Posted in news

BCBA meeting June 8 to discuss extracting and marketing honey

Getting your honey of the hive — how does that happen?

And then what do you do with all that golden stuff​?

Those will be the questions we will be tackling at the next meeting of the Blount County Beekeepers Association. One of our members, Coley O’Dell, will talk about harvesting and marketing honey, and another member, John Gee, will give us a demonstration on extracting honey.

Dennis Barry will be presenting the seasonal management discussion.

The meeting will be Monday, June 8, at 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. at the Blount County Library.

If you have questions about what your bees are doing this time of year, this next BCBA meeting would be a great place to get some answers.

As always, our meetings are free and open to the public. Invite a friend to come along with you.

Even if the friend isn’t interested in becoming a beekeeper, we always have lively, friendly discussions about what we should be doing with our bees.

And, if you aren’t doing this already, you should check out on a regular basis. Better yet, you should go to the site and sign up for an email subscription (free, of course). You will get an email every time we post something new to the site.

Posted in beekeeping, Essays on beekeeping

Winter for the beekeeper: It’s time to think about spring, summer

With winter approaching (in some places it’s already here), the beekeeper has two jobs:

  • Make sure the bees in your hives have plenty of food.
  • Think about about what’s going to happen in your apiary in the spring and summer.
Spring is the season the beekeeper should be planning for now.
Spring is the season the beekeeper should be planning for now.

Neither of these jobs involves a lot of work at this point, but they shouldn’t be neglected. The main characteristic of good beekeepers is that they think ahead — one or two seasons ahead.

Now is the time think about your bees, the equipment you have and the general environment that will confront the bees when they start flying in the spring.

Will you need to order packages of bees or nucs to rebuild your apiary in the spring? That, of course, depends on how many of your hives make it through the winter. We don’t know what will happen in that regard at the moment, unless you have already experienced losses.

What we do know is that in Tennessee the winter losses for beekeepers have been about 30 percent during the past few winters. The smart thing then is to plan for that kind of loss and hope it doesn’t happen. Now is the time to get in touch with the folks who supply you with bees and see what their availability will be. Most of those people are starting a list now, and your name should be on it.

We’ll have more to say later about equipment and environment.

Right now, you should plan for some losses and think about how you will replenish your apiary.

Related articles

Beekeeping involves year-around planning, BCBA told

Key words: bees, beehives, beekeeping, bee equipment, ordering bees, packages of bees, beehive nucs, winter losses for beehives

Posted in news

BCBA to hold annual Christmas party on Dec. 8

The annual Blount County Beekeepers Association Christmas Party will be on Dec. 8 at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on Sandy Springs Road. The time is 6:30 p.m.

We have special entertainment planned for this year: Off Kilter, a musical ensemble from Maryville College. This group gets rave reviews wherever it performs, and the students should provide us with a lot of fun.

The cost of the dinner is $12.50 per person. Checks should be given to our treasurer Bernie McGraw at the November meeting. If you can’t make it to the meeting, you can mail your check to Bernie at

Bernie McGraw
1220 Havenwood Drive
Maryville, TN 37804

Off Kilter is a performing group of Maryville College students who sing a variety of songs and styles. They perform under the direction of Coordinator of Choral Music Stacey Wilner.

If you want a pre-party taste of what they do, here are a couple of YouTube videos:



Key words: Blount County Beekeepers Association, Christmas Party, bees, beekeeping, Off Kilter, Maryville College, Stacey Wilner

Posted in beekeeping, news

Bittman’s rules for eating – there are only two

Bittman’s at it again.

Mark Bittman, a food writer for the New York Times, wants to change the way you eat. He wants to change the entire food system, too. The way we produce, distribute and consume food.

But that’s impossible, so he’s having to content himself with telling us how we should eat, what we should eat, and how we should think about food.

(Typical, isn’t it, of those liberal know-it-alls who produce and read the New York Times.)

The thing is, I agree with him.

He’s put out another column saying he had only — ONLY — two rules for us to follow (maybe three):

1. Stop eating junk and hyperprocessed food. This eliminates probably 80 percent of the stuff that is being sold as “food.”

2. Eat more plants than you did yesterday, or last year.

If you add “Cook your own food” to this list, it’s even more powerful, but these two steps alone allow you to reduce the amount of antibiotics you’re consuming; pretty much eliminate GMOs from your diet, lighten your carbon footprint; reduce your chances of becoming ill as a result of your diet; save money; cut way back on sugar, other junk and unnecessary and potentially harmful nonfood additives; and so on. (quoted material)

Bittman makes some point points in his column that are well worth reading.

So what does this have to do with beekeeping?

Well, just about everything. Bees are central to our food system. And that system is abusing them terribly. We truck them across the country to pollinate crops that are grown in places that cannot sustain bees. Then we truck them home.

So, who would argue that our system of food production doesn’t need changing?

Bittman is showing us a way to start.

