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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, May 31, 2009

Inspection #3 at Blue Heron

Blue Heron was due for another teaching inspection today for members of Metro Atlanta Beekeepers' Association and people who took our short course. We had about 8 people at the inspection.

Luckily we had good queen spotters in the group who spotted the queen in my two hives. These hives were all started from nucs this year and not one hive of the three has its original queen. Keith Fielder at our last bee meeting said that the queens in nucs are often poorly mated or old queens that a beekeeper wants to get rid of.

Julia's hive swarmed multiple times and finally have made themselves a good queen. My first hive showed all indication of being queenless from the beginning so we gave them resources and they requeened themselves with a well-functioning queen. The hive that we got to make up for the nuc being queenless had a queen in it but she is no longer there. They have also made a new queen and either ousted the old one or sent out a swarm with her.

Here is the slideshow of our inspection today. As usual, click on the slide to see it full sized and with captions. You can choose how long the picture will be on your screen as well:

Poor Frame Management - Oops!


I had to take Bermuda all the way down to the ground today (see previous post) and in doing so, I removed one box to find this under it. This is burr comb and the bees build it when there is space above the frames.

This occurrence means that in the box above this one on frame three I have put a shallow frame, rather than a medium one. Usually the bees build drone comb when they put brood in burr comb. You can see the drone cappings on the right side of the picture and an opened cell that was ripped when I removed the box above.

I was deeply disturbing the hive today because I had to repair the screened bottom board. I didn't remove this comb or try to fix the situation. I decided to note the frame and fix the situation on a calmer day.

On the top (newest) box in Bermuda, I noticed the last frame in the box was sitting up above the box top edge. (See it at the far right?) All week I had observed that the top cover was sitting askew, but didn't think anything of it. Well, this frame is why the top wouldn't go down. I had not pushed it into the box fully!

This error I did fix before putting the hive back together!

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Major (but easily fixed) problem with the Freeman SHB

A few days ago, I removed the Freeman trap on my Bermuda hive to allow the bees to have more ventilation. I'm not seeing any SHBs in any of my hives right now so using the trap didn't seem necessary for the moment.

To my horror, I pulled the trap out and there were hundreds of dead bees in the trap. I was so upset that I pulled the trap out and dumped the contents in a cookie sheet before I remembered to take a picture.

The picture below shows about 1/3 of the bees that were dead. My hands were shaky - they are all the time but the camera wasn't adjusting for it for some reason, although it has that capability. Anyway you can at least see the bodies.


This morning I could see many bees exiting the hive from the back. Bermuda is a huge hive - seven boxes - so I didn't want bees in my face and just held the camera down and took a picture without looking myself. You can see in the picture that the screen part of the screened bottom board is just hanging down about 1/2 inch - allowing the bees easy exit from the hive.

They were even using the back entrance they created to removed a rubber band from a frame. However, I guess that when the trap was in place, bees who entered or left that way also often fell into the vat of oil below the screen and they drowned.



I knew even with the honey flow in full force, I would have to take the hive apart and address this problem today.

I opened up the hive and took off all the boxes and stacked them. When I got to the trap, I took it off of the hive and turned it over.

As you can see the screen isn't attached to the frame. That was true all the way across the frame. The screen wire in the front entry was stapled with a staple gun to the wood beneath so this problem does not occur in the front. I got out my trusty staple gun and attached the screen to the wood frame, turned it over and began to restack the hive boxes.

I do hope I didn't injure the queen or kill too many bees in the process. The hive is boiling over with bees and honey.

The beetle trap is very effective on beetles although it was hard to see the SHB bodies for looking at the dead bee bodies. I don't see SHB in this hive and in between the dead bees were lots of dead SHBs.

I do think this is a major problem in the use of this trap and caught me by surprise. Although the trap works for the SHB, it should also be bee-friendly.

Jerry should not send out the traps without both screened edges being affixed to the wood. Perhaps in his eagerness to send me mine as a tester, he neglected this one thing and other traps he has sent out have both edges stapled.

