Tuesday, June 29, 2010


As Greg arrived home from town last week, he saw the biggest swarm he had ever seen. It looked as though all of the bees were making a run for it! The air was FILLED with bees. He watched it for about a half hour until it finely landed about 40 feet up in a red oak, much too high for a wise man to even think about going after it.

(You can see where this story is going...)

It only took a little encouragement from James to get Greg up on the ladder with the saw. Once the cut was complete, the bees decided to test Greg once more by going even HIGHER! They settled nicely about 75 feet up in the tree and closed shop for the night.

It sure would have been nice to hive them, since there were probably fifteen pounds of bees on the loose, enough to fill a wash tub halfway. But that is how it goes. Greg says maybe next time. Bean says maybe next time he will stay out of the trees.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Getting "Laid"

Sorry to get your hopes us, but the only thing risqué about this post is the title. Bee keeping is sexy, right? Anyways, this post is about a laying worker, which is a death sentence for the hive.

While checking the White County apiary, Greg noticed that the activity at the entrance of the hive was not right. An experienced bee keeper knows that you don't even have to look in a hive sometimes to know something is wrong. Often times you can tell as much about a hive from watching the entrance as you can from a full hive inspection. After a look inside, a laying worker seemed to be the culprit of this misbehaving hive. Perhaps the queen died, or swarmed and didn't take everyone with her, but she was gone and a worker bee had taken her place. Only a queen bee is able to lay fertilized eggs (which will make worker bees) so a laying worker means that all the baby bees are male or drones (which means they just lay around sitting on bean bag chairs, eating cheetos all day) :).

Just an aside, if you are wondering what makes a queen different than a regular worker bee is how long the bees feed her royal jelly. All bees begin the same and the amount of days they are fed royal jelly (which is a substance secreted from the head of the bees, akin to nursing) decides their role in the hive.

To remedy this situation, a frame with eggs and young brood was placed inside the hive. With any luck, the bees will decide to make a queen from one of these cells. Sometimes this solution works and sometimes it doesn't. Generally nature has a better way to fix things, so it is just a bee keeper's job to nurture the bees and give them resources to make them successful (like with having kids!). Often the best thing we can do is get out of way and let mother nature work.

We will follow up with this hive soon. Our historic losses on this problem are pretty high, so we will see if the "less is better" option works out for us. So in this case, we are really more concerned about who is doing the laying rather than who is getting "laid". They don't call it the "birds and the bees" for nothin'.

"Queen" of the Hill

Last week we received two new queens from Jennifer Barry (via Brushy Mountain). We were very proud to receive them because of their good stock and reputation. We think it is a good investment despite the price tag. We took enough frames of drawn out comb and brood from six different good performing hives to make nucs for the two queens. We did this on Wednesday. On Saturday, Greg checked on the queens to remove the cages. On Monday, he checked one of the host nucs and found several queens cells. We suspect that we accidentally took one of the old queens from one of the six hives with us to the new nuc. There was no need to panic, as Greg had a five frame nuc ready to be a home for one of the queen cells. He moved that nuc out to the Smith Apiary and can use that nuc as an emergency replacement or to help prevent late season swarming.

Tuesday, James and Greg checked on the two new nucs and all seems to be well. We thought that the host queen was killed by the new "Jennifer" queen, but it turns out that we didn't move the host queen. She was still creating some queen cells in her own hive, which meant they are thinking about swarming. So we put the extra queen cells in the queen castle to harvest those queens to replace old or ill performing queens. We also put two more queen cells and a frame for each into two separate apartments in the queen castle. Two good queen cells were left in the host hive for requeening. We will keep you updated on these queens soon.

Monday, June 7, 2010

From Mistakes to Double Takes

Double screen wire that is! This entry was inspired by a loyal follower, Steven C., who keeps us on our toes. Jessie made a typo in the last post and shook up the bee keeping community with the elusive "bubble" screen method. Whoops! (A lot of good an English degree did her editing skills!)

Anyways, we decided to make a teachable moment out of our mistake and talk a little about the double screen method, the why's and hows' to this technique.

