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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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Friday, March 30, 2012

Miscellaneous Bee Tid Bits

This morning there were still bees clumped in one of the flowerpots.  This makes me think even more that there is no mated queen.  But I set up the nuc with a Boardman feeder and the bees went into the hive.  I have no idea what to think of this swarm.  I can't check on it until Monday so hopefully they will have gotten their act together by then.



This little clump is pretty connected to the flower pot.


Another miscellaneous topic:  when you buy a package of bees, there are going to be a certain number of bees that die in transit.  This happens simply by the attrition.  In a hive a number of bees die everyday, but in the package, random bees have been shaken in together.  For some of them, their time is up in transit and they die.  In the particular package that I installed in this hive below, there were stacks of bodies on the floor of the package.



Bees don't like to have dead bees in their hive. So the bees quickly moved out the dead bodies. Compare the scene in front of the hive above with the small number of bodies on the ground in front of the other package hive installed the same day pictured below.  The package for the hive below had very few dead bees on the bottom of the package.




And the last miscellaneous bit, the tulip poplar is blooming in Atlanta evidenced by the bloom on the ground below.  This signals the beginning of the nectar flow in Atlanta - much earlier than usual.  Typically in Atlanta the tulip poplar blooms from mid April - mid May.  Now with everything blooming earlier, the question is how will the early spring affect the honey crop this year.

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Why We Feed Package Bees

When my daughter Valerie was about 12, we had a reverse surprise party for her birthday.  Early on a Saturday morning, we drove a van to each of her friends' houses, woke the friends up and took them to our house for a surprise breakfast and birthday party.  The friends (their mothers were all forewarned) were totally caught off guard and came in their pajamas without any preparation.  It was a great party and they were glad to be together, but nobody was prepared because that is what defines a surprise.

Package bees are totally unprepared to be dumped into the packages.  They don't know it's coming - just one day their beekeeper takes them and puts them in a 2 or 3 pound package with a bunch of other bees who are equally surprised.  Shut up with strangers plus an unknown queen, they are taken on a journey with no preparation.  They probably don't have any fun unlike Valerie's friends did at her party.

Bees who swarm are ready for the journey.  Ahead of going, they run the queen back and forth through the hive to exercise her and to get her a little thinner for her swarm flight.  The bees who are leaving gorge themselves on honey and hold it in their honey stomachs so they are ready to make wax the minute they find a new place to live.  Like good scouts, they practice the "be prepared" motto to a "t."

So when you install a package of bees, you have to feed them.  Ordinarily I don't feed bees frequently but I do feed packages when I install them.  In essence a package of bees is a totally unprepared artificial swarm.

The packages I installed on Sunday had completely emptied their 2 quart Rapid Feeders when I looked into the hives on Thursday.  I refilled the feeders and probably that will be the end of it.  I only want them to have enough syrup to draw the wax they need to fill the brood box.

After that, the nectar flow is going strong in Atlanta and they will manage well without my help.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Swarm Capture or Swarm Catastrophe?

For the last couple of days, I've been pretty sure my swarm trap had captured a swarm.  Bees flew in and out all day.  None of them had pollen on their legs, though and the hive didn't buzz at night so I wasn't certain.

However, I'm going to the mountains for a couple of days and I didn't want to come back and find the trap all filled with comb and impossible to move.  So tonight was the night to move them into a hive box.

For some reason I was so nervous and kept putting it off and putting it off until it was almost dark.  Then I rationalized that after all, this would mean all the bees had come home.





I unscrewed the connecting four screws and found a very small swarm (a kitten - to those of you who know what I mean  - not even a cat).  They had begun building comb attached to the side of the swarm trap.



I spread a sheet under the nuc box I planned to put them in and shook.  I hit the bottom of the flower pot onto the deck to loosen their hold on the pot walls and then dumped them into the nuc.  A lot remained behind, attached to the comb.



I carefully removed the three pieces of comb and rubber banded them into a frame.  Even if they don't reattach and use the comb, they can still reuse the wax.  I put one frame in that was fully drawn and one that was half a frame of comb.  The third had their three pre-made combs rubber banded in and the last two had starter strips.


