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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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Monday, August 30, 2010

Possible Crisis Intervention

What was left of Mellona has been surviving but failing to thrive.  I've seen so much evidence of hive beetle problems that I have been going after the hive beetle using the Sonny-Mel trap and AJ's but haven't opened the hive further for fear of releasing more beetles.

When I opened the hive to check on the traps today, I could see wax moth detritus and was quite alarmed so I looked into the hive.  The bees were living on eight frames - four in the bottom box and four above in the next box.  The rest of the hive was filled with wax moth, slimed honey and a lizard.

I decided the only possible hope for this hive was to give them a new home.  I took the hive completely apart.  Here's what the slatted rack looked like - gross, gross, gross.  I invited the lizard (I think it was a skink - see photo about 5 down on this link) with a nudge out of the hive with my hive tool.

Here are two of the frames covered with wax moth web and mess.

I luckily found the queen on the first wax moth covered frame.  I coaxed her onto a drawn frame that I had waiting for her and put her into the white box on the bottom.  I then added or shook bees into the hive.   I put a few frames from the old hive in that showed no wax moth occupancy and weren't slimed.

I shook bees into the hive from each frame.  As you would expect, many bees did not want to leave their box, so I stood this one on its side to encourage them.

So the bees and the queen are now in the bottom box with drawn comb and two frames of honey.  I'll probably take a frame of brood from the Blue Heron hive, if there's one available in the medium box on that hive and add it to this hive.  The top box is an empty box serving as a surround for the Sonny-Mel trap and the baggie of sugar syrup that I put on this hive to feed the bees that are there.  I do have a shim that I could use in place of the empty hive and that would give the bees less room to have to protect. I'll change that when I get home from work today.

My experience with the slimed honey frames is that the bees do want the honey.  I didn't want to put slimed frames into the clean new hive situation, so I put the slimed honey frames into the empty hive in the yellow boxes.  This doesn't leave it exposed to the beeyard, but it can get robbed out by the Mellona bees.  Beekeepers say the bees won't eat the slimed honey and I think that's true inside their own hive box, but out in my carport or in this yellow hive box, I guarantee they'll transfer every bit of it to their home hive.

My deepest regret this year is switching positions to equalize the beeyard.  I now have essentially lost two hives because I did that; I harvested no honey from Atlanta this year because I did that; and I have felt like a terrible beekeeper because I didn't honor the old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."  Never will I do a switch to equalize hives again.
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Sunday, August 29, 2010

New box on the nuc

My little "tree" hive is growing. I added another medium nuc box to this hive. I replenished their food and hope the queen is doing well. I haven't really looked into the box - just saw eggs on one frame and closed it up. But I have my fingeres crossed.

At this time of year, this is the only way to use a Boardman feeder. Inside the hive like this, it doesn't encourage robbing. Attached to the front of the hive, it does.

Hannah doesn't seem intimidated by these bees!

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Kitchen Supplies and Beekeeping

In addition to its many other troubles - SHB, a queen that isn't laying, a hive that isn't thriving, Mellona has ants. I see a steady stream of them marching up the sides of the hive and into tiny spaces between boxes.

Cinnamon is supposed to be a deterrent so I sprinkled it on the stone base of the hive where the ants appear to gain access.

I don't see ants on the other side of the hive but for preventive medicine, I sprinkled the cinnamon there too.

I'm struck by all the kitchen supplies I am using for the bees. I realize now that the reason I bought the enormous cinnamon container at Costco several years ago must have been unconsciously in preparation for this moment. I also frequently purchase huge bags of sugar both at the grocery and at Costco.

There is no nectar in Atlanta and none of my hives are in good shape for winter. I know Sam Comfort would say that I should see which hive survives without my feeding any of them, but I can't stand it this year. I have often not fed going into winter, but this year, it's sugar syrup all the way.

And the other kitchen supply not picture here is powdered sugar that I start using about this time of year to help the bees go into winter with few varroa mites.

Monday, August 23, 2010

And on the deck, another inspection

This not-exactly-queenless hive is not doing well, but I don't understand what is going on. They have a queen who isn't laying. They've had a small hive beetle problem but that appears much more under control. They aren't consuming the sugar syrup I've had on there for two weeks.

What's going on?

