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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, September 14, 2018

Trying out a new honey filter

Recently I was asked to try out a new honey filter developed by an Atlanta baker. He had heard beekeepers talking about problems with the filters they were using and decided to try his hand at making a better one.

There are many things I love about this filter. It's a 400 micron filter, but filters as well as my 200 micron filter in my filter bucket. The filter is like a paint filter and holds to the bucket with an elastic top.

I crushed and strained honey from about the equivalent of two frames and put the crushed comb in the filter:

I did one bucket of light and one of dark since the super we removed had both varieties in the combs. I cut around the dark honey and kept it separate from the light.

When the honey was bottled, it was clear and very clean.

I couldn't figure out how best to show you the clarity. I held it up to a window so you could see how clear it was. And I held it up to my kitchen tile.

This was a very small amount of honey so the filtered honey didn't occupy much of the bucket. In a good year (this wasn't), I would filter a whole medium of honey at once. The honey, when filtered, occupies about half of a five-gallon bucket. 

The major disadvantage of this filter is how low it hangs in the bucket. You can see the bottom of the filter in this shot through the honey gate. In a full super's worth of honey, this filter would be hanging in the filtered honey. I tried pulling the elastic band down as far as I could and this is as high as I could raise the bottom of the filter bag. 

For quality and ease of use, this is a great filter. It is reusable and washable. The seams are on the outside so there's nowhere in the inside of the filter for the wax to get caught. It is easy to clean. 

Its biggest disadvantage at the moment is the length of the bag. Stacked filters that I purchase from the big vendors only occupy about the top 1/4 of the five-gallon bucket and never do I have the problem of the filter being IN the honey which is what would happen with this one. The good news is that I have told the inventor about this and he will redesign it on the next manufacturing run.

Meanwhile, for small harvests, this is a great filter. You can buy it from Amazon. A photo of the product is in the fifth photo on this post and you can buy two of them for only $15.99.

I had a very pleasant visit with Michael Yoss, the maker of these filters. He and I harvested the honey together and he accompanied me while I filtered it. I appreciated his efforts to make a good product for beekeepers.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Gonorrhea and the Varroa Mite

Today in my iPhone news source this article appeared. I read the whole article with interest because of my interest in the varroa mite and the "treatment" that is regularly recommended - no, pushed with great guilt-induction down new beekeepers' throats.

The title of the article is

Wherever you are in the world, time is running out for treating gonorrhea

The point of the article is that bacteria that cause gonorrhea are growing increasingly resistant to all drugs available for treatment. In the United States, the article says, cases of gonorrhea rose 50% between 2006 - 2015. And at the same time, the bacteria are growing more and more resistant. The future does not look good for new gonorrhea cases.

Beekeepers keep treating the varroa mite and it doesn't go away. Instead, we are developing a stronger and stronger varroa mite. As we proceed to treat the varroa mite ineffectively, we are in grave danger of finding ourselves with a SuperVarroa Mite. And the varroa mite will be just like gonorrhea with NO EFFECTIVE TREATMENT.

As treatments are tried, the varroa mite gets stronger and the treatment no longer works. So now everyone is encouraged to use oxalic acid. It's bad for bees (the only truly safe time to use oxalic for the bees is when the hive is broodless - and do you know any beekeepers who actually only treat in December?) and bad for the varroa mite (everybody loses - including the beekeeper who has to be extremely careful with the toxic "treatment"). Meanwhile, the varroa mite gets stronger and stronger as it lives through these efforts to obliterate it. 

I have bees that survive without treatment. Mind you, all of my bees do not. My bees that die are usually swarms I catch or bees I purchase (which I do rarely) from beekeepers who treat. I do lose hives when they don't go into winter strong enough - that may be caused by varroa. I don't have confidence in the survival of a hive until it has lived through two winters. But when my bees die, it's usually beekeeper error that I can trace and tell you what happened. I am only interested in my bees that do survive because that means they have the genetics to live WITH the varroa mite.

I have kept bees since 2006 without treatment. However, I lost bees when I moved in 2011 and they didn't get moved well. I lost my very best survivor hive last summer when I made mid-summer splits too late; the splits were robbed out the day I made them and the queen was accidentally killed in the original hive. Beekeeper error, not varroa, caused the loss of that, my best hive.

