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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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Monday, January 31, 2011

Dramatic Demise (or Was it A Dismissal?) of a Bee

On our 60 degree Saturday just past, I visited Blue Heron and was so pleased to see bees flying excitedly in and out of my hive. I saw at least four bees with packed yellow pollen baskets which means there's already a little red maple blooming. It generally starts blooming at the end of January in Atlanta.  The biggest bloom comes later in February, but clearly some is blooming now.  The pollen might also come from mahonia which blooms throughout the winter in Georgia.

At Blue Heron, my hive is alive and seems to be doing well.  Julia's hive appears dead, although on Saturday I saw bees going in and out in the hesitant way that robber bees approach hives and only saw about six bees entering the hive.

At Kevin's hive (he is the main gardener at Blue Heron and is the person who allowed us to keep bees there) I saw bees flying in and out.  At first I thought they were sparse and probably robbers, but then the drama began and I felt sure they are alive in the hive.

During the winter on warmish flying days, bees leave the hive to relieve themselves.  Generally they are not robbing, but with no foraging going on, the bees still are guarding the hive against robbing.  I watched Kevin's hive for a while and saw this interesting drama.

At first I thought the bees were convincing their sister that her earthly life was over and that she, taking up resources of the hive, needed to leave the hive (being placed on the proverbial bee ice floe as it were).  As I watched I began to think that this drama was about a marauding bee who chanced to enter the wrong hive, perhaps in search of food, perhaps in confusion since there's been a lot of non-flying days.

In the photo below the bees have surrounded this bee and are working on convincing her, for whatever reason, to leave.


Now they have circled around her, preventing her from choice of movement.

In the photo below, I believe they are biting her with their mandibles. She is on her side, looking rather helpless.

Now they are moving her toward the edge of the landing.

They shove her to the very edge of the landing.

And in this last moment, they send her into the weeds and leaves below.

Truly I thought she was dead, but she hesitated in the leaves for a moment and then took wing.  So I decided I was witness to a thwarted robbery attempt or at least winter intrusion into Kevin's beehive.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Science and Technology Fair at Montgomery Elementary

On Thursday night, I ran a booth at the fair about bees - the kids loved trying on the bee hat when they stopped by my demonstration. I had honey for them to taste and a board showing how the bees raise their young in a frame. This is my second year as a part of this science fair. I think the kids all had a good time.
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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Blue Heron Bees are ALIVE and FLYING!

My Blue Heron bees are flying in the 50 degree weather.  I am so relieved.  It's not time to assume they will be alive in March, however.  We have strange months in January, February and March.  Some of the coldest weather I can remember in my 30 years in Atlanta has happened in March.  So we're not out of the woods, but wow, it feels good to see them flying.

The winter bee at this time of year is an old lady.  Winter bees in our climate may live as long as 150 days.  So these bees have been alive much longer than the 6 week life of their summer sisters.  They do look happy to be outdoors again, don't they!

The winter bee has a very different life experience than her summer sisters.  She has never felt the joy of following a waggle dance and actually finding the nectar source;  she has never felt the pollen particles all over her hairy body parts;  she has never felt the satisfaction of sucking the nectar from the heart of a flower and delivering it home to the hive.

Instead she has spent her days clenching her thoracic muscles in an effort to keep the temperature constant in the hive.  According to Winston, the physiology of the winter bee is different from the summer bee.  The winter bee has well-developed hypopharyngeal glands and fat bodies from consuming pollen in the fall.  This feature helps them live through the winter.

Nonetheless, it's interesting to me that her life experience is so different from that of her sisters.

It's so relaxing to see all the bees coming and going in the relief of the warmer temperatures.  I'll take food to this hive over the weekend.
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Monday, January 24, 2011

Top Bar Topsy is Alive and Well - at least for now

It's 55 in Atlanta today (according to my car) and Valerie called with delight to report that the bees are flying out of Topsy, the top bar hive at her house. When warm temperatures arrive, the bees come out to relieve themselves and to carry out the waste from the queen. If it stays warm (which is not the case predicted), they will do some housecleaning, but temperatures are predicted to fall to the upper 30s tonight.

