Welcome - Explore my Blog

I've been keeping this blog for all of my beekeeping years and I began my 12th year of beekeeping in April 2017. Now there are almost 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. 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. (678) 597-8443

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

My Own Private Pesticide Protest

Honey bees and other pollinators are all in danger from the pesticides that are currently being sprayed to kill the mosquito in the panic over zika. Pesticide operators apply the poison without discretion, often not paying attention to the instructions for its application.

In addition, they spray indiscriminately in the daytime when all of the pollinators are flying, despite the fact that pollinator organizations have spoken out about the need to spray after dark. After all, they would have to pay their workers overtime to do so. And the definition of after dark in the summer is typically after 9 PM - can you imagine them actually following that directive? Does the photo below look safe to you?

Please try alternative methods.

I have my own private pesticide protest. I walk my dog two to three miles a day through our Virginia Highlands neighborhood. At least ten beekeepers live in my area within a couple of blocks of me. Every time I see one of the signs indicating that mosquito spray has been used in the yard, I pull the sign out of the ground and lay it on its side on the grass so people won't see it as they go by. On Mondays (which is trash collection day), I put the signs in the curbside garbage containers.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Spiderman is Scared of Bees

Last summer I got an unexpected call.

"This is the location director for the new Spiderman movie and we need the help of a beekeeper. We are shooting some scenes for Spiderman in Piedmont park and we need someone to keep the bees in the beehives over there!"

I said, "Well, I can't do that. I can't make the bees stay in the hive and besides I don't have access to the bee hives in Piedmont Park."

He said, "We can't get in touch with the park's beekeeper. We'll pay you $20 to do this."

I laughed and told him that didn't begin to be enough money and besides, I couldn't make the bees stay in the beehive. He quickly raised it up to a lot of money and said he would pay me a minimum of four hours work a night for two nights. His biggest concern was that no one get stung - not Spiderman nor any of the many, many people working on the set. I said OK (if you get to a certain amount, I'll say yes to most anything!) and immediately called beekeeping buddies to get advice.

Piedmont Park is Atlanta's equivalent of Central Park. Many people daily walk right past these beehives so they are enclosed in a screened room with a locked door and open top. Here's how the beehives at Piedmont Park look:

I couldn't go inside the locked enclosure and simply cover the hives or block their entry for the night. And it's hot in July so many were bearding on the outside in the evenings. After getting good advice (mostly from Julia), I decided that what I should do is to cover the entire enclosure with wet sheets as one might cover just a single hive during a robbery. I gathered every sheet I had that wasn't on a bed (nine of them), put them in a bag and headed for the park. 

The movie was being shot at night, but because they were making the area brightly lit with huge spotlights, the bees were likely to continue flying if only to fly toward the lights. 

I got lots of help from many people (takes a ton of people to shoot a scene in Spiderman). We wet the sheets in a wheelbarrow.

Lots of equipment was assembled around the beehives. I couldn't believe how many people and items were needed to film Spiderman.

A water truck was nearby because they were planning to blow up a car near the beehives. This explosion was the main reason they were worried about the bees. This nice young man filled the wheelbarrow with water for me and pushed it to the beehives.

 Then he and I climbed up this ladder and draped the hive enclosure with the wet sheets.

As we finished, it was really dark. The bees stayed safely inside the enclosure and the filming began. All of this took me about 15 minutes to carry the equipment from my car to the hives and about 30 minutes to cover the enclosure. Then I could sit and watch all of the process involved in filming. 

Around 9 PM, they were ready to blow up the car, a mere 20 feet from the hives. The movie workers came over to me by the hives and requested that I move about 100 feet away to avoid being harmed by the explosion. 

I went over and sat with other movie workers on golf carts while the filming was going on. Although I had been warned, when the car blew up, I must have jumped a foot into the air!

When I left at 10 PM, there was still lots of filming planned for the remainder of the night. I went home and returned very early the next morning to remove the sheets. In that process, I did get one sting from a bee who was tangled in the folds of the sheet and felt irritated by my interference to rescue her.

