Welcome - Explore my Blog

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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Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Short Course Metro Atlanta Beekeepers January 28, 2023

 Most beekeepers, if they are lucky, get to participate in a short course. Many bee clubs offer short courses. Metro Atlanta's is one of the best. If you are interested, want to learn to keep bees, and live within driving distance of Atlanta, we offer a great course. It's a one day course in all that you need to know to get started keeping bees. Location of the course: Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in the heart of Buckhead, Atlanta.

Julia Mahood, Claressa Lucas and I are the co-chairs and organizers of the course. We would love to have you! We all teach in the course. Julia is a master craftsman beekeeper, Claressa is a journeyman and I am a master beekeeper. Our instructors are all well-trained and very experienced. You can get hands-on experience at our in-person hive inspections after the course is complete for the whole of 2023's bee season. Also you automatically become a member of the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers. If you come from another area, we will pay for your dues at the club of your choice.

Here's a link to the registration for the course.

For 2020 and 2021, the course was held online. This year it is in person. The photos below are from 2019, the last year we had a face-to-face course.

Ed Hoehn demonstrates to some of our 2019 attendees how to light a smoker.

The course includes a vendor to help you in ordering supplies. And you can spend the lunch hour in a small eight person group, eating with an experienced beekeeper. You can ask all the questions that might have not been answered during the morning's talk.

Join us if you are in the area! If not, find a local beekeeping short course and take it. You won't regret it and will surely add to any knowledge you already have about keeping bees.

Saturday, November 05, 2022

Tomorrow is the last day for bidding at BIP


Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Bee Informed Partnership Auction

 I am excited to support the Bee Informed Partnership where we all get so much good information about our bees. I have two quilted items in the auction this year. The auction runs from now until November 7. 

Here's a link to the auction...there are wonderful items up for bid, all of which benefit this organization which is so helpful to bees and beekeepers.

Below are photos of my two quilted items in the auction: a bag, suitable as a knitting bag or a purse and a bee-themed table runner.

It has a lined pocket on the outside and inner pockets as well. The closure is a bee button.

The table runner has bee fabrics from those I have collected for years and is about 32 inches long:

In addition to my items, there are tons of bee items on which you can bid. Go and support this great organization.

Friday, October 14, 2022

October Crossword: Fun and Facts about Wax

As we begin the fall season, many beekeepers use this time to deal with products of the hive. The October crossword that I made is about wax - a very important hive product and one that most beekeepers have access to. Enjoy!


Monday, September 19, 2022

Best in Show at MABA Annual Honey Show

 Honey shows are a challenge for me because my essential tremor makes it difficult to get a honey jar perfectly ready for presentation. So I rarely enter honey in honey shows any more, except for black jar contests. But most honey contests have other aspects - wax, crafts, baked goods, photography, etc. 

This year for my home club (Metro Atlanta Beekeepers) a friend of mine and I were in charge of the food for the potluck and honey show on Sunday the 18th. It's a busy job and requires organization, getting the plates, silverware, drinks, etc and the main dish - usually barbecue or fried chicken - for the event. With all of that, I had decided not to enter anything this year.

But then Saturday rolled around and I had nothing to do so I decided to spend the day baking. I baked honey whole wheat bread twice because I didn't like the taste of the first recipe which was a steel cut oat honey bread. I switched to a rolled oatmeal bread which I liked better from Beth Hensperger. I also baked honey wheat germ cookies (a Dorie Greenspan recipe) that are delicious. And finally I baked a David Tanis recipe for an apple honey cake

The honey oatmeal whole wheat bread won a blue ribbon (and $100). The judge suggested that it needed a stronger honey taste. I had used a mild honey and will use a stronger tasting honey the next time.

The cookies, which were competing with a gorgeous honey tart with kiwi slices decorating it that had been cut into honeycomb shapes and bees made of thinly sliced grapes - an amazing creation, didn't have a chance at a first place ribbon but came in second ($50). I was pleased because I didn't expect them to win. They are delicious as any Dorie Greenspan recipe. I'll make them again and video it for my YouTube recipe collection.