Yesterday I stopped by Valerie and Jeff's house to check on the bees. Topsy was quiet, still and appeared dead - felt cold, could hear nothing - but I still crossed my fingers that our so far so cold winter had not resulted in their starvation.

Today they are alive. Bee killing weather is possible for the next couple of months - our bees in Atlanta often starve with suddenly cold weather in February or March.

I'm hoping for a very sunny Groundhog Day!

Oops, upon re-thinking this, I realize that what I want is a very cloudy Groundhog Day so that he doesn't see his shadow so that spring will be on its way.
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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Goody Bags for the Metro Short Course

Taking the Metro Short Course brings a wealth of bee knowledge. The presenters are people like Jennifer Berry (who writes a monthly article for Bee Culture and manages the apiary at UGA), Keith Fielder (Georgia Master Beekeeper and field agent), Cindy Bee, Curtis Gentry (author of the Peace Corps guide to building top bar hives) and many others.

In addition, the participants go home with a goody bag full of bee "goodies." Some of what is in the bag is in the photo above. I'm in charge of the Goody Bags this year - it's my third time doing this job.

The goodies include more than is in the picture. In the picture you see the bag, a jar of honey, a tube of lip balm, a CD with PDFs of the presentations of each of the presenters, a copy of First Lessons in Beekeeping by Keith Delaplane, a copy of ABJ, various bee catalogs, pamphlets from the National Honey Board. In addition, we'll add to this tomorrow a copy of Bee Culture, a list of regional bee suppliers who sell nucs and packages, a resource list of Internet connections, a handmade candle, and a couple of other things.

These items have occupied one side of my sun porch all the fall. I will be so glad to give them away on Saturday!

I was also in charge of burning the CDs and making the @$%^#$^ labels for them. That is a job I never want to do again. It's difficult to gather all the PDFs of the presentations and I found making the labels beyond challenging.

 The program that came with the labels taught how to calibrate the printer, which I did so that it printed perfectly on the model. Then on the actual label, the printer often pulled the paper in incorrectly and I threw away almost as many labels as I actually used. Never again.

NOTE:  If you're counting, this is my 800th post on this blog!
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Friday, January 14, 2011

Bee Plans for 2011

This blog is to share my bee experiences with all of you but also acts as a journal for me.  So for the record, here are my plans for this year:

I've ordered two nucs from Jennifer Berry and will be installing both of those at Blue Heron or one at Blue Heron (assuming my hive there survives the winter) and one somewhere else.  They should be available the beginning of April.

I've ordered two nucs from Jerry Wallace (he's only selling locally in Atlanta) to provide bees for Stonehurst Inn on Piedmont in Atlanta where I will be the beekeeper.  I haven't written about this here, but I will in the months to come.  They are an environmentally friendly B&B in midtown Atlanta and want to serve their guests their own honey.  They have a perfect spot for two hives.  I'm going to be the beekeeper this year and their innkeeper is taking the short course at Metro Atlanta on the 22nd so she will be good at it and may take over in time.  For now, I'm the beekeeper and the bees and the hives belong to them.  Jerry didn't give me a pick up date, but I was his first order so I assume I'll get them end of March or beginning of April.

I've ordered 10 three pound packages from Don in Lula, GA (Dixie Bee Supply).  His will be available for pickup in mid-March.  His packages I've written about here before.  His bees are small cell and are not treated in any way.  I got his bees for my top bar hive and for my Rabun County hive.  I hope they make it through the winter.

Meanwhile these 10 packages are going to be part of a new enterprise.  My son-in-law Jeff (whose house is where Topsy lives) and his best friend Greg and I are going into the honey business, starting with ten hives of bees.  Jeff just got his MBA and has thought up a good business plan for this as well as had the idea.  Greg has the land - a farm south of Atlanta with a peach orchard on the farm next door.  And me, well, they like it that I am a Master Beekeeper and are relying on me for knowledge about the bees (!).

