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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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Monday, February 28, 2011

Honey Cookbook from the 70s

My mother found an old cookbook in her bookcase (she has shelves and shelves of cookbooks) and gave it to me. I am thrilled. It was published in 1978 - doesn't say so anywhere in the book, but that's what Amazon says.

It is chock full of recipes for cooking with honey and all of them appeal to me. I can't wait to cook out of it. It's hard to find such a comprehensive collection - from salads to desserts and beverages. At the beginning is a rather good description of the beehive and of the basic operations of the hive. There's even a description of the waggle dance!

He talks about honey, mead, vinegar and gives some old, old recipes for mead.



I am a bread baker so I immediately turned to the bread section. There are twenty pages of bread recipes! I know where my next bread recipe will be found.



I noticed for anyone drawn to this wonderful book that there are used copies on Amazon and on Bookfinder.com.  They aren't expensive - around $4 - $13.  The author is Joe Parkhill.
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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Linda T's Bees Begins in S Georgia

My son-in-law who just finished his MBA wanted to start a small business so he invited me to do a bee business with him and his friend Greg.  Greg owns a farm in south Georgia about 2 1/2 hours south of Atlanta where he'd be glad for us to put bees.

My caveat was that both of them had to learn to be beekeepers, so both of them took the Metro Short Course in January and hopefully they both will continue to learn.  We ordered equipment during Brushy Mountain's Christmas sale and built it all this weekend.  We've ordered packages of bees from Don at Dixie Bee Supply and they will arrive on March 18.

We'll drive down to the farm and install them on the 19th.  We needed to get all set up this weekend so that the weekend of the 19th would be as pain free as possible (with the exception of any stings from the bees as they are being installed!).

Cautionary note: The guys tell me that I will need rattlesnake boots (HORRORS!). They are about $200 but I'd like to stay alive!!!

At the beginning our goal is to split our 10 hives into 20 in mid-summer and go into winter with 20 hives. Then we'll work on selling honey at Farmer's Markets. I wanted to start small and simple to see how it would work for all three of us. Who knows where we'll go from there.

Here is a slideshow of all the work we did yesterday and a little this morning before driving back to Atlanta. Click on the photo to see the slideshow with captions and full-sized.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hive Tracks - a Great Program for Keeping Bee Records

I have just started using the new program:  Hive Tracks.  It's easy, free, user-friendly, and I can't wait to add things to it.  Here's what the view of my Blue Heron hive record looks like:


Adding data is easy.  It allows me to have a diagram on the right of the bee equipment on the hive (even including the slatted rack).

I'm so excited to use it.

The only drawback that I can see is that it doesn't have the set up to list a top bar hive - but I adapted and entered Topsy as a hive that lives in 1 deep box.  No matter - I can still keep records here of my inspections and harvests (see how optimistic I am!).



These guys did the beekeeping community a real service by developing this software.  Give it a try.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tales of the Top Bar Hives

On Saturday we checked Noah's top bar hive. There was lovely comb throughout the hive like the one in the frame above but all of it was empty - no honey to be seen. Bees were flying in and out so we felt like the hive had survived the winter so far, but no stores does not bode well.

Julia had a box of cut comb honey in the house, so she brought it out and put it in the hive.



Suddenly we spotted the queen. She's at about 9:00 just above my shadow cast on the comb.


Here she is again. You can see that the hive has pollen but no honey. We didn't keep looking at the comb at the point when we saw her Majesty. Instead, we closed it up for another day.




I feel reluctant in the first inspection after cold weather to break the propolis sealing the hive.  If the queen is dead, as she is not in Noah's hive, we can't replace her at this time of year anyway.

If we had looked deep enough into this hive to see the beginning of brood, it would be reassuring but doing so would not be worth compromising the safety of the hive as March's unpredictable cold/warm weather is upon us.

I visited my own top bar hive today at Valerie's.  This hive certainly has many fewer bees than went into winter. They also seemed a little disgruntled. So even though I didn't hear a queenless roar, I am concerned that they may be queenless.  Or maybe they just resented the intrusion.





Here they are congregating at the entry.
I could see the tiniest bit of pollen in the pollen basket on the bottom bee and felt a little relief.  Maybe there is a queen and some larvae that need feeding.  We'll see in the next inspection.

Despite opening a top bar and tearing off the wax covering over obvious stored honey, I still left them some comb honey in a box to let them know I was thinking of them and that there still is a beekeeper interested in them.

