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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Wednesday, March 07, 2018

GBA sponsoring a honey bee license plate

This gorgeous license plate is moving through the Georgia legislature for passage this year. It passed the House unanimously 168 - 0. Today the bill is in the Georgia Senate committee process. It just passed unanimously through the public safety committee and now goes to be voted on in the Senate, I believe.

We had a contest for the design of the plate. The judges had no idea who had designed the entries which were designated by random numbers (did you know you can get sets of random numbers by Googling?)

The judges had the final entries printed up to actual size and held them up to license plates of cars so their visibility could be determined. It was a great system because I have frequently had the experience of trying to decide what the car in front of me was representing in their specialty license plate because it was hard to see.

This one is easily read; the honey bee, while stylized, is as accurate as possible; and the colors are striking. My dear friend, Julia Mahood, often mentioned on this blog, was the winning designer!

We won't know the details of ordering the plate until it has passed the Senate, but if you are a Georgia resident and are interested in knowing when/how to order, you can put yourself on a list to be notified when we do have the instructions for doing so. Just click here.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Honey-filled SPARK bee hives

Today Sarah, my daughter, and I went to SPARK to check on the state of the hives. We were hoping to split the hives today, but there were drone brood cells but only one or two boys in the hive. So we opened up the brood nest and worked on the hives.

The principal, Terry Harness, met us there to let us in (it's winter break and the teachers and kids are not there). He took photos (I did not) and tweeted them (so click to see them) and below are two photos taken by Principal Terry Harness.

(both photos above are by Principal Terry Harness)

Remember the comb that was standing on top of the queen excluder?  When we removed the queen excluder, we found the comb intact and below the queen excluder, the bees had hung brood comb. We cut the brood comb off of the bottom and rubber banded it into a medium frame.

We added a box to each hive. Where we could, we opened up the brood nest. Turns out that some of the boxes on the hive are shallows so we couldn't checkerboard to open it up. I'm thinking I may move those shallow frames into medium boxes even though there will be space below that the bees will fill with comb. I can't stand not having transferable frames.

It did feel good to remove each queen excluder and leave the hives in better shape than before.

We cut the honey comb off of the queen excluder and I brought it home and immediately crushed it to harvest it.

When the honey has drained into the honey bucket, I'll bottle it and put together a bee gift bag to be auctioned at SPARK's fundraiser in a few weeks.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

GBA Meeting is Coming Up

For the last year I have served as President of the Georgia Beekeepers Association. I was reelected in October to serve another year. It's wonderful to get to work with beekeepers all over the state and to meet so many new people who love our favorite insect.

On Saturday, February 17, we have the GBA Spring Conference. The all-day meeting actually begins the day before when we have a GBA Board Meeting on Friday the 16th, followed by a catered dinner following the board meeting. Dr. Diana Sammataro who is one of our keynote speakers will be our dinner speaker and will speak about "Mites and Fungicides."

If you live nearby and want to come, the meeting is at the UGA Griffin Campus, 1109 Experiment St, Griffin, GA 30223.  The campus is about an hour south of Atlanta. Here's where to register. 

And here is the program:

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

SPARK bees Make it Through the Winter Despite a Major Beekeeper Error

So all of you know that I don't use queen excluders. I like to give the queen free rein and allow her to lay wherever she'd like. In my own hives, the bees thrive with what is called an unlimited broodnest. Winter preparation for my hives at home and in the community garden this year involved taking little or no honey in order to leave enough for the bees not to starve during the winter. Also, I eliminate empty boxes to help the bees have less room to deal with in the cold.

I inherited the hives at SPARK from another beekeeper whom I had never met before the day he handed them over. He had never treated these bees (Hooray!) and they were thriving and had been for several years. I definitely wanted them to live. Gosh, what if I took over and the first thing that happened was that they died?

So I felt really scared about interfering. You'll remember the hives both had queen excluders on them when I first visited and opened the hives:

This one had a comb of honey that the bees had placed where the previous beekeeper had taken a frame of honey and had not replaced it.

