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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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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

It's a Beautiful Day in my Neighborhood....

It's swarm season and all of us beekeepers cross our fingers that we will get a swarm call - it's an adventure: driving to an unknown address, evaluating the bee situation and rescuing the swarm.  Then you drive back home, bees in the car, and install the bees in your own backyard or bee yard.

Free bees - the best!

But, no.....even better is what happened to me today.

I had two hives that died or absconded before the winter began.  One was the two-year-old Sebastian hive that we moved to my backyard from the professor's yard at the beginning of last year's bee season.  I guess I kept hoping it hadn't really happened so I never took the hive apart.

I've noticed a number - I should say a growing number - of scout bees exploring that hive.  It is four boxes high with a swarm trap entrance.  I've also seen scout bees exploring the hive next to it which is also empty with good comb and two full boxes of honey.  The Sebastian hive also has unharvested honey in it.

Tonight I got home around 7:30 and went out to the backyard to see the bees. I heard a pretty loud bee buzz/hum which is not my usual experience back there at this time of day. Suddenly I looked over at the Sebastian hive and there were orienting bees coming in and out of the entry.

I believe a swarm has moved in and that's even better than going on a swarm call. Free bees and no time or effort spent to get them! I didn't have to sing "Won't you be my neighbor?" throw my shoes around, change my jacket for a sweater or anything!

I guess the best swarm trap of all is an available, empty hive with healthy drawn comb.

These two photos don't begin to convey what a beautiful day it was in my neighborhood today!  So excited about these bees who have decided that they want to bee my neighbor!

I so wish I had been home and noticed the tornado of bees moving in....

Monday, March 30, 2015

I BEE Speaking....

It's not unusual for me to give about one bee talk somewhere or another every month.

  • In January, I spoke to the NE GA Mountain Beekeepers and gave another talk to a ladies' lunch group in Marietta.
  • In February, I gave a talk on Wax: Fun and Facts at the GBA Spring Meeting and I spoke to the Ogeechee Beekeepers in Statesboro, Ga.  
  • In March, I said no to all invitations because my daughter was having a baby in the middle of the month.
This month coming up (April), I made commitments without really studying my calendar and I have one week which is crammed with three bee talks.

  • On April 9, I am speaking to the Pickens County South Carolina Bee Club about "Letting your Bees Go Naked," a talk about using foundationless frames.
  • On April 13, I am speaking to the Coweta County beekeepers on "Simple Beekeeping: Low Tech Ways to make your Beekeeping Life Easier"
  • On April 16, I am speaking in Charlotte, NC at the Mecklenburg County Beekeepers Association on "Simple Ways to use Ordinary Household Objects to Make your Beekeeping Easier."
If you are in the area of any of these, please come and join us!

What I didn't add to this crazy April schedule is that I am driving from Pickens to Charleston, SC for a wedding on Friday and Saturday.  I'll drive back to Atlanta on Sunday before going to Newnan on Monday to speak to Coweta.  Absolute bee-craziness.

I will probably give other talks as the year goes on, but after that for the moment I am only scheduled to speak to Tara Beekeepers in September and to a garden club in November.

I love to talk to beekeepers and garden clubs, but doing three talks in seven days with an out of town wedding in between, was poor planning on my part.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Ground Control to Major Tom......

I went over to Tom's on Monday morning to see how the hive was doing. I knew it had made it through the winter because Tom and his family reported seeing flying bees (and I had stopped by earlier), but I had not yet been inside the hive.

Monday was the day.  As I popped the top, an angry queenless roar began and I felt worried.  I took the hive down to the bottom box.  Some honey in the second box and in the bottom box. In the bottom box, I found tons of dark brown capped brood (dark biscuit), meaning the bees were about to emerge.

I searched on both sides of every frame and could find no uncapped brood and no eggs, despite there being plenty of room.

It's early in Atlanta for a swarm, but there have been some. All I could determine was that Tom's hive had looked out and said, "Take your protein pills and put your helmet on....The stars look very different today," and swarmed last week while he and his family were on vacation.

The only explanation for this hive bursting at the seam with bees and only capped brood is that they had swarmed; the queen had emerged and had gotten rid of any other competing queens; and she was off on her mating flight. Perhaps she was unsuccessful - got eaten by a bird or didn't find any available drones aloft.

Thus the queenless roar.

I put the hive (which I had intended to split) back together and left to think. As I drove home I decided to get a frame of eggs and brood from the daughter hive that is in my backyard and bring it over to Tom's on Thursday (my next free day). On Thursday I made a split from the daughter hive to put in Tom's second hive (a 2014 Buster's Bees hive that did not make it through the winter).