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First Look at the Blue Heron Hive in 2011

I bought a new veil for this year. It's a clear view all the way around with only a seam in the very back. It's so comfortable - nothing fell into my eyes, the hat didn't slip all over - I love it. I saw Jennifer Berry in one when we went last year to get our nucs and I couldn't wait to get one of my own. It seemed ideal to me not to have my veil be as much of an encumbrance as the ones I had.  Jennifer works the bees in a work shirt, a round clear veil like this, and cotton garden gloves.

My work shirt is one from back when my youngest daughter was a freshman at CU so it has a buffalo above the pocket and, I discovered today, is missing a button in a crucial place in the center of the button row. A work shirt is something that I can throw on over my other shirt and it is made of good, sturdy cotton material.  I wanted to wear something and didn't want my bee jacket since it has a veil attached.  I liked the way the work shirt and the veil felt and worked today so I'll try this combo again.

I really loved the veil.



Our purpose in opening the hive was to reassure ourselves that it was a hive that was up and running. We therefore didn't look deep into the hive. It's only February and we are likely to have another cold snap before spring has really sprung.  The bees need the protection of propolis to seal the hive against cold weather.  I did not need to break their seals just to see if the queen is laying.

I might have gone deeper into the hive if it were not the only surviving hive at Blue Heron.  I didn't want to risk anything today.  I am sure the bees have the space below the feeding super just the way they like it and I can wait to see how the queen is doing.

Julia took this wonderful picture of a bee returning to the hive with full to the brim pollen baskets. Must be from maple and maybe something else.



Inside we found that the baggie feeder I had left in December was still full and that the two pint jars were only half empty. Noah's theory was that the sugar syrup had crystallized over the holes and kept the bees from having access.



In the photo you can see the crystallized sugar over the entire lid. I scraped it off with my hive tool and returned the jar to the hive.



This is a hive that I don't plan to feed with the coming spring, but will let them finish this if they want to or can get access.

When we opened the holes in the feeder jar the bees gathered around the drippings.


















It would have been hard to check anything with the feeder super so loaded up still.  I guess we could have lifted the box below up without looking into it but likely the bees are currently living in the box just under the baggie.

My plan this year is to get rid of the deep box and that will be easy to do if the bees have moved up into the box below the food.

















Peter, who was there inspecting his dead hive, commented as we put my hive back together.  "Those bees are so organized, they must have a queen!"

While that doesn't matter in the least - they can be quite organized without a queen - it still felt good that they were alive and working together.

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

What does Starvation Look Like?

As the temperatures warm, many beekeepers are opening their hives to find that the hive is dead. The cause is frequently starvation.

Bees cannot move when the temperature is low - often they are immobile because it is too cold for their muscles to function. Honey can be plentiful in the hive and they will still die if the cluster is too small and the temperatures are too cold to move to the next spot where honey can be found in the hive.

We arrived at Blue Heron today (Julia, Noah and I) to find Peter, one of the other beekeepers there, looking at his dead hive. Here's what he found in the hive in the photo below. You can see the remaining bees all grouped together. They are dead and starved.

There is nothing left in his hive. The honey which was in the hive has either been consumed by the bees over the winter or robbed out by my hive, the only living hive at Blue Heron at the moment.



Here is a picture of starvation up close and personal. This is Julia's dead hive at Blue Heron. The bees die with their heads down in the bottom of the cells, usually with their probosis sticking out, as they lap up the very last drop of honey.



Here's an even closer look so that you can see how the bees are all head down together. There's plenty of pollen in this hive, as you can see on the right of the picture, but no honey.

Julia has ordered a new package for Blue Heron.  I have two nucs coming from Jennifer Berry and will put one of them here .  We'll have bees at Blue Heron this year, but Julia's hive and Peter/Kevin's hive are both dead as of today's inspection.


 In a way, that will make life interesting.  We can compare a second year hive to a first year hive (if mine remains alive).  We also might use my hive to make a split which could be interesting.

My wish is that we get some honey from Blue Heron this year - I'd like to taste it and we're entering our third year at this preserve (and so far, no harvest!)  But we have learned a lot.  And Julia, Noah and I have become fast friends - can't beat that as an added value to the experiment of Blue Heron!


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Friday, February 18, 2011

Juliana Rangel on Rearing Queens

We were lucky to have Dr. Juliana Rangel as the speaker at our Metro Atlanta Bee meeting in February.  She uses the Doolittle method as her guide for how to rear queens as well as the work of Marla Spivak (Successful Queen Rearing).



She reminded us of biology first - that fertilized eggs are "bipotent" - that is, they can be either a queen or a worker, depending on what they are fed.  Royal jelly is full of protein and queens are fed royal jelly alone.

Colonies in the beehive rear queens for three reasons:
1.  Splitting the colony via swarming
2.  Emergency queen rearing when the old queen is damaged or killed (queen cells in center of the frame)
3.  Supersedure queen rearing when the queen is failing - shooting blanks, as it were.

