Welcome - Explore my Blog

I've been keeping this blog for nine years and now there are over 1200 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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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Warm Temps Equal Flying Bees

The temperature is milder today and the bees are flying.

I have three live hives in my backyard which means I lost two over the winter.  One was the tiny hive we moved from Jeff's yard that never really got off the ground.  The other was the Sebastian hive which made good honey and were surprisingly strong.   I'll open that hive soon to see if I can determine what was wrong.

The three who are vigorously flying and bringing in pollen (from where?) are the nuc hive that is going great guns, the Northlake swarm hive - now entering its third season, and the Va Hi Swarm that I caught just up the street from my house during last year's swarm season.

The Va Hi swarm hive looks like they have nosema:

You can see all the bee feces around the entrance.  Still there are tons of bees coming and going.  It's my most vigorous hive.  We didn't harvest from this hive and also didn't consolidate the boxes going into winter (I know, bad beekeeper...) but they are alive and surviving so far.

In Atlanta you never can tell.  We can have snow as late as mid March.  Last year around Valentine's Day we had the worst snow jam ever, ever, ever with really cold temperatures, so who knows what will happen.

There are a lot of dead bees just outside the hive with all of my hives.  This is natural in that the dead accumulate inside when the bees can't fly because it's too cold, but as soon as it warms up, they carry out the dead.

You can see dead bodies on the ground in the above photo.

The Northlake hive is bringing in the pollen as well as the nuc hive.  I saw three bees on several occasions while I watched the nuc hive practically fall over each other trying to make the entrance.

The bees that were coming in carried heavy pollen loads.




















These kinds of days make me feel hopeful for the spring!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Honey of a Dinner 2015

The table is set for the Honey of a Dinner 2015.  The people coming to this dinner purchased it at auction in September 2014.  There will be eight people in all including me and my helpers.


I've got honey bee skep napkins that my daughter Sarah gave me, bee napkin holders some of which my brother Barry gave me as well as my friend Debbara, beeswax candles on the table, honeycomb trivets that my friend Julia gave me - I'm all set.

Here's an up close photo of one of the bee skep napkins and the napkin ring:



The menu for tonight is:

Cocktail:    Bees Knees made with lavender infused honey simple syrup
Appetizer:  Flatbreads with Honey and Thyme
Soup:         Carrot Soup with Sesame and Miso (and honey pickled scallions as a garnish)
Entree:       Pork Tenderloin (marinated in honey) with Gremolata
Bread:        Canadian Buttermilk Honey Rolls
Salad:         Leaf lettuce with oranges and avocado with a Champagne Honey Vinaigrette
Dessert:      Profiteroles with Honey Lavender Ice Cream

I've served some of these items at previous honey dinners but as they say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it!

We had the flatbreads a couple of years ago and the pork last year.  I make the rolls every time.  I've made the profiteroles for this dinner at least once before.

I'm hoping the guests have fun.  I've had a great time getting ready for it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Soap-making, John Campbell Folk School Style


After a weekend at the Folk School taking a soap making class, I came home with all of this soap.  It has to cure for a month.

You remember how I like to find uses for the queen excluders I bought when I first started beekeeping?  On two occasions in ten years, I have put them on a hive for overnight to solve a problem.  Other than that I use them for cut comb honey draining!  Now I have found a new use: curing soap!

Soap has to sit for four to six weeks to cure before it is in its best shape for use and lather.  You are supposed to turn the bars over occasionally.  My basement smells lovely.

At the school, we learned how to protect ourselves against the danger of being burned by lye.  We wore goggles, rubber gloves, long sleeves.  We were very, very careful.  Everything in making soap has to be measured in a precise way.  Saponification (turning lye and fat into soap) is a chemical reaction and the ingredients have to be controlled exactly. 

We carefully stirred the lye into cold water and then began to melt our precisely measured fats.  By the time the fats had melted the lye would have cooled down.  The teacher had fancy laser thermometers - I ordered one from Amazon the minute I got home.  The lye and the melted fats plus olive oil had to end up with an average temperature of somewhere between 80 and 120 degrees before you could mix them together.

