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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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Friday, April 30, 2010

Crossing my Top Bar Fingers

Valerie called when she got home from work today and said, "Mom, are you sitting down?"   My heart sank as I thought she was about to tell me that the bees were not in the hive.  Instead she said they were flying in and out and seemed to be living there.

When your house is on the market, the real estate agent is often telling the seller what he/she needs to do to make the property more appealing.  Maybe what I did yesterday made the top bar into more appealing real estate, knock on wood.

1.  I closed up the bottom board
2.  I gave them comb tied onto the top bars  (My friend Julia who has also built a top bar hive has hung some of her top bars in her Langstroth hive box to get the bees to draw some comb on it.....this seems like the best solution).
3.  I reduced the entrance by closing off the side entrance and using a queen excluder over the top bars at the end of the hive where the bees were located.

If they stay, I want to make one other improvement - to use bungee cords to hold the top on rather than bricks.

Cross your fingers with me - maybe the bees are here to stay.

Let's Consider the Package of Bees

When a beekeeper wants to get started with bees, there are five ways to get bees:  a nuc, a package, a swarm, an established hive, a cut-out from a building.  Most go with the first or second.  I've only bought nucs up until this, my fifth year.  This year I bought two packages.

Let's consider the package.  A package of bees is in a sense an imitation swarm.  However, the bees in a package are not necessarily sisters - usually they are shaken from a number of hives to get the pounds needed in the package. A pound of bees, FYI, contains about 3500 bees.  So a two pound package has about 7000 bees in it.  Also in the package is a queen who has not yet met her hive.  She is contained in a queen cage.  All of these unacquainted bees are dumped in the hive with the queen remaining in her cage until they eat through the candy and release her in three or four days.

If you have ever shaken bees off of a frame, you know that there are always a number of bees who cling to the frame and won't get shaken off.  When harvesting I have to use the bee brush to get these girls to leave the frame.  The clingers are usually younger bees.  The younger bees in the hive are the ones who make the wax from the glands on their thorax.

A swarm, on the other hand, represents the reproduction of the hive.  When a swarm leaves the hive, the bees comprising the swarm are engorged with honey for the journey.  In a swarm about 70% of the bees are 10 days old or younger, ready and developmentally at the stage to make wax.  The queen is known to all - for she is, in the first swarm out of a hive, their mother.  The swarm is staged for success because, after all, success of the swarm equals successful reproduction of the hive.

I'm finding that it is quite difficult to learn how to successfully pull off installing a top bar hive.  And I'm also now worrying about the package installed in Rabun County on foundationless frames in a Langstroth box.

Since the girls in a package are possibly past the developmental stage of making wax, is the hive doomed from the beginning if you are using foundationless frames?

I don't think I am going to look favorably at the idea of purchasing packages again.

I like the nuc because it is a mini-hive, already started.  And while you can make mistakes with the nuc (such as enthusiastically putting too many boxes on before the bees have built out their first box, as I did), the chances of success are greater.  They are more likely to swarm like our recently installed nucs at Blue Heron, but they don't usually abscond.

I love to get a swarm and although my friend gave me the swarm that I hived in the top bar hive a while back, I didn't catch it.  I would like to get one this year just for the satisfaction of starting a hive that wants to get up and running fast as it is developmentally driven to do.

But I'm not anxious to install another package.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bad Luck, Bad Judgment, Bad Beginning for Top Bar Hive

It's Thursday and four days since I installed the package in the top bar hive. Before work this morning I went to my daughter's house to retrieve the queen cage and make sure that she had been released.

This whole top bar hive thing makes me nervous. I don't know if it's because the swarm that I installed about a month ago absconded the very next day. I don't know if it's because it's not at my own house. I don't know if it's because I don't know what in the world I am doing. Whatever it is, I make bad decisions and don't do a good job with this hive in general.

Since the first install, we took the legs off of the hive and lowered it onto cinder blocks to make the screened bottom less a source of open light coming into the hive. I provided these bees with two quart jars of sugar syrup in Boardman feeders inside the hive. I put old comb on the floor of the hive.

We had really strong winds here on Monday night. When I arrived, the top of the hive, despite being weighed down with three bricks, had been blown off of the hive.