So Spiderman was filmed in Atlanta's Piedmont Park with no bee stings to Spidey or his supporters. The only single sting was mine the next day.

If you see the movie, when the car blows up, think of me!

Best Part of a Mother's Day Bee Inspection!

My two-year-old grandson wanted to try on a bee hat and help his daddy and grandma with the bees:

Parker: the future of beekeeping!

Monday, May 08, 2017

Nevertheless, She Persisted!

The other day I looked out of my window and saw this on the front of a hive:

This looks like maybe 1 1/2 cups of bees - tiny swarm. It's probably a secondary swarm with a virgin queen. So I decided that I would try to capture them and brushed them into my swarm box, topping them with a ventilated hive top. But many of them flew right back to the hive front. 

I brushed again and this time, the bees started signaling that the queen was in the swarm box.

I held the swarm box up to the side of the hive and the bees systematically moved into the box.

So I carried this teacup swarm over to a waiting hive box and shook them in. In minutes the queen had led them all back to the swarm box. So now, I turned the swarm box upside down over the open topped hive box. I didn't take a photo, but the bees found their way out of the box and many flew back to the hive box.

This time, I brushed them into a cardboard nuc box and turned the nuc box on its side in front of the hive, assuming that the queen was in the upside down swarm box. I left it overnight.

The next morning all the bees were clumped in the inside corner of the cardboard nuc box. OK, your highness, I thought. My hive box isn't good enough for you...and you and your retinue are in the cardboard nuc so I'll just add frames and let you settle in there. 

So I did just that - put five frames into the nuc box and put the top on it. I opened the entry and set it on top of the hive box I wanted them to live in and left them overnight. 


I could see bees flying in and out of the entry - some went down into the hive box and some into the nuc box. I covered what had been covered with a hive drape with the inner cover. I thought, maybe now I've convinced the queen that this is a good place.

But this morning there was a swirling of bees. Not huge because she is not leading a huge swarm - just about 1 1/2 cups of bees - but she persisted nevertheless and the tiny group was taking off.

I waved "Bye" and wished her well. I hope they find a home they like better than my apiary.

PS, for a tiny in-joke, as I posted this, Blogger noted that this is my 1300th post and it's funny to me that having kept up this blog for twelve years, the 1300th post is titled "Nevertheless, she persisted!"

Friday, April 28, 2017

Listed as an "Awesome Sustainable Garden Blog!"

Today I was notified that I was on the list of blogs noted by a British site called "WhatShed" which is a British gardening site. The list is long and I am third on the list. I thought you might want to see the list to find gardening blogs that might be of interest to you as well.

One I really liked was You Grow Girl from Canada which has beautiful photos and guides to planting. She has a post about the bumblebee. I also liked Mr. Brown Thumb whose writing seems to apply to my own gardening struggles.

I'm honored that my blog was included - it was apparently based on a poll of readers of the WhatShed site.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Swift Swarm Catching

At the community garden, our bees in one hive didn't make it. They actually dwindled and died before winter. I neglected them with my injured shoulder and they were a swarm that I installed last summer.

They probably came from a yard where the bees were treated and I don't treat my bees, so these bees may have not been able to survive without treatment. In addition, you never know about swarms. Since they didn't come from my bee yard, I can't rely on their genetics. Often swarms don't make it.

But that meant that I was one hive short at the community garden where like in all of my bee yards, I want to have two hives so one can serve as a resource if the other needs it.

So I was DELIGHTED when I got a swarm call from my bee club's swarm list. The swarm was in the yard of a beekeeper who did not have the equipment to keep them. They were described as being six feet off the ground and easy to get.

Now, the call came in at 2:15. The bees were 25 minutes from my house. I had to drive there, get the swarm, drive back to the community garden (25 minutes), install the bees, and get myself to a 4:15 doctor's appointment that is also 25 minutes away (more with the current state of Atlanta traffic due to the I-85 collapse). I had at least 1 1/2 hours of driving with little time to spare to collect the swarm or to install the swarm.