When the magic temperature was reached, the lye solution is gently poured into the fat/oil mix and you begin the thickening process.  We used stick blenders and "trace" occurred rather quickly.  "Trace" is the point in the process when you can see a line on the surface of the soap solution when you pull out the stick blender or make a circular drip with a rubber spatula on the surface of the soap solution.  At that point, you can add fragrance or color.

I made six different quarts of soap.  I think these were the types I made:

1.  Tuscan wine soap with calendula - turned out red and smells divine - shea butter was in that

2.  Apple jack and orange peel with cornmeal was next and I didn't use shea butter for it

3.  Then I think I made a soap with dirt/smoke as the fragrance and I added both activated charcoal and cornmeal for texture.  It turned out black and very masculine in smell

4.  Cucumber with parsley flakes and ground up oatmeal

5.  Vanilla soap with chamomile.  This one was made with shea butter.  The dark places are chamomile flower bits

6.  Lavender swirl soap with only lavender flavoring and no texture, I don't think.  I did almost everything in a quart milk carton and the lavender I made in a half gallon carton.  I tried the swirl technique and although it isn't the way it is supposed to look, I wasn't unhappy with how it turned out.


There's a slide show below (click on it to visit the Picasa web album page) where you can see the process and the teacher at work:






Thursday, January 15, 2015

What Do Beekeepers Do in the Winter.....?

And your answer was make soap - right?



That's what I am going to do this weekend.  My sister and I are going to the John C Campbell Folk School to take a class in making lye soap.  I love spending time with my sister and I love going to classes at the Folk School, so what could be better?

I haven't taken a Folk School class in seven years, so this should be lots of fun.  It's like going to grown up camp, complete with a dining hall with community tables.  Back in 2006 when I first started beekeeping, I took a beekeeping class at John Campbell from Virginia Webb and learned about bees, pollen, and wax.

Jeff (my son-in-law who keeps bees with me) and I have already experimented with glycerin soap, but some people don't like that type of soap and the "real thing" is made with lye as they did in the old days.  So I am thrilled with the opportunity to learn an old-fashioned craft and maybe figure out how to put my beeswax into soap.

Jeff wants me to teach him so he can make his favorite soap and not have to buy it.  The soap he likes is flavored with DIRT, SMOKE, and bay rum.  I went on the Internet and would you believe, you can buy oils that are scented with earth, campfire smoke, and bay rum.  I guess he and I will try to replicate the soap he loves.

I'll take photos of what I learn and post them here when I get back.  It's pretty old-fashioned at the Folk School and I doubt I'll have Internet access for posting while I'm there.

I heard a lecture from Marcy, a member of our bee club, on how to make lye soap.  She said her jeans were now full of holes from the lye, so I am taking pants I could care less about and old shirts.  We'll see how it goes!

My first Folk School class was when Atlanta hosted the Summer Olympics.  The Olympic committee asked the Atlanta citizens to get out of town to lessen the traffic problems during the games.  So I signed up for a quilting class for a week at the Folk School and thus began my grown-up camp fun and games.

More after my adventure. 

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Blanketing the Bees

"Baby, it's cold outside...."
Seems weird to see a hive in a blanket.  After all, we are in Georgia.  But tonight the temperature is going to drop so low that with the wind, it is supposed to feel like 0 degrees.  BRRRR.  

I keep thinking of the child's finger game:

Here is the beehive.
Where are the bees?
Hiding away where nobody sees....
Watch and you'll see them come out of the hive.
One, Two, Three, Four, Five.

What I want when late February or early March comes around is for the bees to come out of the hive, one, two, three, four, five. 

It might be purely psychological impact on me, the beekeeper, but it felt pretty good to tuck the bees in on this cold night.  I went out after putting these blankets on and added a sheet fully covering each hive for another layer!