When all was said and done, there were still a lot of bees in the comb end of the swarm trap.  So I shook again but this time by accident slammed the edge of the flower pot into a pile of bees - probably killed the queen as I'm doing this in the dark.  Who knows?



I brushed the little cluster you see on the side of the nuc onto a magazine and shook them onto the landing.

An hour after all of this, there are still many bees in the side turned flower pot.

Theory:  I killed the queen.
Theory 2:  It's a secondary swarm and the queen is a virgin and either hasn't mated or got eaten by a bird while off mating with drones so they don't have a reason to go into the hive
Theory 3:  They recognized how totally klutzy I was in this process so why should they like a home I provided them?









Footnote:  I moved the bees 1 1/2 hours ago.  I just went out there with a flashlight and they've moved out of the flowerpot and into the hive.  There are still about 20 bees hanging out but most went in which may mean there is a queen!  And maybe I didn't kill her.

It's such a tiny swarm.  I'm planning to leave the nuc on the top of a ladder directly under where the swarm trap was hanging until I get back and can put them somewhere permanent to live.  I'll bungee cord it to the ladder so there's no chance of it falling off while I'm gone.  Or maybe in the morning I'll move it to my backyard.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A New Bee Place

The Internet has a wonderful way of connecting people.  I recently got an email from a professor at Georgia State.  He found me on my blog.

 He had friends in the northeast who arranged with beekeepers to have beehives in their yards in exchange for some honey.  He wanted to know if I would be interested in having hives in his yard.

Jeff and I jumped at the chance to expand our apiary capacity.  Sebastian, the GSU professor, lives near Jeff and Valerie's old house in East Atlanta, about 20 minutes from my house.  His partner, Christina, comes from Canada where she says everyone has bees and honey is sold in huge gallon jars.  They are both so enthusiastic about this.

Jeff, Valerie and I arrived to find that Sebastian and Christina have the perfect yard.  The bees can have an eastern exposure and should do well and be happy.  We'll install nucs that I am getting from Jerry Wallace in April.  Jeff and I brought cinder blocks and equipment to use for these bees - we thought it would be good to get it all set up and that Sebastian and Christina could think about the idea more concretely if the hive items were there.



Before the final photo above, we talked about hive location.



They had all kinds of questions about what to expect from the bees.



We set up one 10 frame hive (we're running out of equipment!) and one eight frame hive on a 10 frame slatted rack and SBB (we're running out of equipment - did I say that already?)



We only brought three frames for the 8 frame because there will be 5 frames in the nuc and we brought five frames for the 10 frame box.



We're so excited to share bees with this enthusiastic couple.  And I remember the kudzu in this neighborhood - this is where we had Topsy and Topsy was filled with dark honey, probably from the kudzu.

So here's to a good partnership with Sebastian and Christina and lots and lots of honey!

And on the good news side of things:

  • Today many bees were still voting on my swarm trap - in and out, in and out, measuring and determining their vote about location, location, location.  
  • The Decatur swarm is still in Topsy and apparently settling in, and 
  • The SOS1 into which I put two frames of eggs - one from New Lenox, and one from Five Alive had bees flying in frantically with pollen on their legs today.

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The State of Lenox Pointe

I've been worried about Lenox Pointe because the last time I opened it up, the frames were all back-filled with nectar and the only frame with brood was filled with large drone cells with eggs in them.  I have been worried that the queen was poorly mated and wasn't functioning.

However, to see what was really going on, I gave this hive a box of empty frames.  They immediately went to town building comb (see below).



In this frame which had drawn worker comb (small cell), the queen had laid an egg in almost every cell.  If you have the capability of magnifying this photo, the best focus is in the center right area of the photo where you can see the eggs in the cells.



She still may not be much of a layer, but I certainly feel better.

The "new Lenox" where we accidentally moved the queen from Lenox Pointe is making gorgeous light honey.



And Five Alive is going great - in these cells of brand new wax there are eggs, eggs, eggs.  She was laying in four boxes - and there are now five boxes on this hive.



