Welcome - Explore my Blog

There are over 1170 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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Monday, March 31, 2008

Heifer Hope Honey

Years ago when I was a Girl Scout leader, my co-leader had the idea that our girls, who had everything in the world they needed, might be more appreciative of what they had if they learned about how others in the world are doing without enough food, etc. So we worked on a project through Heifer International to give pregnant goats to families in Haiti. The girls were fascinated learning that goats frequently have twins, so when we donated a pregnant goat to a family, the family in all likelihood would receive three goats - the mom and her twins.

I've always remembered the impact of that project. So at the holidays I like to give presents to my nieces and nephews that represent helping other people. For the last few years, I have given them a gift from the Heifer Project. Now that I am a beekeeper, I give them a gift of bees

This picture is from the Heifer Project web page

The Heifer Project takes the money I give in my relatives' names and provides a hive of bees, one for each niece and nephew, to families in countries around the world. The family then is taught by the Heifer Project about beekeeping. I love that the Heifer Project gifts include the obligation of the family to pass the gift on to others in their village.

Here is what they say at the beginning of the page about honeybees: "From Uganda to El Salvador, bees from Heifer International help struggling families earn income through the sale of honey, beeswax and pollen."

Today I got an email from the Heifer Project about the sale of honey from these bee projects around the world. You can learn about
Heifer Honey and how to purchase it. What a worthwhile project.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Julia's Swarm

During the day at work, I keep my email up and running. On Thursday between appointments, I checked my email to find one from my friend Julia entitled: "Yikes!" Of course that got my immediate attention.

Her son's hive had swarmed. She watched the bees fly out of the hive by the thousands for the twenty minute process of leaving the hive. And then as luck would have it, the bees gathered on a branch in Julia's yard.

Julia, who was taken entirely by surprise by this development, called Martha, the president of our bee club and the Georgia Beekeeper of the Year. Martha came over with an extra hive box and the process of trying to capture the swarm began.

Julia's husband and sons collected the swarm while she took the pictures. (Her youngest son is wearing Julia's beesuit!) They shook the bees into a large Rubbermaid container. Then they poured the swarm into the hive body. Julia sent me pictures and you can now see the process of capturing this swarm by clicking on the slideshow below to see the pictures full-sized:



I love the picture of the proud swarm-catchers in the last slide.

Up to now Julia and her oldest son have each had bee hives, although the family clearly has the outfits for everyone to participate! Now this new hive will belong to her youngest son.

How lucky to be there for the swarm, to have it land in her yard, and to have it be low enough to effect a capture! I wish I could have seen it, but the pictures are fantastic. Thanks for sharing these, Julia.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Mystery of the Vanishing Water Source


This morning I had a visitor to see my bees - Elizabeth Rice, a reporter from the Home Town News. I took her out on the deck to show her the hives and the water source was not on the deck railing! I had just posted pictures yesterday of the bees happily enjoying the water.

I looked down fourteen feet below and there lay the crashed water source, no longer a bee paradise. I went down and gathered up the parts - the two pot saucers (thank goodness they are plastic) and the piece of brick paver that serves as a place for bees to stand while they drink.


It looked mussed and sort of forlorn on the deck railing. But I filled it with water and hope the bees continue to enjoy it.


I do wonder what toppled it. An owl is probably too light. Perhaps a wandering possum decided to take a drink in the night and lost its balance.
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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Do You Know Where Your Bees Are? or How to Get along with your neighbors

This post is really part two of the beginner question: "How do you deal with your neighbors when you keep bees?" Part one is here.

There are a number of issues to consider in dealing with your neighbors such as protecting your neighbors from the bees' flight paths. This can mean putting your hives beside a tall fence so that in order to leave your yard, they have to fly up above your neighbors' heads. In my yard this is solved by putting my bees on a deck with a high hedge around it.

A second issue is to protect view of the hives to keep the neighbors from constant awareness of your bees. If the bees are too prominent, you are likely to be blamed for every yellow jacket sting in the neighborhood.

A third issue is where the bees will get water. If your neighbors have a swimming pool, the bees will be drawn (who knows why) to the chlorine in the water. But more than chlorine, bees like really nasty water. My first year I provided them with a lovely water source.
I've since learned that they like it best when old leaves, moss, etc collects in the water source.

Below you can see several pictures of my bees this morning, drinking out of the water source, now filled with leaves and other yuck.




