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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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Friday, August 28, 2009

Feeding the Bees all over Town!

Because I am off to visit my daughter in Maryland this weekend, I wanted to feed all the hives that need feeding before I left. I opened the nuc with the poorly mated queen from Blue Heron and found that they had not touched the baggie I left there last weekend. I don't really understand why they have not, but I added a couple of slits to the bag and didn't replace it.



I am also feeding Aristaeus2 (the swarm hive from last year on my deck). I gave them a new bag as well. They had drained the bag from the weekend completely dry.



I went over to Blue Heron and opened up the Purvis queen hive. It's hard to put a baggie in without squashing bees. I've learned to lay it down slowly and gradually like a glacier moving over the frames to allow the bees time to move out from under the descending sugar syrup.



Now the baggie is fully down on the frames. I believe a couple of bees may have lost their lives in the process but it isn't as bad as it could be if I had cavalierly put the baggie on top of the frames.



Finally I went to feed the bees at the bee tree but that didn't go so well. The bee tree bees have gotten all possessive of the hive box. This should be a good thing but not for me and my health and well-being!

I climbed up the ladder with my jacket on and well zipped (remembering the last time last week when I got stung in the head under my unzipped veil). I did have my camera around my neck sticking the strap through the opening in the bottom of the veil.

I opened the top of the box and looked at the bees crawling all over the frames under the empty syrup baggie. I pulled off the syrup baggie and the bees came at my veiled head. One came in through the hole for my camera strap. I knew I didn't want to get stung before seeing my daughter for the first time in several months.

I climbed down off the ladder and moved away from the bee tree and zipped off my veil.
Big mistake. Apparently there were bees all over me. Taking off the veil gave them the opportunity they were waiting for and I suddenly had several bees in my hair, a bee in my nose, a bee under my glasses and a stinging bee above my eyebrow. I got the bees off of my face but the ones in my hair all found a way to sting me.

At the end I had about four stings in my head, one on a significant middle finger and one over my eyebrow. So now I headed off for Maryland with a face all swollen on the left side. Thankfully by the time the plane landed 24 hours after the sting, most of the swelling was gone.

Note to self: From here on out, take a smoker to the bee tree. Those girls OWN the hive box.
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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Circle Dancing and Festooning at the Bee Tree



In the hot summer in a hive box, the bees gather outside on the landing and do the washboard dance.


AI Root in the ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture says that while the dance looks like the bees are scrubbing and scraping the landing of the hive, there's no evidence that they are doing anything other than exercising.

The bees at the bee tree are washboarding all around the knothole opening. Inside the opening as you can see in the picture above and below, they also appear to be hanging onto each other in a sort of acrobatic festooning in the center of the hole.

In an August day in Atlanta (this was 8 AM) it must be awfully hot inside the tree cavity.



When I climbed the ladder and opened the hive box, there were more bees than usual in the box and on top of the frames. I think they are getting invested in hive box ownership! Or at least I am hoping that they are.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Bugs in the Beehive

I found a new way to fill the AJ's beetle eater trap. I have this gravy measuring cup that is designed to separate gravy and fat. Since it has a tiny pouring lip, I decided to try to fill the trap with it and it worked beautifully.



But before I put anything back into the hive, I noticed this cockroach in Mellona on the inside of the telescoping cover - gross.


Under Mellona's top cover there were tons of SHBs - see how many there are. I squashed a lot of them with my fingers (gloved!) and with my hive tool.



I dumped dead beetles out of the AJs beetle eaters all over my deck railing. Maybe the wren will eat them. There were so many that it looks like piles of seeds gathered on the deck rail.

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"Well, we're moving on up, to the east side...."

The nuc I created with the combination at Blue Heron appears to be doing fine. I didn't open up the bottom box today, but I did look down into it to see so many eager little bee faces. The five frames in the box are fully built out and mostly used. There are three brood frames (one with some pollen) and two solid honey frames. Only one of the brood frames has much space in it, so first I gave the nuc hive a medium box to move on up into.



Then I wanted to feed them since it's only a short time until winter and they are weak and small. So I put a third medium nuc box on top of the hive body and put a ziploc baggie feeder on the tops of the frames beneath. Because it is a quart instead of a gallon bag, I'll need to check on it more frequently.



So here's their new "deluxe apartment in the sky..." Doesn't it look like a row house!

But I think the girls may have the capacity to fill the second medium box before winter hits. Several beekeepers I respect keep bees in nucs through the winter in much colder climates than here in Hotlanta - Michael Bush in Nebraska, Ross Conrad in Vermont. So I am having hope for the future, especially if the new queen emerges and gets well-mated.



