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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.

Need help with an Atlanta area swarm? Visit Found a Swarm? Call a Beekeeper. ‪(404) 482-1848‬

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bee Hives are Back at Blue Heron

We now have hives back at Blue Heron and are hoping for a crisis-free bee season - no floods, no animals, no problems.

Julia and I each got a nuc from Jennifer Berry, Keith Delaplane's right hand woman at the UGA bee lab. Jennifer has started her own business selling bees and queens. Her bees were beautiful and looked very healthy.

I've bought nucs every year for the past four years. Every year I get frames that have old, black comb on them, icky plastic frames, anything the beekeeper wants to pass on to someone. Jennifer's nucs were not like that. The frames were lovely, the comb was fresh and new and the bees looked fantastic. I hope they live and thrive.

Here's the slideshow of our installing these two hives. If you click on the slideshow you can see it in full screen and possibly see the details better:

Procrastination in Winter Never Pays Off

This April begins my fifth year keeping bees. Every winter I know most beekeepers paint and clean their old equipment - not me. Every year I promise myself that this year will be different. This year I'll paint equipment over the winter. Then bread baking, knitting for the grandchildren, watching movies all get in the way of my actually picking up a paintbrush.

This year as a favor and a surprise, one of my friends arranged to get the nuc I was purchasing from Jennifer Berry for the Blue Heron delivered to her house last night. I was supposed to drive to Good Hope on Saturday morning to get it. Instead it came last night and I was frantically painting equipment into the night.

You'll remember our Blue Heron hives were flooded out last September. I lost my eight frame bottom boards, inner covers, slatted racks in the flood. I have a lot of 10 frame bottom boards and slatted racks. Since I plan to move altogether to 8 frame medium boxes, I added a small feature to my slatted rack to adapt it to the 8 frame hive.

I cut a piece of the leftover board from the top bar hive to fit the length of the slatted rack. I painted it, nailed it to the edge of the slatted rack and adapted my hive bottom for 8 frame boxes. This wouldn't work as well with the screened bottom board because it is lower from the side edge to allow for a bee entrance at the front of the hive. In contrast, the slatted racks are only bee space below the edge, so the box sits perfectly in the space.

Here's the finished result. I also only have top covers for 10 frame but that will go over the 8 frame just as well. I bought ventilated hive covers to use this year as an inner cover at Blue Heron, so my hive is all equipped.....and I am breathless due to my procrastination!

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Top Bar Has a Top!

Yesterday I stapled in the screened bottom for my top bar and measured and cut the plastic roof. It's all ready for the bees now and only needs to be moved to its home at Valerie and Jeff's house where it will spend the summer.

The bricks keep the top from blowing off!

You can see extra top bars in the plastic tub. My challenge now is to clean the newspaper and other mess up from my carport!
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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Orienting the New Bees

When bees reach foraging in their development (around 3 weeks old), they have to orient to the hive in order to leave it. This way when they start for home after a nectar-collecting flight, they know where home is. At the end of a day usually around 3:30 or 4:30 in the afternoon, bee hives are all a-buzz as the new foragers fly out for orientation.

They fly out of the entrance, up into the air about a foot, turn and observe the hive. They do this over and over until they "get" the location and the cues they need to find home again.

If you move a beehive, you should move it at least 3 miles as the crow flies from their old location to assure that the bees who leave to forage don't return to the old (now empty) location. The bees we moved last night lived about 2.5 miles as the crow (or the bee) flies from my house. It's possible that they will fly back to their original location, so I wanted to get them to orient to their new home.

Well, I've uploaded a video I made with my camera onto YouTube....it's perfectly in focus on my home computer and not great at all here, but FWIW, here is a video of the bees in orientation flying.

One way to do that is to put distracting unusual things at the hive entrance such as sticks and leaves. You don't block the entrance, but you do throw a few things on the front porch. After a day or two the bees will all be re-oriented and they will move the sticks and debris off the porch as a housecleaning chore.

This was the angriest hive of the three last night when we moved the bees, so before I removed the screen wire from the entrance, I gathered some sticks and grass to use on the entry-way.

Jacketed and gloved (these were angry bees) I gingerly pulled out the screen wire blocking their entrance. I was glad I had already gathered the debris. I quickly set it on the entry as bees poured out into the 45 degree air.

