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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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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Beyond Frustrated with my Top Bar Hive

I enjoy and admire Sam Comfort and am so pleased to have met and heard Wyatt Mangum speak, but neither of them addressed the problems I am having at Topsy. I don't know if it's how I constructed the hive, its location in Atlanta or what, but I hate inspecting it.

It's always one problem after another. After nearly destroying the hive to correct the cross comb problem, I visited it today to see if the queen were still alive and laying.

I opened Bar 11 and immediately found cross comb. GRRRRRR. I cut it out, it fell to the bottom of the hive and frustrated by the inability to come up with any way to repair what I would have rubber banded into a Langstroth hive's frame, I pushed it down to the unused part of the hive next to the follower board.

 Innocent bees peering up at me, the helpless beekeeper.

I then moved to bar 10 which looked OK, but when I tried to lift Bar 9 there was resistance and it broke off of the top bar, leaving a gaping opening and honey dripping.

Is the queen there and laying? I certainly don't have any idea because I wasn't willing to destroy any more comb to find out.

What is a top bar beekeeper to do in these instances?

My understanding of the top bar is that there is great advantage in only removing one bar at a time rather than lifting out a whole box. But the HUGE disadvantage of this system is that the beekeeper has no idea what is going on until damage has already happened.

I just closed the hive up, took off my veil and walked away.

I may leave it for the rest of the summer.

I hope they enjoy the honey they make. I certainly will not.

There is no way to harvest honey out of a top bar without killing a bunch of the bees and I'm not willing to do that. There's no way to monitor the hive because the top bars keep pulling off of the comb.

I wish there were some way to move this hive into a Langstroth box because this is beyond me.
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Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Vanishing of the Bees

Valerie, my daughter, and I went to see The Vanishing of the Bees tonight in its Atlanta area showing in Alpharetta.  I saw a number of beekeepers I knew there.  Notice of the movie was sent out on the MABA email list, so that's probably how most of us knew to come.

It was a good film, focused on the overall problems that the bee may herald as the canaries in the coal mine.  Michael Pollan spoke about voting with your fork, ie, buying local, organic produce.  Dave Hackenberg was as you might imagine, in the film as was Dennis vanEnglesdorp and Dee Lusby.  I even caught a glance of Keith Delaplane at a Congressional hearing on CCD.

People who are known and respected nationwide were featured like Marla Spivak and Maryann Frazier.

I didn't really learn anything new (except Michael Pollan's line about voting with your fork - great line!), but I was glad to vote for bees by showing up to see the film.

If it's in your area, it's worth going to see it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Swarm Catcher and My Worst Sting Ever

Today I went to my friend John's house to purchase his newest bee gadget, a swarm catcher.  It's quite a deal.  Here's John's picture of himself with the swarm catcher:

It's a plastic water jug on an extending handle that will extend up to 16 feet.  You put the jug under the swarm and scoop it up and dump it into a nuc box.

This device is made with an extending pole (the most expensive part of the gadget), an empty water cooler sized plastic bottle, 60 minute epoxy, and a paint handle to embed in the epoxy.  I can't wait to try it out (I'm getting too old for ladders!)

Here is a YouTube clip of how it works:

After purchasing this wonderful device, I asked to see John's beeyard. I haven't been there before. His hives are tall stacks, filled with honey. As we gazed at them in as friendly a way as two beekeepers can, a very UNFRIENDLY bee literally flew up my nose and stung me just below my nostril.

Made me think of Winnie the Pooh floating up in the air near a bee hive in a tree, who says to Christopher Robin:

"Christopher Robin!"  he said in a loud whisper,
"I think the bees suspect something!"
"What sort of thing?"
"I don't know, But something tells me that they're suspicious!"*

Now I've been a beekeeper for six years and have now been stung countless times. This was the most painful sting EVER. It was three hours ago and my nose still hurts almost as much as when it first was given to me by that unfriendly bee. I'm sure tomorrow I'll have a fat lip. I don't care about that, but wish the pain would go away.

I stand out in my own beeyards all the time with no protection and don't get stung. Guess John's bees were suspicious!

*from Winnie the Pooh, E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., New York, 1950, p. 13.

