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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.

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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Blue Heron Going Into Winter

Julia and I made a quick feeding/question answering trip to Blue Heron today to feed our hives and see what's going on with them. Noah came too.....he's got a creative way of thinking about things, so it helps so much to have him with us.

Julia's remaining hive at BH is weak in numbers and we are quite worried about it. She took the hive top feeder off and set it on the ground. Since there are three hives of active bees there, we covered it with a cloth to keep robbing or drowning from happening while we checked on the hive.

We wanted to pull up some frames to see if the bees are storing anything. You can see that there are few bees here in this hive. The frames in this box have some stored honey but given how much syrup has been available to them, the minimal storage in this box probably points to the low numbers of bees in the hive.

Our nights have been cool and we were loath to fool around too much with these hives, respecting the bees' winter plan for themselves, so we elected only to check the top box for stores and do nothing more. There was some storage, but not a lot and the food in the upper feeder hadn't been touched much.



I've heard from other beekeepers in the area that their bees are slowing down in taking syrup. This could be because we have a good aster flow going and it may be because the hives are getting enough stored for winter. This hive, however, is not at all ready for surviving the winter.



We filled the hive top feeder. Julia brought a solid inner cover to substitute for the ventilated cover that has been on the hive all summer. When we put it on, Julia was worried that bees might come through the hole in the inner cover and drown in the hive top feeder. Noah, in a moment of brilliance, suggested that we put the ventilated cover back on on top of the inner cover, thus closing the inner cover off to bees entering the hive that way.



When we opened my hive the bees had only taken 1/2 of the pint bottle and about half of the baggie feeder. The baggie had been on the hive for 10 days at this point and I think they should have taken it all by now. I had replaced the pint jar on Thursday because I wondered if the previous jar had clogged holes in its top.


Noah didn't know I was using bee tea (which has thyme floating in it). He looked at my baggie and said, "Something has started sprouting in there!"


I've been wondering if this hive were out of room. Unfortunately I forgot to take any more pictures. We took off the Boardman and gently lifted up the baggie so I could look at the frames in the top box. This hive has a deep and a medium. It's an 8 frame hive so really it needs to have another medium on it going into winter to have enough stores.

I had brought with me a box of drawn comb to add to this hive. I pulled up - with great difficulty both because of its weight and because of the amount of propolis these girls have generated - the second frame from the outer edge. It was full of honey. I decided to interpret this as the hive has no more room to store their syrup/nectar.

I went ahead and added the second medium since it is drawn comb and the bees can go right ahead and use it. I won't be able to check this hive again until early in the second week of November. If they haven't made use of the drawn comb at that point, then I'll take this extra box off and hope they can make it through the winter with the deep and medium 8 frame all full of honey.



Since our first hives at Blue Heron died in the flood of Sept 2009, these hives are the first possibility for having a second year hive at Blue Heron. Kevin and Peter (the owners of the third hive) have a very active, apparently thriving hive, so there's a good chance theirs will make it through. Julia's first hive died and her remaining hive is weak. I so much want this one of mine to succeed.

Maybe they'll make use of this new box to store the bee tea syrup and will have enough resources.

I know I'm keeping my fingers crossed (toes too).

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Revisiting Bee Tea

It's been over a week since I have fed either Blue Heron or Valerie's hives - I decided to take care of that today so I went with Julia to Blue Heron before I went to work and to Topsy at a break after lunch.  Here is the process of making the bee tea and the feeding of the hives.

I put a slideshow up because I am now including both chamomile and thyme from my garden in the bee tea.  Interestingly, the hive at Blue Heron had only used half of the baggie syrup and almost none of the pint jar in the Boardman on the interior.

I wonder if they have run out of storage room?  Or if the aster blooming in the fields is meeting their current needs?  Or if I hadn't cut long enough slits in the baggie or had clogged holes in the jar lid of the Boardman?  I cut longer slits in the baggie and changed out the pint jar for a jar with a better lid.

