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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 27, 2012

Beekeepers Creeping in the Middle of the Night

What do beekeepers do in the dark of the night? We move bee hives!

A kind woman named Lisa who studied about beekeeping with Don Kuchenmeister in Lula, Georgia and who got these bees from the Georgia bee lab donated this hive to the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers for our hive inspection program. She lives in Lilburn, about a 35 minute drive from Julia's house.

Immediately after work tonight, skipping dinner, I drove to Julia's house, we loaded up the car with what we needed, and drove to Lilburn to get these bees. For those of you who don't know, bees are ideally moved at night because all of the foragers are home for the evening and it's a calmer move than trying in the day time.

The hive is one of those English garden hives with the lovely rooftop. Here's how it looked before we moved it.



I had been worrying about it all day - it was potentially 160 pounds of bees and honey and boxes. Lisa said her driveway was quite steep, and it's easy to make errors when one is tired at the end of the day. It turned out that the biggest challenge of moving this hive was backing down Lisa's steep driveway.


We brought flashlights, a staple gun, screened wire to staple the entry, and our bee gear, just in case. Noah is stapling the entry closed with screened wire in this picture.


Julia strapped the hive together with her hive strap. And then we loaded it into Julia's car. It wasn't very heavy and although it looked like Julia, Noah and I were all carrying it, actually the two of them had all the weight so I let go to take this picture.


Below you can see Lisa and Noah. We are so grateful to Lisa for donating this hive since we have no bees at the Blue Heron and the inspections for our club are about to begin. Lisa also gave us an eight frame hive that we will use for bee inspections at Chastain Park, if we get permission to keep bees there. (Have I told you all about Chastain Park Conservancy and our dreams of having bees there? - if not, I'll post soon.)


Then in the dark of night we drove to the Blue Heron (after a quick stop at Chick Fil-A so I could get something to eat, having skipped dinner). We were a little scared - after all, there has been vandalism at our Blue Heron hives and it was 9:00 PM by this time. Noah told us loud and funny stories as we walked guided by flashlight up into the apiary to make sure our cinder blocks were placed OK.

We set the hive up and then put some vegetation on the landing entry so the bees would orient themselves when they fly tomorrow.





Here are Julia and Noah in the dark beside our newest hive. We faced it east and hope it will live and thrive.


Noah, who will be chief in charge of this particular hive, checked with the level on his phone to see if the hive were level. Satisfied that it was level enough, we went home. I got back to my house at 10:10…..what a long day, but so fulfilling to end it this way.

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cross Your Fingers, I'm Making a Split!

Today, suited to the max, Jeff and I returned to Colony Square. The temperature was in the high 60s and tomorrow is going to be another summer day in February, so it's time to make a split from this colony. I brought a nuc (actually I brought two but we decide only to make one today), and all the extra gear I needed: screened wire to block the entrance, bungee cords to hold the nuc to its bottom board in the car, wire cutters to cut the wire to fit, lots of smoker fuel (read: a full bucket of pine straw), an extra bee suit and veil for Jeff, lots of stuff.

I stopped at Blue Heron on the way and it's pretty good bet that the nuc there has died. I took off the top and found no bees in the top nuc box. There were some bees in the bottom box, but it's a pretty good assumption that they are marauders from another hive.

At Jeff and Valerie's, it was a different story. The bees were flying actively in and out of all the hives when I arrived. Colony Square being the largest was the most active.



However, even the swarm hive had a bee flying in with pollen on her legs (in photo below). This isn't a guarantee of brood, but we put a frame of brood and eggs in there last week, so maybe, maybe, maybe they are working on a queen. We left this hive alone. Five Alive sported a crowded entry with bees landing laden with pollen. And Lenox Pointe was chugging along as well.


I didn't take photos while we worked, but we agreed on several things before we started.

1. I've not done well with splits - mostly because I'm always so worried about accidentally taking the queen that I don't take enough bees with the split. To do this split, we decided that it didn't matter if we took the queen. Should that happen, we would interrupt the brood cycle at Colony Square. With the extremely warm winter we have had, this year should be an overwhelming varroa mite year, so interrupting the brood cycle at CS couldn't be all bad. And if we didn't take the queen, the colony will keep growing as it has.

2. We would only take the eggs and brood from the first box on the top of the hive. Well, the first (top) box on the hive was solid honey and very heavy, but the box under that would be our source of eggs and brood. We didn't want to disrupt this hive any more than we had to, given our last week's experience.

3. We thought through all our steps ahead of time.
We set up both nucs;
We removed the replacement frames I had in the nucs;
We set the tops on the ground;
We put the bungee cords under the hives, ready to fasten;
We measured and inserted the screened wire in the entry openings.