Blue Heron Inspection April 23 2011

Julia and I have conducted the second inspection at Blue Heron.  It happened on Saturday April 23.  We arrived to find that the city work trucks were occupying the space where we usually park so everyone at the inspection helped carry stuff from the BH parking lot to the community garden area.

We have three hives at the Blue Heron.  Julia has an active hive, installed from a package we picked up from Don in Lula, Georgia.  My hive over wintered and I split it on April 8.  At that time there was no queen in the hive - the hive appeared to have swarmed.  This is only 15 days after the split and each half of the split got a frame with several queen cells on it.

We didn't see signs of a laying queen in either side of the split - probably she is still in the mating phase.  We did see the opened queen cell in one hive and the bees were extremely calm in the other half of the split, so we thought the queen existed but wasn't working yet.

Julia took lots of pictures, so you can see what we did.  In the middle of looking through the second half of the split I dropped a hive tool that fell completely through the hive, through the slatted rack to the screened bottom board.  This upset the bees (duh???) and they were not happy after that.  I have worried ever since that the falling hive tool killed the queen.  Gosh, I hope not, but to be sure I'll take a frame of brood and eggs from a hive at home over to them in the next couple of days.

Here's the slide show:

Monday, April 25, 2011

Moving into a New House - Tower Place becomes Colony Square

Today I decided upon viewing another beard on Tower Place that circumstances had to change.  Tower Place had to move into a higher quality condo.  I began preparation for the move to Colony Square,

Colony Square is of course larger and (more importantly, cooler) than tiny Tower Place. (A small Atlanta joke).  Tower Place has a solid bottom board and offers little opportunity for ventilation.  So the move happened this morning.

First I prepared the hive. I took each box off and draped it to keep the bees peaceful. I opened the bottom box and moved the five frames to the deep I had prepared for them at Colony Square. There was good brood in the nuc - and I saw eggs and tiny c-shaped larvae.

In the top two boxes there was lots of honey and in box #2 of the three there were eggs and brood.

Since the 10 frames in the top two nuc boxes were pretty much used, I checkerboarded the honey frames with empty frames and set the hive up with two medium boxes atop the deep. It's more space than they currently need but we are in a nectar flow and I want them to keep working.

The goal of this move is to provide the hive with more ventilation.  You can see in the slides the screened bottom board topped with a slatted rack.  This gives the hive lots of room for air circulation and cuts down on the need to send bees outside to beard.

I'm having my sons-in-law save beer bottle caps for me to use to help this year with hive ventilation as well.  My friend/mentor in Virginia, Penny, has suggested using a bottle cap at each corner of the inner cover to lift the telescoping cover up just a little, providing more ventilation and avoiding the HUGE opening provided by proppng a stick in the back of the hive between the inner cover and the telescoping cover.

You can see the steps of the move in the slide show below. Also I opened the other hive, Lenox Pointe, and found beautiful eggs in that hive. It was doing well and I simply looked around a bit and then closed it up and went away.

I know, I know, I have a 10 frame top on an 8 frame hive.  I have a new 8 frame top but it isn't painted yet, so I'll trade out the top over the weekend.  Also I left the nuc box sitting in front of the hive box to allow the slower bees to catch on to the fact that the queen had up and moved to Colony Square.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Maybe Tower Place isn't a Good Idea

Our nights in Atlanta are still relatively cool. I woke up this morning to find a beard on Tower Place. What will it be like for the bees when we DO have a Hotlanta night?

Tomorrow I may move them into larger quarters, despite the fun of the idea of a "tree" hive.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Installation Updates

Checked on the 8 frame Jennifer Berry hive and it was also doing well. The bees were located to one side of the box. It looked as if they had slid my three empty frames to the side and installed the five frames of bees on the other side.

I could see eggs and was relieved that the queen was laying although there was very little larvae, so I remain a little cautious.

On this hive I moved the five frames from Jennifer and the one of mine that they were using to the center of the box and put an empty frame on each side. Following the rule that when the bees have drawn out 80% of their box, it's time to add a new box, I then added a new medium super, filled with foundationless frames before I closed up the hive.

Then I drove to Stonehurst Place to see how those hives were doing. I lit my smoker but never really used it. I didn't need it and regretted lighting it because I then smelled like a Girl Scout campfire at work for the rest of the day.

