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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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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas, the Winter Solstice, and The Bees

In Mississippi where I grew up we never had a white Christmas. In Atlanta, if it snows, generally it snows in February or maybe late January and once it snowed and closed the city down for a week in March (1993?). So in my life, I've never had a "white Christmas."

But yesterday on Christmas Day in Rabun Gap, Georgia, it snowed from morning to night and we had my very first white Christmas. For those of you used to this kind of thing, that probably is insignificant but I loved it. We had on the top of my mountain about six inches or so of snow by the time it stopped around 9 PM.

While the snow doesn't have much meaning for the bees, the winter solstice (December 21st) does. That day is the shortest day of the year and after December 21st, which marks the beginning of winter, the days gradually get longer and longer until we reach June 21st, the first day of summer.

In the dark interior of the hive, unable to see that the light lasts a bit longer each day, the queen bee senses that the solstice has come. That is one of the first signs to her that it is time to take up one of the survival tasks of the hive: to begin to grow itself into a larger group of bees. Some time after the solstice, maybe the next day, maybe several weeks later, the queen will lay a small patch of brood.

The hive needs enough food to make it through the winter and if they begin raising brood, they have to keep the cluster around the brood warmer than they may have kept it in the winter cold. The brood needs a temperature around 91 degrees to survive, while the cluster only needs to be kept around 70 degrees to survive. This taxes the hive resources.

So the queen's instinct to start laying brood has to do with the lengthening of the days as well as the amount of honey and pollen stored in the hive.

So while I am looking at snow on the picnic table in the first white Christmas day of my life, the queen is evaluating her need to build up the hive and is beginning to sense a need to lay brood.

As the snow slowed, here is how the hillside looked from my deck, gazing down the mountain.

Hope all of my bee friends and all of you who visit this blog had a happy holiday!
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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bee on the Christmas Tree

This is one of two adorable bees that my daughter gave me a couple of years ago. She graces our tree with her yellow body every year.

Other new additions:

A honey jar from my friend Mary
A bee skep that is actually a vegan cookie baked for me by Blue Heron beekeeping buddy Noah:

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Lotion for Last Minute Christmas Gifts

I've heard from some of you wondering why I haven't posted in so long and some of you have resorted to commenting on old posts, forced, I guess, to read old stuff since nothing new has been put up.

I suppose I could tell you that my office was burglarized and my laptop and external hard drive (my backup) stolen and that I have been underwater since Thanksgiving trying to put my "real" job back together.....but (although the story's true) it sounds a little like the dog ate my homework, so I'll just apologize for the gap in posting and take up my blogging again with my usual commitment!

I decided to make lotion as a last minute Christmas gift for stocking stuffers.  I had some red palm oil.  The last time I made lotion with red palm oil, the lotion was bright yellow and a little too oily, so I changed the recipe a bit to make it better.

Below you can see the oils all melting together.  The shea butter is the last to liquefy.

I melted the wax this time in my Presto pot - much faster.  However I always forget how long it takes lotion to cool and thicken.  I started at 7 PM and wasn't jarring the lotion until 12:30 at night!

I always use chopsticks for stirring.  This results in a cheap (free if you don't count the cost of a Chinese dinner), disposable piece of equipment.

Here's the bright yellow lotion, cooling in the running blender for HOURS and HOURS....until, like I said: 12:30 AM.  I used lemongrass essential oil to give it a good smell and it turned out quite lovely.

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When Sugar Syrup Crystallizes!

In preparation for going to the mountains for Christmas, I took the tops off of the crystallized honey from Topsy and this is what I found:  totally crystallized sugar with ants caught in the sugar.

How do you imagine the ants got stuck there?  They certainly died a sweet death, but it's hard to imagine the crystallization happening so fast that they couldn't escape!

Here's the camera on another setting viewing the stuck ants....their feet encased in crystallized sugar.

The other jar looked about the same.  This is why I am now adding lemon juice to the bee tea.  The chemical result is that the sugar syrup doesn't crystallize.

I have not put food on Topsy since after Thanksgiving.  It has been extremely cold in Atlanta - in the 20s most days - so I wasn't thinking the bees would be able to move around.  We are about to go into January and February when the bees are most in danger of starving so I have my fingers crossed for my hives.

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Thursday, December 02, 2010

Visit to the Rabun County Bees

On Thanksgiving weekend we went up to the mountains and while there, I checked on the Rabun County bees. It was around 36 degrees when we stopped at the community garden. I wanted to leave the bees with a baggie of food for one of these warm afternoons that happen in the south, even in the mountains.

Valerie took these shots. I don't know why I had my jacket on, but these have been angry bees and even though I didn't expect anyone to come out to say hello, the old saying is, "It's better to be safe than sorry."

Indeed both baggies I had left for them were completely emptied of the bee tea.

I had a baggie with 2 1/2 quarts in it and placed it inside the shim. One bee did make her appearance to see what we were up to.

My handy Swiss army knife cuts the slits in the baggie after it is placed.

If I were a bee, this would look delicious to me on an over-60 day.

I put the cover back on - worked very quickly so as not to put too much cold air into the hive - and went on my way.