My office got busy on Thursday, so Jeff decided to help me do this on Friday. Atlanta was cold and windy on Friday morning, so instead we put the nuc box with the split and an extra frame of brood for the queenless hive on top of its new quarters.  I planned to return when the temperatures rose in the afternoon.

Around 3:30 I arrived at Tom's and opened the "queenless" hive. Now they were calm. No roar; no angry bees head bumping me. I looked through the bottom box and there they were, right in my face: eggs, newly laid, and young, young brood. In the five days since I had been there, the queen must have successfully returned and began her new job.


And I installed the nuc in the other hive. So we have had two very cold nights, last night and tonight, so the new nuc may not make it. I'll give it more bees next week.

Sorry about the lack of photos - left my camera at my house......

Saturday, March 21, 2015

What does 2 + 2 add up to in these two hives?

I have two dead hives in my backyard that needed my evaluation.  I went through the first hive - the Northlake Swarm hive - which died in the second hard freeze week we had in February.  Temperatures were in the 20s most of the week.  In addition to a box full of capped honey, here is what I found in the second box:

You can also see part of the other side of the cluster on the frame below this one.  As you can see the bees were clustered over honey and they died despite more capped honey just four inches away on the same frame.  This often happens when the temperatures are below freezing in Atlanta for days.  The bees have to make a good initial decision about where to locate the cluster.  If they miscalculate,  they die.

These dead bees had a whole box of honey above them and more honey on the frame on which they died.

In addition there were a ton of dead, molded bees on the screened bottom board:

The second lost hive was Tom's swarm #2.  There were two medium supers completely filled with honey and the hive looked like it was in relatively good shape - no wax moth damage, no small hive beetles.  In the next to the bottom box (this hive had four boxes), I found a tiny tennis ball size group of bees in a semi cluster.  The queen was in this group.  

They were not head down in the cells.  The queen was thin and looked what Keith Fielder would call "short bred."  Because these bees look as if they dwindled and the queen was so small, my guess is that they replaced their queen just before winter and she did not mate well. There were probably few drones around when she went on her mating flight. There was a little scattered capped brood.  

There was no mold in the hive because it didn't go into winter with bees creating heat/moisture in the hive.  The honey held up because we had a pretty cold winter for Atlanta - I wore my coat from November 2014 through February 2015, and in 2013 only got my coat out after January 2014 began.  

The bees simply dwindled and died out.

So it's a new year; my foot is healed; let's hope for a better bee season.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Short Postscript and Predictable End

Well, I said the box felt light.

This morning it was raining in Atlanta and I could see about six bees at the entrance to the cardboard nuc.  When the rain slowed down I went to my yard and lifted the top of the box.  No bees....

The six or eight bees hanging on the entrance were the scout bees who were out scouting when the swarm left for its new home, wherever that may be.  This often happens with swarms and when I have actually caught the swarm (unlike this one), homeowners often call me the next day, concerned about the bees they still see at the swarm site.

I dumped the scout bees on the landing of one of my active hives in hopes that they find a new home.  They will either die there or they would have died on the box entry.

If you find a swarm in Atlanta, call me:  404-447-1943.  I need a success story!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Impossible Swarm Day Two

I left the swarm all night with my swarm box with a ventilated hive cover on the top.  The cover was open 1/2 inch so that if the bees wanted to come into the box, they could.

I arrived at 7:30 before sunrise, although it was getting light, this morning.  A car was parked in the driveway - which had not been true the night before.  The bees I had scooped were clustered together in the box under the ventilated cover.

The majority of the swarm was still in the shrub.  This was not the scenario I had imagined, but as the sun came up, the scenario I HAD imagined began to come true.  As the sun came up, the bees in the box got all active.  The bees left the collection box and moved back to her Majesty in the shrub.  They used a branch as a bridge and all of them went across it as I watched.

Now I hadn't a clue as to what to do.  I drove home (less than 5 minutes), picked up a cardboard nuc box, loaded it with five medium frames of drawn comb, smeared the entry to the box with lemon grass oil.  I took it back to the swarm location.  I set the nuc box down with the entry near the shrub and left for my 9 AM appointment at my office with little hope for collecting this swarm.  Before I left I wrote a note and put it on windshield of the car in the driveway:

Dear Homeowner:

There is a swarm of bees in the shrub at the street end of your driveway.  
I am attempting to collect the bees.  All of my equipment and hopefully 
the bees will be gone at the end of the day.  Let me know if you have 
any questions.

Linda Tillman
Master Beekeeper

At noon I had a break so I drove back over to the swarm (10 minutes from my office).  There I found an empty collection box and bees all snuggling up to each other in the shrub.  No action at all in the nuc box.

Disgusted with all the time I had spent on this, I threw the collection box into the car and changed the position of the nuc box.