The apple honey cake wasn't gorgeous. I didn't put the apples in the center of the cake because I didn't think there was room. Then in the middle of the night on Saturday, I woke up and thought I could make a bee skep from the apples I didn't use and put them in the center of the cake. So I sliced the apples like skeps and cooked the apples in a skillet to soften them like the ones baked in the cake. Then on Sunday morning I put them in the center of the cake, arranged like three little skeps and added some cloves to look like bees. I then glazed the new apples with a honey/sugar/lemon glaze. Not a work of art, but I crossed my fingers and hoped it would taste good to offset it's clumsy appearance as Paul Hollywood might say:

This cake won first place ($100) and then Best in Show ($250)! The judge wrote "OMG! Praise only praise! Exceptional" on the comment card. I was bowled over. I've entered honey contests pretty much annually since 2007 and have never won Best in Show. The judge left before I could speak to him - Brutz English - he has judged all over, including in Ireland. I texted him to say how much it meant to me to get best in show. He called me this morning to say that of all the many cakes he has judged over the years, this one was absolutely one of the very best.

You should try the recipe. It has candied ginger as well as fresh ginger and apples in it along with the honey and the flavors permeate the cake. I baked it in a 10 inch springform pan since the baking seemed to be uneven and to take longer in the recommended 9 inch pan (from the comments). Mine was done in exactly 45 minutes.

I hadn't even tasted it, so I ate a piece for breakfast and it is DELICIOUS! If you want to truly feature honey as an ingredient, you should try baking this.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Telling the Queen's Bees

My friend, Mike, just sent me this link 

The world knows the Queen of England has died and now, in the old tradition, so do her bees.

Here is a photo of just a small part of the article - be sure to read the whole thing.

Screenshot from the DailyMail.uk

Friday, September 09, 2022

September Crossword Buzzle: Preparing for a Honey Show

 In the fall, many bee clubs and organizations hold honey and wax shows. This month I did a crossword on getting ready to enter a honey and wax show. Here it is, if you'd like to try:

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Using a Jig to build Frames

 Last year I moved to a house with a yard big enough for my bees and my dog. This year I got CHICKENS! 

Every afternoon toward the end of the day, I let the chickens out of their coop to free range for a few hours until their bedtime. They truly go to bed with the chickens at about 7 PM. 

But I'm so scared one will be snatched up by a hawk, so I stay outside with them as a foil to keep the hawk away. My neighborhood is territory for red-shouldered and red tailed hawks. I've heard both. 

To keep me busy, I have been building bee boxes, frames, and nuc boxes. All of these are in boxes that I ordered years ago (from Brushy Mountain when it was still in business) and have never put together. So I thought I'd show you how to use a jig to put together frames. You can build ten at once. I probably ordered the jig from Brushy Mountain as well, but other bee companies carry it. 

Mann Lake has them. So does Betterbee. They are not as common as they used to be. I think many people buy their frames pre-assembled. My jig is for medium frames.

Basically the jig holds the end bars in place and allows the beekeeper to glue and nail the top bars to the end bars. 

Then you flip the whole contraption over and glue and nail the bottom bars. Then if you put the assembly together right side up, the new completed frames just slide right out.

I am a hammer and nail woman, and I can do ten frames in about 20 minutes. If I were nail/brad gun kind of woman, I could do them in ten. It's very fast. I made 100 frames over two afternoons of mostly playing with the chickens and intermittently building frames.

Next afternoon with the chickens, I'm building nuc boxes. I have about six wooden ones unassembled in my shed. One order is so old an order that it actually came with nails, like they used to!

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Fake Honey

This article is circulating among beekeepers right now. Everyone needs to know how bad it is that fake honey is in the market. I tell everyone to buy local honey - better yet, buy from a beekeeper you know. This article focuses on on-purpose dilution of true honey. 

As beekeepers, we also are possibly bottling honey that isn't real unless we truly take precautions. If you never feed your bees, then most likely your honey is pure nectar-based honey (unless your bees find a candy factory as in this article!). The French bees in the article produced blue and green "honey."

To be absolutely sure that you are harvesting pure honey, there are a couple of things you can do:

1. When/if you feed your bees, put food coloring in the sugar syrup. Blue is a good choice. Then if you pull a frame to harvest and the honey is blue or bluish, you can know that the honey contains sugar syrup.

2. Put a mark on the boxes that were filled with honey before you feed the bees and you can be assured that if you harvest from the marked boxes, you'll have pure honey in the frames and not honey that has been contaminated with syrup.

3. Never feed your bees during the nectar flow.

This is not an issue for me in that most years I don't need to feed my bees and if I feed the bees, I harvest long before that happens.

