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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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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Rabun County Bees

A couple of weeks ago when I went to Asheville for the Natural Beekeeping meeting, I stayed at my house in Rabun County.  On the way up I saw the bear in the misty rain at Black Rock Mountain Lake.    The day after the conference, the lake was sunny and beautiful and while I didn't see a bear again, I did see Joe Pye weed and goldenrod, evidence of the fall flow (for what it's worth).




Before I drove back to Atlanta, I checked on the Rabun bees.  The last time I was up at the mountain house, I discovered that one of the hives was almost dead and had small hive beetles all through it.

I didn't really check out the cause of the problem when I was there before because I was so upset, so I opened the hive on this visit and brought the boxes back home.  Clearly the hive had been robbed out, and left so weakened that the small hive beetle took advantage of the opportunity.


Two things are evident in this picture.  The edges of the cells are ragged, indicating a robbery.  There were dead bees littering the ground in front of the hive.  And you can see the slime of the small hive beetle.  I brought four boxes back to Atlanta and could hardly stand the sicky sweet smell in the car of the SHB's destruction.

The other hive was almost completely covered with weeds.  It was totally in the shade and had kudzu and other brambles all over the entry.  I didn't take a before picture, but I wish I had.  The bees were still flying happily in and out of the hive.  I knew this vegetation situation was likely so I brought my hedge clippers with me.  I went to work and freed the hive from most of the vegetation.

























When I opened it, I was shocked (in all the previous shade) to find that I only saw one small hive beetle in the hive.  Perhaps they were all satiated on the frames from the other hive?

This hive has honey in all three boxes and brood in the bottom box.  I really wanted to taste their honey.  The top box is likely sourwood, but they had not completely capped the honey in those frames, so I brought back a frame from the middle box.



















I didn't come prepared for harvest transport, so after brushing off the bees, I put the frame into a pillow case (I'm now using them for hive drapes like Julia taught me), and brought it back to Atlanta.  I crushed and strained it and now have three pounds of luscious grape-flavored honey, likely from the kudzu all around the creek bed where the hive is located!

























(The HIDDEN honey frame).

Sorry for the Radio Silence

In my real life, I have two jobs in the summer - my usual job and in addition I teach in the Emory Med School, teaching communication skills to the doctoral students in the Department of Rehabilitative Medicine.  I've been drowning in grading final exams and videos, and thus off the air for the last couple of weeks.

I'm going to post some activities from the last month to catch me (and you) up, and now that the semester is over, I'll get back to blogging about my bees.

A couple of weeks ago I went to check on the Morningside hives and found them hidden by tall grass.  The community garden is on land owned by Georgia Power and they usually do the maintenance, but someone apparently dropped the ball and the grass hadn't been cut in forever.



I had recently been up to Rabun County where I had to cut the kudzu off of the hive so I had in my car some hedge clippers.  So I grabbed them and instead of doing bees, I did landscaping.

Now I and the bees can see their front doors.  I have Boardman feeders filled with water on the hives to keep the bees from going to the neighbor's swimming pool.  Who knows?  They probably like the chlorine better, but at least I am demonstrating an effort to keep them away!  The hedge clippers are on top of the closest hive.

Then I went over to Sebastian and Christine's.  I didn't post about it, but one of their two hives was robbed out.  It was sad and I assumed the hive that was beside it, which was also the stronger of the two hives, had done the robbing.

I opened this hive to see the spoils.  Instead I found bees that were doing fine - lots of brood and bees, but very little honey.  I went all the way down to the bottom box to see what I could see and found little nectar.  

That was two weeks ago and the asters and goldenrod have begun to bloom so maybe they will bring in some nectar.  I also have some honey that I can feed them.

You can see in the photo above that there is lots of brood but no honey in the corners.

In the bottom box which is a deep (this hive started from a nuc this year), I found Her Majesty, walking regally over the frame:

I don't usually wear gloves but a bee stung me on my right hand and I threw on a glove so I could finish up.  The queen is marked with a yellow dot and is in the upper left corner of the frame.  So this hive MAY make it through the winter if they can gather some supplies in the fall flow (which in Atlanta is generally minimal).





Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Michael Bush, Man of Many Talents

I arrived in Rabun County on Friday night in a torrent of rain.  I had promised the dogs a walk when we got there, but with the rain, I went to the grocery store and got gas for my car instead.  When I was done with those errands, the rain had stopped, so I decided at 8 PM to go ahead and walk the dogs around Black Rock Mountain lake.

