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I've been keeping this blog for all of my beekeeping years and I am beginning my 19th year of beekeeping in April 2024. Now there are more than 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.

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.Master Beekeeper Enjoy with me as I learn and grow as a beekeeper.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Questions that were on my Mind as a First Year Beekeeper

As the beginning of my third year in beekeeping approaches (I started on Easter Sunday, 2006), I have been thinking about the questions I wish someone had answered for me as I got started.

One of my recent assignments was to give a presentation at the Short Course on "Bee-ing a Beekeeper" which was about my experiences and the stories of a panel of several others. I focused on the fun(ny) parts of Bee-ing a Beekeeper. I've thought about posting the PowerPoint presentation I did and then thought it wouldn't be the same without the stories to go with the pictures, but I may post it anyway.

In thinking about what I might address if I were asked again to talk about first year experiences, I generated (in no particular order) the questions that were on the top of my mind when I got started. They are:
  • How hard is it to put together a hive box?
  • What do you use to light a smoker?
  • How do you put the bees in the hive and what are the scary parts?
  • How do you deal with your neighbors?
  • What is it like to be stung the first time?
  • How much is the initial investment and do you have to have an extractor?
  • Will you have enough wax the first year to make candles?
  • What's the purpose of a hive inspection and how hard is it to do one?
  • What are the most confusing parts of the first year of beekeeping?
I think I'll post on these questions over the next few weeks as many people begin their beekeeping experience for the first time. I've recently addressed how to build a hive box and how to deal with your neighbors. Stay tuned for posts on the rest of these questions.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Bringing In the Pollen and Bringing out the Dead

It's warm and the bees are flying from both hives. They are both bringing in bright yellow pollen (see first picture) and bringing out the dead.
In looking at the dead in both the second and third picture, it's clear from the deformed wings that I have a Varroa problem. I don't how early I can begin powdered sugar shakes. I'll post on the bee forum pages and let you know what they say.
I also wondered about the white dots in front of both hives. I assume it's bird feces from a bird eating the hundreds of dead bee bodies, but I don't know if I should worry about something else instead.
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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Second Try at Making Homemade Hand Lotion

I followed the recipe in Kim Flottum's book, The Backyard Beekeeper. I used the ingredients and followed the directions. The picture in the book is this light-as-a-cloud lotion that is white. Mine came out green and hard as a candle. These results made me think of my mother.

My mother is a great cook. She understands how everything goes together and everything she makes is wonderful. Her banana bread is so delicious. Once I asked her for the recipe and she gave it to me on an index card. I went back home and tried it, but it didn't taste at all like my mother's banana bread. So the next time I went home, I asked my mother to make the banana bread and show me what she did.

Reading the recipe card and watching her make the bread were two quite different things! I grabbed another card and titled it: "What Mother Really Does." We now have a standing joke in my family: If you like a recipe, we always ask the cook, "OK, so, how did you 'mother' it?"

I believe that what the lotion maker in The Backyard Beekeeper actually did and what the recipe said were two quite different things.

Today I saw a friend who once upon a time made hand lotion from his herb garden. I asked him what the secret to success with lotion is? He told me to whip it up in the blender while it cools and it will be soft like commercial lotion.

I came home and popped the hard little candle-like lotion nuggets out of the containers in which I had poured them and put them in the Pyrex measuring cup. I placed the whole thing in a pan of hot water and re-melted the lotion. When it was liquid, I added a little lanolin (not in the recipe) and about a tablespoon of cocoa butter.

So here's the process of putting it all together:

Backyard Beekeeper recipe:
2 cups olive oil
1/4 cup palm oil (I couldn't find it at Whole Foods and used almond oil instead)
3/4 cup coconut oil
6 ounces beeswax
40 - 50 drops essential oil (I used lemon)

Melt the oils and butters. Add the beeswax and melt together. Test the mix by dropping five or six drops onto waxed paper to cool so you can see how hard it gets. If too hard, add more oil, if too soft or greasy, add more beeswax to stiffen. When it begins to cool, stir in six drops of Vitamin E oil. If you want fragrance, add essential oils after removing the pan from the heat.

The above results in hard candle-like green bars (green because of the extra virgin olive oil).

What I really did (how I "mothered" the recipe (as we say in my family):

  1. I heated the olive oil, almond oil, coconut oil in an 8 cup Pyrex measure sitting in a pan of boiling water.
  2. When the liquids were hot, I added 6 ounces of beeswax and melted it in the hot oil.
  3. I took this off of the heat and added six drops of Vitamin E and drops of lemon essential oil (it still smells like beeswax - probably not enough lemon - but I love the beeswax smell).
  4. After this hardened and I wasn't happy with it, I remelted the whole thing,
  5. I added 1 T of cocoa butter and 1 tsp. lanolin.
  6. I cooled it until it was beginning to solidify.
  7. I put the whole mix in the blender and ran it on "puree" for about 10 minutes.
  8. I then let the mix cool for about an hour in the blender jar and turned the blender on to "puree" about every 10 minutes for about a minute's duration.