The Sonny-Mel trap is accumulating dead beetles by the day. I saw no beetles under the cover and only two on the under side of the inner cover. There are lots of dead ones in the trap below. I also had an AJ's on this hive and it was full. I refreshed the lure in the Sonny-Mel trap and put more oil in the AJs. I also added a second AJ's beetle trap.

I didn't go deep into this box. I pulled up two frames of honey from the bottom box, so they do have some honey. Maybe that's why they aren't laying or consuming.

The nuc hive is going great guns. They had emptied the two Boardman's feeders. I replenished their supplies.

In the hive there is laying going on and you can see at least five eggs in this picture and two tiny c-shaped larvae. The eggs are at 2 and 3 o'clock. The queen is eager.

I keep thinking about Don K in Lula who points proudly to his nuc hive with five boxes on it and says, "How much closer to a tree can you get?" His nuc hive is very productive. I am going to add another box to this nuc hive and have a tree hive on my deck myself!
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Big Bee Day Part Three: Topsy Top Bar at Valerie's House

And what's not to love about bee inspections in the Atlanta heat? Wanting even more fun, I went to Valerie's and opened the hive at the end of the day on Sunday. The top bar hive is still confined to the 10 bars they have used from the beginning.

In the middle of the hive, I had tied in some wax to inspire the bees. They aren't using it and it is no longer tied up well - this was the beginning of my inspection. I really went in because I have been feeding them the too-moist honey I harvested a while back. This bar was over the Boardman feed I have resting on two pieces of wood on the hive bottom.

The queen is still laying and the girls are making beautiful comb. There are bees festooning at the bottom of this comb.

Some of their comb is really perfect.

Isn't this pretty - Valerie kept taking pictures!

They have taken all the honey I have given them.  There are no combs of just stored honey in this hive which occupies about 10 bars of the top bar hive.

I left them with two Boardman feeders - one with the last of the moisture rich honey and the other with sugar syrup.  I didn't want to put sugar syrup in until I was sure there would be no honey to harvest from this hive this year.

But aren't their combs lovely?  And I worked them in just a jacket, open toed sandals and no gloves.  These are the calmest bees....from Don at Dixie Bee Supply.  I'm thinking since the hive is so small that I'll move the follower board to the end of the ten bars they are using as winter approaches to give them less space.  There are always bees all over the interior of the top bar box, but the life of the hive is in the bars that they have drawn out and used.

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Big Bee Day Part Two: The Blue Heron

Sunday morning after inspecting the Rabun County hive, I drove back to Atlanta for an inspection at the Blue Heron at 2 PM. Noah, Julia's son, led the inspection and did a really great job. We had a small group of beekeepers for this inspection, which made it easy to move around the hives and to be a part of it.

Noah is about to open the first hive and is explaining about the smoker and our foundationless frames.

He takes the ventilated hive cover off of the first hive.

There were a few hive beetles on the inner cover and we smashed them with our hive tools. This hive had been chock full of hive beetles, but the numbers have significantly diminished since we put the nematodes all around the hives at Blue Heron.

There's no nectar so the bees have no resources for building wax. But to be sure they wouldn't fill the empty space with wax when Julia and I took two frames out of this hive this past Monday for my nuc, we filled the space with newspaper. We would not have left the hive like this, but I didn't bring shallow frames with me when we took the frames. I only had mediums.

Noah is showing the participants the brood and eggs in this frame.

When we moved to my hive, I wanted to try using hive drapes as I had in Rabun County that morning.

In this hive, even though it faces east, the bees are putting the brood, the honey, etc at the back of the hive.  This probably means that the sun hits the back of the hive first in the morning.  Bees like to let the natural forces heat the hive so they don't have to work so hard.  The queen in this hive is laying well despite the lack of nectar resources available.

Finally we moved the the third hive at Blue Heron where Noah decided to try the hive drapes as he worked on it.  All of the Blue Heron hives are light and have very little stored honey.  We are worried about them and put sugar syrup or honey on my hive and the hive below.  The first hive we looked at has stored honey so we didn't put food on it.

This is the first Blue Heron inspection when we didn't see the queen.  These hives all feel a little fragile to us because they are so light on stores and we didn't want to disturb them as much as we would have needed to to see the queen.  So we looked but we didn't find Her Majesty in any hive.