Reassuringly, I almost immediately saw the bees begin to orient, flying out and up and observing their new location. (It was too cold for most bees to fly, but they were doing it anyway.) A few bees head-bumped my veil and a few landed on my shoulders and arms, but for the most part they gathered at the entrance and tried to regroup.

It's interesting that they are gathering on that one side of the entry. Maybe there is less debris on that part of the entry and maybe the queen will be working mainly on that side of the hive. I'll open the hive next weekend to see what's what. I plan to give them new boxes in case there is any disease, wax moth eggs, etc. in the old neglected boxes, and set them up to think of moving to north Georgia (another move, I hate to tell them) in a couple of weeks.

Preview of coming attractions: Next Saturday at 8 AM, I will be picking up a nuc for Blue Heron from Jennifer Berry at her apiary in Good Hope, Georgia.
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Friday, March 26, 2010

The Second Hive Move (This one goes to my house)

Julia very generously offered me one of the hives. I plan (if I can get it established and get some help to move it) to take this hive to Rabun County to the community garden (see earlier post).

We smoked these bees. We had a brand new totally worthless staple gun (back to Ace with me tomorrow) and tried our best to use an office stapler to attach hardware cloth to the entry way. The first time was a wash - didn't work and the bees were angry. Imagine not being disturbed in four years, when suddenly in two weeks your hive has been disrupted and now moved!

We smoked the hive like crazy to get the bees to go inside and to calm down. I've never in five years used this much smoke on a hive.

In the end we decided to jam the hardware cloth into the entrance rather than try to staple it ineffectively.

Here's the end result. It seemed pretty effective after a lot of effort. Everyone on this expedition except Julia took at least one sting. For Julia's son Noah, this was his first sting ever. He said, "I need boots!" but didn't complain about the pain.

All the hives were loaded into the truck along with the extra equipment.  Then they were driven to their destinations.  One came to my house.  Another to Julia's.  The third hive with only a few bees in it went to another Julia's house.  That Julia has a very weak hive and is great need of bees.

Now the hive sits in my backyard awaiting yet another move in a couple of weeks!..
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Moving hives at dusk

A couple of weeks ago, Julia and I went to her friend's house to learn the story of the hives that had been pretty much untouched for four years. We found two good hives and one questionable one. We cleaned things up a bit and left these hives to regroup until we could move them. Moving happened this evening.

Mistake number one: We strapped these boxes together before we blocked the entrance. This brought the bees out in force to see what was disturbing their previously rarely disturbed box.

Julia's husband and friend put on the strap, ratcheted it tight, and we left it for a bit so the bees could calm down a little.

Then Julia's husband and her sister's friend, suited up and all prepared, carried the hive to the back of Ron (the friend's) truck.

The beehive had had a rotten bottom board which we replaced on our earlier visit.  Without the strong wood of the bottom board we would not have been able to staple the #8 hardware cloth to block the entrance.

This was the first hive we loaded onto Ron's truck for delivery to Julia's backyard.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Swarming - the Reproduction of the Hive

Swarm season is about to be upon us here in Atlanta.  I've been reading about swarms and swarm action in the hive in the Winston book.  Here are some interesting facts about swarming:

Environmental cues that contribute to swarm preparation in the hive:
  •  Time of year (spring build-up, usually)
  •   Length of days (longer)
  •   Availability of nectar (the new hive formed by the swarm has to be able to provision itself)
  •   Warm weather (what cluster of bees wants to hang from a branch in the snow?)
Inside the hive the cues that contribute to swarm preparation are:
  • Congestion in the brood nest
  • Good buildup of population in the hive
  • Lots of young bees (70% of worker bees in the swarm are under 10 days old)
  • Reduced distribution of queen pheromone (which influences the workers to build queen cells)
 Queen cups are built as a sort of insurance policy so that they could be quickly filled with an egg and royal jelly should the factors for swarming begin to increase.  Previous to swarming the queen lays 20 or more eggs in queen cups - this ensures that the hive will have a queen when the old queen leaves with the swarm.  Colonies seal 15 - 25 queen cells before swarming!

Usually the swarm takes place on the day of or the day after sealing the first queen cell.

Note:  in traditional beekeeping practices, the beekeeper "cuts" queen cells.  The teaching is that cutting the queen cells keeps the hive from swarming.  Let's think about this.