I looked down into the hive and immediately saw a problem. It looked as though the bees had incorporated the queen cage into the comb. Being nervous, I proceeded not to think clearly. So I pulled the queen cage out, and

in the process pulled the new comb the bees had built out with it.

I should have (if I had been using good judgment) lifted the top bar, turned it over and used my pocket knife to cut the queen cage out. Instead the comb fell into the bottom of the hive where I could see another piece of new comb that probably had dislodged when the wind blew off the top.

I checked and the queen had been released. I had some rubber bands and tried to rubber band the comb onto the top bars but it didn't work. I put all the comb in the bottom of the hive and went back to work.

At work I kept thinking about the mess. I had a 30 minute break so I went to Cooks Warehouse down the street from my office and bought kitchen twine. I figured it was 100% cotton and would be organic in the hive. I could cut lengths and tie the comb onto the top bars. I resolved to go to Valerie's at 4:30 when I was done for the day and repair the mess.

When I got to Valerie's house, once again, deja vu, there were NO BEES in the hive. I was so disheartened. I looked around and saw a puddle of bees on the ground about 15 feet from the hive. With bees swirling around over the puddle, it looked like a swarm on the ground.

I guess after I broke the only comb they had made, the queen said, "What kind of a place is this?" and abandoned the hive, but couldn't go far so she landed on the ground.

Since this is swarm season, I carry all my "catch a swarm supplies" in the car. I had a cardboard box with a telescoping top, I had duct taped #8 hardware cloth over the hand hold on one end and stuffed a pink bandana into the other hand hold. I had a white sheet and a plastic milk jug with the top cut off to use as a scoop. The box had two large pieces of old comb that had leaked honey into the bottom of the box. And in my hive tool bag, I had my bee brush and some swarm lure.

I decided to proceed slowly and think about whether or not to try to return these bees to the top bar hive. I began tying the old comb onto the top bars with the kitchen twine. I called my bee buddy, Julia. She introduced the thought that maybe this was a whole different swarm and not my bees at all! But I think these are Don's bees and just left the unsatisfactory living situation.

So I tied the old comb onto about six different top bars. I sorted through the top bars - all of them have glued in popsicle sticks for starters but about a dozen have bees wax dripped on the popsicle sticks. I found each of these and moved them to the bee end of the top bar hive.

Valerie had a board leaning against her fence that was the length of the top bar hive, so I slid it under the hive, blocking the light through the SBB.  I had to readjust a little to account for the space this caused between the hive and the cinder blocks but I had a falling apart Langstroth frame so I pulled it apart and used the bottom and end bars as shims to level the hive.

I put two milk jug scoops of bees into the box (on the sheet so I could see the bees not in the box).  I must have gotten the queen because the bees filed into the box in a stream after that.  I kept taking pictures because it is always so amazing to see the procession.

They all gathered in a clump around the queen, I assume.  When all but about 10 swirling bees were in the box, I put on the top and carried it to the top bar hive a few feet away.

Note, there are no taxes in the box!  You can see the pink bandana at the handhold and you can see the strings on the top bars where I tied in the comb.

I opened the box and dumped in the bees.  I so want them to stay this time.

Julia reminded me that Internet comments on my last blog post about the failed swarm installation suggested that the beekeeper should put a queen excluder over the entrance to discourage the queen from leaving, but in all the stuff I did have with me, I had no queen excluder.  I closed the cork entry on the side to reduce the entrance possibilities (or for these bees, the exit possibilities). Then I closed up the hive and drove home in the horrible Atlanta 40 minutes-to-my-house traffic.

Once I got home I couldn't stand it.  I put the queen excluder in my car, a couple of bricks, and my favorite dog to keep me company and drove back to Valerie's for the third time today to do the last thing I thought I should do.

I laid the queen excluder over the entry.  Actually these are small cell bees, raised on natural cell size and the queen may not be defeated by this queen excluder, but I'll leave it on for a week.  It does serve to reduce the entrance.  However there is still this hole on either side of the end of the box (see the picture below):

In the picture below, you can see the fence board that now runs the length of the hive, blocking the light and mostly closing up the screened bottom.

I put the top back on weighed down this time with lots of bricks and crossed my fingers.  Hannah (my dog) and I went back to my own house, and I will hope for the best.
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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Nectar Flow has Begun - The Tulip Poplar is in Bloom!

