Monday, August 27, 2007


Well, I've had a few of the boxes off lately, just to eyeball the colony and make sure nothing was obviously amiss (making sure, for example, the wax moths hadn't migrated over). Last week though I had the advantage of professional help in the form of Don Hopkins, Plant Apiary Inspection Supervisor (web site). Don went through the colony systematically and luckily I was pretty lucky, no nasty surprises and a reasonably healthy looking colony considering the weather this year.

We did find Varroa mites, but that's not only expected but at this time of the year they are at their peak and so no surprise there. With the heat last week (still over 100 some days) the Api Life VAR (Brushy Mtn link) I had bought earlier in the year was not going to work as it requires daily temperature below 95. Luckily the forecast this week is not only for cooler temperatures but also some rain at last, so maybe we'll get some autumn blooms - right now some of the autumn flowers are coming out early and weak due to the heat and lack of water. Hopefully if it isn't stormy this afternoon I'll start the Api Life treatment.

Back to the colony though the lack of water and the damage to the Poplar flow earlier in the year means that while the colony looks strong and there is good brood and a lot of pollen there is unfortunately a decided lack of honey and still some frames not drawn out. So, the plan is to keep feeding a 1:1 sugar syrup for the time being and see if I can stimulate the rest of the frames to get drawn out and keep the brood production up as well.

Finally Don commented on the light color of the girls, not something I'd paid that much attention to other than to note how pretty they are especially when young. They are still incredibly docile, notably as we went through the whole colony on a really warm mid-afternoon.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Smoker fuel - any favourites?

An interesting question -- what do you use in your smoker? When I bought mine I got a stick of fuel which I've rarely used as it's pretty hard to actually get lit. Most folks around here use pine straw and dry leaves which are OK but the problem there is that I have a lot of trouble keeping it lit. So, having read someone say they used baling twine/burlap as a fuel I cut off a strip from some burlap we had in the garage for the garden. I have found that a mix of the burlap (a square about 4"x6") and the pine straw seems to be pretty good and will keep lit for me for a good while.

So anyone out there with favourite fuels, hints, tips?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Update on the bees and the pool

Well, the dog waterer may not work for everyone but it has sure worked for us. We moved the watered (standing on a concrete block) away from the pool over about two weeks and it now stands about 2 feet outside the fence and we rarely see any bees by the pool or trying to drink from it even though they are flying in right by it. We did consider moving it further but it's nice to sit and watch them sometimes and as they are no longer a nuisance everyone is happy.

Again, one large concrete block (about $4 from Lowes), one large pet waterer ($21.99 from Petsmart), water and a dash of honey-b-healthy.

Not so successful adventure

Well, a few weeks back now I went out one evening with some local beekeepers to remove a colony from an old house nearby. This was a real adventure, I am used to relatively docile bees not the anger of a big colony being ripped out of their nest with circular saws and wrecking bars! Luckily I made it through the evening with only a few relatively minor stings but the prize came when we managed to lift up the floor in the room upstairs and between the joists were row upon row of comb thick with honey and brood.

After the cleaning out of the colony we shared out honey comb between the four of us and also made up some frames to hold the brood comb in the hopes of starting a new hive. I had taken a nuc with me and with some help managed to prepare a number of combs and bring back. The result is shown below.

The trick now was to get them installed in the spare hive and get building the colony. So first thing the next morning I had put together the hive about 20-25 feet from the first and added the frame and bees from the nuc above. This went reasonably well though the bees were still far from happy and a veil and long sleeves were definitely required. Anyway, I added a feeder (aluminium foil tray, sugar water and pine straw) in an empty box above the brood and left them to it.

In all of this it was interesting to note that the bees themselves looked quite different to the first hive in the yard; they were considerably darker with more pronounced bands on them; unfortunately I haven't a really good picture of this, but you get some idea from this one.

The next thing I noticed was a lot of activity from the original hive, and before long the new one was covered (well maybe not covered, but there were a lot) with bees from the first hive. I did see some of the new bees protecting the entrance to their hive (I had the entrance reduced in with the smallest opening) but I think they were quickly overwhelmed. I picked up a queen the next day but when I opened the hive even in such a short time there were a lot fewer of the dark bees than I know I put in. I topped up the feed and left them for a few days with the queen.

3 days later and when I open the hive, nothing, the queen is still in her cage and I counted a total of 4 dark bees walking over the four brood frames (2 blank frames either side to fill the box) and already a few opportunistic ants. It was clear this adventure didn't end well and despondent I closed the hive and decided to come back in a day or so and clean up. Well with work and some other distractions a day or so became over a week and finally last weekend I went down to collect up all the boxes clean them and store them away.

To my dismay the body was full of nesting ants, beetles and worst of all wax moths; so all of the frames I had to toss and had to spend a long time cleaning out the ants and scrubbing the boxes clean before I could put them away. Lesson learned there.

A shame things didn't work out, and also couldn't make this months Chatham beekeppers meeting so don't know how the others did getting their bees home and started - well I guess I'll find out next month.