Inside the colony, queen rearing is affected by the size of the colony (the volume of bees, the area they cover, the numbers of adult population); congestion of the brood nest; and worker age distribution (if there are lots of young workers, then swarming is more likely to happen).

Some of this, interestingly, is because with lots of bees in the hive, the queen pheromone is not distributed as well throughout the hive so the workers begin to make queen cups.

Queen rearing is best when there is an abundance of nectar and pollen, lots of nurse bees, and reduced queen pheromone (queenlessness).

The younger the egg you use for rearing a queen, the better.  Juliana said that if you use four day old larva to make a queen, the resulting queen has a lower reproductive quality than a queen made from a one day old larva.

In our biology review she said something I hadn't heard before.  I knew that the virgin queen flies to a DCA (Drone Congregation Area) to mate and may mate with 17 drones over the course of her mating flight(s).

I understood that the mated queen returns to the hive and the workers remove the mating organs of the drones, left in the queen's body at copulation.  Juliana said that each drone removes the "mating sign" - the remains of the previous drone - from the queen before beginning his own mating with her!

So in the hive when the queen returns, the workers only have to remove the final mating sign of the last drone to mate with the queen.

Here are the ingredients for queen rearing:
1.  A queenless colony
2.  Proper space
3.  Larvae of the correct age
4.  Lots of food and water
5.  Lots of nurse bees.

Two hive bodies are needed for this.  The first hive box is the Cell Builder.  The second box is the Swarm box.

The Cell Builder has no queen, ample nurse bees and lots of food and pollen.  You make this box about two days before grafting the larvae to help the nurse bees recognize that they are queenless.

The swarm box is the source of bees.  You pick a hive with a good queen and a good ratio of nurse bees/foragers, lots of eggs and larvae.

Step 1.  Locate the queen and transfer her to somewhere else (observation hive, nuc, Juliana might use her in an experiment about something else!)
Step 2   Find frames of open brood with lots of nurse bees
Step 3   Shake these nurse bees into the Cell Builder
Step 4   Return the open brood frame to the Swarm box
Step 5   If you pull a frame with capped brood, shake the bees off of it into the swarm box and put the capped brood frame into the Cell Builder
Step 6   Transfer one or two frames of honey and pollen to the Cell Builder
Step 7   Add empty frames to fill the empty spaces in either hive
Step 8   Move the Cell Builder to another location.

It helped to understand all of this to have heard Mickey Anderson in July last year with his hoe and drain pipe explaining this as well!

Then she explained grafting and I'll try to let you know what I learned.

Grafting is moving one day old larvae from the worker cell to an artificial cell so that the larvae can become queens.  There are special tools for grafting that look like tiny spoons.  There are special cell frames for queen rearing.

Juliana said it's hard to determine which are one day old larvae.  You can take a clear acrylic sheet and mark it so you know where the top of the frame is.  Then you overlay the sheet on the frame and mark the cells where you see eggs.  Then a couple of days later, you'll know the larva in that cell is only a day old.

You need the queen rearing frame that is designed to hold the artificial queen cups, wet paper towels, the grafting tool, a squirt bottle of water, royal jelly that has been mixed with some water, sugar syrup, a magnifying glass and a flashlight.  You pull the frame of young larvae from a hive with a good queen.  Keep the larvae moist by covering the frame with a paper towel.

Prime each cell with some royal jelly.  Then very carefully lift the larva with a J motion, avoiding contact with the cell wall.  Place the larva in a prepared queen cup.  Do this as quickly as possible until you've filled all the cups you need.  Keep the larvae moist throughout the process by covering the frame with a wet paper towel.

Take this frame to the Cell Builder box (ready and waiting with nurse bees) and place it in the center of the box.  Close the box up and wait 9 - 11 days.

The day before you plan to transfer the queen cells to mating nucs, check the Cell Builder box to see how many nucs you need to set up.

It's good to synchronize the emergence of the queens and the natural arrival of drones, remembering that it takes drones 12 - 14 days to mature sexually.  You want your new queens to emerge as the sexually mature drones are eagerly heading for the DCA.

Juliana said that if you need ten new queens, graft 30 larvae and maybe you'll get your 10.  At this point, you move the queen cells into brood nests, hanging the cell vertically and pushing it into the wax comb.

In 10 days check for the emergence of the queen.  If she came out by herself, the tip will be cut open in a circle.  If a worker has chewed her out, biting into the side of the cell, the queen might not have survived.

Juliana says you can practice scooping up the larvae by using quinoa (the grain).  She also encouraged us to keep good records so that you are sure of your timing.  If the queens emerge in the cell builder, the emerged queen will kill all of the other ones.