With the bloom of the tulip poplar, the nectar flow begins in Georgia. My neighborhood is full of tulip poplar trees. I have several in my yard. This lovely branch is in front of one of my neighbor's houses, dipping down and showing the large and lovely bloom. The bees must think they are in heaven, diving into the nectar in these blooms.

In another sign of spring, the house finch that has nested in a corner of my carport has hatched her babies and they are about ready to leave the nest. Here are two of the babies waiting to learn to fly. I didn't get a great picture because I was scared to stay too long or get too close. To keep them happy, I haven't turned on my carport light all spring long and have turned off my security light that is right on the other side of the wall at the back of their nest.

Last year chickadees occupied this nest. This year there are these house finches.

And every night a barred owl calls out "Who cooks for you?" into the night outside my window in the trees.

Spring is in full force in Atlanta!
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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Talk on Preparing Honey and Wax for Competition

I was invited to the Southeast Organic Beekeepers Conference in February.  I actually taught three workshops:  one on preparing honey and wax for competition, one on harvesting honey in my simple crush and strain way, and one on making lip balm and lotion.

Brendhan, the head of the conference, taped the talk I gave on preparing honey and wax for competition.

It's here, if you'd like to see and hear it.

Install Number Two at my Daughter's House in Atlanta

This patient package has waited in the basement of my mountain house overnight after a drive in the car for an hour or so. Then today they went back in the car, waited while I installed the hive in Rabun County, and then drove two hours home to Atlanta, waited in the car while I had lunch.....before driving to Valerie's house about 30 minutes away.

I moved the top bars - first to make room for the queen cage (took out one bar) and second to make room for the bees (took out about three bars). I brought two jars of sugar syrup and Boardman feeders to put in the hive - don't think I remembered to take pictures.

On the edge of the hive were these bees still left from the hive who was installed (swarm) and then absconded the next day. I sprayed them with sugar water.

The package still looks good after all of its travel. You can see in the picture below that there are very few dead bees on the bottom of the package. I also sprayed these girls with sugar syrup and they quieted down immediately.

I tacked the queen cage to the third bar in and replaced the top bar above it.

I then dumped the bees from the package into the top bar hive.

I had the camera on a tripod and didn't get a great picture.

I replaced all the top bars, pulled the cork out of the entry on the side of the hive, placed the package in front of the hive entry, returned the bricks to the top of the hive and crossed my fingers.  The bees seemed to be orienting as I left.

I've installed nucs and swarms, but these were my first package installs.  It was so easy.  I know it's a bunch of bees who aren't sisters and who aren't related to the queen, but they seemed happy, nonetheless.  We'll see what Paul Harvey used to call "The Rest of the Story."  I hope it's a good one.

Don's bees seemed quite wonderful, the installs went well, and the bees seemed glad to be in the spaces both at Rabun County and in East Atlanta.  I have a lot of hope for both of these hives.

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Two Packages, Two Installs - Let's hope for SUCCESS!

I had the privilege to stop in Lula, Georgia at Don Kuchenmeister's lovely beeyard to pick up two packages on Saturday. It was raining cats and dogs. Don had a ton of bees in his basement. I asked him to pick my two packages. Here he is holding the two packages of bees.

I've had a couple of telephone conversations with Don. He is a gem of a beekeeper. He colors outside the lines. He has lovely bees. These bees were so calm and easy to install. I want to go up and spend some time with Don. He only lives about an hour from my house and he's right on the way to my mountain house, so you can rest assured that I will be visiting him again.

BTW, he had PINK nuc boxes in his beeyard. His beehives were in a pine grove and he was about to go to work the hives in the RAIN. He's quite the renegade beekeeper, and I'd love to learn more from him.

I drove to Rabun County where I was supposed to install the bees and then give a talk to the community gardeners. However, the weather (part of the system that spawned the tornado in Yazoo City, MS) was in Georgia all day yesterday. I gave my talk to the gardeners (Meet the Bee, I called it!), but I couldn't install the bees until this morning.

Today I set up the hive box and took out two frames in preparation for the installation. I've, BTW, never installed a package in my beekeeping career. So I was a little nervous.