The hive is going to swarm when the first queen cell is capped.  The bees themselves sometimes destroy queen cells to delay swarming.  They do this during bad weather or when the nectar flow has stopped so that the swarm won't leave in less than optimal conditions.

Since it works for the bees, beekeepers often try to prevent swarming in the same way, but we are not privy to hive decision making.  The beekeeper opens the hive and says, "Oh, dear, I must cut out those queen cells."  And with one decision, the hive may be rendered queenless because the old queen has left/is leaving with the swarm.

Hmmmmm.  I don't think I will be cutting queen cells. 

Another possibility upon finding swarm cells in the hive is to take a frame with queen cells on it and use it to make a split a la Michael Bush.  Maybe this is the way I'll choose to go when I find swarm queen cells in my hives this year.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Beekeeping at Rabun County Community Garden

I've been invited to bring bees to the new Rabun County community garden. The garden is located just behind the Rabun County Civic Center where the Georgia Beekeepers Association meeting was held in the fall of 2009. As you can see in the first picture, the ground has been turned over and the plots denoted with posts.

In the far corner, away from everything, you can see where I've drawn a red bee box. This is where the hive will be located. The garden is on an old school ground behind a soccer field. The location is at the edge of a creek.

The 4-H members in Rabun County built a garden shed from start to finish. They cut a tree on my friends, Mary and Robin's, land and cut the boards and then built the building. Isn't 4-H amazing! These kids built a beautiful shed with two sky-lights in the roof.

The beehive will be sitting beside a creek as a water source. I plan to bring bees up, probably the weekend after Easter, to start a hive here. One thing I'll have to order is an electric fence - there are many honey-hungry bears in Rabun County!

Here's a view that shows how protected the hive will be. At it's back are trees and shrubs lining the creek. on the left side of the picture is a ditch. Nobody will be close to this hive. We plan to put up the electric fence as well as signs about respecting the bees' space.

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What is a Follower Board?

My top bar hive includes two follower boards. My understanding of the follower board is that it is used to demarcate the beginning and end of the hive. (Note that my top bar hive doesn't have a bottom yet.)

Here is the first follower board that will be located at the end of the hive.

In the picture below you can see a number of top bars with the follower board showing at the end of the hive.

When I first install a swarm in this hive, the bees won't need to occupy more than about eight to ten bars. If I left the entire 48 inches open, they would have too much space to defend and would have lots of room to make a mess with burr comb. Instead I'll use the other follower board to end the hive, as you can see in the picture below.

Over time, I'll continue to move this outer follower board as I add top bars to the hive. Conceivably the hive could fully occupy the length of the hive I am providing for them.

I lack three things to make this hive operational now. I need to put on the hive bottom (Monday morning's task since I don't go to work until noon tomorrow); I need to cut the plastic you can see curving behind the hive to make the top of the hive; I need to catch a swarm.
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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Working on the Top Bar Hive

In the last week, I've done a lot of work on the top bar hive. I shortened the follower boards (they were about an inch too long). I set the hive up on newspapers in my carport and painted it green. I was going to use yellow, but my son-in-law who is a Georgia fan did not want a hive that looked like Ga Tech in his backyard!

I used paint that was a reject for my dining room and I think the hive looks perfectly lovely! I still need to staple the screened bottom on and will do that next week.

Inside at odd moments while on the phone I have managed to glue the "woodies" into the slots on the top bars. These will serve as starter strips for the bees when they begin to draw wax. I found these "woodies" at Michaels. They are smaller than popsicle sticks and fit into the slot from the circular saw better than the popsicle sticks.

So now all I need is a swarm and the top bar hive will be in business! 

I just found out about a resource:  www.findabeekeeper.com where people can search for someone to collect swarms from their property.  I listed myself there.  Maybe between being on Cindy Bee's swarm list for Metro and being listed on Bud's site, I might get a call and fill this hive!
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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cindy Bee Speaks on How to Collect a Swarm

Tonight at the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers' meeting, Cindy Bee, Master Beekeeper who has been working with bees since she was a child, presented a program on how to catch swarms.

First she addressed the reason that bees swarm. She suggested that we think of the hive as an entity and that when a swarm happens, it is the hive reproducing itself. In other words, the swarm is the hive's "baby." Bees swarm in springtime because the arrival of pollen stimulates the queen to lay her eggs. The hive begins to build up the numbers of bees and gets overcrowded.

