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I've been keeping this blog for nine years and I began my 10th year of beekeeping in April 2015. Now there are about 1270 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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Friday, April 29, 2016

AZ Hives in Gilmer County

I was invited to speak to the Beekeepers of Gilmer County on the topic: Fun and Facts about Wax. I love giving that talk because many beekeepers know very little about wax. The talk covers the history of beeswax, its many uses, and how I gather and use it in my beekeeping and bee products.

Because of Mary Lou Blohm, Gilmer County is all about the AZ hive. How they are putting the Slovenian AZ hive to use reminded me of Les Crowder in New Mexico. Les kept top bar hives. He became the bee inspector for New Mexico for five years and was the president of the New Mexico beekeepers for five years. He has taught beekeeping classes in New Mexico since 1983. And as a result of his expansive influence, almost all beekeepers in New Mexico use his top bar design as their hive structure.

Well, in Ellijay, Georgia, Mary Lou Blohm has been singing the praises of the AZ hive and as a result, there are many Gilmer County beekeepers with bees in AZ hives. Before my talk at the Gilmer County bee meeting, I was invited to visit Brian Drebber at his home to see his AZ hives and hive house.

AZ Hives live in a house and are worked from the back. Brian's daughter painted all of these beautiful hives. The bees enter from the front. The typical AZ hive is only two boxes tall and has no honey supers, but Brian has built the bottom boxes to be the right size to use Langstroth sized frames.
From the back, the AZ hive is like a kitchen cabinet with frames that slide out. He also has a working tray that is used at the back of the hive.
People can work AZ hives from a sitting position and no lifting is involved. 

Brian wanted to use Langstroth deep frames so he built hives to fit those. As you can see in the photo, the tall narrower frame is the standard AZ frame. Behind it is a Langstroth frame by virtue of length and height, but the Langstroth size AZ frame is exactly the same top and bottom - no top bar and bottom bar.

We left Brian's (and lucky me, I got eggs to take home from his chickens - delish) and drove to the Gilmer County where they were having a public hive inspection. 

So often beekeepers feel like they have to hide or be cautious about their beehives. Not Gilmer County where the hives are right in front of the entire community.

These are their three AZ hives, educating the community with the idea.

And here are the club members inspecting the Langstroth hives as well.
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I really enjoyed my visit to the Beekeepers of Gilmer County in Ellijay, Georgia.  Below you can see a video that Brian (who is a TV commentator in real life) made about the AZ hives.








A Swarm by Invitation

When spring arrived, I had one hive alive at my friend Tom's house. The other, which had lived through the previous winter, had died. I had a lot of hope in those bees, had thought they were survivors and would outlast the attacks of varroa mite-vectored viruses, but that was not to be.

When I first went to check on the living hive, I took some swarm lure with me. The front hive was a sort of patched together split that I did last year. The bottom box was a deep. Four years ago I bought two hives from Bill Owens in the MABA auction. I picked them up in October. He required that they be in a deep hive box, so I complied and bought two deeps - one for each.

At home I mostly have mediums. I do have one or two hives on deep bottoms but mostly I like all mediums. So when that front hive died after its second winter, I wanted to fill it with a split from Bill Owens' daughter hives at my house. I brought medium frames of brood and eggs and a couple of empty deep frames (to accommodate the box) and made a split into the deep at Tom's house. Consequently now that hive has some really wonky frames in the bottom box. At least two of them are mediums with bottoms extended of wax and brood.

Side note: In most people's hives, if you put a medium frame in a deep box, the bees use the free space to build drone brood because they are desperate to find places to put drone brood when they are on foundation (designed for worker comb). But when bees have foundationless frames, they build drone comb wherever they want to. So in my hives, the extension below the medium frame is always used for the bees for worker brood, just extending the worker brood area in the medium wooden part of the frame.

Indeed at Tom's house, the front hive was thriving. He took these photos. So I took out the second frame from the box and it was a medium with comb below and I don't know how it happened, but I dropped it!