We plan to get these bees started, make splits in July so that we go into winter with 20 hives, and grow our business.  Hopefully in 2012, we'll have honey to sell.

Both of the guys are new to beekeeping and will be taking the Metro Short Course this next Saturday at the Botanical Garden.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Nest Homeostasis in the Bee Hive

What do beekeepers do when they are snowbound? Read about the bees.....

So I'm reading Winston about what goes on in the beehive when it's 29 degrees and icy outside.  He writes about colony homeostasis which is the maintenance of the constant temperature in the hive on pages 116 - 122.

Actually the bees aren't maintaining the hive temperature but rather they are maintaining the temperature of the cluster.  Keeping the condition stable helps with brood rearing, winter survival, early brood rearing in the very early spring, and the preflight warming of foragers, according to Winston.

Clusters start to form at around 18 degrees C (64 degrees F).  The cluster is working as a unit to maintain temperature homeostasis when the outside temperature is around 14 degrees (57.2 degrees F).

So what happens in the cluster to maintain temperature?  The bees on the outside of the cluster form a relatively motionless shell to keep the heat within the cluster stable.  In the interior of the cluster in the inner core the workers can move about.

When it gets really cold (-5 degrees C or 23 degrees F), the cluster doesn't get smaller, but the workers in the center generate heat by contracting their thoracic muscles (the ones used for flight).  They can contract these muscles without moving their wings.

This takes energy, so it is helpful for the bees for the temperatures outside to rise.  A warmer exterior temperature allows workers to move to honey reserves to replenish their stores.  A hive can starve to death in a hive full of honey if the temperatures are too cold for the workers to move to the stored honey resources.

If there's no brood (as is often true in the coldest part of the winter), the cluster allows a wider range of temperature fluctuation of almost 20 degrees in either direction, but as the queen starts laying (after the winter solstice), the fluctuation isn't possible.  Mostly the interior cluster temperatures are maintained at 20 degrees C or 68 degrees F.

One of the interesting parts of hive mentality is that the hive responds as a unit to the cold temperature but in the process, each individual bee takes on her role, whether she is in the shell of the cluster (which is often several bees thick) or in the center, contracting her flight muscles.

So I hope for all of us that our bees are doing their jobs and having enough honey in reserve to maintain the energy level they need to keep iced over hives in Atlanta and elsewhere warm enough in the cluster to survive the winter.

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Snow and Bees

On Sunday night Atlanta looked more like Minnesota. The snow fell steadily all night. The beehives on my deck are unoccupied, but look at them in the snow!

Hannah, my dog, wanted to check them out around 9:30 PM.

I visited Blue Heron on Sunday morning and put a heavy log on top of each of the three hives there to point out to the "marauder" who probably, I hate to say it, was human, that these tops aren't to be removed. I even put a log on Julia's hive that has no bees in it to emphasize my point.

The first thing Hannah did in the snow was to dig up her favorite toy from under the layers of ice and snow. Neither Henry (the black pom) nor Hannah really understood what to do with this mess.

Here's how the hives looked when the snow stopped.

Today (Tuesday) we are iced over. The snow is hard ice and the street in front of my house has a 2 inch layer of ice before you reach the pavement. Atlanta is relatively paralyzed. The buses aren't even running today.

So what's happening in the beehive when there are bees in the hive during a harsh winter?  They are trying to maintain homeostasis.....see next post.
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Sunday, January 02, 2011

Happy New Bee Year to Everyone!

Thanks to all of you who visit and read this blog.  I can't get over how often people come here and from so many parts of the country and the world.

During 2010, there were almost 500,000 visits to this blog.  People from 175 different countries have visited this blog.  Truly I am honored that you all stop by.

