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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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Thursday, January 30, 2014

In Atlanta, it's Snow-Jam but in the Bee Hive, the Queen is Preparing for Spring

In Atlanta on Tuesday, we probably had the traffic jam of all time; the one that will go down in the record books.  People were stuck in their cars on the iced over Interstate for upwards of sixteen hours.  They were overnight in their cars with no bathroom, no water, no food.  This was typically because far down the road ahead of them, an eighteen wheeler had slid down an exit ramp and ended up sideways on the highway.  The rescue vehicles couldn't get to them or help them so everyone sat.  This was true all around the Atlanta Interstates and main thoroughfares.

This was certainly a sign that in Atlanta in January, we are in the grip of winter.

But in the bee hive, on the winter solstice, the queen got the urge to begin her spring build-up.  Her instincts tell her on that day that times have changed and the days will start getting longer.  In response, the queen prepares for the hive's spring population and in the dead cold, she begins to lay.  Not a lot of eggs at first - just a few, but she does start.

She has to create, for example, drones to carry her genetic material into a drone congregation area to mate with other queens.  Dean Stiglitz in his video on how mating occurs in the bee (hilarious - you should watch it for its short five minutes) points out that the drone is actually a flying sperm and only represents the queen's genetics.  He then mates with another queen so in essence two queens are mating with the drone as his queen's emissary!

A drone takes 24 days to mature so if there are to be drones ready to fly at the end of March, then she has to lay his egg around the end of February.  And why do the drones need to be available early in the season?  Because the mission of the strong hive is to split itself into two in a reproductive act of splitting the organism that is the hive.

Also if the reproductive drive of the hive as a whole is to split with one half of the hive flying away to form a new organism (hive), then there must be plenty of workers to accomplish this.  Workers take 21 days to emerge and there must be workers around to care for the eggs that are laid to make all of the brood, both workers and drones.

Thinking like this, it is obvious that the queen MUST start laying again increasingly at the winter solstice.

So in the last two days, while traffic was frozen in Atlanta and the hive was covered with ice and snow, the bees inside were awake and working.  It's true that if the air outside is very, very cold, the brood must be protected, so the queen does not lay more eggs than she has workers to keep the brood warm.

Here's what my hive looked like in my backyard:

Last year I got a lot of criticism from a forum in Great Britain because I had four boxes on an overwintered hive.  Let me remind you that I keep my bees in 8 frame medium hives, so three boxes is the equivalent of a deep and a medium.  Also the fourth box was where they stored the bee tea I gave them above the inner cover, so the top box is empty - just a surround for the rapid feeder.

And since it doesn't happen often, here's a photo of my front yard in the Atlanta snow yesterday:

 This afternoon most of the street had melted away, but my yard front and back is still covered with snow.  The temperatures tomorrow should be high enough to melt that away as well.

But I canceled a planned trip to Philadelphia to visit my daughter because I had no confidence that I could get a taxi to the MARTA station with the roads like this.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

More Than Honey: A Beautifully Shot Video

As I drove home in the Atlanta snow this afternoon, I talked to Joe Lamp'l of Growing a Greener World.  Joe took the MABA Short Course on the 18th of January and is preparing to be a beekeeper both in his own backyard and for his television show.

You may remember when he came to my house to film my bees.  At that time we talked about my helping mentor him as he gets started in beekeeping.  So today he called so that he and I could plan what he needed to order to get his bee endeavor started.  In the course of the conversation, he mentioned that he had just watched the movie, "More Than Honey," on Netflix.

As anyone who is watching the news knows,  Atlanta is shut down with the onset of the snow this afternoon.  Just about all businesses let their employees go home at about 2:00 so instead of rush hour happening over about a 2 hour period, everyone left at the same time.  Sadly, there are people still trying to get home (it's 11:25 at night now) and the Interstates are clogged and stopped.  Some school children have never gotten home today and are either spending the night at school or terribly enough, are stuck on the highway in their school buses.

Luckily I live about a mile from my office.  I also left at 2:10 and I didn't get home (a typical five minute drive) until 2:55!  Incredible.

So I am in my warm house and tonight decided to watch a gorgeously filmed movie: "More Than Honey."

I watched it on Netflix, but it's also available on Amazon Instant Video and in other places.  I have never seen bees filmed so beautifully.  The movie opens with a video shot of a queen emerging from her queen cell, being assisted by the worker bees in the hive.  Every shot of bees is intimate and close up.  There is even a filmed drone congregation area and detailed film of the queen mating with the drones in midair.

If you have a chance, watch this movie.  There are lots of movies out there right now about how the bees are in trouble.  They all interview a commercial beekeeper, a scientist, a backyard beekeeper, etc.  This one is no different in how it covers this issue, but it is SO different in how intimately it is filmed.

Here's the movie's Facebook page and here is a page about the movie.  For a lovely bee experience, see this film.  The filmakers say that they went around the world four times to film this movie and the quality of it attests to that.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Short Course is DONE!

Julia and I worked since last summer getting ready for the short course.  It's amazing how much time it takes to prepare an event like that.  There are many little details, but we covered almost every one.  There were only tiny things that we wish we had done differently.

Here's what the room looked like on Friday, waiting for the registrants to arrive on Saturday.

 These are what we called the pollen baskets.  As people came in, they picked up their name tags and sat down.  Most of the people were from the Metro area, but we had someone with a Colorado address as well as people from outside of the Metro Atlanta area.  There were 105 registrants.  We sold out the week before the short course and had to tell about 30 people that we had no room for them after that.

