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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, September 20, 2012

I'm about to leave for a week of vacation and I'm worried about the bees with no honey.  The bees at Jeff and Valerie's all have plentiful supplies.  My bees are OK at my house, but the bees at Sebastian's and at Chastain are without stores.

Today I ran by Sebastian's and fed those bees by refilling the rapid feeder with honey.  Jennifer Berry says she's never seen a feeder in which bees didn't die.  So far I've never found a dead bee in these rapid feeders, but there's always a first time.

I had given the bees old honey from last year that had crystallized.  Today I had more of the same.  When I opened the top of the hive, the feeder was pretty much down to the crystals.  I poured in more crystallized honey from two jars:




Because it was crystallized, I left the jars for a while upside down to drain.  Also because it was sort of crystallized, the honey didn't climb up on the inside of the cone to the level where it was on the outside of the cone.

I took my spoon and scraped around a little at the base of the cone to move any blocking crystals.













The bees were thrilled and eagerly began transporting their new supplies.

















































One great advantage of the rapid feeder is that because it is closed and the only entry is from within the hive through the hole in the inner cover, the smell of open honey is not permeating the area inviting robbers.  I hope these bees live well and prosper.

I'll let you know when I'm back home from vacation!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bad News, Good News, Bee News

This is a funny year - spring was too early; I started out with only five hives that made it through the winter.  I ended up with 20 something.  I've lost a lot to robbing or absconding.  It's been a roller coaster of a year.

I went to Stonehurst last week to check on the bees (I had been three weeks earlier).  I had left the strongest hive there (the only one that made it through the winter) with five boxes full of honey still to be harvested.  Jeff and I had taken one box from the hive, but left the rest.  The only reason I had left the honey was that he had not gone with me again and I couldn't lift the top box off of the hive.

When I arrived, the front of the hive was covered with wax shards and there was a pile of dead bees in front of the hive.









The entire huge hive had been totally robbed out.  Not a drop of honey remained, nor a bee.  There were still robber bees or foragers who missed the event milling around on the empty comb.  Pitiful and so sad.  I felt ill.  I brought the ragged but beautifully drawn comb home to freeze and use next year.

So now, at Stonehurst we have lost one hive.  At Sebastian's and Christina's house one of the two hives was robbed out and died.  I'm feeding the remaining hive there with honey from last year.



















The bees at Chastain have NO (read that absolutely none) honey in the hive.  I am also feeding them honey from last year.
I put a feeder over the inner cover and put a stick at the front entrance to reduce it since I didn't bring an entrance reducer with me.

The bees at Morningside seem to be doing OK.  I'm giving them water but they are bringing in nectar from whatever fall flow we may be having.

At my house, I lost the one big hive to robbing and another to queenlessness that I didn't notice in time.  The top bar absconded.  I only have three hives there, but all are doing well.  I put entrance reducers on all of them after the large hive was robbed out and all of those bees are bringing in fall nectar.

And at Jeff's house where the four hives are that lived through the winter, we have tons of unharvested honey.  All the hives have plenty of honey and appear to be bringing in fall nectar.  We will probably harvest a little more from them when I get back from vacation at the end of September.  We put entrance reducers on all of those hives.

So the good news is that the survivors appear to have honey except for Chastain.  I have enough honey left from last year to keep feeding them honey instead of sugar water.  The bad news is that I've lost a lot of bees this year - three or four at my own house (depends on how you count them), one at Stonehurst, one at Sebastian's, one at Blue Heron.  I still have four hives at Jeff and Valerie's house, three at my house, two at Stonehurst, one at Sebastian's, two at Morningside Garden, one in Rabun County and one at Chastain.  Maybe I can keep all of them alive until next spring.  Then, if the nectar flow is good, Linda T's Bees should have a banner year in 2013.

I am a little worried about Chastain.  None of the three hives there have honey.  They are located next to a golf course and I'm wondering if the golf club maintenance contributes to the lack of available nectar.  It's strange that they have nothing, but Sebastian's bees in East Atlanta have nothing either and they are not next to a golf course. 


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Carl Chesick and Sustainable Bees

Last weekend was the fall meeting of the Georgia Beekeepers Association.  I went because the speakers look better than in any previous year I remember and because I am on the board.  The most interesting speaker was Carl Chesick, Director of the WNC Center for Honey Bee Research.




Carl was focused on sustaining bees that can outlast the varroa vectored diseases.  He said that in Asheville and the Asheville area, his center was encouraging everyone who has an untreated hive that lives through the winter to split it in early spring.  This is a fabulous plan and one that is in some ways obvious.

I, however, keep hearing that we should be supporting survival stock, and hadn't exactly understood how little ole me would be instrumental in that since I am not a queen breeder. But Carl pointed out that a split and a new queen that results is in fact breeding (a) queen on a very small scale.  Duh! But I hadn't registered this thought.

It's basic math, though.  If I have a hive that lives through the winter, untreated and only fed honey, then in the spring, I split it.  I have doubled the number of hives in my yard that are survivor bees.  The bees in that hive are strong enough to live WITH the varroa and not be defeated by the varroa.  If everyone did that, imagine how quickly treatment for varroa would go away.

Basic split involved in this:

  • 2 frames uncapped brood with attendant nurse bees
  • 1 frame of capped brood (to replace aging nurse bees)
  • 1 frame of honey and pollen
  • 1 frame of drawn empty comb
I rarely succeed with a split because I am always scared to bring enough nurse bees.  But in this split, if I were to take the queen by accident along with enough nurse bees, then the hive that is left becomes the queen breeder!  

