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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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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Chastain Quick-Stop

This morning I had to drive to the north part of Atlanta to pick up my tax data from my accountant.  Easy to go by the Chastain hive as I drove back to my office, so I did.  I was in business clothes, no camera, but helpfully, all of my beekeeping equipment was in my car from the mountains this past weekend.

I had an apron to put under my jacket to protect my nice pants.  I lit the smoker, put on my jacket and veil and went up to the hive.

When last I was at Chastain (about a week ago), the hive looked anticipatory.  They were not making a queenless roar, but they definitely did not have a laying queen.  The hive was full of queen cells that had been opened.  The brood cells were not back-filled with nectar but instead were polished and waiting at the ready for the advent of a new queen.

I thought I had read somewhere that it is not unusual for a swarm to requeen once it is settled into its new hive, but I now can't find a reference for that, so I'm not stating that as a fact.  This swarm hive has definitely made that decision.  Clearly the hive had requeened itself and was in no distress except for the fact that I was disturbing their peaceful anticipation.

The top two boxes were all honey - not completely filled.  As a matter of fact, no more honey had been put up than before I left for Memorial Day.

When I got to Box 2 (second from the bottom), there were open brood cells, polished.  So I held the frame with the sun over my shoulder and there they were:  EGGS - tiny new beautiful evidence that these bees have successfully requeened.

I closed the hive back up, took off my bee gear, tried to wipe the campfire smell off of my hands with wipes, and headed back for work.

It was a good day in my bee world.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul and the Taste of Honey

The front hive at Tom's house is desperately queenless, so on Thursday I went over to Stonehurst Place to steal a frame of brood and eggs from one of the deep boxes over there.  The new Ray Civitts hive was looking good and needed a new box.  I checkerboarded them top box into the new box and then went into the lower box.

I put the beautiful frame of mostly eggs and young brood into a pillow case and put it in the back of my warm car (it was 87 in Atlanta that day).  I drove to Jeff's office and picked him up to go to Tom's.  We opened the hive.  

Inside the hive, the frames had some brood but it was all drone.  I think after the swarm the queen must have either been short bred (a Keith Fielder term meaning that she only mated with a couple of drones - not enough to allow her to function as a good layer).  Anyway we pulled a frame from the bottom box that had a baseball sized circle of drone brood in the center.  The rest of the frame had all the worker cells back-filled with nectar and there was honey at the corners, as is typical in a brood frame.  

We added the beautiful Stonehurst brood/egg frame to the hive.  I am crossing my fingers that they will now be able to make a successful queen.  

Jeff and I couldn't resist sticking our finger hive tool into the corner of the frame to taste the honey.  Yum - it had a sweetness followed by a spicy end note - delicious.  We didn't have anywhere else to put the frame, so I put it in the back of the car to take home.

I let Jeff out at his office and he went in to tell the staff that we had a taste of honey in the car.  At least six people came running out of the building brandishing spoons!  I didn't get the camera up and running fast enough.  

All six of them had a taste.  Jeff works at a casting agency and they know how to have fun!  All of them enjoyed the honey adventure, I think.  And I had a great time sharing our honey moment with them as well.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Where I Bee

I don't think I've posted this year about my hives and where they are.

I have one hive at Chastain Conservancy.  It's a teaching site for my bee club and Julia, Noah and I all have hives there.  I have one hive that was made from the swarm that a beekeeper donated to the teaching cause.  It came to us on April Fool's Day and has done well.

I checked on it today, planning to take a frame of brood and eggs from it to another hive.  BUT they had requeened themselves.  I found the opened queen cell and many others that had been opened.  The bees were quiet and contained.  They had many cells cleaned and polished waiting for the new queen to start laying.

This must have been a well-regulated plan in that they had two frames of capped brood, about ready to emerge (dark biscuit) and probably their new queen is in the process of her mating days right now.  This means that when the capped brood was laid, they made a queen cell from one of those eggs.  The queen emerges in 16, compared to 21 for the worker, so she has emerged (before the remaining brood laid on the same day) and should soon start laying.

So I didn't take a frame from them!                                  

I also have two hives at my friend, Tom's house.  These were the Bill Owens hives that I got at auction in September, 2013.  These two hives were doing great as spring began.  Since they are in deep boxes and don't have medium supers, I was unable to spread out the brood nest when we added the first new boxes to these hives.  Both hives swarmed.  

I captured both swarms which are now in my backyard.  The hives at Tom's are probably not going to produce much honey this year although both hives have two full boxes of honey on them.  They are struggling with post-swarm.  They swarmed on March 30 and April 9, respectively.  

