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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, July 28, 2010

Absconding vs. Colony Collapse Disorder

I find myself thinking about Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day. Alexander is having such a bad time of it that he thinks throughout the book that he would like to move to Australia.

Although I imagine that Australian beekeepers have it pretty good - at least down there it's winter and if you are a beekeeper you are hoping your bees make it through the winter. Me, I'm struggling with my bees not making it through the summer.

So I came back from helping my brother in Natchez to find that Mellona was completely empty. The bees had absconded.

Beekeeping is an interesting challenge for me on so many levels. I have struggled all my life as an oldest child in my family, because I always feel like I have to get it right, make an A, follow the rules. Boy, beekeeping is really throwing a wrench into the works. I am forced as a beekeeper to face this "follow the rules and get it right" issue all the time.

So I switched hive positions, moving Mellona which was housed in three boxes - two 10 frame and one 8 frame - into the position of the Easter hive which had five ten frame boxes stacked. Mellona was then bursting out with bees at every possible opening, as the bees from the Easter hive returned to their old hive position.

But they hadn't used the frames in the top box so I didn't add a box. After all, the rule is to add a box when the box below is built out 80 %.

Also, I realized that they weren't solid with honey but didn't feed them because I thought they could manage with what is blooming now (although we are in a dearth). And I didn't want to feed sugar water before fall, if then, because it isn't natural.  And the rule is to feed the bees going into the fall, if you are going to feed them.  Not in the middle of the summer.

Well, pride goeth before a fall and all of that. Mellona absconded, leaving NOTHING behind. No bees, no brood, no honey, absolutely nothing.  A great lot of good it did for me to follow the rules so rigidly.

I sat down on my deck, smoker beside me, and cried. Why didn't I give them a box so they could spread out more? Why didn't I recognize that they needed food? Of course they've been gone for days and I have no clue where they went. There's no nectar anywhere in my neighborhood right now.

The pictures below show what they left - NOTHING.

Swarming:  A method of hive reproduction in which the queen and half of the bees in the hive leave to start a new hive, leaving behind the other half of the bees, queen cells, brood, honey, pollen
Absconding:  A desperate hive leaves with all the bees, the queen and everything else except the honeycomb. This happens when circumstances are not survivable in the hive as it is constituted.  The hive has no stores and no room.
Colony Collapse Disorder:  Adult bees are gone, but honey, pollen and some brood remain behind. The difference in absconding and CCD is that the honey, pollen and brood are left behind  Sometimes the queen and a handful of bees are left in the hive.  Opportunists (SHB and wax moths) seem slower to take over when CCD is the cause of the dead hive.
Robbing:  You can see dead bees and parts of bees on the tops of the frames and strewn all over the screened bottom board.  The edges of what had been capped honey are ripped, ragged and torn.  The hive may survive but the bees are disheartened and have no stores.

I remember last fall hearing a new beekeeper saying that she lost her first hive to colony collapse disorder. She didn't, I'm sure. I imagine she managed her hives as badly as I did this one and they absconded.

When bees leave at this time of year, that's what is going on. They have no stores and no hope because there's a dearth.  These bees were also bearding off of the hive in every single space - they didn't have enough room.  Then the bees leave because they have no hope of surviving in the hive as it is. They will probably die wherever they went, but they don't know anything else to do.

I am absolutely distressed.

See - completely empty comb. It hasn't been robbed out. You can tell because the edges of the comb are smooth - no torn and ripped wax. There just were no stores for these bees.  And not enough room.  Because the beekeeper was too rigid about following the rules.

The screened bottom board wasn't strewn with dead bodies (as it would be if the hive had been robbed out)  - just a little detrius from the hive.

I put the frames out on the deck to kill any wax moths who might feel inclined to take up residence.

 My dog Hannah is looking through the deck railing for the absconded hive.

And I am despondent.....it's a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Harvesting Honey with My brother Barry

I traveled to my hometown of Natchez, MS this weekend to help my brother Barry harvest his very first honey.  He was so excited.  He had asked me what he needed to do crush and strain and had bought everything I said down to the flexible cutting boards and a pestle!

Here he is harvesting his first honey crop (click on the slideshow to view it full screen):

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Mixed News from the Top Bar Hive

I had an early afternoon today at the office so I left and drove to Valerie's house to check out the top bar hive. The hive was full of bees, no small hive beetles at all in the hive and the bees looked healthy and enthusiastic. I didn't use smoke and could have worked without gloves - next time I will. These are very calm bees.