It was a complete mess. Lots of lost brood and bees and sticky honey everywhere. I was so embarrassed because Tom was filming as we worked!

Here is a beautiful bee he shot afterward as well as a crew of cleanup bees.





















You can see larvae on the top as well as spilled honey.

So after that mess, I looked at the empty hive that had died and decided to set it up as a swarm lure hive. I put swarm lure under the entry and around the inner cover and lo and behold, bees had moved in by the time I returned about 12 days later.

It's nice to invite a swarm and have them take you up on the invitation!

Jeff and I checked those bees about a week after they moved in and there were queen cells as well as eggs and brood. We decided that maybe the swarm that moved in was with a virgin queen who hadn't mated well so they were superseding her.

We'll see what happens. They looked OK this week but I'm not sure there is a laying queen. There was capped brood but I didn't see young larvae or eggs. This may be while the new queen is mating. If there are no signs of a laying queen next week, then I'll add a frame of brood and eggs every week until they successfully have a laying queen.

To my disappointment, neither hive had the need for another super. My hives at home are growing exponentially and I expected these hives to be needing more room as well, but it was not the case.



Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Thorny Third Atlanta Swarm

And so for my third act, I went into Buckhead to get a swarm out of a holly bush. It was about the size of a basketball and on the side of a very slanted backyard. It was a little hard to get to, but the homeowner said it was fine to clip back the holly. I took him at his word and cut off the branches that were anxious to prick my hands as I worked with the swarm.

You can see the challenge the holly imposes in its thorns. Before dealing with this swarm, I clipped all the branches between myself and the bees (or why it's a good idea to carry pruning snips in your bee bag).
I spread out a sheet on the hillside, sprayed the swarm with sugar syrup and tried to cut the branches to get the swarm into the banker's box (my standard for carrying a swarm home). I couldn't get photos and keep my balance, but it went rather smoothly.


In this photo above you can see the bees with their rear ends raised to send the nasonov signal that the queen is here!



I left an opening in between the ventilated cover and the box to allow the bees to join their queen. Hundreds of them did. I then, as in the last swarm, covered the whole box up with the sheet, draping it over the bees who had not entered the box, and carried them to the Morningside community garden.

I had a waiting eight frame hive there. I used a third box as a funnel to help me pour the bees into the hive. It works well this way with no frames in it.

Then I added the eight frames back into the box.


I closed up the box and left the bees to adjust to their new life as community garden bees. Pickings should be bountiful!



I stopped by yesterday to check on how they are doing and they are flying well. 

Second Atlanta swarm on I-Beam in Forest Park

My second swarm call of the year came just a couple of days after the first one. I was told the bees were on rebar at a construction company. When I arrived I found the bees tucked into the squared corners of an I-Beam!

So I did the swarm catching prep while I decided how to get these bees that I couldn't shake and didn't want to make angry.
I set up a sheet under the swarm, got my ladder, my plastic banker's box, a spray bottle of sugar water, and my bee brush. I climbed up the ladder.

I held the box and brushed the majority of bees into it, but huge numbers flew back to the I-Beam. The bees in the box were not tail-up and were not sending out nasonov. The queen must still be on the I-Beam.....


I felt discouraged after several brushing attempts and angry bees in response. So I took a round Ziploc 16 oz container and scraped the bees into it by running it along the interior of the I-Beam. Then I dumped them into the box and repeated, dumped, repeated, etc.

I decided to leave them for lunch and see if the queen was in the box after lunch. Forest Park is 30 minutes from my house so I drove back the 30 minutes, had lunch with Julia, and returned to the scene.

The bees were in the box and had left the I-Beam. I must have gotten the queen in one of my Ziploc container sweeps.


Because there were lots of bees outside the box on top of the ventilated cover, I decided to bring them home just like that. I secured the cover with the bungee cord and then gently wrapped the box, exterior bees and all, in the sheet. I carried it to the car and set them in the back. Now I'm driving with hundreds of bees outside the travel container!


I installed this swarm at Stonehurst Place Inn on Piedmont. Their bees died over the winter and they were glad to see me. I hope they will do well in the hive at the bed and breakfast.



Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Atlanta Bee Swarm - My First of the Season

I got a call to go to a house near Chastain Park to collect a swarm. The man who owned the house is a beekeeper and these were his bees. He understood that if we came to help him, he would be giving the bees away. I assured him that I would install them in the community garden near my house.

Bee swarms are always their own unique challenge. He had reported that these bees were 20 feet up in a tree but that he was fine going up a tall ladder. So I arrived to find the bees high up in the tree, as he had said:


I spread my sheet twenty feet below, under the swarm. There was a deep, deep hole directly under the swarm and I kept forgetting about it and stepping into it as I walked on the sheet.

First Peter climbed his yellow ladder and jabbed the swarm with my swarm catcher on a pole. Many  bees fell into it.



We dumped the bees into the box and covered them with the ventilated cover. It was clear that we hadn't gotten the queen because a huge ball of bees flew back to the branch and the bees in the box were not sending the nasonov signal.


So now Peter gets his largest ladder and climbs even higher in the tree, preparing to cut the limb on which the bees are gathered. I am not thinking this through well. Peter cuts the limb and it falls onto the sheet - bad plan - I should have been on the other ladder with the swarm catcher. Still no queen or at least the bees are not indicating that she is in the box.



So we tried one more time (and there's not a photo because this time I held the swarm catcher right under the branch as he cut it.)


This time we got the queen and the bees are signalling. All seems well with the world of this swarm.

There were still many bees on the sheet (from the falling branch), so I wrapped the box which also had a lot of bees on the outside in the sheet; put the whole contraption in my car and took the swarm off to their new home.

Good job, Peter. I'm hoping he becomes more involved with the local beekeepers. 

I put all of the photos on Google + (they are doing away with Picasa where all my photo albums and slideshows are).



Sunday, March 06, 2016

Painting boxes Efficiently

OK, I know we all say that in the winter is a great time to paint boxes and read bee books. Somehow I always manage to get all the way to spring without accomplishing this.

So it's time to move my overwintered nucs into boxes and to make splits and to move some bees around. There's a good chance that a camera person will be in my apiary this year, so I wanted my boxes to look slightly more like Martha Stewart. (As a well-known blog states, I am NOTMARTHA)

The GBA newsletter had an article this month about painting boxes in a stack using a paint roller. The author had found the method on YouTube. I went and looked at several videos on YouTube an set about trying this out for quick, efficient box painting for the procrastinating beekeeper.

You start by stacking the boxes one on top of the other, upside down. An adorable boy on a YouTube video explains that putting them upside down means that when you paint the handholds, the paint collects on the ledge instead of dripping down. I painted the boxes on top of dirt, mildew, whatever.


First I painted the hand holds since I wanted them to be a different color: green. Then I painted the boxes blue with a roller. The whole process was quick as a wink - took less than 30 minutes. I only know because I was baking bread and started when the bread went into the oven and I was done by the moment the timer went off to tell me the bread was done!

So yesterday I ended up with delicious homemade bread and lovely boxes all in the same day. By afternoon, it was warm enough and the paint was dry so I moved one of the overwintered nucs into its new home.



Monday, February 15, 2016

Heat from Inside Can/not Predict Live Bees in Winter

At GBA this past weekend, Jim Tew suggested that if you wanted to have a good time in the winter, go buy yourself a cheap stethoscope and have yourself a party listening to the sides of your beehives. It probably isn't much of a party if you don't hear anything, but if you do, that could be fun.

We had snow on January 23. Not much of a snow, but it did actually fall white out of the sky and accumulated barely on our yards before it melted by midday or early afternoon. In the morning I looked out of my window and noticed that snow was melting on top of my hives.


OK, I thought, if a hive has melted snow on the top, the bees are generating enough heat to melt it...that would be an indication that the hive is alive. If the snow is totally unmelted, the hive must be dead. Sounds reasonable, right?

So here's the tour:

Nuc number one: made from the tall hive to the left in late July:


Nice hot little melted circle and I have the warm confident feeling that this hive is alive.