In those two hives, I didn't see the queen but saw good evidence of her presence. You can see the uncapped brood in these frames. I also saw eggs, so I feel good about these Jerry Wallace hives which seemed to be off to a good start.

We had given them baggies of sugar syrup, but they had not touched them, due to the current nectar flow. I removed them from the hives and left them to their own devices for obtaining nurture.

The yard and garden at Stonehurst Place is very oriented to the bees. The hives are underneath a tulip poplar and the gardens themselves are planted with salvia, coreopsis, zinnias, cosmos. These bees should be happy as am I in their off-to-the-races start.

I put a new medium super with frames on each of these hives.

It's funny at the beginning of bee season all the hives are at about the same place but as time goes on, the differences in the bees of the two hives and the growth rates, honey production, etc. become more apparent.

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Bees in Tower Place

The bees in the nuc (Tower Place) are doing well. Yesterday I opened the hive. I didn't do a deep inspection - I just wanted to see if they were occupying the frames in the deep and that the queen was laying.

She was and they were already using the box above (no surprise, given that they are in five frame boxes!)

Here they are all peeking out at me in the hive drape opening.

I added another box and closed the hive up. I'll check again on Sunday. I'm a little worried about this nuc box tower, as you can tell, but it feels like a fun experiment.

Somewhat Leaning Tower of Pisa, it is up and going and we'll see what the future brings.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Topsy Turmoil

The last two times I've checked the top bar hive, one top bar has come off from the top bar as I've tried to lift it. The comb attached (or not) is all full of honey.  The comb appears to be attached to the bottom of the hive.  I haven't really had any idea what to do.

The last time I was in the top bar hive, the brood bars were full all the way up to this honey.  I didn't want the honey to make the queen feel honey bound and influence the hive to swarm.  The only choice was to undo the stuck comb.

I have not enjoyed the top bar hive.  It is so much more difficult to work with than the hive box.  I can't see what is going on and I tend to create destruction as I did today.

With a regular frame, you can shake the bees off of it.  This comb could not possibly be shaken, nor can any top bar comb.  I wonder how in the world you harvest honey without making the mess we did today?

I put all of the mess on a slide show.  We killed at least 500 bees in the process and may have destroyed the queen as well, although wet with honey bees all look like queens because their bodies are so shiny.

First Jeff and I slid our hive tools down the side of the hive to loosen the comb from the hive.  Then we reached in and gently pulled the honey comb up from the bottom of the hive (and at least 500 bees).  Bees died from being squashed.  Some died from being coated in honey.

We put the comb in a large roasting pan and tried to brush the bees off....OMG what a mess!  Suddenly Jeff said, "Oh, no, there's the queen!"  He's really a good queen spotter but I'd prefer to think that I'm not sure it was the queen.  We took the questionable bee, covered with honey, and gently put her back into the hive.

We put some of the cut honey back into the hive in front of the follower board on some aluminum foil.  I took the rest home and was heartsick as I cleaned tons of dead bees off of the remaining comb into my kitchen sink.

At least we did see brood and eggs so they have the resources to make a queen if we have destroyed her.  I am so sad about this.  Makes me not want to open the top bar ever again.  I certainly won't build another one.  Here are the problems I've had:

1.  Hard to keep bees in the hive - lost one swarm, lost and recovered one package
2.  The only way to keep the bees in the hive was to put old comb on the bottom and close off the screened bottom board.  The comb on the bottom was the source of the problem today
3.  If comb is crooked or breaks off, there's no easy way to tie it into the hive - you can use string on the top bar, but it doesn't really do the trick and bees get tangled in the fiber of the string.  Rubber bands can't be used.  Below this list is a picture of how bees get caught (and die) in the string
4.  Any problem on the bottom of the hive is invisible until you tear things up to get to it......grrrr.
5.  I can't imagine harvesting - how do you get the bees off of the comb without using smoke and without shaking the comb?

Picture below of bees entangled in the fibers of the kitchen twine (dead).

Anyway, here's a slide show of the mess:

Monday, April 18, 2011

Jennifer Berry Bees - Wow!