Earlier this winter, I followed the video advice of Mountain Sweet Honey and taped the box joinings so as to cut down on drafts inside the hive box.  Here's their video about preparing the hives for winter.


This is a medium 8 frame hive going into winter with four boxes of honey and bees.  I'm using four boxes because that is 32 frames, comparable to three medium boxes for a 10 frame hive.  The inner cover has an empty box above it where I have a feeder into which I put honey in the late fall.


Saturday, January 03, 2015

Learning to Bee

As the New Year starts, many people set goals for themselves - such as becoming a beekeeper.  The ideal way to get started is to take a short course in beekeeping.  These are offered all over the country in various cities and towns, usually by the local bee club.



In the state of Georgia we have over 30 local bee clubs, many of whom are offering short courses.   I highly encourage you to take one if you are interested in keeping bees.  Usually they are taught by experienced beekeepers who have tips to share that you might not find from books or from trying to teach yourself.  Beekeeping is as much an art as it is a science, so don't feel like you can't go to a course if the teachers are not university folks.  Plain beekeepers offer a lot of wisdom.

Most Georgia courses cost between $25 and $50.

 Here are the details of the upcoming short courses that are available of which I am aware.

Chattahoochee Valley Beekeepers
WHAT: Spring Beekeeping Course
WHERE:  Oxbow Environmental Learning Center
WHEN:  six, two hour sessions over six consecutive Saturday afternoons, 3PM to 5PM, beginning February 14, 2015
HOW:  Call Paul Berry, 706-527-0739

Chattooga County Beekeepers
WHAT:  Introduction to Beekeeping
WHERE:  Ag Building, 32 Middle School Road, Summerville, GA
WHEN:  January 31st, 8 AM - 4 PM
HOW:  Call Randy Rolen to register: 423-304-2714
More information:  www.chattoogabeekeepers.com

Coastal Empire Beekeepers Association
WHAT:  FUNdamentals of Beekeeping
WHERE:  Oatland Island Wildlife Center,  711 Sandtown Road, Savannah, Ga  31410
WHEN:  February 28th, 8 AM Registration Begins; Classes Scheduled 9 AM to 4 PM
HOW:    CEBA has a fully operational apiary for hands on training during the weekend event.
More Information:  www.cebeekeeping.com

Coweta Beekeepers Association
WHAT: Introduction to Beekeeping class
WHERE: 255 Pine Road, Newnan, GA 30263
WHEN: One day class, January 24, 2015  8:00 am to 4:00 pm
HOW:  More Information:   www.cowetabeekeepers.org/

Forsyth Beekeepers Club
WHAT: Beginning Beekeeping Short Course  Day 1
WHERE: Sawnee Mt. Preserve Visitor Center, Cumming GA
WHEN: March 7th,  registration starts @ 8, classes start @ 9:00

Lake Country Beekeepers Association
WHAT:  Beekeepers Short Course for beginners
WHERE:  Central GA Technical College Conference Center, 54 Hwy 22 West, Milledgeville, GA 3
WHEN: January 24, 2015  Registration 8 am  Class starts at 8:30am to 5:00pm
HOW:  More information contact Bruce Morgan at 478-357-4029  or rbmorgan@hughes.net


NE Georgia Mountain Beekeepers
WHAT:  Beekeeping Short Course
WHERE:  Elachee Nature Center, Gainesville, GA
WHEN:  Sat. Feb 21st  8:30 - 5
HOW:  Contact Slade Jarrett 706-677-2854  

Potato Creek Beekeepers Association
WHAT: Beginning Beekeeping Short Course
WHERE: SPALDING COUNTY EXTENSION OFFICE
WHEN: 9:00AM, JANUARY 17, 2014
HOW: Contact Brutz English   (770) 843-2110

Troup County Association of Beekeepers
WHAT:  Beginning beekeepers course, 
WHERE: AG building Lagrange GA, 
WHEN:  Feb 14, 28 Mar 14, 28. 9am to 1pm. 
HOW:  Cost $75. Contact Terry Williamson 706-882-2493





I realize that many of my readers are from all over the country and all around the world.  This list will only be of help to people in Georgia seeking a course.  If you are in a different state or country, contact your state or local beekeeping association to find out about short courses available to you.  Take a course, join your local and state bee club, and find a mentor to help you when you run into difficulty (you will!).

