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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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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Why Do I Keep Bees?

I get asked that a lot.  Last Saturday the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers taught a short course and I'm sure I was asked that question at least three times.  On Thursday night I gave a talk on Keeping Bees the Simple Way at the Forsyth County beekeepers meeting, and I started the talk by telling my usual answer to that question:

I keep bees because I wanted to keep chickens.  I read up on what one must do in Atlanta to keep  chickens - how they had to be housed a certain distance from your neighbor's house, what you needed to do to leave them for a while to go out of town, what to do with the waste they create.  But my children who live here said they would not be chicken-sitters when I went out of town; I couldn't quite meet the regs when it came to distance from my neighbors, and I didn't want to deal with chicken ****.

I was driving one Saturday morning, listening to the Walter Reeves show on the radio and he had a beekeeper for a guest.  She was talking about the joys of beekeeping and announced that there were three upcoming short courses in the Atlanta area.  My ears perked up and I listened to her every word!  The first course was on a weekend I couldn't go and in a place way south of Atlanta.  The second course was on another weekend when I already had commitments and was also in a location pretty far away.  The third course was offered by the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers at the Chattahoochee Nature Center on the only Saturday I was available.

I pulled over to the side of the road, called the number she had given for registration, and signed up.  Bees are legal all over the state of Georgia; they don't need bee-sitters when you go out of town; and bees take care of their own tiny, tiny bodily waste products.

I went to the course; fell in love; came home and ordered bees and equipment.  And that's the story.






















That's why I started keeping bees but not why I keep bees.

I think I need to change the answer to that frequently asked question.

I keep bees because bees are fascinating in so many ways.  Among them:

  • Bees live in a society that runs democratically and well.  With the help of a thoughtful, careful beekeeper, they can thrive in a man made hive box.  
  • Working the bees requires moving slowly, something I rarely do in the rest of my life, and feels zen-like in the slow motion of inspecting the hive - the bees bring me serenity and peace
  • Working the bees requires respect for the bees and the hive to work the bees well
  • I love the miracle of the reproduction of the hive - 
    • they can make a new queen if they need to; 
    • they create males if they need them (and get rid of them in the fall when they don't need them!); 
    • the hive itself reproduces the community as a whole in the process of swarming
  • Honey is the only food consumed by humans that is created by insects and it is such a delectable miracle!
  • The taste of honey varies with the flowers from which the bees gather the nectar, creating a wine-tasting like experience when tasting various honeys
  • Bees are soft furry creatures and when they walk on my hands, I am intrigued by their tiny bodies
  • Bees use their bodies in so many ways - 
    • they create wax for the honey comb from their abdomen; 
    • they pass nectar from bee to bee with their proboscis, 
    • they use their wings (among other things) for 
      • hive ventilation, 
      • drying the nectar to create honey, 
      • flying to flowers and back to the hive, 
    • they communicate with each other in the pitch dark of the hive through dancing and sharing
Richard Taylor has written about how the bee yard is a place of quiet reflection and I resonnate with his thoughts about that every time I open a bee hive and spend time with the bees.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Report on January State of the Rabun Bee Hives

There's good news and there's bad news. Both of these hives were small and not too great going into the winter. The dark green hive had been covered by kudzu at the end of the summer - the gardeners who maintain the area around the garden didn't realize I had two hives and let the kudzu win. I would take garden shears with me every time I went and cut back the area around the entrance but the kudzu definitely won.

I anticipated that these hives would not make it through the winter. I've already ordered packages of bees to replace them, assuming they would die.

Today on my visit to the garden, I found out that the dark green hive at the Community garden in Rabun County is bee-less. I'm sad, but not surprised that they are gone. At first without investigating, I put some food on the hive, assuming there might be bees, but when a hive is dead there is an eerie silent feel and I realized that there was no life there.



But then I went to the second hive and lo and behold there were bees flying in and out. They were really there and I was astounded. The hive felt alive when I opened it, even though I didn't see bees anywhere except at the front entrance. What a relief!



I saw as many as six bees at the same time, but couldn't snap a picture fast enough - aren't digital cameras irritating that way?