Everything had to run smoothly.

I arrived to find that the swarm was indeed just about six feet up or so.

I had brought my swarm catcher. Here's a photo of it from an earlier swarm catch in 2016.

For this swarm, described as six feet up, I didn't bring the painter's pole in the photo above, but rather brought a mop stick to screw into the swarm catcher. I didn't even use it - instead, I used the swarm catcher on its own. 

I spread the sheet I had brought under the swarm as quickly as possible. I took the swarm catcher and while the man whose bees these were bent the tree branch down, I jerked up on the swarm catcher and the bees fell into it. One more jab at the tree and I had the bees in the box I had brought.

Here you can see the bees in the box under the ventilated hive cover, the swarm catcher to the right, the bottle of sugar syrup which I had used to spray the swarm, my bee brush, and the yellow bungee cord set to secure the ventilated cover to the plastic box. The bees on the upper edge of the box are sending out Nasonov, letting me know that I have the queen.

The whole thing took ten minutes. There were many bees on the outside of the box, but I didn't have time to wait for them to find Mama. I wrapped the box, bees on the outside and all, in the sheet and raced for my car.

I drove the 25 minutes to the community garden. By the time I got there, at least 100 bees were gathered on my back window. I jumped out of the car, put on my veil and jacket, grabbed the bees and my bee brush and carried all of it up the hill to the hive. When I arrived, I could not pry the top off of the box!

I went in my veil to the car where there was no hive tool. What had I done? Cleaned out the car and moved the resident hive tool? ARGHHH. Leaving the bees, I jumped into the car and drove in my veil to my house about two blocks away. I ran into the house in my veil and down the stairs to the basement. As I headed for my bee kit to get the hive tool, I tripped over a box in my way that I couldn't see for the veil and landed smack on my hands and knees on the concrete floor. 

Note to self: Next time, take off the veil before going inside.

Hive tool in hand, I raced back to the garden, opened the hive and dumped in the bees. I grabbed the hive top, put it on solidly, and ran to the car. I got to the 4:15 appointment at 4:13 (with many bees still in the car). 

I didn't have a long doctor's appointment, but right after it I had to go babysit grandkids, so I hadn't been back in my neighborhood since I installed the swarm about 3:30. I was leaving town the next morning, so I stopped by the hive that evening just after dark around 9 PM. I could see bees on the entrance and felt good about it.

I came back to town on Monday and stopped by the other day to check on the hive. While there are bees flying in and out, the numbers don't compare to the overwintered hive which is booming (I know, I know, the robber screen is off and needs restapling. I'll do it when I'm over there on Sunday).

This was done in such haste and today I stopped back by to see how they had survived today's rain and horrors! I noticed that the hive is barely supported on one side. That's something to fix this weekend as well!

Don't know how it is barely on the corner of the cinder block, but that obviously will not do and both hives need entrance reducers.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Package Bees are not Loyal to Their Queen

When the package bees woke up that morning, they didn't know they were going to be shaken into a package with a bunch of strange bees, often not their sisters. Then they were hanging around in a screened cage complete with a syrup can and a queen (not THEIR mother) in a cage. Loyalty to a stranger has to be earned.

So when the beekeeper picks up a package, it's not a bonded group. It's a loosely connected bunch of unrelated bees with an unrelated and heretofore unknown queen.

I took two packages to Stonehurst Place to install the bees on March 29. The packages were about equal in size:

As in the typical package installation, I sprayed both packages with sugar water and then installed them. The hives are side by side facing a privacy fence so that in flying out, the bees have to fly up and over the fence.

Here's the first hive that I installed:

You can see at the front of the box the tape on the top of the queen cage which I jammed between two frames. Although you can see the syrup can sitting on top of the frames, after the bees settled in a little, I removed that and put on the inner cover. Then I gave them a feeder of Bee Tea on top of the inner cover hole.

As you may remember, I have been dealing with an injured shoulder (from a fall in October) that is just now getting better. When I finished the first install and turned to the second my shoulder hurt and I didn't have it in me to be quite as thorough. 