At the end of the inspection Noah and Julia shared with us some delicious creamed honey they had made after the three of us took Keith Fielder's workshop at Young Harris.
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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Big Bee Day - Part One Rabun County

I drove up to Rabun County in the pouring rain yesterday, planning to visit the bees and inspect the hive. Last time I was there on August 8, they were angry and had a field day with me (no smoker, only a jacket).

Although it poured all day yesterday, today the sun broke out and I broke out my Golden Bee suit - no stings for me (it's almost impossible to get stung in the Golden Bee suit). Fully prepared with smoker, Golden Bee suit, and curiosity, I opened the hive at the community garden this morning.

The hive is full of bees. Box one is mostly brood. Box two is mostly honey. Box three is comb and little else. There were no hive beetles, the bees looked healthy (no DWV, no sign of varroa mites), and there are still a few drones in the hive.

At EAS Billy Davis really advocated using hive drapes, so I brought flour sack towels that I buy from Walmart to cover the boxes. These towels are all cotton, light, and lint free. Using them I'm not likely to leave any reminder of the towel behind in the hive and the bees won't get caught in the material as they might in terry cloth. This accomplishes two things: it disturbs the bees less because the box is not suddenly exposed to the bright light of the sun and it keeps the hive from advertising its honey stores to any potential marauding bees from other hives.

I am dying to see what their honey tastes like since I've only gotten honey from my backyard bees in Atlanta. These bees can get nectar from sourwood and from kudzu neither of which is available to my Atlanta bees. So I took two frames of honey from box two and replaced them with drawn wax from a box in Atlanta.

This hive had great stores of pollen as you can see in the picture below.

Also the queen has been hard at work as you can see in the brood below. I think the picture below is upside down, but the brood is still visible to your in the cells either way! The larvae look healthy as do the bees in this hive where I have never seen the queen.

The two frames I took were frames of drawn wax from last year that I had put in the hive. I brought it home to crush and strain. This is the first time I have tried crushing wax that isn't brand new. It wasn't easy. Actually there were two problems. I couldn't find my pestles and remembered that someone had suggested on this blog that I use a potato masher.

The two problems were that the comb was old and the potato masher really didn't work well. The comb got all smashed into the holes in the potato masher and it was completely gunky in minutes. I ended up smashing the comb with the insert for my Cuisinart! It was the shape of the pestle and solid on the bottom which was the problem with the potato masher (it wasn't).

One of the frames I brought back had popsicle sticks as starter strips rather than wax.  The cut popsicle stick showed up in the crushed wax and at first I had no idea why wood was in the honey.  Then I realized what it was!

I let the crushed honey drain all afternoon and the wax at the end of the day looked like this:

Because it was old wax, the crushed wax looks dark and stiff, unlike new wax that I usually see.

Then I tasted the honey - WOW - it tastes a little like grape which means that there is definitely some kudzu in the honey.  It's only a small bit - maybe six pounds if I'm lucky - but I am thrilled to get it.
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Friday, August 20, 2010

Good News Nuc

There's good news and there's good news! The little nuc started on Monday from Julia's two frames of brood and my two of honey and one of empty cells (poverty stricken resources in the beeyard) has claimed their space. They should have had a frame of pollen, but I didn't have one to put in there.  They are working hard to move the pine needles that I put at their door to help them remember where they live.

And when I opened the nuc, they had released the queen and cleaned out the two dead workers' bodies. The food I left them was all used up. I didn't go into the box. If the queen is getting started, more power to her and I'll leave her in peace for a bit.

So I added new syrup to the Boardman's and this photo looks like I left the queen cage in there - oops, I think I did. Well, I'll get it on the next inspection.

Generally the bees in the nuc looked happy, content and were going about their bee-business.

In the hive I thought was queenless, I had reduced the hive to three boxes on Monday. I put in a baggie feeder and two beetle traps. One was an AJs and the other was the Sonny-Mel beetle trap I made a couple of years ago.

The Sonny-Mel trap is made from a Rubbermaid/Tupperware type sandwich container, with 3/8" holes opened in the sides with a soldering iron. You put lure in an upturned bottle cap and put it in the sandwich box. Then you pour in mineral oil, put the top on the sandwich container, now beetle trap, and place it on the top bars. The beetles are attracted to the lure and die in the oil.

