Friday, September 23, 2016

Farewell to a great friend

On May 7th of this year, James Thompson, who had been affiliated with Holt Bee Farm for nearly 10 years, passed away following a brief illness. It has taken me all summer to be able to set down and write a "so long buddy" letter. James would have never made the famous bee people list, like the ones who have written bee books or articles in the monthly bee magazines, but here at Holt Bee Farm he is at the top of the list.  

James was always the one who pushed to get the job done, always there to keep everyone motivated. Due to the fact that he avoided political correctness at every turn and that his personality was a bit salty (to put it mildly), he always kept the conversation/argument lively.  I could spend all day telling stories about our time together, but I will use this this post to thank James for all the good times and being a great friend.  If Saint Peter was looking for a good beekeeper, he couldn't have done better.
Thanks James, you are greatly missed.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Here comes Hollywood!

Our very own Bee Man has made his television debut!

Holt Bee Farm has been featured on LiveGreen Tennessee. We are all very excited and proud of Greg!

Check out Season 4 episode 12:

Or check it out on YouTube!

Sourwood...The best there is.

Last Sunday, I was heading up I-40 to the top of the Cumberland Plateau, Crossville, Tennessee, to visit little brother Morris and his wife Maggie. Their place out on Highway 68 is a lovely place to visit and I'm sure to live.  I was looking forward to the visit, but not particularly to the disappointing task at hand: bringing a load of empty honey suppers back home to be treated for wax moths and put to bed for the winter.  Back in June after robbing the bees, I placed clean supers on the hives housed at Morris's farm, hoping to get the suppers filled with the best honey in the world-- Tennessee Sourwood. An old man told me one time God planted the sourwood at higher elevations so the angels wouldn't have to travel so far from heaven to get it.  After tasting it with my wife's buttermilk biscuits, I'm a believer that the old man was right; God had a hand in the placement as well as in the creation. 

I had been told by experts not to expect any sourwood honey this year because of the dry summer. I was a believer there too. After having a cup of coffee, Morris and I put on our bee garb and lit our smokers. He pulled the first top while I manned the smoker.  As the top came up, the bees went down into the super to escape from the smoke. I looked down between the frames and there it was—capped honey! Not only the top super, but the two under it were full. We went on from that hive to the next and the next; all the hives were full of sourwood honey. The excitement was equal to catching a five-pound Tennessee Small Mouth on a fly rod (or how exciting I would imagine that being…I’ve never done that).Sunday was a good day. If you think about it, most days are good for beekeepers if you look real hard.  

I would like to apologize for taking so long since our last post. Funny thing though—not one person complained.

Makes you wonder…    ;)


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cell Block #9

I have just finished reading my favorite bee blog, "Bee Mans Daughter" (Father’s Day Blog). I suggest my readers (all four of them) read this blog. It is innovative, informative, entertaining, and also says nice things about me. You can’t beat that. (Did I mention the author is also my daughter?) Any way the blog is really good, although a fact check sometimes would be in order. As a new-bee, sometimes she doesn’t quite know her head from her hind-end. Here at the Bee Farm, we do not have a Father’s day because when you have a special daughter like we have, every day is Father’s day and Mother’s day. We are truly blessed. (I bet that doesn’t get edited out.) – a note from the editor: You would be correct.

As you know, we have been experimenting with queen rearing. For Bee Keepers, the ultimate high is seeing a beautiful brood pattern, especially knowing he or she grafted the larva, placed the cell in a breeding nuc, and ultimately placed the new queen in the hive. But it is just not as easy as it sounds; there are things like setting up the starter hives, breeding nucs, and watching the calendar (very important). A lot of hardware and bees are also required. You start to think you have done everything right and then you go in to get your new cells, cells that you checked two days earlier, to find them all torn down by a covert queen who either hatched early or came in to this hive by mistake and set up housekeeping. For a big operator, this would be no big deal. But for me, it shut down a third of my queen operations down do it twice and I have nothing to show for twenty days’ work. This makes a chicken rearing hobby look good (until you remember what you wife said about that. Chicken sh*t between your toes as a child can scar you for life apparently).

