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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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Friday, February 28, 2014

The Wonder of a First Spring Opening: Bustling Bees

Last weekend (the 23rd) I opened my backyard hive for the first time.  This hive has regularly with the warmer days between our frigid January weeks brought out seemingly tons of dead.  The pile beside the hive grew mountainous on each warm day.....and I worried.

Were these bees diseased?  Why were so many being carried out dead.

Well, I got my answer when I opened the hive that went into winter in four medium eight frame boxes - there are thousands and thousands of bees in the very busy hive.

The queen had been working hard - this was one of a number of frames that were end bar to end bar filled with capped brood.  Billy Davis would say that this is medium biscuit - dark biscuit brood which means the bees will emerge really soon.  I believe she laid most of these in the week between our snows when it was still icy cold in Atlanta.

I took this photo from one end to the other to show you how close to the end bar she lays the brood.  In many hives with a slatted rack, this is often the case.  I think the slatted rack puts an obstacle between the entry and the brood, allowing the queen to use the space fully, without the brood getting chilled.

This hive had plenty of honey in reserve.  This was one of many frames.

In the top box, they were bringing in and storing new nectar.  I am not feeding these bees, nor any of my bees, but this must be from the red maple or another early blooming plant in the area.

These overwintered bees look pretty fat and pretty healthy.

If you click on this picture to view it larger, you'll notice that these are large cells.  In these cells are eggs which means that drones will be raised here.  Also you'll see a number of small hive beetles who overwintered with the bees.  Next weekend I'll put on a beetle jail or two or three.

I saw brood in all stages in all three of the lower boxes.  Interestingly, the newest eggs and larvae were in the bottom box.  In the top box where the newer wax was (the last few photos), there were some drone eggs and some newly stored nectar.  I have high hopes for this hive.

Next weekend I'll check again and will either checkerboard boxes 3 and 4 or add a new box and checkerboard boxes 3 and 4.  I don't want this strong hive to swarm and their natural inclination will be to do so, but with the eggs I saw, I expect we won't have drones flying until the third week of March, at best.  Since swarms can't happen without drones, I should have another week to spread out the space in the hive.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Winter Bee Deaths - and Still a Strong Hive

The bees that go into winter are not the same as the bees who live in the summer.  The summer bee has her work cut out for her.  She progresses through jobs in the hive, beginning with housecleaner and nursemaid and ending with forager.  Each job prepares her for her next assignment and each wears her out a little more.  Old summer bees have ragged wings and if you see one who looks like that, she is close to death.

Winter bees are different.  First there are no drones in the wintering hives (sometimes one or two) because they are a drain on the hive resources; contribute nothing during the winter; and  the queen can create them from unfertilized eggs as spring approaches.

Winter bees live longer.  Summer bees live about six extremely active weeks.  Winter bees in cold temperate climates may live for 150 days (Winston, p. 215).  In an area like Atlanta where we typically are not a cold temperate climate, the winter bees may live a slightly shorter amount of time.  In the hive during the winter, bees do die and their bodies are cleaned out when the temperatures are warm enough to fly.

Here's what it looks like around my surviving colony in my backyard:

 As you can see around the base of the hive, it looks like an enormous bee graveyard.  The ground has been littered with bodies like this every time we have a cold snap.  In the interim, the yard guys show up and blow them off so this pile is purely from the ice storm last week.

Yet there are still thousands of bees in this hive.  I have a "Billy Davis" robber screen on the hive and there are bees massed under the screened wire, just enjoying the sunshine.  

Here's a closer view or two of the dead, lying en masse outside the hive.

The bees who are flying into the hive have packed pollen baskets.  You might notice that some of the dead bees also have packed pollen baskets.  

I am amazed at the strength of this hive and the numbers of bees who have lived here through our extremely cold winter.  In Atlanta we often have a week of snow in March, so it's not over yet.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Survivor Bees - Hallelujah

Yesterday all of my bee friends were posting on FB and other places that, as the snow/ice was melting, their bees were flying.  My strong little hive in the backyard - my only remaining home hive - was silent all day long.   This hive was a swarm that I retrieved near Northlake Mall in Atlanta.

The people told me that the bees had lived in a column of this condo/office complex for years.  This was the first year they had observed a swarm or called a beekeeper.  I figured this would be a survivor queen.  Nobody had treated these girls in any way for years and that's how I like it.  I didn't take any honey from them and have watched them with growing confidence in their survival over the year.

I hived this swarm in a box with a closed off screened bottom board and I have never pulled out the insert to open the screened bottom.  I don't know if that is helping them make it through the winter or not, but I have hitherto breathed a sigh of relief after every time the temperature returns to the 50s F, and I see that they are flying.

We have had a very cold winter for Atlanta - a week or two of temperatures in the teens and twenties; the Snowjam at the end of January, and now an ice storm of rather scary proportions.  But every time these bees have stayed the course.