The disadvantages of the S-M trap is that you have to surround it with a shim or an empty hive box and that it's a little bit of a pain to make. The advantages of it are that it sits on the top bars so it is where the beetles are usually found in the hive; it doesn't change the ventilation of the hive like a tray under the SBB does; it's a cheap solution that works; it's easy to fill (unlike any other SHB trap; it's reusable, and it's not awkward to put it onto the hive (like most SHB traps).  And after all, it's quite gratifying to see the dead beetles;

This is a three day beetle kill and there are the most beetles under the glare on the right side.  That stuff in the bottle cap is fermented banana peel with cider vinegar and sugar. I refreshed the lure, but didn't empty the dead beetles.

The only curious/bad news of the day is that the bees in the not-really-queenless hive did not touch the full baggie of sugar syrup I put in there on Monday.....There are lots of bees, a queen, and some honey that has been invaded by the hive beetle.  Seems like they would have dived into the sugar syrup.  I don't know what is wrong with this hive.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bee Mad, Bee Mean

On my way home from EAS on the 7th, I stopped in Rabun County and spent the night so that I could check on my bees there.  I didn't take my smoker with me on the EAS trip - it makes the car smell like a campout and I was traveling for a week.  I thought the Rabun bees are so gentle - I usually work them without smoke, so no worries.

Well, I went to the Rabun hive on Saturday afternoon.  They were orienting and it had been almost three weeks since I had been there.  Those bees were mad.  They didn't take kindly to my visit and stung me about three times.  So I packed it up and left until Sunday morning.

Sunday morning I returned, again with no smoker which was still back in Atlanta on my deck.  I opened the hive around 10 AM.  I always move slowly and gently around bees, but this time it didn't help.  Those bees were loaded for bear.  I immediately got stung at least 10 times just for lifting up the top cover.

I must have smelled like banana from the stings after that because I dropped my bee gear and moved rather quickly toward the car - bees stinging me the while.  One got inside my veil and tattooed my neck beautifully.  Another flew into my hiking boot and went to town with her stinger.  When I got back to the cabin and undressed I counted 12 stings, not to mention the 20 or so stingers in my jacket that didn't get me.

I wonder if they are hungry or just hot and bored.  I couldn't open the hive that weekend and simply stopped back by and picked up my gear on my way back to Atlanta.  I'm going up this Saturday for a smoker accompanied inspection and we'll see what gives.

I was relieved, if they are hungry, to notice the kudzu blooming in the trees above the hive.  Kudzu has a nectar that the bees like and it results in grape flavored honey.  See the purple blossoms in the center of the picture?

And that wasn't my only recent bee-mad experience.

Remember how my only hive left at home was queenless? Remember how I drove to Lula to buy a queen from Don K at Dixie Bee Supply? I brought her home and put her in the box (see below) and left for EAS.

When I got home from EAS, I hit the ground running. I teach at Emory in the summers and I had 63 grad students about to take my final exam, so I looked out at the bees but didn't open the hive. They looked happy.  I had left the robber screen on.  Bees were moving in and out.  Life in the hive looked fine from my sun porch and I had Emory students on my mind.

Two weeks after installation, I opened the hive to get the queen cage out.  She was not released.  OK, I thought, this must mean that there is still a queen in the hive.  There are lots of bees in that hive, no brood, very little stores, lots of pollen.  I examined the frames in the bottom box and finally, there she was.  The old queen was indeed in this hive that I had requeened!


Today Julia generously gave me a couple of frames from one of her Blue Heron hives and I added to it bees from my Blue Heron hive in a nuc box.

All of the hives at Blue Heron were light with few stores and little brood.  I fed my BH hive with a baggie of sugar syrup.

The weather in Atlanta has been horrendously hot, with no rainfall, and no nectar.  We took a frame of honey from one of Julia's Blue Heron hives to move it to the other one.

I picked up the honey frame to hand it to Julia, and was immediately attacked by the bees.  I'm sure they were thinking, "Hey, that's the only honey any of us have seen in a coon's age and you can't have it."  So six more stings later through my blue jeans and jacket, Julia installed the honey frame in the BP hive at Blue Heron (named for the oil spill).

