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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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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Analyzing the Dead Hive - Why did they die?

Today in the icy weather I opened up the dead hive to see what the situation appeared to be. There were a pile of dead bees on the slatted rack landing area. There were tons of dead bees on the screened bottom board. In a hive that has starved, generally the bees all die together with their heads down in the last cells where honey was found.

This hive died with two full boxes of stored syrup. There were about 30 bees head down in a frame but the rest were dead all over the hive. Most of the bodies are on the slatted rack and screened bottom board.

If you look carefully at these pictures, you'll see lots of dead hive beetles in with the bees. The SHBs can't stay alive without the heat from the bees.

You'll also see that most of the dead bees have their proboscis (their tongue) sticking out. Bees do this in starvation, but seeing them on the bottom board with their tongues out seems strange to me. Also a number of these bees have varroa mites on their bodies. I don't know if they are dead from a varroa vectored problem or from starvation or did they freeze to death?

Note: beneath the screened bottom board is the tray from the Freeman beetle trap - lots of dead beetles there too. However the hive is not destroyed by the beetle....there are just a lot of bodies around.

I'd be interested in any theories anyone would like to offer.

I sifted through the bodies and did not find a queen. That doesn't mean she wasn't there - I just didn't find her. Although this hive may have died because they were queenless. There are a lot of dead bees between the frames front edge and the front wall of the hive box and I didn't go through those.




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Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Beginning of a Top Bar Hive

Today my sweet son-in-law Jeff and his father Harrison and I all teamed up to begin to build a top bar hive. We finished construction but there is still more to do before the bees come. I'll keep adding to this slideshow until the whole thing is finished. Here below is today's beginning effort to build a top bar hive. When I hopefully get a swarm to put in this hive, it will live at Jeff and Valerie's house (my son-in-law and daughter).


Saturday, February 20, 2010

New Bee Locale for Blue Heron Bee Hives

Seven beehives floated down Nancy Creek in the floods in September, 2009, in Atlanta. We want to start back up but everyone is anxious - both about the possibility of the creek jumping the bank again and the need to have stable hives. Kevin and his brother Pete are getting new bees in March and Julia and I have bees coming at the end of March or in April, so we are all invested, just uncertain.

Today Kevin and Pete set up a new location for the Blue Heron hives. They cleared an area up on a bank, above the area where the highest water was in the flood. They put in these great rock steps to allow easier access.



Then they moved all of our cinder blocks up so that we could envision the new apiary at Blue Heron.



Here are two cinder blocks overlooking Nancy Creek from (this time) high above the water line. The highest flood waters stopped at about the base of the tree you can see on the left.



If you double click on the picture below to enlarge it, you can see the outline of the fence around the community garden and Roswell road off the other side of the hill. Again, we are well above the 500 year flood line. Julia and I walked the trail at Blue Heron and took these pictures so we can dream again of our hives there.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Toll the Bells - One Hive Dead

Today the bees were flying and happy in Mellona and Aristaeus2. In each of these hives the sugar syrup I put in at the last warm moment about three weeks ago is all eaten. Bermuda, my oldest hive, was a different story. None of their sugar syrup had been touched. The top box was full of stores but the hive is dead and gone.

Scattered through the hive boxes (3 mediums) were dead bees lying on the tops of frames. There were also dead hive beetles throughout the hive and no evidence of hive beetle damage.




I found one tiny indication of starvation on two frames in the second box. A small cluster of bees were head down in a few cells back to back on two frames. These bees obviously starved while the frame next to theirs was totally full of liquid sugar syrup. This sometimes happens with a sudden cold snap when the bees make a bad decision about where to locate the cluster.



Keith Delaplane talked at our bee meeting in February about hive decline and said that across the country, beekeepers tend to lose 30% of their hives from year to year. Well, sadly, here's my 33% to add to the average. This was my first beehive and had made it through the previous winters, including its first winter when at the end of the winter most the bees in this hive had DWV or k-wing.