In three weeks, the new queen should be emerged and laying.

Carl's talk followed a talk in the morning by Kefyn Carley from WNC University.  Kefyn's main interest is in spiders and mites, but after his talk I wanted to scratch my eyelashes.  He said mites are necessary and EVERYWHERE (even - read that often - in your eyelashes)...



His main point was that we would lose if we try to defeat (read that kill off) the varroa mite.  That approach only breeds a stronger varroa mite.  Instead, we need to accept the varroa mite and try to work with natural selection.

To do that, we have to recognize that if the parasite (the varroa) kills off its host, it will die as well, so it behooves biology for a mite to develop that can co-exist with its host.

It will take from 6 to 12 years to get mites and bees that can co-exist together and neither kill the other off.

So after hearing him talk and then hearing Carl, I am determined to get my bees to live through the winter and then split them!



Friday, September 07, 2012

And.....the Wax Block Pouring Continues

Well, the first pour was cracked in both blocks.  The second pour of two blocks last night resulted in two cracked blocks.  I was so disappointed.  Since the GBA honey contest is Saturday, tonight is really my last opportunity to succeed at this unless I pour a block during the day tomorrow while my grandkids are napping.

Generally a cracked block means that there was uneven cooling, but sometimes there's no explaining it. I had done almost everything I know to do, so I decided today to buy new pans and try with them.  I went to Target and bought two bread (loaf) pans to give that a try.   One is glass....



















The other is no-stick metal:

























I heated the measuring cup in a pan of hot water and melted the wax in my converted Presto Pot.  I have some silk that I use to filter the wax.  So what happens is:  The wax melts in the Presto Pot.  I rubber band the silk over the large measuring cup (and 8 cup measure).  Then I pour the wax through the filter into the hot measuring cup.

Having the measuring cup hot keeps the wax from solidifying on the bottom of the measuring cup.

When the wax has filtered through the silk,



















I carefully remove the rubber band and the silk (so that the filtered debris doesn't fall into the hot wax).  Then I pour the melted wax into the mold.  I put panes of glass on the mold after I've filled it so that the block won't have a wavy surface.



















One is cooling in the oven in a pan of very hot water and the other is cooling in the oven downstairs in a pan of very hot water.  Cross your fingers that at least one of these is usable in the morning.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

The Wax Block Pours Again.......

Those of you who have been along for most of this journey remember the year when I poured a wax block for the honey contest 18 times.  This is the first pour when I innocently thought this might be pretty easy.  And this is the 15th.  I did get a blue ribbon, but now I think that was a little (are you laughing yet?) obsessive.

This weekend is the Georgia Beekeepers' Association fall meeting and honey contest.  I am going to miss the Metro honey contest this year because I will be on vacation.  So I am entering the GBA contest this weekend.  For sure I'll enter liquid honey, chunk honey, creamed honey (remember Jeff's and my detailed experience), crafts, and maybe photography, but I don't have a photo that just screams to be entered.  I'd like to enter wax block but I didn't pour my first one until last night.

Well, to be honest, I poured two.  I had enough wax and I figured that one would probably come out OK and I could keep repouring the other to try to attain perfection (or close).

The other aspect of this contest is that I'll be up against Virginia Webb - she wins everything.  Her honey has won Best in the WORLD at Apimondia - TWICE.  And she always wins the wax block.

The last time I went against her at GBA she entered a block that wasn't a classic wax block but was poured into a mold covered with designs. She got the blue ribbon and I won the red.  Our rules for MABA specify that the block has to follow the classic rules - a plain, no design on it, 2 - 3 pound wax block.  But this weekend Virginia is sure to enter a lovely designs all over it block and I will not get the blue ribbon - so I'm trying for the red.

The truth is I may not have an entry at all.

This morning I woke to find that neither block had finished well - both had cracks in them.



The prettiest wax I have poured all the right ways - left in a hot pan of hot water in a 350 oven that I turned off right before I put the wax into it.  I put a window pane over it, closed the door and left it for the night.  Nothing doing, it's a mammoth failure....










The second block I put in a pan of hot water on the work bench with glass over it and it too cracked in cooling.  That usually means uneven cooling but I had it in a hot water bath, with two sheets of glass over it.
















It looked pretty good from the top, but underneath:

















Undaunted, I repoured both of them tonight - we'll see.  I didn't change much - used a little more release (dishwashing liquid) and added some extra hot water to the pan.

We'll see in the morning.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Article on Urban Beekeeping in Organic Gardening

Last night I got an email from a friend of mine saying she had seen an article about me in Organic Gardening.  I was interviewed back in the spring and a photographer came and spent the morning at my house.  I knew it was coming out soon, but thought I'd get a copy when it hit the newstands.

The article is online at Organic Gardening magazine,  but there are only two photos from my hives in the online version.  My friend said in her email that she really liked the photo(s).  I decided today to go buy copies at the bookstore so I could see for myself.

I flipped through the magazine at the bookstore to the article and found lots of photos both from my bee yard in my backyard, and the beeyards of two other beekeepers, both men, one in Chicago and the other in Vancouver.  I was so excited, I bought several copies so I could give one to each of my children.

I brought my purchases indoors and opened the magazine's cover for the first time, instead of flipping through as I did before.  The second page held the table of contents and there I was, the background photo for the Table of Contents page!

























I'm honored that of all the women beekeepers in the country, Janet Davis, the author picked me for her article.

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