After my weekend at a professional conference, I got up at 5:30 AM on Sunday to drive to Athens from Rabun County to pick up bees from Jennifer Berry.  I had dropped off my nuc and an 8 frame deep hive box a few weeks ago to get ready for this event.

Here's Jennifer posing with her girls before they leave the farm.

It was great to see Jennifer on this cold morning and so wonderful to get these last bees of the season (for me) to take back to Atlanta.  I planned to put these bees in my own backyard that has been bee-less since the fall.

Actually I put a contract on a house in town the day before I left and enjoyed the grimace of my real estate agent when I wondered aloud if we could put in the contract that I wanted to put bees in the backyard of the new house before closing!  Oh, well, the bees will go to my current house instead!

Don Kuchenmeister loves a hive he runs all year in a nuc box.  It gets taller and taller.  He says it is one of his best honey producers, because it is like a tree to the bees.

So I thought I might keep the nuc in a nuc box and add my medium nuc boxes to it to give them space and grow them taller.

So I installed it with a medium nuc on top of the deep.  As you can see in the photo, I have two waiting painted medium nuc boxes to add over time and another unconstructed one in the basement.  If it needs more room than that, I'll either split it or move them to a regular sized box.

The minute I removed the screen, these bees were all over it.  They were orientation flying, massing on the front door step and generally full of energy.  The second hive, placed under a tree nearby, looked lifeless - not a bee emerged.

To see if there were actually bees there, I lifted the top and there they were, but nobody came out of the door.  OK, I said to myself, it's only 56 degrees, probably too cold for them.  

An hour and a half went by and the action below is the most I saw.  It was still 58 or so degrees, but I'm not happy with what is going on.  Did I get one good hive and one dud from Jennifer?  Surely not.

Here's what it looked like, comparatively:

After some thought and knowing few if any foragers had left this hive, I moved the lifeless-looking hive to a sunnier location near the nuc.

Within ten minutes, there were the bees!  I hope these hives do well.  If they do, then when I move in July or so, I'll split them and take the splits to the new house.

Note:  I had the deck pressure washed today - it's just up above these hives and the steps to the deck are about five feet away from the front of the 8 frame.  I called the guy who did the work to tell him what a good job they had done.

"Did the bees bother you?"  I asked him.
"What bees? !!!" was his reply.

It was 78 or so today so we can know they were flying, but he and his men did not even notice the bees five feet away!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Birthday of the blog!

Well, belated birthday, anyway.  I missed it!  On April 15, my blog began its sixth year and I began my sixth year as a beekeeper (although this year started so early that it's hard to say it began two days ago!)

I am so grateful for all of you who visit from all over the world (from 176 countries) and comment on my bee adventures.  It has been such a challenge for me to keep learning and sharing.  I appreciate knowing I want to post on the blog.  That always sends me out to take a photo or look up something interesting to share with you.

At this point there are 747 of you who are RSS subscribers, 410 or you who "follow me" on Blogger, a few Twitter subscribers (34) and a few others who subscribe in some other ways.

I've posted 844 times (including this one) which is a lot of picture taking and writing.

It's been a great ride so far - thanks to all of you who stay interested in my bees!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Rabun Hives are Thriving!

This morning I stopped by the Rabun County hives on my way to a professional meeting in Young Harris.  They have been established for two weeks now and are doing really well.

In the first hive (in the old hive box), the bees were concentrated on one side of the box.  They peeked up between the frames as I opened the hive:

I checked the hive and they were mostly using the old comb frames and had not begun to draw out the new foundationless frames.  I moved the concentration to the center of the box and put a couple of undrawn frames on either side.

When I slid the frames apart to remove them, the bees were festooning, linked together making wax.  I hated messing up the good work they were doing!

I never saw the queen but I did see brood and eggs so I was relieved.  Because the nectar flow has started, and I won't be back for a couple of weeks, I added a box of empty frames for them to move into when they are done with this box.

I moved on to the new box.  I was so pleasantly surprised.  The bees had drawn comb on every single frame in this box.  Each frame looked about the same like the photo below:

I thought you'd like to see a close up of these beautiful productive bees.  Here they are:

Toward the right side of the photo above, you can see some really fat larvae waiting to be capped.

And then on the next frame, the same one on which she was installed, I spotted Her Majesty.  She is a gorgeous queen, moving regally along the honey comb.