The front hive (March 30) apparently failed to get a good queen and is now queenless.  We have put in one frame of brood and eggs but on inspection on Monday, did not see any evidence of a queen cell.  The hive was quiet and has not developed a laying worker.  I will take another frame of brood and eggs over there to it tomorrow.  I wanted to today from the Chastian hive but they were not in any kind of shape to do that.

The back hive (swarmed April 9) has a queen who is up and running and has been laying but they are slow to rebuild.  These hives have had the same number of boxes on them for the last three weeks when many other hives are adding a box a week.

I have two hives at the Stonehurst Place Inn.  One of them overwintered and is doing well, making honey, expanding, etc.  I will check on them tomorrow as well.  I last checked them a week ago.  The second hive at Stonehurst is a nuc that I got rather late (4/27) from Ray Civitts.  They have now been installed three and a half weeks.  I don't expect honey with this late a start.

(For anyone keeping tabs, we are up to five)

I have two hives in Rabun County at my friends' farm.  Those hives were installed on April 26 and May 3 - again unlikely to get much honey with this late start, but the flora in the mountains is about three weeks behind Atlanta, so if the bears leave us alone, maybe we'll get something from these hives.

I was in the area this past weekend and stopped to add needed boxes to each hive.  The moving straps are to make us think we are keeping the bears at bay!  I think a determined bear might argue with both us and the bees.

In his backyard, Jeff has two hives that we got from Buster's Bees when I ordered them in December, thinking my hives would not make it through the winter.  We installed them on April 11.  He is mostly managing those but he and I keep bees together.  They now have new boxes on them - maybe two - I'm not certain.

The other two hives from Buster are at the Morningside community garden and are rocking along.  I gave each of them a new box yesterday.  They were installed on April 26 and now each is composed of three boxes.

So I have 11 hives in other places.

In my own backyard, I have one hive that overwintered, the hive from Sebastian's yard that we moved at the end of March, the two swarm hives from Tom's house, a swarm I caught in my neighborhood just down the street from my house, a split in a three box nuc that I made from one of Tom's hives as a swarm prevention measure (didn't work, obviously), and a small hive of failure-to-thrive bees that I got from a beekeeper who thought they had swarmed.  

It was a tiny swarm and is not doing well.  I got them on April 1 and they are still on just three frames in a nuc.  I don't want to combine them with another hive because they are from a beekeeper who treats his bees and I don't know what their problem is but they don't seem to be doing anything.  I think they were actually absconding to get away from the treatment.  I'm just going to leave them alone and they may die, but I'm not going to take any action.

So not counting the two nucs (Failure to Thrive and the Tom Split), I have five decent hives in my backyard.  If I eventually move the Tom Split into a full box, I'll count it but not for now.  So sixteen altogether.  Some will have honey for me this year.  Others will just build up hopefully to go through the winter.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Delight of Hearing Mark Winston

When I studied for my Master Beekeeper in 2010, it was Mark Winston's book, The Biology of the Honey Bee, that was my mainstay.  I read it cover to cover, underlined important places, dog-eared the pages.  I consumed the book.  And thankfully, I passed and got my Master Beekeeper.

This weekend I had my first opportunity to hear him in person and he was delightful.  When he speaks, he is poetic and lyrical, so he is easy to listen to and easy to absorb.

First I heard him speak on queen pheromone.  I learned some things about QMP (queen mandibular pheromone) that I didn't know before.  The workers absorb the QMP both through touch and with their tongues.  The pheromone is passed throughout the hive by touch and tongue until about thirty minutes have passed.  Then the rest of the pheromone the worker is carrying is absorbed into her.

QMP, the presence or absence of, may have impact on swarming.  If the colony is congested, then the pheromone is less dispersed and the workers may feel more impelled then to leave.  QMP also has an effect on worker development.  It slows down speed of the worker's development as they move toward the job of foraging so that the worker is a more mature bee when she finally begins foraging.

My previous understanding of QMP had only to do with its effect on the workers in the hive.  Apparently artificially created queen pheromone (we can't actually duplicate the exact product because we know five elements of it but there are others yet unidentified) is sometimes sprayed on crops.  When blooms are sprayed with artificial QMP (called FruitBoost), bees are drawn to the flower for pollination, thus increasing crop production.  Amazing.

I also heard him give what I would call a photo essay on the anatomy of the honey bee.  He had lovely photos of the bee, up close and personal.  He spoke of the pollen gathering anatomy of the bee, with hair everywhere, including her tongue.

A mystery question that he asked was, "Why do bees have hair on their eyes?"  I didn't know but it turns out that the hair on their eyes helps the bees sense wind and speed of flight.  They have to know how far away home is and the hair on their eyes helps them gather this information.