Then we opened the hive and removed the top honey medium. We used lots of smoke and hive drapes.

We draped the first brood box without removing it from the hive. We pulled frames and found brood and eggs in frames 2 and 3. Frame 4 was one of the empties we had checkerboarded and it was not yet being used. All told we removed three frames of brood and eggs, one frame of solid honey and one frame of honey, pollen and a little brood.

The replacement frames that we put back in the hive were all drawn comb from my hives at home.


By now the bees were not happy. Jeff got many stingers in his glove as you can see and got stung once through the glove.

At that point we decided that we would only take one nuc's worth of split today and consider doing it again in the next couple of weeks. We loaded the nuc into my car.


Meanwhile I had set up a bottom board and a slatted rack at my house, waiting for the arrival of this nuc. It was late in the day and I had a meeting of people coming to my house at 5:00 so I will wait until tomorrow to move them into a hive box of their very own. For now they will spend the night in the nuc.


The hive box beside them is all set up with frames and ready for the bees tomorrow. Meanwhile it was reassuring to see the bees at the entry of the hive. I'll also remove all the bungees from under the hive tomorrow. I hope they make a good queen! And that they succeed at making a queen!



Tomorrow I'll move them into the hive box and probably feed them to help them draw comb.

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Making a Water source


Bees at my new house need a water source, so today I made one even though the bees are all gone.  I will have a new hive or two here and need to set up water.

I took two plant saucers, one smaller than the other.



 I filled the smaller one with stones.



That's my adorable two year old granddaughter's hand helping me unload stones into the saucer.  You need the stones to be there because bees can't swim.  They can get water if they have something to stand on at the water source.



Lark, who is two and like all two year olds is carving out her individuality by not doing what anyone wants her to, would not look at me so that I could take her picture with our creation!



In the end we planted some veronica and some tiny sedum in dirt around the smaller saucer.  We filled the saucer with water and called ourselves done with the project.



Today I overturned a larger flower pot and place our water source on top of it.  This is in the location where I will have hives this year.


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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Seeley and the Secret Life of Bees

This morning's email contained a forward from my son-in-law, Jeff, from the Smithsonian Magazine.  I love the article about Thomas Seeley and his work on Honeybee Democracy.

Here it is, and I invite you all to read it.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Happier Bee News on the Old Home Front

Yesterday I taught Hive Manipulation at the Tara Beekeepers' Short Course in the morning. In the afternoon it was warm enough to open my hives at my old house and I have been so anxious to see how they are doing.

Five was ALIVE!
 (I loved this movie when my kids were young).

The first sign that Five was alive was this bee with full pollen baskets entering the hive. Bees laden with pollen don't come in to rob out a hive.



I saw another who missed the entrance and was on a stick on the ground.


Inside there were lots of bees. This is the bottom box but the one above had bees as well.


Here we can see signs of a laying queen - brood and eggs. I was so thrilled with this - so much more fun than opening up my dead-outs at home. Oh, and BTW, I saw drones (at least 10 in this small hive) and some drone brood.


Inside the swarm hive I found a different story. Three full boxes of honey, no brood and just a baseball sized group of bees….but there was no sign of a queen. I felt impressed that these girls had made it through the winter and had not been robbed out by a larger hive. I thought I would take a good frame of brood and eggs from both Lenox Pointe or Colony Square and give it to this hive to see how they would do.

Really the smarter decision would be to combine this hive with Five Alive and maybe I'll do that next weekend.


Lenox Pointe has had less bee traffic than I would like to see, but they had brood and eggs in the bottom box. I couldn't move this frame to the Swarm hive because it's a deep and the swarm hive is in all mediums. Here is a strong argument for uniform frame size, but I started Lenox Pointe from a Jennifer Berry nuc last year and it was established in a deep, as a result.

They had good honey stores, as well. This hive is going to be fine.  I did take a frame of brood and eggs from their Box #2 and put it into the swarm hive.  My plan was also to take one from Colony Square.


Then I opened Colony Square. I didn't take many pictures and the ones I took were blurry. It was filled with bees. There are as many bees in that hive now as in its strongest day last summer and it was a powerful hive then. Jeff was helping me and he called out the pollen colors he saw coming into the hive:  red, orange, yellow.

As we lifted the top solidly filled with honey box off of the hive, we uncapped drone brood that they had put between the boxes. The bees were hopping mad.