We'll see this weekend when Julia and I revisit these hives to do a final consolidation for winter.



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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Introducing Buckhead to Bees and Beekeeping

Yesterday my friend Jay and I had a table at the Buckhead Heritage Festival to show how bees are kept.  Jay brought his observation hive and honey to sell.  I brought bee veils for the kids to try on, honeycomb to pick up, honey to taste, and lip balm to sell.  We had a great time and the groups that stopped by our table were enthusiastic.

Jay talking to kids about his observation hive.


Me, talking to one of our many child visitors.


Everyone looked for the queen but we never found her (she's probably in the box below instead of walking around on the frame that was lifted up).

Here are pictures of the many kids in bee veils who stopped, tried them on and were willing to have their picture taken.






They had a great time and so did we!






Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Africanized Bees Now in South Georgia

Today in Catch the Buzz, Kim Flottum reported that Africanized bees have now been found in Georgia.  Here's the sad story in an article about the man who was killed in the bee incident.  And here's the article about the identification of the bees.

So that everyone doesn't run for cans of Raid, here are some specifics not stated in the Catch the Buzz article:

The Africanized bees were found in Dougherty County which is in south Georgia near the Florida border.  The Albany area in Dougherty County is about 80 miles north of Florida.  Dougherty County is 204 miles almost directly south of my house.  So these bees were well south of Atlanta and the Atlanta area.

Africanized bees have been in Florida for a long time.  Until this incident we have had no Africanized bees discovered in our state.

Georgia has been expecting the Africanized bee to arrive in our state at some point.  In several talks at the Metro Atlanta bee meetings over the last three years, I've heard Dr. Delaplane say that we will have them in Georgia in the next few years. There are swarm boxes on the border of Florida and Georgia that are checked periodically for Africanized swarm inhabitation.

Honey bee hives managed by beekeepers in the state of Georgia are the first and best defense against an area becoming Africanized. Managed bees dilute AHB populations, prevent AHBs from taking over European honey bee hives, and AHBs are less attracted to areas where other foragers exist.

According to Jennifer Berry of the University of Georgia bee lab, the Africanized bees will have a difficult time surviving the winters of the Atlanta area.  They didn't develop in parts of the world where the winter requires cluster behavior so they don't know how to cluster as tightly as European bees and don't store supplies as well.

We may never see them here (in the Atlanta area) because of our winter temperatures, but they are certainly likely to establish hives in the southern part of the state near the Florida border.

Since the bees that killed this man were determined to be Africanized, this is at least one incident of that variety of bee in our state.  The guidelines for dealing with this type of bee found in Catch the Buzz are good for all of us to know.

I remember hearing Jamie Ellis, Ph.D. give this advice several times about the Africanized bee.  He said that if you are confronted with a swarm of Africanized bees, RUN.  He also suggested that you jump in your truck or car and close all open windows, doors, etc.

He pointed out that it would not be good to exit the truck just because a bee or two got into the truck with you - better to be stung by those few bees than jump out of the truck to get away from those few, only to find yourself attacked by the colony of thousands waiting for you outside the truck!

The incident in Albany is just one isolated incident and does not condemn the honey bee in Georgia.  Our well-managed bees throughout the state are important for pollination, helpful to our lives and good to have around.

Let's not let this cause a bee-panic but let's do be reminded of how important it is to know our bees in our own managed hives and recognize the essential job of bee-ing a good beekeeper.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bits of Bee News from Rabun County

I arrived in Rabun County on Thursday and stopped by the Community Garden to check on the bees. They had, of course, gone through the syrup I left for them when I was there the first weekend in October. I put two bags of bee tea on the hive and left, expecting these bees to go through the syrup as quickly as my bees at Blue Heron or at Valerie's house do.



I also changed out the top "migratory" cover (I put it in quotes because it really was a solid bottom board acting as a top cover) for an inner cover and a telescoping cover anchored with the usual brick.