Look below at the lovely eggs.....go Five Alive.


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Monday, March 26, 2012

Swarm Trap Success or Honey Bee Democracy?

Tonight when I got home, I noticed bees flying in and out of my swarm trap!  Miracle of miracles.

So now the $64,000 question or at least the $85 (cost of a package) question is how do I know if these are scouts or if a swarm has moved in?

I stood there for 15 minutes and bees continually flew in and out.  I know from reading Thomas Seeley's Honeybee Democracy that they send more and more scouts to determine if a place is the place of choice for the swarm….but with only this one entry way, how will I know?



If they start to build comb, it will be like tearing apart a skep to get the bees!




I tried slightly lifting the hive but it was light as a feather - which makes me think these are scouts, but then a pound of bees might not feel like much up in the air like this.



Here you can see the whole trap.

Anyone have any ideas about how to determine if it's a success and has trapped a swarm?


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Sunday, March 25, 2012

I Should Bee Happy, but I Bee Tired

What a long bee day!  By the time I left home to drive to Rabun County today, I had already hived three bee families - the swarm and two packages at Morningside.  The drive to Rabun didn't result in hiving any bees, but I still had three more packages to install.

When I got back to Atlanta around 4:30, I met Jeff at Chastain to install a package in a hive there.  Julia and Noah were there installing their two packages.  We have these bees thanks to Julia who drove up toe Lula yesterday to pick them up from Don Kuchenmeister (brought home five packages for me - thanks so much, Julia).

Julia installed her bees in equipment very kindly donated by Leslie Gerber who felt bad about our losses at Blue Heron due to the vandalism and our general bad luck at the Blue Heron.  I have donated equipment too from Lisa who gave us her hive for Blue Heron and a set of 8 frame boxes.  I'll be using her boxes on my hive at Chastain, but forgot it today for the install.

So here's my day:

8:30  Collect the swarm from my azalea
9:15  Mix up sugar syrup for bees at Morningside
9:30  Pack car with equipment and bees and go to Morningside Community Garden to install two packages there
10:30  Return home and install collected swarm into top bar hive
**Left swarm to gather in collection box while I installed hives at Morningside
11:00  Mix up more sugar syrup to take to Rabun County, pack car for drive to Rabun County with two packages of bees and equipment for install
**Reminded self to take sugar syrup in a spray bottle, my pocket knife, a "church key" to open the jars of syrup that come with the package, and lunch for the road
11:30  Drove to Rabun County - ate lunch as I drove - no time otherwise
1:15 Arrive at Community Garden and find that I don't need to install bees there - a swarm has moved in - so I just inspected the hives - good laying queen in both hives
2:15 Stop at mountain house literally for 10 minutes to check on things there
2:30 Drive back to Atlanta (still with packages in the car)
4:40 Meet Jeff at Chastain and install bees there
5:30 Drive home to install two more packages of bees at home
6:45 ALL DONE - what a BEE DAY

Since I've posted photos of the swarm and Rabun County in two earlier posts, these are pictures of the installs at Morningside, Chastain and my house.



Travels with Linda - it's been a long BEE Day

This morning after I re-hived the Decatur/azalea swarm, installed two packages at Morningside Community Garden and packed my car, my dog Hannah and I drove to Rabun County (about 2 hours away) to take two packages of bees to install in my hives at the Community Garden there.

I had been up earlier this year, and knew that one of the hives had died over the winter.  The other hive was alive then but since that weekend we've had a string of five days of temperatures in the teens.  My Atlanta hives did not survive that, so I had reason to think that maybe both of my hives in Rabun County were dead.

To my shock and amazement, bees were flying in and out of the green hive - the one that was covered with kudzu for most of the summer and where the bees had definitely died.  I opened it up and was greeted by a household of ants.  They were nesting in the edges of the inner cover.



Upon my disturbance of their home, they began carrying out baby ants (click on the picture to see better).



