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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.

Need help with an Atlanta area swarm? Visit Found a Swarm? Call a Beekeeper.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Disappointing Day - Difficult Start to the Bee Year

Today it was finally an OK day weather-wise to check on the hives at my old house.  It was a deeply disappointing day.

First I checked on what we have called the swarm hive since we got a swarm in Dallas, GA for it originally.  I knew it was a dead hive so this was an autopsy while I waited for the temperature to move from 48 to 50.  I opened the hive and found that the first two medium boxes held eight frames each of capped honey that was in great shape.  The next box also had about half frames of honey.  But there were no bees anywhere.  No starved bees, no bees.

On the slatted rack I found a ton of dead small hive beetles.  I guess they planned on staying in the warmth of the cluster all winter and when there were no bees, they just died.  Amazingly, none of the honey was slimed in SHB fashion.  It was all untouched.



















There were no bee bodies in the hive and on the screened bottom board were just a few.



















I packed all of the hive into my car.  I'll use one of the boxes of honey to demonstrate crush and strain when I give a talk on how to do that at the Forsyth Beekeepers on March 28.  The top box of honey I held back to put on one of the two live hives.

That hive had plenty of bees but felt really light.  I put the full box as the top box in this hive configuration.  There were a number of bees in the top box that I took off so since it only had one frame of honey still left (and that was only a partial frame), I put that box (with bees in it) over the inner cover so the bees would have access to that honey but it would not be the box they would rely on.

























Then I opened Five Alive - it wasn't (alive that is).  There was not a bee in the hive, just like the swarm hive.  There were boxes of honey on it as well - at least 2 1/2, but I didn't have room in my car and needed to get back to the office (I have a real job when I'm not beekeeping!).  There were some dead bees on the SBB, but just a handful.



















I'll go back over there and get that equipment and the honey.  I'll probably share those frames of honey with other hives that need feeding.

This is really strange.  I found the Stonehurst hives the other day sparse on bees with tons of honey (2 supers).  Today these two hives had NO bees - no brood, no nothing, but plenty of honey.  What could have happened to them?

Then I drove over to Chastain Conservancy to check on the swarm that Julia had installed in my hive over there on Friday.  There were no bees.  The swarm had not liked their new digs and had left.  A tiny cluster about the size of the palm of my hand were left in a top box - probably they were out foraging when the swarm left.  It was funny.  There were dead bees on the landing as if they had settled in and were carrying out the dead, but not a sign of the swarm.



















Meanwhile at home, the drone layer hive is flying like mad, carrying in pollen like mad, but has got a queen who isn't worth blowing up.

I do have empty basic hives everywhere some hive has died in hopes of attracting a swarm.  It is hard to hear of my friends who use oxalic acid, feed their hives, wrap them for our non-winter and have thriving bees while I am trying to go without poison, etc. and my bees are doing badly.

What a day!  Thought I'd report and go to bed....discouraged with this start of the year.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Swarm for Chastain Conservancy

Our hives at the Chastain Conservancy are teaching hives for the MABA hive inspection program.  We have been sad that Noah's hive and my hive died over the winter.  The club has an investment in making sure the hives are thriving so the commitment is that swarm calls go first to the teaching hives and then when they are going strong, the club members can get the swarm.

Gina called me on Friday morning to tell me about the swarm that I could go collect, but I had my grandchildren.  Julia was willing to go over and get the swarm.  My friends are just wonderful.  Gina went and collected the swarm.  Julia went to Gina's and got the swarm.  She took it to Chastain Conservancy and installed it into my hive at the Chastain Conservancy.

Below is a slideshow of the installation.  Not only did Julia install the swarm, she also took the time to take a complete photo record for this blog.  What a dear friend!

The hive inspection program that we manage over there for MABA begins on March 23.  Julia and I both try to be at the inspections we schedule for Chastain whether we are the leader that day or not.  I'll be there on the 23rd although it is her inspection.  She will do another on April 27.  Then in May and June, it's my turn.

Click on the slideshow to see the photos full sized with captions.
'

First Hive Openings of 2013

Today I came home from a mountain site visit for a professional conference, immediately donned my bee gear and headed for the bee hives.  We've had such rain in Atlanta and finally today was sunny and a temperature when I could open the hives.  It was a mixed experience.



