Well, winter began and the hives were already compact at SPARK and I didn't need to feed the bees because both boxes had at least one full super of honey on them. So I left them for the winter........and NEVER TOOK OFF THE QUEEN EXCLUDER. (please don't tell anyone - I'm a Master Beekeeper and really should know better)

For new beekeepers: During the winter, the bees cluster around the honey. This allows them to stay warm and to have a food source that doesn't require their moving to a different box. The bees have a hard time moving if the temperature is below 50. So a well-managed hive over the winter would include removing the queen excluder to allow the cluster to gather around the honey in the super.

Truthfully, bees move honey all the time. And bees are highly motivated to survive the winter. So smart bees, and these SPARK bees must be, move honey all the time. So to keep fed and warm and to keep the queen with the cluster, the bees would have brought the honey to her. On warmer days in the fall and winter, they moved the honey to be near the cluster.

Because, lo and behold, I arrived at the rooftop garden at SPARK on a warmish day on the last week of January to find bees flying in and out of both hives....despite my bad beekeeping.

Look at all the pollen coming in! Good sign that the queen is laying and building up for spring.

You can see the queen excluder on each hive between the second and third box. WHEW. I really dodged a bullet.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

SPARK Elementary Phase 2

This week I returned by myself to move the second hive onto cinder blocks and to give it more ventilation. I also moved the hive about one foot from where it was and turned it to give us more room to work on the hive. Before it was jammed in a corner with no work room.

Now we all know you don't move bees in the day time, but this hive is at a school on its rooftop and I only have access during school hours, so there was no choice but to move the hive in the daylight. I was worried the bees would get lost, but also fairly hopeful that all would work out.

Since I was by myself, I needed to move one box at a time. The top cover, inner cover were easy but the top box presented a challenge. The previous beekeeper had pulled one frame, probably last year, to taste the honey and had simply left the space. Bees who detest open space in a hive, hurried to fill the space with comb and honey.

I knew I would have to be very careful as I removed this box. I lifted it straight up into the air, leaving the comb behind standing on the queen excluder.

I lifted box two, queen excluder, honey comb and all at once! Then I covered it as I do all open boxes with a hive drape. In the photo below, I have already moved the bottom box and then set the second box, comb, excluder, and all on top of it.

The bottom box, having sat on the ground for all of this time, is rotting and the seams are splitting. But I didn't have a box to replace it and decided to take care of that in the spring. I don't want to disturb the bees too much this late in the season.

Next I had to move the honey box into place without destroying the upstanding lone comb. This required more dexterity than I am usually afforded, but I was slow and careful and got the job done without breaking comb - well, one tiny break. I pulled the hive drape back as I lifted the box so I could be very careful in replacing the box.

I put the rest of the hive back together - the inner cover and the top cover. Again, I had replaced the rotting bottom board with a screened bottom and a slatted rack. I leaned the bottom board over the entrance to allow the bees on the bottom board a way to climb onto the new hive. You can see the rot. I left the right side open because that was nearest to where the hive had been and I hoped they could smell the queen's pheromone better that way.

"Mama's over here....."

I was a bit worried about the large number of bees flying in the old hive location so I sat down and played on my phone for a while to see if they would find home. I could tell before I left that moving the hive wasn't going to cause too much confusion.

In the right of the above photo next to the school window, you can see what the hive was sitting on - I don't know what that stuff is - the end of a drain pipe and some other odd plastic device.

I opened the "observation hive" nuc that is there and it was filled with roaches and no bees. It makes sense. With both sides uncovered glass, it would have been way too hot and too light for bees in that box. I believe this was the observation hive's first year. 

I'll see if Jeff and I can rig up a wood covering for each side. Then we can make a split from hive #1 at Spark next spring and start the observation hive up again. It would make a good teaching tool for the kids, but with the unprotected sides, it will be challenging to figure out a way to protect the bees from heat and sun.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Assuming an Apiary - Bees at SPARK Elementary School

When I give talks about bees, I always begin by saying that if you ask ten beekeepers a question, you'll get at least twelve answers. Beekeeping is as much an art as it is a science, and so there are many ways to keep them.

I was asked to become the beekeeper at SPARK Elementary school - the school where my oldest grandkids have been students. So absolutely I wanted to do it. They have had bees for about three years at SPARK - and the beekeeper was an interested volunteer - not a parent or a grandparent. He just wanted to do it. But he was leaving for Army training and needed to give up his bees there.

