Beekeeping Short Course – March 5th

We are presenting our annual Beginner Beekeepers short course this year on Saturday March 5th.  The details for the event are below.

Location: Collegeside Church of Christ – 252 E 9th St, Cookeville, TN 38501 in “The Gap”… enter through the East entrance.

Date/Time: Saturday March 5th 8:00am – 3:00pm CST

Cost: This class is free to anyone who is interested – no prerequisites are required other than an interest in beekeeping and the desire to learn.   No registration is required… just show up.  A $10 donation to the club – while not required – would be graciously accepted.

If you want to participate in the TN Beekeepers Association / Cookeville Beekeepers Association free hive grant drawing – to win one of 3 free beginner beekeeping kits – you must attend this class.  There is no need to pre-register – just show up ready to learn.

We’ll also be giving away several other door prizes to participants at the beginner’s short course, including a new hive-tool.

If you want to participate in the hive grant drawing please follow this link to get more information on the requirements.  The drawing will be held at the end of the short course on March 5th, and you must attend in order to enter.  All requirements must be met by that time to participate.

The short course will cover the basic subjects that a beginner needs to begin beekeeping through their entire first season.

Also later in March – weather permitting – we will begin having regular hands on sessions in our new club apiary where beginners (and anyone else) will get regular opportunities to experience beekeeping first hand.  The final schedule for apiary sessions is yet to be announced, but they will probably be weekly on Saturday mornings – depending on the weather of course. All apiary participants will be required to furnish and wear a veil at all times within the apiary area.

While beekeeping is a broad subject with lifetime learning opportunities participating in the Cookeville Beekeepers Association beginners short course and apiary sessions should greatly help to get you successfully started as a beekeeper.



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February Meeting

Just a quick reminder that our regular February meeting will be on Thursday, Feb 4 – 6:30 at Collegeside Church of Christ. Arrive early to hang out and Order Package Bees.

This will be your first chance to order package bees through Cookeville Beekeepers – 3 pound Italian packages with queens from Wilbanks for early-mid April – availability of packages for this order are very limited – First come first served. You can still reserve bees for $20, but the full price of $92 each must be paid in full no later than Saturday March 5 at the beginners short course.

If you do not want to join in our club order, bees are still available through other channels – this information is provided for your convenience.  Cookeville Beekeepers/Putnam County Beekeepers Association does not endorse any bee dealers or producers – buyer beware, you are on your own.

There are also a few people in middle Tennessee that are going to sell NUC’s

  • Jim Muff  615-519-2975 (Wilson Co.) – 5 frame deeps picked up in Lebanon TN
  • Leonard Walker 615-347-1062 (Wilson Co.) – pickup in Lebanon TN
  • David LaFerney 931-261-7211  (Putnam Co.) – 8 frame medium starter hives w VSH queens in Cyprus woodenware from Mose Zook – Picked up in Bangham (near Cookeville) around May 15.

In addition to ordering bees it’s time to renew your membership in Cookeville Beekeepers and TN Beekeepers Association – Please take care of those at the February meeting if at all possible.  Both Memberships are required for participation in the TBA Hive Grant Drawing.

See you tonight!

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Package Bees or Nucleus Hive?

a package of bees

a package of bees

This article was previously published in January 2011, but contains seasonally relevant information.

If you are new to beekeeping and have yet to get bees you are probably wondering whether you should get a package of bees or a nucleus hive (nuc) to start with – what is the difference?

A nucleus hive is a complete hive with, comb,  eggs, open brood, capped brood, newly emerged nurse bees, foraging field bees, and a mature queen who is already busy laying eggs.

A “package” contains 2-3 pounds of field bees (shaken from a lot of different production hives) and a very young queen in her own cage, which has probably laid only a few hundred eggs – enough to prove that she can.  No comb,  eggs, brood, none of that. Oh yeah, a package contains a can of syrup to keep the bees fed for a few days.  A package is very like an artificial swarm.

Cost – nucs are about twice as expensive as a package.

Queens – When you get a nuc it comes with a queen which is already a part of the hive, and is already laying eggs.  With a package you have to “install” the queen and there is always a chance that she won’t be accepted by the hive.

Comb – a nuc comes with about 5 frames of drawn comb where a package has none to start with – unless you have some to give it.  This means that a package has no where to put stores, and the queen has no where to lay.  However a package will usually draw a few frames of comb very quickly because they’ve been confined and drinking syrup.

Build up – A nuc is a complete hive and should start building population as soon as you get it.  A package has no brood yet, and the population will actually decline for about 4-6 weeks until the first eggs that are laid emerge as adults.  So a nuc has about that much of a head start on the season when compared to a package.