In my own backyard, I opened the first hive which was small going into winter.  It was housed in two boxes but really only needed one.  There was still a little honey on the hive.



















This is a small group of bees but the queen is laying.  At first I only found spotty brood so she may have some problems.  I did find further frames with more solid brood on them, though.

I decided to treat this hive more like a nuc and left it in a single box.  I'll check next week and maybe either combine it with another or give it more resources from another hive.

Originally my plan was to give this hive some frames of brood and eggs from the very strong hive next to it (the only other hive in my own yard).

I opened the hive next to it and found it boiling over with bees:


















When I looked through the hive, I found it to be full of honey and I found frames where they are obviously bringing in new nectar (I saw this in several hives today).  I don't know where they are getting it at this February date, but they are finding nectar somewhere.

But then my heart sank when I pulled the first frame with brood on it.  Only drone brood and tons of it - three frames that looked like this:




















I looked through the entire hive and did not find ANY worker brood.  This probably means the queen who was new last year was probably "short-bred" to use a Keith Fielder term.  That means that she didn't get enough mating before she was placed in the nuc and thus couldn't make more worker brood.

Queens need to fly out several times sometimes to get fully mated or when they are in the air, they need to mate with up to 17 or so drones.  This one may not have gotten that opportunity.

The bees are everywhere in this hive.  I don't know how to make sense of this unless 21 days ago, her sperm ran out.  It's also possible that I couldn't see eggs in other frames since it was about 4:00 and the sun was not in a position to allow me to get a good view, but this was my strongest looking hive at this point, so I was really upset by what I found.

Originally I had planned to take a frame of what I thought would be plentiful brood and eggs from this hive to put in the small hive next door, but that was not to be.



















Then I went to Sebastian's house where I found a lovely surprise.  This hive was doing well.  I didn't spend a lot of time in the hive because as soon as I knew it was OK, my instinct was to close it up.  I saw the queen and was happy.  She still had her yellow paint dot, though quite worn, on her thorax.

As you can see, this frame is full of nectar.  I was so pleased to see this.

I left Sebastian's and rushed down Piedmont to the Stonehurst Place Inn to check on those hives.

There are three hives there, although one box is empty and has been since right before harvest when the largest hive was robbed out and died.  I left one box there as a swarm lure.  The two that are left include one strong hive and one that doesn't look too great.

I opened up the weak one first.  I found only two deep frames of bees (these hives were purchased nucs last year).  The hive appeared queenless.  Oddly there was a full super of honey on the top and more honey in the second box although it wasn't full.  The bottom box was full of equal amounts of hive beetles and bees.  (Odd that the beetles weren't in the honey).  The bees looked pitiful.  The brood I didn't get pictures of, but it was scattered and looked old.  I think the hive is queenless.  I took a frame of brood and eggs from the stronger hive and put it into this hive to give them a chance to make a queen, but I really have my doubts.

The strong hive looked great.  Good brood, lots of it and frames of pollen and nectar.  This hive is a keeper.  I took a frame of honey out of the weak hive to put in a frame of brood and eggs from the strong hive. Since I don't know if those bees are just weak from queenlessness or because they are ill, I brought the honey home rather than giving it to another hive.  I replaced the empty space with a drawn comb.
























Last but definitely not least I went to the Morningside Garden hives.  There is one hive that is dead there.  I did an autopsy on it and found absolutely no bees in the hive.  There were dead bees on the screened bottom board - I believe they went queenless into winter and died in the first cold snap.  Clearly they didn't starve.  I took the hive apart and left one box on the hive stand as a swarm lure.





































Then I opened the live hive and found the best hive of the day.  This hive was thriving.  Under the cover, I found lots of ants and of all things, ladybugs.  Julia told me she found ladybugs in one of her hives.  This is a first for me in eight years.

But inside the hive were frames and frames of beautiful brood patterns.  I didn't see any swarm cells but I didn't look into the bottom box.  By the time I got here the sun was setting and I had my answer - the hive was doing well.



















BTW, I worked on six hives today, lit my smoker and left it at the hive entry, wore no gloves, moved very slowly and did not get stung once even though these bees have not been disturbed all winter.  One of the best parts of wearing no gloves is I could really feel the heat of the hives.  In summer, Atlanta deserves its moniker: Hotlanta and there is no difference between the outside air temp and the temp inside the hive.  But today it was 60 outside but 90 in the hive around the bees and I could really feel it by going gloveless.