I knew there would be differences in how we kept bees, and I agreed to meet him and the PTA president at the school in late May to get introduced to the bees there. He had two hives and a homemade observation hive. The school hives are on the rooftop of the building. It's extremely hot up there - in the 90s at least every summer day. And the sun beats down onto the hives.

Here's how they looked:

Hive #1:

Hive #2:
Note: this is from my second trip - on my first trip the hive had four boxes on it. It also had four foot tall weeds directly in front of it and a mountainous fire ant hive diagonally in front of it. The PTA worked hard between my visits to take care of the weeds and fire ants.

Hive #3:
This is a homemade "observation hive." In reality, this is a nuc hive with two deep boxes. On each side of the nuc is glass and there is no cover for the hive.

I keep my bees up off of the ground on cinder blocks, so I didn't say anything critical to him, but I knew that if I were going to be in charge of the hives, one of the first things I would do is raise the hives. They also are on solid bottom boards. 

So I went back on my own and really looked at everything. If you go back and look at Hive #1, I'd be interested in what you observe. SPOILER ALERT: I'm going to put some space in here so as not to reveal anything until you scroll back up to see what you see.

There are three things of note in Hive #1:
1. The bees are obviously in need of ventilation because they are spilled out in a dinner plate sized circle which would have been a beard if they were not on the ground.
2. The top box is coming apart, so the bees are guarding the large opening just under the top cover.
3. The top box has NO handles or cut-ins or grips of any kind to lift it.
Note also that I use only 8 frame mediums and these hives are in 10 frame deeps and shallows.

So I went alone on my second trip and realized all of the above. I couldn't get the top box which was full of honey off of the hive. All I was able to do on the second trip was to put beer caps under the top cover to give the hive a little ventilation. I also took a completely empty top box off of Hive #2 and put it on Hive #1 to give them some more circulation.

I also noticed that probably in response to my gasping comment about the observation hive: "They don't have any cover?" that the former beekeeper had draped a beach towel over the hive.

So on visit three I took Jeff, my son-in-law and strong beekeeper, the MABA hive lifter, a screened bottom board, a slatted rack, and a ten frame medium (the only one I own) which, of course, does have hand grips.

This is how the bees looked when we arrived. You can see the extra box I added and can see that it really helped with ventilation since now, although there is still a beard, the bees are not spilled all over the ground. You can see the handle-less box is splitting at each corner.

Jeff lit the smoker. You can see the extensive rooftop garden behind him.

We took the empty box off of the top and covered the exposed second box with a hive drape. We set up the metal hive lifter (on ground surrounding the hive) and moved the hive to one side. You can see the empty dirt where the hive was sitting.

Roaches were enjoying life under the hive.
 We set up the cinder blocks and put the screened bottom board (in photo) and the slatted rack (not in photo) on the cinder blocks.

We returned the old hive to its elevated position. Now to deal with the falling apart hive box.

We removed the hive frames one at a time to the yellow box I had brought. They were all filled with honey - which is great for the bees. And the box was equipped with spacers which spaced the frames so we didn't have to pry up propolis. I've never worked with a box with these spacers and it was a pleasure. I wanted to find a photo of one to show you, but the commercial companies don't appear to carry them any more. You can see the spacer (I thought it was called a rabbet) on the end of the hive box in the photo below if you click on it to enlarge it.

Actually I finally found these on Pigeon Mountain Trading Company. They are frame spacers and turn a 10 frame hive into a 9 frame one by spacing out the frames, allowing the bees to make thicker combs. 

 The former beekeeper had queen excluders on both of the full-sized hives and since the bees are used to that, I left them for now. Next year, I may remove them.

Then we put the yellow 10 frame box on top of the hive and returned the empty third box to the hive.
We walked away from the hive and suddenly I realized that the leaning board was the former bottom board. The bees were not moving into the hive - what if the queen were there? I didn't photograph, but did lean the bottom board against the hive so the nurse bees could walk in, but not before checking well to assure myself that the queen was not outside.

The next day I returned to remove the rotten bottom board and falling apart top box and the bees looked as happy as bees can look.
We'll return next week to put Hive #2 on cinder blocks with a screened bottom board and a slatted rack (if I have 10 frame stuff in my basement). And I'll put an oil cloth cover over the observation hive. There are bees in that hive but none on the outside frames which are totally exposed to light every single day.

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!

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