I had on a veil and jacket. I also had on gloves because my hands were stung in the swarm hive (queenless and angry with my intrusion).  Jeff just had on a jacket and veil as well. He helped me lift off the second box (also heavy but with brood as well as honey), and again we tore up drone brood between the boxes.   Jeff had company who came to see the new grand baby, and wasn't expecting to work the bees with me, so I encouraged him to go be with his guests.

Meanwhile I was using hive drapes and smoke but these bees were so unhappy. Suddenly I realized at least three were inside my veil. I walked away from the hive and killed at least one of the bees inside the veil by pinching her, but not before I had been stung three times.

Why didn't I just stop the inspection?

This was a day when I could work the bees, the temperature was finally right, and the drone brood between the frames pointed to a need for space. These bees are going to swarm unless I really work hard to keep them contained and I knew one way would be to checkerboard the brood box to expand the brood space.

So….I put on my Golden Bee suit - just happened to have it in the car. My friend Julia had been using it until she got one of her own and had conveniently just returned it to me. I think I'll keep it in the car on bee visits!

I took a new box with a few drawn frames and some strip frames and went back to Colony Square,  waiting for me, draped but angry. The bottom deep had brood in it, but I needed to do this with medium boxes. The next box (#2) had brood as well, so I checkerboarded it with the new box I brought with me.

I completely forgot about the swarm hive and did not pull a frame of brood and eggs for it.




Checkerboarding means that in Box #2, frames 1, 3, 5, 7 were left with brood in them and frames 2, 4, 6, and 8 are now empty comb or undrawn frames. In Box #3, frames 2, 4, 6, and 8 are brood frames moved up from Box #2 and frames 1, 3, 5, and 7 are now empty comb or undrawn frames. This expands the brood nest as per Michael Bush (he calls it unlimited brood nest) and gives the queen more room to lay.

You can only do this if the hive has enough nurse bees to keep the brood warm and this hive is bursting at the seams...so no problem there.  Next Sunday, if the weather is good, Jeff and I are going to make two nucs from this hive.  

This is how the hive looked almost an hour after I was done....and it's February!  This hive is bound to swarm unless we do something.

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Bill Owens Speaks to the Metro Bee Club

Last Wednesday, Bill Owens, Georgia's only Master Craftsman Beekeeper (the highest rank you can attain) spoke to our club about his bee removal business. Bill is a great communicator and an entertaining speaker. I enjoyed his talk a lot, although I will not, being constructionally challenged to the max, be doing bee removals from structures.

Bill talked about the importance of customer relations - a job at which I am sure he is spectacular - and the importance of educating the public about the difference between bees and hornets. One thing he said that surprised me is that it is an easier removal if the cutting into the structure takes place inside the house rather than outside. He said bees in the house are much more easily moved into a container than those outside who seem much more upset by the process.



He shared a list of the tools and equipment he carries to a hive removal. He doesn't list it but he also has in his kit a cookie sheet with a long handle attached. He uses that to slide under a mass of bees in narrow spaces!


Bill stayed afterward to answer questions about what's going on in the bee yard. Interestingly he spoke about feeding the bees. Bill doesn't use any chemicals in his 60 or so hives, and he rarely feeds the bees. He said spring feeding is stimulative feeding and who are we to determine when the hive needs to be at its peak. So he sees no point in taking the risk of stimulating the hive to grow rapidly and then finding out that it was wrong timing.

If he feeds a hive going into winter, then something is wrong or the hive would have enough stores. So he works for healthy hives and not for hives that need his assistance through sugar syrup.
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Pick myself up, Dust myself off, and Start all over again…..

For days I had been seeing lots of bees flying in and out of my one remaining hive at home. I assumed they were alive and well and given the Atlanta extra warm winter, I should be ready to checkerboard to help expand the brood nest as Michael Bush talks about in his book and on his website.

So last Monday, I went out, bee bag in hand, planning to expand the broodnest.



I took a box of empty frames with foundation strips, ready to do the job.


I opened it up, went through every box, and found that in fact, the hive was dead - no bees, no brood, just stored nectar and a few bodies on the screened bottom board (AGAIN).  The bees flying in and out of the hive in great numbers were not residents, but rather either robbers or scouts……I had to go back to the office and was so upset that when I returned to my business clothes and got to my office, I looked down and I had on two different shoes!

Well, who can blame me? This was quite upsetting. I now have no hives alive at home.


The only possible good news is that bees continue to go in and out of that hive in large numbers. They don't appear to be robbing so I am hoping a swarm will move in in a week! Fingers crossed.

I do have five packages ordered from Don K and 2 nucs ordered from Jerry, so I should be OK in the start all over again department.

Note:  This is my 950th post - that means I'll pass 1000 in 2012!



