Archive for the ‘Beekeeping’ Category

Ever Seen One Of These By Your Beehive?

September 15, 2011

I was working my hives the other day and had a visitor…

For some reason there seems to be a greater abundance of these creatures this year.

As with everything else this year, we’ll blame it on the weather.

Better yet, we’ll call him an opportunist!

This the Giant Robber Fly or “Bee Killer” and they feed on honey bees and other insects.

But because the honeybee supply is so abundant and accessible here, they are called “Bee Killers”!

They’re fast when they snatch a bee out of the air and they’re very noisy so it’s easy to know when these insects are around.

However, they have eternal patience while they wait for just the right moment.

Grab and Go meals 🙂

I like the fact that these are predatory insects, just not wild about the fact that around here their prey are my bees.

Here’s some other interesting information about the Giant Robber Fly:

There are over 7,000 species of robber flies world wide; nearly 1,000 in North America.

All robber flies have stout, spiny legs, a dense moustache of bristles on the face (mystax), and 3 simple eyes (ocelli) in a characteristic depression between their two large compound eyes. The mystax helps protect the head and face when the fly encounters prey bent on defense. The antennae are short, 3-segmented, sometimes with a bristle-like structure called an arista.

The short, strong proboscis is used to stab and inject victims with saliva containing neurotoxic and proteolytic enzymes which paralyze and digest the insides; the fly then sucks the liquefied meal much like we vacuum up an ice cream soda through a straw. Many species have long, tapering abdomens, sometimes with a sword-like ovipositor. Others are fat-bodied bumble bee mimics; the effect is quite convincing.

Varroa Mites and Bees

August 30, 2011

I was running out of time to split my hives.  I wanted to put them in nucs to overwinter.

I love going into the hives and just looking.  You can tell so much about a hive through observation.

In this particular hive, I saw a bee with deformed wings.

Side by side – you can see a healthy wing with the deformed wing.

Also, these are young bees because of the fuzziness on the thorax.

The deformed wings let me know that there are mites present – Varroa mites to be specific.

Now I needed to see how badly this hive was infested.

Another one with deformed wings…

But I wasn’t seeing any mites on the bees.

The mites are parasitic and the eggs are laid in the cells where they hatch and feed on the bee larva.

When the baby bees emerge, the mites have attached themselves to that bee.

Finally, a spotting of a Varroa mite.

And this mite was attached to a bee with deformed wings.

However, sometimes the bees show no outward signs but the mite is still attached.

This Varroa mite is on a very young bee – see how fuzzy they are??

They’re so cute when they’re first born!  But I don’t like the sight of that mite.

That mite is about the size of a pin head.  You can see them with the naked eye if you know what you’re looking for.

Typically I’ve seen mites on the top part of the thorax.

If I was going solely on wing formation, I might not have looked at this bee.

Varroa mites are not particular – they will climb on any bee.

The mite situation in this hive wasn’t severe but I’ll still treat.

I don’t use any kind of chemicals in my hives.  I did when I first started beekeeping.

But after I lost a hive to the chemicals – in my opinion, I stopped using them.  Also, I didn’t like the chemical smell in my wax even after I removed the chemical.

For Varroa mites, I shake powdered sugar throughout the hive.  The bees go into a cleaning frenzy and start cleaning each other.  I’ve put screen bottoms on all but 2 of my hives.  When the bees start cleaning, the mites fall through the screen to the ground and there are all kinds of insects waiting for dinner to fall from “heaven.”

This is a basic overview of the Varroa mite.  For more detailed info, check out these links:

This video is very cool with extensive info and actual footage on the life cycle of a bee and Varroa mite-

Good written overview:

Spring Bees – March ’11

March 27, 2011

Well, my hives made it through the winter and I didn’t lose any.  I feel very fortunate because it’s so common to lose at least one hive.

Talked to a gentleman in the mountains who lost 16 of his 17 hives.

As you can see by the pictures, the girls hit the nectar flow with a bang!  Three supers on almost all the hives already…

and the hives are FULL of bees.

I’ve split 2 hives already with 3 more to split.  I had been told before that when a hive was split that one of the hives had to be moved to another location.

Another beekeeper told me it wasn’t necessarily so and that I could keep the split hive in the same location- just keep an eye on the hive without the queen.

So far so good – the bees have stayed in the new hive.

I recently looked into my hives and realized I was going to be short on supplies if these girls kept up at the current rate.

It’s only March and the nectar flow continues to the beginning of June.

Cross your fingers!  This year we may see a bumper crop of honey.

I took inventory of my supplies and then guesstimated what I would need….

A quick trip to the local feed store that’s now carrying beekeeping supplies to purchase more frames and supers and two more complete hives.

I’m determined to be ready for swarms this season!

This time of year is labor intensive for beekeepers…always trying to guess what the bees will be doing next-

whether those bees will stay put or split and swarm to a nearby tree.

But in June, when we harvest that “liquid gold”, we are reminded once again…

it’s so worth all the effort!

Redemption of Fire Ants??

September 23, 2010

I think I’ve mentioned before that I had never seen so many different kinds of bugs and insects till we moved here to the South.  And they’re not small… they’re humongous!  In almost 8 years, I’ve learned not to flinch and take cover every time a flying one whizzes by my head.  I do occasionally start slapping my shirt frantically when I think one may be crawling down my back. All these bugs have earned my respect and fascination – I figure, they were here first, why fight ’em?

One insect in particular has a very bad reputation and sadly, it has earned it….

No, not my honeybees.

We LOVE the honeybees.  It’s their neighbors that we don’t always love….

The Fire Ant.

I have to say, I don’t mind them around my hives so long as their mounds are not where I need to be standing.  They’re a great clean up crew.

As with all living creatures, they will eventually die.  And when the honeybee dies in the hive, the workers push the carcass out the front door onto the ground.

The Fire Ants come out to find the bodies and they drag them back to their mounds.

A Fire Ant mound is very distinctive and if you live in the south, you avoid them at all cost!

Fire Ants have a wicked sting and are rather ravenous.

They’ll eat dead bugs or kill ones who get in their way.

Just look at the carnage in this picture!

But they keep the place clean and don’t allow the bodies to accumulate.  I’ve even left hive frames full of wax moth larva on a Fire Ant mound and they have cleaned the frame spotless.

They’re wonderful that way, cleaning up all the debris.  Keeping the area around my hives neat and tidy.

So I let them stay.

This is a June beetle, decapitated!

Fire Ants get a bad rap in this part of the country and rightly so.  I was bitten twice trying to get these shots 🙂  But I figure that’s my fault since I was right on top of them with my camera.

I’ll make a deal with them….they leave me alone, I’ll leave them alone…so long as they keep cleaning up the bee yard!

Lazy B Farm Beekeeping Series

August 24, 2010

Beekeeping Workshop Series

The motivation for this series is to equip those who are serious about beekeeping as a hobby and want to acquire their own bees.

We will begin with the very basics of beekeeping and build upon that knowledge with each class.

The Georgia Beekeeping Conference will be held in Young Harris in the middle of May.  If you are desiring to receive your certification, you will be ready at this point to confidently take the Bee Certification Exam given during this conference.

The price for this conference is not included in the Series fee.

As a conclusion for this series, we will have a honey harvest and “celebration”  here at the farm in June.

There will be 5, 3-hour classes in this series, beginning promptly at 9 am and finishing at noon.  The classes will begin in November and end in June at the Honey Harvest.

Class I: ( November  12th; 9 am – noon ) We will cover the process of preparing for your bees.  This includes building the hives and supers; tools needed; appropriate clothing; when and how to order bees; feeders; and care and management of your equipment and clothing.

For those working toward Bee Certification, there will be a short quiz at the conclusion of this class on the parts of a hive, hive tools, and feeders.

Class II: ( January 14th; 9 am – noon )  This class will discuss apiary location and placement.  There will be plant identification of foraging plants used by bees.  We’ll discuss feeding- when and how.  We will discuss the various properties of honey and its culinary and medicinal use.   There will be a short trip to the bee yard (weather permitting) to check on the food supply of each hive.

Class III: ( March 10th; 9 am – noon )  This will be  a very hands – on class.  The instruction will cover the installation of a package of bees and a nuc.  If you order from Lazy B Farm or Bill Owens, your nucs will arrive around the end of March.  After this class, you will know exactly what to do to ensure a successful transfer and solid start to your new hive.  We’ll cover the topic of swarming and what to do to try to keep it from happening.

Class IV: ( April 14th; 9 am – noon )  We will be in the final preparation for the Bee Conference and the Bee Certification.  This class will cover pests and diseases; bee biology; and year-round bee management.  There will be a pre-exam to help those who are preparing for the written test at Young Harris.

We’ll also take a trip to the Lazy B bee yard and each member will be asked to go through a hive under Bill’s supervision.

Young Harris Bee Conference – May 10 – 12th at Young Harris College

Class V: ( June 9th; 9 am – ?? )   Honey Harvest!  You will learn by doing – how to harvest your own honey.  We’ll cover the three different ways to remove bees from your super frames, and then take the supers to the garage to begin the extraction process.   You will leave with a jar of your work… and the bees!

Cost for the Beekeeper’s Series: $150 per person for 5 classes, 15 hours of instruction.  There is a 10% discount per person for 2 or more family members.

­­( these classes individually will be $40 each )

*this price does not include the Conference registration fee or the Bee Certification exam fee.

Because this class is limited, there is a $50 non-refundable deposit to hold your spot in the class.  The remainder will be due on or before the first class in November.

If you’re interested in signing up for the Beekeeping Series, contact


Born to Bee…

August 13, 2010

Earlier this week, I had access to some comb from a hive that was being removed from a house.  Since I had my camera with me, the bees were fairly docile, and the comb was just lying on the deck, I took a look to see what was going on….

There are 3 stages of development of the bee – egg, larva, and pupa.  The queen deposits the egg in the bottom of the cell, in three days it hatches into a small white worm called a larva.  They are fed a mixture of pollen and honey by the bees.

When the cell is nearly filled by the growing larva, it’s closed up by the bees.  The larva then enters the chrysalis or pupa stage.

The worker develops from the egg in 21 days.

This cell was nicked during the removal – see the eye on the pupa?

This cell was nicked also – can you see the developing mite on the side of the pupa?

Finally, it’s time for the baby bee to emerge!

One antenna…

Two antennae and a head!

“Oh please!  Would someone just pick me up??”

Come on, little one…not much further.

Finally!  A brand new baby bee!   The wings are still folded in the shape of the cell and she’s so fluffy!

During the first eight days of her life she serves as nurse to the larvae.

Around the eighth day of maturity, she will take flight from the hive.

It was fascinating watching this whole process – truly amazing insects.

Beekeepers Beware!

August 6, 2010

What a crazy summer we’ve had here in the Piedmont area of Georgia.  The daily temps have been soaring for months now, the humidity living up to the old adage “you can cut it with a knife”, and we’ve had more rain than in the previous years of drought.  While these conditions are excellent for plant growth, they also provide an excellent environment for increased populations of insects.

I was talking with Bill Owens yesterday.  Bill has been my beekeeping mentor over the last couple of years and he teaches classes on beekeeping here at the farm.  Bill is the highest certified beekeeper in GA and is a 4th generation beekeeper.

I’ve been receiving phone calls regarding unusual bee activity.  I had a hunch and asked Bill if he would verify my summations.  The stories I was hearing went like this….

“I went in to check on my bees and everything seemed fine.  Buttoned up the hive and came back a few days later to find the bees all over the outside of the hive and not going back inside…  or the hive was empty and full of larva.”

My conclusion after a couple of these accounts – when the hive was opened, the hive beetles were released and they  wreaked havoc in the hive.  Remember, the bees run the beetles to the top of the hive and capture them in little prisons they make from propolis.  When the cover is taken off the hive, it releases all those beetles.  The bees were not able to keep up with the overload of beetles and larva and absconded – left the hive because the conditions were unsuitable for them.

Bill confirmed my summations and verified the influx of the hive beetle in this region.  He too opened one of his hives and found thousands of beetles inside.  Bill said that in all his years of beekeeping, he’s never seen it this bad.

So what do we do and how do we know if we have a problem with hive beetles in our own hives?

Signs to look for:

1. If you have a screen bottom board on your hive and the bees are bearding and hanging all over the outside of the hive, this could be a potential sign of a problem going on inside the hive.

2. If you have a solid bottom board and the bees are bearding and hanging all over the front, this could be indicative of a problem or those bees are just too hot.  It’s a guessing game at this point.

What do I do if I suspect a hive beetle infestation?

If you suspect the invasion of hive beetles, your best bet is to remove all of the bees from one hive and transfer them to another clean brood box.  If possible, find the queen and transfer her – this will help the rest of the hive to follow.

Shake the bees into the new box and then leave them be.  If the honey from the first hive has been destroyed, you’ll need to feed the hive with sugar water.  More than likely you’ll have to feed all winter since the nectar flow is over and there’s not enough time for the hive to store enough honey to keep them alive over the winter.

If your bees are hanging out all over the hive, you may not have much time to do the transfer.  By the time we see the bees all out front, the conditions for them have become almost unbearable and they will be leaving soon.

Be sure to use a screen bottom board on the new hive if possible to avoid further problems.

It is possible to treat the hive with chemicals but there are  other side effects that you will have to deal with if you go that route.

Once the bees have been moved to their new, clean home, take the infested frames and stick them in the freezer to kill the larva.  I’ve also put frames on Fire Ant hills and let the ants do the clean up work.

Please remember that your bees are a little irritable to begin with this time of year.  There are lots of them with very little work to do since the nectar flow is over and it’s been hot.  A smoker and extra clothing might be a good idea if you’re going to have to move them.

What if I’m not 100% sure there’s a problem?

I don’t think anyone can be 100% sure either way when looking at their hives.  You’re trying to make your best guess and proceed from there.  Err on the side of caution if everything still looks “normal” and DON’T OPEN THE HIVE! If the bees have imprisoned the hive beetles, you’ll only release them when you take off the cover.

This is the time when curiosity may not only kill the cat but your hive also 🙂

When would it be safe to go into my hives again?

Bill suggested that you leave the hives alone until after Labor Day.  However, if our temps in this area don’t significantly decrease even around Labor Day, wait until they begin to start cooling off.

Once you are able to check on the hives, it would be a good idea to help the bees with their house cleaning by dusting the frames with powdered sugar.  The dusting “dirties” their home and the bees go into major cleaning mode – cleaning the insides of cells and each other.

I hope you find this information helpful and that none of you have experienced any problems thus far with the small hive beetle.  Please, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.  If I can’t answer the question, I have a personal “hot line” to Bill….well, not really but he’s very good about getting back to me when I leave a message.

This has been a crazy season for beekeeping!  First dealing with all the swarming that went on this year and now the invasion of the small hive beetle.  New beekeepers, don’t be discouraged.  Just think how much you’ve learned in your first year.  This part of beekeeping is really what makes the honey that you harvest taste so sweet 🙂

Beekeeping: Logging Progress and Cleaning

May 24, 2010

Well, I’ve been challenged and I love a challenge.  I started with 2 hives this spring and I’m now up to 10 hives.  A lot has happened with them this spring…too much for me to remember.

Bill has mentioned the need to keep track by logging each hive’s activities – how old is the queen, how much honey did they produce, when did they swarm, etc.  I’ve heard him say this, but never really did anything about it.

Until now.

I took 3 of my hives to another friend’s farm because they needed to be at least 3 miles away when I split them.  We were talking the other day and I referred to the hive closest to the house.  She said, “Oh, you mean #3?”


“Yes, the one furthest from the house is #1 and then #2 and the one closest to the house is #3.”


“Well, the one closest to the house…”

“#3.  It would make it easier if you would refer to them by their number.”

“Okay, well, I need to check to see if #3 needs another super.”

You see, she works in the veterinary world, in research, and documenting and logging are a HUGE part of her work.  She thinks in “numbers and systems” and so it automatically transferred to the beehives I put on her farm.

As she watched me struggling trying to keep all the information straight – which hives needed more supers and were they mediums or shallows?  Which hives had new queens and which had old queens and how old were they?  She asked me if I’d thought of putting all the hives on a number system and keeping track of them that way.

Honestly, with only 2 or 3 hives, it hadn’t really been necessary but now, with 10, it was apparent my current “system” wasn’t working!

So I took the challenge and gave each of the hives a number.  That number will go into a notebook and I’ll write the history of that hive and then chart its progress.

To give myself a good start – I cleaned up the bee yard too.

I mowed and hand weeded under the stands.  I love having carpet in front of the hives – it cuts down on the weeds at the front door and keeps me from having to get really close to the hives with the mower.



I try not to run the weed whacker near the bees and I mowed in the early morning around 8:30 or so before they started flying.  No one was agitated with the sound of the mower and I was really close to some of the hives.

I put down new carpet by this set and will finish when I find more carpet!

My friend put out a tarp for the new hives I brought over and staked the tarp into the ground.  It’s very neat and tidy – I like that look!

Now with clean yards and a new numbering system to keep track of my hives, I’m feeling a little more competent as a beekeeper 🙂

Beekeeping: Can You Find…

May 24, 2010

I was checking frames for brood.  And right before my eyes was the queen!

Can you find her in this picture?  The queen bee has a much longer body than the worker bees.  She doesn’t have the stripes, just a black tip on the end of her body.

If you found this in one of your trees, can you tell me what it means?

For the answer, see below and let me know if you guessed correctly.

I was walking through my orchard looking at the fruit and leaves.  I just happened to see this sight in the branches.

One of my hives had swarmed and I missed it.  Can you guess now??

This is the tree where the swarm hung before they found another home.  All the white you see is wax.  Those girls are so programmed to create a home, they started building comb on a leaf!  Talk about the inability to “chill”  … and I thought I was a work-aholic 🙂

Why Do Honey Bees Swarm?

May 13, 2010

This year has been crazy in our area for the honey bees.  This month alone I’ve had more swarms than ever before and some of my hives have split twice.  Truly, this is one of those seasons when man may try to calculate all the right answers but in reality, they’re only good guesses.  We are forced to submit to the fact that we don’t know all the how’s and why’s of the bee world.

But, we do have some substantial information that may be helpful to beekeepers at this time of year.  If nothing else, it may help you make a good guess!

In the beekeeping business, spring is the notorious time of year for hives to swarm.  Approximately half the hive of worker bees, along with the queen, leave the hive and look for new housing.  I found this swarm hanging from one of the branches of a nectarine tree in the orchard.

Why is it that bees swarm at all?  Is it because they grow tired of their dwelling place or that they never liked it all ?  Do they hear the call of nature and heed to the voice?  Perhaps they think the grass and flowers are better on the other side of the fence, or yard, or field.

Actually, it’s none of these.

To understand swarming we need to understand honey bee biology. Honey bees live in a colony and are eusocial (the highest social order).  This means that the bees do not see themselves as individuals.  This can easily be demonstrated by observing a colony of honey bees that run low of food.  The bees do not divide into groups to fight over the food, nor will you see a group separate from the rest trying to preserve the queen.  No, eusocial insects will continue to divide out the food till it is gone and together they will all die.  It is the colony as a whole that is considered the actual organism.  In short, honey bees define synergy.

With the above in mind, a queen bee can lay thousands of eggs a day. However, a colony does not see this as reproducing.  Since the colony is, the actual “organism” it is the act of actually producing another colony that’s considered reproducing.

Bees live for two purposes: to reproduce themselves (produce a new colony) and to store honey in order to provide food during the winter months.

In GA, in the Piedmont area, our nectar flow starts in late February, early March.  The incoming nectar signals the queen to start laying eggs – lots of them!  At peak time, the queen will lay up to 2,000 eggs a day.

That means that 21 days later, 2,000 new bees emerge to join the work force.  In a week’s time, approximately 14,000 bees are added to the hive.  It doesn’t take long for those living quarters in the hive to get a little cramped.  During the day, they’re not all home at once.  Thousands of bees are out foraging, coming back to the hive full of nectar and pollen.

But from dusk to dawn, everyone is home!

There are multiple factors that can give a colony the urge to divide.  One of the most common is when there isn’t any room left for the queen to lay new eggs.  This can be either she has already filled all the available cells with eggs or the workers have filled most of the cells with large amounts of nectar.

Once the living situation is full to capacity, someone signals that it’s time to split – literally.

Before half the hive leaves, they’re careful to make sure that there is plenty of brood to keep the hive functioning properly until another queen is raised.

They leave several queen cells in the hopes that one will emerge, live through the maiden flight, successfully mate in mid-air with a drone (male bee), and will return home safely to start her egg-laying calling in life.

For some time before the bees leave the hive, they run the original queen around so she will lose weight and be able to fly.  When the queen is in “egg laying” mode, she is too large to fly.

On the appointed day, and only the bees know, half  the hive of worker bees, along with the queen, fly out from the hive to a nearby branch. .  A swarm of honey bees can range in size from 4 to 5 thousand to 20 to 30 thousand.  Immediately after leaving the hive the swarm will gather often on a tree limb. They hang together here in a cluster, their little legs hanging on to one another.

The queen is somewhere in that ball of bees, being protected by the worker bees.  Often she is on the outer edges of the swarm.  Without the queen in the new hive, their future looks bleak.  They need her to sustain the workforce needed in the new hive.

The scout bees are flying about looking for a suitable cavity to call home.

When bees swarm, they are at their most docile state as a whole.  They have no place to call home and no protection and no hive to protect.  They’re eager to find some place to go.

That’s why finding a swarm hanging in a tree is so wonderful!  Those bees are incredibly grateful when someone is able to provide a space for them, preferably one with wax foundation – even better if it’s pulled comb!

Once the queen is inside, all those thousands of bees become obedient little soldiers and march into the new hive with their little tails straight up in the air.

It’s an amazing sight.

These honey bees have accomplished their purpose – to reproduce themselves and to make honey.  And the cycle will begin again in this new hive.