I brought the nuc home ( I won't tell you the bad parts of the story - about how I didn't block the entrance of the nuc and there were bees all over my car - or how I remembered that it might be good to spray these bees from two different hives with sugar syrup, so I sprayed them in my car, coating the back of my Subaru with sugar syrup - or how in a huge hurry to get the uncontained bees onto my deck, I didn't take the time to unchain the gate and instead carried the nuc through the house to the deck, dripping bees onto the floor as I went).

I set the nuc up on my deck and put an empty nuc box on top of it and fed them.  I put the queen cage on the top bars beside the food.

Cross your fingers - after this fiasco of a bee day, that's certainly what I am doing.

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Wyatt Mangum on Top Bar Beekeeping

Wyatt Mangum is a professor at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia. He also has written a monthly column for American Bee Journal for years and years without ever missing a month on honey bee biology. He kept bees as a boy and then started over in 1986. He keeps all of his bees in top bar hives. His book on top bar beekeeping is in the final stages. I want to buy it the minute it is available.  He spoke at EAS in Boone at the beginning of this month.

He likes top bar hives and builds them now according to his own standard although there is no industry standard. Here are a few of his hives below. The photo below shows one that he built by weaving sticks together with telephone wire to form the sloping sides of the hive!

Because he does keep to his own standard, then he can easily transfer combs from one hive to another since the slope angle is the same on every box. He uses his own template.

He starts with a 1 X 12. The dimensions for the end boards are 12" sides, 17.5" top and 9.25" bottom. The sides are 1 X 12. He uses untreated wood and he keeps his entrance holes standard as well. He drills six holes at the end of the hive with a hand drill. Because he moves these hives, he has a hand grip on each hive which is simply a top bar turned sideways and nailed to the end. The floor is a 10" board (which we know is actually about a 9.75" board). He puts a cleat at the front of the hive to fill in the space between the first top bar and the end of the hive.. He paints his hives with paint rollers rather than brushes.

His top bars are 1 3/8" wide. He cuts starter strips for his top bars that are the same width (1 3/8"). He waxes these in with a dipper of melted wax - he made the dipper by cutting down a plastic cup and melting it slightly to form a pouring spout. He attached a dowel for a handle.

Note: This man is very handy and inventive. He makes all of his own equipment in a small tool shed. He showed us the stacks and stacks of wooden end boards and sides as he worked on putting together some 200 hives over the winter.

His slides are his own and although I took pictures of many of them for my own learning, I am only going to share the one below. The top bars are upturned so that you can see the starter strip. This is a 3 foot hive with 22 top bars. Since beekeepers have been known to lose fingers ripping top bars, I asked him how he got them cut and he gets a sheltered workshop to do them for him.

Very, very generously after his talk at EAS, he stayed in the hall and spoke to a number of us for about another hour afterwards.

He uses roofing tin as his roof. He says that if you don't have a good enough roof the combs drop off of the top bars (which explains why my top bar hive has comb lying on the SBB at the bottom.) He also said that bees won't stay in a top bar hive unless you have some old comb that is drawn to help the bees want to stay in the box (which is what finally worked in mine).

He nails the roofing tin to 2X4s to allow ventilation in the hive.  I used that corrugated white plastic but it wasn't enough insulation to protect the hive from the intense Atlanta heat this summer.  I went to our big box stores in Atlanta and they don't carry roofing tin.  Maybe I can buy some in the mountains at the hardware store there.

The notch you can see on the edge of the roof is for anchoring the rope he uses to tie down the top.
He cuts the tin section so that it can have an overlap the length of his hand.  He demonstrated how he measures it with his hand when he puts the top back on the hive.

Then he begins the tying down process.  He uses the notch cut in each end of the tin roof to anchor the tie.

He is very efficient so he quickly throws the rope to the opposite side.  He has this down to a fine science.

He has a screw eye on the end of the hive through which to tie the top down.

The hive is now secured until the next time.  (Don't you love his hat and jumpsuit - he said nobody recognized him on his wedding day because he didn't have it on!)

He plugs his entrances with pieces of sponge rather than trying to find a cork that will fit - like I said he is quite inventive.

I learned so much from Wyatt Mangum at EAS.  He was the highlight of the conference for me.

As I was chatting with him, up came my buddy from the Southeastern Organic Beekeepers Conference where we both were presenters:  Sam Comfort - my other top bar hero.

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