The only problem is that the nuc box on the bottom is poorly built and a little warped. I didn't match up the sides well and it's uneven on the top, so the bees are using the space between the bottom box and the first blue medium box as a middle entrance.




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Sunday Afternoon Visit to the Bee Tree

I love visiting the bee tree, but I want so badly to see inside. This close up of the front door is the best I can do. It's funny to me that they are all in a circle around the opening - especially since one of the bee dances is the circle dance.



Last week I changed out the top box (really just a surround for the baggie feeder) for a prettier box. This looks so much better, don't you think?



I added a new bag of syrup. The old one still had about 1/4 cup of syrup in it so I left it hanging under the top so maybe they can finish it off.

Meanwhile they appear to be doing well. The other day I tried to pull up the center frame and it was hooked by wax or propolis to the comb in the tree - I think that's a good sign for their moving into the box.

Cross your fingers! I am......


This afternoon I also went over to Blue Heron and gave them a new baggie of syrup. They looked good and were happy and calm, despite my intrusion. Makes me feel better about killing that gorgeous queen, but see, I'm still thinking about it. Never again.
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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Downsizing When the Economy is Bad!

So with neither hive thriving at Blue Heron, I killed one queen, put the other in a nuc, and combined the two hives there. I left this bag of sugar syrup on top of the frames in an almost empty third box. The bees were on it right away.



I put bungee cords around the nuc with the old frame and a split's worth of bees. I didn't block the entrance, figuring that home was only a short drive away and the girls would probably make the trip inside the nuc. Sure enough, they traveled inside the nuc and there were only about 6 bees in the car when I arrived at home.



As I said in an earlier post, when I found the queen, the frame on which she was walking had an almost perfect queen cell on it. The cell was a dark peanut, perfectly shaped and looking ripe for an emerging queen. I assume the bees knew they needed a new queen and made one. When she emerges, I guess one of them will be killed.

I brought the nuc home to my deck apiary. I put it beside the box they had lived in at Blue Heron. I thought it might make them comfortable and reminded of home. If a new queen emerges and this hive does well, I might move it to the larger hive box and keep it over the winter.

We'll see what happens. If their economy gets better, maybe they can move into more upscale housing again!

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The Queen is Dead! Long Live the Queen!


Beekeeping takes me into unexpected places - most of them good ones. Today I had a sad, sad experience.

My two hives at Blue Heron are doing badly - one has a queen who appears to be a drone layer (or at least that's how the hive looked at the August 8 inspection) - probably poorly mated. The other has a queen who is barely laying, has a poor brood pattern and was also probably short-bred when she mated. Both of these queens were made by the bees in the hive from their own eggs.

So conferring with other beekeepers, the decision was made to order a new queen. I would then combine the two hives, getting rid of the current queen in both hives and order a new queen to rule the combined hive.

Honestly, I have dreaded the day. I never find queens well in the hive and today I was going to have not only to find them but to do away with them.

This morning the UPS guy arrived at my office with my new queen from the Purvis Brothers Apiary. He had no idea that the package contained bees (it did have an apiary health certificate in bright yellow affixed to the package.....). I asked if I could take his picture and it's not in focus because I did it really quickly.

I opened the package in front of him and showed him the queen cage - he was amazed and wanted to know what I was going to do with it. I guess it was a little strange to deliver a queen bee to a psychologist's office!



So here's where the sad part of the story begins. I loaded up my car and drove to Blue Heron. On the way, I called Cindy Bee for help and advice. I wanted to know if it were OK to install a new queen and put a baggie feeder on the hive at the same time.

She gave me the thumbs up, so I went armed with
  • a baggie feeder, full of 2:1 sugar syrup
  • a nuc to put one of the queens in (I was planning to give her to Julia, my Blue Heron partner in crime, to put in an observation hive).
  • A closed container of vanilla, watered down a little, and a silicone brush to brush it on the top of the frames
  • Her Majesty and attendants, now with a string and a push-pin tack to attach her to the hive frame top
  • All of my hive inspection paraphernalia
I opened up the third and weakest hive at Blue Heron. There were few bees in the hive, but enough. The queen had been laying - I saw eggs and tiny circles of larvae. But the hive is weak and there were few bees flying in and out.

First I told myself that I would find the queen in each hive. I thought I should have the right mindset and I should believe that I could spot her in order to find her easily . I used very little smoke - just a puff at the door and moved slowly, giving myself plenty of time (I had a 2 hour break in which to do this).