Monday, June 11, 2007


Well, the first sting for me was this weekend. The colony has been incredibly docile, and I've taken to just a hat, no veil or gloves and now usually just shorts and a tshirt when I go down to do any work. But, I wanted to get a few pictures this time, and of course was paying a lot less attention to what I was doing and put the frames back in the box roughly, upset the bees and paid the price. So, I'll post the pictures but please remember the cost :-)

Bees and the pool

I know it's been a while since I posted anything but work and the garden have kept me busy. I am going to echo here a thread that's been discussed recently on the local beekeeper mailing lists, with a personal angle. How to keep the bees away from our pool.

It seems bees like a water source that has a strong odor and Chlorine is one of those odors and so a pool becomes a great attraction. At first this was cool, we could watch the bees drinking from the edge, or from the string holding up the thermometer or drinking off the mat where people get in and out (which of course gets nice and wet). But, some days there's a lot of bees and sooner or later ....

So we experimented, we moved the mat so as not to have a really big and easy drinking source, we moved a waterer I had already made closer to the pool and we removed everything from the pool that could be a "float" for the bees to drink from.

The waterer itself was pretty simple, one of those large dog water dispensers (works like a water cooler) and with a little added honey-b-healthy it was pretty strong smelling.

At first we put it next to the area where the bees had been drinking before and after a few false starts it worked. I had tried a simple plastic float to keep the bees from drowning in it but that seemed not to work so well so we fell back on the local do-everything tool of pine straw.

Now it seems very popular and while a few bees do fly around the pool on the way in and out it's the waterer they head for. So, day by day we've been inching it away from the pool and again it seems to be working.

While I don't claim this will work for everyone, and you never know it may not work for us for long, it's been an interesting exercise and certainly easier than trying to create a more permanent water source closer to the bees themselves.

Brushy Mtn English Garden Hive

For Melanie, the hive I chose to use comes from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm in North Carolina and is called the English Garden Hive. The hive is an 8-frame hive whereas the standard tends to be 10 frames per box;.Also the setup favors the use of medium boxes (6 1/4" frame) throughout for a standard size whereas a more usual hive employs deep hive bodies (9 1/8" frames) and a combination of medium and shallow (5 3/8") supers for honey production. Overall I like the hive a lot, it's easy to work with and not only do Brushy Mtn have a good selection of 8-frame equipment more and more catalogs provide it too.

This does mean it's easier to move boxes around however it does one significant drawback, if you see an advert for someone selling nucs don't get excited that you can fill your new hive with ready-made bees. Most people are still using the deep hive body combination and so most nucs out there for sale are going to have 9 1/8" frames and so they aren't going to fit into the medium supers in the garden hive. I guess until there are enough people doing things this way starting such a hive will be by package or by swarm.

The picture shows an 8-frame medium with the Brushy Mtn black superframe, a wax coated plastic foundation. Again I like the black for hive bodies as it makes eggs and larvae nice and easy to see.

Hope that helps

Friday, May 25, 2007

A slow start

Well it's been 11 days since a box of bees became a hive of bees and it was a little worrying as things took longer than the text books all say they should :-)

Basically here's the calendar:

  • Monday: installed the bees
  • Thursday: checked the hive and while there was no candy left the queen was still in the cage so I removed the wire and let her walk into the hive body.
  • Saturday: checked again, comb is being drawn, sugar syrup is going fast and the queen is still active but no sign of eggs.
  • Tuesday: quick check, much the same, plenty of foraging and some comb now has syrup and pollen stored. A little worried that the lack of eggs is a bad sign, but maybe we're just slow.
  • Thursday: went down mainly to add a second hive body and top up the syrup - but who could resist checking, and there were plenty of eggs and even a few larvae!
So, going to have to resist temptation to check other than just topping up the syrup now for a while.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Pictures of the package install

Here's a set of pictures from the package install yesterday.

1. First the package as it arrived, you can see it's pretty healthy and even with the heat this time of year there are very few dead bees in the box.

2. With the hive disassembled it's time to begin.

3. Opening the package itself was uneventful, the queen cage was easy to get to, the feeder easy to remove - although the bees were pretty eager to escape right from the get-go.

4. Here we are emptying out the bees into the space in the hive, lively little things they are.

5. Just brushing a few bees off the queen cage here.

6. Closing up ...
7. Topping up the feeder (1:1 sugar water solution with just a little Honey-B-Healthy).
8. And finally, all closed up and done.

All in all it was pretty easy, I have the second hive all assembled but doubt I'll get it populated this year - but good to have it just in case the opportunity arises.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Woo Hoo!

Well the day arrived, started with a call from the Post Office to come pick up the package of buzzing bees. So this afternoon which was a great day, warm and with a light breeze after a really windy and rainy weekend, we put the girls into the hive. The kids watched as I stumbled my way through the process but it was still pretty easy and painless (no stings).

The only wrinkle in the process was that when I took the cork out of the queen cage there was no candy below and rather than put the queen in directly with the colony I put the cork back loosely and will hope for the best. I'll be back later in the week to check and fingers crossed everything is OK. I did walk down this evening at dusk and there was plenty of gentle activity, orientation flights, a lot of the dead bees from the package already dumped out front.