Because there were dead bees scattered throughout the hive, I wonder if this hive were weak and lost its queen during the winter or going into winter. Then the hive got robbed out because that's the way the bees scattered, dead throughout the hive look: like bees killed in the process of robbing. So when I put sugar syrup in the hive at the end of January on a 50ish day, they either were already a goner hive or they didn't have the resources to use the sugar syrup. The last little cluster died of starvation, with good stores beside and above them.

I am sad to lose them, but I still have two great hives. Mellona is three years old and Aristaeus2 is a two year old swarm hive from a swarm I got in 2008. And I am building a top bar hive this weekend to be optimistic about swarms coming my way in 2010.
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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Top Bar Hive in my Future!

This weekend should be sunny and warm. I am cleaning and painting hive boxes on Saturday.

Then on Sunday, my multi-talented son-in-law, Jeff, is going to help me build a top bar hive a la Sam Comfort and Phil Chandler. I am so excited. I have downloaded Phil's plans and am set to buy wood. Tomorrow I hit Home Depot for the supplies and then on Sunday we will go to Jeff's father's workshop where there is a table saw and a router. Whoo hoo!

I don't know where the bees will come from to go into this top bar hive, but I plan to be on a swarm list and perhaps a hive of bees will find me.

The Elegant and Efficient Bee

(diagram from How Stuff Works.com)
As May approaches (Master Beekeeper test) I am studying as often as I can about the elegant and efficient bee. Today I learned all about bee bodies. The bee is an elegant creature. Her exoskeleton is purposive and each segment appears to have a function.

Having an exoskeleton protects the bee from enemy attack, prevents water loss and allows function of all three regions of the bee. First is the head which includes the mouthparts, glands, eyes, antennae and hair (sensory organs).

The thorax has three legs attached - beautifully - one to each of the three segments of the thorax - isn't that elegant? So the head is about sensation and the thorax is about movement (it also contains the two pairs of wings connected by hooks called hamuli. The thorax allows the bee to fly, collect pollen and walk on walls.

The last segment is the abdomen with seven segments. In addition to organs of digestion, honey stomach and sexual organs, the abdomen part includes the memorable sting.

This is not a biology chapter, so I won't go into all the fascinating details except for one. The pollen basket is an amazing mechanical event. It's actually not a basket, but rather an area on the bees' hind legs. The pollen basket (also called the corbicula) is a concave area with a central bristle for attaching the pollen and hairs all around its edges. The bee collects pollen purposively as well as simply by having pollen attach to any body hair.

Here's where the elegance and efficiency begin: The forelegs brush the pollen from the head and front of the thorax. In the air the bee transfers the pollen from her front legs to her middle legs. In flight the bee brushes her middle legs against her hind legs, compacting the pollen into a ball and pressing it into the "pollen basket."

Not only is the bee efficient in flight, working all the while to move the pollen to its proper storage place, but she also removes the pollen from her pollen basket and deposits it into a cell once she is back in the hive. Then the house bees begin their work of packing the pollen into the cells.

Yesterday NPR had a segment on Morning Edition about Volkswagen. Volkswagen is in the process of introducing a car that will get 170 miles to the gallon. In a wonderful tongue-in-cheek article, Morning Edition compared the VW's new car to the efficiency of a bee, who can get almost 5 million miles to a gallon of honey! Wonder how the VW would be at collecting nectar and packing pollen into a corbicula while going through the air with the greatest of ease and efficiency!

I am in such admiration of the bee's elegant and efficient functioning in the world.

Bee Detective Mystery

At GBA I was lamenting the fact that I usually get home too late to see the bees flying (if the hives are alive and if they are flying). Cindy Bee said I could determine this by spreading flour on the landings. Then when I got home I could see if there were footprints in the flour and I would know.

OK, today when I left for work it was 44 degrees with high prospects for getting up in the 50's (bee flying weather). I spread flour on the landings of my three hives.

Aristaeus2:

Mellona:
Bermuda (the hive that isn't using it's landing but rather an upper opening as an entry)

When I came home the landing on Aristaeus2 was all cleaned off and so I couldn't see any bee footprints. The landing on Mellona was clean as well.