I looked through the frames on this hive and found the queen almost immediately. I took the frame she was on and put it in the nuc (a weak queen is perfect for an observation hive). BTW, the frame also had an almost ready to emerge perfect queen cell on it. The bees must not like this queen either.

Then I added a second frame of brood, a frame of honey, another frame of honey and a third frame with very little brood but some pollen. I turned the entrance away from the hives and put a basket of hive inspection stuff in front of it because it would need to sit there until I was done. In effect I created a split.

The rest of the bees on frames that had a little brood and lots of open cells stayed in the box for transfer to the combined hive. Cindy and I talked about doing a direct transfer at this time of year. The plan would be to paint the tops of the frames with vanilla to confuse the odors in the hive so the bees would be confused and blend with each other.

And then I would simply put the frames from one hive into a box directly with the frames from another hive. Cindy said it's too hot in Hotlanta to do a newspaper combine in August. Below you can see my vanilla concoction and silicone paint brush.



Then I got to hive two and opened it. I found the queen on the second frame in the bottom box (the first one I looked into). I debated. Should I do away with her right then while I could see her or look deeper into the hive to make sure she was still a drone layer.

She was a beautiful, large majestic queen, but I hesitated to go through the hive for fear I'd not find her again.............so I flicked her off of the frame with my hive tool onto the ground. Then I used my hive tool, supposedly to cut off her head, but I couldn't watch so in effect I split her. I didn't take pictures. It seemed so cruel and sad.

I'm never doing that again, I swear. I felt horrible and sick.

I'm going to set up a retirement nuc for aging queens and put them all in there. I can never, never destroy a queen like that again.

Then of course, I looked through the rest of the hive and doubted my decision. The hive looked good with lots of brood and young larvae.

I'm trying to comfort myself by saying that the Purvis Goldlines are disease resistant, the combination will create a strong hive going into winter, it will help the combination to work if they have to all adjust to a new queen, etc. etc, but I still think I'm going to feel sad for a while after this destructive beekeeping act.

So here's the queen cage. I've threaded a paper clip through the top and tied a string to the clip. I uncapped the sugar fondant for the bees to eat through it.



I lowered her Majesty into the newly combined hive, every frame anointed with vanilla (see the brown drops of it on the frame? This is an eight-frame box which has a little wiggle room so I also put a frame into the space where the cage is, put the baggie feeder in a third box with a couple of frames of honey, closed the hive and left them all to get acquainted.



I am serious about never wanting to do this again. Cindy said to put the body of the queen on the floor of the hive so the bees would know, but when I looked down to pick her up, a mortician bee had already carried her off.

A sad day in my beekeeping world.
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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Blooming Kudzu

Kudzu covers the South where it thrives because the frost line never gets deep enough into its root system. It was introduced to the US from Japan in 1876 and has remained a pesty weed ever since, increasing the acres of coverage in the South in particular every year.

People have written cookbooks on how to cook with kudzu. I took a basket making class in which we made baskets out of kudzu vine (I still have and use the basket 10 years later!)

Some beekeepers collect kudzu honey. Kudzu honey is purple and tastes grape-like. I've never seen it bloom, nor have I seen bees on it.

In Rabun County where I was this weekend, the kudzu was blooming in the sunny areas. Here are the pictures I took. I didn't see any bees on the kudzu but the blooms on this weed were really pretty.





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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ants and I visit the Bee Tree

The bees are calmly and regularly going in and out of their knot hole entrance to the bee tree. They seem settled in their new home. Julia put a sugar syrup bag on the hive box on Tuesday, so I thought they'd need a new one today.


The sugar syrup was almost completely gone. I removed the bag and after I did I pulled a few frames to see if there were any action in the hive box. I was thrilled to find that the bees were festooning off of the bottom of the frame just over the central hole in the tree trunk. This probably means that they are building wax and comb to allow them to move easily into the box.

I hope over the fall they will make the hive box more homey by working on some of the frames.


I put a new sugar syrup baggie on top of the frames and slit the baggie in two places. This is 2:1 syrup which is what you are supposed to feed this time of year.



The Odd Job people had reported that they had seen ants all over the tree and around the hive box. I put down a ring of cinnamon around the hive box. The ants can't get in below the plywood because I ran a ring of silicone caulk around the hole before I nailed the plywood down, but they can enter under the hive box. "Folks" say that cinnamon is an ant deterent, so I hope it works.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Hot town, summer in the city....