Before the sun went down yesterday (it actually came out for a change), when the snow blocking the hive entrance finally melted off around 4:30 in the afternoon, I braved the ice-slick that is my concreted backyard area (a basketball court) to walk up to the entrance .  I saw a couple of bees, but only a couple, and thought that these were the only remaining live bodies.  So I went to bed last night with a heavy heart because my bees were silent.

Today I had a distracting day with my grandchildren.  We made Valentine's cookies (two different kinds) before we went to lunch.

Dylan and Lark and their beautiful cookie creations

My third grandchild, Max, who is 2 was also there, but he was more interested in playing with toys than making the cookies so he isn't in the photo.

After all the baking we went to lunch and at lunch I was telling them that I felt so sad that my bees had died.   I told them that it was warm enough according to the car thermometer that the bees, if they were alive, should be flying, but I had not seen them and I was sad to see that survivor hive go.  

When we returned from lunch, my granddaughter RAN to the back window and looked into the backyard.  "Grandma," she yelled, "the bees ARE flying."  I couldn't believe it and was moved to tears to find that this hive is still going strong.  

My backyard is down in a deep area and it probably was colder than 50 back there for all of yesterday and today.  When the car said 54, they probably finally had a temp by the hive just at 50 and decided to come out to go to the little bee's room (as Dean Stiglitz would say).  

I AM HAPPY.  What a Valentine!

So celebration isn't the meaning of this song, but it is about the difficulties of how we love - and loving the bees isn't much different in the challenges of it.  I love this rendition as do so many others, so I'm embedding this video because my bees are alive today:

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Unlikely Smoker Fuel

At GBA in Columbus, GA, Gina and I ate breakfast with a couple who were attending the bee conference as well.  Naturally we talked bees.  They said that they use old tea bags as smoker fuel.

I drink tea every day.  Usually I have a cup in the morning near breakfast - either during or just after.  Then around mid morning I probably have another one.  If I get sleepy late in the day, I'll have a cup of herb tea at the office....not because it will keep me awake - it doesn't have caffeine - but it will give me something active to do (drink the tea) to keep me from nodding off.

This morning I allowed my used tea bag to dry out and looked at it:

It definitely is quite small.  I imagined how many it would take to fill a smoker and that blows my mind. Even if I collected and dried one or two a day, I think in a month I might have enough to fill the smoker for one inspection.  I'm going to collect them for a while to see.

Now I'm not a big smoker user.  Most of the time I blow a puff of smoke into the entry to tell the bees that I am coming in, but I generally put it down after that and don't pick it up again until I move to the next hive.  Even at that, I go through a smoker full of fuel by the time I've finished looking at all the hives for that day.

I think I'll stick to pine straw.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Jamie Ellis at GBA

Jamie Ellis' presence at the GBA Spring meeting was absolutely delightful.  The researchers at UGA tend to be telling us something different every time we see them.  Their goal is to come up with a way to deal with the varroa mite because it has been so devastating to beekeepers.

Jamie began his talk to us about the state of beekeeping with a graph from NASS (the National Agricultural Statistics Service).  Here's what it looked like:

This is a photo I took of my computer screen that I took with my iPhone, so if you want to see the real thing, it's on the sixth page of this.

From this graph, Jamie pointed out that the numbers of honey bee colonies in this country have been declining steadily since a peak in 1945.  If you look closely, the decline has leveled off a little since the arrival of varroa!

To listen to other university researchers, we are in desperate times BECAUSE of the varroa.  Jamie pointed out that we are in desperate times because of the lessening numbers of colonies, but not because of varroa.

I was particularly interested in his approach because I now know a number of beekeepers - local ones like Jerry Wallace and Bill Owens, and national ones like Michael Bush and Sam Comfort who haven't used any treatment for varroa or anything else for years.

Jerry Wallace almost sheepishly confessed to me that he (who used to use treatment including oxalic acid) has been splitting his strong hives and not worrying about the ones that died.  Michael Bush doesn't count varroa for the same reason.  He has hives that don't need him to count varroa.  They may be in the hive but his bees are strong enough - whether that means they are hygienic or disease resistant - not to need to worry.

Jamie did not paint a pretty picture of beekeeping in these times for many reasons, but referenced many factors - environmental and otherwise.  His concern was the decline in the numbers of hive SINCE 1945.

He explored the Oxbow Center where the conference was held.  He is with his oldest son in the photo below.

They came to look at a giant turtle near the newsletter table where Gina and I sat, representing the GBA newsletter that we edit.  We spent the day in front of a coiled rattler behind us (in a glassed display, but still...)

We brought several printed issues of Spilling the Honey and a suggestion box for ideas for the newsletter.  We gave stickers that stated "I contributed to Spilling the Honey!" to everyone we saw who had written for the newsletter or who had contributed an idea or photo.