    What a mess this made! I gave my daughter who came to dinner a jar to take home with her. I am out of containers (ordered more from Majestic Mountain Sage last week) so I put the remaining lotion in a tupperware container. I believe this recipe would make about 1 dozen 2 oz jars. I filled eight jars and the 8 ounce Tupperware container.
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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Sue Hubbell and A Book of Bees

I decided to read a bee book a month in 2008. My January 2008 book is A Book of Bees by Sue Hubbell.

As a commercial beekeeper in the Missouri Ozarks, she takes us on her own journey from winter through the year with her bees. The book is chatty and feels like a conversation in the author's kitchen.

In the course of the book, we are carried through all the intricacies of her thoughts about raising bees, building bee equipment, managing the queens in her hives. I love the way she writes because it reflects the way I feel when I manage my bees. She talks to her bees, even though they can't hear biologically. I find I often also talk while I am working with the bees.

Note: Hubbell says in the book that bees can't hear and that probably was based on the knowledge at the time she was writing, but as a result of a comment below, I found the research that honeybees can hear by way of an organ at the pedicel of the antenna.

She talks about the peaceful way she feels in the presence of the hive. I feel comforted by the slow pace that we have to use as beekeepers to avoid increasing the intrusion on the hive. And I love to sit and watch the bees from my sunporch - the amazing life and activity of the beehive are intriguing to observe from that vantage point.

Some parts of A Book of Bees make me laugh out loud. She quotes EB White's poem, "Song of the Queen Bee" which is funny from start to finish. I'd type the whole thing for you, but you can find it on one of my favorite bee blogs by clicking here.

As a side note: I bought my copy of the book used and it came with a 4X6 head shot of Antonio Banderas tucked in the back. I assume the previous owner had used it as a bookmark, so I have also marked my place with the picture. I'm sure the former reader simply liked to look at him, but I found myself wondering if he were in any way linked with bees. A Google search resulted in finding two things:

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

How to Deal With your Neighbors When you Start Keeping Bees

One of the questions most new beekeepers ask is, "How do I deal with my neighbors?"

There's not an easy answer. Many beekeepers try to keep their beekeeping endeavors as unobtrusive as possible. I wasn't eager to invite anyone's opinion about my beekeeping. I did research it and found that since the bee is the state insect of Georgia, bees are allowed to "bee" anywhere in Atlanta.

Atlanta is a hilly city. I live in a particularly hilly neighborhood. When you enter my neighborhood (which is a U-shaped set of three streets) you become aware of the hills. One of the legs of the U goes downhill all the way to the street that makes the bottom of the U. Then you turn left to drive toward my house which begins the ascent of a hill. My house is at the peak of the hill and you go uphill on my driveway to get to my carport.

My bees are on the deck behind my house at the level of the main floor. Like many houses in Atlanta, my house is built into the hill, so it is a ranch but has a daylight basement on the back side. So the deck is about 14 feet high above the backyard, although it is at the level of my ranch house on the street side.

My neighbor on one side is steeply downhill from me. My neighbor on the other side is also on a slight downhill, and her deck is probably about 10 feet lower than mine.

Consequently I had my bees for two bee seasons without my neighbors having any idea.

I do wonder what they thought when they smelled smoke on the weekends. But I don't know them very well since I'm at work all day and nobody asked me about the smoky smell. And I was always having large bee labeled boxes of materials from Dadant and Betterbee or other bee companies delivered to my carport where they sat, available for viewing by anyone, until I came home from work.

This year after the honey harvest was over, I decided to give the neighbors on either side of my house a jar of my bees' delicious honey. Susan, my neighbor on the not-so-low side, was thrilled and talked to me all about what she knew about the healthful benefits of honey. She volunteered the other day that my honey was the best honey she had ever tasted. Below you can see the view from Susan's property line. Even in winter you can barely see the white of the hives on the deck and wouldn't know what they were to identify them. If you click on the picture you can see the whole thing.


My neighbor, Eric, on the other side, steeply downhill, has a baby - who was at the time about 8 months old. I gave the two of them a jar of honey when I saw them walking the baby. He seemed pleased, but not too excited to find out there were bees in the neighborhood. His wife said, "Honey's poisonous for babies, you know." I saw Eric, the father, a few weeks later and asked him how they liked the honey. "Oh, we haven't tried it yet," he said and looked uncomfortable.