Bermuda had these prints but they look like they might represent squirrel paws rather than bee feet. So the mystery remains unsolved.
Well, I'll be home tomorrow and again it should be sunny and warm enough for them to fly.
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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bee Worried



Over the weekend, it really snowed in Atlanta and was quite cold until midday on Saturday. Last night the temperatures were in the low 20's and it barely rose to freezing today. We are having one of the coldest winters that I can remember since I moved here in 1979. Although apparently my memory is skewed, because as an Atlanta Journal Constitution blogger points out, actually our winters are getting much warmer every year.

However, this one appears to me to be expanding in its breadth. Last year in February, it felt like spring. But not this year.

I came home from the Georgia Beekeepers "spring" meeting in the snow in Moultrie, GA, almost as far south as Florida, to find my beehives had snow on the landings.

I am worried about the bees. This late cold weather can result in dead hives - not from the cold but from starvation. If the cluster is not where the food is when the cold strikes, the bees will starve.

I am also worried because when we do have a bee-flying day (above 50 degrees), I work too late to see if mine are alive and flying. Cindy Bee suggested that I dust the landings with flour on a day forecast to be warm enough for flying. Then even if I don't see the bees, I'll see their little footprints to know if a hive were up and flying.

Of course, Bermuda, the hive pictured above that I am most worried about, uses a top entrance that they created from a bad shim and I won't see their little bee-prints.

The weather forecast looks as though it will be sunny, bee-flying weather on Friday and Saturday. I'll be on the lookout for flying bees.

Note: The record high for this date in Atlanta was 78 in 1995, the record low was 11 in 1958. Today the low was 21 and the high was 30 - so you can see why I am reacting!
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Monday, February 15, 2010

What I Learned at GBA

Well, I learned a lot at GBA (and had fun). The most interesting talk I heard was by Jennifer Berry. She reported on the toxin project going on at the UGA bee labs.

They have been exploring the sub-lethal effects of chemicals in honeybee colonies. They wanted to look at honeybee colony health and how miticides might impact that. They particularly studied Checkmite, Apistan and non-labeled (ie, not labeled for honeybee use) Tactik and Maverik (probably misspelled).

I found this next part amusing. They wanted to start 48 colonies of bees off with non-contaminated wax. So Jennifer bought wax from two different "organic" beekeepers. They sent the wax off (at $275 an analysis) to determine if the wax indeed were non-contaminated. In fact the process found that there was both Coumaphos and Fluvalinate in the wax - probably from purchased contaminated foundation.

Faced with an impossible task - no available "pure" wax, Jennifer set all of her colonies up on foundationless frames and lo and behold, the bees drew beautiful wax! She was so proud of it that she had a slide to show us. Like most foundationless frames, the bees had filled the frame but had not attached the lower corners.

These researchers looked at foraging, the health of baby bees, the ability of the bees to return to the hives, the numbers of queen cells, etc. They found, for example, that there were the highest number of supercedure cells in the hives in which apistan and coumaphos were applied - the bees were all saying, "What kind of a place is this? We need new leadership!"

Overall the control hives which were not treated did the best. They, for example, had the highest level of foraging and returning home after foraging. In general, as many of us assume, science is now proving that no treatment is best.

I always love to hear Jennifer speak and I never fail to learn something....but the most fun with Jennifer was on Friday night at the fried fish dinner. We had entertainment - a band called "Always, Patsy Cline." Jennifer (and the other three of us sitting together) were rocking out, singing along with "Patsy."

I know it's a Hank Williams song, but Jennifer was really the absolute best on "Your Cheatin' Heart."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Bee My Valentine

I've had fun this morning looking for Valentine messages to send to all of you who read my blog. I love it that you come to visit and love it when I meet you in person, as I did this weekend in Moultrie and last weekend in West Palm Beach.

In 2008 I posted E.B. White's poem about the queen bee, which is the best Valentine for any beekeeper. Here it is, if you'd like to read it again.

Here's a fun Valentine made with pipe cleaner bees. And here's a maze of a bee, I assume, hunting for the queen!

