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I've been keeping this blog for all of my beekeeping years and I began my 12th year of beekeeping in April 2017. Now there are almost 1300 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.

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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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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

When the Train Has Left the Station.....

You know all those movies where the one person drives speedily to the airport only to see the plane lift off as they reach the runway?

When I went to Lithuania, I committed to the trip months ahead of time.  I also evaluated what I needed to take, what should go with me, what could I leave at home.  Something major, major would have to happen for me to change my plans.

The bees are still there this morning, but they are ready to go.  I should have seen it.  I should never have put the robber screen on - I think they started planning then.



While I can't find anything about absconding in Seeley's books, Malcolm Sanford (Keeping Honey Bees) says, "Absconding rarely occurs in colonies in temperate regions where European bees are usually kept, but it may occur if colonies are under threat from disease, pests, or depletion of forage (pollen, nectar, or water)."

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping   doesn't discuss absconding but defines it as "Absconding resembles swarming except that  no bees are left behind in the parent colony.  The entire colony leaves its hive."

I can't find any description of preparation to abscond.  Usually in my experience the bees take all the honey.  There is one honey super still on this hive unless they emptied it this morning - which is not typical of absconding unless their tummies are full with the other honey supers.  Just like in robbing, there are shards of wax below the hive.  These are shards from brood frames and are brown rather than white:



You can see them under the hive below the screened bottom board.  



And why are the shards brown?  Because before a hive absconds, they empty the hive.  This means that they leave no or very little brood behind.  I've seen them carrying out larvae over the past few days and congratulated myself on having such a hygienic hive.....but that's not what they were apparently doing....

So now I know that before absconding you'll see young larvae being carried out, typically they empty the honey cells, and no pollen bearing bees are coming into the hive.  As a matter of fact, I think the bees out flying are scouts and are dancing to advertise new space.  I saw several rather frantic dances like Seeley describes taking place on the front of the hive. 

The bees flying in this morning were light, carrying nothing, and only doing a scout job.  The working bees this morning were the ones in the hive, still removing larvae.







One theory would be that these bees are sick and that's why they are absconding, but it looks more like they were clearing out the young to leave.  

Last night before I went to sleep, I read on Beemaster that one way to stop absconding would be to do what one might also do when hiving a swarm: put a queen excluder between the hive and the bottom board so that the queen probably can't leave.

So that's what I did a few minutes ago.  I took the hive down to the bottom board where there were tons of removed larvae.  BTW, I looked very closely at the larvae both in person and with the zoom on my Picasa viewer at the computer.  I do not see any Varroa mites.  I think these are healthy bees, sacrificed to the hive's wish to abscond.  



I put on a queen excluder (I do actually own several even though I never use them in the hive.  I use them to drain cut comb honey!).


This should hopefully stop them.  I checked the bottom board carefully and did not see the queen.  Unless she's really skinny, she should not be able to go through the excluder and the hive will stay.  Beemaster says I should leave the excluder on for at least three days.

If this hive survives, then the disruption should help with a varroa problem in that the bees have interrupted the brood cycle and thus the Varroa cycle as well.

I totally tore off the robber screen in case that was what was bothering them.

So maybe the train has left the station, but maybe I put a big enough boulder on the track to keep the departure at bay.  We'll see.

P.S.  I was at home on a phone appointment at 11:30 AM when the bees started the swirl of a hive that is leaving.  They swirled and swirled, but didn't leave since the queen couldn't come through the queen excluder.  They are still anxiously flying around the hive but haven't left.  I hope I did the right thing.  

There is no nectar flowing in Atlanta and even though the statistics say it has rained on 38% of the past 224 days this year - greater than 1/3 of the days, it seems to me as if it rains almost every day.  If they leave, there are no better areas for nectar collection around, so best if they don't.  If they are leaving because of disease, then who knows if it would be better for them not to be here.  


Monday, August 12, 2013

Crisis of Confidence with Apologies to Mo Willems

My bees and I are not having a great year.

Today I had electricians at my house so I was home more than usual during the work day.  I came home at 2 to see what progress was being made (turns out my whole house needed to be appropriately grounding so they put copper posts into the ground and ran wire to water pipes and put a surge protector on the whole house).