Click on this picture for a lovely view of the bee's tongue in the upper bee on the moss.
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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

First Signs of Spring

At my house one of the earliest signs of spring is when the rosemary bush begins to bloom. Now not only is it blooming, but the bumblebees have begun to visit it.
Another sign of spring in the south is the budding of the azalea bushes.
In Atlanta one of the most obvious signs of spring is the blooming of the dogwood which began this week. We think this is such a sign of our spring that we have had an Atlanta Dogwood Festival every year for 72 years. But if you are a beekeeper, the first sign of spring is when you observe a DRONE in the hives. When the male bees begin to emerge in the hives, the business of making queens and making new little bees becomes a serious spring activity. This drone circled in red in the picture above, is from March 27 of 2007 . You can see him best by clicking on the picture to enlarge it.

I saw my first drone this year last Saturday on March 22, just after the official first day of spring. He was walking proudly through the hive. I think he felt more territorial since he was the only one I saw.

I was in an awkward position when I saw him, balancing the frame in one hand and putting the frame rack on the hive with the other and couldn't take his picture. He was actually more handsome than the 2007 first drone, but I can't always snap what I want to snap. In the early spring, the new drones stand out because they are so much larger than the worker bees. However, later in the season when there are at least 100 drones in most hives, the lone drone is not a spectacle but part of the ordinary.

I find it so interesting that the bees push the drones out of the hives to starve to death in the fall. The hive then lives through the winter as a circle of women. In the spring the queen begins to lay eggs in drone cells again and the process starts all over.

The drone has a grandfather but not a father. Workers and queens develop from fertilized eggs. They have genetic material from both the drone with whom the queen mated in midair and the queen bee.

Unlike the workers, drones develop from unfertilized eggs. The eggs from which they come have only half of the genetic material - their mother's genetic material. So drones have grandfathers (the queen's genetic material) but not fathers. They are haploid beings.

The drone has no stinger, so he is a good practice bee for the art of picking up a single bee. I'm hoping to do this this year so that someday I, having practiced with drones, can pick up and mark a queen.

But I have a hard time picking up dead bees from the deck - speaking of dexterity, not squeamishness - so I don't think this will be an easy challenge.
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Friday, March 21, 2008

Some more Random Smoker Thoughts


Here is a picture (above) of the smoker being lit with the wax impregnated paper towel from the solar wax melter. I keep those paper towels in a ziploc bag and tear off pieces to help light the smoker.

Here's how the smoker looks when it is operating properly. Note there's plenty of smoke coming out.

Fire is a consideration when you are finished using the smoker. I hang mine in an aluminum bucket. The smoker has a bent metal hook on the front side. I then stop up the smoke opening with a wine cork. This deprives the fire of oxygen and it soon goes out. There remain unburnt pieces of pine straw or whatever fuel I was using to help start the fire the next time. In Scouts we always learned that it was easier to start a fire with wood from the night before that had already burned some rather than starting from scratch. The smoker works that way as well.

This is the most unique job my smoker has ever had to do - be the centerpiece for a flower arrangement for the Short Course in January!
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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

How to Light a Smoker

The smoker is a metal, spouted container with a hinged lid and a bellows attached. We build a small fire in the smoker with the plan to create a cool smoke that will cause the bees to react by gorging themselves with honey. Beekeepers say that the bees think there's a forest fire and go to ingest the honey to remove it from the hive.

I don't like to smoke the bees. They are upset by smoking and they take a while to recover from the smoke. In addition the smoke affects the honey in the hive. I do always light the smoker when I am going to inspect the hives. You never know when a hive will be cantankerous -- upset by the weather, the loss of the queen, your bad timing, whatever. I want to be prepared to distract them if I am liable to be stung unreasonably.

There are so many hard parts in lighting a smoker. This is the beginning of my third year in beekeeping and I still find it difficult. When I went to the Young Harris Beekeeping Institute last spring, I found the first part of lighting the smoker (lighting the lighter to light the smoker) to be the hardest part!

I can't light a cigarette lighter - my thumb just rolls on the mechanism and nothing happens. I'm not fast enough. The solution for me has been the hand held propane lighter. It's simple to use and easy to light.


There are lots of fuels used to light the smoker. The fuel needs to be one that will release a cool smoke. Most people in Georgia use wads of pine needles. Others use burlap cut into strips and rolled up. Leaves provide smoker fuel. Some of the bee catalog companies sell fuel for the smokers. Sometimes it is pressed cotton , sometimes it is wood pellets, sometimes baling twine.