Right now I have bees from a swarm I caught four or five years ago that are thriving, surviving every winter and producing honey. I made a split from that hive this spring and I hope it does just as well. I have two hives on the roof of an Atlanta elementary school that were previously kept by a beekeeper who did not treat and are now my bees. Those two hives are overflowing with bees and have been alive for at least four years with no treatment. I made splits from those bees and gave away queen cells to a friend of mine so we can have continued treatment free bees.

I also have a swarm in a top bar hive. The swarm came from a hive that had not been opened, much less treated, in four years. I have great hopes for them. If they make it through the winter, I'll make a split from them next year. 
At Young Harris last week, I went to a very good presentation by Geoff Williams of the Auburn bee lab. His subject was "When chemicals and pathogens collide." My favorite part of the lecture (maybe because I answered a question and won a t-shirt!) was when he explained the relationship between chemicals and pathogens. There are many relationships - he had an entire chart. The relationships are defined by who profits in the relationship - the pathogen? the chemical? neither? both? 

But the relationship that seems most functional to me when I think of the varroa mite and the bee is mutuality (number one on Geoff's chart). We need a bee who can live with and tolerate the varroa mite and a varroa mite that can't destroy the bee, but can still reproduce itself. That is not going to happen as we continue to help breed a stronger and stronger varroa mite. 

I wish the universities would focus on how treatment-free hives manage to survive. I wish they would work on developing the strong genetics of those bees and that they would quit engaging in a process to develop the SuperVarroa mite, which is what they are doing now.

But you and I both know where the money comes from for university research. It's from Big Ag and not the backyard beekeeper. So the focus of university research is on bee survival for pollination of the almonds and other crops at whatever cost, rather than looking at balance in the beehive.

I went to another talk at Young Harris entitled The Top 10 Best Practices in Modern Beekeeping. The speaker began talking right from the start about varroa mites. More than midway through the talk, he never had moved into whatever the other nine practices were. 

I left when he did what many speakers do today - blame the treatment-free beekeeper for the strength of the varroa mite. I've heard so many people say that the treatment-free beekeeper has hives that are bringing the varroa mite into the hives of those who treat through a "varroa bomb" and we should be strung up on the highest tree (or at least that is implied). 

It would be encouraging if interest were expressed in why surviving hives make it through the winters rather than employing shaming toward people who are trying to take care of their bees in a way that works for them and for their bees. 

Instead, the top ten practices of modern beekeeping that are encouraged are 1. Treat varroa; 2. Treat varroa; 3. Treat varroa; 4. Treat varroa; 5. Treat varroa; 6. Treat varroa; 7. Treat varroa......I don't know what 8, 9 or 10 are because I walked out.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Where do your bees forage?

This map will draw a map of where your bees forage! This was posted on my bee club's Facebook page:

When I asked it to calculate a 2 mile radius circle for where my bees are most likely to forage, here is what it showed:

I've known that they are likely to forage at the Botanical Garden since it's only a couple of blocks away, but it's fun to see where they might gather nectar and pollen. Since bees can go about 3 miles away, you can imagine the boundary extending even further, but if I were my bees, I'd stop at the Botanical Garden!

Sunday, April 01, 2018

My New Top Bar Hive

My friend Andy Marcus is an air conditioning guy in spring and summer, but during the calmer days of winter, he builds top bar hives. Julia ordered one from him and I saw it and loved it. I called Andy, who told me he had just enough time to do one more top bar hive this winter.

When he finished it, Jeff and I went up to get it. Andy lives near Dahlonega, GA. We took Jeff's car, which is bigger than mine, because the hive is HUGE. It was a cold, misty, rainy kind of day in early February.

We were blown away by the gorgeous top bar hive that waited for us at Andy's house. Here it is with Andy, the builder:

To put this in the car, we had to remove the legs! Both of my sons-in-law carried it out of the car into my yard where it sat on a stack of hive boxes, waiting for me to paint the legs.

Last weekend, Jeff worked to attach the now-painted legs. Literally as he tightened the last bolt, my phone rang with a swarm call to pick up a swarm not too far away on an arbor - it was such an exciting swarm collection that I will do a separate post on it.

So here it sat in my backyard waiting for the swarm to arrive!

The hive boxes are under it because the top bar rested on the boxes while we worked on getting the legs attached.