Anyway, I took the feeder off of the green hive and poured the contents into the feeder for the living, breathing hive - HOORAY! Hope for the future at the Community Garden.

Interestingly there were spiders nesting in the corners of the top cover of both hives. I like them better than roaches!




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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Live Bees at Blue Heron and at Jeff's

The bees in the nuc at Blue Heron are ALIVE! I really can't believe it. These are the vandalized bees that are now housed in a nuc and locked with a bicycle lock against further intrusion. I did not believe they would still be OK and we are not out of the winter death possibilities until March. At least for now they are flying.

I couldn't believe it so I took four pictures to prove to myself that they actually are coming and going. You can watch a hive and tell if the bees entering and leaving it live there or are robbers from another hive. The residents enter confidently and in one fell swoop into the entry. Robber bees are unsure and tend to hover around the entrance before going into the hive.

These bees own this hive.




At my old house where Jeff and Valerie now live we have two hives we are concerned about - now three. Colony Square is doing great with bees all at the entrance. Lenox Pointe has bees but also evidence of nosema, possibly, in that there are streaks of bee poop on the hive box at the entry way.

The hive we call "Five" is still alive. It was tiny going into winter and we had talked about putting it into a nuc, but never did. It is housed in two medium boxes. Jeff hasn't seen any bees flying in or out, so we opened the top to take a peek. The rapid feeder was still on the hive and there were bees walking up and down the sides of the cone. We both whooped out loud to see actual bees alive in the hive.


Our fourth hive over there is the swarm we caught in June. Although small, it too is alive and had bees in the feeder cone of the rapid feeder.

Don't be disturbed by the mold in the rapid feeder or the "weeds." The weeds are actually sprigs of thyme and we'll clean out the mold on our next opportunity to open the hive.

Today it was still quite cold and we didn't want to remove the rapid feeder to clean it because it covers the hole in the inner cover and the bees are likely to have propolized any air space to maintain warmth. I'll take warmth over cleanliness if they can make it through the winter.

Jeff and I are following Jennifer Berry and Keith Delaplane's system for powdered sugar treatment for varroa mites.  We are dusting the bees with the Dustructor - which means dusting without opening the hive - four times this month (three days apart) and then will repeat this in March.

Today was my third treatment and I dusted the bees at my house and at the Stonehurst Place Inn.  Jeff will do the bees at my old house tomorrow.  It's out of schedule but I dusted the bees at Blue Heron when I stopped there - they are actually part of Jeff's schedule, due to be dusted tomorrow.
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Conclusions about the Dead Hive in my Beeyard

Today I removed all the frames in each box of the dead hive in my yard. As I thought the hive died out from being queenless and through beekeeper error (I didn't realize they were queenless and didn't combine them with another hive, for example).

There were scattered dead bees throughout the hive. What looked like perhaps the last part of the living bees had died together (about eight of them) in box two on the tops of the frames. I looked through the bodies on the slatted rack and the screened bottom board. I saw no deformed wings, no varroa mites, no dead queen - just worker bees. All told there were about 30 or so dead bees in the hive.



In the picture below you can see numerous small hive beetles dead with the bees.



Because I had fed them bee tea, there was a lot of stored nectar. Here's one frame with every cell filled with nectar.  There was only one frame of capped honey.  Bees that are queenless can die out with honey in the hive because they simply come to the end of their life span and with no queen, there are not younger bees to replace them.



On the frame below, you can see some evidence of their attempts to make a queen. There was absolutely no capped brood or any brood of any kind.


This is clearly a hive that died out from lack of a queen. I should have paid better attention to it going into winter. It's also possible that their queen died fairly early in the winter and they didn't have resources to replace her.

I'm sad that they are gone, but satisfied that I know the cause and that gives me some peace.
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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Bee-wary of Late Winter


In Atlanta we had a sudden drop in temperature from the highs 60s to the 20s where the temperature has remained for several days.  When it's cold like this, we only have highs in the 30s at best.  When this goes on for several days, the bees are in real danger.

The warmish weather fools the bees into acting like it is spring and they go out, forge for pollen, raise brood, etc.  Then suddenly we have this kind of cold snap.  

The whole hive can die, if the cluster isn't located where there is stored honey.

So I am crossing my fingers and hoping for the best.