I'm always amazed that the bee can carry out one of her dead sisters in a housekeeping effort.  That bee is the same weight as she is.  Winston said that a bee can carry her own body weight in honey.

He spoke today on his new book, coming out in October, titled:  Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive.  In talking about his book, he addressed three issues:  agriculture, beekeeper issues, and pesticides.  Agriculture is hard on the bees because of the stress of bees being moved for pollination.  In addition, the fields to which the bees are moved are monocultures - only almonds and no weeds; only plums, no weeds; only pears, no weeds, etc.

He discussed the need for agriculture to change.  The concept that there must be no weeds in the fields leaves the bees with a diet of one item, unhealthy for them.  He pointed to a recent study on economics of crops.  The study used canola fields for testing.  In the study, the farmer left 30% of his/her fields fallow and only planted 70%.  The other 30% was left to lie fallow, grow weeds, whatever.  The comparative data was taken from farms planted 100% with no weeds.  The farmer made a profit of $70000 in the 70% planted group.  The farmer only made a profit of $65000 in the 100% planted farm fields.  The first farmer had the luxury of making more money with less area planted and the bees were healthier.  Not so for the second farmer.

The promotion of ecological services is essential, he said.  The bees need forage and less is more.  Natural life depends on a natural type of agriculture.

He spoke of the beekeepers overusing pesticides.  He described beekeeping today as a chemically dependent occupation.  In addition there is the problem of beekeepers treating with both pesticides and antibiotics in the hive, both of which are overused and often used off-label.  I didn't ask him if he treats his bees and I so wish I had.

He also talked about the collaborative nature of discussion, interaction and essentially trust in other people.  His example was a project by two young women, 11th graders, in Canada who spearheaded a project called Once Upon a Bee.  The project brought awareness of the honey bee to young people in school and resulted in a grant of $70,000 to accomplish this.

He mentioned the Hives for Humanity project in Vancouver.  This project is another example of cooperation and collaboration involving bees and bee hives.  And he showed us a lovely photo of two dancers and Mark Winston involved in collaborative art, showing the connection of art and the scientist.

Finally I participated in a Writing about Bees workshop with him.  This was just pure fun.  He talked about his own joy derived from his writing.  All of us discussed elements that make writing effective.  Then we took ten minutes to write an essay and heard some of the essays read.

In a moment of pure shameless GBA Spilling the Honey promotion, I suggested that anyone who wanted to could send their essay to gbanewsletters@gmail.com for publication in the state newsletter.  I do hope some of the participants will.  Gina and I would love to publish them!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Bees in the Mountains of Rabun County

My friends Robin and Mary have a farm in Rabun County near my house in the mountains.  Years ago Robin had bees in the Appalachian mountains of East Tennessee where he was a physician.  He tells the story about the day his queen bee arrived and he went to the Post Office to pick her up.  A whole row of men were sitting on the rockers on the front porch of the Post Office, waiting to see his queen!

I am no longer keeping bees at the community garden in Rabun County, and Robin and Mary offered for me to place hives in their large farm garden.  I was thrilled.  It means I get to see them more and that I will have a place for the bees where they can be watched better than at my house in Rabun when I'm only there about once a month.

A couple of weeks ago I installed a hive from Jarrett's Apiaries in Robin's garden.  Then a week ago I picked up a nuc from Mountain Sweet Honey and installed it right beside the other hive in the garden.

First we made room for the frames in the hive box.  This is a medium nuc so we are putting it into a medium box.

Then we opened the top of the cardboard nuc to begin moving the frames.

 We used hive drapes to minimize the disturbance to the bees and placed the drapes on both the nuc and the hive box (once it had some bees in it).

The first frame is moved and then placed in the exact position in the hive box that it occupied in the nuc.

  It's usually easy to find a queen in the nuc box because there are so few bees compared to a full hive in full swing.  So we looked for her as we worked.

And there she was!

Because these are medium frames in a deep nuc, the bees who were ready for more space, had started building comb on the bottom of the frames.  I removed all of that and gave them a new box.

We closed up the hive.  A nectar flow is going so we didn't feed the bees.  

I'll go back up this Thursday to check on both hives.  To stave off the bears, Mary and Robin are going to strap the hives (a method encouraged by Ross Conrad in an article in Bee Culture a couple of years ago.

New Bees at the Stonehurst Place Inn

So a couple of weeks ago, I picked up bees from Ray Civitts.  One hive was to be delivered to Stonehurst Inn where they are now happily installed.  The other was going to Robin's.  So now at Robin and Mary's farm I have two hives of bees.  One is from Slade Jarrett and the other from Ray Civitts of Mountain Sweet Honey.