First, use a double screen 3/4" frame with #8 wire in both sides with one entrance on top side of one end . Find the queen put her in the lower box with capped brood and pollen/honey. Place the eggs and open brood in the top with some honey and pollen and either a queen cell, caged queen or let them make their own queen. Place the screen between them with the entrance in rear . The virgin queen will use this entrance for her suiters. :)

In about 30 days look and see if you like the egg pattern of the new queen. If so, you have some options: kill the old queen, move her to a bank for emergence replacements, or just take your chances and put the two boxes together. If you do this, the new queen will most likely kill the old, but you never know. Use a newspaper combine for the two boxes . With this method the hive will think it swarmed and will not swarm. Use this method to requeen cheaply and easily while having the advantage of two queens laying eggs for a while and end up with a strong hive for honey production. You can also use as a split and move the top hive to a new location for replacement of winter losses.

If you have questions or comments or stories to share about your own tips and tricks, please post them in the comments area. We will try to be a little more careful about our typos, but thought it was a good opportunity to do a little explanation. Wishing you all a honey filled summer!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Adventures in Bee Keeping

Despite the exciting title, things are running along on schedule at the bee farm. We are close to the end of the honey flow and look forward to at least some honey this season. Around the end of the month, we will be able to take a look at the fruits of our (but mostly the bee's) labor.

Here are some updates about the action going on around the apiary:

We have recovered from winter losses, but not without pain, cost, and a reduced crop. We did see as much swarm activity this year yet (good and bad. Good we haven't lost too many of our bees and bad because we have no acquired new swarms from elsewhere). We ended up with two, but one was unsatisfied with the housing provided and left for greener pastures. Nukes were purchased this year from Walter Kelly in Kentucky and we bought some stock packages from Rossman in Georgia and Wolf Creek in Tennessee and Georgia.

In more swarm news, we used the double screen split method to prevent swarms this year. This method was quite effective, yet out timing was a little off due to slow build up or just because we still just don't really know what is going on with those bees. After 30 years, there are still surprises. Next year we plan to use this same method and tweak the plan according to the lessons we learned this year.

At this time, we have a few extra queens for replacements and splitting, from collecting queens cells. Greg's homemade queen castle didn't work too well. That is what we get from just going from pictures. Next time, we may try reading the actual directions... We ordered two more recently; they are terribly expensive, but they are needed in order to start getting ready for a strong winter.

Those two queens were ordered from Jennifer Berry at UGA via Brushy Mountain. We hope that these renowned queens will improve our gene pool, along with some survival stock from White County that refuses to give in to the mites. Greg hopes to do a little more queen grafting later in June for replacements. We will give updates on that, as we are still experimenting with this.

In other experiments, we learned a little something this year about queen excluders. We initially were using these to keep brood (eggs) out of the top super, where we wanted the bees to produce more honey. Our results were inconsistent. Some hives worked like gang busters in the super and proved the theory of the queen excluded. Yet some were really just honey excluders; the bees would not even have a presence in that super. This leads us to believe that while it serves the purpose of keeping brood out of the honey, this is less significant problem that not having honey. We have since removed most of the queen excluders and will deal with the brood in the honey in another way.

We want to mention a new friend/cousin/rookie bee keeper Dwight Johnson. We have been working/mentoring him this summer and we would like to wish him well with his new venture. We have found it immensely rewarding and hope he finds the same fascination with these wonderfully amazing creatures.

Greg's daughter Jessie has moved to Georgia but is still able to edit our blog postings. She is excited about pursuing bee keeping at her new home in Athens. We hope to get her started in the Spring. This is exciting as we will be able to learn even more about bee behavior as we see the differences in taste, timing, and maintenance from a more "southern" perspective.

We are looking at a promising new apiary site in Jackson County. There is LOTS of clover and it may be a good idea to take advantage of new accessible locations.

So this is an early summer update. Expect many more posts as we get ready for honey harvest, late swarms, hive build-up, and preparation for winter. As Greg says, it is amazing how much there is to learn about bees; you just have to learn by doing. The trouble with learning from experience is that you have to take the test before you take the course! He just hopes to last long enough to re-take the tests once the course is complete!