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Bees Coping with the High Temperatures

I keep slatted racks on all of my hives, so I don't get bad bearding even in the hottest weather. A slatted rack is the size of a hive box and has slats that parallel the frames in a regular box. It's not a tall piece of equipment - about 2 1/2 inches tall. The slatted rack provides some space for bees to hang on the slats and ventilate the hive. 

This is what a slatted rack looks like: 

It goes on the hive below the bottom box and forms the top of the entrance above the bottom board.

But in the hottest weather, even with a slatted rack, the bees also are sent outside to help keep the hive cool both by taking their hot little bodies out of the cumulative body heat inside the hive and by working their wings.

This video was made when the temperature in Atlanta was in the 90s one recent afternoon. It's in slow motion so you can see their wings.


Monday, August 01, 2022

August Crossword: August Beekeeping Challenges

This month's crossword explores some of the challenges for bees and beekeepers in August.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Hive Inspection with Honey Harvest July 25, 2022


EarPods and Honey

 Most mornings my oldest daughter calls me as she walks her dog. We always have fun catching up with each other. I imagine she's really calling to see if her OLD mother is still alive and breathing, but I love our time together as we each get ready for the day.

I am usually in the middle of the NYT Spelling Bee when she calls so I get out of bed, get dressed, and multitask while we talk, using my EarPods so I can be hands free. Today was different. The housekeepers were arriving at around 8:30 and I wasn't quite ready for them so I was up and organizing my kitchen to be able to get out of their way.

Yesterday I harvested honey from my top bar hive. My kitchen still had the large honey pot and other leftovers from the day's adventure.

I've not harvested from the top bar with bees in it. Once my top bar died and I harvested the honey still in the hive, but yesterday the hive was full of active bees. It's a great hive that I got as a swarm in early May so I only planned to harvest one or two bars just to taste their honey. We are in the middle of the dearth so I expected angry bees. Instead they were calm and I got away without a sting.

I recorded the inspection so I didn't take still photos but here are a few from the harvest:

Brushing off the bees.

Cutting off the wax from the top bar.

I literally put the top on my stew pot, brought it home, and that's what was sitting in my kitchen as the housekeepers arrived while Sarah and I were on the phone.

It only made sense to quickly crush the honey and put it into the filter bucket so that's what I did while Sarah and I talked.

I'm leaning over the pot, crushing the honey, when my left EarPod fell out of my ear into the crushed wax.

Horrors! I didn't take a photo because those things are expensive and I didn't have the option to wait and see whether it would sink or swim. I grabbed it off of the surface of the crushed honey.

Moment later, I said to Sarah, "This is delicious honey." 
She said, "Mom, are you licking the EarPod???" 
"No, my fingers," I replied.

I grabbed a paper towel and tried to wipe all of the honey off of the EarPod. I put it back into my ear to dead silence. Sarah reassured me that it probably just needed a break. I took the EarPods, wiping the honey-ed one one more time, and put them into their charging case.

The end of the story is that the honey is absolutely delicious and the EarPod recovered from its honey shock and is just fine, working as if it hadn't had the luxury of almost drowning in honey.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Harvesting Honey in the Dearth

Since I moved last June, I didn't harvest last year. I was in the process of moving my hives. And this year, I had only one hive out of two from the year before that was still standing when it was time to harvest honey - that was the hive that is at my daughter's house. Generally I try to harvest at the end of May, early June, instead of now in July, when the bees are in the throes of the dearth and really unhappy.

This year I was sitting at a red light and a woman crossed two lanes of traffic turning left into my lane, didn't see that the red light had caused the traffic to stop and slammed into my driver's side door (ARGHH). So given what the pandemic has done to supplies, the accident happened in April; I couldn't even get an estimate until May; the repair couldn't begin until mid June and my car was in the shop until this week. I didn't want to put honey in the trunk of a rental car so I delayed harvest until this week.

Needless to say, the bees were not happy. This was a hive we moved from Sarah's backyard to the front when she had a tree next to it cut down. I haven't opened them since the move on May 16. 

First I observed the hive for a long time from the front of the hive. The bees were very busy and active, coming and going in and out of the hive, quickly but peacefully. There was nothing unusual in their pace or the way it looked on the entry. A lot of bees flew in with honey on their back legs - about every fifth bee. The bees weren't carrying out dead bees or dead larvae. 

From observation of the front of the hive, I decided we did not have to do an inspection. The hive had a bottom box full of brood and the box above it has always been a little brood on the left side and then all honey. But it's the dearth and not a time to go deep into a hive because the bees tend to be "hangry." 