So I would say that the news that I have bees was met with mixed reviews by my immediate neighbors. I did get a note from Libba, the president of the neighborhood garden club inviting me to come to a meeting (since I'm at work and they meet in the daytime, I haven't been in years). At the end of the note she wrote, "I'd like to taste your honey, Honey!" That let me know that my beekeeping has become a subject of neighborhood conversation.

I have recently seen Libba and given her a jar of the honey.

My deck serves to keep my bees' flight paths above my neighbors' yards. The other way that bees intrude into people's lives is by finding a water source on the neighbor's property. It's important to provide your bees a water source so they won't seek water at your neighbor's swimming pool or bird bath. I have provided my bees a water source, but they prefer nasty water out of the gutters on my house. The nearest house with a swimming pool is about 1/4 mile away.


Many beekeepers encourage telling your neighbors and sharing honey with them.

I don't think it's something you can make a blanket decision about doing. I was glad when I told my neighbors that I could say, "Oh, I've had these bees for two years." If the bees were new, people could have complained that the bees had bothered them ever since I got them, but nobody could claim that since the bees have been quiet as mice and my closest neighbors did not even know they were living on my deck.

The nice part of telling the neighbors is that I felt comfortable to store my boxes and supers in the carport during the winter without worrying about it. In the spring I may even fly the bee flag that I bought in the mountains.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

How to Build a Hive Box

In 2006 when I got my first hives, I had no idea what to do. I hadn't ever seen anyone build a hive box. So for those of you who are starting this year and may be as intimidated as I was, here's a primer on how to build a hive box. Now, I'm a novice beekeeper so the experienced beekeepers are going to be much more expert than I am but I am posting this so that you won't be as alone in your efforts as I was the first year.

Note: Be sure to read the comments as more experienced beekeepers have already written some about what I have posted....and they are (probably not older) but certainly wiser than I am.

At this time of year, most new beekeepers are crossing their fingers and ordering their initial equipment. To have bees, if you are going to use Langstroth hives as most of us do, then most new beekeepers order hive boxes. These are wooden and come in pieces for you to put together. (Note: some boxes are Styrofoam and others can be ordered already assembled...for a price.)

Some of the catalog companies send nails with the hive boxes. I have a ton of left over nails, enough to fill a 9 inch cake pan. Since I am moving to all medium boxes, I am screwing my boxes together in order to be able to take them apart if something gets broken.

If it looks like I am doing this assembly in my living room, it's because I am. I like to put these things together in front of the TV. What's really boring is building frames - that I definitely do in front of the TV!

Step One in hive box construction:
Make sure the cut-in handle is facing the same direction on each box part. In this medium box from Brushy Mountain (I think - I've had it since last year) you can't put the box together wrong, but in some box sizes and from some companies, the notches are exactly the same either direction and it's possible to turn one side so that the handle is upside down. A comment (see below) also notes that it doesn't work if you have the handles on the inside of the box, so also make sure that you have the handles facing to the outside of the box!

Step Two: I use a rubber mallet to hammer the notches in place before I permanently attach them. These boxes fit quite tightly and need the mallet to fit together. The boxes I ordered from Dadant fit together with more ease.

At this point most people (see comments on this post) put glue in the joints. I haven't been doing that and will probably regret it, although since I screw my boxes together, I expect them to stay more securely than if I nailed them.

Step Three: Make sure you have the box notched together properly and the handles are all facing the same direction.

Step Four: Nail or screw the box together. My daddy taught me to lubricate the screw with soap. You can also use beeswax for this purpose. Whether you nail or screw, I go around and do one fastener (nail or screw) in each corner, rather than screwing all of them in at once on one side. I don't know if that is good construction or just what I do. It seems to make sense to put it together in a balanced way.

Then you are done and you paint the box. I used interior paint on all of my boxes and they've held up just fine, but ideally you will use exterior paint to help your box last longer. You only paint the outside of the box - not the inside and not the rail inside for hanging the frames - simply paint the outside four sides of the box.

I'll post another beginner help post in the next day or two...maybe how to build a frame with a word or two about foundation. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Rare Day - Snow on my Beehives

It snowed off and on all day today - an unusual winter occurrence in Atlanta. The bees, wise as they are, apparently remained indoors, as well they should. Temperatures are supposed to be in the 20s tonight, so I don't expect to see bees before next week when it warms up.

I spent today at the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Short Course, held in spite of the inclement weather. I had a small role on the agenda and did the "goody bags" which we gave to the participants. We had a fantastic turnout and I hope will end up with inspired new beekeepers as well as new members of our Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Club.
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Monday, January 14, 2008

Goody Bags for the Short Course

It's my job to put together the "goody bags" for the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Short Course that happens this Saturday, January 19th at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. (not too late to register, if you're interested)

The goody bag is a compilation of wonderful items that I put in the bag, but that come from other places - it's a great gift for the participants, if I say so, myself.Included in the goody bag are:
It's like going to a party - the participants at the Short Course will have a lot of fun, get to eat together and talk bees, and go home with a goody bag full of treasures.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Joy in Beeville - There is a Queen!