The ten most popular posts in the last year (many of these posts were posted in earlier blog years, but are still the most highly visited in 2010) were:

1.  Obviously the first page of the blog is the most visited.  Here is where you find my most recent post, so subscribers are most interested in this page.  In addition most people who aren't directed to a specific page, begin with the first page.

2.  The second most visited page is my video on how to use a simple solar wax melter .  This page was visited almost 6000 times.  It's a demonstration of how to melt wax easily and simply - a low tech approach to using the sun as a resource for melting wax.

3.  Next in popularity is the video on how to harvest honey by crush and strain.  That was seen almost 4000 times.  I had such fun making that video.  I do things slightly differently now - I use all three filters stacked.  And since that video was made, my friend Gina and I were professionally filmed harvesting honey for use in our bee club's short course.

4.  About 3000 people read my short post on what you need to get started in beekeeping.  I actually wrote that post specifically to help my brother get started but it has turned out to be useful to others as well.  It was fun trying to imagine the process of starting all over again.  I had another opportunity to use the list when my son-in-law decided to take up beekeeping as well.

5.  Next in popularity is my post on making my own small hive beetle trap.  I found the plan in a beekeeping magazine and took off from there.  Actually of all the SHB traps I use, I like this one the best.  It's not so small that it's hard to fill (like AJ's or the beetle jail); it doesn't close off the SBB as the slide in trays do, and it kills the beetle better than smashing it with a hive tool!

6,  Number six on the list is how to build a hive box.  There's a trend here - many people appear to be looking at my "how to" type pages.

7.  Next in line is how to (another how to!) do a basic hive inspection.  I worked hard on this post because it was used as a slide show in our short course and will be again this year in a couple of weeks.

8.  How to build a frame came in line in eighth position.  I do this much differently now since I bought a frame jig from Walter T. Kelley - talk about a bee life-changing event, acquiring this simple gadget is a time saver.

9.  Ninth on the list is a post I did about splitting a hive and about the Freeman beetle trap.  I don't know if people come more to read about doing a split or about the SHB trap.  The comments are more about the beetle trap, so that is probably what brings people to this post.  As far down on the list as this post is, it was still visited by almost 2000 people.

10.  Tenth, but not least, is the post I did on newbie questions at the beginning of beekeeping.  It is essentially a link post to other topics I've written about, so I imagine people sometimes start there and then visit all over the blog!  About 1600 people came to this page.

Well, in thinking about another calendar year of posting, I thought you might be interested in what draws other people to this blog.

Happy New Year and Good Beekeeping to everyone.

Mysterious Marauder at the Blue Heron!

I stopped by the Blue Heron this afternoon. The temperatures are in the low 50s and I thought I might see some bees. I really miss my bees at home and wish I had a hive to watch everyday here as I used to.

When I arrived, Julia's hive was opened up with the hive top feeder exposed to the sky. The inner cover, the ventilated inner cover and the hive top were neatly stacked on the ground behind the hive. The hive top covered everything and was top side up, unlike we would place it during an inspection.

Wonder what kind of creature would do this? I imagine it might have been a raccoon whose paws/hands are small enough to push from under the hive top. But if a raccoon opened the hive, why didn't he stay around to drink the syrup?

Sadly the open sugar syrup swimming pool was filled with drowned bees. Julia had called me from the Blue Heron on Friday when the temperatures were in the 60s to say her hive top had been moved slightly off. I guess the marauder returned after she left to finish the job.

Julia and I decided I should dump the feeder on the ground to stop further drownings and put the hive back together. In removing the feeder, I slid the second box (I had no hive tool with me) and found to my sadness that the hive contains no bees. I called Julia again and we thought leaving the hive empty on its site might serve to lure a swarm in the spring.

See all the sad, dead bees floating in the syrup? These aren't my usual quality of pictures because I took them with my phone.

My hive had bees flying out of it. I tried to catch a picture when there were three or four on the landing, but I only caught this one (in ten photo opps!) Oh, well. There are bees in my hive. Let's hope they continue to live through the rest of the winter.

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