I was the only person there, so I let Hannah, my bearded collie/terrier mix, off leash and we walked the path around the lake.  It was misting but there was still plenty of light.  Hannah bounded down the trail up and back, having a great time.  On the back side of the lake, as I neared the final bridge, I heard crashing in the woods and immediately thought, "Bear!"

Sure enough, a few steps down the trail and I found a bear about 10 feet up a tree with Hannah at the foot of the tree, just looking at the young black bear.  Of course I didn't have my camera.

The tree was only about 12 feet from the trail and as I arrived, the bear was looking at me and then at Hannah.  I called Hannah who finally turned away from the bear.  Just as she did so, the bear leaped off of the tree and ran up Black Rock Mountain!  What an adventure!

On Saturday I drove to Asheville for the the conference exploring natural beekeeping put on by the Center for Honey Bee Research in Asheville.  The three speakers were very different and all were interesting.

From Ed Levi's talk about his world wide beekeeping, I saw interesting photos of bees around the world.  He also spoke on IPM and beekeeping.   Roger Simonds, who is an investigator at the USDA lab in Gastonia, NC, spoke on all of the poisons that end up mostly in wax and the pesticides that end up in honey - his picture of honey health and particularly of wax health, grew grimmer and grimmer the longer he spoke!

Michael Bush gave both of the talks I had heard in Massachusetts, but it's always fun to hear his perspective and I had fun just chatting with him as well.  At lunch he played and sang with his 12 string guitar - who knew?



The Bunscombe County Beekeepers were quite hospitable, sharing watermelon, fresh pineapple, and home-grown cherry tomatoes with all of us as we listened to Michael play and sing.





It was a great day! And a great weekend in the mountains.

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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Survivor Miracle Maybe???

On Sunday after the robbery on Friday, I walked out of my basement door and noticed this nuc, sitting with four empty frames in it.  There were bees!  And no reason for them to be there.

I think these are the survivors from the robbed hive.  The queen is from Don Kuchenmeister and the bees are tough little small cell bees who should be able to make it.



Quick like a rabbit, I put the nuc up on bricks, gave it an inner cover and a top cover and added an empty nuc as a surround with a Boardman feeder full of honey in it.  I replaced the empty frames with drawn frames from what I think was their original hive, the robbed out one.

I also put two frames in the upper nuc with the Boardman (with a pint jar of honey) in between.  I think I should put those two frames side by side and will when I go back to it.



I didn't look for the queen, but the bees acted like a small swarm does.  I'll check for a queen in a couple of days.  Bees were orienting and flying in and out.



I reduced the entrance so that they would be safe while I'm off to the mountains to the Asheville conference.  I hope they'll make it.  I'm inclined to consider keeping them in the nuc for the winter if they can manage to get a hive going.
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Wednesday, August 08, 2012

What is Natural Beekeeping?

This Saturday, August 11, I'm going to be in Asheville, NC at the "What is Natural Beekeeping?" day put on by the Center for Honeybee  Research.  Speakers include

Michael Bush (after not meeting him for seven years, I now will see him again within a couple of weeks of the conference in Massachusetts!)





Ed Levi, an Arkansas beekeeper who is very interested in finding uncontaminated wax somewhere in the world (recently searching in Ethiopa!)













and Roger Simonds (couldn't find a good photo of him)  from the USDA National Science Lab in Gastonia, NC where he does testing for Mary Ann Frazier who is at Penn State.
Should be a great day (10 - 5).  Happens at the Warren Wilson College Kittredge Auditorium.

If you want to go too, here is the sign up page.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The Cycle of Life

Of course, I'm still thinking about how it was that the hive was chosen to be robbed.  Then I think it was part of the cycle of life.  It's one of the things that happens in nature, part of the bigger picture that I am too small a speck in the universe to see how it fits into the scheme of things.

I grew up in a town that then and still now only held about 16,000 people.  It is daunting to think of an entire community three times that size being wiped out in a day...which is what happened to my bee hive.


So here's another Mary Oliver poem that is right on point for this sad event:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Black Bear in the Orchard

It was a long winter.
But the bees were mostly awake
in their perfect house,
the workers whirling their wings
to make heat.
Then the bear woke,

too hungry not to remember
where the orchard was,
and the hives.
He was not a picklock.
He was a sledge that leaned
into their front wall and came out

the other side.
What could the bees do?
Their stings were as nothing.
They had planned everything
sufficiently
except for this: catastrophe.