I glanced out into the bee yard and this is what I saw:


What's going on?  It couldn't be a beard - the other hives weren't bearding and rain was threatening.  Maybe they were absconding?   This is my best hive - the swarm hive from Patty.  It has done great this year and now it looks like they were leaving.

At 2:45 when I had to be back at my office at 3, I donned my bee veil and jacket, lit my smoker and took a quick look in to see if there were any bees or honey in the hive.


You can see the wet concrete from the rain.  And you can see that there are no bees to speak of in the hive.  I panicked.  Why are they going?  

I love the Mo Willems books and one of them is called I am Going.    I felt so like Gerald (the elephant in the story) today.




Piggie is leaving.

Gerald does not understand why Piggie is leaving and he says,  
"WAIT!  
Go later!  
Go tomorrow! 
Go next week!  
Go next month! 
GO NEXT YEAR!!!"

But Piggie replies, "I am going now."

"NOW!?!" says Gerald, "Why, Piggie?"
"Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?....."

That's exactly how I felt....thank you, Mo.  So I opened up the hive and looked deeper into it.  It was full of honey I haven't harvested yet because the year has been so bad and I don't want them to be without stores.  Usually when bees abscond, they take whatever stores are in the hive with them, so this doesn't make sense - lots of honey, no bees.

When I put it back together, the bees were still outside.  I wanted to cry.  Instead as the thunder and rain began, I covered the hive, bees and all with the wet sheet I used on another hive being robbed yesterday and went back to the office.


When I returned at the end of the day, amidst more thunder, this is what I found under the sheet:


When I put the Billy Davis robber screen on this particular hive, the bees pooled on the ground outside the hive.  The next day they were all back in the hive, but I think they don't like the robber screen one little bit.  So one thing I did today was to pull the robber screen off (see photo two above).  

At 8:30 when the hive looked like it does in the last photo, I started thinking the queen was outside the hive in this huge cluster.  So I treated it like a swarm and put them into a box and shook them back into the hive.  They'll probably leave tomorrow.  I feel totally disheartened and want to scream.  



At 9 PM, this is what they look like:


And as per Mo Willems, now I want to say:

"You are going?!  
You are going away?!"

Bees:  Yes.

"You cannot go!  
You must not go!  
I WILL NOT LET YOU GO!!!"

But what I know is that I am not in charge.  

I will feel defeated if they fly off tomorrow.  As I usually do, I will probably lick my wounds and keep on keeping on, but it won't feel good.  

It just won't.






Sunday, August 11, 2013

Billy Davis' Robber Screen

What a strange honey year!  After two years of drought, now we have so much rain in Atlanta that it has hurt the bees.  Many hives were unable to put up enough stores for winter and it's prime time for robbing.

Jeff and I keep saying we needed to put the robber screens that Billy Davis uses on our hives.  We put it off and put it off (I am deathly afraid of the staple gun).

While I was in Lithuania, my last hive from the Fatbeeman was robbed out and died.  I think his supplier in south Georgia didn't do well by him this year - one of my packages was the one that had a virgin queen at our Chastain site and the package I installed at home never did well.  They were just limping along, and were easy victims for robbers.  The ground under the hive was covered with wax shards and dead bees on the bottom board.  In a way, if robbers were going to pick one of my hives to destroy, that was the best one.

So Jeff and I put Billy Davis robber screens on almost all of our hives last weekend.  The hive below is the Northlake Mall Swarm.  Billy says for the screen to be effective the hive entrance must be about four inches from the edge of the screen.  This hive has an entrance reducer on it (as do all my hives this year) and the opening is under the bees clustered on the screen.


At first the bees are really confused.  How to get to Mama?  They aim for the entrance but that isn't working so they try the upper part of the hive to see if an entrance has materialized up there.



But after a week, the bees have gotten it figured out.  They've been going in the side and bearding under the robber screen (and on top of it!)

Today at 4:30 - typical time for orientation - there was a frantic energy around this particular hive.  I'm not usually home at this time.  I do have breaks in my day, but my busiest time at the office is from about 2 - 7 at night, so I miss orientation.  Consequently I haven't really seen bees orient since we put the robber screens on the hives.