Thanks to all of you for visiting and supporting this blog and my beekeeping efforts.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Guessing the Hive Weight at GBA

At the Georgia Beekeepers' Association meeting in Moultrie, Georgia, we had a fun evening of entertainment. Before dinner at the Rossman Apiaries warehouse, we were invited to guess the weight of three hive bodies. The winner would take home the equipment. The bodies were weighted down, not with bees but with bricks.

We all tried, but Malcolm Sanford, one of the speakers from Florida, was enormously successful. He was right on two of the three set-ups. Cindy Bee, Cindy H, and I all compared notes and found that we guessed light. We didn't know if that meant we were just particularly strong women (so the boxes seemed lighter to us) or poor guessers - probably the latter.

After the guessing, we had a delicious fish/shrimp/chicken fry meal, hosted by Fred and Ann Rossman. The food was really good and was followed by a band called, "Always Patsy Cline," so you can imagine the music. I lived in Nashville for 13 years from 1966 - 1979, so I loved it.

The meeting itself was hampered a little by snow (unexpected in deep south Georgia), but I did learn a few things to bring home to my beekeeping.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Julia Child with Wax and Oil

I had four assignments at the Southeast Organic Beekeepers Conference:

1. To do a talk for the advanced beekeepers on How to Prepare Honey and Wax for Competition.

I enjoyed doing that so much. Most of the audience had never entered a honey contest. I was so grateful that I had gone to a lecture by Robert Brewer in 2008 at the state meeting of the Georgia Beekeepers Association and had heard him talk on the subject.

Most of all I was glad that I have entered honey contests ever since I started beekeeping five years ago. I've learned a lot from every wax pour and from pouring each jar of honey. And I've won a lot of ribbons! So I covered liquid honey, chunk honey, cut comb honey and wax blocks. I learned a lot by organizing what I know into a PowerPoint presentation.

2. To talk to the beginning beekeepers about Honey Harvest from the Bee Hive to the Jar.

Most of them were, as many new beekeepers are, a little overwhelmed by how to get the honey harvested. I of course talked about the simple honey harvest that I do. I used a PowerPoint to show them how to harvest with minimal clean-up, a simple approach to the bees, and honey without extraction. This talk was only about liquid honey. I also showed my movie on harvesting honey via Crush and Strain .

3. To talk and demonstrate how to make lip balm and lotion from the wax from the hive.

I felt a little like Julia Child, essentially cooking in front of everyone. The whole conference was there - advanced and beginners....so about 60 people.



I had a burner to use to melt the ingredients on, but in the end we used the much more effective stove in the kitchen. I showed them how it is helpful to use a chopstick to stir - chopsticks are just great and I use them a lot in various aspects of beekeeping.



Here I am, thanks to my friend from Beemaster, JP, who generously took these pictures. I am using a syringe to squirt the liquid lip balm into tiny lip balm containers. I had lots of help with this project. Brendhan and Eric manned the kitchen stove and cut wax, Janel went out to buy all the ingredients and supplies, and others help cap the containers when I was done.



I also mixed up lotion for everyone, but that takes about 2 1/2 hours to cool so they went on to other activities while the lotion was in the blenders for 2 or more hours. I had brought samples of the lotion bars that I had made at home a couple of nights before, so I used ice trays that I bought at WalMart to make everyone tiny lotion bars as well.



In the end all of the participants went home with a lip balm, a jar of lotion and a lotion bar. Everyone had fun doing this, I think.

4. I was supposed to help judge the honey show.

Dr. Mikhail Kruglyakov, a Robert Brewer trained honey judge, came to judge the show and I was to be his steward. I learned so much. I own a refractometer and didn't know how to use it and he showed me. He also showed me how to examine a jar of honey from start to finish and write notes about it for the entrant. He was a lovely person and very kind and encouraging. We had very few entries into the show but tried to write good comments to help the entrants learn for the next show.

I hope that I can take the Welsh honey judge training at Young Harris in 2011 (if I get Master Beekeeper this year - otherwise I'll be taking the exam again in 2011).
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Sam Comfort and Top Bar Hives


At the Southeast Organic Beekeepers Conference in West Palm Beach, FL, I had the opportunity to hear Sam Comfort talk and demonstrate his top bar hives. I want to build one - looks easy enough for a construction-challenged person. I'll bet I can do it - I'm certainly going to try this season.

