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!


  1. Hi,
    I enjoy your blog. I have a question: what is "the bubble screen split method to prevent swarms?" I have never heard of it, and Google didn't yield any good results.


    -- Steven

  2. Sorry Steven! I made a typo on that. I have since corrected it- it should have been double screen wire. I will post an explaination post on here later today or tomorrow giving some more specifics on the method, yet you may already be familiar with the double screen method. I blame the distance for the mistakes as the info has to go from TN to GA! (I need to blame something; surely I couldn't have made a mistake! Thanks for keeping an eye out for us!)

  3. No problem! It didn't even occur to me that it was a typo - I thought, "cool! a new beekeeping process I can learn!" :-)