Thursday, December 10, 2009


Well, we've done the best we can do for this year. We took some losses in the fall due to a lesson learned the hard way. We have learned that sometimes you just have to let go of the weak ones. We need to concentrate more on good queens, combining when we should, and management. As a wise man once said, "Our doing hasn't caught up with our knowing." We knew better than to baby the weak hives as much as we did. Combine them with strong hives and good queens and they have a better chance of making it.

We are ready to go for the spring, and now all we can do it hope. Yet, hope and change has not always worked for us.

In October, Greg attended the Tennessee Bee Keeper's Association meeting, held at the Tennessee Tech University's Hyder Burks Pavilion. Overall, the meeting was excellent. Kent Williams from Kentucky was our favorite. Here is a YouTube video of him, well worth watching.

We are looking for a good bee candy recipe for the early spring, to keep them fed and healthy till the warmer weather brings the blooms. For now, we are studying up on new techniques and better techniques for next season.

In other news, Greg just finished a course on bee health from the University of Minnesota. One could say that he has officially earned his Ph.Bee. :) Greg found it very interesting and highly recommends this course to anyone interested in keeping bees. Beginners and experienced apiarists alike could benefit from this course (it is well worth the $25).

We have supplies ordered for more boxes, frames and foundations. We have some new bees ordered and we have decided to change to the medium size supers from the large. The large are extremely heavy when full, and let's face it: no one around here is getting any younger.

One of the goals for next year is not to order any more packaged bees. We would like to get our own strong enough to divide and not require any more than what we can produce. We also plan to do more survivor queen grafting.

We will leave you with a "Did you Know?" from some of our blog friends.

A tablespoon of honey tastes about 60% sweeter than the same amount of sugar, yet it has 20 less calories. When substituting honey for table sugar, use about 3/4 of the amount of honey instead of sugar listed in the recipe. If baking with honey, reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Update on Bee Removal Using Cone Method

We wanted to update you on the progress of the bee removal from a house using the cone method. Overall, it was a huge success! We did have a few set backs, involving time and multiple trips, heavy hives, and poor taping methods. We now know to recommend Gorilla Tape rather than Duck Tape (on second thought, obviously a gorilla has superior grip over a duck, however, now we know for sure). We ended up with a pretty good hive that has been able to fortify itself for the winter, so we hope it will continue to thrive.

Summary of bee removal for this house: success. A lot of trouble, but at least we ended up with a strong result and learned a lot along the way.

Genius or Desperation?

In August, we noticed we had one hive in particular that was performing well beyond expectations. As many times before, we can't leave well enough alone, we decided to do a little experiment that may prove genius or disastrous.

This hive originates from a divide of a thriving June hive that we built up from a package received in April from Clay Guthrie from Kentucky. As it is a good idea to requeen in the fall, we decided to see which hives would benefit from requeening. We got down to our last queen with no real place to put her because we couldn't find one of the old queens to replace (there were too many bees). On this particularly excellent hive, we had an extra super on top full of honey because they had been fed to maintain the strength of this hive (for later emergency feed to ensure they stay strong through the winter).

We decided to remove the queen excluder which had been keeping her out of the extra super. We wanted food, not brood up there) and we replaced it with a double-screen board. A double screen board is a board with two #8 screens on it that acts as a separation device. It keeps the top separated from the bottom, but allows the heat to transfer from the bottom hive to the top. It also provides and entrance from the top or the bottom. We put the new new queen on the top because it seemed as though there were enough bees already up there to take care of her. Also, we think that this queen is far enough away from the original queen to not be under the affect of her pheromones so that they will not kill her, thinking they already have a queen.

So the long and short of the story is that if it does not work, the top bees will kill our new queen and we are back where we started with a single great hive and down 1 queen. If it works, she will get to work and we may end up with two great hives and two great queens. Only time will tell, and then we'll know.

Our associate James is on vacation at this time, taking advantage of the paid vacation time provided to him. So for now, we are going solo. We treat our employees well to avoid dealing with those troublesome labor unions.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fall is Here!

This is a picture of the payoff for pollinating crops! This watermelon is from Jimmy's house were we keep several hives. They gave us this 80+ pound watermelon in late August. Lilian had never seen a watermelon this big in all her years! (she's nearly 2).

Fall is a busy time for bee keepers (as is Winter, Spring, and Summer!) as we attempt to build up and maintain for the winter.
To start, we have had some calls about late swarms (which is not a good sign if they are your bees!) but we were happy to get them when they are getable. Some decided to stick around, and some left again. We have also had some calls for a couple of cut out jobs.