He doesn't build stands, but keeps them on cinder blocks or those plastic crates that people use in offices. He worked the bees calmly and with no protection. It was a joy to watch him.


His top bar hive is quite simple. He points out that the bees just need a hollow place - no specific dimensions are called for, but he does make his top bar hives wide enough to accommodate a Langstroth frame - which makes conversion possible.


Below is a frame that includes a Langstroth frame attached to a top bar. Sam said that he can take a frame from a hive box and cut the comb at a slant to accommodate the sides of the top bar hive. Then he attaches the Langstroth frame to the bottom of the top bar and there you have it!

I've wondered how to begin with bees in a top bar hive without having to order a package. So I think there are about three ways one can do this:
  • install a package in the hive,
  • install a captured swarm in a hive,
  • make a split with a Langstroth hive and convert the frames as Sam has done here. Well, I can't wait to experiment.

As the hive grows, Sam adds more top bars and moves the divider that marks the beginning and end of the hive further down the box.



He tops the hive with a simple board weighed down by bricks. He places two pieces of wood above the top bars to provide the bees with some ventilation.

You can see the top bars for raising the top of the hive under the hive top toward the right.

Top bar hives have the advantage of not having to lift boxes to get into the hives. They have the disadvantage of being probably too heavy to move once the bees are really up and going. Many top bar hives are about a foot longer than the 3 foot long ones that Sam builds - now those would have one foot more of space for the bees to fill and to weigh the hive down.

Sam told me at dinner on Friday night that he had made top bar hives from reeds and mud and had never moved them because not only was the interior of the hive heavy, but the reed/mud mix was extremely heavy.

Overall the conference was a nice mix of working the bees in outdoor settings and being indoors for talks about different topics.
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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Preparing for the Southeast Organic Beekeepers Conference

On Saturday and Sunday I will be presenting three workshops at the Southeast Organic Beekeepers Conference in West Palm Beach, Florida. I'm very excited to be invited. I am talking about
  1. Preparing honey and wax for competition,
  2. Harvesting honey from bee hive to jar, and
  3. I'm doing a hands-on workshop making lip balm and lotion.
We'll be able to make lip balm in the time allotted for the workshop, but the lotion will just get started. It takes about 2 1/2 hours to cool after it is made before you can put it in the jars. I wanted the participants to get the sense of homemade lotion even though we won't finish ours in the workshop so last night I made hand cream (in the white round-top jars in photos below) and tonight I made lotion bars.

The lotion bars are just luscious. I ordered a mold in November when ordered a number of little things from Brushy Mountain. I've never made a lotion bar, and now that I've done it, I want to make them all the time.


These are made from a recipe I found online: 1/3 cocoa butter, 1/3 beeswax, 1/3 avocado oil and some drops of Vitamin E. Oh, my, what a treat. You pick up the bar and rub it between your hands and the most cocoa-delicious smell, the most soft and smooth feel on your skin, an overall nurturing experience in general occurs.

I made two batches and made the second batch with half cocoa butter/half shea butter in that 1/3 part of the recipe. It doesn't have such a strong cocoa smell and I think I like it better.

It's not cheap with those ingredients. Avocado oil was $9.99 for an 8 oz bottle. Cocoa butter was $4.99 for a one ounce stick. The beeswax was free from my bees. I think it costs about $2 a bar to make without buying wholesale ingredients, but I see lotion bars sold on the Internet for around $10 a bar for a slightly thicker bar than these....of course I am not including a cost for container. So maybe $10 is about a 100% markup over cost.

Here is the poured mold about 10 minutes after pouring.


Here are finished bars packaged in sandwich ziplocs.



Here is the last mold (each recipe I did made three bars - one ounce/one ounce/one ounce of ingredients).



And the beautiful (you should smell them) unwrapped bars with little bees on them. Oh, the limits of the Internet - I wish you could scratch and smell or slide your finger over the screen and sample.

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