When I arrived, his garage was crammed with nucs; bee equipment, neatly stacked; hive parts he sells.  He had been working hard all morning already (and I arrived early!)  He said someone had come at 4:30 AM that morning to pick up bees - can you imagine?

I drove this nuc back to Atlanta and installed it at Stonehurst where they are doing well.

I love the cardboard nucs - easy to manage, to carry and best of all, you don't have to return them to the seller!


When I finished installing it, I left the cardboard box facing the entry so errant bees could get home.  

I stopped by on Thursday to see how they were doing (ten days past installation).  The bees looked great.  

There were lots of bees in the one deep box - many on the top of the inner cover. 

They were drawing and filling comb like crazy:

So I gave them a new box with one drawn comb frame in it to provide them with a ladder.  While I was at Ray's I noticed he had entrance reducers so I asked if I could buy one.  He insisted on giving it to me, so I insisted that he autograph it for me!

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Truly, Madly, Completely Foundationless Frames

As most of you know, I don't use foundation.  I have gone through quite an evolution of approaches to reach what I am doing this year.

In the very beginning I used thin surplus wax foundation because I didn't think plastic was natural and didn't want it in my hives.  Then I started following Michael Bush and cut wax strips.  I waxed them into the grooves in the frames to give the bees a starting point.  Then the next year I decided after listening to Jennifer Berry that we were all better off with NO commercial wax with its chemical composition of fluvalinate and coumaphos.  So then I started using craft sticks glued into the groove.

In December on Christmas Day I slipped on ice while hiking in N Georgia.  I didn't know it then, but I tore my posterior tibia ligament and I have been slowly, s...l....o.....w......l......y healing since then.  I still am wearing a wrap on my ankle and tennis shoes every single day.  When bee season started, standing for a long time meant a terrible burning sensation around my ankle bone.

So I have been doing lazy beekeeping.  When my frames have old comb in them that needs replacing, I remove the old comb.  But I haven't been waxing or gluing ANytHing in and the bees are making beautiful comb without my giving them any starting place.

The photos are blurry - I used my iPhone and it doesn't accommodate my shaky hands.

Old comb:

Tear out old comb (really blurry, but it falls into a box of removed comb):

In a stewpot of boiling water, immerse the frame for 30 seconds.  Obviously the whole frame won't fit into the stew pot so I put in one half and then the other.

It isn't in the water long enough to even think about warping and all the wax melts off.  Meanwhile because I do four boxes worth of frames in one stew pot, the water in the pot is laced with melted wax so the frame gets slightly coated with melted wax.  This alone may stimulate the bees to build comb.

I use a skewer or a hive tool or whatever I have to slide along the groove and effectively mess up the patterns for any crooked comb left by the bees.  In the photo below, the right side of the frame has been submerged already and the left side still has old comb on it.  

The water is boiling hot so it quickly evaporates and the frames are ready in seconds to be put back in the hive box.  

With nothing but their bare nakedness, I put the frames onto a hive and the bees build happily.  I do checkerboard as in the post just before this, and that brings the bees into the box, but obviously they don't need my time or craft sticks to know where to start to build their comb.

I am not finding that crooked comb happens often.  When it does, it's in a hive where there has been a tendency to build crooked comb and many beekeepers suggest that that tendency is a genetic anomaly - not great genetics for comb-building = crooked comb.  

And if you don't correct it, the bees continuously build crooked comb to parallel the mess they made at the beginning.  But mostly the bees build straight beautiful comb from the bare top bar and appear to be happy campers about it.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Checkerboarding for honey production

Today I noticed that one of my hives had a lot of bees on the front porch.  I thought they probably needed a new box, so I opened the hive.  Sure enough, the top box was packed with honey - every frame was being used.

The bees had no space and it was hot in there, so they had moved to the front porch.

Both the hive needed a new box as a place to put new honey, and they needed to come inside and work for me instead of hanging out.  You can see glimpses of the fat honey-filled comb in the photo below.

On most frames there was both capped and uncapped honey.

So I took the new box and set it on the upturned telescoping cover and the inner cover.

In the box on the top of the hive, I took frames 2, 4, 6, and 8 and moved them one at a time to the new box waiting on the inner cover.  Now the new box has honey-filled comb in those positions.  I took the empty frames from 2, 4, 6, and 8 in the new box and moved them to the top box of the hive.

Now the box on the inner cover has half of the honeycomb from the old box and half empty frames.
When I set it on the top of the box, the bees now have double the space to store honey and it is evenly divided between the two boxes.

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