Fall is the time for building up and strategic analyzing, deciding when to combine and how to make them stronger. Part of this strategy is re-queening. New queens are more vigorous and help build up the hive. Some queens can be good for up to five years, but in most cases they can do well for a short time, maybe one or two years. However, a young queen is less likely to swarm so it is best to replace when given the opportunity.

Another part of the strategy is pest prevention, meaning mouse guards and powdered sugar treatment for mites. Mouse guards are essentially made up of 1/2in hardware cloth. It is best to put them on in late September. The worry is not that the mouse will eat all the honey; the problem is really that they make a mess. We changed over to screen bottom boards in order to effectively incorporate the powdered sugar treatment.

Powdered sugar treatment is one good way to get rid of mites. The mites get on the bees, so when the bees themselves are sprinkled with powdered sugar and they clean themselves off by licking their bodies, it makes them slick. The mites fall off of the bees and down though the bottom screen board and can't make it back up into the hive. Supposedly, this cuts down your mites by 20%. This is a good, non-chemical way to prevent these mites.

We also got some fancy new suits. Jessie got one on her 30th birthday and Greg and James were able to get some new hoods and jackets with the proceeds from a cut out job. Let's just say it was about time.

In other news, we are looking for a new apiary site. We have maxed out capacity here at Holt Farms and are scouting our new territories for hives. Ideally, this site would be drivable as hives can weigh upwards of 150-200 lbs. They are heavy and hard to move, so it would be best to be able to drive right up to the hives and put them on the truck.

So as the temperature drops and the leaves fall softly to the ground, we are busy as "bees" getting ready for the long winter.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Late Swarm

Greg was mowing today and saw what looked like a swarm of bees in one of the oak trees in the apiary. The swarm was very small and it is late in the season-- which is not necessarily a good sign-- but it is good to catch them! A late swarm will most likely not survive through the winter without special care (extra feeding, close monitoring, etc...). We like to use these swarms to combine with other hives that maybe small or weak.

So to catch this swarm, since they were only about 8 ft up, it was easy to climb up, shake them in a bucket, and pour them into their new home-- a nucleus hive. We don't pass up swarms if we can do anything about it.

School Days!

This weekend we had a visit from two young ladies who wanted to learn about bees. Hannah, Catalina, and their dad, Bennett, came over to check out the hives and learn more about bees and being a bee keeper.

We went through one hive entirely to see if we could see the queen, but she was elusive that particular day and we didn't find her. We showed them the different stages of development and the different types of bees. The girls seemed to think it was "so cool"! Well, we thought Hannah and Catalina were pretty cool themselves. You are welcome back anytime girls!

The girls got some honey to take home for sampling and also got a birdhouse. Greg has been building birdhouses with the scrap wood left over from building supers and gives them away for donations of materials or free. They have a lifetime warranty-- the builder's life time, not the life time of the owner. If it breaks or you are unsatisfied, we will give you your money back. :)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Something Smells......

We caught a perpetrator who has been suspected of eating bees. Skunks are a common nuisance for beekeepers. They visit the hives at night and eat any bees that come out of the hive to see what is going on. You know you have a skunk if the area around the bottom of the hive is scratched up and muddy.

We caught this skunk on Saturday and proceeded to engage in the "skunk removal" process (for all of you skunk rights activists that is all you need to know). We have not seen further evidence of skunks (although we did catch a raccoon, who we suspect has been a prisoner of ours previously) but we plan to proceed with skunk preventative techniques.

The way to keep skunks away from the hive is to put a piece of 1/2 in piece of hardware cloth between the hive and the block or the base. This keeps the skunks from feeding on the hive bees and hopefully will send the message that is best for them to be on their way. You can see from the pictures the tell-tale signs of skunk scavenging and the perpetrator himself.

Monday, July 6, 2009


Today we robbed most of the bees (the Byrdstown hives and the ones here at the farm) using the brush method as well as the blower method. We prefer the blower method if things are set up just right. The brush method is very suitable for just a few supers if you only have a couple. We decided not to use the fume board to extract the frames because it was a cool day. Fume boards work better in the hot sun. We were happy about the cool weather today especially as James and Greg were trying to pull the heavy, honey laden supers up the hill!

We found one hive that was interesting. In June, we found brood in the top of the hive, so we shook all the bees down to the bottom and inserted a queen excluder. Upon our arrival today, we were surprised to see that the brood had been maintained and the bees on top had created their own queen. So we ended up with a complete functioning hive on top and bottom.