It's hot and the bees are bearding. My Aristaeus2 hive I think is half its size. About a week ago outside at 8 PM there were thousands of bees swirling around. I thought robbing was going on and responded accordingly. Now I think that half of Aristaeus2 swarmed, or at this time of year, I guess they absconded.

To help bees who were left behind, I put a baggie feeder of sugar syrup in and closed the top of the hive. They have honey and were even making new honey but I don't know why the hive absconded, so I thought it would be best to take care of those who are left. There is a laying queen. I saw eggs after the swarming/absconding event. But without the ventilation of the propped top, even this small hive is bearding.



Bermuda, my four year old hive, is really bearding. All the girls are out. I just checked and they are still out in the summer night at 9:30 PM. The beard, if anything, is even larger than it was before at 7 when I took this picture.



Mellona has never bearded. It is a hive full of bees, but this is about as big as her beard gets. Given that it is August in Hotlanta, that is quite an accomplishment.

All of my hives have screened bottom boards, slatted racks and I keep the top propped in the summer - but still it's too hot for all the bees to spend the night indoors. So they lounge and dance (washboard) on the front porch late into the night.



"But at night it's a different world
Go out and find a girl
Come on, come on lets dance all night
Despite the heat
it will be alright
And babe don't you know it's a pity
The days can't be like the night
In the summer in the city
In the summer in the city

Hot town summer in the city"....Joe Cocker

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Saturday, August 08, 2009

Hive Inspection at Blue Heron

Today we did a hive inspection at Blue Heron that was a combined endeavor - beekeepers from the Metro Atlanta Beekeeping club and anyone who was interested who is a gardener at the community garden at Blue Heron. We were a small group: three beekeepers from Metro and two from the garden, and me. The two people who participated from the community garden were two of the beekeepers who have hives at Blue Heron.

The goal was to acquaint the gardeners with what goes on in the hive, since their gardens benefit from our bees and vice versa. Since the Blue Heron participants this year were already beekeepers, they were not unfamiliar with beehives! Maybe we can get a better response next year.

I opened Julia's hive first which has a new queen from the Purvis Brothers apiary. She was laying beautiful patterns. We didn't see her, but this is the first time this hive has looked so good since we started the Blue Heron hives. There was an empty super on the top of the hive, so I took it off for Julia. But this hive is going to go into winter well.

The other two hives of mine are not doing very well. The first hive seems to have a drone-laying queen. There was very little honey in the hive and lots of drone brood. There's not a good reason for the bees to be making drones so close to when they kick all the drones out unless the queen is "short-bred," as Keith Fielder described it in a talk to our bee club. The other hive is only one deep box. They have two good frames of honey, lots of pollen, very few bees. We saw the queen but her pattern is scanty and not impressive.

One thought I have is to combine the two hives, throw out both queens and put in a purchased replacement. I wrote Don K at Dixie Bee Supply to see if he has any queens and I'll call the Purvis Brothers on Monday. Maybe I can find a queen and drive up to get her. Either beekeeper is within 1 1/2 hours drive from me.

We opened Kevin and Peter's hive (I finally could take pictures - while I worked on the other three, I didn't get a chance). Their hive which is a new start with a new queen this year, was doing beautifully. As I wrote about in a post on how to do a hive inspection, they removed the second frame as the first frame out to lessen the squashing of bees when putting frames back in the box.



There was brood in the honey super (an argument for same-sized frames), but it does mean their queen is really productive. Their queen was laying a lovely football shaped pattern just as one would wish in a good hive.



See how well covered with brood this frame is?



We all conferred and decided that since they had a super on the hive which was mostly filled with honey and another super with what looked like two or three frames of honey, that they should get the honey out and only have one honey super on the hive. The guys pulled the empty frames from the super and replaced the empty slots with the full frames from the almost empty super, leaving the hive with one full super of honey.



We were all surprised to find that in none of these hives did there seem to be a small hive beetle problem. We only saw one or two in each hive. The weakest hive had about six that we saw.

I brought a jar of honey from my hives for the participants to taste. Then since the bee tree is only about 1 mile up Roswell Road from Blue Heron, I offered to show it to them.

The three beekeepers from Metro drove the mile and were amazed at the bee tree with the hive box on the top, as am I every time I see it! The bees in just two days had used up the baggie of sugar syrup, so I replaced it. I can't believe they went through it so fast. I can't return to replace it again until Tuesday. I hope they'll be OK until then.
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