Isn't she beautiful?

I gave this hive another box as well and expect they will use it as well as they have the first one.  Good I visited this morning - the rain has been terrible all afternoon and late into the night.

I left the hives closed up for another day and hope they keep going as well as they have so far.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Installing the Bees at Stonehurst Place Inn

Last night I picked up the two nucs for the Stonehurst Place Inn.  I got the bees from Jerry Wallace who took great care to make this go so smoothly for his customers.  He even put my nucs in the car for me.

I drove to the inn and set the boxes up behind the cottage at Stonehurst.  I wanted everything to be in place before the installation today.  Caroline, the innkeeper, mixed up sugar syrup for the bees.  Gary, her husband, carefully built and painted all the boxes and nailed each frame.

We set the hives on old brick and Gary made sure the hives were level:

I set the nucs on top of the boxes into which they would be placed this morning.

The bees peeked out of the newly opened front door as they waited for today's installation.

Today each deep box got the five frames from its nuc and I filled the rest of the box with deep frames from my stash.

Then I put the frames from the nuc into the hive in the exact position each frame was in in the nuc.

I saw the queen in each of the hives, which gave me a really good feeling about our impending success.  The tulip poplar was blooming in the yard and I stepped on fallen blooms as I moved to the hives.  This could be a really great location, with good blooming plants in the inn's yard and the Atlanta Botanical Garden just over the next street.
I fed each of these hives with a baggie feeder over the inner cover; left the nuc boxes in front of the hives to allow any errant bees to make their way into the hives and left.  I hope they do well.

A Look at Topsy

Today I ran by Valerie's to check on Topsy.  At my last check there was some brood but not a lot.

First I looked at the hive entrances which had signs of nosema the last time I visited.  The hive looked just the same - no new nosema on the side of the hive:

Inside the hive looked really healthy with lots of bees and lots of capped brood (about nine frames).  The combs were all built out and looked good.

On the 10th bar, the comb was heavy with honey and attached to old wax on the bottom of the hive.  As I pulled on the top bar, the comb tore off.  I set it back together again, but next time I visit that hive, I am harvesting that honey comb so that I can remove the wax on the hive bottom and can help the hive make progress.

I didn't see any new brood or eggs until I got to the 11th top bar and there were eggs and c-shaped larvae.

This hive is healthy and will have a problem if I don't get the honeycomb that is stuck to the bottom out of that hive.  Maybe I'll try for that on Sunday this weekend.

I like the top bar concept but find the hive really difficult to inspect.  The bees seem happy but I'm not sure I am.  Maybe if it were a smaller hive, I'd like it better;  maybe if I had ever seen the queen I'd like it better; maybe if I hadn't had such a hard time getting it off the ground, I 'd like it better.  As it is, I don't love working on it or inspecting it.

I also haven't figured out how to make repairs.  In the Langstroth if the bees do cross comb, a huge rubber band takes care of all my troubles.  In this hive rubber bands don't work.

Having foundationless frames in a Langstroth box makes me happier.  Maybe I like structure more than the top bar allows me.  

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Big Bee Tree as Research Aid

Remember the bee tree?  Well, the bees never moved out of the tree up into the provided boxes on the top.  Instead they have continued to live happily in the bee tree.

Katherine Darger is doing a research project at the University of Delaware on feral bees and their genetic make-up, with a particular interest in Africanized bees.  I'll learn more about it when she speaks to the Metro bee club on Wednesday night.  Meanwhile, she has arrived in Atlanta early to collect samples of feral bees in the Metro area to study for her research.

I volunteered the two trees I oversee for the company who removed the trees, preserving the bees.

Here's the original bee tree and the second rescued section from another tree:

Katherine used a butterfly net to collect her samples.  She swirled it all over the place and ended up with quite a few bees in the net.  (This was 7:45 at night but the bees were still flying thanks to daylight saving time.

She also collected by scooping the bees into an alcohol filled vial (these bees all died in the name of bee research).

She also coaxed them into the alcohol vial from the collection in her butterfly net.

In the end she went away with a good sampling from both trees.  I'm proud that the rescued bees can contribute to better knowledge about feral bees and their genetics.       

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