AND because it's the dearth, I put on a zip-on veil and jacket. I meant to put on gloves but forgot and when I opened the hive, I was immediately stung on my hands. The message was quite clear so I put on my gloves! On the top of the hive were about five cockroaches - not unusual in the height of summer in Atlanta. They are kept on the top by the bees and just remain their optimistic that they will get fed, I suppose, but to no avail. Roaches, earwigs, black widow spiders are all often on top of the hive and are no threat to the bees. There were also LOTS of bees. 

The top box (#4) was completely empty with every other frame drawn or partially drawn. None of the comb was being used so I removed that box. The third box had honey in about three of the frames and none of them were full. I decided to take those three frames. 

Typically in a honey harvest, you don't use the smoker because you don't want smoke to infuse your honey. But these bees were in such a bad mood that I decided that the smoker would be a definite feature of this inspection. With the help of my daughter, Sarah, I took the three frames - I actually had to take four because one of the frames was slightly cross-combed with a drawn but empty frame beside it. I took those two together in case breaking the cross comb might open honey cells. I had put this box on the hive right at the very end of the nectar flow and the bees had not been able to fill it. 

I put the three/four frames into a plastic nuc box. Then I filled the spaces we left in the third box with the drawn frames from the top box. I left the top box off of the hive and took the nuc box home to harvest. I have no photos because I recorded the whole thing. I'll have it up on YouTube and add it to this post on July 27 when I am offering my bee club a virtual hive inspection.

July Crossword: Bees and the Summer Dearth

I am having such fun creating these bee-themed crosswords. By the end of the year, we'll have a collection of them, each on the bee theme for that month. Here's the one I did for July:

Friday, May 27, 2022

Surprising Water Source for Bees

This is my first full year in my new house and as spring approached, I planted a raised bed garden. I had too much soil so when my first raised beds were done, I ordered a felt raised bed. Felt pots are the "in thing" these days.

My garden is thriving and I water it about every other day. I've noticed a lot of bees around the felt bed. Imagine my surprise when I saw what they are doing.

Part of my felt raised bed - see the little girls at the fold lower center?

 The bees are clinging to the felt and letting its absorbency and the water in it be a source of water for them to carry back to the hive! Who knew? I thought I was doing a good thing for the plants and the soil and it turns out, I was also helping the bees.

Friday, May 06, 2022

Inspecting a Bee Hive Well - Crossword Buzzle

Test yourself! How much do you know about doing a good hive inspection? Here's the "Buzzle" I created for the monthly GBA newsletter this month:

The answers are in the GBA Newsletter each month (join here for a mere $15) or you can email me for the answers.

Monday, April 25, 2022

A Swarm Moved into an Empty Hive Box in My Yard and Did it Right in Front of Me!

 I got home from helping my friend with bees she tried to rescue from the airport at 5:30 PM today. 

When I left at 3:00 there were bees in my carport all over some stacked hive boxes there to be painted. I thought maybe a swarm was moving into the stacked boxes. My shed where I store all my bee equipment was getting a lot of activity too. I even left the door cracked to the shed because there were so many bees visiting the interior that I didn't want to leave them in there. And an empty hive box was getting lots of visitors. 

It's April and the height of swarm season in Atlanta. If you are a seasoned beekeeper with unoccupied equipment in your bee yard, it's not unusual to see scouts or to get a swarm interested in your empty properties. 

I came home and took my dinner out to the back deck to eat outdoors. I watched the hive while I ate, and noticed that there was still some activity - scouting - going on at the hive. I had almost finished my dinner when I heard a loud whirr and looked up to see a swarm moving into the hive.

The whole process took a mere 15 minutes so I filmed it all - it's kind of calming to watch the bees claim a home for themselves. These are truly free bees. They didn't cost me anything in terms of time, effort, preparation or money. Enjoy the video:

Bee Crisis at the Atlanta Airport

 A fellow MABA beekeeper got a call from a commercial beekeeper in Alaska yesterday. The beekeeper was calling to report that a huge order of packages had been rerouted in error from Sacramento to Atlanta instead of Alaska. Makes you wonder, doesn't it, if the cargo handler could read - the only thing Atlanta and Alaska have in common is that they both start and end with the letter "a." 

So hundreds of packages of bees which should have been in Alaska three or four days ago arrived at the Delta cargo building yesterday. Many were dead. The beekeeper who got the call, Edward Morgan, arrived at the airport and assessed the situation. The bees would not make it until they could leave again at 3:30 on Monday (today) to continue to Alaska and the ones surviving would surely not make it alive to Alaska.