I returned to Atlanta to find that my new Jennifer-Berry-esque veil had arrived at long last from Brushy Mountain.  I can't wait to try it out!  In the spring I plan to work the bees in jeans, a work shirt (long sleeved chambray) and this new veil.

I'd put a link up but Brushy Mountain doesn't show it on their page any longer and it was back-ordered for quite some time.  It's a clear view veil with string and a soft hat rather than the helmet that never fits me.

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Bee-ing that it is holiday time

I'm always on the lookout for bee-themed holiday gifts.  Here are some pages I've found that speak to me - maybe to you too:

And then there are the good deed gifts one can give with honey bees as the theme.  Every year I give each of my nieces and nephews gifts of beehives from the Heifer Project.  They have everything in the world they need and this gift makes them part of keeping bees going (and underprivileged nations going) throughout the world.

Then there are ornaments for your tree decorating found 
You can have your own fun looking - I googled "honey bee ornament" and "beekeeper ornament."  

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Checking on Blue Heron

We're in early winter phase in Atlanta. The nights are in the high 30s and low 40s but the days soar up to 69 or so. The temperature doesn't rise to flying temperature until the middle of the day. There is, of course, nothing to forage but the bees do fly to relieve themselves. I also wonder if they are generally exploring to see the state of the world at large.

My nephew Ben and his fiance, Stacey, were here this weekend, so they wanted to see the Blue Heron hive. We walked the trail over there - two Eagle scouts have made improvements to the trail that are so wonderful - and then visited the bees.

Here are Ben and Stacey, appropriately attired for the visit.

My hive had bees flying in and out - I saw at least 20 when we first walked up. It was about 59 degrees when we arrived at the hive.
They had emptied the baggie and almost consumed all of the bottled syrup in the interior Boardman. However, clearly it's easier for them to access and use the baggie feed.

I replaced both the baggie and the jar below and cut three slits in the baggie.

Julia is on vacation and asked me to check on her bees. I did not see a single bee coming out of the hive and her feeder was completely full. She asked me to take the feeder off, but I didn't have a reasonable way to dispose of the sugar water, so I left it there. I'm really worried that the hive has died.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chemistry: The Secret to Crystal-Free 2:1 Bee Tea Sugar Syrup

Above is my crystallizing bee tea sugar syrup from the weekend. As in an earlier post, I read up on the chemistry of sugar saturation and changed my formula.

The bee tea below was made with the new formula:
  • 2 cups chamomile tea, steeped for 20 minutes
  • 8 cups of water
  • leaves from three or four sprigs of thyme
  • several shakes of coarse sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp of lemon juice
  • 20 cups of sugar
Bring the water to a rolling boil while the tea is steeping. Add the tea, thyme, salt and lemon juice to the boiling water. Turn off the heat and stir in 20 cups of sugar. I stir in 4 cups at a time and stir until that fully dissolves before adding the next 4 cups.

The jars below have been sitting for three days in my cool-at-night kitchen and have not crystallized. I've moved the jars, shaken them up (one way that crystals sometimes begin to form) and no crystals have formed.

The addition of the lemon juice which should serve to break the sucrose into glucose and fructose (and thus stop crystals from forming) had two effects.  The syrup has not formed crystals.  The thyme leaves instead of floating suspended in the syrup have all sunk to the bottom.  You can see them in the photo below, lying on the bottom of the jars.

The addition of simply 1/2 tsp of lemon juice to this much syrup was enough to accomplish my goal.  Whoo Hoo!

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Monday, November 15, 2010

I miss Honey on the Table

This, as most of you know, was not my year for honey.  I miss my bees on my deck and I didn't realize how much I would miss their honey.  I am glad there are bees at the two community gardens and at Valerie's house, but May and June seem far away and honey is really missing from my table.

I have a few jars left from 2008 but I feel stingy with it and miss the generous feeling of many jars in the cupboard.

One of my new favorite poets, Mary Oliver, writes often about the bees.  Her "Honey at the Table" really speaks to me:

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.

--Mary Oliver from American Primitive

She has written a number of poems including bees and I'll share more over time.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

It is SO hard to make 2:1 Syrup

About half the time I succeed; about half the time, it crystallizes. It is such a frustrating process. And the hard part is you don't know it's going to crystallize until after it has cooled off.

I made 2:1 syrup (actually bee tea - chamomile and thyme added to the 2:1 syrup) early this morning to take to Valerie's house today. I poured it into jars while warm, put it in the car and delivered it to Topsy around noon today. The third jar that I filled is crystallizing tonight. That means that the syrup I put on Topsy will also be crystallizing.....GRRRR.

According to this site, saturating the solution with sugar to the point at which the water can take no more is an invitation for crystals to form.  This is why so many commercial beekeepers use high fructose corn syrup.  Fructose does not crystallize.  But sucrose (sugar) does.  You add lemon juice or cream of tartar to candy to keep it from crystallizing.  I will look into whether anyone ever adds lemon juice to 2:1 sugar syrup.

You can see the crystals forming at the bottom of this jar.  Once it gets started the crystals beget more crystals and on and on like Genesis until the entire bottle is solid sugar again.

Another view of my frustration.