I could sleep in this box - it's as big as a coffin!

Another check on the Buckfast bees

The Buckfast bees near Emory are doing fine. In the intervening week between St. Patrick's Day when we installed them and Thursday, the 29th when I last inspected them, we've had incredibly cold weather for Atlanta after the first day of spring. We've had nights in the 30s and day time with only about an hour above 52 degrees.

That is to say that the weather has not been very conducive to bees flying to collect nectar. They have to have nectar to draw wax, so neither of the Buckfast hives (in Emory neighborhood or at my house) had a huge amount of new wax drawn. But these hives are using the wax. In most foundationless hives as soon as comb is drawn, the queen begins laying in it.

The hive at my house had done some coloring outside the lines in their wax building. I tried to get them back on proper course with heavy duty rubber bands.

These hives are doing well and I am pleased. The nectar flow is about to begin in Georgia. There is some nectar coming in, but the big flow comes with the tulip poplar and I had one errant bloom fall into my backyard today. However, in general, the tulip poplar here is beginning to put out leaves but not blooms.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Buckfast Bees

I've always been fascinated with Brother Adam, who spent much of his beekeeping life developing the Buckfast bee (named for the Buckfast Abbey in England where Brother Adam lived and kept bees). The Buckfast bee was developed for gentleness and good survivability.

Last bee season I killed my best colony. I didn't write about it because I was so, so ashamed of killing such a great colony of survivor bees. I had had them for about six years. I was trying to follow the plan of splitting your colony after the harvest to go into winter with extra colonies in case you lost any over the winter. I needed help to do it (I couldn't lift hive boxes last year because of a shoulder injury) so I waited about two weeks too long.

By the time I split the colony, making three three frame nucs in my queen castle, we were in a dearth. All three splits were robbed out and killed. I must have moved the queen to one of the splits by accident because the original colony was unable to make a new queen. So the three splits and the strong original colony all died.

That meant that going into winter, I only had one colony - a four-year-old hive that developed from a swarm I caught in my own neighborhood.

My friend Julia told me that a man from Wisconsin who had Buckfast bees was driving through Atlanta from Florida and still had some nucs available for purchase. The company was Fox Honey Farm and they were driving a flatbed truck through Atlanta with bee pick up between 5AM and 7AM on Saturday, March 17 in a Walmart parking lot on Cascade Road. What an adventure!

I ordered two - one for my bee-lonely backyard and one for a yard where Jeff and I are to be the beekeepers this season. And then I set my alarm for before the crack of dawn and drove very carefully to the Walmart parking lot. It's amazing how many people are shopping at Walmart before 6 AM!

Later that morning a high school student whom I am mentoring and I installed the two nucs. First we opened the entry and set the nuc that was staying at my house on top of the hive where it would live. Then we drove over to the house near Emory.

Aaron who was working with me had opened a hive with me before but he had never done a nuc installation. So he handled a lot of the hive installation at the house near Emory. 

As I'm sure you know, you don't need a smoker during an installation, but we do use hive drapes to keep the bees as calm as possible. This was a very calm nuc and the installation went well. When we finished, the bees were starting to explore their new environs.

This old hive is right next to the hive in which we installed the nuc. It is unoccupied and the beekeeper who owned the hive has, as I understand it, left the country. It had three different sized boxes on it. I saw bees flying in and out of it - scouts looking for a new home, I'm sure. While we were there, we moved the shallow boxes off of this hive so if a swarm should decide to make it their home, we wouldn't have to deal with three different types of boxes.

Then we returned to my yard and installed the Buckfast nuc there.

In both nucs there were five frames of brood, a tiny bit of nectar and no pollen that I saw. I put a full frame of honey from my freezer into each of these installations to give the bees something to live on until the nectar flow starts in a few days or so.

And then, following SOP, we left the nuc on its side facing the hive so that the remaining bees could join their mom and sisters.

I went back to the Emory installation the next week and it was doing great.

I saw the queen:

And I noted that the bees were drawing comb as fast as they could on the empty frames in the box with the frame of honey.

Live long and prosper, Buckfast Bees. I'm counting on you.

More SPARK errors

I tell people with pride that I write on this blog about all the mistakes I make because I think it helps other beekeepers to learn from my errors. Well, here's another one.