The goal is not only to light the smoker but to keep it lit. A friend of mine uses cedar chips for hamsters. I find cedar hard to keep lit, but she swears by it. Virginia Webb (a well-known Georgia beekeeper) uses wood chips and puts some in the bottom, lights them and keeps feeding the chips. Bob Binnie (president of the GA beekeepers Association) uses Dadant pellets. Bob starts his smoker with a wadded up paper towel and then feeds in the pellets.

A by-product of using the solar wax melter is the wax impregnated paper towel filter through which the melted wax drips into the collection container. I keep the paper towel filter infused with melted wax residue on hand to be a smoker fire starter, more powerful than the plain paper towel that Bob uses.



Once you've lit the smoker, the main challenge is to keep it lit. To do so, one must remember to pump the bellows every once in a while to keep the fire burning or at least smoldering and providing smoke going up the chimney to use on the bees as needed. I said "one must" because I always forget about the smoker - I rarely use it and it often goes out before I am finished with my inspection.

There are some pictures from some earlier posts on learning to light the smoker here and here.
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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

How to build a Frame

At the end of January I posted some questions that most new beekeepers wish to have answered (or at least I did). Here are the questions:
  1. How hard is it to put together a hive box?
  2. What do you use to light a smoker?
  3. How do you put the bees in the hive and what are the scary parts?
  4. How do you deal with your neighbors?
  5. What is it like to be stung the first time?
  6. How much is the initial investment and do you have to have an extractor?
  7. Will you have enough wax the first year to make candles?
  8. What's the purpose of a hive inspection and how hard is it to do one?
  9. What are the most confusing parts of the first year of beekeeping?
I answered the first one: "How hard is it to put together a hive box?" here.
A missing question from the above list is how to build frames for your hives. The easiest way to build frames is to use a "jig" to build a lot of frames at once, but in order to use the jig, you have to understand how just one frame is built - so here goes:


Basically you glue the frames together and then nail them together.


If you are using foundation, on some frames you nail in the foundation with the wedge. On others you wax in the foundation into the groove of the frame using the wax tube fastener. I don't usually use foundation, but rather give the bees starter strips which are waxed into the frames just like full sheets of foundation. I wax the starter strips into both groove and wedge frames.


I find building frames to be a bit boring so instead of working on my downstairs workbench, I usually build my frames in front of the TV while I watch a movie.

The frames I built in this post came from Walter T. Kelley Company. His frames have two notches on the bottom of the end bar, but the principle of frame building is the same whether there are two notches on the bottom of the end bar or just one.

I made one of my own movies about building frames posted below:

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

The "Come Hither" Allure of Lemongrass Oil and Nasty Water

I've been out of town all weekend and returned to a bright, warm sunny day in Atlanta. I noticed at least three bees drawn to the allure of my lemongrass oil slick wiped on the landing deck as well as the frames and inner cover of the hive I've set out as a swarm lure. I don't know if these are simply the bees from my two hives on the deck who are curious or if they are scouts from a swarm in the making. I took at least 20 pictures to get these two and they aren't very good, but at least you can see the curious bees.

Bee curiosity is demonstrated in their flight into the hive. A bee who lives in a hive literally makes a beeline for the landing and goes without hesitation into the front opening unless there's a crowd on the landing. When a bee is looking at a hive that she doesn't belong to, she approaches the front by flying up and hovering watchfully, often several times before she lands and goes into the hive. (Robber bees often exhibit the same caution before entering).

Notice the darker area on the landing - this is where I spread the lemongrass oil/beeswax/olive oil spread that I made to act as a lure.

I also found bees in this nasty water collected in last year's flower pot. Over the weekend there was a tornado in Atlanta (not near my house) and lots of rain. Before this weekend, there was collected water in the top of this pot but the dead plant life provided a place for the bees to land. If you look at 12:00 in the pond-lake, you'll see a dead bee.
Upon observing this, I felt a need to provide them with a better landing place and put a broken stick in the pot that you can see in the close-up shot in the last picture.
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Monday, March 10, 2008

The Sad Saga of the Flying Sugar Syrup

As a beekeeper, I've had lots of adventures that involved dropping. Last year I dropped a hive frame full of bees from my Proteus hive. Then there was the setting down of the small swarm hive in so many topsy turvy ways that the bees finally balled and killed the queen, blaming her for my mistakes.

This year it's sugar syrup. On Sunday I barely had time to open the hives to check on their food supplies. I wanted to replace the Ziploc baggies of sugar syrup. I filled two baggies, one for each hive, and set them upright in a 9" cake pan to carry them out to the hives. I took everything I needed out to the hives and then carried the cake pan and set it on the deck railing behind the first hive, Mellona.