Today was the first warm sunny day when I could open the hive to check for evidence of a queen. On both the Beemaster and Beesource forum groups, I had gotten the message that sometimes a hive goes into winter with two queens. Also Cindy Bee, PN Williams, and Jerry Wallace (all in my Metro bee group) had suggested that as a possibility as well.

When they go into winter with two queens, after a while they get rid of the old queen....but the only way I could know for sure was to check the hive to see if there were new brood or to see the queen.

I opened the hive with the goal of checking for new brood. I don't do well at queen spotting and wasn't going to keep the hive open any longer than I had to. The bees were quite unhappy with me for opening the box. I got head-butted throughout my inspection. The hive is all in medium boxes and went into winter in 2 1/2 mediums. The top box has four frames of honey and the other half is empty for a feeding jar. In the second box (the top full box) I started looking for the queen evidence.

The first four frames were all honey, but that felt reassuring to me since I wanted to make sure they still had enough stores. The fifth frame had capped brood on it and I took it out to look at it closely. There were eggs!!!!!! and tiny brood, as you can see very well in the first picture if you click on it to make it larger. Since I saw the dead queen on Sunday, six days ago, obviously these eggs were just laid - so Princess Honey ousted her mother and rules supreme.

In the second picture you can see older brood, still young, although in the center left you can see larva about to need capping.

The other good news is that the hive was chock full of bees. I didn't brush any out of the way, but in the third picture in the center left, again you can see a cell with an egg in it.

The fourth picture has some very, very young c-shaped larvae in it.

The only bothersome part of this inspection is that I saw lots of SHBs and I thought they were supposed to die out over the winter. I didn't see any damage in the hive from the beetles, but they were still there in force and I currently don't have a Sonny-Mel trap on either hive.

Also you might note in the bottom right corner of the last picture, there is a Varroa mite on the back of a bee. I took lots of close-up pictures and this is the only mite I saw, but it does mean that as soon as I am regularly inspecting the hives, the bees will get a powdered sugar shower!

I also opened Mellona and found a full cluster of bees in the bottom box. They are flying in with pollen and I am not too worried about the hive, so I didn't check it for being queenright.

All I can say now is "Long Live the Queen" - at least I hope until warmer weather returns and drones are again available for their very important job.
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Monday, January 07, 2008

Inside the Hive Whose Queen was Dead Outside of It

I had a break to run home for about 20 minutes today. I mixed up sugar syrup before I left for work this morning. Since I was only going to have a few minutes at home, I planned to feed the bees in the dead-queen hive to keep their spirits up. I threw on my veil and opened the hive (Bermuda) whose queen was carried dead and wingless out of the hive.

This is how the hive looked. The syrup left from before Christmas had hardly been touched. The hive was full of bees - if you click on the second picture, you can see bees between the frames. There was tons of honey still in the frames for their enjoyment.

Outside the hive, bees were flying in every second, many with pollen in their pollen baskets.

I can't look for the queen evidence until a day when I can fully open the hive, but even if there is no queen, with this many bees on January 7, I feel hopeful for requeening, etc.

I also opened for the same feeding purpose, Mellona, my other hive. There were about 1/4 the number of bees in that hive. Maybe I should be more worried about it - it seems more likely not to be thriving. They also had not touched the syrup from before Christmas.

Whatever the end result, I do have enough bees in Bermuda to give a boost to Mellona, should I decide to combine the two hives. And the bees in Bermuda look good, so I'm hoping when I get to pull a frame or two, I'll find evidence of a queen.

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Queen is Dead - Oh, Woe is Me

Today it is in the high 60s after about a week of extremely cold weather (for Atlanta) - lows in the teens and highs in the 40s. The bees are very active. There's a lot of carrying out the dead and a lot of bees in the leaves in front of the hives - dead or dying.

I took some pictures of the bees in front of the hives and came in to look at them on my computer. The first picture has a dead bee in it that looked long in body and suspiciously like the queen.

I hurried outside and picked up the leaf and brought it indoors - and I am so sad to discover that it is indeed the queen from Bermuda. There's no way on January 6 with no drones that the bees in this hive will make another queen. What am I going to do?

The bees are very active in this hive and are bringing in pollen. You'll also notice in the picture that the dead queen has no wings. Perhaps she has been dead for a while.

Well, first I am going to post on Beemaster and Beesource and see what they say and then I'm going to call the man I buy bees from and see what he suggests in terms of how to get a queen as early as possible.

Yours in panic,

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Friday, January 04, 2008

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