Best Beekeeping Practices Q & A: Howard Kerr


With this post, we’re kicking off a new series on — Best Beekeeping Practices Q & A.

We’ve decided to tap into the wisdom and experiences of some of our veteran members of the Blount County Beekeepers Association and get their recommendations for keeping bees in the East Tennessee area. These folks have been keeping bees around here for decades, and they have a lot to tell us.

This idea is the brainchild of John Neal, who formulated a basic questionnaire that several of our members were willing to fill out. We appreciate his efforts in putting this series together.

Our first interviewee is Howard Kerr.


Howard Kerr has been keeping bees in Blount County for more than three decades.

Among his many accomplishments, Howard is a former state representative and helped write many of the laws governing beekeeping in Tennessee.

Howard is known as one of the best sources of beekeeping equipment in the county, and he makes an annual trip to southern Georgia to bring back packages of bees to those who want to add to their colonies each spring.

Howard is also known for his sound, practical advice that he generously gives to all who ask. Here are some of the things that Howard told us when we put our Basic Beekeeping questions to him.

Describe the woodenware you use for your hive bodies and your honey supers (deeps, mediums, shallows, wood, plastic, etc).

2 deeps for brood chamber and 4 to 5 Illinois supers for honey.  All wood boxes and natural beeswax foundation.

Do you use screened bottom boards?  Slatted racks?

Have not yet converted to screened bottom boards but believe they are good for varroa control.  I use slatted racks only when I am putting a box with foundation directly on the bottom board.  The slatted rack encourages the bees to draw out better brood combs.  I usually have a shallow super of dark drawn comb available that I put on the bottom board then put my deep with foundation on the shallow super.  The shallow super of drawn comb does the same thing as the slatted rack as far as keeping light off the foundation plus it gives the bees some comb to start working.

How do you feed your bees? When (please provide months, not just Spring/Fall) do you feed?  What do you feed? What equipment do you use for feeding?  Do you use any supplements?

I feed cane sugar syrup in 2-gallon feeder buckets placed over the hole in the inner cover. I usually do a stimulative feeding in mid to late February depending on the weather to encourage earlier brood rearing.  I feed all new swarms when I hive them.  I feed Fumidil syrup to every colony in late August to control Nosema.  And I feed all colonies syrup if they do not have at least 60 pounds of stored honey in their brood chamber.  I do not usually use any supplements because my hives always have plenty of stored pollen.

How and when do you treat for varroa mites, nosema, tracheal mites, and hive beetles?  Are there any other practices you use to minimize these pests/diseases?

I use formic acid pads for varroa and tracheal control.  Fumidil in August for Nosema control.  I have not had any problem with hive beetles but do have some traps if needed. Beetles are not a problem in strong hives.

What method(s) do you use to minimize swarming (hive body reversal, checkerboarding, etc)?

The most effective method for swarm control is annual re-queening.  But If I do not get all hives re-queened I do reverse hive bodies in spring being careful not to split the brood pattern in some way that causes lots of brood to be chilled.  And it is very important to super early with 3 or 4 supers of drawn honey supers – I try to get my Illinois honey supers on by 1 April.  That extra room reduces crowding in the brood area and gives them room to store any early nectar flow.  And finally I check the brood frames in April.  If I see any loaded swarm cells I artificially swarm the hive.  And in spite of all these efforts I do occasionally have a swarm from my hives.

When do you put honey supers on?  How many do you put on at a time?

I put 3 or 4 Illinois supers of drawn comb on each over-wintered hive by 1 April.  Then I add more supers as needed and place the new supers on top of the lowest full honey super.

When do you harvest your honey?

If I plan to take bees to the mountains for sourwood honey I must remove the early honey crop by the 3rd week of June and move the bees by 1 July.  If I do not go for sourwood I wait until July to harvest the honey.  If I do go for sourwood I try to harvest the sourwood honey in early August

How do you build up brood in the Spring for a colony that has overwintered?

Stimulative feeding in February and March.

Do you requeen?  How often?  Where do you get your queens?

I try to requeen every fall.  If I do not get to requeen in fall I try to do so in spring.  I usually buy queens from established breeders (like Rossman and Wilbanks) but do try some new sources each year.  I avoid queens from Texas and Florida because of the Africanized bees in those areas.

If there are other practices/methods you would like to discuss, please include these so we can add those to the database.

I use Bee-go on fume boards for honey removal supplemented by a leaf blower.  That is fast and easy on the bees.

I always use a dehumidifier to maintain low moisture levels in my honey (less than 17.5%) while I am extracting to be sure the honey won’t ferment in storage.

And I must extract quickly and get the supers back on the bees to prevent damage from hive beetles that do get into the honey house.

I leave my drawn comb honey supers on the bees until I do my fall treatments.  Then I move them into the unheated storage building and use paradichlorobenzene crystals to protect against wax moth damage.  The crystals must be kept on until freezing weather when the wax moths are not a problem.  I also put queen excluders on the stacks of supers to keep mice from damaging the combs during winter.

4 thoughts on “Best Beekeeping Practices Q & A: Howard Kerr

  1. Thanks, a very interesting post. I have been given advice that PDB crystals should not be used to protect against wax moths as the substance can accumulate in wax, has Howard had any problems with this before?

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