I also didn't brush off any bees.  If a bee landed on my hands, as many did, I continued to move slowly and trusted that they weren't after me but rather were landing on my hand because it was there.  I loved the way it all felt.

So I still need to visit the hives at Timber Trail.  I hope the two there are doing better than some of the ones I observed today.  I have time tomorrow, but I think the weather is going to be cold and not good for opening the hives.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Hive Tally as of February 19

Today I went over to my old house to see what bees are flying.  Out of the four hives there, one died going into winter; Five Alive appears to be dead and smells dead (like small hive beetles were opportunists); the other two are alive and apparently well.





















There were bees flying in and out of both of these hives.  The hive in the back felt really heavy.  The hive in the front was relatively light.

I then went over to the Chastain Conservancy to see how our bees were doing there.  My hive has died, but one of Julia's is still alive and well.  I had left honey on my hive, but it was still untouched (duh, the hive died).  I expect it went queenless into winter, but I'll open it up to see when I have more time.



















I ordered only one package this year and that was from Fatbeeman, so that I would have bees to put in this teaching hive.  Julia has also ordered a package from Don for the dead hive she has at Chastain.  We are driving up to get the bees together, which should be fun.

I thought you'd like to meet Chuck, the goat who lives behind my beehive at Chastain.  He is quite the climber and is standing on the roof of his goat house in the photo below:























We'll install new packages here in the middle of March and have our first hive inspection for the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers club here on March 23.

So here's the final tally:
2 hives alive at Stonehurst
2 hives alive at my house
2 hives alive at my old house
1 hive alive at Morningside community garden

I've ordered bees to replace the Chastain hive so I'll only have 8 hives as spring starts.

We will split and move the two hives at my old house in March.  I have yet to check in with Sebastian to see if there are bees flying at his house and I haven't been to Rabun County to check on those bees since it started getting a little warmer.

Note:  I heard from Sebastian today and the hive is ALIVE!  Can't wait to visit and see what's what over there.  I plan to split a nuc off of one of my home hives and split a nuc off of the hive at his house. Then I'll bring the nuc from his house to the Morningside Garden to replace the dead hive there and put the nuc from my house in his dead hive location.  Whoo Hoo.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Bees Are Flying!

Today despite low 30s night time temps, it's up to 65 now at 2:30  And Hallelujah the bees are flying.  So around this area, I have two lively hives in my backyard.  One hive at Morningside garden is full of bees:



















I had a break and ran over to the Stonehurst Place Inn to see how our bees were doing there.  Both of the hives that went into winter were flying.  There are less bees in the far hive than in the close hive but both were flying!

























The small one box hive closest to the photographer is what remains of the huge hive that was robbed out and died.  I left the one box as a swarm lure for swarms in the spring.  Maybe it will happen.

I am so relieved to see all these bees.  I know there are two living hives and perhaps three at my old house.  I haven't checked in with Sebastian to see if the bees are flying at his house and I won't know about my Rabun County bees for a while.  Right now I have at least 8 hives as spring is slowly getting here.

Whew.......

Saturday, February 09, 2013

What I Did for Love.....

Just got back from the GBA meeting at Lake Blackshear.  Gina and I had a great time.  Because our newsletter is a relatively new feature of GBA, we were cheered on quite a bit by the membership.  We are occupying as a team, one voting position on the board of directors, so every time we voted, we grabbed each other's hand and raised two arms as one.  The attendees seemed to find that amusing and we got attention for the newsletter and what we are working on.



















We came back with a number of promises from people to write articles for us.

I was the last speaker of the meeting, talking about why one might want to get certified and work one's way through the ranks of certified, journey(wo)man and Master Beekeeper.  I called the talk, "What I Did for Love" - relevant, given that Valentine's Day is this coming week.

Gina kindly took a photo of me as the talk was about to begin:


Thursday, February 07, 2013

GBA Spring Meeting this Weekend

The "spring" (it's February and relatively cold, for goodness sake) meeting of the Georgia Beekeepers Association is this weekend.  Gina and I are going together and rooming together.  There's a board meeting on Friday night.  Gina and I are on the board as co-editors of the newsletter, Spilling the Honey.  After that there is a reception for the members and we'll go to that as well.