I have one dead hive in my back yard.  I looked through it the other day when I did my first powdered sugar shake.  There is honey in the hive and dead bees scattered through the frames.  I didn't take the bottom box off (too big a hurry to get back to the office), but I'll let you know what I find when I do.

My current theory is that the hive went queenless before winter and I didn't recognize that this had happened so I could combine it with another hive.  I may find something else when I look further and then we'll know more, but for now, I'd speculate that the hive died naturally because there was no queen.




In the photo above you can see the few dead bee bodies on top of the frames.  I'll look at these for signs of varroa or deformed wing when I get back into the hive.



For now, I put it back together until I have time in the next few days really to study it.

There was a rapid feeder on top of the hive still half filled with bee tea with a number of dead ants floating in the tea.  I strained it into a jar and may put that on another hive if I don't find evidence of foul brood when I study the cells in the dead hive.


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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Short Course on January 21 - REGISTER NOW!

Our local bee club, the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Club, offers its short course on Saturday January 21 from 8 - 4:30.  We have an agenda that is filled with experienced, well-qualified speakers and the course is second to none in Georgia.  Some of our speakers include Jennifer Berry, Keith Fielder, Curtis Gentry  (and even me!)  To see earlier posts about previous short courses, click hereherehereherehere.

To learn more, click here.  To sign up, click here.

There's a continental breakfast beginning at 8 and the speakers begin at 9.  We provide a delicious lunch for participants as well with the opportunity to sit at a table with an experienced beekeeper and talk about getting started.

Participants go home at the end of the day with enough knowledge to get started, with a list of places to order bees and best of all, with an incredible "Goody Bag" filled with beekeeping catalogs, honey, a candle, lip balm, and best of all, their own copy of Keith Delaplane's great basic book of beekeeping:  First Lessons in Beekeeping.  

We have had participants come from as far away as Mississippi - it's an informative, enthusiasm-generating, all-around-great course.  If you can come, you won't regret it.


Monday, January 09, 2012

No Use Crying Over Spilt…..Powdered Sugar!

I'm good at spilling things. I like wine glasses without stems for that reason. If something can be spilled, I'm your woman…..I can do it in a heartbeat.

Today I went over to Stonehurst Place to check on the bees. According to the research at UGA, if you want to treat the bees for varroa mites with powdered sugar shakes, then you start in January, treat four times, three days apart and then repeat the process every other month.

 So it's January and time to get started.

Today I treated my hives at home and then got in the car to take the Dustructor to the Stonehurst Place Inn to treat the hives there. When I opened the back door of the car to get the Dustructor, the cap came off of the canister and powdered sugar went everywhere.



There was powdered sugar in every crevice near the door of the car. What a mess!

I gathered up what I could and returned it to the canister.


The good news is that on this day with 69 degree temps around noon, the bees were flying with enthusiasm out of both hives. I am relieved that they are alive and have high hopes for their making it through to March.




On each hive, as I had done at home, I slid the end of the Dustructor into the entry to about the middle of the hive. Then I gave five large puffs of powdered sugar into the hive with as much vigor as I could muster.

Down with the Varroa Destructor! Long live my bees!

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Sunday, January 08, 2012

Bee Holiday Goodies

As people know I am a beekeeper, the more and more bees figure into gifts that are given to me and that I choose to give others.  This year was no exception.

I bought a set up honeybee pjs for my 2 year old granddaughter:

























Someone brought these bee slippers from Amazon.com to our Metro Atlanta holiday party and I just had to have a pair for myself, so I went home and ordered them:



















Of course there are bee mugs and honey dippers:







And I was given a luggage tag (I had one already but my dog ate it - REALLY.....) so I was thrilled to get another!  And a lovely mug for tea, and a canister...I bought the bee bottle brush on a whim - I'm sure I'll never use it but it's such fun.



















And my daughter and son-in-law gave me a funny t-shirt with a bear on it wearing fake bee wings.  The bear on the shirt is looking at the bee and says:  "Honey?"  I tried to take a picture of me in the shirt in the mirror and it came out reversed, of course, and today my sweet niece, Amanda, a fantastic photographer took my lowly effort and reversed it for me:



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