Related articles:

Marla Spivak on why we are in a honeybee crisis

Changing the food system, one mouth at a time

Key words: Mark Bittman, New York Times, food system, junk food, beekeeping, honeybees, pollination, food production, rules for diet, liberal know-it-alls who produce and read the New York Times,


Posted in beekeeping, Essays on beekeeping

Casting swarms – it’s what bees do

What is the purpose of a colony of bees?

Pollination? Wrong.

A swarm of bees marches into its new home after being dropped from a tree.
A swarm of bees marches into its new home after being dropped from a tree.

Bees do this by accident. They don’t realize how much they’re helping humans and wouldn’t care if they did.

Making honey? Wrong.

Bees make honey because this is a stable food source. The fact that humans like honey is again irrelevant to the bees.

Bees are like any other wild animal. They exist for two reasons: to survive and to reproduce.

Except that, in the case of honeybees, most of them don’t reproduce. They are part of a colony, and the colony tries to survive and to reproduce.

Which brings us to “casting swarms.”

I don’t recall ever coming across that term until veteran beekeeper Jim Tew used it in a presentation to the Blount County Beekeepers Association meeting in August. Jim said then that bees will try to survive until they can find a suitable place to live — a good hollow tree or something like that — and “cast a few swarms.”

The term popped up again when I was reading Thomas Seeley’s Honeybee Democracy, a fascinating book that is built around Seeley’s decades of study of swarming behavior.

In upstate New York, where I live, my colonies begin sending forth their drones in late April, and they begin casting their swarms . . . a week or two later in early May. (p. 35)

* * * 

An enduring mystery about honeybees is what exactly stimulates a colony to begin rearing queens and thereby initiate the process of swarming. Beekeepers know that certain conditions inside a colony’s hive (congestion of the adult bees, numerous immature bees, and expanding food reserves) and outside the hive (plentiful forage and spring time) are correlated with the start of queen rearing for swarming. Nevertheless, to this day, no one knows what specific stimuli the worker bees are sensing and integrating when they make the critical decision to start the swarming process. (p. 36) (quoted material)

Swarming is what bees do. It’s one of their basic purposes. As good beekeepers, we should let them do it.

Related articles

Jim Tew describes the inside of a feral beehive

Tew: the natural hive is not a ‘permanent’ home for bees

A different view of swarms


Key words: bees, beekeeping, casting swarms, pollination, Thomas Seeley, Honeybee Democracy, swarming, honey


Posted in beekeeping, Essays on beekeeping

Bee boxes: one size can fit all

When I was exploring getting into beekeeping, I was standing in the barn of a friend who had kept bees for more than 30 years. The barn was full of “bee equipment,” and my friend was trying to explain some of it to me.

I remember one thing he said.

“If I had to start all over again, I would use only mediums.”

Beehives build with just one size of bee boxes.
Beehives build with just one size of bee boxes.

What he meant, of course, was medium-sized boxes, or Illinois supers. What he said — even though I did not completely understand it at the time — made sense to me, and it translates into a larger principle: the simpler the better.

As most beekeepers know, there are three sizes of bee boxes for the hive: deeps, mediums, and smalls. Each size has its uses, and some beekeepers use all three.

The argument for using deep boxes is that they are for brood (sometimes they are called “brood boxes”), and beekeepers say these boxes allow the queen to develop a good brood pattern. The small boxes weigh less, particularly when they are filled with honey, and if you are harvesting honey by the box, that’s what you should placing on top of your hives.

For my money, the medium is the one-size-that-fits-all box. Medium boxes allow the queen sufficient room to develop a brood pattern. They can get heavy if they are filled with honey, but removing a frame or two can lighten them quickly if that’s a consideration.

If you use only one size of box, you never have to worry about having the wrong size of frames for the boxes you have. That becomes a huge consideration when you are changing boxes and frames at any time of the year.

The arguments for using only one size of box seem to me to far outweigh the arguments for using three sizes.

Besides, I’m pretty certain the bees don’t really care.


Key words: beekeeping, beehives, bees, bee boxes, supers, Illinois supers, brood boxes, small bee boxes, brood patterns, harvesting honey, simplicity in beekeeping


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The joys of crimson clover, part 1

A paneca for hives with queen problems

Key question for beehive location: Any good restaurants around here?

Posted in beekeeping, news

October BCBA meeting to feature auction for scholarships, grants

The annual auction will be the main event for the October meeting of the Blount County Beekeepers Association.

The meeting, which will be on Monday, October 13, at 6:30 p.m. in the Blount County Library.

The money from the auction goes to support the grants the BCBA gives to those who want to begin beekeeping or who have good ideas for promoting beekeeping in this area of East Tennessee.

In years past members have been generous in donating items for the auction, and we are looking forward to the same for this year. Items do not necessarily have to be bee-related, but they should be new or in very good shape. We are also likely to have items donated from a number of bee suppliers.

So, bring what you have, and then get ready to bid on what you want. It’s always a fun time for everyone.

If you have questions about what your bees are doing this time of year, the next BCBA meeting would be a great place to get some answers.