Sarah, my daughter, and I went back to SPARK to move one of the beehives into all medium boxes. When we arrived both hives were flying but one looked really odd. The bees were only around the top edge of the box:

Why are the bees clustering around the top? Well, the beekeeper (that would be me) had, at the last second as I was leaving when I was there before, pushed the entrance reducer into the front of the hive. Unfortunately, it was a homemade entrance reducer made by the last beekeeper and while I thought I was turning it so the large entry would be open, it in fact only had a small entry. I had left the hive totally closed in the front.

I pulled the entrance reducer out and there were dead bee bodies behind it. Did this mean the hive was dead and the bees clustered around the top edges of the hive were marauders? We only had a limited period of time so we set to work on the other hive and left the unknown answers still a mystery until we had done our hive move on the other hive. 

Hint: the hive was alive - three weeks after I had closed up the front entry - can you imagine why? (Will tell at the end of this post). 

So we went to the other hive which was already in a combination of medium and shallow boxes to move it into all medium boxes.

This hive, too, had problems. 

Three of the boxes had removed frames which the bees had filled with capped drone comb. In each instance, we just cut the drone comb off of its support and I brought it home, put it in my front yard, and fed it to the birds. In the photo above you can see one of the spaces.

We pulled off all of the old rotting boxes and replaced them with my old medium boxes, newly painted white. We moved the frames one by one and transferred them to the new boxes. The three missing frames made our job a little easier and we made a split into a cardboard nuc as we went through the frames. 

The hive, crowded as it was, was preparing to swarm so we found at least two frames with queen cells, capped and fairly light in color. I put a frame with one queen cell into our split as well as some frames with eggs to give the bees the best chance.

This hive was boiling over with bees and we had bees all over the removed equipment and even on my hat.

This is how it looked at the end. I had thought the hive had three boxes on it and I only brought four boxes with me. Turned out, the hive had four boxes on it so we actually left it still rather crowded. I came back the next day, popped the top and added a fifth box, moving three frames of honey up to the new box and adding empty frames in their spaces to open up the honey dome.

The first photo above is when I arrived. The second photo is when I left with the new box added. There was a class on the roof at the garden when I arrived on day 2 and one of the teachers took this photo as I was lighting the smoker:

So why was the other hive still alive, despite beekeeper error? There are two reasons. You may remember that the queen excluder was removed the last time I was there, giving the queen full access to the whole hive. If it had remained on the hive, she would have been stuck in the bottom box. Secondly, you may remember that I often use beer bottle caps as ventilators under the corners of the telescoping cover:

This photo is from a post on July 20, 2012. The beer caps are usually propolized by the bees and raise the top cover about 1/4 inch - the height of the beer cap. The hive we are discussing had these propolized caps in the corners of the top cover. That little 1/4 inch was enough to allow the bees to enter the hive through the top.

We didn't inspect this hive but opened the top and took off the inner cover before we left. It was boiling over with bees. As I left with the hive wide open in the front, I noticed the bees were using what they now claimed as their entrance, going into the hive under the telescoping cover! They'll probably use the front door once we move that second hive into new boxes next week!

So despite two major beekeeper errors - leaving the queen excluder on all winter and plugging up the front entrance for three early spring weeks, this hive is quite a live one. And I feel lucky.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

GBA sponsoring a honey bee license plate

This gorgeous license plate is moving through the Georgia legislature for passage this year. It passed the House unanimously 168 - 0. Today the bill is in the Georgia Senate committee process. It just passed unanimously through the public safety committee and now goes to be voted on in the Senate, I believe.

We had a contest for the design of the plate. The judges had no idea who had designed the entries which were designated by random numbers (did you know you can get sets of random numbers by Googling?)

The judges had the final entries printed up to actual size and held them up to license plates of cars so their visibility could be determined. It was a great system because I have frequently had the experience of trying to decide what the car in front of me was representing in their specialty license plate because it was hard to see.

This one is easily read; the honey bee, while stylized, is as accurate as possible; and the colors are striking. My dear friend, Julia Mahood, often mentioned on this blog, was the winning designer!

We won't know the details of ordering the plate until it has passed the Senate, but if you are a Georgia resident and are interested in knowing when/how to order, you can put yourself on a list to be notified when we do have the instructions for doing so. Just click here.