Meanwhile Rabun County had its first frosty night that night resulting in beautiful trees....but slowing down the previously copious fall nectar flow.



I expected to replenish the food at the hive on Saturday morning and then again before I left either Sunday evening or Monday morning.

I stopped by the hive on Saturday morning to find three dead bees on the landing board.  At first I was afraid of robbing, but realized that these were three full bee bodies - usually when robbing has happened the bodies are ripped in half or you see bee body parts.  These were girls who died but it was too cold to carry out the bodies.  So they left them on the landing until the temperatures rose later in the day.



They had only begun to use the bee tea.  One baggie was more diminished than the other, but they were not ready for a new baggie.


So now my plan changed to stop by the hive as I left town to return to Atlanta and change out the baggie rather than have an opportunity to feed them three times in five days!

On the way back to my house on that cold Saturday morning, I stopped by Osage Market - a farmer's market on 441 that is overflowing with fall vegetables.  Sadly this is my last visit for the year as the market closes for the season on October 31.  Bob Binnie, a well-known Georgia beekeeper, maintains an observation hive there.  

Given the freezing weather of the night before, the bees in the observation hive were clustering and I took their picture.  Their cluster is actually a figure eight because of the flatness of the one-dimensional hive.   Seeing them really made me wish to have an observation hive - maybe next year.



The weather stayed cold while we were there - after all, it is fall.  So when I returned to the hive on Sunday afternoon as I drove back to Atlanta, the bees still had not emptied the two baggies I had left.

If these same baggies were on an Atlanta hive, the food would have been moved to comb practically overnight.  But it has been too cold in Rabun and doesn't warm up enough for bee action until the middle of the day.

This may be my last chance to feed these bees because I won't be back until the first weekend in November. So I took the most diminished baggie off of the hive and replaced it with a very full bee tea bag (about 2 1/2 quarts).  Here's the baggie I took off - the bees are still feeding at the slits even as the baggie is on the inner cover.


The full baggie and the remaining amount in the other baggie will at least help them since the afternoons are in the 70s so they can move the syrup around.


I think this hive remains too light for winter survival.  I'm going to try to address this issue when I return at the beginning of November - maybe by putting an inverted jar or jars above the cluster on end bars to allow feeding during cold but not freezing days.  Jennifer Berry talked about doing this at our most recent bee meeting.

To do this I'll need to put a medium or deep empty super to surround the feeding jars.  I wonder if for insulation purposes it would be a good idea to fill the empty space around the bottles with crumpled newspaper or if that would drive the bees crazy.  I'll put a post on Beemaster and see what response I get.
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Friday, October 15, 2010

Bee Tea for Blue Heron

On Thursday I checked on the Blue Heron hive. They had emptied the Boardman (interior) and had emptied the baggie feeder. It is increasingly cooler at night. As winter approaches I may start feeding with an upturned jar but instead of the Boardman, simply balance it on two end bars.

Jennifer Berry talked about this at our bee meeting on Wednesday. She feeds her hives through the winter. Most of her hives have a larger (jar accommodating) circle cut out of the inner cover and she has a cut in the top cover on which she can upturn a jar. So she can feed the hive without opening it. However, an alternative she suggested would be to use a box as a surround for a jar feeder sitting on end bars just above the cluster so that the bees can access it easily. To access a Boardman, they have to leave the cluster and walk into the feeder, a challenge when you are a cold bee.



I brought bee tea to this hive both for the baggie and in a jar. I lower the bag gently and slowly to allow the bees to get out of the way into the cracks between the bars.

Still going very slowly down (I even had time to take a couple of pictures, as you see!)


Once down I left this hive for the weekend, fed with the interior 1 pint boardman and a baggie with about 2 1/2 quarts in it. Julia's second hive at Blue Heron is not doing well - small hive beetles everywhere - so we are concerned about all the Blue Heron hives and their ability to get through the winter.