Nuc Number two: also made from the tall hive to the left in late July:


This nuc is in a deep with one medium super above it. The snow is unmoved by bee heat, so I assume this nuc is dead. After all, it seemed light and had not taken the honey I had fed them.

Hive Three: Survivor swarm from my neighborhood. This is its second winter. These bees refused to use the entrance once I put a Billy Davis robber screen on and found their way out through a crack in a board on the side.


Again the snow and ice have melted - in a funny slanted pattern, but melted, nonetheless. So I assumed these bees were alive.

Next hive: A Jarrett Apiaries package that I did not harvest from because I wanted them to have enough food to go through winter

Snow covered with no signs of melting. These bees must be dead.


This is a hive that was in a nuc through last winter that I kept in a nuc most of bee season. In July I moved it into a normal hive to overwinter. See the round pattern of melted ice and snow? These bees are going to make it through their second winter.


And finally my "mother" hive who has birthed most of these babies. She began as a split from a survivor hive that I got from Bill Owens. This hive is a swarm from the Bill Owens hive in Tom Phillips' yard. And look at the powerful circle of heat it has generated. This is this hive's third winter.

So, as Paul Harvey used to say, here is the "Rest of the Story." That was the title of his radio show.

So all the hives that I thought were alive are indeed alive. Following Walt Wright's checkerboarding plan, I have been into the top of all of the hives in the last two weeks and attempted checkerboarding. I say attempted because I don't have lots of drawn comb and because some of the honey domes in my hives included honey joined to honey in the next frame so lifting one of those frames would cause a mess of dripping honey in the hive and I didn't want that. So in the eight frames, I moved at least three in each hive to an upper box and moved in drawn comb.

However, all the hives I thought were dead were not. The nuc in the deep is so concentrated in the deep and have not used the box above it at all. I had an inner cover on it with a surround nuc box and an interior Boardman feeder of honey in the top box with the top cover on that. I assume that the heat generated by the hive was dissipated by the time it made its way through the empty second box and the inner cover.

The hive totally covered with snow was indeed dead. I opened it and it was full of honey that had not been slimed by the SHB. This means they went into winter with honey, but had died for another reason. The bottom of the hive was full of dead bees. I did not see deformed wing, but I'm sure the hive died by something vectored by the varroa mite. I did not use the honey left in the hive to feed any other hives because I did not want to transmit disease and all of the other hives had plenty of honey.

The one hive short on supplies (or at least I thought so because they had no honey in the second box) was the deep nuc covered with snow. I filled a feeder jar with honey and put it in the surround nuc box and by the next day the bees had moved all of the honey into the nuc box below.

So while looking at melted snow does tell part of the story, it doesn't necessarily tell the whole story.










A Sad Time for Beekeepers: Walt Wright has Died

Walt Wright died on February 6 in Tennessee. A former NASA engineer and a GE employee in the security side of things, he brought his analytical mind to beekeeping and taught all of us about checkerboarding.

Walt took up beekeeping in his retirement in his fifties. He observed the bees with his scientific perspective and recognized that the hive is driven to survive and to reproduce by swarming. He determined that the beekeeper could attempt to fool the bees into thinking that they had more room to fill with honey (and thus shouldn't leave) by leaving empty drawn comb in the crown of honey above the winter cluster.

He called this process checkerboarding because every other frame would be filled with honey - let's say frames in positions 1, 3, 5, and 7 and that 2, 4, 6, and 8 would be empty drawn comb. He moved the capped honey formerly in 2, 4, 6, and 8 into a new box above and put empty drawn comb in 1, 3, 5, and 7. This created a checkerboard effect (and thus the name).

His writings and musings about the bees have been read widely by many. Most of his writing can be found on Beesource.  On the column to the left of his bio, you can find whole articles by him - don't be confused by the list of titles below his bio - the full item can be found in the left column.

I wish I had met him or heard him speak. He made so many great contributions to the beekeeping community. It's amazing that he had impact on how so many of use think about bees.

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