As I did on all my hives today, I did take the opportunity to give a powdered sugar shake to the brood boxes for this hive.
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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Thank you all for your interest in my bees

When I woke up this morning, I found myself looking at statistics on this blog.
  • I've kept the blog since April 15, 2006, the day I got my first bees (the Saturday before Easter that year). I am now a little over a month into my fourth year.
  • As of today, the 28th of May 2009, there are 365 people who subscribe to my blog through RSS feed and
  • An additional 200 people are "followers" of this blog
  • I put a stat counter on the blog on May 10 2006. On that day 14 people visited my blog
  • Yesterday May 27, 2009, 316 people visited the blog and loaded 574 pages
  • Of those, 249 were visiting the blog for the first time
  • Since I put the counter on the blog, 103,333 unique people have been here
  • Last month I put a "flag counter" on the side bar and in just the past month people have visited this blog from 92 different countries
  • I also have a map at the very bottom of the blog showing red dots for the places from which people come and it's fun to see dots all over the world
  • The top ten Google search terms that got people to my site last week were:
  1. Solar wax melter;
  2. small hive beetle trap;
  3. mortician bees;
  4. harvesting honey without an extractor;
  5. linda's bees;
  6. hive beetle trap;
  7. crush and strain honey;
  8. linda's bee blog;
  9. hive beetle; and
  10. small hive beetle
  • According to Google analytics, the most popular pages on my site in the last month (as in most months) were:
  1. the video on how to use the simple solar wax melter
  2. the video on harvesting honey using the crush and strain method
  3. the video on building the small hive beetle trap
  4. the newbie questions at the beginning of keeping bees
  5. what's involved in a hive inspection
  6. how to install a nuc
Keeping a blog is a commitment I made to myself to force me to keep up with what was happening in my hives in a somewhat organized way. Having so many other people keep up with what I am doing makes it really a lot of fun.

Thank you, everyone, for the interest, the comments and the emails. I hope all of you who are beekeepers are having as much fun and learning as much as I am in the tiny world of the beehive.

Linda T

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Making Wax in the Bee Hive

The bees make wax by secreting wax from glands in their abdomen. They join together in festoons as they join the secretions. The bees in the picture below are stretched across the two frames I have separated with my hive tool as they are interrupted by me in the middle of their wax creation.



Look at the beauty of brand new wax. It is so white and clean. They typically do this - make three sections of comb in the frame - and then seamlessly join the three sections to fill the frame.

In the picture below, if you click to enlarge it, you can see that the edges of the wax cells remain somewhat rough. The cell isn't completed, whether it is used for brood or honey storage, until it is capped. Probably it doesn't matter to the bees if the edges are straight or not, since the capping will smooth over the edges.


At Blue Heron today, I found the bees in the third hive still making crooked comb. I cut out one piece that also included some honey. I set it on the hive beside the one I was inspecting. I saw this bee sticking her long tongue in the honey so as not to lose it! If you click to enlarge the picture you can see her long tongue down in the cell.
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The Demise of the April Swarm

When I went through my hives yesterday, I was concerned about the hive in the medium nuc box. I hadn't seen much activity and had given them a frame of brood and eggs to help them make a new queen.

Originally I thought this was larvae of the wax moth, but I looked with a magnifying glass after an email from "Doc" and found that the larvae has 6 anterior legs - which distinguishes the small hive beetle larvae from the wax moth larvae. The weak hive wasn't able to withstand the invasion of the small hive beetle. I have never before seen a frame in the middle of its destruction by SHB larvae.

It was the grossest, stickiest, nastiest frame. It was dripping with honey. All sides of the frame were glistening and sticky. And the frame was filled with 1/4" larvae, wriggling and squirming in the honeyed mess. Be sure to click to enlarge the picture so you too can have an up close and personal view of the squalor.