I am told virgin queens are hard to introduce to a hive, especially if you change races, like Russian to Italian. While in Byrdstown a while back cutting out cells, I cut two open and out came two virgins. I put then in queen cages I always carry in my pocket, took them home, marked them, and placed them in intro-queen cages. I now have two nucs with as good a brood pattern as I’ve seen. They are beautiful, dark Russians. I don't know if I’m good or just dumb enough to try anything (the latter most likely).

As I look up at my meticulously kept records, which consist of a bunch of yellow notes on my computer desk, I see I have a busy week at the end. On the 23rd, I need to take cells out at the home bee yard; on the 24th, I have to take cells out at Dwight's house in Rickman; on the 25th, I need to take cells out in White Co. and also at Moss yard. I’m looking forward to the White Co. cell take out; that is where some of our best survival queen mothers are located (they won’t die). I mistakenly placed a queen in the starter hive last graft and came up with zero cells. I checked the Byrdstown yard Friday and five out of eight nucs had new queens, however some looked a little motley. I'm sure they will improve; it was a bit early to assess.

I have one last thought to share with you today. As you know, I like to work with young people who are interested in bees. Last week while at Dwight's house grafting queens, his daughter Jessica lent a hand. She shows great promise in the grafting field, if for no other reason she can see.

Happy trails!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Brief Updates from the Farm

I think I may have forgotten everything that was hot on my mine to report; maybe you all will settle for bits and pieces from this old bee mans memory. If not, maybe you should bring up the The Bee Man's Daughter blog; her mind is still nearly new.

First, I would like to bring you up to date on the Shook Swarm from my last blog. Like many of other things I do, I'm not for sure it worked out so well. The original hive was left weakened and the new hive looks very well; the amount of comb honey we get will tell of our success or failure. We have also finished a resent graft and have another underway, yet the weather has not been good for breading queens, as we hit somewhat of cold snap.

May 7th, we had our Cookeville Beekeeping meeting here at the farm and about 20 or 25 people were in attendance. Mike Haney, president of the Cookeville club, did a great job showing some of our "new-bees" what to look for in a hive. The info he passed along should be helpful to them, as well as to the more seasoned bee keepers. Refreshments were provided by Carolyn, and they were great as usual. I enjoyed meeting new members and talking bee stuff with all who attended, and I would like to thank them for coming. Our door prize, a new swarm that came out one hour before the meeting and rested 65 feet up in a pine tree, was rejected by everyone . The swarm now has been added to our local feral stock. We wish them luck as they will provide good breeding stock for our queens. I'm cutting this short as not to bore you with our day-to-day bee stuff (just a few swarms and what not). I really need to learn to keep better notes.

Enjoy a few pics from the recent bee meeting!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Shook Swarms, Brother Glenn, and May Update

I think I have checked all our hives and most everything is doing well; we have experienced growth this year more than expected. I have done almost everything I know to stop the bees from swarming, sometimes I think it would do better just to let them go, but that would cut down on our honey production. I’m sure some have swarmed unnoticed and added to the feral population in the woods.

I watched a video last winter, “Making Comb Honey” with Ken Lasing of Windermere Farms and Apiaries, using the “shook swarm” method I've been dying to try. Here is a link to the video. It is about half an hour long. Also, here is a page of bee keeping videos that may be of interest. (Note: while we attempt to stay "apolitical" in this blog, the editor must mention that this bee keeping video selection page seems to support a certain political candidate.)

What you do is move the parent hive to a new location nearby, place a new bottom board than a medium super with foundation, than a queen-excluder, then two supers with thin foundation. Place a sheet in fount of the old location for a path into the new hive at the old location, than take all the frames of bees and the queen from the old hive at the new location give them a good shake over the sheet. Then place them back in the old hive with the bees that did not fall off. I think the idea is to make the bees that you shook on the sheet in front of the old location and all the bees returning from the field think they have swarmed. This is just what it takes to make good comb honey-- a lot of bees with nothing to do, but make comb and honey; no eggs or larva to feed, no more ideas of swarming and you (hopefully) leave some bees in the old hive to feed and take care of the brood and maintain the hive. After the honey harvest, you can combine the two hives or use them for increase.