An emergency email went out to the members of the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers that if you could and wanted to try to save these bees, they were yours for the taking. Just come to the airport. My friend and partner in beekeeping at SPARK Elementary, Meghan, took her daughter and went down to the Delta Cargo building. They brought home fifteen packages of mostly dead bees.

The packages were nailed together in groups of five and wrapped in soft window screen wire. 

It must have been so hot in that cargo container. Only the bees in the end packages showed any signs of life. One difference in Atlanta and Alaska is that it is already pretty hot here and the bees must have died of heat, crammed into that container. 

The package facing us in the photo was the only one of the fifteen with a fully live queen. We checked the queen in every package - all were dead except for one other. That one barely moved. We exchanged the cork in her queen cage for a marshmallow and when she began eating it, she perked up. 

We put the fully live queen in between the frames in a hive box and set up a hive box over a telescoping cover to catch all the dead bees. We poured the live and dead bees out of the package.

The live bees are in the hive and the package box sitting on top of the hive. The bees you see there are all dead - the ones in the telescoping cover and the ones on the ground. It was heartbreaking.

A few of the fifteen packages looked like this with a few live bees clinging to the screen:

And caged queen after caged queen looked like this:

Meghan kept the dead queens to put in alcohol to make swarm lure.

In the end, the bees moved into the large hive with the queen. You can see them moving into the hive.

The marshmallow-feeding queen went into a nuc box. The bees on the nuc box are clustered over the queen cage. Meghan moved the hive down into her yard and left the nuc box open on the driveway near the now all-opened packages. 

We put two opened packages with the most live bees facing each other above the frame with the queen (we added another to the configuration in the above photo). We figured with a live queen maybe most of those bees left in the packages would go down into the nuc box by morning.

This was a terrible loss and tragedy. However, at least twenty beekeepers went to the airport to take bees to rescue. All were not lost, but thousands of bees suffered death in this awful situation.

Footnote: This horrible incident was covered by the New York Times on Sunday, May 1. I didn't know until I read the NYT article that the bees were unable to access their food/liquid because all of the packages were upside down, meaning the syrup in the cans would not be coming through the holes in the bottom of the cans. When Meghan and I went through the packages she brought home I was struck by how full the syrup cans all were.

Hive Inspection - Week of April 15

I still am holding virtual hive inspections and think it is a good value. In person is great, but COVID has taught us that you can learn a lot by asking questions on Zoom as well. This is the hive inspection that I shared last week on Wednesday on Zoom. We start with my top bar hive and then look at my Langstroth hive in my daughter's yard. It ends with a hive that is in the last throes because of a queenless situation and an overtaking by the small hive beetle. I included it so you could see what it's like to lose a hive like that. This hive was fully functioning and doing well three weeks ahead of this inspection.


Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Interference with Honey Bee Democracy and the Death of a Queen

 When a swarm issues from a beehive, the bees gather around the swarming queen on a bush or tree and cluster together. They aren't just resting and they aren't settling in for the long haul. Instead the swarm is sending out scouts every minute to find a new home for the hive. As the scouts return to the swarm, they dance on the surface of the swarm and campaign for the place they think would be a good home.

Tom Seeley explains in Honeybee Democracy that the dancing scouts are trying to convince other bees to go scout out the place they have found. If the convinced bees visit the new home and like it, they return and campaign to get others to go. If the bee doesn't find the place appealing, she returns and doesn't name call or belittle the choice. She doesn't bully the bees who want to move to the new place. She just doesn't campaign for it or try to get any of her sisters to go and visit.

In the end, some new home place will have convinced enough bees in the swarm that it is a good place to resettle. The swarm rises from the tree or bush and flies to the new place and moves in.

But if a beekeeper comes along and captures the swarm, we interfere with honey bee democracy. We have autocratically decided that our hive box is where this hive should live. 

Sometimes the bees don't agree.

I have an apiary site in the community garden at Morningside in Atlanta. Like many community gardens, this one is on Georgia Power land and huge power lines run over the hillside apiary site. Georgia Power "maintains" the land because it belongs to them. I put maintains in quotation marks because they do not go near the beehives and the grass grows very tall there. 

I don't think the bees like the power lines. I have housed three swarms on that hillside over the years and not a one of them stayed. 

