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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 21, 2017

Rookie Mistakes in Beekeeping

It's the beginning of bee season in the south and many people are getting their packages and nucs. We are having a discussion at the Atlanta Beekeeping Meetup tomorrow night about rookie mistakes. That made me want to write about them here.

Some rookie mistakes that come to mind:

1. Not knowing what to do about the bees that stay in the nuc box you just installed or the package you just shook into a hive.

My first installation (and others after that) stopped the instructions with shaking the remaining bees into the hive. No matter how much you shake, bees remain in the nuc box or the package that still smells like home to them. So when you are finished with your work of installing, there will still be a large number of bees clinging to the old box or remaining on the package's screen wire. When I installed my first nucs, I called five beekeepers before I found someone who told me to stand the "empty" nuc box on end in front of the entrance and all of the bees would eventually find their way home to Mama.

2. Failing to light the smoker

I often only use the smoker once to puff at the front door to announce my presence to the bees. Then I set it in front of the hive and rarely use it. I get away with it because I use hive drapes. The very day that you, the beginner, go out to the hive without the smoker is the day that the hive is roaring mad and you really get stung. Never open the hive without having lit the smoker.

3. Not having enough equipment ready to use

Beekeeping is not a cheap hobby. But that being said, the worst thing that can happen is to run out of equipment. The bees don't understand that the equipment that they need to be happy (a new box, more frames) is on a UPS truck. They need you to have it when they run out of space. Always be several boxes ahead of your bees.

4. Feeding when the bees don't need it

You'll have to feed a package and you might want to feed a swarm. A nuc comes with its food already being stored in the hive. If a nectar flow is on, the bees don't want/need your sugar syrup. If you keep feed on the hive when there is a nectar flow, the bees may back fill all of the brood cells as well as their honey cells, leaving no room for the queen to lay. Also I am convinced that much of the honey in the US is partially sugar syrup because new beekeepers are so eager to feed their bees.

5. Leaving frames out of a box (not respecting bee space)

When you put a hive box together, you need to fill it with the requisite number of frames. If you don't the bees will make a mess. They only need bee space, and the area left open by the lack of a frame is an invitation for them to fill the space with unsupported comb. Once I fed new hives by putting baggie feeders on top of the hive bars instead of on top of the inner cover. I returned to find that the bees (all eight hives of them) had built beautiful comb from the bottom side of the inner cover. What a mess.

6. Cutting queen cells when you see them

Often nucs are so crowded in their nuc box before they are picked up, that they are eager to swarm and make more room. When they do, they leave queen cells behind. The rookie beekeeper may see these cells and cut them. But guess what? The hive swarmed when you weren't around and by cutting the queen cells, you render your new hive queenless. Besides as you work harder at bee-ing, you'll discover that the best way to deter a swarm is to use checkerboarding and that those queen cells can be used to make splits!

7. Opening hive too frequently

Great way to kill your hive. PN Williams in Atlanta always said to start with two hives: one to kill by over inspecting it and one to survive! Always have a reason for your hive inspection (just to look is not a reason - checking to see if the queen is laying is a reason). That might keep you from opening more than about once a week at most.

8. Going out to hive with no protection, wearing black, having drunk a coke, and at 4:30 in the afternoon.

Many beekeepers cut down on the amount of protective gear they wear as their beekeeping experience expands. However, at first, we are typically awkward and may drop frames, smash bees, or have a hard time handling the bees that fly into your face/veil. Wear your gear. Also bees don't like black (makes them think you are a bear), don't like caffeine (don't drink coffee right before an inspection) and are a little frantic at orientation time (around 3:30 - 4:30 in the afternoon. Avoid all of the above when you are inspecting.

Yes, there is a story here - I was singing in a choir in my early beekeeping years and was so enamored of my bees. We had an all day choir workshop and I had on black, had drunk a coke and we got a break at 4:00 before an evening get together at 6. So I went home and sat down between my hives at about 4:30. I was just peacefully sitting there, but the bees were orienting, I had on black and had drunk caffeine. So one of them zapped me on the side of my face. I was teaching at Emory at the time and had to go to work with one side of my face totally swollen and red. I don't get those large local reactions anymore, but at the time, I was a sight to behold!

9. Dropping a frame.

My second to the worst sting occurred when I dropped a deep foundationless frame of brood in my second year. I forgot that I couldn't hold the frame at a slant to look at it (you can't with foundationless because they are often not attached at the bottom of the frame). The honeycomb and brood dropped off and all the angry nurse bees came after me, crawling up the legs of my pants and getting me everywhere they could find purchase for their stingers.

