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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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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Swarm Hive Intervention

In Atlanta this year we have had a record-setting 53 days of rain.  It rained on April 8 and 9.  Then Atlanta tied a 1980 record with rain for eight straight days from April 12 - 19.

Now in the beekeeper's mind, this has lots of consequences.  First the tulip poplar began to bloom during that period.  Frequently after the many stormy days and nights, I've seen this on the ground:

A tulip poplar bloom on the ground (and there are many) is not providing nectar for the bees.

The swarm I captured twice on April 7 was the third swarm issued by the originating hive. That means the queen was a virgin. And what does a virgin queen have to do when she finds her new home with the secondary (or in this case tertiary) swarm? She has to fly out and mate.

The odds of her mating successfully or well are slim with the constant rain.

This weekend, almost three weeks since the swarm was hived, my daughter and I went up to see the bees. I noticed that the bees in the hive I made from a split of a Mountain Sweet Honey hive that survived the winter were flying in and out with pollen, but the bees in the swarm hive were not.

I started worrying that the queen might have been short-bred or not mated at all.

Today I went up and opened the hive. I had with me a frame of brood and eggs from my neighborhood hive that overwintered successfully. I had wrapped the frame in a warm towel from the dryer because I wanted the eggs to stay warm.

I opened the hive and found bees and comb, but no queen activity in the bottom box. At this point I put in the frame of brood and eggs. 

In the second box also no bee activity - drawn comb that I had given them but nothing was being stored in it. There were many bees in this box. 

The third box had mostly drone brood with a few worker cells. I think the queen was poorly mated. The bees weren't even bringing in nectar, almost as if they knew they were doomed. 

I hope the frame of brood and eggs will give them a new lease on life. I'll add a frame of brood and eggs each week now until they have a successful queen in the hive.

The other hive, the split from Ray and Julie's Mountain Sweet Honey bees, was doing really well. Their new queen had successfully mated and there were eggs, brood, pollen and honey in that hive. The comb they were drawing was lovely and I have high hopes for that hive.

If you zoom in on this photo you can see many eggs in the open cells below the pollen.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Three Good Uses for the Queen Excluder

In a tree there is no queen excluder.  Bees in the wild build where they want to and the queen is free to wander in the comb and lay where it suits her.  However, humans are always wanting to bend nature to meet their convenience.  The queen excluder is no exception.

It was developed for the convenience of the beekeeper.  In the time of honey harvest, the queen excluder insured the beekeeper that he/she could remove the top boxes of the hive (honey supers) and be almost guaranteed that the queen would not be removed with the boxes.  I can imagine that for the commercial beekeeper, this is essential for efficiency in the honey harvest.

However, those of us with less hives than a commercial outfit have the luxury of respecting our bees and their process in the hive.  We can employ an unlimited broodnest for the better functioning of our hives and deal with where the brood is come harvest time without needing to simply pull off the top boxes for harvest as the commercial beeks would do.

The beginner kits I bought when I started beekeeping ten years ago each came with a queen excluder so I have two queen excluders. Since I don't want to exclude the queen from the hive boxes, I have found three good uses for the queen excluder and want to share them with those of you who have never used yours.

1. The queen excluder is the perfect drain rack for draining cut comb honey.

The spaces between the wires are small to keep the queen from being able to push her enlarged abdomen through (excluding her).  As a result they are relatively close together compared to a cake cooling rack. On a cake cooling rack, the distance between the wires is much wider and if you put cut comb honey sections on that kind of rack, indentations are made in the honeycomb. If you want your cut comb honey to be show quality and pleasing to the recipient, it should not have wire indentation marks in it, and the queen excluder is your answer to this potential problem!

I can't find the name of the physical principle that defines the above distribution of weight - if anyone knows what it is, please put it in a comment or email me.  A kind anonymous soul has answered in the comments below:  Pressure = Force/Area!  Thanks so much for letting me know and say the appropriate thing here.

2. Once upon a time I thought I had two queens laying in my hive at the same time. There were eggs and brood in the bottom box of the hive and in the third box up, separated by a box of capped honey, there was another box full of eggs and brood. I went on Beemaster Forum and posed the question: Could I possibly have two queens laying in my hive?

The forum members suggested that I put a queen excluder between the two boxes and leave them for a week.  At the end of that time, if there were new eggs in both the top box and the lower box, then I would have a queen laying in both boxes.