The other hives in my backyard were orienting at 4:30 and they didn't look as frantic as the Northlake hive.  The bees outside the hive were buzzing angrily.  Now, I've seen robbing and it's frantic, but you also see bees actively fighting with each other and falling to the ground; you see dead bees in front of the hive; and a growing pile of wax accumulates under the hive from wax cappings.  

But this hive has a closed screened bottom board, so I couldn't see wax cappings.  And although there were not dead bees, the buzz was angry and loud.  



The area under the screen is PACKED with bees and bees were actively guarding the available entry.  You can kind of see the bees under the screen in the photo above.

So just to be safe, I threw a wet sheet over the hive, covering the side entrances and waited it out.  I left the front open since there was no entry there and I could monitor the bee population and activity. 




Of course, if this were orientation and not robbing, now the hive bees also don't have access to the hive.

Around 6:30, the activity was back to normal.

In robbing the robber bees keep trying to access the entry of the hive because they smell the honey.  The hive bees go for the pheromone of the queen so they will search different ways to get to the queen.  But typically robber bees just focus on the entrance.

So was this robbing and Billy Davis' robbery screen as well as my wet sheet stopped the action?  Or was this robbing and the screen effectively kept the robbers out?  Or was this just orientation of a strong hive?

I don't know but I felt good about having the robber screen on the hive.   Thanks, Billy.

Maybe tomorrow I'll pull the block to the screened bottom board out and see if there are tons of wax shards there.









Thursday, August 01, 2013

Weather Channel Bee Story

On Tuesday a crew from the Weather Channel came over to my house and filmed my beehives for a story they were doing about a video of an electron microscope view of the bee.  It was a lot of fun.

Dave Malkoff and Kevin, his camera guy, came over and took footage of me, opening a beehive.  I enjoyed both of them.  We even put a microphone right up in the entry of the hive so they could get the buzzing sound.  The bees didn't like it because the microphone blocked part of their entry, so they buzzed more than usual.

This photo came from a tweet by Dave Malkoff  [ TWITTER: @Malkoff ]  and was taken by Kevin Bond, his camera man.

You can see the video on YouTube.  Dave was inspired by this video to get interested in the hairy honey bee.




Make Hay While the Sun Shines

The solar wax melter would be getting rusty at my house if styrofoam were something that rusts.  We have had the rainiest summer I can remember.  It rains almost every day.  You'd think we were in Seattle, but our rain in Atlanta is rather fierce, unlike Seattle, and usually comes with thunder, lightning and heavy sheets of rain.

The fact is that Atlanta has had 41.28 inches of rain in 2013 through July 8.  It has apparently rained every 2.6 days and we are on pace to have the wettest year since 1879.  Not good for the bees or the solar wax melter.

There have only been a few solar wax melter worthy days in the past months. Tuesday was finally one of those days, so I put out two wax melters and set them to work.




This has been a rainy summer in many parts of the country, but especially in the Southeast.  This year, for the first time in the six or so years that my solar wax melter video has been up on YouTube, I've gotten several emails from people who say their wax melter isn't working.  One of them said she had left it outdoors in the hot summer NIGHT of 80 degrees and the wax didn't melt.  Another said that she was experiencing heavy moisture condensation under the glass, but that the wax didn't melt.

Seems like it is important to emphasize that the solar wax melter got its name because the SUN is required for it to work.  The temperature has to be high enough all day, it's true.  But for the solar wax melter to work, the sun must shine for most, if not all of the day.

On cloud covered days when the sun peeks in and out of the clouds, I often also come home to find moisture condensed inside the SWM and the wax unmelted.  I just leave it out for the next sunny day and the wax does melt in the sun.

This time I put out the filters from filtering honey to let the bees clean it up in my bee yard.  When I returned to get the filter, the wax was completely dry and cleaned:


This felt much less wasteful to me than washing the wax and letting the bits of remaining honey run down the drain.  I crunched the wax into balls and put them onto the tops of paper towels on Tuesday.  I also put broken up sheets of wax from melting old brood combs.



At the end of hot and sunny Tuesday (finally), I had some lovely wax.  Here is some of it.










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