10. Harvesting too much honey in first year.

The idea is for your first year bees to survive the following winter and be alive for a second year. In Atlanta, I always leave at least a box and a half of honey on each of my hives. Find out what your bees need in your area and leave at least that amount for your bees. If you just really want to taste your honey (and of course, you do), then take one frame out of your heaviest box and crush and strain it so you can have something to show for your labors. Leave the rest for the bees and your reward will be great the next year.

Beekeeping is a constant learning activity. I learn new things with each talk I hear, each website I visit, and each book or article that I read. The more you learn, the less likely you are to make rookie mistakes.

What rookie mistakes can you add to this list?

Good luck with your bees!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Camera as a Hive Tool

I am asked to give talks at bee clubs and garden clubs all over Georgia. I have a number of topics but I've presented many of them numerous times. Probably out of my own boredom (!), I decided to develop a new topic called: The Camera as a Hive Tool. I first presented it at the NE Georgia Mountain Beekeepers' meeting this month.

Since I began beekeeping, I have always taken a camera to the hive with me. Over time, I've been through several cameras because I drop them while I am in the hive or get honey or propolis on them in odd places. But most of us have a very expensive camera in our individual pockets - our cell phone. So today, everyone has the option of using a camera in their hive inspections.

I am not a great photographer by any means. However, the camera has been a great tool for me in my beekeeping. Taking photos and then returning to the computer and really looking at them can help in so many ways.

Here are the main points I make in my new talk:

1. The camera can help you learn about what you are seeing in your hive. You can get really acquainted with the differences in drones, workers and queens.

2. You can use the camera to document a hive inspection - take a photo of the hive front as you start the inspection and take whatever is interesting as you inspect the hive. Photograph changes you make. At the end of the inspection, take another photo of the front of the hive.

3. The camera will help you to identify problems in the hive.

Once in 2010, I put a medium frame of brood and eggs into a deep box to help a queenless hive make a new queen. The queenless hive was a teaching hive in a public garden and my hives at home were all in medium boxes. Here is what happened!

4. Photos from your camera can be used to ask for help. When I have found something that I didn't understand in my hive, I can post those photos on forum sites to ask for help.

I didn't know what a drone-laying queen would do in a hive and posted these photos on Beemaster to find out what was wrong:

Another time I found a queen whose wings had been chewed and her paint mark gnawed almost off, so I posted this photo to find out what to do to help with the situation.

5. The camera allows a lot of potential for sharing. I use it on this blog all the time to share my photos with you. I make videos with my camera to use as an educational tool. For example, here's what a real robbing situation looks like.

6. Finally, the camera is a tool for the art part of beekeeping - which as we all know is both an art and a science. So I take photos of bees on flowers and on beautiful wax, etc. to enjoy the art of it all!

How do you use your camera in the hive? Share in the comments, if you are willing.

So get out your camera/phone and take it to your hive. Enjoy the many opportunities that having a camera with you can add to your beekeeping experience.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Meeting Marla Spivak

Marla Spivak is just as lovely a person as she appears to be on her TED talk. When I've listened to her TED talk, as I have many times, I have thought that she's someone I'd like to just sit with and have a conversation. At the same time, I know that the TED talk presenters are highly rehearsed and well-trained, so I didn't really know how she'd be in person.

I had the opportunity to meet her in person, to listen to her give three talks, and to hang out with her at our sort of "after gathering" in the hotel lobby on Friday night of the GBA conference in Griffin, GA. And she is a lovely person.

Her talks at GBA covered any number of topics. On Friday night, she talked about the changes in the landscape - the fields that no longer have weeds, the lawns that are treated, etc. and that accompanying impact on the nutrition of the bee. On Saturday her talks were more about the work of her graduate students.

She talked on Saturday about an interesting program that her students began and which have now blossomed into a much larger operation. Called tech transfer teams, her students act as consultants to commercial beekeepers to help them maximize the success of their hives. They travel to the commercial migratory operations and work directly with the beekeepers and their bees.

The openness of the way this research morphed into a consulting project made me in awe of how she works with her students. Every example of a student project reflected how well she supports and encourages innovative thinking in her students. I have a PhD in psychology, not entomology, but I remember professors in my graduate program and how hard it was to get supportive minds for individual research. I found myself envious of her students who get to work with someone who is generous, giving and very open-minded in thinking outside of the box.

