Welcome - Explore my Blog

I've been keeping this blog for nine years and I began my 10th year of beekeeping in April 2015. Now there are about 1250 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. Along the way, I've passed a number of certification levels and am now a!
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.

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Saturday, February 06, 2016

Georgia Beekeepers Association State conference on February 13

The GBA Spring Conference is February 13 in Milledgeville, GA at Central Georgia Technical College. Registration for GBA members is $40 for early registration. Tomorrow the registration fee goes up to $65 a person. Register today if you want to go!

Julia and I have been planning the meeting. We did not invite the speakers this year. The president gave that task to a committee of three: Jennifer Berry, Keith Fielder, and Andy Bailey. The speakers who are coming are Jim Tew, who writes a column for Bee Culture; Roger Simonds, who analyzes wax at the NC bee lab; Kerry Owen, a South Carolina commercial beekeeper; and David Westervelt, who is the state bee inspector for the state of Florida.

Saturday is an all-day meeting with the keynote speakers scattered throughout the day. There are breakouts also during the day - a mead making session taught by Tom Hill of Macon County, NC; wax products by Julia Mahood; how to run a junior beekeeping program by Holly Bayendor; and others.

The college is a great setting for such a meeting with state of the art technical support.

Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

It's the Coldest Night of the Year and I'm Thinking of Bee Season

A while back I wrote an essay for a workshop on being changed through experience. It's cold and I hope my bees are clustering and happily awaiting spring. Meanwhile I thought I'd put this essay on my blog:
Bee Changed

I open the hive to the steady hum of bees at work. They hardly notice my presence because I move slowly. Slowly, that’s the key, and it’s so hard for me. I have always walked fast; managed fifteen things at once; had several thought threads running through my head at the same time.
But not when I’m with the bees.
My relationship with the bees is careful, mindful. I treat them with respect and awe and they appear to ignore me. But if I violate the boundaries or accidentally kill one of their sisters, ZING, they tattoo me with stings. I don’t want to get stung and they don’t want to die (it’s suicide if they choose to sting me). We have a silent pact.
When it’s good, I feel a zen-like peace. A hum is in the air, the fan of bee wings is all around me, and I am moving slowly as if in a dance. While I have opened up the hive and peered into their world, I am keeping the hive covered with a pillow case to maintain a semblance of their usual darkness, and I am lifting frames of honey and bees like a slow-motion movie.
When I walk around my neighborhood, I watch the plants and flowers. Are the bees interested in these? I wonder. Every year my list expands. First there’s mahonia which the bees find in early, early spring (January and early February) along with the red maple. Then other flowers make their entrances: holly, tulip poplar, blackberry. I read up on all of them, photograph them, and notice where they are for the next year. I am trying to approach the nature around me with the eye of the bee.
Sometimes when rain threatens, I watch the Weather Channel, because I am worried about the bees. The foragers can’t fly that day and can’t gather food. If there is a shortfall of rain or if we have back to back rainy days, I feel scared for them either way.
On a rainy day, I build equipment for my beehives. When I needed a shim, a two-inch tall “box” to put on the beehive to surround a two-inch tall plastic sandwich container for catching small hive beetles, I bought wood at a big box store. The sandwich box was taller than the shim I had so carefully built from boards called one by twos.  Apparently the construction industry cuts something called a 1X2 but, in reality, the board is shorted in each way by ¼ inch. I could feel my eyes filling with tears.

To complete the sandwich box small hive beetle trap, I needed a soldering iron to melt holes just the right size for the beetle to crawl into, so I went looking for one. I happened to be at a craft store and there on the shelf was a pink soldering iron with a pale green-lettered sign:  Women’s Soldering Iron. I bought it because I needed it but felt hot anger on the inside.

When I don’t know what I am doing with the bees, I reach out to beekeeping people all over the world. I post photos and worries on my beekeeping blog and people from as far away as Denmark and Greece answer me. I have friends in all the states who know me from my blog. When I finally met Michael Bush, a dear hippy beekeeper from Nebraska and one of my heroes, I felt like my wishes had been granted.
When my day starts in the early morning as the sun is coming up, I go straight to the backyard to watch and listen to the bees. I stand about four feet in front of six beehives. Golden flickers stream past me as the foraging bees’ wings catch the rising sunshine. I am transfixed and transformed. I am bee-ing changed by my life with the bees.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Happy Bee Year 2016 - It's Finally Cold