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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Feeding Topsy on Tuesday

I fed Topsy on Tuesday. They are really going through the food. I found both interior Boardman feeders empty. I'll need to think about this hive as winter approaches. They are only occupying 10 bars of the 40 in the hive.

I'll need to move the follower board close to bar 10 to make the space smaller for winter. I'll also have to rethink feeding. Currently the feeders are far down the hive from the combs in unused space. I don't know how to locate feed close to the used bars for winter feeding.




You can see in the comb below that the bees are back-filling comb that has been used for brood raising with honey as the cells become available.



They are doing the same in this comb.



I have a ways to go to learn how better to handle the top bar hive. I still squash bees even using the scissor method of lowering the top bar. However, I find this a very calm hive and often wear open-toed sandals and just a jacket and veil when I am working with them.


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Saturday, October 09, 2010

Relief at Blue Heron

While I was waiting today to show Travis, a new beekeeper, how to inspect the beehive, I saw bees all over this aster that is blooming. Look at the pollen packed into her corbicula (pollen basket). This was the best picture of many I took.



I fed the Blue Heron hive 2 1/2 quarts of Ross Conrad's bee tea on Thursday afternoon. It's Saturday afternoon and all of it is gone! Travis and I reloaded the interior Boardman I was using with a new pint and we put a baggie filled with 3 quarts of tea onto the hive.

As we opened the hive, we clearly broke open some honeycomb. I love it when the bees efficiently circle the honey leak and all stick in their tongues to suck it up. Bees are really waste not, want not creatures! See how they completely circle the honey so as not to lose a single drop.



Here's Travis wearing my ill-fitting bee helmet looking at a beautiful comb of brood laid by this queen. In the bottom deep we saw several frames - actually almost all of the eight - with dark brood cappings - meaning it's not new - probably bees that are about to emerge. If this hive keeps putting away the syrup I am giving them, they may make it through the winter - fingers crossed, everyone!



Some of the frames are incompletely filled with comb as this one is. You can see the liquid in the cells. We saw lots of festooning bees in this box and hopefully they'll use the syrup to draw some wax to contain winter stores.



The hive was much heavier than on my last visit and I am well pleased with how it is growing.

The nights are much cooler now so I removed the ventilated hive cover and replaced it with a solid inner cover.  I will do that with the Rabun county hive next week when I'm up there.  I also plan to replace the cover of Topsy with a solid board like Sam Comfort uses.


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The Pollen Basket on the Bee

Feeding Topsy was my mission the other day and I was pleased to find the bees falling all over each other trying to bring pollen into the hive. We have lots of aster - goldenrod and other varieties - blooming right now in Atlanta and these bees are taking full advantage of it.

The bees are crowding each other trying to enter the top bar hive in the photo below.



Although it is called the pollen basket, the bees don't actually have a basket on their rear legs. Instead it's a depressed area called the corbicula on the bee's hind leg. Before she heads for home, while still on the flower, the bee uses her forelegs to clean the pollen from her head and thorax. While she flies home to the hive, she passes the pollen from her forelegs and the back of her thorax to her middle legs.

Then (still in flight) she passes the pollen to the basitarsus of her hind leg. In reading Winston (p. 23 -  25), I don't quite understand the next step but it sounds like she scrapes the pollen comb of her opposite hind leg across the pollen comb of the other leg, moving the pollen to the corbicula, or pollen basket.

She does all of this in flight - no wonder the old saying is "Busy as a bee." The bee is working hard enough to fly home, but in addition she is moving pollen the while.



Because the pollen basket is an area rather than a basket, you can see on these bees that the pollen is packed in many different shapes coming into the hive.



At first in order to keep the bees calm as I opened the bars where the food is kept, I draped the hive with this red dishtowel.  It's good that bees can't actually see red, or they would have been madder than they actually were.