Her last talk was the most interesting to me. She talked about the propolis in the bee hive. In trees, the bees completely coat the interior of a hollow tree in which they build their hive with propolis. In our Langstroth boxes, this is not the case. The bees find the surface of the wood of the hive box too smooth to coat with propolis. One of Marla's students cut up those plastic propolis traps and lined the inside of hive boxes with them. The result was that they had to remove one frame and run nine frame boxes instead of ten to accommodate the space used by the propolis traps on all sides. But with the installed traps on the walls, again the bees coated the walls with propolis.

She made the point that the propolis serves a purpose in the tree for the bees' health and when they can't do it in a hive box, something important is missing. She indicated that unless we had rough wood interiors, the bees were unlikely to coat our Langstroth boxes. Made me wonder about top bar hives again and the rough way that they are often constructed in Africa. I wonder if they are coated with propolis? And I wonder how much healthier our bees would be if it were easy for them to cover the walls with propolis?

Thursday, March 02, 2017

It's Swarm Trap Time - Time for Traps and Swarm Lure

We are having a much warmer time earlier this year than normal and bees are considering swarming. I want to be ready so last weekend I set up three swarm traps.

My nuc which was a thriving hive, died in early winter because I didn't feed it. I had started feeding it but then I fell in October and didn't do anything for the hives after that. This huge nuc died and it made me ill to see all the dead bees. And to see the two empty bottles of food inside the top nuc box.

The last little bit of honey was consumed by the bees. They are head down in the cells as bees are when they starve. The rest of the bees lay dead in the bottom of the nuc box.
I was a neglectful beekeeper - injury is a decent excuse, but I could have gotten someone else to feed them.

So I took that nuc box, smelling of bee (which is often seductive to a swarm looking for a home), cleaned it out (dumped out the dead bees) and set the nuc up as a swarm trap.

At our GBA spring meeting on the 18th, I heard a really good talk by GBA member Paul Berry about the tons of swarms he caught last year (I think the number was 48!). He prefers nuc boxes as swarm traps. Since this is a medium nuc box, I put two boxes on the bottom board to intrigue the scout bees.

My house is built into a hill and my backyard is considerably lower than the street. So I arranged two other nuc boxes as swarm traps on my deck to attract either my own bees swarming or some from the many neighborhood beekeepers.

As you can see, I have jammed the entry of the nuc box up against the slats of the deck rails. I'm feeling a bit like Winnie the Pooh and am hoping that the bees will think these boxes are in a tree.

I did several things to make these swarm traps attractive. I put frames in the hive that were old frames and smelled nice and bee-ie. In the deep nuc boxes I put medium frames because I use all medium boxes. If I catch a swarm I wanted to move it to a medium box as easily as possible and the medium frames will facilitate that. 

Finally I mixed up swarm lure. I don't think it's easy to find the recipe on my blog anymore since Google disabled Picasa web albums so I took photos the other day as I made more and here they are:

One square inch of beeswax in 1/4 cup olive oil, poured into a jelly jar and heated in a hot water bath on the stove.
Melting happens faster if you stir - I use a tongue depressor.
When it has cooled slightly, add 15 - 20 drops of lemongrass essential oil (the bees love it and the olive oil/beeswax mix makes it last longer in the hive).
Pour it into some kind of container. It will solidify into a sort of lotion/ointment. Take it to the swarm traps and smear it. I smeared lure under the top edge of the entry and on the tops of the frames in the box. I also smeared some swarm lure around the hole in the inner cover.

Now I get to watch for a swarm to arrive!

Where I have Been

Dear Blog Followers,

I have not posted since August 23 of last year, and I wanted to let you know about my absence. Beginning on that date in August, I have been dealing with two major health issues. A freckle on the retina of my eye started changing in a malignant direction and I've had to have treatment on it which has been scary and, of course, disruptive. And at the end of October, I slipped on a newly mopped floor, fell, and dislocated my right shoulder. In that fall I damaged the nerve that makes the upper arm work and wasn't able to lift anything (like bee hives).

However, I'm managing the eye problem and the nerve in my upper arm is slowly getting better (I can reach out to shake hands now, but still can't raise my arm above my head). So I'm back and hopefully will be blogging about my bees on a regular basis again.

In the middle of all of that, I was elected president of the Georgia Beekeepers Association in October, which has been quite a challenge with all of these health things going on, but I have tried to do a good job at that position and think I have so far. We had a great meeting in October (before my fall) and just had our "spring" meeting - always strikes me as funny that the spring meeting is while it is still cold. Our spring meeting included Marla Spivak - a fabulous, easy to listen to speaker.

I love writing this blog and have missed it, so I'm glad to be back.

Linda T

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