However, our registration process was pretty clear to people and we didn't have anyone show up on the day of the event wanting to come in at the last minute, which was great because that would not have been fair to the 15 people on the wait list and the total of 30 that I told we didn't have room after registration closed.

The photo below is for the volunteer table.  We had antennae for the volunteers so people would know who was available to answer questions.  At lunch we had an "experienced beekeeper" sit at each lunch table so the participants could ask one on one questions during the lunch. Without some designation, the experts don't look any different than the participants, so we asked them to wear antennae.

The men were generally good sports about it!  Chris was a fabulous volunteer all day long, wearing many virtual hats, and, of course, his antennae.

We had demonstrations of how to light a smoker.  Curt did a great job of showing the participants how it is done.

And we had some breakout sessions on building hive equipment, top bars and foundationless beekeeping, and making hive products.  We were supposed to have a breakout on qualifying for certified naturally grown but the presenter decided she didn't want to talk about the topic - didn't really matter since only a few participants had signed up for it.

Noah's talk on top bar hives and foundationless beekeeping got the highest ratings for the breakout sessions so far in the evaluations we've received.  He is the youngest master beekeeper in the state of Georgia and is a very poised speaker, fielding questions well and doing an overall good job.

Julia and I enjoyed our work together to plan and prepare the course and I heard all day from many people that they were getting a lot out of it, so I am very, very pleased.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Suppliers of Spring Bees

Since a lot of you readers are nearby, I thought I'd share some of the suppliers  that we recommend to the participants in our short course this Saturday:

Buster’s Bees
Buster Lane
3910 Champagne Dr.  Jonesboro, GA 30236

Honey Pond Farm  
Jennifer Berry
5 frame nucs

Jarrett Apiaries
Slade Jarrett
1903 Hwy 198
Baldwin, GA 30511
still has nucs available

Jerry Wallace
826 Courtenay Dr. NE, Atlanta, GA 30306
will have 50 nucs to sell

Mountain Sweet Honey Company
Ray and Julie Civitts
Toccoa, GA
has 150 nucs available 3rd week of April

Rossman Apiaries, Inc.
P O Box 909  
Moultrie, GA 31777-0909

There are a few others but they have very limited resources or already have a waiting list.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sunny, Warm, Bees Flying and Hauling out the Dead

Today the bees are bringing in large loads of pollen.

This is a good sign.  When the winter solstice arrives on December 21st and the days change and start becoming longer rather than shorter, the queen senses this deep in the hive.  She begins gradually to lay brood in preparation for spring.  Usually she just lays a little at first and the build up is slow but sure.  The pollen lets us know that there is brood in the hive that needs feeding.

At the same time a lot of bees have died in our recent cold and the bees spent yesterday and today hauling out the dead.  Yesterday the side of this hive looked like this:

This afternoon here's what it looks like in the same location:

These are bees who have died over the recent weeks when it was too cold for the bees to carry out the dead bodies.

Tomorrow we are back to wet and coldish weather so they will be confined again.  Tom reports that the bees at his house are flying (the two Bill Owens' cut out hives); the Stonehurst innkeeper reports that bees are flying from both of their hives; I haven't heard from Sebastian.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Relief - Both for Bees and for ME

After days of below freezing Georgia temperatures and a raging thunderstorm that woke me up at 4 AM and brought flood warnings all over Atlanta, suddenly the sun is breaking through and the temperature is 58.9 degree F.

The bees are ecstatic because they can fly out into the world and relieve themselves, carry out the dead and probably (just to anthropomorphize them) enjoy their aliveness in the world.  I am ecstatic because my bees (at least the ones at home are ALIVE).

You can see the bees both outside of and under the Billy Davis robber screen.  There are hundreds of them.

They also use times like this to take out the dead.  You can't tell in the photo below that there are both dead and alive bees in it but there are at least five live bees managing the body count on the concrete around my hive.

I wrote my friend Tom who has the Bill Owens' cut out hives in his yard.  Hopefully he'll write back that those bees are flying as well.

HOORAY - but not to rain on my own parade, Atlanta's winter has really just begun and we often have much cold weather in March, so my hives are not out of the woods/through the winter yet.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Freezing the Bees

We are having the coldest Atlanta January.  It was 6 degrees F on Tuesday morning - so cold that they closed the public schools for fear that children waiting for early morning school buses might freeze to death!

The average low this week in Atlanta is typically around 32.  But yesterday the high was 28.  Tonight the low will be 28 after an afternoon in the 40s.

Why does this matter?  All of us beekeepers are worried about our bees.  At the bee club meeting tonight an old experienced beekeeper said he actually opened the tops of his hives yesterday (remember the 28 degree high???) to see if his bees were alive.

I'm settling for crossing my fingers and hoping that they live.  I keep think of beekeepers like Michael Bush in Nebraska or Kirk Webster in Vermont.  Temperatures there are so cold AND the beehives are covered with snow.

And yet if they have strong hives, they make it through the winter.

I don't want to open my hives to see if the bees are alive or dead.

What will I do in either case?  I cannot make a difference at this point.

But if I do open the hives, what have I done to serve my useless curiosity?

I've broken the propolis seal they have made to protect themselves - chinks and daubing were the processes used in the log cabins of old to keep out the weather.  The bees use that all important propolis.

If my hives die in this bitter cold, I'll replace them in the spring either with nucs that I have ordered or with swarms, but I don't want to increase their risk by opening them in this bitter cold.

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