First I sprayed the bees (who spent the night in the basement of my mountain house) with sugar syrup. They immediately calmed down.

I wasn't sure if the queen cage was secured so I put a tack in the tape that secured it.  I've seen videos on the Internet with the beekeeper dropping the queen cage into the bottom of the package as he/she lifts out the syrup can.

Then I pried up the thin piece of wood serving as a top.

I pulled up the can of syrup which was still quite full, and then pulled up the queen cage. I took the cork out of the candy end of the queen cage.

This wasn't the easiest thing I have ever done - it was hard to pry up the staples.  But I succeeded.  Then I found that the queen cage was also stapled.  I have an Italian hive tool which has a curved end, perfect for prying up the staple in the tape holding the queen cage.

I took the queen cage and hung it into the hive body by tacking the tape to the top of a frame.  Then I turned the package upside down and dumped the bees in.  I had to slant the package back and forth a little to get all of them to leave it and go down into the hive.

Then I returned the two frames to the box and closed it up.   I  put a shim around the top to contain a baggie feeder of sugar syrup to help the bees get started.

I hope this will help these bees since I can't come back until Sunday, May 1.  

I left the hive with the almost empty package container in front of it to leave any errant bees a chance to get with their queen.  I put a brick on top to secure the hive top.  And then I drove back to Atlanta until next Sunday when I come back to check up on them.

They are behind and back of the community garden and I hope they don't draw too much attention.  See them in the back in the center of the picture.  I hope they are of great benefit to the gardeners!

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Trying to Resurrect Blue Heron

As you may remember from an earlier post, Julia and I are quite distressed about our new hives at Blue Heron. The first two that we installed on March 30 each appear to have no queen. There is no new brood and the only brood we see in both hives is drone brood which could have been laid right before we installed the hives and would just now be emerging.

Julia looks hard at the frame below. We were looking again for brood or young larvae of any age or queen cells. It makes no biological sense for the hive to have split without leaving resources for those left behind to make a queen.

We did find some queen cups on the bottoms of two different frames. However, these had not been capped and had no larvae in them.

The bees are building lovely white new wax on our foundationless frames.

Julia added a frame of brood and eggs from one of her home hives to give these girls a chance to make a queen and survive as a hive.

 We then moved to my hive and I opened it to find pretty much the same thing.

Brood had emerged, showing where the football pattern had been but no new brood or eggs were to be found.

I only had a small medium frame of brood and eggs at home, so I put it into the deep box and crossed my fingers.
Now we'll leave these hives alone for about three weeks to let them make a queen cell and get the queen out and about.  We'll check the top box to add supers, but will not go in unless there's an extremely good reason.  This allows the bees to make a new queen, get her hatched and mated before we come knocking again.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Desperate for Reassurance, the Hive Inspection at Home is a Success

I only had about 30 minutes after the hive inspection at Blue Heron before I had to go to my daughter's house for dinner. I ran through the house to the deck, lit my smoker, and checked my hives for hope in my beekeeping life.  I was upset about Blue Heron and needed to have some kind of good news.

I opened Mellona first, my over-wintered successful hive. Inside I found several frames of brood and eggs. I only stayed in there long enough to see and then closed up the hive.  If you'll click on the picture below, you can see eggs and small larvae in the cells on the left. RELIEF! This hive appears to have enough to share, so I could take a frame of brood and eggs from them for the Blue Heron hive.

Here's a close-up of the larvae in the cells in this hive.

Below is another view where you can see eggs in many cells.

Then I opened up the swarm hive to find that they were building this beautiful wax in the brood box. They also have completely filled a box of honey. I plan to give them another box tomorrow. I didn't have time to look extensively, but they have brood and eggs as well.

Finally I opened Aristaeus2, the hive that I gave a frame of brood and eggs to on April 5.  It's the 18th and they have made a beautiful queen cell from that frame.   The queen should emerge in the next day or two.  She'll spend a few days getting used to being alive and then she'll fly off to mate, hopefully successfully.

So tomorrow I'll put a new honey super on the swarm hive and I'll give another frame of brood and eggs from Mellona to Aristaeus2 just for insurance.  Maybe if things work out at home, I can get them to work out at Blue Heron as well.

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