I had a terrible time with the staple holding the Hive 2 queen cage to the package and destroyed the tape in the process. I decided to put the queen cage on the floor of the hive under the frames instead of putting it between two frames. 

When I returned three days later to give them more food, there were about three times as many bees in hive 2 than the first hive. 

And today when I went over to see if they needed a new box, here's how the bees looked in hive 1:

They are in the hive and working, but not nearly like hive 2:

Hive 2 had bright white wax drawn on every frame. I gave them a new box and pulled up two filled frames as ladders to encourage the use of the new box.  

I think all of this is about lack of loyalty and strength of pheromones. The bees were looking for a place to go and probably the pheromone of the queen in hive 2 was stronger than the queen in hive 1. And with queen 2 on the bottom of the hive, it was probably easier to smell her pheromone than the queen in hive 1 who was wedged between the frames.

So the bees who had no loyalty to begin with, gravitated to the queen in hive 2 - whether because of her strong pheromone or advantageous cage placement.

How I will handle this, in the long run, is that the next time I am over at Stonehurst Place, I'll move a frame of brood and eggs from Hive 2 to Hive 1.  If I do that every time, gradually I'll help build the population of Hive 1.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Hive Drape as a Swarm Kit Asset

One of Jeff's friends had found a swarm in her compost bin and told Jeff he could have the bees if he'd like to get them. He texted me yesterday but I was too busy. "No problem," he told me. "They are already building comb and have moved in. We can go tomorrow."

I had just heard Bobby Chaisson talk about doing cut-outs at my local bee meeting. So I packed the car this morning to cut the bees out of the compost bin - big, big rubber bands, two nuc boxes with totally empty frames, a spray bottle of syrup, in addition to my hive kit which has everything. I asked Jeff to bring a sharp knife and a flashlight.

Here's what we found when we arrived at a beautiful Garden Hills home in Atlanta:

You can see the comb that has been drawn through the clutching bees.

The bees were using the air holes in the compost bin as entrance into the compost bin. The holes just fit a bee.

I truly didn't know how we would get them. My first inclination was to spread a hive drape under the bees to help us see the ones that fell. Turns out that was the best thing we did. I started by spreading two hive drapes.

If you don't know/remember, I regularly use flour sacking towels as hive drapes when I inspect bee hives. I cover the exposed top of a box and only uncover the frame I am taking out of the box. The bees stay calmer. So here are Jeff's hands and the hive drapes inside the composter.

My guess is that this is a secondary swarm who left their hive with a virgin queen. Then we had cold weather and the queen couldn't fly nor could the scouts. They decided to remain in the composter and started drawing comb. It's not much different than top bars in Africa inside split barrels. I expect they've only been in the composter for a couple of weeks.

We cut the tiny teardrops of honeycomb one layer at a time and rubber-banded the pieces into empty frames. This piece has pollen in it and we saw bees flying into the composter with pollen on their legs:

Even after we had cut and rubber-banded all of the comb, there were still tons of bees left in to composter. The bees were indicating that the queen was still in the composter.

We tried using the bee brush and brushing the bees into a plant saucer, then dumping them into the cardboard nuc we had brought, but that only yielded a few bees each time. Then we figured out how to use the hive drapes. We added a few drapes so that we had about four stacked up. Then we brushed the bees off of the inside of the composter and onto the hive drapes.

Instead of picking up the drape, I folded the edges into the center, picked up the drape which was full of bees and put the cloth, bees and all, into the cardboard nuc. We did this until we ran out of both bees and hive drapes!

Finally the bees let us know the queen was in the hive box. We must have gotten her in one of the drape carries. 

We waited about 20 minutes until most of the bees were in the hive and then put the nuc in the back of my car.

After lunch, I installed them into a hive in my backyard. First I dumped the drape covered bees into the open space in the hive and then moved in the rubberbanded frames. 

This afternoon the bees were all in the hive and doing orientation flying.

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