Honey production – If you have drawn comb to work with and get your bees early enough either a nuc or package has potential to build up and perhaps produce a honey crop.  If you don’t have comb – and as a beginner you probably don’t – then probably neither one (IMO) is going to produce excess honey in the first year – at least not in our area.  With luck either one should be able to do so in its second year.

Either a nuc or package should build up enough during it’s first year to a sufficient size to over winter and get a good start next year.  You might even be able to split during your first season and successfully go into your first winter with twice as many hives – I did.

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Beekeeping tasks this month – January


It’s January – the middle of the winter, is there anything I should be doing as a beekeeper this month?

The following list was published by Dr. John A. Skinner (Professor & Apiculture Specialist @ UT) in the Beekeeping in Tennessee publication from UT (PB 1745), and is available at the following URL:

Seasonal Management: January

• Clean, paint and repair equipment.

• Check the apiary for wind and animal damage.

• On a warm, sunny day, check the honey stores and feed, with a candy board, any colonies that have less than 15 pounds (six frames of capped honey in a shallow super or two to three frames in a deep super). Note, this is an emergency feeding to prevent starvation and not recommended for colonies with adequate stores. Do not disturb the cluster of bees. The hive can be lifted from the rear to estimate stores. On a warm, sunny day, the top can be removed to see the adult cluster size.

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Honey Bee Nucleus Colonies – Big Solutions in Small Packages

Thanksgiving weekend many of the big beekeeping suppliers will be running the best sales of the entire year – don’t wait most of them are ONLY for Thanksgiving weekend.

While you are compiling your shopping list consider ordering some nucleus hive wooden ware – if you wait until you need it next spring it is likely that another year will pass by without making any increase. So Don’t wait!

If you need convincing or the whys and hows of making nucleus hives here is an excellent publication from Oregon State University on Honey Bee Nucleus Colonies. Just keep in mind that it is written for Oregon beekeepers, but it looks to me like you can just do everything about a month earlier than the Oregon dates and you will be about right.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Why honey may be the best expression of local flavor you can find, anywhere

Submitted by Ed McSweeny,

Why honey may be the best expression of local flavor you can find, anywhere…

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When Good Bees go Bad

This article was originally posted in June 2011, but contains seasonally relevant information.

Whenever there isn’t a good flow on (like now and throughout the rest of the summer) strong honey bee hives will often rob weak hives – if it gets bad enough they will completely decimate the hive that is being robbed.

This is the best video that I could find that actually showed robbing going on. Notice 2 things 1) The robber bees are climbing up the hive to get some extra elevation before they take off – this is typical in a robbing frenzy. 2) Groups of bees wrestling on the landing board, and falling off the front in clumps – those distinguish a robbing frenzy from orientation or swarming.

To Prevent Robbing:

  • Don’t let it get started! Much easier to prevent than to correct.
  • Don’t spill syrup or nectar.
  • Don’t drop burr comb and leave it laying.
  • Don’t use entrance feeders.
  • If you feed one hive, feed them all.  A big strong hive that is hungry is highly motivated to rob – and they don’t want to break into next winters stored honey if they don’t have to.
  • Feed late in the evening – an amount small enough to be gone by morning.
  • Restrict all entrances to very small – if there is a traffic jam at the strong hive the robber bees can’t get in to unload and make another run.  If the entrance to the weak hive is small it can be effectively defended be just a few bees.  Think of one Marine blocking a doorway compared to trying to block a whole street.  Very large natural bee hives often go in and out through very small openings.
  • When you need to open hives do what you need to do and close it back up as quickly as possible.
  • Very important – make sure there is only one entrance – including that little hole in the front of the inner cover – block that off.  A hive that is being robbed has a very hard time defending the back door.
  • Don’t open feed close to your hives!  Some people have had success shutting down a robbing frenzy by open feeding 100 yards or so away – thus drawing the robbers off to easier pickings.


There will be some robbing.  It’s just what they do.  When it gets out of hand you won’t have to ask anyone if it is robbing or not – it looks violent, and chaotic.  If that happens  what has worked for me  is to suit up and thoroughly smoke  all hives that might be involved – both the criminals and the victims, and completely block up the entrances until about one half hour before dark – don’t suffocate them though. Then apply corrective actions.

Robber screens are my #1 way of preventing robbing – and I have many little bitty weak hives right next to big strong hives.

I would like to encourage anyone with tips, insights, or nasty remarks to leave a comment.