Most recently I caught another swarm on April 4. I think it was from my own hive. I have a very large hive that has now swarmed three times. It had some beautiful queen cells in it - huge. One had opened and the others seemed to be left untouched. The first swarm I took to Morningside and they didn't stay.

I think the second queen was in a small swarm about fifty yards from my house. My neighbor who didn't know I would come to get it, promised it to someone else, but I feel pretty sure they were from my beehives. By the time the person she called returned to Atlanta, the bees had left for parts unknown.

As I was driving home from out of town on April 4, my neighbor called me to report that he had seen a huge swarm swirling around in his backyard (just over the fence from my hives) and that it had landed in a shrub across the street. I was about an hour from Atlanta and told him I would rescue them as soon as I returned if they were still there. They were and here is the capture in my new box from Hive Butler:

I decided to house these in a hive in my backyard, about fifty yards from their original hive and this time I put a queen "includer" under the hive between it and the opening to keep the queen in the hive for a day and discourage them from leaving. It then poured rain the entire next day and I couldn't remove the queen includer until Wednesday (almost 48 hours later). I was worried that the bees would still leave, but they did not.

Instead I discovered an odd phenomenon yesterday (April 11). In front of the hive was this ball of bees. I sat down with my veil on and took a tiny stick and tried literally to get to the bottom of it. But the bees were determined to keep this ball going and stung me and wouldn't let me interfere. I noticed that the bees in the hive were continuing to fly in and out with high numbers and regularity. They did not feel pulled to gather with the ball of bees on the ground. Here's what the bee ball looked like:

From the cinder block corner in the upper right, you can see how close they are to the hive. As I disrupted them a bit with the stick, I thought I saw a queen bee but can't be sure. My theory is that like many secondary swarms, this one left its hive with more than one queen. Possibly both queens left to mate and this one was the second one to return. The bees now have a mated queen in the hive and the bees don't want two, so they are balling her to death.

Note: Sometimes hives do have two queens but typically when that happens, it's a mother and a daughter. These two would be sisters. (Need to do more research about this.)

This morning I went out, hoping to find in the grass whatever dead thing they were on top of, and this is what I saw:

The ball is still there - not as active. I expect that some of these bees are dead. Maybe later today I can get to the bottom of it, but I still think what is under the ball is a second queen. I'll know more when I inspect the captured swarm hive in about a week to see if they have a functioning queen.

Bees often ball to death intruders in the hive - like hornets - but I haven't seen hornets yet this year and I'm betting on this being a queen.

Meanwhile, aren't bees the most interesting creatures in the whole world?

At 2 PM the next day (today), the cluster/ball was much smaller. I took a stick and stirred up the bottom and indeed, it was a queen bee. If you have any doubt as you look at the photo (she is curved into a C shape), you can see that her wings end and her abdomen extends about 1/3 longer than her wings. 

We'll know for sure next week when I inspect to see a laying queen, but I'll bet I do and this is the second queen in the swarm who managed to leave to go get mated but was balled to death to keep her from becoming the queen of this colony. 

From this angle you can see how much longer her abdomen is than her wings.

I brought her inside and she is lying in state on my computer desk. Rest In Peace - she certainly didn't plan for this ending.

Every Bee Hive Tells a Story

Every bee hive tells a story. From the minute you approach the hive for an inspection, the story begins. Watching the bees fly in and out of the hive is the first part of the story. You can read the story of the hive in many ways before you even open the top.

What do you see? 

  • Are the bees regularly and rapidly flying in and out in large numbers? 
  • Does a bee leave almost at the same time as another enters the hive? 
  • Are they bearing pollen? 
  • Do you see any drones? 
  • Is the energy busy and peaceful or is there fighting at the front door? 

While this isn't a choose-your-own-adventure story, each observation leads us down a path to the next part of the story. 

If the bees are flying in and out in large numbers, you know that your hive is busy and the bees are doing their jobs, whether they are collecting water, pollen, nectar or resin for propolis, they are hard at work. You also know that you have a good number of bees in the hive.

If the bees are leaving and flying in at about the same rate, you still know that the bees are working, but the lack of high level of activity may make me worry about the numbers of bees in the hive and wonder ahead of opening the hive if this means there's a queen problem or that there is another reason the bees haven't built up as fast as the hive with large numbers. (This, BTW, is a reason to have two hives at least so you have grounds for comparison.)