In Atlanta, it is finally cold and the bees are clustering (and hopefully alive). They have had countless days to fly. As is typical of January in the south, there are some blooming plants so the bees can find pollen and some nectar from outliers like Fatsia Japonica:

As I walked the dog, I saw camellia in bloom and the bees are often on it. Unlike the day I took the photos above, the day I shot the camellia was too cold for bees, but here is the camellia anyway:

While my own rosemary is not in bloom, I saw several rosemary varieties that were:

And although I didn't get its picture, mahonia is in bloom as well. I passed one in bloom while walking Hannah and thought, oh, I'll get the next one and there was no next one! Here's a photo of it from the Internet. When the bloom is finished, dark blue berries appear. The bees love the flowers and the birds love the berries - isn't nature grand!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Wax and Winter

Mostly in the winter I fool around with wax. I should be cleaning frames (or better yet, my basement), but instead, I find myself rustling up a batch of soap or making lip balm. Wax is my winter friend.

I just bought ripe avocados to make a soap recipe that the Soap Queen mentioned and must make it tonight or tomorrow while the avocado is not over-ripe.

Just to pique my curiosity, on the GBA Facebook page today, there is a link to an article about 17 uses of beeswax. I visited the page, of course, and just had to comment on her article. It is really good and includes wonderful, helpful links to pages and pages of adventures with beeswax.

Interestingly, she did not include soap making. Jeff and I are dedicated to putting beeswax into every soap we make. I changed the avocado soap recipe to include some beeswax. That's what lye calculators are for, you know! Here are two: Brambleberry's calculator and Majestic Mountain Sage's calculator. As any of you who make soap know, even recipes you find on the Internet should be run through a lye calculator before you make them and certainly if you change the recipe up at all, you should put it through one as well.

Speaking of recipes on the Internet, I plan to create a section on this blog for soap recipes, as someone asked for in a blogpost comment.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Winter, Summer, It's All the Same in Atlanta

OK, it's not unusual for me not to break out my winter coat until January and our worst winter months are February and early March. As a matter of fact, the two hardest snowstorms we have had the entire thirty-seven years I've lived in Atlanta were in March 1993 and in February 2014. In the March snowstorm the temperatures were in the teens and we had tons of snow (relatively speaking) and no power for over a week. In February 2014, I got home just fine in each of the two snowstorms two weeks apart, but many people were stranded on the Interstates since in Georgia we get layers of ice under the snow on the streets and driving is impossible.

But in all of those years, in November and December, while my winter coat remained in the closet, I would on many mornings put on my fleece jacket or vest. We did have one cold week here in 2015 during early December, but it only warranted a jacket in the early morning. By afternoon the temperature had risen up to the high 60s.

This Christmas week takes the cake. Yesterday the thermometer read 79.5 F - couldn't quite get to 80. I mean, really, it's DECEMBER.

So the bees are confused and this is bad news. Every day they are flying, using up energy and needing to consume their saved stores. There is an illusion among the hives that spring may already be springing - is the queen laying at her pre-spring rate? Or is she slowly increasing as of December 21 which is her usual procedure?

Right after the actual cold winter week, I saw evidence on one hive that they may have nosema.

But that was several weeks ago and the bees in that nuc hive continue to fly as eagerly as the others.

I worry because I didn't feed my bees this year - I rarely do. Instead I harvested relatively little, leaving lots on each hive for the bees. The nuc in the photo and a sister nuc are from splits I made in late July after the nectar flow had long ceased. I gave each of those hives two jars of honey, harvested from another hive.

So in giving them that honey did I transfer nosema from the other hive to them?

I don't know, but we can only hope for the best.  I won't feed them anymore and cross my fingers that they make it through the winter. The two nuc overwintering hives are splits from my strongest survivor hive so hopefully they will have traits to endure their way through nosema or whatever else the varroa mite dishes out over the "winter," such as it is!

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Making soap is lots of fun!

Last January my sister and I took a class in soap making at the John Campbell Folk School. It was a weekend class and we had a great time and learned a lot. We also made a lot of soap in that weekend.
I immediately came home, ordered supplies and then looked at them for so long that by the time I got around to making soap six months later, I had to relearn the process.....but boy, is it fun. And making soap is a useful way to employ beeswax.

Beeswax in soap makes the soap harder and causes it to last longer. My recipe that I have finally settled on for now includes both beeswax and palm kernel oil flakes to harden the soap. The soap is full of shea butter and when one uses this soap, it softens, rather than dries, one's skin.