I looked over at the area of the hive entrance while I was putting in the food and bees were buzzing and collecting in large numbers in front of the red towel covering their entrance.  I had blocked them from coming into the hive!  As soon as I realized I had done this, I folded back the towel and everyone was happy again.
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Friday, October 08, 2010

Ross Conrad's Bee Tea

 August's Bee Culture has an article by Ross Conrad (he writes an article every month) on beekeeping in the northeast.  As it is autumn, he talks about preparing the hive for the winter.  Included as a sidebar for the article is his recipe for Bee Tea.  I decided to try it for feeding the bees at Blue Heron.

Here's the recipe:
16 cups white cane sugar
6 cups hot tap water
2 cups Chamomile or Thyme tea (already brewed)
1/2 tsp natural sea salt with minerals



You add the hot tap water to the sugar and salt and stir thoroughly (?).  You do boil the water for the tea and steep it for 10-15 minutes.  Then you mix it all together and store unused amounts in the refrigerator.

I have a hard time making 2:1 syrup without using really hot water.  Maybe the water out of the tap in Vermont where Ross lives is hotter than here in Atlanta! (note:  comment below indicates it's probably the chemistry of the water in Vermont compared to my Metro Atl water).

So  I heated my water and then stirred in the sugar and salt.  Even at that, I couldn't add the last four cups because the first 12 had not thoroughly dissolved.

My answer was to stir the last four cups into the hot tea after it had steeped.

The next time I make it, I will steep the tea and then stir the steeped tea into the water heating on the stove.  Then before the water boils, I'll turn it off and then stir in the sugar and salt.

Making the tea:


 Stirring all of it together:

Adding the syrup to my Blue Heron hive (notice it is more yellow than the usual clear syrup, courtesy of the Chamomile) :

You may wonder why I have both a baggie and a Boardman inside this hive.  It's an 8 frame hive and can't take two baggies, so I put a Boardman in so that I could put more feed on the hive at the same time, since there's room for the Boardman inside the medium box that is surrounding the feeding mechanisms.

Another post about Ross Conrad

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Ravenous Rabun County Bees

The bees at my Rabun County hive are flying enthusiastically in and out of the hive, bumping into each other on the landing and generally looking as busy as bees.

I haven't looked in the hive in about three weeks. I came to Rabun County planning to feed the bees at the community garden, so I am armed with bottled sugar syrup - I have about 1 gallon with me.

Here is the hive with bees flying in and out rapidly.



It's nearing the end of the fall flow here but there is blooming goldenrod everywhere as well as many asters and the bees are having a field day.



I took off the third (top) box which is full of foundationless comb and completely empty. I was pleased to see in the second box that the bees are putting up nectar and therefore storing honey.



I had brought two medium nuc boxes with me as demos for the festival. These boxes were filled with drawn comb on medium frames. I decided to take this drawn comb and substitute it for the foundationless frames in the third box. Fall is drawing near by the minute and I didn't want them to need to create space in which to store the syrup I am giving them today.



I put the third box back on the hive. I also brought a shim to surround the baggie feeders. This is the first time I have fed this hive.

Now that I know there is a hive in the walls of the building just across the field from this hive, I am worried about robbing.  I put two ziploc baggies side by side inside the shim.


The bad news is that I am using a bottom board from a 10 frame hive for the top cover of this hive.  This means there is a back entrance and there is no way to close this hive up completely.  I feel sick that I didn't think to bring an inner cover and a top for a 10 frame hive.  I certainly have them in Atlanta.

Because I had no entrance reducer and wanted to make these bees safer from robbing, I stuffed pine needles into the opening at the upper rear of the hive to close it up.  I hope they will make quick work of moving the syrup from the baggies into the drawn comb I left them.

When I come back in two weeks, I'll put an inner cover and top cover on, but I hope they will be OK until then.  The good news is that there is a good fall flow ongoing right now in Rabun County, so maybe the temptation to rob will not be there for the in-the-wall hive or any other neighboring bees.



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