You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Essays on beekeeping’ category.

Jim Tew’s presentations to the Blount County Beekeepers Association meeting on Monday provoked my thinking about the responsibilities we take on when we call ourselves beekeepers.

So just what are those responsibilities?

A honeybee on a buckwheat bloom

A honeybee on a buckwheat bloom

To my mind, there are three:

Providing a home for the bees . . .

. . . as long as they will accept it. We should do everything possible to help them do what they are built to do. We should do it as gently and as naturally as possible. One of the main things we can do is provide them with an immediate environment that is clean and abundant with healthy sources of nutrition and material for hive building.


Learning all we can . . .

. . . about these fascinating creatures. We have placed the label on bees of “superorganism,” and indeed that’s what a bee is. We have begun to unlock a few of their secrets, but as Jim Tew pointed out on Monday, there are many things we do not know. Bees have been around for millions of years. They have survived pests, climate changes and even human interventions. Honeybees have built social systems that are complex and adaptable. How have these little creatures done all that? As beekeepers, we should continue to seek answers and support those who do.


Advocating for bees . . .

. . . and other pollinators. Today’s environment is difficult for them, and we should be doing everything we can to serve them just as they serve us.

Even is someone is not committed to the first of these responsibilities — providing a home for the bees — that person can be a beekeeper in a true sense by undertaking the second and third.


Key words: Jim Tew, Blount County Beekeepers Association, responsibilities of beekeepers, beekeeping, advocating for bees, superorganism, pollinators, difficult environment for bees


If you want to dig into a beekeeping subject with some depth and with people from around the globe, try

It’s an online bulletin board where thousands of people go to contribute, discuss, learn and even argue (though always civilly).

After writing about buckwheat on this site (HERE and HERE), I posted something about growing buckwheat for the bees on a couple of weeks ago, and here are some of the replies:

I plant an acre of buckwheat every year, once it comes up it will bloom in 26 days. I can get 3 blooms a year from one planting by running over it with a disc after it goes to seed. The bees will work it in the mourning up till 11:00am and after that you won’t see a bee on it. Like now in my area there is a dearth on and buckwheat, vitex, moon flowers,and some dutch clover is the only things that i’m aware of that they have to work, the sumac flow is over in my area.


Here’s a quick video I did on my buckwheat:…DATt5CampP4RtA

Mine aren’t working it too hard yet, but I’m thinking they might once it stops raining.


Read the rest of this entry »

Michael Bush, author of The Practical Beekeeper, and strong advocate of non-chemical beekeeping (and someone we have quoted here before), says there is a single solution to almost all queen problems in a hive:

The Practical Beekeeper by Michael Bush

The Practical Beekeeper by Michael Bush

There are few solutions as universal in their application and their success than adding a frame of open brood and eggs every week for three weeks. It is a virtual panacea for any queen issues. It gives the bees the pheromones to suppress laying workers. It gives them more workers coming in during a period where there is no laying queen. It does not interfere if there is a virgin queen. It gives them the resources to rear a queen. It is virtually foolproof and does not require finding a queen or seeing eggs. If you have any issue with queenrightness, no brood, worried that there is no queen, this is the simple solution that requires no worrying, no waiting, no hoping. You just give them what they need to resolve the situation. If you have any doubts about the queenrightness of a hive, give them some open brood and eggs and sleep well. Repeat once a week for two more weeks if you still aren’t sure. By then things will be fine.

If you are afraid of transferring the queen from the queenright hive, because you are not good at finding queens, then shake or brush all the bees off before you give it to them.

If you are concerned about taking eggs from another new package or small colony, keep in mind that bees have little invested in eggs and the queen can lay far more eggs than a small colony can warm, feed and raise. Taking a frame of eggs from a small struggling new hive and swapping it for an empty comb or any drawn comb will have little impact on the donor colony and may save the recipient if they are indeed queenless. If the recipient didn’t need a queen it will fill in the gap while the new queen gets mated and not interfere with things. (quoted material)

In other words, let the bees take care of it.

Good advice.


Key words: Michael Bush,, queens, beehives, queen problems with hives, panacea for queen problems, queenrightness, virgin queen, queenless hives

Providing our bees with abundant, natural nutrition is by far the most important task of the beekeeper — far more important than hive inspections, equipment, medications, or any of the other things we spend a lot of time with.

This table, developed by Keith Delaplane and his assistants, shows a near year-round chart of plants that provide bees with pollen and nectar. You should look at the chart (click on it to take you to the full chart), see what grows in your area and encourage that growth.

This table, developed by Keith Delaplane and his assistants, shows a near year-round chart of plants that provide bees with pollen and nectar. You should look at the chart (click on it to take you to the full chart), see what grows in your area and encourage that growth.