The two bottles of 2:1 that I took off of Topsy also had been busy crystallizing, as you can see in the picture below with crystals forming around the top of the jar (the bottom as it is set into the Boardman inside the top bar hive - I don't feed with Boardman feeders on the outside of any hive).  The bees had pretty much emptied the jars despite the crystals, thank goodness.

I have all kinds of objections to high fructose corn syrup, but adding a tablespoon is recommended to keep crystal formation from starting.  I think also adding a small bit of lemon juice might accomplish the same thing.  I may try this in my next batch.

After one of the comments below, I looked up Honey B Healthy and it does have lemongrass in the mix - maybe the acid of the lemongrass in it is what keeps the syrup from forming crystals because the sugar in it is sucrose.

Tomorrow when I make more bee tea I'm going to try to add a teaspoon of lemon juice and see what the effect is on the crystal issue.  BTW, I found a post on Beemaster where someone recommends adding a little lemon juice to the mix.
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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Blue Heron Visit on November 9, 2010

Julia and I stopped at the Blue Heron to feed our hives and get a feel for how they are doing.  Her hive is still questionable, but we added food to the hive top feeder that still had a good bit of food left from our previous visit.  We worried that the food was below the duct tape line but it was not.  We did see (and I took pictures of) bees inside the mesh to drink the syrup.

My hive was full of bees and they had emptied the baggie, but not the Boardman jar.  I replaced both the baggie with a new full one and the jar with a full one.  The hive was quite heavy and I am hopeful that they are using the most recent box I added for syrup storage.  I did not pull up a frame to see, but will the next time I am there because there's no point in leaving an empty box on through the winter.

Here's the slide show of what we saw at Blue Heron. Remember you can click on the slide show to see the captions, to change the speed of the picture changes, and to see it full sized:

Monday, November 08, 2010

New Topper for Topsy

When I arrived at Valerie's house today, it was 64 and the bees were flying in and out of Topsy. I saw one bee with pollen on her legs. I don't know what the others were doing. With the severe cold nights over the weekend, I imagine there is no more aster nectar.

You can see the bees at the entry in the photo below (if you can't, I put a red arrow pointing to them). There was a constant entry and exit at that end of the hive the whole time I was there.

Both jars of syrup were empty. Since we are having flying temperatures every afternoon this week, the bees are likely to be able to use this syrup, so I replaced both jars.

As a nod to the colder weather, I moved the follower board closer to the actual hive to help shrink their hive space. I didn't get it as close as I'd like but I'll get that done next week.

I traded out the wavy plastic cover for this newly constructed hive top. It was awkward and a little heavy, not like the wavy plastic. I may not like having this on top of the hive. When I tried to put it on the first time, I knocked against one of the top bars at the unused end of the hive and the bar dropped into the hive, necessitating my removing the top, replacing the top bar and essentially starting over again.

Doesn't it look more effective, though, than the white plastic one?

Here's a side view so you can see the supports and the amount of air space between the top and the top bars. I hope this helps the bees stay warmer than that flimsy plastic.

Tomorrow I'm checking on Blue Heron.
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Sunday, November 07, 2010

Quick Rabun Report

It snowed in Rabun County this weekend and was cold, cold, cold the whole time we were there. I didn't want to disturb the bees but am worried about this hive since I don't think they are ready for winter.

The prediction for this coming week is that the highs will be in the 60s and 70s after noon each day of this coming week.

I do want to give these bees more food, so I stopped by on my drive back to Atlanta and switched out the empty baggies for two full ones. I don't know if it will help them, but I'd like to think so.

Given the temperature (around 42 when we stopped) I only pulled off the top, yanked out the baggies and installed two more rather quickly. There were a few dead bodies on the landing as one would expect in weather too cold to fly.

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Friday, November 05, 2010

New Top for Topsy

We're having our first hard freeze of the winter in Atlanta this weekend. Topsy still has that plastic, wavy top on it that was insufficient insulation in the summer. I know this because comb drawn by the bees fell into the bottom of the hive. This means the hive got too hot. I don't want it to get too cold in the winter and don't trust that top to do the job.

Today at a break I went to my local big box store and bought two 1x12s and had them cut to the right length for the top bar hive, allowing about a 3 1/2 inch over hang on either end. I used the cut off ends of the boards to nail the two boards together and to provide a one inch raise in the top above the top bars. (Well, we all know that a 1x12 isn't really 1x12, so I guess I mean a 3/4" raise above the top bars).  You can see how I nailed it below.

I had a roll of aluminum flashing and covered the top in that (for water protection) and used the staple gun to secure the flashing to the top. It was only 20 inches wide so I had to cut another strip to cover the edge.

When it was covered I folded down the ends and nailed them to the end as well. I'm a little worried about cutting my hand on the cut aluminum edges.

Here's the finished top for Topsy.

Here's a look at the top from underneath:

To protect my hands I covered the rough edges on each end with the all-useful duct tape.

I'm going to the mountains this weekend but when I get home, I'll deliver this better top to Topsy on Sunday.  It won't be there for the freeze this weekend but will be there for the rest of the winter and going into next summer (when hopefully the hive will still be alive).

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