After leaving the frame with one side down on the deck railing, I turned it over to the other side. Larvae can't tolerate sunlight, so I thought I'd rid myself of them that way. This morning when I went out to examine the larvae with a magnifying lens, earwigs were feasting on the remains! Here are the dead larvae floating in the remains of the honey.



While this is the first time I've seen small hive beetle damage in process, I'm sure it won't be the last. I don't look forward to my next sticky encounter!
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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Swarm Has Moved In? Or Is this Scouting Behavior?

I left this old deep nuc sitting where ProteusA and B as well as Persephone had been housed in past years. I've smeared the landing area, the underside of the front edge of the top cover and the tops of the frames with my homemade swarm lure. I've pretty much ignored the nuc this spring - just hoped one of these days a swarm might want to move in.

I've been gone all weekend and returned to bee activity. There are 10 bees around the nuc in the picture below. Either this home is winning out in the scout's search or perhaps the bees have already taken possession.



In my carport are two boxes ready to go to Blue Heron to super the hives there. This box had three bees flying in and out of it as I drove up to my house. Maybe it is also being scouted by a potential swarm. We'll see and I'll let you know if it ever quits raining so that I can open my hives and see what's what at both places.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Visiting Clairmont Elementary School

Yesterday I started my day in Clairmont Elementary School in the Pre-K class. There were 18 kids there who had learned a lot about ants and now wanted to learn about bees.

I had so much fun. The children tried on two bee veils that I passed around.



Here is my friend Tracy's daughter, Ella, looking snappy in her bee veil and gloves. Tracy, her dad, had bees in his family when he was a kid. Ella was my assistant and helped in so many ways during the presentation.



We talked about how beekeepers put the bees in boxes and about how the bees build and live in honeycomb. They liked hearing that the bees don't wipe their feet when they come inside the house so after a while the comb isn't white any longer but is dirty and brown from bee footprints.



We all did the circle dance and the waggle dance together.

Then before I left everyone got to taste honey. I had a great time and I think they did too. One of the joys of bee-ing a beekeeper is getting to share information with other people.
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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Orientation is not Swarming

video

When you are a new beekeeper, it's hard to distinguish between swarming, orientation, and robbing . A swarm leaves the hive with a roar and in a very determined swirl up into the sky - like a tornado of bees. Robbing involves attacking by one set of bees on the occupants of the hive. You can see the attack, dead bees scattered in front of the hive and general mayhem.

Orientation is a different experience. It can be confusing because it contains some of the elements of both swarming and robbing. There's noisy buzzing like a swarm and the hive appears to have many bees leaving all at once. It's chaotic like robbing and the bees appear to be confused about whether they are coming or going - which is how robbing can look.

Here is a video to at least demonstrate orientation for you to clear up some of the confusion. If you can be calm yourself and watch your own bees, you'll begin to see that the same bees are flying up, turning to look at the front of the hive and then returning to the hive to begin the "practice run" again. The other give-away about orientation is that it happens at pretty much the same time every day - somewhere between 3 and 4 PM.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Eco-Fair at Blue Heron Nature Preserve

Today there was an Eco-Fair at Blue Heron Nature Preserve. I went to represent beekeepers in the natural environment. Several members of Metro Atlanta stopped by and Gina, my local beekeeping friend, helped me run the table.

We took Julia's observation hive, which I had to go get from her house. What an adventure, but I got the bees without mishap. I have the Ob hive at Blue Heron from 11 until 4 when the bees began to act agitated and I thought I should take them home!

Here are Gina and me, working together to explain bees to all the passersby. We handed out information about how to learn more, including information about Metro Atlanta Beekeeper's Association.


Gina did a great job of explaining bees to this family and everyone got to taste honey.



Several of the kids tried on bee veils and loved doing that.


At the end of the day the hive was acting agitated and buzzing. I left the festival early to get them back to Julia's. I was so scared trying to take the cork out of the hive, uncover the pipe to the outdoors, and hook the whole thing up without mishap.