They slumped under the bear’s breath.
They vanished into the curl of his tongue.
Some had just enough time
to think of how it might have been --
the cold easing,
the smell of leaves and flowers

floating in,
then the scouts going out,
then their coming back, and their dancing --
nothing different
but what happens in our own village.
What pity for the tiny souls

who are so hopeful, and work so diligently
until time brings, as it does, the slap and the claw.
Someday, of course, the bear himself
will become a bee, a honey bee, in the general mixing.
Nature, under her long green hair,
has such unbendable rules,

and a bee is not a powerful thing, even
when there are many,
as people, in a town or a village.
And what, moreover, is catastrophe?
Is it the sharp sword of God,
or just some other wild body, loving its life?

Not caring a whit, black bear
blinks his horrible, beautiful eyes,
slicks his teeth with his fat and happy tongue,
and saunters on.

Mary Oliver in New and Selected Poems: Vol.2

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Sunday, August 05, 2012

Honey at the Table


Mary Oliver's poem about honey at the table comforts me as I am mourning my lost hive from yesterday:

Honey At the Table

It fills you with the soft
essence of vanished flowers, it becomes
a trickle sharp as a hair that you follow
from the honey pot over the table

and out the door and over the ground,
and all the while it thickens,

grows deeper and wilder, edged
with pine boughs and wet boulders,
pawprints of bobcat and bear, until

deep in the forest you
shuffle up some tree, you rip the bark

you float into and swallow the dripping combs,
bits of the tree, crushed bees - a taste 
composed of everything lost, in which everything
lost is found.

(from American Primitive by Mary Oliver)


Today, August 5, is the birthday for two of my daughters, Sarah and Becky, born two years apart on the same day.  We'll have dinner tonight to celebrate Sarah who lives in Atlanta and there will be honey at the table.



I'm making profiteroles with honey lavender ice cream as a "birthday cake" for Sarah tonight and the honey will, of course, come from our bees.:




















Becky, my other daughter whose birthday is today, lives in Cumberland, Maryland, or I would have her over for dinner as well.





Saturday, August 04, 2012

The Demise of the Hive

Such a sad feeling to open up a robbed hive.  I avoided it most of the day, but then realized I had to do it - I had to know what the situation was.  I've had robbing before and the hives have made it through but my heart sank when I opened the robbed hive and saw……only dead bees.




I took it down to the bottom.  The bees on the SBB were sad and some were still alive but unable to move to get up and fly.







I looked for the queen in the dead but did not see her.  I did find in one box clustered between the wall and the first frame a handful of bees.  There was still some honey unrobbed but no brood - all those cells which had brood on Thursday - were empty today.

I just feel sick.  I wonder if I did something at the inspection on Thursday to set this off.  Did I open the cappings of honey as I pulled frames from the box?

Then I remembered that the reason I opened the hive on Thursday was because I had seen very little activity and had wondered if something were wrong.  I was surprised to find the hive full of bees.  It wasn't boiling over, but there were bees in every box, new eggs and brood.  I had worried about honey and all of my bees but this hive had plenty of honey (thus the robbery).

I wonder if they had possibly already had problems and the robbing just cinched their fate.

I feel heartsick.  This has been a hard year.  I have had more hives this year than every before, but I have now lost five hives without the winter being the issue.  And most of the losses have been in my own backyard - not in the outyards that I also manage.
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Friday, August 03, 2012

Mayhem and Robbery in the Bee Hive

Robbery in the bee hive is disconcerting, to say the least.  It is violent and upsetting to watch.  I am a grandmother on Fridays and after a morning with my grandchildren today at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, came home to find one of my biggest hives being robbed.

Below is a video of the hive.  I usually use a tripod and at the end of the filming with bees head bumping me on all sides, I was not a steady camera holder, so it's jiggly, but I put it up so you can see what robbing actually looks like.

Both Orientation in the afternoons and swarming behavior when the hive is gathering for the swarm are  often confused with robbing.  Both lack the violence.



In the end I soaked a sheet in water and threw it over the hive for a couple of hours.  The robbers desisted and left.



















Later in the evening, I removed the sheet and set the robber screen up so that the entry was open for a bit.  The sad bees were carrying out opened larvae.



















Under the hive you can see lots of wax shards from the robbers tearing open cells.



















I had just inspected this hive yesterday and was pleased to find that they along with the rest of my hives were putting up some nectar and that they had some larvae in the cells.





I don't know what the state of this hive is and if it can recover.  I may open it on Sunday and see what I may need to do to support them, such as add some frames of honey from another hive.