I did it and in fact there were two laying queens in the hive.  So the second use of the queen excluder is to prove that there are two queens in a hive.

3.  The third use of the queen excluder is to let the queen excluder make sure you don't take the queen by accident when making a split. 

While there are several ways to do this, I'm going to share the easiest one. The simplest way is to take the frames you want for the split out of the hive and shake or brush every single bee off of them.  You will be taking a couple of frames of brood and eggs so that the new hive can make a queen. Then put the queen excluder on top of the top box in the hive.

On top of the queen excluder, put an empty hive box and fill it with the five frames you have pulled and shaken free of bees. Don't put any other frames in that box. On top of that box put the inner cover and the top cover and leave the hive for the night.

The next day, the brood frames should be covered with nurse bees who have come up to make sure the brood and eggs stay warm enough, and you can move the five frames into their own box with no fear that you have accidentally taken the queen. Simple nuc, simply made.

I'm sure there are other good uses for the queen excluder beside the traditional one of separating the queen from the honey supers. I'd love to hear how you repurpose this device!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

It's Earth Day for Bees and People

My friend Curt Barrett and I were featured in an article that appeared online on Mother Nature Network.  Here it is.  Tom Oder interviewed each of us and then communicated what he learned about bee swarms.

The article mentions our swarm adventures which have been featured on this blog.  (Curt and I did the Bee-wo-Jima capture)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Speaking to Coweta Beekeepers

On Monday night in terrible Atlanta weather, I spoke to the Coweta Beekeepers near Newnan, Georgia.  They have a great facility for meeting - it's professionally set up and nearly perfect.  They meet at the agricultural center for their county.  I wish we had more farmers in downtown Atlanta so we could have such a facility available.

There are extension agents in North Fulton and South Fulton Counties, but that's a long haul for us city folks.

(Thanks to Debbie Lorincz, a Coweta member, for taking these photos)

I talked about ways to make your beekeeping simpler.  It was fun.  It's a talk I've given often with some variation from previous times, but I had a good time giving it and the questions were great.  I talked about hive box size, foundationless frames, water sources, entrance reducers, crush and strain honey harvest....

I've had emails from a number of the club members - which is always nice afterwards.

Tomorrow I'll be speaking to the Mecklenburg County beekeepers in Charlotte, NC.  It's a very busy bee week.  Then I'm driving to Rabun County to check on my bees at Robin and Mary's house.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

There's no Such Thing as a Free Lunch!

All beekeepers get excited when they are called for a swarm!  I'm in that boat - I get so excited that I keep all my gear in my car during swarm season so I'm ready to go if called.

Last night as my work day was ending, my friend, Curt, called me and said his hive had swarmed for the third time!  He now has three hives in his yard and he has reached his limit, so he offered the swarm to me.  It was about to rain, but I drove by his house where I saw the swarm about 16 feet up in a cedar tree.  I thought I could get it with the swarm catcher, but it was about to pour and I was exhausted.

So I decided to wait until this morning and if the bees were still there, I'd get them then.  I drove to Curt's house this morning around 8:45.  The bees were still there, up high in the tree and were very active.

Here's the swarm as up close as I could get it with the zoom on my camera.

 Here's its location in the tree - up toward the top on the left - see the house roof in the background? I had to put the swarm catcher on I think the fourth or fifth notch to get it long enough.

I had set up the box to receive the swarm on top of cardboard.  I also put a white sheet under the swarm's tree location.  I remembered Bee-wo Jima and put the box a little ways away, but after the first bee dump, I realized it could be closer so I set it on the white sheet.

What I am using is a plastic file box. I have a ventilated hive cover to close it and a white hive drape to cover that. A bungee cord is set to go around the collection box.

I tapped the swarm branch at least five times and bees still remained encircling the high branch.  I looked at the frantic bees flying near my head and realized there was another swarm about five feet over my head!  I went after that one several times as well, and got most of the bees.

When you collect a swarm, you know you have the queen when you see the bees raising their rear ends into the air and emitting nasonov to announce, "The Queen is here! The Queen is here!"  This was not happening and I felt discouraged. There were still hundreds of bees in the two tree locations and I was getting tired, getting close to two hours into this.

I looked around and my eye fell on about six bees on the edge of my plastic bucket I had brought with smoker fuel in it for later in the day. I had emptied it to try to use it to collect the small swarm on the lower branch. It was an unsuccessful attempt, so I had set it on the edge of the sheet.