If the bees flying into the hive have pollen on their legs and there are lots of them (a bee with pollen every five bees or so) then you are likely to have a laying queen. It also has to do with the time of day. You'll notice with your own hives when the pollen comes in. My hives are more likely to be bearing a lot of pollen in the morning. However, I have had a queenless hive where bees still bring in pollen to feed the brood still developing after the queen has died.

If you see drones, that tells you two things. If it is early spring, drones flying in and out of the hive means it is time to make splits successfully. Why? Because in order to succeed with a split, the new queen has to get mated. She can only do that if there are drones flying. Later in the year, drones flying is a sign of an ongoing healthy hive which produces workers and drones and all are doing their jobs.

If there is fighting at the front door, it's probably late summer and a robbery may be starting. Bees don't fight with their own sisters, but invaders are a different story. Without even opening the hive, you know you need to take preventive measures - start a sprinkler, put on a robber screen. But many new beekeepers confuse the activity of orientation with robbing and these are two very different events. In orientation, the bees fly out of the hive and turn around to look at it. Then they fly back in and do it again. They are learning how to recognize the hive so that when they are foraging, they can find their way back. The hive looks really busy, but not angry. 

Here's a video of orientation flying: 

This is an old recording before I had a good camera, but here's what robbing looks like - you'll see it's much more violent than orientation:

Wednesday, April 06, 2022

Crossword "Buzzle" about Installing a Nuc or Package

These days I am creating monthly crossword puzzles for the GBA  newsletter. This month I made one up about installing a nuc or package since many people will be getting their nucs or packages in April. You can work the puzzle online! See how much you know, and good luck - it's not terribly hard in any month, not at all like the New York Times crossword.


If one of the clues stumps you, write me for the answer key.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Hive Inspection from Week of St. Patrick's Day

 Tonight I held a virtual hive inspection for Metro Atlanta Beekeepers. We watched the video below to see three inspections: a Langstroth hive that overwintered from a split in 2021; my top bar hive into which I installed the March 2 swarm I caught in Decatur; the split I made in my own backyard which has finally made queen cells.

If you'd like to see what we watched, minus the ongoing discussion that we had on Zoom as we watched it, the video is below:

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Video Record of the First Day of Spring Swarm Capture and Installation

 Yesterday, as I reported in my last post, while I was building a chicken coop in my backyard, my own hive swarmed. I had been checker boarding for several weeks and they swarmed anyway. But luckily I captured the swarm.

Unluckily, the movie I made on my iPhone required "converting?" That's the first time that has happened to me and it wouldn't download even after converting (from what??). So I shot some screenshots of the movie and then filmed the install which did not require converting for some reason.

Let me know in the comments or by email if you have any questions.

Monday, March 21, 2022

A Swarm in my Own Backyard

As a responsible beekeeper, I try very hard to pay attention to my hives and make efforts to keep them from swarming. On my largest hive this spring, I have taken a split from it. (I didn't actually split the hive, but took frames of brood and eggs and made a split.) I also have been checker boarding the hive to give them the idea that they had plenty of room. 

We had heavy rains in Atlanta. I moved in June of last year to a house, new to me. I just discovered in the last month that sometimes in the heavy rains, the back corner of my backyard and the back fence area of my backyard fill with water. The water literally came up to the bottom of the cinder blocks on which my largest hive - the one I've been checkerboarding like mad - sits. 

Yesterday I took that entire hive apart all the way down to the cinder blocks and moved the cinder blocks forward the length of a cinder block.

The green arrow indicates where the edge of the water was after the heavy rains (and it stayed there all day and night). The blue oval marks the footprint of the original hive position. Moving the hive forward about a foot didn't seem to bother the bees. They appeared to adapt immediately.

And today, despite three checkerboarded boxes on the top of the hive, they swarmed. My grandson and I were building a chicken coop in the backyard and the bees just wouldn't leave us alone. Then we realized that they were swarming.

This is a four year old survivor hive and I really didn't want them to swarm, and if they did choose to swarm, I wanted to collect the swarm. These bees flew into an evergreen tree about twenty feet from the hive and about ten feet up. It was 2:30 in the afternoon. 

The timing was terrible. Dylan, my grandson, had to go home for soccer practice. As I drove him home, I kept thinking about where I would put this swarm. I didn't plan to climb ladders this year, but I was going to today to get that swarm. Intermittently I reminded myself that you are not supposed to count your chickens before they are hatched. 