The workers, not the queen, make the decision to swarm. First they make a replacement queen by choosing several eggs and creating queen cells (feeding the new larvae only royal jelly). Then they make the old queen run round and round the hive to slim her down. Finally they run her out the front door. When she flies away, anywhere from 20 - 80% of the bees in the hive follow her. This event = a swarm.

Meanwhile back at the original hive, the queen cell hatches and the new queen emerges. That queen kills any queens still inside their queen cells and begins the process of getting ready for her mating flight. Swarming delays and impacts honey production because the hive is diminished in numbers and the queen has a while before she is mated and laying so there is a disruption in the hive build-up.

The swarm that left the hive hangs wherever the queen landed while the workers fly out to possible sites for new hives. It is during this hanging time that a beekeeper is likely to get a swarm call. Cindy encouraged us to go ASAP to the site where the swarm has landed because at any point they may make a decision and leave for a chosen home.

She gave us a list of what to take on a swarm call. The list includes:

Bee veil
Plant clippers
Bee box or some kind of box to put the bees in
Scoops (Cindy suggested using a half gallon plastic milk carton with a handle that has had the top cut off to make a scoop)
A white sheet
Water (for you to drink)
Smoker and something to fuel and use to light it
A piece or two of old, dark comb (smells good to the bee)
Spray bottle with 1:1 sugar water
Duct tape (there are a million uses, aren't there?)
A queen cage
Ratchet strap (Cindy straps the hive box together for transport)
Foam or Screen wire to cover the box entrance
Lemon Scented pledge (or swarm lure)
Bee vac and extension cord (if you own a bee vac)

For the last couple of years about this time in the spring I keep swarm collection stuff in my car. I have a nuc box, a white sheet, a ladder, a bee brush, and most of Cindy's other suggestions.

She suggested that if you are collecting the swarm in a nuc box or a hive box that you should make a hive top out of a wooden frame and screen wire so that you can transport the bees well ventilated. I think I'll make one for my nuc box. I did just order ventilated hive tops for my eight frame equipment but I believe they have an entrance as a feature so wouldn't really work.

Last year and the year before when I went on swarm calls, I didn't take a hive box to collect the bees in, but rather took a cardboard box. She showed a picture of a cardboard box just the right size to hold frames. She had cut a tiny square entrance at the bottom of the box and had glued in a piece of wood to hang the frames from. Boy, that would be an easy way to transport and lighter than the hive box. In other years, I've just dumped the bees into a cardboard box, closed the top and taken them home to dump them in a hive box.

She also encouraged us to ask the caller who is requesting swarm help several questions. Has the swarm landed? How high up are they? How big is the swarm? (I find it helps to ask is it bigger than a basketball? the size of your fist? the size of a watermelon?) How long has it been there? Is it on your property? Has it been sprayed with anything - including just plain water? Also exchange cell phone numbers so if the swarm flies off while you are in transit, the caller can get back in touch with you or so that you can call them if you are having trouble finding their location.

It's about the be swarm season in Atlanta and I really want a swarm for my top bar hive, so I filled out the swarm list form and I hope she calls me at least once this season!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Rescuing Abandoned Hives: Another Beekeeping Adventure with Julia

Julia has a friend who started keeping bees four or five years ago. The friend had four hives. Almost as soon as she started on this hobby, a crisis occurred - her house burned in a really bad fire. So the bees have lived in her backyard for four years with nobody taking care of them.

The friend invited Julia (my partner at Blue Heron) to come and salvage these hives. Julia in turn invited me, dangling the possibility that if there were live bees we might each get a hive out of it. We decided that if we did get hives, we would probably put them at Blue Heron or at the new Little Nancy Creek Park where I have asked that we be the beekeepers.

The first hive was dead and empty of everything. All of the wax had been eaten out by wax moths. New wax had been built in the hives but it was abandoned. There were wax moth cocoons under the inner cover and the hive was dead. Probably the original bees had died and a swarm moved in (making the new wax) and then either absconded or died as well.

The second hive was limping along. We couldn't decide if the bees in the hive were remnants or robbers, but there was honey in the hive with cappings intact, so we decided not robbers. Perhaps the queen had died or was not doing well, although we saw one shallow frame with a small area (about 8" wide) of capped brood.