This whole process is very difficult and I do not know for sure that I have passed it on to you accurately.  I've never done it myself, so I don't feel confident in what I've written here.  I encourage you to read about the Doolittle method on the web.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Eager Bees at Blue Heron

In the low 60s today and the bees were flying eagerly out and into the Blue Heron hive. You can see loads of both yellow and white pollen. The yellow is probably from the red maple, currently in bloom. The light beige color is probably also from another maple. I am just relieved to see all of it and all of the activity.

My daughter reports that the bees are flying at Topsy at her house as well.





The hive went into winter with a deep and two medium boxes. The top box was a surround for baggie feeding and an interior Boardman feeder and I didn't remove it as winter began. If the bees are not in the deep box, I'll remove it this year at my first inspection. I'd much prefer to be in all medium boxes.


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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Uncertainty about the Rabun County Bees' Winter Survival

Today I was in Rabun County and the temperature was 52 degrees with bright sunshine. I thought the bees at the community garden might be flying if the hive survived the severe winter north Georgia has incurred.

I put my camera in the entrance to the hive and although the picture is out of focus, you can see lots and lots of dead bee bodies. Does this mean the hive is dead? Or does this mean that they haven't had a warm enough day to carry out the dead?



As I watched I saw at least 30 bees enter and exit the hive. Unlike my Blue Heron hive where the bees congregate on the landing and sort of fall all over each other in their winter exit from the hive, these bees came out hesitantly and one at a time.  Their behavior was a little like robber bees in that they paused at the entrance and didn't always go right in.

Then I thought about orientation. These bees have been inside all winter and perhaps are not oriented to their hive, leading to some amount of uncertainty at the entry.



The good news is that all of the 30 bees except one entered and exited on the same side of the hive. As the sun shines on the hive, it is evident that, facing the hive, the left side is the warmest. I believe if there is a surviving cluster, they are located on the left (warmest) side of the hive.

Then the entrance and exits of all the bees from that side would imply that they are resident bees. All of the summer, I rarely saw the queen but the eggs were usually located on the second frame from that side of the hive and the bees tended to congregate on that side.

So this is my rationalization that there are live bees inside despite the bee bodies strewn on the screened bottom board.



I have put in a request to the community garden that we have two hives there in 2011. It would make success so much more likely with the possibility of resources to balance and comparisons to be made about the state of the hives. I'm hoping they say yes to my suggestion.


 

There is a feral hive located in the wall of the old unused school building nearby.  I walked over to see if the bees made it through the winter.  My picture below only shows one bee, but with a digital camera, I never get what I intend to snap.  I saw groups of at least six bees at a time leaving this hive.  So it's also possible that the bees flying into my hive near the garden are robbers from this hive.

The goop around the hive entry is from a beekeeper who did a trapout here about two years ago.  Obviously the hive is still going strong, but the queen rarely leaves in a trapout, so in addition to the queen, there must have been enough bees who didn't go into the trap to keep this hive going.  Or the trapout worked but a new swarm moved into the space.

However they made their arrival, this hive is alive and well and about a football field's length from the community garden hive.



Sunday, February 06, 2011

Honey Bee Communication Through the Waggle Dance

I am currently reading Honeybee Democracy by Thomas Seeley.
What a delightful book! I love it because I am fascinated by bees, but I think even a non-beekeeper would be intrigued by Seeley's way of presenting how honey bees make decisions about the welfare and growth of the hive as a whole.

Seeley writes so comfortably that I feel like I am in conversation with him. He doesn't throw around scientific wisdom, but instead conveys his knowledge in such a way that it feels casual and easy to understand.

If you have the opportunity to read this book, you'll think about swarms and swarm intelligence in so much clearer a way. Seeley shines a light for us all on how the honeybee communicates about choice of living space for a swarm and how these decisions are made in the swarm.

I find honeybee communication fascinating. Most of it takes place in the dark of the hive (note hives are completely dark - no windows.) And yet the honeybee communicates by dancing. I assume since she can't be seen dancing, her movements are felt by her sisters. We always see drawings or film of the honey bee dancing visibly, but that is not the case in the hive.

I opened my email this morning to find a note from Tucker Balch at Georgia Tech. Among his many interests and talents, he works with robotics and in that interest began studying honeybees. He has made an enlightening video about the waggle dance that I have loved watching (I've seen it three times just today!) His interest is in understanding the role of communication in the bee hive.

Here is his video about honeybee communication via the waggle dance, more clearly explained than anywhere else I've ever seen it. He repeated Von Frisch's experiment of years ago. I encourage you to click on the lower right corner of the YouTube screen to make the video full screen:

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