crawling up the legs of my pants and getting me everywhere they could find purchase for their stingers.

10. Harvesting too much honey in first year.

The idea is for your first year bees to survive the following winter and be alive for a second year. In Atlanta, I always leave at least a box and a half of honey on each of my hives. Find out what your bees need in your area and leave at least that amount for your bees. If you just really want to taste your honey (and of course, you do), then take one frame out of your heaviest box and crush and strain it so you can have something to show for your labors. Leave the rest for the bees and your reward will be great the next year.

Beekeeping is a constant learning activity. I learn new things with each talk I hear, each website I visit, and each book or article that I read. The more you learn, the less likely you are to make rookie mistakes.

What rookie mistakes can you add to this list?

Good luck with your bees!

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