The mixed news is that the hive was full of bees, eggs, young brood and capped brood but no honey. It didn't look as if it had been robbed or anything - just that they had no stores. Valerie and Jeff's yard backs up to a huge mess of kudzu in their neighbor's back yard. The kudzu is about to burst into bloom and is a great nectar source. I decided to wait until next weekend to decide if I should feed them or not.

The hive occupied ten bars of the top bar hive. They had done a strange thing. They had built comb in the bottom of the hive - on top of the screened bottom. I thought maybe they had stored honey there, but the photo below of the comb lying in the bottom of the hive is full of empty cells. I did see lots of pollen.

Below is one of the prettier brood combs. These are small cell bees from Don K in Lula and you can see the smaller cells they build for brood in this photo.

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Bees in Rabun County Putting up Honey

This past weekend I went to Rabun County and checked on my hive there. The greenery had really grown up around it and I think the people who weed whack around the community garden don't want to disturb the bees. I had a clipper in my car and clipped the area in front of the hive entry before I left.

I used smoke on this hive just at tne entry because it was about to storm and I didn't want angry bees (as often happens when it rains).

I last opened this hive two weeks ago and they had barely begun building wax and filling it in the second box. Today every frame was drawn out in the second box and bees were festooning in the third. Last weekend was about the last weekend of the sourwood bloom so maybe they were trying to take advantage of the last of it.

Below is a frame of honey that the bees are beginning to cap from the second box.

I was pleased and put the hive back together, clipped the grass and weeds from in front of the entrance and left it until I return on August 7. This hive won't have honey I can harvest, but I plan to rob out one frame just to see what Rabun County honey tastes like! Maybe I can get some of those small hexagon bottles and give the gardeners each a taste of the honey.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mickey Anderson on Queen Grafting

Mickey Anderson has been keeping bees for years and years. He once worked as a queen grafter for Rossman Apiaries. He talked last week to the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers meeting about grafting queens and how to do it.

Here he is holding up the small copper wire instrument he actually uses to graft queens.  The instrument is long with a 90 degree bend at the very end.  That end is for scooping up the larva from the bottom of the cell.  The larva that is grafted needs to be less than 36 hours old for best results.

I tried to get a close up of the instrument, but my camera chose to focus on the people on the other side of the room.

Because this was too tiny to use for demonstration, all of us died laughing when Mickey pulled out a hoe and a c-shaped piece of drain piping to show us in large how the larva is grafted!

Here he is, hoe and piping in hand, to show us the way you lift the larva from the bottom of the cell.

In the picture below he is showing how the tip of the hoe has to go under the larva to lift it.  It can't be flipped over because it will smother since the spiracles will then be down in royal jelly.  

Here he slides the "instrument" under the "c-shaped larva."  to lift it up.

I thought this was one of the most entertaining demonstrations I have ever witnessed!

He went on to describe a method so complicated of moving hive boxes and putting the queen cells into frames and moving brood.  He called it the Doolittle method, but said, tongue in cheek, that it was really the Do-A-Lot Method of queen grafting.  Michael Bush talks about the Doolittle method which was invented really by Schirach.  It involves a bunch of moving frames from one hive box to another, restacking, turning - like the hive boxes are dancing in the process of raising queens.

I hope some others of you have a chance to hear Mickey give this talk.  What an enjoyable bee meeting!
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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Using a Refractometer

I bought this refractometer on EBay for around $50 a couple of years ago. If you buy one, be sure it is a refractometer designed to measure the amount of moisture in honey - there are many types of refractometers to measure liquids in a variety of ways. You don't want a refractometer for measuring motor oil if you are measuring honey!

Instruments that involve math-like operations or calibration just cow me and I have stared at this thing for as long as I have owned it.
I didn't know how to use it until I helped judge the honey contest with a certified Welsh honey judge in West Palm Beach at the Southeastern Organic Beekeepers Conference. Dr. Mikhail Kruglyakov taught me what to do. Thanks so much to him for his lesson.

So for any of you equally intimidated by the refractometer, here's a simple lesson in how to use it to measure the moisture content in your honey.

This is what the instrument looks like. The eyepiece is on the left end and the place for the honey is on the right.

You lift the plastic cover like so:

There's a pipette to use to place the droplet of honey on the refractometer, although I sometimes use a chop stick.