We both wore fedoras with PRESS stickers in the hatbands.  We had a good time.  This is not a good photo of either of us, but at least you can see our PRESS hats.

After a talk on pesticides that I missed, Jamie gave a third talk about the ways honey bees have answered life's four most important questions for him.  I'm not going to try to explain the delightful, hilarious talk, but he ended by telling us how honey bees explain Lady Gaga (don't ask).

Keith Fletcher on Queen Castles for Making Nucs

This is the beginning of my ninth year keeping bees.  There's always something new to learn.  The highlight of the GBA conference this weekend was listening to Keith Fletcher, Master Beekeeper from Alabama, talk about his splits and queens.

Keith began in a lovely way, sharing with us his library of favorite bee books.  Many I did not know, but I will be looking for them:
R.O.B. Manley:  Honey Farming
Michael Palmer's book - I think Living with Bees (not available on Amazon)
Vince Cook: Queen Rearing
Vernon Vickery:  The Honey Bee  (also not available on Amazon)

He obviously loves the bees and a visit to his Facebook page told me that he is into chickens and other back to the farm approaches.

First he went over the basics:
Why make splits?
  • To increase your hive numbers
  • To have a "spare parts" hive (like we did at Chastain last summer and probably will this one as well)
  • To discourage swarming
  • To raise queens
  • To build fresh comb
The easiest way to split is to take the queen and frames to go with her.  The original hive will not swarm and will go to work requeening.

He had an adorable set of frames he had made to demonstrate what he puts in the nuc box when he makes a split:

He discussed removing the original queen on a frame from a strong hive and putting her in a queen castle, as I mentioned above.  You could also take a frame of swarm cells and do the same thing.  This would not be as effective in swarm prevention as removing the frame with the queen on it since she would have left with a swarm. 

The queen castle is a box designed to hold several 2 frame nucs - with different entrances for each (one on each side of the box).  This way you can have several nucs developing in the box at the same time. He uses a "queen castle" from Brushy Mountain to make his nuc starts.  This reminded me of Billy Davis' "quiet box" and I was so excited about the idea.  So I came home and discovered to my great pleasure that Brushy Mountain makes a "queen castle" for medium frames - Whooo Hoooo! 

I ordered it this morning and will be so happy when it arrives.  I always have such great expectations of me as a beekeeper as spring approaches but maybe this will indeed be the year!  And thank you, Keith, for a new inspiration.

I have about five - six hives that will survive the winter.  One is in my backyard and was enthusiastically flying today.  There is one hive at Sebastian's that we have to move if it survives but I'm not betting on that.  There are two hives at Stonehurst Place and two at Tom's house.  

In addition to the hopeful/possible survivors, I have ordered four nucs from Buster's Bees (two medium and two in deeps).  I am buying a medium nuc from Mountain Sweet Honey, and Jarrett's Apiary is giving me a nuc so I can try out their bees.  These six hives will need homes.

I will put one of Buster's hives at Morningside garden and possibly keep a nuc up there to be a source of "spare parts."  I'm going to put two of these hives in my backyard where right now I only have one live hive.  I'll put the other hive at Chastain and then I have one hive without a resting place, but surely I will find one!  My friend Tracy has mentioned he wants me to put a hive in his yard and he doesn't live too far from me, so maybe that will be its destination.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Ross Conrad is Coming to the South

       There are very few voices in the world for the backyard beekeeper.  Ross Conrad is a voice for the backyard beekeeper.  I've been thinking a lot about the university researchers - they are funded by grants and who pays the grants - big money from the government or from private corporations.  These agencies are interested in bees for pollination, but not in bees for bees sake.

The backyard beekeeper does have a voice in people like Ross Conrad.  Ross wrote the book The Natural Beekeeper and keeps his bees in Vermont, but in March, he is offering a workshop in Florida about 26 miles from the Georgia line.  Here's the description he sent me:

Getting Started With Beekeeping: Organically with Ross Conrad

This two-day intensive class provides and introduction for folks interested in small scale and part-time (hobby) beekeeping. The workshop will present a balanced view of natural and organic beekeeping topics and practices including: location and equipment requirements; basic honey bee biology; swarming as an expression of the bees vitality; presence and mindfulness in the beeyard; non-toxic pest and disease control; and an appreciation for the role that pollinators and beekeepers play within the Earth's ecosystem. The class will be punctuated with visits to the bee yard weather permitting, so bring a veil.

When: March 1-2, 2014
Where: Caney Branch Farm, Monticello, FL
Register: 850-294-61626 rogertwitchell@yahoo.com
Cost:  $130

I can't go then, but I'd love to see Ross again.  I heard him at Young Harris a few years ago and posted about that then.  I also learned to make bee tea from him.  

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