As I looked closer, I realized that on the edge of the bucket was the QUEEN with about five bees in her retinue!  I didn't pause to take a photo; I just dumped her and her five companions into the plastic box. In ten years of beekeeping, I have never seen the queen in a swarm.  I was so excited!

As if by magic, suddenly everything changed.  The bees began making their way into the box. Bees started flying down from the high perch in the tree to join their sisters in the box. Hooray. By now I had been here two hours.

At this point almost all the bees had left the tree, so I brushed most of these bees into the box, attached the ends of the bungee cord and folded the sheet up around the whole thing so I wouldn't leave bees behind.

My plan was to install them at the nearby community garden where I have two hives, one still empty of bees from last year.

The hive was ready and waiting, so I dumped the bees in and replaced the missing frames.  I left and went to work.  The photo below is what it looked like when I left:

I had a break a couple of hours later, so I went by the garden to see how things were going, fully expecting to see bees orienting to the hive and happy as bees can bee.

Instead, this is what I found.  Not a bee in the hive and all of them in a swarm cluster, waiting for the scouts to find them a better home.

In desperation, I called Julia to find out what she would do in this situation.  She suggested that I spray them again with sugar syrup and then do three things: 
  • That I add another box to the hive and spread out the drawn and empty frames - maybe the hive  in two medium boxes wasn't big enough for this group;
  • That I put some lemon grass oil on the frames and inside the hive;
  • That I use a queen excluder as a queen includer and put it between the hive and the entry so that the queen couldn't leave again - picky woman that she apparently is.
Then I had to collect the swarm all over again.  So this time I spread out the sheet, propped the collection box below the hive entry, and readied the ventilated hive cover (seen to the left on the sheet).

Once the bees were in the collection box, I took the hive down to the screened bottom board and added the queen "includer." Then I checkerboarded the two filled boxes, adding a third box full of empty frames. In the end, each of the three boxex had about four drawn frames and four empty frames interspersed.

When I left (to go yet again back to work) the hive looked like this with more bees going in than coming out.

I stopped on my way home around 7:30 tonight and this is how it looked. There were a few stubborn swarm enthusiasts hanging out under the top cover, but the rest of the girls were flying in and out and orienting to the hive.

Beekeepers joke that swarm bees are "free bees. These were hardly free. I collected the swarm with great effort over and over, first from the tree and then later in the afternoon, had to collect it again. I spent at least four hours on this project during a work day (not at the office, not getting paid!) 

Because I had to interfere with them so much, I got stung in the hands at least eight times. On the positive side, though, I only wore a veil - not my jacket - and only put on gloves after I had been stung a lot because I wanted to mask the pheromone so they would quit.

It was a great challenge and I had a direct experience to teach me that there is no such thing as a free lunch!

PS - since this is the third swarm the hive has sent out into the world, the queen is likely a virgin and I can't leave the queen "includer" on for a week.  Guess I'll take it off this afternoon after work or tomorrow morning.  Will call my friend Julia for more advice and consult Honey Bee Democracy and Mark Winston's book for help.

Note:  I stopped by the next day when the hive had been in the hive for 24 hours and removed the queen excluder.  I do hope the queen makes her way out to be mated.  Meanwhile in the next few days I'll probably put in a frame of brood and eggs from one of my survivor hives to be sure.

Monday, April 06, 2015

New Meet-up Group in Atlanta for Talking About Keeping Bees Naturally

Julia and I are starting a meetup group in Atlanta called:

Atlanta Beekeeping the Natural Way

to provide a place where people can discuss all kinds of ways of beekeeping. We often say that beekeeping is an art as well as a science. Since there are so many ways of keeping bees and thinking about bees, we wanted to find a way to talk more freely about the various approaches to bees.

Julia and I both keep bees naturally - letting the queen have an unlimited broodnest; trying to leave enough honey on the hives so that the bees don't need to have sugar water because they have their own honey to eat; and avoiding poisons in the hive.

If you are in the Atlanta area and want to come to our Meetup, the first meeting is on May 14 at the Buckhead Library in the small conference room from 6:30 - 7:45.  Going forward we will be meeting the second Thursday of the month from 6:30 - 7:45 (when they will kick us out of the library)!

Please join us, if you are interested.

In our first gathering, Julia and I will speak some about how we keep bees and the general overview of Beekeeping the Natural Way. Then we'll all talk about what people want to get from the group, share experiences and shape the form of our gathering going forward.

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