Will post pictures hopefully tomorrow.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Last week was busy...

Well, in anticipation of the arrival of bees last Friday all the last minute work had to be done last week. More weed cloth and mulch around the hive, mowing down the grass, clearing away all the brush for recycling and more. Thursday I got up at 6:00 to drive out to Brushy Mountain to spend some more money (my birthday gift from the family) and bought a second hive, some additional supers and a nuc. So Thursday afternoon everything looked good, I was ready, planning to work at home Friday, the weather looked good for Friday (not too hot not cold)...

The the call from Rossman, due to the cold weather over Easter and some loss of bees they are running behind in delivering out packages :-( So now it looks as if it will be this week, maybe, before the bees arrive so am a little bummed. On the bright side it meant I got to finish painting the new woodenware and also have a pair of Tulip Poplars to plant before the girls arrive.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

One more step closer

Just a simple job but it's been waiting for a while - mulching the bee yard. The plan is to have an area where we don't have to mow right up against the bees, so I cleaned back the brush laid some weed barrier and this weekend dumped a half truck load of mulch down. It looks pretty good, but still have to get rid of the pile of brush that came out of there.

Thursday, April 5, 2007


I added this post because I had found an interesting book from the library while waiting for my bee package to arrive, The Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum. The Chatham County course included Beekeeping For Dummies
by Howland Blackiston and my beginner kit from Brushy Mtn included First Lessons in Beekeeping by C.P. Dadent, both of which are good books although I would recommend the dummies book as a starting place. The reason I liked the backyard book was that the hive setup the author used through the text was the same Brushy Mtn 8 frame that I decided on and so it makes for an interesting read from that perspective.

In particular, for anyone else attracted to this set up it is worth noting that the usual configuration for brood chambers, or hive bodies, is a deep box with 10 frames, in the Brushy Mtn set up the boxes are actually standard medium frames and so not only do you lose 2 frames per box but each box is shallower. The book therefore suggests that for a good and healthy colony expect to use 3 of these boxes as opposed to the usual 2 for standard hive bodies - good to know ahead of time.

Oh, I also bought Teach Yourself Beekeeping book, which is nicely laid out but is an English book and therefore has some discussion that isn't so relevant to a US based new beekeeper. That isn't to say it isn't a nice book and am glad I purchased it, but am also glad it was the last of the books I purchased.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

My Hive Site

Here's the result of all the effort so far; this is the Brushy Mtn 8 frame English Garden Hive. The kids chose the nice light green paint - which looks really nice in the full sun. It's late afternoon so the sun is behind the row of trees to the west of the hive which is facing just a little East of South.

You can see the base has been set up for expansion, there's room for another hive on the same base and plenty of room cleared for more if it goes well. The pile of brush on the left of the picture is just a small part of the amount that was pulled out of there to put this all in.

So now have to clean up and finish cutting back the vines around the saplings behind the hive as a lot of our wind comes in from the North and they'll provide a nice wind break if they are healthy.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Start-up costs

Some people will tell you that you can start bee keeping for under $100.00, and while this may be true it is generally not the case today. There are a number of companies that provide really good beginner kits ranging from 125 - 200 but while they have a nice setup they generally don't come with additional supers so if the honey flow is good you're going to need to go back for more (Betterbee is an exception here, their kit has two hive bodies and two medium supers).

Anyway I wanted the look of the English hive and also preferred the compact size of the 8-frame setup and so ended up with the Brushy Mountain Beginner Kit, though I added one additional super, queen excluder escape screen and top feeder for a total of $326.00. I went to Rossman for the package of Italian bees for about $60.00 (due to arrive in May).

Then there was the other cost - the work, I cleared out an area of scrub under a fallen dead tree to make a nice yard, lugged all the gear plus concrete blocks and 6x2 for the stand down there over a few weeks but now it looks really nice. So, while it certainly has cost more than I expected, and I would love to have put in two hives rather than just the one, it looks really nice and there's plenty of room to expand next year.


Monday, April 2, 2007

Why bother?

So, I never seem to have time to blog on my work site, so why bother to create an all new blog? Well I guess I've wanted to be involved with bees since I was a kid, I remember seeing those stands at the county fair and saw the observation hives, the jars of honey... There was a park close by home with a museum that had an observation hive and it was fun to look for the queen in there.

So, now with the impact of various diseases on the wild and commercial bee populations there is a real need for even backyard bee keepers to add to the number of bees. So North Carolina has started a number of bee keeping classes, and the local one here (Chatham County Beekeeping School with the Chatham County Beekeepers) was a really well run and interesting 8 weeks. My thanks to Debbie Roos, Jim Williams, Dr. David Tarpy, Bill Sheppard, Don Hopkins, and all those who attended for a really detailed introduction and yes I am now hooked.

So, having researched through various online sellers and the pile of catalogs Debbie made available for us the first week I ended up with equipment from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm, their English hive (of course). So I hope that I can keep up to date as the bees arrive and get installed. But for now that's all.