Again I returned to the office.  Around 5 PM I got an email from Anne, who had helped me with her flashlight last night.  She had walked by the swarm and saw the nuc box.  She said there were no bees on the shrub and bees flying in and out of the box!

My grandkids went home at 5:30 so I rode over to see for myself.  There were bees flying in and out of the box.  I decided to wait until dark to remove it. 

At 8:35, I drove back over and closed up the nuc box.

From the second photo, you can see that a ton of bees were not flying in and out.  Maybe there are only a handful in there and the rest flew off to a new home.

Anyway, I brought them home and set the box (which felt really light although I could hear an interior buzz) on an empty hive box until tomorrow when I will install it.  If there is a full hive of bees in it,  I'll let you know. 

I should have just set up the nuc box last night - could have saved myself a lot of stings!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Impossible Swarm

Tonight I got a swarm call.  Swarm season has begun.

I was thrilled because my hive at the Morningside Community Garden has died and I want to have a hive at that community garden.  The beehive makes for a good ambassador for beekeeping and it's educational for the people who come by the garden.

So I got the call at 8 PM and headed off to Oakdale Road, a street very close to me.  It was almost dark and I was afraid I wouldn't be able to find the bees although the caller said they were on a shrub about a foot from the ground near the sidewalk.

I arrived and quickly found the bees, but OH, what a DIFFICULT swarm to capture.  It was in a shrub with tiny branches from the main trunk.  The branches came out of the trunk all the way down to the ground.  There was nothing to cut or shake and the bees were on about twelve branches all together.  The swarm was the size of a fat football.

I put a white sheet right up against the swarm which, although the top of it was about a foot from the ground, was actually sitting right on the ground.

This out of focus photo was taken with my cell phone.  I cut all of those branches sticking out from the swarm so I could get close to it.  

A very sweet relatively new beekeeper named Anne had seen the bees while running and made the swarm call, so she came to see me "get" the swarm.  I am so very, very grateful.  If it weren't for her and her deft use of the flashlight, I might still be over there trying to scoop up bees. 

I used my milk carton scoop to try to scoop the bees but only a few tablespoons of them were in the milk carton at a time to dump into the box.  This was because the bees were not just on one branch of the shrub to be easily scooped off.  Instead every scoop ran into the multitude of branches.  It was just about hopeless.

I put my box at an angle right up against it and shook what I could into it.

I put a ventilated top on the box and left about a 1/2 inch opening.  Some bees were doing the nasonov dance on the edge of the box, but I don't think I got the queen.  

I got stung (an unusual thing to happen while trying to collect a swarm) at least 15 times - maybe 20.  I counted eight on my hands and arms, four on my stomach, and I haven't looked at my legs yet but there are at least five there.  

In the end I left the box with the opening there right next to the swarm.  I'll go in the morning before work.  At best, I will find all the bees happily in the box.  At worst, I'll find the box, sheet and bees all gone.  At medium, I'll find all the bees out of the box and back surrounding their queen.  

Driving home I got stung two more times!  My car was full of random bees when I locked it up at my house and went inside and had a beer.

If tomorrow they are back on the shrub, good luck to them.  I hope they find a happy home, but it won't be at the Morningside community garden!!!!!

PS.  Post a bath and a beer the only stings still evident are one on my right hand and three on my left hand (the one that was doing the scooping).  As this is my 10th year of beekeeping, it makes sense that my immunity to stings has grown.  The four that I can still see  happened early in the process when I couldn't scrape the stinger out.  One on my left hand drew blood, which means the stinger hit a small blood vessel, probably, and that would cause more of a reaction.

New Grandba-bee Arrived on Thursday

The newest grandbaby in my life arrived on Thursday.  His name is Parker James and my daughter and son-in-law will call him Parker.  He was a big bee weighing in at 7 pounds, 13 ounces!

 Parker with Grandma

 My daughter, Parker, and his big brother Max.  

Parker arrived along with signs of spring in Atlanta.


Daffodils and vinca in my friend and fellow beekeeper, George's yard.

Most importantly for the bees, dandelions!!!!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Moving Day for Polar Bees

This past Sunday was moving day for the Polar Bees in the overwintered nuc.  I was hesitant to get into swarm season with this highly enthusiastic hive in a nuc.  I was cautious about moving them because last year every time I fooled with this hive, I got stung several times, but I accomplished the move with no gloves and no stings.

I used hive drapes the whole time.  First I took the hive down to the bottom box and covered each of the nuc boxes with hive drapes.

My excuse for the next part of this is that last year was the year of my injured leg so I didn't do much of a good beekeeping job.  This nuc was a split from one of my Bill Owens' hives in Tom's yard.  At the time I took the nuc box to serve as a Billy Davis quiet box during the inspection of the hive.  