Despite the ant invasion, the hive was FULL of bees.  One of the gardeners there told me that he had looked over and hadn't seen many bees but then one day he saw LOTS of bees.  I imagine he witnessed the swarm that actually moved into this hive.  My old hive became an effective swarm trap...Free bees!



I inspected the hive and found eggs, young larvae and lots of activity.  They were using most of the frames in the bottom two boxes.  In the third box they had drone brood in two combs and hadn't started using the rest, but I didn't take it off - they'll need it soon enough.

The bees looked healthy but if you look at the photo below, you can see a red arrow at about 1:00 pointing to a varroa mite on the back of a bee.  If I can see that one, you can rest assured there are many in the hive.



So the once dead hive has resurrected itself and it only cost me 1/4 a tank of gas to find this out.  Hannah had fun running up and down the creek bank while I inspected the two hives and the two packages of bees spent four hours today in the car (as did I).



Both of these hives are doing well.  I'm back up in the mountains for spring break this coming weekend and we'll see how they are faring then.


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Swarms Here, Swarms There, Swarms, Swarms Everywhere

There are swarms all over Atlanta - many calls during these last couple of weeks.  As you know from my last post, I collected a swarm in Decatur on Friday night and housed it in an eight frame medium box at my house.

I had invited beekeeping friends for dinner on Saturday night and as one couple walked up my sidewalk, they noticed a swarm on one of my azalea bushes.  We all went out and looked at it and it was still hanging there when they left much later.  I decided to collect it this morning bright and early.

This morning the swarm was still there - as it hung on the azalea, I thought to myself that it was so similar in size to the swarm I had caught in Decatur.  I spread a sheet under the swarm in preparation for shaking it into a box and walked to the backyard to determine where I would put it.

I looked at my backyard hives - SOS1 and SOS2, the swarm hive from the day before and the MABA club nuc.  As I looked I realized no bees were flying in and out of the swarm hive box.  I lifted the top:  NO BEES.

The swarm in my front yard looked like the one from Decatur because it WAS the swarm from Decatur.

They didn't like their new digs and left.  Now what was I to do with them?

They are very small bees - likely feral bees because of their size.  I began to think that a hive box was not for them.  I decided to house them in my top bar hive box.  It's more similar to a tree, albeit a tree lying on its side.



So I set up the bars for it, putting the follower boards close enough to each other that only seven bars would be available at first for these bees.   I heard Buster Lane speak at Tara last week on installing nucs, packages and swarms.  He said that swarms and packages don't like screened bottom boards and that he closes up the SBB when he installs.

So I took an unfolded cardboard box from my move and slid it under Topsy to close off the SBB.  I put old comb top bars as most of the seven bars so that a homey smell would greet the bees.

Then I returned to the front yard.



I placed my swarm catcher banker's box under the bees, sprayed them with sugar syrup and shook the branch hard, dropping bees into the box below.  (A few azalea flowers came too)




The handle area of this banker's box is closed with screen wire on both handle sides, but the handle on this side includes an open area about 2 inches along the bottom of the handle to give the bees an entry.


I had five other packages to install today that were picked up from Don in Lula yesterday, so I left these bees for about an hour and went to install bees at the Morningside Community Garden where I am going to be the beekeeper.

When I returned the bees were gathered at the entrance, sending the nasonov signal to draw bees into the hive.  Most bees were in the hive except for a few who remained in a cut open milk carton that I use as a scoop.


I opened the area in the top bar between the follower boards and shook in the bees.



I hope they will like this hive and will stay.


I replaced the top bars, put on the cover and left for a day of bee installations, crossing my fingers that the bees would still be in the box when I returned.


I had so little faith that these bees would stay that I bet my son-in-law that I would return home at the end of this long bee day to find the bees had left.  If I lost, I had to buy him a beer at dinner.



I returned to find the bees still in the box, orienting and not swirling around as they had been at 11:30 when I left.  I gladly bought his beer and hope that this portends well for the future of this hive.  In my own backyard, I should be able to manage this top bar better and since it is a swarm and not a package, there's no queen cage to start the comb building off all catty-whumpus……so we'll see.
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