I managed to get the cork out of the hive and cover the opening with a card. Then I eased the aluminum stopper off of the pipe to the outdoors. Then I slid the Ob hive so that the only thing between the hole in the hive and the hole to the vent was a thin card. I slipped it out and slid the two together.

One bee escaped into the room, but I got a cup, rescued her and sent her on her way outdoors.

The bees clearly were desperate to get out of their cramped quarters. They poured out into the tube. Here they are "escaping."
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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Keith Fielder on Beekeeping more Like Mother Nature

Last night Keith Fielder, Cooperative Extension Agent at UGA, Georgia Master Beekeeper, Welsh Honey judge and all around good guy, talked to the Metro Atlanta Beekeeper's Association on the importance of low impact beekeeping.



As a beekeeper who is trying to stay as natural as possible with my hives, I was thrilled to hear Keith supporting Mother Nature.

By low impact beekeeping he emphasized:
  • No chemicals
  • A more natural environment both inside and outside the colony

He also emphasized the importance of us beekeepers understanding the biology of the honeybee (see my notes from his earlier talk) as well as the biology of the pests that intrude on the bee and the biology of the diseases of the honey bee.

Keith uses no chemicals in his hives - no chemical treatments and no drugs. He discovered that he lost about the same number of colonies each winter with or without chemicals - so why not leave the bees be?

From the outside the hive natural approach, he put up the slide below. The tree in which a bee colony could certainly live stands alone, and thus the bee colony stands alone. We tend to put our colonies side by side (for the convenience of the beekeeper) and that is not natural. Keith is trying to locate his colonies at least 50 yards from each other.



While that is impractical for me in my urban yard, remembering the consequences of unnatural colony location is important. With hives beside each other, drifting between hives may occur and if you have mites in one colony, you will have mites in all the colonies. Just as if you have small hive beetles, you are likely to find them in all hives.

From the inside-the-colony perspective, he encouraged us to keep our equipment clean, to be super cautious about purchasing old equipment from old beekeepers because all of its problems will come with it, and to change out the combs at least every three years.

I asked him about the old comb in a tree (in other words, how does Mother Nature handle old comb) and he said that bees in a tree continually build upward in the tree trunk. When they've gotten as far up as they can go, they abscond and find a new home. The inherent wax moths then take over and destroy the old comb. Then scout bees show up, attracted by the hive smell, find a new home with no old wax, since it has been destroyed by the wax moths, and move a swarm in to start the process all over.

He said that screened bottom boards are essential to a clean hive. Debris, mites, and other detrius fall through the SBB and don't return to the hive. In addition the SBB provides ventilation, essential to a healthy hive.

While he didn't talk about or encourage foundationless beekeeping, he did say that if you use commercial wax, you will have chemicals in your hive introduced by the wax from the commercial companies. He suggested using plastic foundation with no wax coating.

Michael Bush says that the bees don't like plastic and it doesn't work to give them plastic with no wax coating. Cindy Bee who was at the meeting asked about using a strip of paper in the groove, much like I use a wax strip. Popsicle sticks will accomplish the same thing when glued in the frame groove. The goal of all of the aforementioned is to have fresh, uncontaminated wax in the hive.

He talked about bee genetics - using queens from hygienic stock such as the Purvis Brothers' gold line or from survivor stock - like great swarms. If there are enough drones around, he is fine with the bees making their own queens. (Currently my hives at home all have queens that they have made themselves).

When asked about the bad queens many people got in Atlanta in the early nucs this year, he said that buying commercial nucs means that you are getting old queens from last year that the commercial guys don't want any more and that the new queens, with all the rain this spring in Florida, are (and what I heard here was:) shortbread.

As a cook I wondered how the queen bee can be shortbread, but his answer made me understand that what he actually said was, "short-bred," meaning that instead of 17 or 18 drones mating with the queen, she may have only mated with one. (See the story about Julia's drone laying queen at Blue Heron)

He said that nutrition for bees will be the next area of research after colony collapse disorder. Bees have a hard time now getting variety into their diet. We have a "fragmented habitat" and less plant diversity. You should see in a healthy colony all colors of pollen coming in the door in the spring. If you don't see this, then your bees are probably not being fed in a well-rounded way.