Thursday, August 02, 2012

Lessons from the NE Treatment Free Beekeeping Conference

During the NE Treatment Free Beekeeping Conference (which I am now going to call the NETFB to save typing), the emphasis was on healthy bees.  I learned a lot about balance in the hive, nutrition on every level, and respect for nature and evolution.

Michael Bush set the tone in his first talk about healthier bees.  He discussed microorganisms in the hive.  There are 30 kinds of mites, 30 kinds of insects and some 8000 microorganisms in the bee hive.  When we treat we affect the hive ecology.  Everything that is put in the hive as a treatment - whether "natural" or not - kills microorganisms.  Dean Stiglitz and Laurie Herboldsheimer (hosts of the conference) have done a small experiment just to show the influence of oxalic acid on yeast in general.  Their point is that whatever we introduce into the hive, we are affecting the ecology of the hive.

If you take the "no treatment" approach, then you are inviting the bees to experience selective pressure to evolve stronger bees who can withstand the varroa mite or whatever the next bee scourge might be.  What happens with treatment is that we strengthen the mite who becomes more virulent and prolific.  If we don't treat, according to Michael, the pressure is where it should be - on the pest/parasite to be in balance with its host.

So Michael advocates (and you can read what he talked about on his website - click on Four Simple Steps to Healthier Bees on the left side column)

  1. No Treatments of any kind
  2. Breed local survivor queens
  3. Only natural food (honey and real pollen)
  4. Use natural comb
To the point of only feeding natural food, Michael pointed out that the Ph of sugar syrup is 6 vs. that of honey which is 3.2  A lower Ph is more acidic and all brood diseases thrive more in sugar syrup than in honey.  

He has a PowerPoint on his website on natural cell size which you can also find in the left column on the linked page.

Dean Stiglitz, seen below, gave a talk on raising local queens.  I own but have only leafed through his book written with Laurie:  The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping, and this conference and meeting him sent me home to pore over it.  He is the consummate researcher and researches other people's research.  He also gave a talk at the conference on how to read a research study to know if the results are something to rely on or not.

Again, in his queen-raising talk, the emphasis was on bee health.  To be a well-developed queen, the queen must be fed well.  So a hive must have stored food, pollen, and young worker bees to make a good queen.  He encouraged a walk-away split as one way to encourage the bees to make their own queen.  The queenless side of the split will be the cell builder.  If you put that half of the split in the old hive's location, then the foragers will return to it, adding to the food in the colony.




Another interesting talk for me was by Dee Lusby.  Dee and her late husband Ed raise bees in Arizona.  She was a little difficult to understand - I expect one learns more from visiting her at her apiary than hearing her speak, but I learned a lot from her about Housel positioning.

She pronounces it "HOO sul" - I've been calling it "How sul" so I am mending my ways going forward.  What I understood about Housel positioning is that when you put foundation, a foundation strip, or drawn comb into a hive, it's important that the inside of the cell have the "Y" at the bottom of the cell facing up on the frames from the center to the outside of the hive.  In the center it switches and the "Y" should face up going toward the nearest side.

I just thought that for some reason that was better for the bees, but instead there is an explanation that again has to do with balance in the hive.  If the "y" is facing up, then the bees use that upper "v" of the "Y" as a guide for the beginning of their comb.  And for the honey, for example, to stay in the cell, the slant of the cell has to be downward toward the center.

If the cells are not set that way, then it confuses the bees' system and their balance in the hive.  This is also why it is so important to put a frame back into a box in the same orientation in which it was originally.
Jeff and I do all of our hives this way, but only because I thought we were supposed to - now I understand why it is important.



Dee also talked about opening up the brood box in a pyramidal way by placing capped brood in the center of the box with a full frame of honey on either side of the capped brood (for insulation of the brood and for food provision).   She had a complex system of numbered frames to explain this to us.



There were other good speakers - Kirk Webster talked about overwintering nucs, but I'm not going to try to cover that in this post.  And Michael gave another talk on what he calls "Lazy Beekeeping" addressing issues I already talk about in this blog all the time:  8 frame mediums, foundationless frames, etc.  Paul Arnold who anchors the Young Harris Institute was also there, but we missed his talk on Thursday night and on Sunday.  It was fun hanging out with Paul, though, and Julia, Noah, and I ate several meals with him.

BTW, here's a picture of the Atlanta contingent with Michael Bush in front of his table of books that he was selling.  We left a space in our line-up so that his books might show up in the picture, but they don't really.





So I came away resolved to try to succeed at splitting my successful colonies, to forget feeding even bee tea, and to try to emulate my natural beekeeping mentors and heroes.
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