So if you look at this bottom deep nuc box, the first thing I notice is that the two stapled frames are not my frames and must have come from Bill Owens when I picked up my hive from him.  The other three with the arrows on them are my frames.

I am sorry to report that I don't have a photo of this but will take one in my next inspection of this hive.  I pulled  up the second to the side frame on the left and found that in fact it was a medium frame.  The bees had added free comb to the bottom to fill up the box so that it is the depth of a deep but the wood stops at medium.  This was true of all three of my frames - all were medium frames that the bees had converted to deeps.  Here's a photo of a frame in another hive where this happened.

I think I had intended to take this "quiet box" home and put it into a full box but must have had trouble with my leg and didn't follow through.  Then time went by and I never did it.  I do remember looking at it, thinking it would be nice to have a nuc in my bee yard.  Then the bees were mean in the hive so I wasn't anxious to open it and totally forgot that there were medium frames in there.  When I did open it, I mainly did so to see if they needed another box or more room and didn't do a deep inspection.

I've read various places that if the bees extend the comb like that, they will draw drone comb in the free comb area.  Not true for me in any hive where this has happened.  They always just replicate whatever they were doing in the upper framed comb.  In this hive, it was brood comb and instead of a football pattern, the queen had a full deep circle of "dark biscuit" (another Billy Davis reference) brood comb.  

The dark biscuit comb means the brood is about 21 days old and ready to emerge so my move took place none too soon.

On one of the stapled frames I saw the lovely, majestic queen, moving slowly over her brood.  You can see her below.

At this time of year, often our Atlanta bees are on the verge of starvation because of the late winter freezes.  Not this hive.  The second box was full of frames of fully capped untouched honey like the one below.  No danger for the Polar Bees to starve.

I did see some small hive beetles who had overwintered with the bees.  I saw about five of them.  Below is an out of focus photo of an oil trap with absolutely NO SHB in the trap although there were live ones in the hive.  I guess I need to mix up the banana peel concoction to tempt the beetles into the trap instead of using oil.

So before moving day clean-up, here's how it all looked:

I put the hive in three boxes because after I filled out the bottom box with three empty deep frames, I had full frames plus drawn comb from the other two boxes enough to fill the second box.  It was almost full of honey (five full frames and two partial ones).  So I went ahead and put a third box on this hive to give them some growing room with new brood about to emerge.

I put on an entrance reducer as I do on all my hives and closed off the screened bottom since they had been living in a solid bottom nuc box.  The bees tumbled all over each other as they vied for entry.  In the next week or so, I'll put on one of Billy Davis' robber screens to leave on for the season.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Flying Bees HOORAY

We've had a bad end to winter - I hate to say that when Boston is ten feet deep in snow - but in Atlanta we had below freezing temps for the last week of February and that is bad for the bees.  I was sure my bees had failed to make it through that last week, so I crossed my fingers.  Then last week on Saturday when the temperature got up to 44 degrees after lunch, the bees were flying like crazy from my overwintered nuc.

The bees in my other overwintered survivor never stuck their heads out, so I got worried.  Then on Sunday, I watched the temperature and when it got up to 44, those nuc Polar Bees decided to fly some more, but not the tall swarm hive in my beeyard.  The temperature kept climbing and since bees typically (unlike the Polar Bees) fly at around 50 degrees, at 49 degrees I looked out and still only the Polar Bees were flying.

At that moment, not wanting to start the season with only a nuc hive, I ordered two packages of bees from Jarrett Apiaries.  I can get them on March 21 and can have an OK beginning to the season.  So feeling better and less like a failure, I went for a walk with Hannah, my dog.

As we walked it got warmer and warmer and when I got home it was 52 degrees......and, you guessed it, the tall hive was also flying in and out like mad women.

Then on Monday we had a typically warm spring day (Atlanta has a strange up and down climate coming out of winter) with temperatures close to 70.

I ate lunch with my friend Julia to start planning the fall GBA meeting.  We meet near Tom's house where I have one of the Bill Owens hives so after lunch, basking in the warmth, I went over to look at his beehive.  Sure enough, the bees were tripping all over each other as they zoomed in and out of the hive.

I called Stonehurst and they reported that their hive was flying.  I then went home and both of my hives at home were zooming in and out.  It was a great bee day.  I now need to find out about the mountain hives.

This hive clearly had a diarrhea problem but there are thousands of bees in this hive.  So some of them obviously survived.  I did not harvest from this hive and did not feed it.

And the Polar Bees were also flying happily and gathering bright yellow pollen as well.

I moved these Polar Bees into a full sized box and will post about the move next!

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