Then like in chemistry lab, you place the plastic top down on top of the droplet, flattening it on the viewing window.

I can't take a picture of the next step, which for me is first put on my glasses, then look through the eyepiece with the instrument held up toward the light. Then focus by twisting the dial near the eyepiece until you can read the chart. There you'll see the good or bad news.  The chart indicates the moisture level which you want to be at about 18.6%.

At first the reason that I thought I couldn't use the thing is that I didn't know I could focus it - so I would diligently put on my glasses, hold the loaded refractometer up to the light and see only a blur through the lens.

I thought something must be wrong - and it was - I hadn't focused the eyepiece!
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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Where doth the little busy bee?

With apologies to Isaac Watts, I do wonder where doth the little busy bee? At this time of year I am usually taking pictures of bees on echinecea, butterfly weed, sunflowers, abelia - all over the garden. This year I only see bumble bees. Where are the honey bees? I see them flying out of the hive all day long, but where is their end point? Not in my garden!

Just to be fair, here is Isaac Watts' poem in full:

How doth the little busy Bee
Improve each shining Hour,
And gather Honey all the day
From every opening Flower!

How skilfully she builds her Cell!
How neat she spreads the Wax!
And labours hard to store it well
With the sweet Food she makes.

In Works of Labour or of Skill
I would be busy too:
For Satan finds some Mischief still
For idle Hands to do.

In Books, or Work, or healthful Play
Let my first Years be past,
That I may give for every Day
Some good Account at last. [1715]

The echinacea below is in my own garden. No honey bees to be seen anywhere.

These sunflowers are in the neglected gardens at High Point School, near my house. Everything in the gardens planted by teachers with their classes during the school year is languishing for lack of water and attention. But the sunflowers are tall and lovely and doing great.
No honey bees are visiting them, however.

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Friday, July 09, 2010

Doing the Bees' Job for Them

When I first harvested the fully capped but too full of moisture honey, I posted on Beemaster and asked Cindy Bee by phone what I should do. Both places gave me the same advice - try to remove some of the moisture myself. So I put the honey for about a week on top of my dehumidifier. But the dehumidifier is in the basement and has to be emptied and started up again about three times a day.

At first the honey seemed to be thickening, but over the Fourth of July, I went to N Georgia and left the honey on top of the dehumidifier. I'm sure after the first day, the dehumidifier was full and so the honey sat in my humid basement for three days.

When I returned, the refractometer read even higher - a moisture reading of almost 22! Horrors!

 However, on my kitchen counter, the cappings were sitting in the filter part of the honey bucket, on top of the upturned top of the bucket where they had sat for the same amount of time. Honey had continued to filter out and was pooled around the edges of the top. I put a drop of that honey onto the refractometer and lo and behold, the moisture level was 18.2. So it is much drier in my den/kitchen than in my humid basement, even with the A/C left on 85 for all the days I was gone.

So I moved the honey upstairs to my den. Here it sits, under a constantly running ceiling fan and right beside the air conditioning outlet (see it close to the baseboard?). In one day the honey is below 20.2.

I did discover that I need to stir the honey about once a day. Otherwise the surface of the honey is less moist but the same amount of moisture remains in the lower levels of the bucket. I also couldn't stand the idea of uncovered honey so I put this cheesecloth over it and held it to the bucket with a rubber band.

At best I get honey that can be bottled. At worst I make mead or freeze this and feed it back to the bees in a baggie feeder in the fall.
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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

A Little of This, A Little of That, Not good focus at all!

So I'm a little out of focus and these pictures are a lot out of focus - I had the camera on the wrong setting and no tripod.....

First both of my hour interviews are playable online at Radio Sandy Springs - these were hour long talks about beekeeping in general for the Master Gardener Radio Hour. Here's the first one and here's the second one.

Today I was through early at work and came home to check on the bees. The first hive I opened was the Don nuc hive. I last looked in on June 15. At that time the queen was laying well and I was happy. I only lifted up one frame to see if there were eggs and since there were, I stopped the inspection then and there.

Maybe in lifting that one frame, I either killed or injured the queen who is now no longer there. There were no hive beetles in the hive and no eggs - just a little capped brood and two queen cells. Here's one and the one on the other side of the frame looked fabulous and ready to emerge. It was about 1/4 inch longer than this one.

I imagine emergence should happen in the next day or so, since this is July 7. It's actually too late for the queen to have been killed during my inspection. But how else could she have died?