I opened the top of Mellona and as I did, I heard a "PLOP" behind me. The bag of sugar syrup, off balance in the 9"cake pan, flopped over the edge of the pan like a fat Slinky and fell off of the deck. Oh, dear. These two bags represented 8 cups of sugar. I ran, beesuit and all down the deck stairs to rescue the fallen bag. It of course had hit the branches of the red tipped photinia on its fall to the pine straw below the deck.

The bag was leaking on all sides from the photinia slits. I folded the cuts to the center and raced into the house where I put this baggie inside another baggie and then emptied the remaining contents into the new bag. I carefully zipped the baggie shut and put what was left on Mellona.

This happened way too fast for pictures! Ah, the saga of my beekeeping adventures continues.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Working with the Girl Scouts

Tonight I went to a troop meeting for the Girl Scout troop I am helping this year. This was such an enthusiastic group of girls. I talked about beekeeping for a while, showed them some pictures and introduced them to the effort you make when keeping bees. They have already ordered a nuc of bees from P.N. Williams, a beekeeper in Atlanta who supplies a lot of people with their bees.

After the talking part of the meeting we built frames for their hive boxes. I had a set of deep frames that I won at my first beekeeping class, so I gave them to the girls with plastic foundation and they nailed and glued them all together. We also nailed a 10 frame set of shallow super frames.
These girls all used the hammer well and are so proud of their good work.
We put the finished frames in the deep box that they will use when their nuc comes.
Here are most of the happy beekeepers-to-be....they are busy as bees as they build their frames. I had a great time with them and we ended by tasting my honey. I look forward to working with them again in April. They gave me a big group hug when I left!
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I saw Eggs with my own eyes today!

Hive inspection today. Purpose: Powdered sugar shake and determination if new frames or boxes are needed on either hive and to see how the feeding is going.

I opened Bermuda and there were scads of bees. They have brood in both boxes and I SAW EGGS! I saw them with my own eyes - not inside with the camera transferred to the computer. Isn't that the best? But I don't have pictures of the eggs I saw, however, I did see them in both hives. Maybe getting the sun behind me happened at just the right angle, maybe I was lucky, but I saw EGGS.

It's nice to know that there is a functioning queen in both hives.

Of course the price for this was that an angry bee from Bermuda stung me on the right side of my neck, right through my veil. It hurt worse than past stings. I immediately came inside, leaving the hive open, scraped out the stinger and put toothpaste on it. Plantain is supposed to be the best, but I don't have any in my yard, and I had read on the Internet that toothpaste helps. I also put one of the melt-in-your-mouth Benadryl strips in my mouth. I then quickly returned to the beehive to put the hive back together.

I did a powdered sugar shake on both hives. Here is a picture of the bees at the front of the hive after the shake. You can see the ones who had been powdered! There is also abee with big pollen baskets all full at the bee-end of the entrance reducer.

Miracle of miracles, I only saw a total of ONE hive beetle. The last few times I've seen lots of them. Now the hives are both much stronger and have probably invited the SHB to find another home. I certainly hope so!

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Burning out Old Equipment

Tonight I am going to work with the members of a Girl Scout Troop who are getting ready to set up their own beehive and to make an effort to keep bees. In the process they are developing a "Try-it" for the Georgia scouts. They have ordered their bees. A good friend of mine who had bees 30 years ago is cleaning out his barn in north Georgia and gave me old hive boxes for these girls. To try to kill any spores for AFB (American Foulbrood) the interior of the boxes has to be burned.
Beekeeping for me has expanded my home construction skills - non-existent before this endeavor. To burn out the hive boxes, I purchased a propane torch. It took me all morning to get the courage to figure out how to use it. (The hardest part was how to get the white top off of the propane container, but I was finally successful). I burned the interior of each box. It was a little scary - the flame is very hot and outdoors I could hear the flame but couldn't see it. I had a bucket of water sitting ready in case I needed to put out a fire.

The package says menacingly not to do this on concrete (see the floor of my carport) because some concrete explodes with heat. I certainly wasn't going to flame inside my house, so the concrete carport was the place of choice and I simply crossed my fingers. Well, I didn't really - it took both hands - one to hold the torch and one to steady the hive boxes.

In the end I burned out a deep, a medium and three honey supers as well as a telescoping cover and an inner cover.
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