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Happy New Year and Hope it's a good Bee Year

I'm rather glad to see the beginning of a new year - while it does make me older and older, I am glad to shut the door on 2014.  I had a hard beekeeping year in 2014.  I had an injured leg for most of the year, falling on Christmas day, 2013, and in a cast for much of the summer.  My bee season activities were limited and especially my early spring start up was limited by my injury.

Now I am all better - it was a one year-to-heal injury and indeed took until Christmas 2014 to be fully better.

In addition, I had my kitchen in my tiny house redone over the summer and that too interfered with my beekeeping because it was just so hard to get to the hives.

So in my back yard are some dead hives and some obviously live ones.  Two of the liveliest hives are a split that I made from a swarm hive and a hive that is two years old from a swarm near Northlake mall.  My third active and interesting hive is one that I never consolidated going into winter.  I also didn't harvest from it.  As a result it is still six or seven boxes tall.  Maybe it seems like a tree to the bees who are living there.  We'll see if they make it all the way through the winter.  And there are some others still living and hopefully hanging on until spring.

This year 2015, I am hoping to use my queen castle that I bought last year and was then unable to use.  I am hoping to keep my sights smaller and focus more on my home hives than expanding.

My hive at Chastain died mid summer - not unlikely from the poison that is used at the Chastain Conservancy - Roundup was sprayed within feet of our hives there.  I don't plan to replace that hive.

I have live bees in Rabun County, in my backyard, at the Morningside community garden (I hope they are alive), at my friend Tom's house, and at the Inn.   I am not expanding this coming year and will focus on whatever hives make it through the winter.

So I am planning to be a focused and intense beekeeper this year, 2015.  I plan to put lots of energy into the state bee club where the leadership is extremely positive and supportive.  My friend Julia and I are in charge of the "spring" meeting in February this year and we are setting up what purports to be a great conference.  And my friend Gina and I edit the newsletter for GBA (Spilling the Honey).  I love working on that with Gina and will continue to do that in the next year.

So my bee resolutions for 2015 are:

1.  To be the best beekeeper I can be
2.  To focus on quality and not on quantity for both bee hive numbers and honey production
3.  To put out (with Gina) the best state newsletter possible
4.  To support the Georgia Beekeepers Association in every way I can
5.  To help new beekeepers to get started in whatever way I find to do so.


Happy New Year to all my Beekeeping Friends and Readers!
Hope you have the best bee year ever.....

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Winter Solstice - the Shortest Day of the Year

I try to post on this every year because I find it so phenomenal.  In the dark depths of the beehive, I hope my bees are alive and making it through what has already been an unusually cold winter in Atlanta.  On warmish days most of my hives are flying.  I've learned not to assume those who are not flying are dead-outs until later in the winter because if they have stores, sometimes they aren't flying and are still doing fine.

Today is a turn-around time for bees and all of us.  From now until the Summer Solstice on June 21st, the days begin to extend in length.  I don't know how the queen bee knows this in her life of darkness.  Inside the hive, she has no idea if the sun set early or late; if the day was short or long.  But somehow she senses it and on the Winter Solstice, her biology tells her that it is time to start her spring build-up.
From today, the queen will gradually start laying more eggs and begin to raise bees who will increase the hive numbers so that when the nectar flow begins, the hive is truly ready with the bee numbers needed to gather stores for the winter.

That's all the bee is really about, isn't it?  She lives to gather nectar and make honey so that her hive can survive the winter.  We beekeepers take what we deem to be the surplus honey and hope to have left the bees enough to feed themselves and the developing young through the winter.  But all we are doing with our honey harvest is interrupting a process of supply buildup that is the cycle of life in the beehive.

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