Also, we noticed the dire need for some new equipment. It seems the bees have conspired to find every hole in the bee suit and gloves. Greg came away with no less than 25 stings today. Perhaps if the sun would have been shining, there would have been less bees in the hive on the attack!

So with several rogue bees still hanging around the basement, we began to spin the honey. This season we got a new uncapping knife, which all in all works pretty well. To make the knife worth our while next year, we plan to put only nine frames in the super rather than ten. Nine would allow the bees to build the comb a little deeper allowing us to uncap it easier. Also it seems to burn a little hot (by the looks of Greg's finger anyway!) . Then we used the fork to uncap what didn't get uncapped with the knife. Then we put them in the spinner. The key is to uncap them REALLY good. If not, it seems no amount of spinning will get that honey out.

The Byrdstown honey is darker and is most likely poplar honey. It is slightly stronger than what we have here in Cookeville. The Cookeville honey is lighter and most likely a mixture of locus, clover, and popular. It has a much milder taste.

We still have several frames from the Cookeville apiary to spin out tomorrow. We have three more locations to rob before the honey flow is over.

In the pictures you see the super transport (a full super can weigh over 50 pounds), the new uncapping knife, and the spinner at work.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bee Removal Techniques

We received request from interested parties about the cone method of bee removal. We are happy to describe the process in more detail.

A simple but time consuming way of removing bees from a natural nest is to plug all entrances but one, and put over it a cone of wire mesh with an opening at the tip of the cone just big enough to allow one bee at a time to escape. A nucleus colony ( a small colony containing a thousand or more bees, and some brood ) is placed within a foot or two of the cone . As bees come forage from the natural nest and are prevented from reentering their home , they will join the small unit. After several (6) weeks the bulk of bees will have been captured . Then you can remove the cone, put some honey on the entrance, and the captured bees will then rob the natural nest of honey, after which you can carry the hive to a new location.

Generally this is more trouble than it’s worth but it’s a good way to save the bees with out destroying the building or wall. Every beekeeper should try this at least one time. I find it interesting . Every time I do this I swear Ill never do it again, but I can’t seem to turn down a request.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

House Arrest

We got a call from a fellow who works at the phone company telling us about some bees in the block foundation of a house out on Shipley Rd. So this was a good opportunity to use the weakest hive of the lot and use it to capture and build up the hive we hope to extract from the wall of this house.

Upon arrival, we noticed that the biggest challenge would be the height of the wall. We counted 12 blocks up from the ground as the main entrance for the hive hidden in the wall. We spent some time the first day blocking many of the holes where the bees traveled in and out. We went back today to put the hive in place. We will be extracting these bees using the cone method- using a funnel to allow escape from the wall hive, all the while using the funnel to prohibit the bees from returning to the wall hive and instead going into the new hive (which was our weak hive).
We expect the extraction to take about six weeks, based on the lifespan of the bees. In six weeks, we will go back to the hive hopefully to find a full, well functioning hive.

We have a few concerns about this particular extraction. The existing queen in the weak hive is a little aggressive. She is the original queen for this hive and this hive is what is left of a swarm captured in Sparta several months ago. It had never been very strong. If things are going well at the end of the extraction period, we will determine whether to replace her or not. Another concern is that the hive is pretty far off of the ground. If a big wind comes, the hive body should stay together because of the way it is strapped on, but the bees will NOT be happy!

The pictures show the cone extraction set up. You can see the how high the hive is from the ground with the pictures of Greg and James.

Building Brood

On April 4th, we ordered six new packages of bees. We spent two months building up those six hives and by June 4th, it was time to split them make room for more growth. Where we found a queen, we left her and allowed the other six hives to make a new queen for themselves. The six hives were split into twelve and stacked up on each other with the openings facing different directions. This did save some space but created some problems when we wanted to check on the bottom hives! We had to move the top two or three supers on each hive to get to the one below which was hard work in the hot June sun!

In addition to the six new ones we split, we also split one existing hive. So far after three weeks, all but one of these hives are looking good. One is still weak and struggling. But we had plans for it...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Welcome to Holt's Bee Farm

Welcome to our Bee Farm Blog!

This blog will be used to chronicle hive progress and honey flow status throughout the year. We will post some pictures periodically.

Please contact us if you have any questions or comments.


Greg Holt
Apiarist, Holt's Bee Farm