Then on Saturday the day is filled with speakers and gathering.  I am actually speaking.  I was asked to talk about why get yourself certified at bee school such as Young Harris.  I never asked myself why I went through the certification to reach Master Beekeeper.  It's been a challenge to think it through and to develop a talk about why people should consider certification.

I decided to call the talk:  What I Did for Love: Why Go for Certification at Bee School.  I had completed the whole PowerPoint before I realized that Valentine's Day is next week!   So I changed the color scheme to red and white!

If you are in the vicinity, come.  The meeting is at Lake Blackshear Resort near Cordele, Georgia.  You can read all about it on the newsletter site or on the GBA website.  It's only $35 to go and that includes lunch.

Cordele is a little over two hours south of Atlanta near Plains, GA, home of Jimmy Carter.  Maybe we'll go eat lunch with him on Friday!

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Bees as Pets vs. Survivor Bees

I've now heard two talks at bee meetings in which the speakers say something to the effect of this:  "The bees are our pets.  Would you let your dog or cat starve to death?  Of course not, so why would you let your bees starve?"  Kim Flottum, editor of Bee Culture, said this last year at the GBA annual meeting.  Then last month Jennifer Berry said pretty much the same thing at the Metro Atlanta short course.

It's an effort to encourage new beekeepers to establish the practice of feeding their bees.

I don't know how to think about this.  My inclination is to go with leaving honey on your hives so that the bees go into winter with enough to make it through until the nectar flow starts.  Of course if we keep have earlier springs and nectar flows that happen out of sync with the bees buildup, then the bees won't have enough to go through the winter, regardless of whether you leave honey on the hive - there won't be honey to leave.

That's the way it was this fall.  The nectar flow last spring (2012) was early and concentrated so that the bees only had about three weeks to collect their entire supply.

In the Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping, Dean and Laurie say (p.85) about feeding sugar syrup, "these are not acceptable substitutes for honey as bee food.  Their nutritional values are not equivalent.  They also do not have the same pH as honey and so alter the microbial culture of the hive.  Many bee pathogens grow more readily at the pH of sugar syrup than at the pH of honey."

The previous winter I fed all of my hives bee tea going into winter.  I still lost about half of my hives.

In 2012 I only harvested from two hives.  I left all the honey on the other hives.  I still lost hives.  I lost the second biggest hive in my backyard to fierce robbing (see video on this blog).  And we lost a hive at Stonehurst and at Sebastian's house each to robbing.  I think the terrible robbing this year was due to the climate change-induced early spring and crazy short nectar flow, so many bees were short on stores.

I lost a couple of hives who absconded because they knew they didn't have enough honey to go into winter.  I fed honey to the hives who remained.

I fed honey to the hive at Chastain, but even though I could see bee activity and the hive felt light, they didn't take the honey.  I fed honey to Sebastian's remaining hive but they also didn't take the honey.  When I say that, I mean that the rapid feeder still was full of honey the next time I looked under the telescoping cover.  I haven't checked on Sebastian's bees to see if they are still alive.

In my own backyard, I lost a hive that I didn't feed with honey still in the hive but not by the cluster.  The cluster was so small that I think it's more accurate to say I lost that hive to queenlessness going into winter than to say it starved, although that was the immediate cause of death.

At the Morningside community garden, one of my hives is alive and active (I didn't feed it) and the other is dead .  I haven't opened it to see what the cause of death was.  The Boardman on the front of this hive was for water in the heat of summer and I just never took it off.




In my own backyard I have two vigorous hives.  At Jeff and Valerie's house where I kept the bees on the deck, I have at least two live, strong hives and possibly one other.  I lifted the top cover of Five Alive and saw a live bee walking around although no bees were flying out of it.  The fourth hive appears dead.  Those bees (all four hives) were full of honey going into winter.

At Rabun County, the last time I looked up there, the one hive was still going strong.  I fed them but they didn't take the honey.  You'll remember the other hive was knocked over and destroyed.

I would rather take these hives that made it through the winter and split them to make two strong survivor hives.  These are hives that stored enough and fought off the varroa vectored diseases.  Jennifer Berry said to me at the short course that while that was fine, I wouldn't know WHY the hives survived.  She's right about that.  But I'd still prefer to try this and go for bees that don't need me to feed them.


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