Posted in Honey Bee How to, Learn about Bee Keeping, Seasonal | 1 Comment

Time to treat for Varroa Mites

After you have harvested honey or determined that you will not be harvesting honey – it is now time (July) to treat your bees for Varroa mites.  If you have not yet obtained your treatments you need to order them right away.

For what it is worth I personally plan to use Apiguard at this time of year – because it is hot, and Apivar works better in hot weather while some other treatments become harmful at high temps.  But any of these will work if used correctly.

One word of caution – Stinky treatments like Apiguard, and Mite-away-quick-strips produce smelly fumes.  Hives need proper amounts of ventilation and must have a strong enough population to fan and ventilate the hives.  Not enough ventilation or not enough bees to fan can result in absconding (apiguard) or queen death (Miteaway) – an interuption in brood production or some brood death is not unusual or cause for alarm.

The main thing is to do something – don’t let confusion or inability to choose keep you from acting.  If you want to go the simplest/easiest route then Apivar – synthetic amatraz – is definitely the silver bullet at this time.  If you want to use naturally occuring treatments then any of the others.

Treatment free – failing to make a choice and then not applying any treatments is not the same as treatment free beekeeping.  Being a treatment free beekeeper requires proactive action, and if anything more knowledge than treating.  If you don’t know what I am referring to then you probably need to treat.

If you don’t do anything about mites there is an excellent chance that your bees will be dead by next spring.  Mites spread viruses – viruses make your hives sick – sick bees can’t feed and care for offspring in good numbers – compromised fall buildup results in weak hives with  health issues because of malnutrition and disease – weakened hives are more subject to robbing which weakens them even more while spreading mites to other hives – normal winter/late spring stress is too much for weakened hives – dead colonies are incorrectly  blamed on winter weather.

There is a fairly extensive article on all of the options for varroa mite treatments available at this link – but at this time (mid summer) the mainstream options for mite treatment are limited to…

EPA regulated naturally occurring mite treatments

  • Miteaway Quick Strips / formic acid ***– can kill mites inside of capped brood as well as phoretic mites – Only 1 treatment required.  Requires careful application with attention to temp and hive strength to avoid bee and brood mortality – can result in queen loss if miss used. Daytime Temp of 50 – 90 F specified on day of treatment, but bee/brood mortality increases with temp. $4.70 per treatment. Miteaway Instructions
  • Apilife Var / Thymol and other EO – Very safe time release delivery.  Requires 3 treatments to be effective if brood is present – Use when average daytime temps are between 59 and 69 F.  About $3.65 per treatment. Apilife Instructions
  • Apiguard / thymol ***– Safe, low bee or brood mortality – but does cause bearding and interruption of brood rearing for a few days.  Requires 2 applications at warm to high temperatures – 60 /100° F.  Requires a spacer – About $3.60 per treatment. Apiguard Instructions
  • Hop Guard / add HopGuard® II to hives at the rate of 2 insert strips per 10 frames.  Strips should be hung between frames. HopGuard® II is most effective when used during the pre-pollination period (before sealed brood), mid-summer, and at the onset of winter brood development. HopGuard® II may be applied up to 3 times per year,

 EPA regulated Synthetic mite treatments 

  • Apivar/amitraz – currently reported to be extremely effective.  One application of 2 strips required. About $6.00 per treatment. No evidence of resistance after more than 15 years – no application temp recommended (that I know of)  Apivar Instructions and Info

Please read and educate yourself to make a choice.

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Queenlessness is probably the main cause of hive death during the beekeeping season – but it doesn’t have to be.  A hive can lose its  queen for several reasons – swarming, supersedure, beekeeper error,  etc.  Any time a new queen flies out to mate there is a significant chance that she won’t make it back.

When a strong hive becomes queenless for any reason you have about 4-5 weeks to take action to save the hive, but the sooner you do something the better it will be.  This is one reason that we do inspections.

What to do when you are queenless.

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Package Bee demographics

As you are probably aware one of the disadvantages of a package (or swarm) of honey bees as compared to a nuc is that while a nuc should be growing in population from the very first day, a package actually loses population until eggs laid after it is installed begin to emerge.   Here is an estimate of how the population of a package falls and rises after installation day…

  • Day one – package installed in hive.
  • Day 23 or 24 shows lowest bee population.
  • Day 30 shows return to package initial population.
    Growth continues.
  • Day 40 shows twice initial package population.
  • Day 42 marks the point when all bees in hive are truly your bees.
  • Day 50 shows three times initial bee population.
  • Day 59 marks beginning of population stabilization as deaths offset births.

So, as you can see a package takes about a month before its population grows past the initial size – while a nuc grows from day one.

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