The third hive had a ventilated hive cover that was totally glued down with propolis and pollen. That hive had a deep and a shallow with a queen excluder between the two boxes. Can you imagine how crowded that hive has been? We saw brood and bees and it looked good.

The fourth hive, while the woodenware was in the worst shape, had the best bees. We even saw the queen, who was lovely and long. A huge tree or tree limb lay right beside the hive. Maybe the tree fell on the hive and that explains the broken bottom board.

We tried to call Cindy Bee to find out how to handle all of this but she was not available. We found out from her later that we probably should have really been careful to look for foulbrood and to change gloves between the hives as well as hive tools. We didn't - so if we go back and find AFB signs in the second hive, we mostly likely spread the spores to the healthier hives.

I did come home and put all the hive tools we used in the dishwasher and also washed the frame grip and frame rack....and threw away the nitrile gloves I wore.

On a positive note, it didn't smell foul and although we didn't do the rope test, I didn't see sunken cappings (AFB), nor did I see scale in the cells (sign of EFB). When we go back, we'll do the rope test on the capped brood to see, but I think these hives are crowded but healthy.

Aristaeus2 - A Good Beginning for Spring Bees

This hive started from a swarm I collected several years ago. It has always been a strong hive and has a fierce independence about it. I wasn't sure how well they were doing when I opened the hive today for the first time and saw all these dead SHBs on the tops of the bars. We have had a cold, cold end of February and I imagine they couldn't live through the weather.

This is the first year of my five beekeeping years that I am still seeing live SHBs in the hives. Usually they all die off during the winter and then reappear at the end of June. But they are alive in both of my hives - not a lot - the bees are managing them - but they are there.

When I lifted the top box off of the stack, I found opened brood in burr comb between the boxes. I don't get why they did this. I felt bad killing all the pupae.

The brood pattern which was on about five frames looked about like the photo below. I could worry about the empty cells but I believe the queen started laying and was fooled by the weather. We generally are full into the warmth of spring by now and we had below freezing temperatures and snow just last Tuesday. So I think the brood didn't make it in the cold and was cleaned out by the workers.

Generally the hive seemed about three weeks behind this time last year (as did Mellona) and the brood area was just getting started.

Then in the second box (there was nothing in the bottom box) I found Her Majesty! I've circled her in yellow below. I know the picture isn't well focused but I thought you'd like to see her. Next time I'll keep the camera on a tripod and maybe the focus will improve.

Most of the bees looked healthy, but the bee in the lower left is definitely a victim of Deformed Wing Virus. I've circled her as well so that you can see the wings (even out of focus, the evidence is obvious).

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Mellona as 2010 Bee Season Begins

I've seen a chipmunk under Mellona over the last several days. Today when I went out to open the hive for the first time in 2010, the entrance reducer had been pushed away. Maybe the bees did it in a Paul Bunyan effort, but I'll bet it was the chipmunk!

When I opened the hive, the baggie feeder of sugar syrup was still almost full. I put it on the hive 11 days ago. This says to me that they are not desperate for food, although I have not examined the boxes for provisions yet this year.

The hive looked small from opening the inner cover. The bees were concentrated on one side of the box. I assumed that probably meant the queen was in that area of the hive, so I expected to find brood either in the top or middle box on these side frames (2, 3, 4, 5).

In the past two winters, this hive has never moved out of the bottom box so I also was prepared to find activity and brood down there. However the bottom deep box that I have wanted to replace with a medium for two years was in fact full of empty-celled frames....not even any pollen stored there. I removed the box and will add a medium to this hive probably next week.

The top box had good honey stores still left after this hard, long winter, but I barely harvested anything from my hives last year.

On the outer frames I found never-used comb - I don't think it's this year's comb but the end of their comb-building from last year. If it were this year's comb, it probably wouldn't already be dirty, but with all the pollen they have been carrying in, perhaps it is from this year.

So Mellona is now an all-medium box hive! There were about 3 frames with capped brood on both sides. The brood area was small - about the size of a flattened grapefruit....but at least it was there. I saw some uncapped brood. The sun wasn't out, so I didn't see eggs although I tried and I didn't find Her Majesty - just evidence that she had been there.
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