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Monday, February 06, 2012

Richard Taylor, a Lyrical Beekeeper

As spring approaches, I am always drawn back to The Joys of Beekeeping by Richard Taylor.  I've quoted him in other places on this blog.  He loves the bees and the experience of being with them.  His book which is quite short (166 pages) is so nurturing to read and replenishes my spirit about the bees every time I read it.

This is what he writes about his bee yard (I'm going to quote several paragraphs and hope I'm not violating copyright):

"But the bee yard, when not the scene of herculean labors, as at harvest time, is largely a place of quiet where one feels not alone but rather an integral part of the scheme of things.  Solitude is not really the word for it.  Communion is.  One is not separated from company but only from distraction.  One's thoughts and feelings are not imposed from without but elicited from within, rising in absorption with the vast surrounding nature.


The hum of bees overhead, which in spring and during a honey flow approaches a roar, is to me what the sound of the surf is to the beachcomber.  It is not a menace or warning, but a reassurance, almost a voice speaking.  It would instantly carry the thoughts of others, the uninitiated, to the association with stings.  The sight of the bee master, placidly standing in the midst of this roar, would give an outsider no reassurance at all.  The rare intruder who comes upon me in one of my yards, therefore retreats, and the yard and its master are again as secure as if surrounded by a high wall.


Smaller visitors, feathered and furred, come and go at will, of course, as oblivious to the bees as the bees are to them.  The chatter of the birds is unabated, and my appearance produces a squeak from an occasional chipmunk.  Off in the meadow a pheasant gives warning to her chicks.  But in general all these living things share the peace with me, and I shall always keep it with them.  The bees themselves have very few enemies, and I am glad to move about my yard with the understanding that, from the standpoint of nature, this domain is primarily theirs."


Isn't that perfectly lovely?  And isn't that your own experience of your own bee yard?  It is my experience of mine, though I am not so eloquent.  Thank you, Richard Taylor, for expressing it so beautifully.

And on this lovely bee day, my daughter brought me this treasure she and Jeff found in an antique store in Thomaston, GA:




In celebration of the bee, this now sits in my bookcase on the shelf with all the old bee books like AI Root's the ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture.

The skep is on hinges at the back and lifts up, but I have no idea what one would put under it.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

The Amazing Queen Bee

In this morning's email from Naturebee, there is an interesting piece of trivia about the queen bee (assuming a life span of three years).  Times have certainly changed - note the length of the chicken egg used for comparison in this 1895 article is 1 1/2 inches - just dawned on me from the photo below (not with the article) that they may have measured the breadth of the egg - I assumed end to end since they referred to the length of the bee egg.  There are no eggs in my refrigerator this morning shorter in length than 2 1/4 inches.  The queen would still win out by a very long distance:



* A queen will lay a half mile of eggs
in her life time (three years), while a
hen in the same time, allowing 200 eggs
a year and one and one-half inch to the
egg, will only lay seventy-five feet of
eggs. A queen bee's egg is one-fourteenth
of an inch in length.

Source:
Homestead
Friday, March 22, 1895 Des Moines, Iowa

Friday, February 03, 2012

Groundhog's Day and Bees

Bee-ing a beekeeper makes one ultra-conscious about the weather.  So like many people in the country, I had my eye out for the news about the groundhog yesterday.  Apparently Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow and predicted six more weeks of winter.  

However, my bees are in Georgia, so I was more interested in what General Beauregard Lee, our local groundhog prognosticator, had to share on this subject.  


I had a video here but removed it because it started automatically and was loud and irritating.
So here's a link that says the General is generally right (not a video).

Our local ground hog apparently did not see his shadow on our cloudy February 2nd morning, so he predicted an early spring.  I found another link saying that he is right 94% of the time...pretty good record for a varmit like he is.

I could have told him that.  We've had the warmest winter I can remember, maybe in all the time I've lived in Atlanta.  I only put on my long winter coat one day in the last three months.  It is not unusual for us to have a snow storm in March, but I don't expect it this year.  

The dandelions are blooming as is the red maple, our first pollen contributor of the spring.  Everyone's bulbs are about to burst open and I've seen quite a few blooming crocus plants already.


My bees are flying in and out of the hives that made it through the winter.  It's warm in Atlanta.


Wednesday, February 01, 2012

A Local showing of "The Vanishing of the Bees"

Atlanta's Paideia School is showing the "Vanishing of the Bees" on Feb 23rd at 7pm.  Ticket price of $10 includes a honey-infused cocktail (or non-alcoholic version) and a honey-caramel praline popcorn ball made by Chef Shaun Doty.  You can only buy advance tickets from the school:
https://www.paideiaschool.org/bees

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