My daughter is an attorney and she ordered gift bags from Linda T's Bees as thank you gifts for her referral sources. We put soap, lip balm, lotion bars, and honey in each bag. I got to make lots of fun soaps for the project.



I made pumpkin soap colored with paprika and with an exfoliant of poppy seeds; then I made basil/rosemary soap, oatmeal honey soap, cocoa swirl soap, honey/chamomile soap, dirt and basil soap, chocolate chip cookie soap, cucumber mint soap, green tea soap, and vanilla oatmeal soap. I have loved making soap. I just found a recipe for fresh carrot soap and want to make that as well as avocado soap with fresh avocados (like bathing in guacamole?). I even ordered avocado oil to use in that soap.

I've bought silicone soap molds, have used cardboard milk cartons (as we did in the Folk School) and have just had so much fun.

If you have any beeswax from your bee year, this is a great use for it. You do have to melt and filter the beeswax and weigh it precisely to make this all come together well.

Some helpful hints:

1. You have to melt some of the oils in order to use them. The last thing one wants to happen is for the oil to turn over and spill, so I have put a cotton placemat in the dutch oven filled with hot water to keep the plastic bottle upright.

2. There are all kinds of silicone pans that one can use - this is a silicone bread pan from Target:

3. After you make soap, it has to cure for three weeks. Another great use for the queen excluder:

Try it, you'll like it. (Note: this is cold process soap made with lye)

Monday, December 07, 2015

The Thing about Keeping a Blog This Long is that I start to Repeat Myself!

So today and yesterday have been warm December days in Atlanta. At night we've had temperatures in the 30s but in the day, the temperature rises into the high 60s. My neighborhood is crawling with men digging mysterious holes in the area between the sidewalks and the streets. Rumor has it that Google is putting in the wiring for Google Internet - look out Comcast and AT&T. (I, for one, will be running to Google the minute it is available.)

Despite the loud racket of the digging and the numbers of cars and people, at one corner of my neighborhood is a Fatsia Japonica covered with flying insects (this was established in a blog post in 2011 - see how I am repeating myself?) Honey bees are all over the flowers on this shrub which is just starting to bloom.

There are 4000 species of bee in the United States. At least eight of those species were frantically visiting this plant when my dog Hannah and I walked by it today. I am disturbed by all the digging, but the bees appear not to care about Google and their industrious venture in my neighborhood.

I only had my phone so if you want to see good photos, revisit my post from 2011. Only the second photo actually shows a bee, but they were all over the shrub, I promise. Since the shrub is the only blooming plant in the area, it is a very popular place.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Piedmont Park opens an Apiary

Atlanta's Piedmont Park lies right in the heart of the city and is a place where people walk, run, and play. Festivals are held there; is available in the park each Saturday; an interactive fountain in which my grandchildren like to play offers water that sprays in sync.

I live close enough that I walk my dog there almost daily. In the park, there is a model orchard and garden. This year they added an apiary.

(my granddaughter Lark playing in the fountain)

Atlanta's Botanical Garden is attached to Piedmont Park, extending the green space in the city even further. The Botanical Garden has had bees for years and has an observation hive in the children's garden. But Piedmont Park itself has been without an apiary.

I'm sure my own bees feast on the flowers in the park and at the Botanical Garden since both are within a mile of my house and apiary.

The Northwood Garden Club sponsored the new apiary and in honor of the ribbon cutting, they invited me to come to their meeting to introduce them to bees and beekeeping. I talked to them and showed a PowerPoint I have called: Meet the Bee. Then we all went to the new apiary for the ribbon cutting.

Beekeepers Mary Yetter and Bob Hassenritter. Mary is a new beekeeper and Bob has kept bees for several years now. They installed these bees late in the season (August) which means the bees missed the nectar flow. They are feeding the bees with inboard feeders. It was nice to meet Bob who is a member of Coweta beekeepers and reads this blog!!!

The Rotary Club and the Northwood Garden Club sponsored the apiary so the presidents of each of those organizations shared the scissors to cut the ribbon, officially opening the apiary.

Mary and Bob talked a little about the bees. I was so proud of the Northwood garden club members who were able to answer some questions accurately since they had just heard my talk.

Here are the two hives, surrounded by fencing to protect onlookers from getting too close. The Georgia Beekeepers Association has a goal of getting bees in the state parks around the state, but here we have bees in a city park in Atlanta.

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