UPDATE: On Wednesday, March 21, as spring and bee season begin, the Georgia Senate passed the honey bee license plate 51 - 0. Now it goes to the Governor's office for his signature.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Honey-filled SPARK bee hives

Today Sarah, my daughter, and I went to SPARK to check on the state of the hives. We were hoping to split the hives today, but there were drone brood cells but only one or two boys in the hive. So we opened up the brood nest and worked on the hives.

The principal, Terry Harness, met us there to let us in (it's winter break and the teachers and kids are not there). He took photos (I did not) and tweeted them (so click to see them) and below are two photos taken by Principal Terry Harness.

(both photos above are by Principal Terry Harness)

Remember the comb that was standing on top of the queen excluder?  When we removed the queen excluder, we found the comb intact and below the queen excluder, the bees had hung brood comb. We cut the brood comb off of the bottom and rubber banded it into a medium frame.

We added a box to each hive. Where we could, we opened up the brood nest. Turns out that some of the boxes on the hive are shallows so we couldn't checkerboard to open it up. I'm thinking I may move those shallow frames into medium boxes even though there will be space below that the bees will fill with comb. I can't stand not having transferable frames.

It did feel good to remove each queen excluder and leave the hives in better shape than before.

We cut the honey comb off of the queen excluder and I brought it home and immediately crushed it to harvest it.

When the honey has drained into the honey bucket, I'll bottle it and put together a bee gift bag to be auctioned at SPARK's fundraiser in a few weeks.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

GBA Meeting is Coming Up

For the last year I have served as President of the Georgia Beekeepers Association. I was reelected in October to serve another year. It's wonderful to get to work with beekeepers all over the state and to meet so many new people who love our favorite insect.

On Saturday, February 17, we have the GBA Spring Conference. The all-day meeting actually begins the day before when we have a GBA Board Meeting on Friday the 16th, followed by a catered dinner following the board meeting. Dr. Diana Sammataro who is one of our keynote speakers will be our dinner speaker and will speak about "Mites and Fungicides."

If you live nearby and want to come, the meeting is at the UGA Griffin Campus, 1109 Experiment St, Griffin, GA 30223.  The campus is about an hour south of Atlanta. Here's where to register. 

And here is the program:

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

SPARK bees Make it Through the Winter Despite a Major Beekeeper Error

So all of you know that I don't use queen excluders. I like to give the queen free rein and allow her to lay wherever she'd like. In my own hives, the bees thrive with what is called an unlimited broodnest. Winter preparation for my hives at home and in the community garden this year involved taking little or no honey in order to leave enough for the bees not to starve during the winter. Also, I eliminate empty boxes to help the bees have less room to deal with in the cold.

I inherited the hives at SPARK from another beekeeper whom I had never met before the day he handed them over. He had never treated these bees (Hooray!) and they were thriving and had been for several years. I definitely wanted them to live. Gosh, what if I took over and the first thing that happened was that they died?

So I felt really scared about interfering. You'll remember the hives both had queen excluders on them when I first visited and opened the hives:

This one had a comb of honey that the bees had placed where the previous beekeeper had taken a frame of honey and had not replaced it.

Well, winter began and the hives were already compact at SPARK and I didn't need to feed the bees because both boxes had at least one full super of honey on them. So I left them for the winter........and NEVER TOOK OFF THE QUEEN EXCLUDER. (please don't tell anyone - I'm a Master Beekeeper and really should know better)

For new beekeepers: During the winter, the bees cluster around the honey. This allows them to stay warm and to have a food source that doesn't require their moving to a different box. The bees have a hard time moving if the temperature is below 50. So a well-managed hive over the winter would include removing the queen excluder to allow the cluster to gather around the honey in the super.

Truthfully, bees move honey all the time. And bees are highly motivated to survive the winter. So smart bees, and these SPARK bees must be, move honey all the time. So to keep fed and warm and to keep the queen with the cluster, the bees would have brought the honey to her. On warmer days in the fall and winter, they moved the honey to be near the cluster.

Because, lo and behold, I arrived at the rooftop garden at SPARK on a warmish day on the last week of January to find bees flying in and out of both hives....despite my bad beekeeping.

Look at all the pollen coming in! Good sign that the queen is laying and building up for spring.

You can see the queen excluder on each hive between the second and third box. WHEW. I really dodged a bullet.

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