What if we could provide that natural nutrition all year long — or 10 months out of 12?

Keith Delaplane, bee scientist at the University of Georgia, has put together a chart of plants that bloom from January to October in our part of the country that give bees the nectar and pollen they forage for. It’s worth a look. (Click on the image to the right to go there.)

It is important for bees, especially bumble bees, to have an unbroken succession of bloom all summer to build up their local populations. If you want to encourage bee populations, grow or encourage plants from this list so that bloom is more-or-less continuous on your property. (quoted)

The chart is revealing because it lists some things we might not think about. Henbit, for instance, comes up in abundance around where we live as early as late February. By March, the ground is covered with its purple flowers. Many people see henbit as a nuisance, but the bees — with nothing else to feed on — are all over it whenever it’s warm enough to fly outside the hive. If you look closely, you’ll see them packing up their pollen sacks with pollen from the henbit and carrying it back to the hive.

Read the rest of this entry »

Late summer is a tough time for bees.

A lot of their honey is gone (because we’ve taken it), and there isn’t much to feed on. One of the solutions to this dilemma is buckwheat, a subject that we wrote about just a couple of weeks ago.

A good amount of buckwheat is now in bloom in our garden (early August), and more is on the way, so last Saturday I got out there with a video camera and shot this short (1:11) clip of the bees working the buckwheat blooms. The bees weren’t at all shy.



They will make some good honey out of this that we will leave on the hives to see them through the winter.


Additional note

Doug Hardwick's patch of buckwheat.

Doug Hardwick’s patch of buckwheat.

Doug Hardwick planted some buckwheat in a small spot near his beehives on Saturday. He watered the patch thoroughly. By yesterday (Wednesday) he had this:



Key words: late summer feeding for bees, buckwheat, buckwheat blooms, video of bees on buckwheat, honey,

Almost all of the Sacred Texts and Tribal Elders of Modern Beekeeping will give you this straightforward piece of advice:

You must re-queen at least every two years to keep up the honey production.

Seems pretty simple, doesn’t it?

But let’s think about it in a different way for a moment. There are some very good reasons NOT to re-queen.

It’s time-consuming.

A beekeeper friend of mine says that finding a queen in a hive is the “most aggrevatin’-est thing” involved with beekeeping. Some people can spot the queen right off. Not me. I have spent hours trying to find a queen even in a moderately populated hive.

It’s expensive.

This year a new queen will cost you nearly $25. Most beekeepers I know are generous with their time and knowledge but pretty tight with their wallets. And as the price of queens has risen, the quality of imported queens seems to have decreased. There have been lots of complaints in our local association about queens during the last couple of years.

It’s disruptive.

Yes, you have to take the hive apart to get to the queen. But there’s more. Think about what it does to the colony to have to orient itself to a new queen. This may not be a real problem for the bees, but the fact is that we don’t really know one way or another. Common sense says there is some disruption and that disruption has a cost.

It may not work.

A hive may not like a new queen, even if you have destroyed the old one. One veteran beekeeper told me that, in his experience, about 30 percent of the queen doesn’t take.

It may not be necessary.

Generally, it is thought, queens run out of steam after about two years, but that isn’t always the case. Some queens go on for longer. Or, you may have a new queen in the hive and just now realize it because you didn’t see the swarm or didn’t know they had already replaced the queen.

Read the rest of this entry »


Bees will be on buckwheat during the morning nectar flow. Here a bee is sharing the buckwheat patch with a butterfly.

During these late summer months in East Tennessee, we typically think there is not much available for the bees as far as sources of nectar and pollen.

That doesn’t have to be the case.

If you have any kind of a garden (or just an open area), buckwheat can provide great benefits for your bees and your soil. Buckwheat can be sown at any time during warm weather. Ideally, it takes three to four weeks to come up (sometimes longer, depending on the weather), and produces a small white flower that the bees love.

When the blooms die back after a couple of weeks, the buckwheat will re-seed itself and if there is enough warm weather and rain, it will come back. These cycles will continue until the first frost.

The bees make honey off of the nectar from the  buckwheat flower. This is honey that you can harvest or that you can leave on the hive to reduce the necessity of winter feeding.

The best results for an initial stand of buckwheat are to clear the soil, sow the seed and then do a light till. If possible, do all this before a good rain.

Your buckwheat will likely attract a legion of butterflies.

Your buckwheat will likely attract a legion of butterflies.

Buckwheat has a morning nectar flow, and that’s when you will see bees working it. They don’t work it in the afternoon.