Sure enough, I ran into my backyard and the swarm wasn't up high in the tree. But bees were still buzzing around and I discovered that the whole swarm had moved down to a much lower branch.

It was a quick and easy (no ladder) swarm capture. I then left the box for about an hour for the bees to settle into their transport container. Then I installed the swarm about 20 minutes away in the Morningside Community Garden.

I'll check on it tomorrow. And when I post the YouTube of the capture and install, I'll put a link here.

Tuesday, March 08, 2022

Buttermilk Honey Rolls

 Today one of my daughters had a medical procedure so I wanted to take her dinner. I included with her dinner the buttermilk honey rolls that have won so many blue ribbons for me. I realized that I have never posted this video on this blog of how to make the rolls. 

Here it is:

Try them - they are easy to make and always a hit!

Thursday, March 03, 2022

Caught my first swarm of the season today - March 2!

 I got the call at about 3 PM from my local club swarm list. Dave, who manages the list, knew I didn't want to climb ladders this year and said this one was one inch from the ground. And it was only 15 minutes away near downtown Decatur.

The bees belonged to beekeepers, but not beekeepers who are members of my local club. They got bees last year, had not treated them with anything, and the bees lived through the winter. Today they swarmed and it was a HUGE swarm. As swarms go, this was the size of about four cats and when I carried it away, my estimation was that it was about seven pounds of bees. 

Here's the photo the homeowner sent:

This enormous swarm was hanging from a hydrangea bush and was also pooled on the ground. It was quite a challenge to collect. Lisa, the homeowner, said the bees began gathering at the base of the hydrangea. My assumption then was that the queen was down at the bottom of this swarm. 

The beehive from which the swarm issued was housed in a deep and a medium box - imagine how crowded these bees were since this only represents one half of the hive. I encouraged Lisa to get her husband (the actual beekeeper) to add a box when he got home to give the remaining bees space to grow.

Because of the swarm location I was unable to do a good video of the process. I could barely get to the bees and couldn't place the camera in a way that would work. I'll show you a short bit of what I tried to record. The whole process took an hour because even though I shook a ton of bees into the box, the queen didn't get there until I managed to brush her (I assume - I didn't see her) into a paint container that I had. Then the bees put their bottoms up into the air and began to send out pheromone signals to attract the bees not in the collection box.

Gradually most of the bees were either in the box or on the sheet. A few remained on the tree, but I had hope that they would return to their old hive about twenty feet away by morning. 

I took the bees to my empty top bar hive - a great place to put a swarm that large. I am sorry I didn't take any photos of the bees when we dumped them in - they absolutely covered the entire interior of the top bar hive because there were so many of them. There was a basketball size cluster of bees clinging to the ventilated top on the collection box. Even when I dumped those into the hive, there were still at least two cats worth of bees inside the collection box to add.

Here are a few stragglers entering the front door to their new home. The bees on the sheet below are still probably gathered around the pheromone of the queen, left by her after I swept her into the paint container and put her in the collection box.

P.S. My friend David L. and I get our hair cut at the same salon. His stylist is Jon, and David told me that Jon keeps bees. Rachel, another stylist there, cuts my hair. Ever since I learned about his beekeeping,  I have always had a short bee conversation with Jon about how his bees are doing every time I visit Rachel for a haircut. 

The morning after I caught this swarm, I got a text from Jon that said, "Good morning, Linda. This is Jon from C___ Hair Studio. I heard you had quite the adventure yesterday with my wife and son! Small world. Thank you so much....." 

Amazing that in this giant metropolis of the Atlanta area that I would know the person from whom I got the swarm (quite by the coincidence of being on the swarm list for MABA.)

Does your local bee club or extension agent keep a swarm list? It's a great way to get a swarm - put your name on it and you will be called when a swarm is available and it's your turn. I get at least one call a year from MABA and as a retired person who is very available to leave at the drop of a hat, I sometimes get more than one/year.

Monday, February 28, 2022

Crossword Buzzle about Swarm Season

In the south, when March arrives, you know if you are a beekeeper, that swarming sweeps in with the March winds. Being prepared for swarm catching for me means keeping my swarm catching kit in my car at the ready. Here is a crossword "buzzle" that I developed about catching swarms. 

If you feel like you need to learn about swarm catching first, visit this post. To see a YouTube video I made of a swarm I caught last year, click here


If you want the answer key, email me.

This is how it looks in the GBA newsletter, thanks to Peter Helfrich, our layout and graphics editor. He is amazing:

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