Welcome - Explore my Blog

I've been keeping this blog for nine years and now there are over 1230 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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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

It's Earth Day for Bees and People

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

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

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Speaking to Coweta Beekeepers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

There's no Such Thing as a Free Lunch!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 06, 2015

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

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

Atlanta Beekeeping the Natural Way

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

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

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

Please join us, if you are interested.

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

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

It's a Beautiful Day in my Neighborhood....

It's swarm season and all of us beekeepers cross our fingers that we will get a swarm call - it's an adventure: driving to an unknown address, evaluating the bee situation and rescuing the swarm.  Then you drive back home, bees in the car, and install the bees in your own backyard or bee yard.

Free bees - the best!

But, no.....even better is what happened to me today.

I had two hives that died or absconded before the winter began.  One was the two-year-old Sebastian hive that we moved to my backyard from the professor's yard at the beginning of last year's bee season.  I guess I kept hoping it hadn't really happened so I never took the hive apart.

I've noticed a number - I should say a growing number - of scout bees exploring that hive.  It is four boxes high with a swarm trap entrance.  I've also seen scout bees exploring the hive next to it which is also empty with good comb and two full boxes of honey.  The Sebastian hive also has unharvested honey in it.

Tonight I got home around 7:30 and went out to the backyard to see the bees. I heard a pretty loud bee buzz/hum which is not my usual experience back there at this time of day. Suddenly I looked over at the Sebastian hive and there were orienting bees coming in and out of the entry.

I believe a swarm has moved in and that's even better than going on a swarm call. Free bees and no time or effort spent to get them! I didn't have to sing "Won't you be my neighbor?" throw my shoes around, change my jacket for a sweater or anything!

I guess the best swarm trap of all is an available, empty hive with healthy drawn comb.

These two photos don't begin to convey what a beautiful day it was in my neighborhood today!  So excited about these bees who have decided that they want to bee my neighbor!

I so wish I had been home and noticed the tornado of bees moving in....

Monday, March 30, 2015

I BEE Speaking....

It's not unusual for me to give about one bee talk somewhere or another every month.

  • In January, I spoke to the NE GA Mountain Beekeepers and gave another talk to a ladies' lunch group in Marietta.
  • In February, I gave a talk on Wax: Fun and Facts at the GBA Spring Meeting and I spoke to the Ogeechee Beekeepers in Statesboro, Ga.  
  • In March, I said no to all invitations because my daughter was having a baby in the middle of the month.
This month coming up (April), I made commitments without really studying my calendar and I have one week which is crammed with three bee talks.

  • On April 9, I am speaking to the Pickens County South Carolina Bee Club about "Letting your Bees Go Naked," a talk about using foundationless frames.
  • On April 13, I am speaking to the Coweta County beekeepers on "Simple Beekeeping: Low Tech Ways to make your Beekeeping Life Easier"
  • On April 16, I am speaking in Charlotte, NC at the Mecklenburg County Beekeepers Association on "Simple Ways to use Ordinary Household Objects to Make your Beekeeping Easier."
If you are in the area of any of these, please come and join us!

What I didn't add to this crazy April schedule is that I am driving from Pickens to Charleston, SC for a wedding on Friday and Saturday.  I'll drive back to Atlanta on Sunday before going to Newnan on Monday to speak to Coweta.  Absolute bee-craziness.

I will probably give other talks as the year goes on, but after that for the moment I am only scheduled to speak to Tara Beekeepers in September and to a garden club in November.

I love to talk to beekeepers and garden clubs, but doing three talks in seven days with an out of town wedding in between, was poor planning on my part.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Ground Control to Major Tom......

I went over to Tom's on Monday morning to see how the hive was doing. I knew it had made it through the winter because Tom and his family reported seeing flying bees (and I had stopped by earlier), but I had not yet been inside the hive.

Monday was the day.  As I popped the top, an angry queenless roar began and I felt worried.  I took the hive down to the bottom box.  Some honey in the second box and in the bottom box. In the bottom box, I found tons of dark brown capped brood (dark biscuit), meaning the bees were about to emerge.

I searched on both sides of every frame and could find no uncapped brood and no eggs, despite there being plenty of room.

It's early in Atlanta for a swarm, but there have been some. All I could determine was that Tom's hive had looked out and said, "Take your protein pills and put your helmet on....The stars look very different today," and swarmed last week while he and his family were on vacation.

The only explanation for this hive bursting at the seam with bees and only capped brood is that they had swarmed; the queen had emerged and had gotten rid of any other competing queens; and she was off on her mating flight. Perhaps she was unsuccessful - got eaten by a bird or didn't find any available drones aloft.

Thus the queenless roar.

I put the hive (which I had intended to split) back together and left to think. As I drove home I decided to get a frame of eggs and brood from the daughter hive that is in my backyard and bring it over to Tom's on Thursday (my next free day). On Thursday I made a split from the daughter hive to put in Tom's second hive (a 2014 Buster's Bees hive that did not make it through the winter).

My office got busy on Thursday, so Jeff decided to help me do this on Friday. Atlanta was cold and windy on Friday morning, so instead we put the nuc box with the split and an extra frame of brood for the queenless hive on top of its new quarters.  I planned to return when the temperatures rose in the afternoon.

Around 3:30 I arrived at Tom's and opened the "queenless" hive. Now they were calm. No roar; no angry bees head bumping me. I looked through the bottom box and there they were, right in my face: eggs, newly laid, and young, young brood. In the five days since I had been there, the queen must have successfully returned and began her new job.


And I installed the nuc in the other hive. So we have had two very cold nights, last night and tonight, so the new nuc may not make it. I'll give it more bees next week.

Sorry about the lack of photos - left my camera at my house......

Saturday, March 21, 2015

What does 2 + 2 add up to in these two hives?

I have two dead hives in my backyard that needed my evaluation.  I went through the first hive - the Northlake Swarm hive - which died in the second hard freeze week we had in February.  Temperatures were in the 20s most of the week.  In addition to a box full of capped honey, here is what I found in the second box:

You can also see part of the other side of the cluster on the frame below this one.  As you can see the bees were clustered over honey and they died despite more capped honey just four inches away on the same frame.  This often happens when the temperatures are below freezing in Atlanta for days.  The bees have to make a good initial decision about where to locate the cluster.  If they miscalculate,  they die.

These dead bees had a whole box of honey above them and more honey on the frame on which they died.

In addition there were a ton of dead, molded bees on the screened bottom board:

The second lost hive was Tom's swarm #2.  There were two medium supers completely filled with honey and the hive looked like it was in relatively good shape - no wax moth damage, no small hive beetles.  In the next to the bottom box (this hive had four boxes), I found a tiny tennis ball size group of bees in a semi cluster.  The queen was in this group.  

They were not head down in the cells.  The queen was thin and looked what Keith Fielder would call "short bred."  Because these bees look as if they dwindled and the queen was so small, my guess is that they replaced their queen just before winter and she did not mate well. There were probably few drones around when she went on her mating flight. There was a little scattered capped brood.  

There was no mold in the hive because it didn't go into winter with bees creating heat/moisture in the hive.  The honey held up because we had a pretty cold winter for Atlanta - I wore my coat from November 2014 through February 2015, and in 2013 only got my coat out after January 2014 began.  

The bees simply dwindled and died out.

So it's a new year; my foot is healed; let's hope for a better bee season.

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