Besides being good for bees, buck-wheat is good for the soil. It prevents weeds, supports beneficial insects and returns a lot of nitrogen to the ground. So, if you have a patch of garden or land and want to do something for your bees, plant some buckwheat.


The butterfly is another pollinator that loves buckwheat, so when they show up, have your camera ready.

Key words: buckwheat, garden, bees and buckwheat, re-seeding buckwheat, growing buckwheat, source of nectar for bees, butterflies and buckwheat

Does this scenario sound familiar:

You extract your honey, and you put your wet supers on top of the hives to let the bees clean them off. Once they’re finished — and they do their usual beautiful job of getting the honey and straightening the comb — you go back in and take those supers off. You put the moth crystals on the boxes, wrap them up, and Presto! You have reduced you hives for the year. The bees are happy. You’re happy. All is well.

But think again. Have you really done the best thing for your bees? Read the rest of this entry »

The Blount County Beekeepers Association, in a variety of ways, encourages people to get interested in beekeeping and, if possible, set up hives.

We concentrate a lot on the how and why of setting up a hive, but we don’t talk enough about the where. Locating a hive in the right place can make a big difference to the long-term life of the colony.

Locating a hive is one of the most important decisions a beekeeper will make.

Locating a hive is one of the most important decisions a beekeeper will make.

Most people believe — and some research has shown — that the best place for a hive is in full sun, not in the shade. Hives can survive in the shade, of course, but full sun has been associated with a lower Varroa mite population. So if you have a choice, choose full sun.

More importantly, hives should be close to a lot of sources of nectar and pollen, so the bees can have plenty to eat.

We beekeepers like to brag that bees can fly up to fives miles from the hive to forage for their food. But if your bees are flying that far, their hives are in the wrong place.

Try to put the hives close to where there is plenty of clover, flowering vegetables, corn (they get pollen from the tops of corn plants), wild flowers and other vegetation that the bees can use. The shorter distance the foragers have to fly, the more trips they can take between the sources of food and the hive. Also, there is less chance that they will be killed by predators or that they will come into contact with bees from other hives (and thus become contaminated with another hive’s problems).

Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota and one of the leading honeybee experts in the country has written:

The most essential beekeeping practice is to make sure all colonies have large pollen and nectar stores at all times.

So, be a good beekeeper and put your bees in a good place.

Michael Bush, a beekeeper in Nebraska, thinks we should change our attitudes and our practices about beekeeping.

He has written a number of books including The Practical Beekeeper: Beekeeping Naturally. He has also put together many of his thoughts into a website that you can find at this address:

Bush thinks that many beekeepers are so focused on treating bees against pests – and doing it in one particularly way – that they have lost sight of what might be some viable alternatives.

What he says can sometimes go against the grain of what we have been taught:

“The only way to have a sustainable system of beekeeping is to stop treating. Treating is a death spiral that is now collapsing. To leverage this, though you really need to raise your own queens from local surviving bees. Only then can you get bees who genetically can survive and parasites that are in tune with their host. As long as we treat we get weaker bees who can only survive if we treat, and stronger parasites who can only survive if they breed fast enough to keep up with our treatments. No stable relationship can develop until we stop treating.”

There’s more at the site.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 270 other followers

Blount County Beekeepers Association

Join us

If you’re interested in joining the Blount County Beekeepers Association, call

Dale Hinkle
423-261- 5234


Kathy Flaherty
203-314- 0270


Welcome to the web site of the Blount County Beekeepers Association in Maryville, Tennessee.

This site will tell you a little about the association and how to become a member. It will also tell you a little about beekeeping.

Bees are an important part of our environment and particularly our agricultural system. They are also fascinating creatures.

We hope you will be interested enough to join us at some point, even if you're not interested in keeping bees. There are lots of ways you can join in with what we do.

Follow us on Twitter at @blountbees.

Schedule of BCBA meetings for 2019

The Blount County Beekeepers Association meets on the second Monday of every month, except for September and December, at 6:30 p.m. at the Maryville Church of Christ, 611 Sherwood Drive in Maryville.

All of the meetings are open to the public, and anyone interested in learning more about beekeeping is welcome and encouraged to attend.

The following is the schedule of meetings and activities for 2018:

January 14 – regular meeting

February 11 – regular meeting

February 16 – BCBA short course for new beekeepers

TBA– New Beekeepers class

March 11 – regular meeting

March 17 -Wooden Ware class

April 8 – regular meeting

April  27-Field Day for new beekeepers

May 13 – regular meeting

June 10 – regular meeting

July 8 – regular meeting

August 12 – regular meeting

October 14 – regular meeting

November 11 – regular meeting

December 9 – Christmas dinner

%d bloggers like this: