The Honeybee Experiment

Further Adventures in Suburban Farming 

Who We Are

 

Marcy and Raphael live in Decatur, Georgia, and have numerous ridiculous hobbies as well as actual jobs.  Marcy is a professional gardener who makes homemade wine and is very happy that honey can be used to make mead. Raphael is an engineer, extremely tolerant and pleasingly hard-working.

Email us  and tell us what you think!

Useful Links

 Georgia Beekeepers' Association

Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Association 

 Atlanta Botanical Garden

UGA Honeybee Program 

 

 

 

 

 

Awards and Certifications

2008:

  • 3rd Place, Light Extracted Honey, Metro Atlanta Beekeepers' Association
  • 3rd Place, Crafts (lip balm), Metro Atlanta Beekeepers' Association

2009:

 

Check out our photos of the bees and hive

Our great success in The Great Chicken Adventure has encouraged us (okay, just Marcy, but she talked Raphael into it) to branch out into beekeeping. Since the chicken page was both helpful for recordkeeping and unexpectedly popular, we're going to try a similar page for the bees. Once again, wish us luck!

(And again, newer updates will be at the top, and if you're new to the page just start at the bottom and work your way up.)

Spring is in the Air! March 30, 2009

Well, I've got my hive parts all sorted, and the ones I'm starting off with set up on a new stand in the backyard and all the extra parts waiting to be refinished in my shed. I'm trying to get a rush on that part, actually, because a friend of mine who's new to bees is having me refinish some for him. When I go pick up my nucs, I'm picking up one for him as well. 

I'm pretty excited about sending in my registration for the Young Harris Beekeeping Institute- this year I'll become a certified beekeeper and complete the first half of the requirements to become an official honey judge. 

Speaking of judging things, my first batch of mead is bottled and so good that I'm considering finding a wine competition to send it to. It's actually a strawberry melomel... I also tasted my plain sweet mead, which isn;t ready to bottle yet, and my blueberry melomel, which is still young. Yum :) 

Recouping   December 31, 2008

There are benefits to being naturally impatient :)  Yesterday I drove to Canton to pick up my Craisglisted hives... they're filthy and in need of a good coat of paint but perfectly sound wood, so I'm pleased. The seller even asked to buy some honey when it comes in, as the only reason he's getting out of bees is age and infirmity. So I got the stuff home but not set up, as I had first to reclaim the abandoned honey in my hive from the extremely vigilant robber bees who were in the process of hauling it off. After much effort and swearing, mission accomplished. I now have a plastic bin of bee-free frames sitting in my sunroom waiting for me. I figure I'll be on the safe side and remove all the wax since I can't really be sure what happened to my bees... which has the side benefit of lots of beeswax for me to use in candles or lip balm or soap or whatever. I have lots of ideas, much to my husband's chagrin. There's also plenty of honey to be extracted from them, as well as a surprising amount of bee bread. Since bee bread is supposed to be really good for you and an excellent aid in weight loss, plus really expensive in health food stores, I'm going to make the effort to harvest it. It's very VERY tedious and involves a salt spoon and meticulous attention. But the stuff is unexpectedly delicious and I can work on it in front of the tv so it's not so boring :)

Anyway, I removed the hive from the bee area in my backyard and put up the (freakin' heavy) rack the guy who sold me the hives threw in to sweeten the deal. It's rusty as all get-out, but serves a most excellent function- holds several hives up off the ground at slightly higher than knee level, with room to set things on it during hive inspections. Score. With my back trouble that's a major plus. Hopefully it'll also help in deterring pests. Today when I get home (I'm working on New Years' Eve, bleh) I'll get the hives set up properly on the rack and start cleaning and figuring out how much foundation I need to order. I'm having lots of fun deciding between plasticel, cut comb, ross rounds...ah, the choices are infinite :) But I've confirmed my nuc orders so I'm gearing up for the spring!

Disaster!   December 29, '08

Despite my (retrospectively foolish) determination to be optimistic and stop worrying about the bees, the worst has occurred. Christmas Eve was a very warm day and while feeding the chickens, I noticed a suspicious lack of activity around the beehive. A peek in the top proved fruitless, and so I took a closer look. Lots of honey, lots of pollen, but only a dozen or so cells (not frames, cells) of capped brood... and only one single live bee. Which is frustrating. But at least it came at the time of year when I can just increase my nuc order for the spring. And it makes it a bit easier to rearrange the hive area for my planned expansion- I was wishing I could move the hive about 4 feet, which would be tricky with bees living in it.

And I am trying to cheer myself with two items:

1. I can now extract the abandoned honey, which is handy because even though I got lots for a first year, it's not enough to make both batches of mead I had planned and still leave me with some table honey; and

2. I just found a fabulous deal on some used hive equipment that will make it necessary to spend less than half the expected cost of new hive equipment, and will give me lots of extra parts and supers.

So every cloud has a silver lining, but I'm still sad about my disappearing bees. I'll go home after work and continue my therapy by racking (and tasting) the honey mead.

Mid-December 2008

 Things are still chugging along :) It got very cold very early this year, so I removed the top supers to give the girls less space to heat. I left them out so they could reclaim the nectar they'd already put into them, which they did. Aside from that, not much going on... it stayed pretty cold for awhile, and since I am by nature a worrier, I was scared that since I hadn't seen any of them, they'd all died. But it warmed up a ton this week and I was overjoyed to see lots of activity.  There's not a lot else to report except that I've placed my order for a nuc for the spring so that I can start my second hive. I'm hoping that the first hive will grow a lot faster for having been established for a year, and the second hive will get a big jump start when I give them all the empty comb in the frames I extracted the honey from this year. So with some luck I should have a bumper crop of honey next year!

Late September 2008

One week after the last inspection, I did another. I've heard that a great way to control varroa mites non-chemically is to dust the bees with confectioner's sugar once weekly for 4 weeks. I did one dusting in my last inspection, but realized that I need to order myself a screen bottom board and some sticky paper if I want it to work (it makes the mites fall off the bees, but in theory, without the screen bottom board and sticky paper, they'll climb right back up). So I stopped the sugar regimen for now, and just checked how they were doing with the supers back on. It seems to be going well... I added 2 supers and the weather is definitely headed toward autumn, so I wasn't too surprised to see no significant activity in the top super. But in the lower one they've already started filling up with nectar, so that's good. I want them to have lots to get them through the winter, so I've started feeding them some syrup.

When I got down into the deeps, I was interested to see the difference between the comb when it was new (since this in my first year, all my comb was freshly- drawn... nice and clean and white. I was a little worried to see the darker comb until I realized that this is what it looks like after that first season :)

I'll try and post the pictures I took, but the queen seems to be laying in a good pattern... lots of capped honey around the edges, WAY more pollen than I expected, and brood in the centers. I'm a teensy bit concerned that there are some drone cells cropping up, but I'll check the hive again in October and see how they're doing.  I broke open a drone cell on accident and did see a varroa mite, so I'm going to order that bottom board asap so as to hopefully be able to help them out before it gets too cold. Anyway, I guess even the worst case scenario isn't too bad- even if the whole colony dies, I have a lot of wax and honey and poolen in there, and I can always order more bees.

Speaking of which, I'm definitely going to 2 hives next year, and have just ordered a nuc from Mike the Bee Man, who comes highly recommended. My bees performed extremely well this year, but the guy I got them from seemed kinda sketchy, and I know I wasn't the only one to have that impression, so I want to try a new supplier. My friend whose hives didn't produce much told me more about the situation, and while her experience was far worse (requeening the first season!!!), we both agreed that the frames in our nucs were old, beat-up, infested with hive beetles and most likely mites, and top it off he gave both of us a frame fewer than we paid for. I consider myself extremely lucky to have gotten a decent queen and good honey.

Mid-September 2008

Yesterday I did an inspection of the hive- all seems to be proceeding well. I hate to admit this, but I had a major fit of procrastination because of some urgent business with the chicken coop, and never put the supers back on after I extracted. I never even took the bee escape off (turns out it works after all- no bees above it when i took the cover off!). So I got the supers back on, with the nice clean empty comb, and hopefully they'll get to filling it up for their winter supply. There's a fair amount of both honey and brood in the hive bodies, although maybe not quite as much brood as I'd like to see. But then, they're packed in there pretty tight. So I left the queen excluder on, between the top 2 supers, so that she has a little more room, even if it means she lays into the top box. But I'd rather have a weird layout of honey vs brood than a colony that's so small it does off even though it's surrounded by stored honey. My main regret is that i could have had more honey for myself if I had got those supers back on right away. Ah well. 

      Anyway, now that I'm sort of re-energized about the bees, I'm looking into things I can do to further my bee education. I want to get involved in the Master beekeeper program, the first step of which is becoming a certified beekeeper- I believe the first opportunity to do that will be next May. That's also when I can begin the process of becoming an official honey judge, which sounds like a lot of fun.  And I'm going to start setting up a second hive for next spring.

Early September 2008

Our honey won a ribbon! I attended the annual Metro Atlanta Beekeepers' Association Honey contest and entered some honey, which won third place in the lightest class. It was sort of a whim- I only decided to enter at the last minute, and was very nervous, because the judges are extremely particular about smudges and bubbles and whatnot, and the best way to prepare is to start way ahead of time. Not only did I not do that, but I couldn't even figure out where to get the specific kind of jar that's required. So the day of, I went around grocery stores until I found honey in the right kind of jar, came home, dumped it out, cleaned the jars and poured my honey in. It was all full of bubbles and whatnot but thanks to the miracle of science (bubbles rise faster in lower viscosity, so I sat the honey in warm water to thin it a bit) it cleared up in time.

I had a great time at the shindig, because I got some truly head-turning compliments about my honey. I had no idea that light-colored honey was difficult for beginners to produce, because I sure don't think I'm particularly good at what I'm doing, but I was ridiculously pleased to be told so. I think what made the most impact on me, though, was that a frield of mine who started beekeeping at the same time as me, and bought bees from the same supplier, didn't get ANY honey this year. that blows my mind, and reinforces my opinion that bees know what they're doing, and our main job is to stay out of their way. My friend and her husband have 2 hives to my one, and they sinpect nearly every week. Now, while I do try and get out there when possible, I am both busy and still kinds scared of the bees. So I did maaaybe three inspections from the time I got my bees to the time I extracted.

So, to sum up, enormously gratified and eager to do more bee stuff now that my hope that I was doing this whole bee thing at least semi-correctly has been confirmed.

Extraction! August 2008 - PART TWO

Late July, I harvested my first honey. I could probably have added more supers, but as I hadn't anticipated how they would thrive the first year, I only had two available. I'll get more for next year. As a result, I had nearly perfect frames of honey- the bees, being crowded, filled up all the corners and edges beautifully. A community garden nearby agreed let me use their extractor, so a few days ahead of time I added a bee escape to get the bees out of the honey supers. I don't know if I was trying too soon or my bees are too smart to fall for that, but it SO did not work. 

Perhaps a note about my equipment is necessary at this point. 

Starting beekeeping can be a pricey proposition. I bought the things I had to for healthy bees, but that was all I could afford, and I generally wing it on the rest of the stuff. I have a proper veil and gloves, but my "bee suit" is long pants tucked into my shoes, covered with a rain jacket with a belt over it to keep out any strays. My uncapping tub is a plastic storage bin, and for uncapping I rest my frames on a piece of wood with a nail hammered through it. And even with all this, my bee-removal techniques took the prize for ghetto-fabulous beekeeping. I had to get to the extractor that day or else, so I removed the supers regardless of the bees still in them. I put them on my garden cart and brought them to my driveway, where I proceeded to use my leafblower to physically remove them. Yep, you heard me. Normal suburban Atlanta neighborhood, brick ranch houses, kids playing, people walking dogs... and me, in my raincoat and veil, standing in my driveway with a smoking tin can which I brandished at boxes on a cart in between bouts of revving my gas blower at them and then dancing out of the way and swearing. 

 Yep.

After all this, I wrangled them (with a supreme effort- these things are HEAVY!) into clean garbage bags, shoved them into my truck, took a shower (try wearing all that on a summer day in Atlanta; gross) and drove off to extract. That part at least was easy, if time-consuming and sticky, and was extremely satisfying, because I got to see some beautiful results. All the honey went into my plastic tub, I hosed off all the equipment, and was off again towards home. It started raining on the way back, and I thought, even better. This will buy me some time before the bees are attracted to the empty supers. When I got home, I set the empty supers on my garden cart and pulled it into my garage. I lugged the tub of honey into the house, and proceeded to become so absorbed in straining out the wax and being generally gleeful that I forgot to close my garage door. It stopped raining, and soon I wondered what the humming noise was. I opened the door from the house to the garage, and was confronted by a literal cloud of bees. After a mild panic attack and some hasty consultation with those more experienced that myself, I got back into the sweaty bee suit and put the supers out back. It was pretty scary, actually, because it was still too rainy to smoke them, and they were everywhere.  I swear half the hive was there. Happily, I was able to get them next to the hive, but not on it. I tried to get them back on but decided to wait after I learned that bees do not mind stinging through jeans. My advice would be, if you can manage it, leave bees alone in rainy weather, leave them be if conditions don't allow for smoking, and get a bee suit if you can afford it. I will be adding some running pants to my ridiculous outfit before I put the supers back on this week. Thankfully they've pretty much cleaned them out, so with any luck they'll be less interested in them while I have them picked up. And it took three days, but the bees are finally out of the garage.

The best thing is, despite the fact that this is my first year, I harvested 72 pounds of really amazing honey- and I was right, the bees have more than tripled the yields on my fruit and veggie plants. Also, I was scared to be stung, but it doesn't hurt much at all, so now I'm less nervous around them!

Bee prepared August 2008 - PART ONE

I can see that I'll be updating this page as sporadically as the chicken one. Regardless, there's a lot to report;  I'll post a link at the top to a picture gallery for reference. I got my hive area all set up in March: a largeish square in the very back of my yard, close to the stream and neither right in the sun nor in hard shade. It's in the line of sight from my kitchen window so I can check out what they're up to, although I need the bird-watching binocs if I want detail. But I put down landscape fabric with a good thick layer of mulch (I don't ever want to have to mow the grass or trim weeds right up next to the hive) and edged the square with square stones. I believe the square is large enough that if I ever add a second hive, they will both fit. I arranged to pick up my hive components, brought them home, painted them, and set them up- cinderblocks (on a slight angle forward so rainwater drains out if it should leak), base board, 2 hive bodies, inner cover, outer cover- piece of cake! 

 Then in early April, I got my bees. I ordered a nuc, which is five frames of bees with a laying queen, already equipped with comb, eggs and enough honey to work with. The seller was kind enough to deliver them directly into my hive, so I was spared the wretched experience so many people seem to have installing the bees into their first hive (check out the "first-year reminisces" section of the Metro Beekeepers site in my links list- hilarious!). My bees went straight to work building new comb and filling it up.  I am lucky enough to live in an area with an amazing beekeeping association, so when I was nervous about doing my first inspection, an experienced beekeeper was good enough to come over and walk me through it. It went very well, and I added two supers. After that I pretty much let them be, aside from watching them with utter awe :) There are a TON of them! It's a little intimidating at first, but soon you realize that as long as you're not kicking the hive or something equally as dumb, they don't care what you're up to. 

All in all, this has been a great start to the experiment.  

 The Setup January 2008 

Surprisingly, the bees take more preparation than the chickens. We started the chickens in a cardboard box in the garage, but as you might imagine, that just won't fly with bees. I started by tooling around on Google for a bit, and discovered the Georgia Beekeeper's Association website. They had quite a lot of useful information, including a list of reliable vendors for both bees and equipment. After a few phone calls, I understood that the time to reserve my bees was now! Apparently there ends up being quite a few people who want bees and can't get them, because they're all pre-ordered. I was lucky enough to find a very nice man who was willing to reserve bees for me with the understanding that I might change my mind and let them go to the next person on the waiting list. I opted for Italian bees rather than Russian (the two main types available) because, while very similar, the Italian bees are the yellow bees that are sort of my mental image of what honeybees should look like- the Russian bees are black all over. 

Next I signed up for the short course on beekeeping offered by the Metro Atlanta Beekeeers' Association at Atlanta Botanical Garden. It was extremely informative, very entertaining, and everybody was just extraordinarily nice. I am strongly considering joining the organization. Anyway, I learned enough to start with, and now understand about the necessary equipment and requirements for the bees themselves. We have a good location for a hive- low traffic, morning sun but mostly shade, lots of plants that provide pollen and nectar, and a shallow stream nearby for a water source. My next step is to prepare an area for the hive with some flagstones and landscape fabric and mulch to keep weeds and grass away from the immediate area, so that we won't ever have to use the lawnmower or weedwhacker too close to them. Apparently mid-to-late March is the best time to pick up the bees, so I'm going to try and have the hive and surrounding area ready by then.