He did encourage feeding nucs sugar syrup - not corn syrup. As an Ag agent, he is quite aware of the process sugar goes through from cane to table and feels fine about feeding syrup made from cane sugar to his bees.

A very natural, as in nonchemical, way to control for mites is to do splits. This is because in a split, the old queen stays in one place and the other half of the split has no queen. bees in that half of the split have to make their own queen from an egg, and the process takes about a month from egg to laying queen. This disrupts the varroa mite life cycle because without a laying queen, the mite can't reproduce themselves in a bee egg. Thus the mites die out over this period.

In essence he promoted in every way that a good beekeeper helps the bees have what they need NATURALLY.

What a breath of fresh air!
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Monday, May 04, 2009

Powdered Sugar Shake at Blue Heron Hives

Yesterday (before the current monsoon rains hit Atlanta) we went to the Blue Heron preserve and did a powdered sugar shake on the hives there.

The idea of using powdered sugar is to cover the bees with sugar and encourage their grooming. In the grooming process, they knock off the varroa mites on their bodies. The mites fall through the screened bottom board and can't get back to the hive.

While there is research to suggest that this isn't really an effective mite control, I still do it because by using it in my oldest hive that almost died from Varroa vectored disease, I could really see a difference. The hive is quite healthy today.

Randy Oliver is trying to research this in three articles. Here's the first one and you can find the others on his site.

We used powdered sugar on all three Blue Heron hives. Sam, Julia's youngest son who is in the FOURTH grade, took amazing pictures of the process. I have labeled his pictures with his name on the slide show.

We found two things during the inspection - one great and one not so good.

Great: Julia's hive that appeared to have no queen at our Sunday inspection actually has a laying queen. We didn't see her but saw a good frame of brood and eggs - Woohoo!

Not so good: Our first nuc at Blue Heron came from a supplier who gave us the nuc without a queen . To make good on this he gave us a second nuc - this one had a big beautiful queen. We installed her in another hive, since the first queenless hive had successfully made their own queen.

In the second hive the bees were doing a lousy job of comb building in the second box. We cut out the bad comb, put a drawn frame in the center of the hive (instead of the frame of foundation that was originally there) and moved the frames around so that the badly drawn frames (without the badly drawn comb) were on the edges.

Here's the slide show. Click to see it larger and to be able to read the captions.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Inspecting and Festooning

Since we are in the middle of the 2009 honey flow, I keep a close watch on my hives over the next two months to make sure they have boxes when they need them. Today I did a 30 minute inspection of the four hives on my deck and found good work going on there.

In the tiny swarm nuc, they still weren't building up in the second five frame medium box, but they had begun to store honey in the bottom box. Here's an example. At the lower right of the picture, I've drawn a square around a small hive beetle, calmly living in the hive.



In Aristaeus2, I found the bees working in the top box, festooning as they build wax. A post on Beemaster right now deals with the feeling some beekeepers have of intruding on something private when you find the bees festooning.

I feel like the beekeepers who posted there - when I find festooning, the bees immediately take action to stop what they were doing. It feels like I have invaded their privacy and I want to leave them in peace. But before I left, I shot this picture. It's not the best festooning picture but you can see how the bees hang in a thread as they create wax.


The picture below shows you how the bees first draw comb in a foundationless frame. They usually make these three startup combs and over time they fill out the frame entirely. You can't delineate these three starter parts when the frame is fully drawn. It's amazing to me that they can do this.



In this frame you can see how they took the frame and built it entirely out before storing nectar in it. If you look at the bottom of the picture you can see that the next frame in the box is built out the same way. They have just started work on this box in this hive. Only a few days ago there was NO wax in this box - just empty frames.

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