To help this hive, I moved two frames of brood and eggs and all the bees that were on the frames from Mellona into this hive. That will increase the nurse bees available and up the numbers. The hive has one completely capped frame of honey and the dripping frames from the three frames I harvested for the bee movie.

This was also the first time I opened Mellona and the Easter hive since trading spaces. Mellona looked good and I saw the queen (below, out of focus). She was a lovely majestic bee, moving gracefully around the frame. I put her frame very, very gently back into the hive and took a couple of other frames to the Don nuc hive. It was important that I find her and not move her by accident.

See her at about 7:00 on the frame?

The Easter hive (the one from which the too-moisturized honey came) has found some nectar source.  They had built out comb in four or five of the frames in their top box and were storing something.  I usually have some honey stored in July - maybe from catalpa or sumac, but something is blooming.

This has been the oddest year.  I usually am madly taking pictures of bees on cucumber, echinacea, butterfly weed, butterfly bush, abelia, anise hyssop, etc.  I have not seen a honeybee on any of those plants.  The only nectar gathering bees I've seen are on the clover at the nearby school and that clover is burning dry now that we haven't had rain for a couple of weeks.

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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Rabun Bees Make Honey While the Sun Shines

An interesting discussion was held on Beemaster lately with the thread titled: "Why Don't My Bees Like the Right Side of the Hive?" Michael Bush and others replied that bees are very efficient in their use of heat. They build the brood nest with that in mind so that the brood can be heated by the sun's heat, eliminating some of the work of the bees to keep the brood warm.

My Rabun hive faces east, but apparently not east enough for the bees. Actually in the summer sun, the hive faces slightly southeast. Consequently the bees in the installed package started building comb and have stayed mostly on the eastern most side of the box. You can see in the picture below how the bees are congregated on one side of the box.

I was there a week ago and they had barely begun building comb in the second box. I had thought the comb was for sourwood honey and was disappointed, in a way, to find eggs in what I thought would be comb for honey storage. In the last week, with the sourwood flow in full swing, the bees have been building out this box like mad.

Below you see them festooning on on of the last two empty frames in that hive. The rest have honey stored and are being filled up with nectar.

Here's some newly built wax since my last visit.

The comb below was slightly cross-combed at the end. I gently loosened it from the next door frame - you can see the loosened comb on the left side of the photo - and rubber banded it into the frame in the right place.

You can see the rubber band in the picture below.  In pulling the comb back into place with the rubber band, you can see that some of the comb split.  The bees will easily make that repair and the frame will be much easier for me to work with the next time I visit.

I am so happy about how things are going with the Rabun Community Garden hive.  The bees are making honey.  The garden is lush, I'm sure in part due to the bees working on the pollination (great cucumbers, squash!).

One of the community gardeners was there and took a picture of me with my helpers for the day: my daughter Valerie, her husband Jeff, and his father Harrison.

Thanks to Valerie for these pictures of the hive, now doing great at the Rabun County Community Garden.
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Friday, July 02, 2010

Nematodes Arrive - Five Million of Them!

Today the nematodes that I ordered from the Southeastern Insectaries arrived.  They came in a "coldpack" by US Postal Service.  The package had 5 million nematodes in a plastic bag with gel.  They are too small to see.
I put them in my office refrigerator.  When next I went to our kitchen, I found a note on our bulletin board:
"Who put worms in our refrigerator?"

Julia, Noah and I got together at the end of the day to apply the nematodes.  Step one was to dissolve the nematodes/gel in a cup of water.  We did that, laughing the while, because we couldn't see the 5 million.  A friend suggested that we call Mr. Tedders at SI and tell him, "Thank you for the nematodes but our order was short by 50!"

It was like the Emperor's New Clothes.  We are stirring these invisible critters into five gallons of what looks like clear water.  The instructions said to stir them up a lot because they would clump at the bottom.  We, of course, couldn't see the clumps, but stirred like mad!

Here are our pictures.  We stirred the invisible nematodes into the water and took it to Blue Heron.  There we poured them on the ground around our three hives.  Noah went to the very nearby creek (remember the flood?) and filled the watering can with water to wet the ground down even more.

We then went to Julia's house and repeated the process.  I took the last third of the invisible nematodes to my house and poured them around the Don nuc and in the soil under my deck.

I hope they will have a beneficial effect and get rid of our small hive beetle.

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