So, that is just what I did after being inspired by this video. James assisted, but with that look in his eye he gets when he thinks I have lost my mind. Let me tell you, it was a sight to behold—mass confusion for the bees and James. I was not worried because I know God takes care of drunks, little children, and damn fools. When we were doing the shake down, I had all the confidence of a fool! Now, I wonder…

Last but not least, a year ago we took some bees to Crossville to Brother Glenn's house for the sour-wood flow and did not bring them home. Carolyn and I went up to do a spring inspection and Brother Glenn was waiting with his new bee suit, all white with no spots or dirt; a perfect picture of a new-bee.

We found the bees had done very well without me to bother them; in fact, one of the hives was one of the best wintered hives I’ve seen, but they were about to swarm. Something had to be done, but perhaps a little too late to prevent them from swarming. I used a double screen board on each of the hives, a device we use to temporarily separate the boxes for re-queening and swarm-prevention. In about 30 days, we will put them back together after assessing the queens and leaving the best one to head the colony. We also made a couple of splits; these were really strong hives. Saturday, Glenn was concerned the bees were confused and disorientated. Carolyn, who took the pictures while Glenn and I worked the bees, said who wouldn't be after that treatment? If they don't swarm, we can say what good bee keepers we are; if they do swarm, we will just say that once the bees get swarming on their minds, nothing can stop them ( I should be in politics). By the way, Glenn did very well and seems to have a feel for the bees, after I convinced him to stand closer and stop backing up.

A queen cell: a sign of intentions of swarming

I hope somewhere out there on the WWW, there is someone that that enjoys reading this blog half as much as I do putting it together. Also an update on the job posting for a new blog editor: we are no longer looking for a replacement. Jess is doing a fine job and despite her attitude. In fact, starting next year she gets a 100% raise (education pays off). Farewell until next time!

Happy trails to you!

(A letter from the editor- The job posting/contract renewal negotiations/attitude adjustments may have delayed the posting of this blog a couple of weeks... ;)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Special Delivery!

What a week!

Last weekend, Carolyn and I went to Athens, Ga to pick up bees (NUCS) from Jennifer Berry, for the bee farm as well as some for Jess. She is starting her own Bee Yard in Athens. These were some of the nicest bees I've seen; really, they were very NICE. They hardly got upset or irritated at all. They were very gentle. We were very pleased with them. I don't know what Jess will call her bee yard, maybe something like "Dudes Bee Ranch".

We rushed home early to make it easy on our cargo (we left before dawn. This is not unusual for us, but we had a reason this time). We arrived home safe and sound after taking the bees out for breakfast at McDonald's around Chattanooga. James and I installed the bees without a hitch; we've done that a few times now.

It's so much different than the first time some thirty years ago. I didn't know what or how to install the bees, but I was dumb enough to try and lucky enough to pull it off. Jess will be apprehensive in the beginning as well. My advice to any "new-bee" is do your homework first, than do what you think is best for the bees. Don't worry-- the bees have existed for thirty million years, despite well meaning beekeepers.

The first part of the week was spent catching up around the farm. Bees had to be fed, checked for swarm cells, and supers installed. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday the Tennessee Masters program class was held in Livingston. John A. Skinner was the professor. He is one of the best bee men anywhere; we were lucky to have had him. Twenty hours would of instruction would be a long time with someone not so prepared as he. The weather was stormy all three days, which made staying inside not so bad. We were fortunate not to have damage as other places did. It was almost a year ago that bad weather brought terrible flooding to our area. Read this article to learn more about that.

This is for sure the most exciting time of year in the bee yard; there is so much to do and so little time to do it. The bees are extra excited as well. Spring is wonderful and I feel blessed to part of it. I did my first queen graft for the year this week; only one took, but it was beautiful cell. Sorry, I don't have time to go into details. I will save that for another post.

In blog news, there was some discussion here at the apiary of looking for a new editor for the blog. We want someone who will do as good of a job as Jess, but who expects as little pay and as little thanks as she gets. We want some one to do the same job without the same "I'm the boss" attitude. If you know anyone interested in the job, please pass their name along.


(Editors Note: I felt free to share this job opening, as I feel confident no one else will want my post. I did want to issue a warning to a certain beekeeper- It is not a good idea to get on the wrong side of your publicist...)

Here are some more pics from Jessie's installation.

Greg, showing off in T-shirt and shorts. :)