As always, our meetings are free and open to the public. Invite a friend to come along with you. Even if the friend isn’t interested in becoming a beekeeper, we always have lively, friendly discussions about what we should be doing with our bees.


Related articles

About the Blount County Beekeepers Association

BCBA members show off beekeeping, honey at Blue Ribbon Country Fair

BCBA’s booth at the Maryville’s Farmers Market, August 0214

Posted in beekeeping

The joys of buckwheat, part 4: What Langstroth had to say

Lorenzo Langstroth, father of modern beekeeping, recognized the value of buckwheat to his honeybees.

Buckwheat furnishes an excellent Fall feed for bees.

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 10.50.02 AMAs those of you who follow this blog regularly will know, I am a huge advocate of growing buckwheat to supplement the natural diet for honeybees. (See the previous posts: here, here, and here.)

Father Langstroth was, too.

In his book, A Practical Treatise on the Hive and  Honey-bee, published in 1857, here’s what Langstroth had to say about buckwheat:

Buckwheat furnishes an excellent Fall feed for bees; and often enables them to fill their hives with a generous supply against Winter, The honey being gathered either in the early part of the day, or when the atmosphere is moist, is often quite thin; the bees sweat out a large portion of its moisture, but still they do not exhaust the whole, and in wet seasons, it is somewhat liable to sour in the cells- Honey gathered in a dry season, is always thicker, and of course more valuable than that gathered in a wet one, as it contains much less water. Buckwheat is uncertain in its honey-bearing qualities; in some seasons, it yields next to none, and hardly a bee will be seen upon a large field, while in others, it furnishes an extraordinary supply* The most practical and scientific agriculturists agree that so far from being an impoverishing crop, it is on many soils, one of the most profitable that can be raised. Every bee-keeper should have, some in the vicinity of his hives.

The following facts respecting the cultivation of buckwheat, were communicated to me by Mr. A. Wells, of Greenfield, Mass. He had a piece of land so exhausted by successive crops of corn and rye, that it would produce nothing but buckwheat, which he cultivated upon it for twelve or thirteen successive years. At the end of this time the land had recovered sufficiently to produce good corn! Each year, the weeds and self-sown buckwheat, which grew upon it, were plowed under, in seeding for the new crop, and the result proves, how erroneous are the common notions respecting the exhausting effects on the land, of this grain.

Dzierzon says: “In the stubble of winter grain, buckwheat might be sown, whereby ample forage would be secured, to the beesr late in the season, and a remunerating crop of grain garnered besides . This plant, growing so rapidly and maturing so soon, so productive in favorable seasons, and so well adapted to cleanse the land, certainly deserves more attention from farmers than it receives; and its more frequent and general culture would greatly enhance the profits of bee-keeping. Its long continued and frequently renewed blossoms, yield honey so abundantly, that a populous colony may easily collect fifty pounds in two weeks if the weather is favorable.”

Key words: Lorenzo Langstroth, buckwheat, honey, bees, beekeeping, A Practical Treatise on the Hive and Honey-bee

Posted in beekeeping

Italian bees don’t necessarily come from Italy

This will be amusing to those who know something about beekeeping.

The Washington Post has published a photo essay under the headline: How Italian honeybees in Main are helping to sustain our food supply.

The photos are very good. They were shot by  Andrees Latif of Reuters. The story’s editor at the Post is Nicole Crowder, editor for the Washington Post’s photography blog, In Sight. The story says:

In the summer, photographer Andrees Latif followed beekeepers who have been trekking large crates of Italian honeybees across the country from one farm to another in the effort to pollinate crops. (quoted)

Italian honeybees, of course, don’t come from Italy. That’s just their name. Somebody — the photographer or the editor — got it wrong and leaves readers with the impression that we’re bringing over bees from Italy to help us solve our food problems.

Several commenters on the story pointed this out, and one of them (identified as “beezations”) took the opportunity to go on this anti-commercial beekeeping rant:

This is terribly misleading. Italian honeybees are nothing new, but many of us backyard beekeepers have learned the hard way that they tend not to be as hardy in northern climates as the Russian and Carniolan bees.  
But that’s beside the point here. The practices described here are utterly unsustainable and these commercial beekeepers are a large part of the problem. Small farms traditionally included local hives to pollinate their crops, which also tended to be far more diverse. (Think of the wide range of vegetables that show up at your farmer’s market) Commercial beekeepers load hives on pallets, truck them under a plastic wrap in all weather conditions, drop them in the middle of monocultures — the almond groves of Central Valley in CA is responsible year after year for killing more than 75-percent of the commercial hives that are brought there — where they’re fed corn syrup with a ph that wreaks havoc on their guts. The die-offs are astronomical. You’re just seeing the same people import more bees so they can continue the same unsustainable practices. (quoted)

Well, anyway, take a look at the pictures. They’re very nice.

Key words: Washington Post, Andrees Latif, Nicole Crowder, Italian honeybees, beezations, beekeeping, commercial beekeeping, beekeeping in Maine, photos of beekeepers

Posted in beekeeping, news

BCBA members show off bees during Blount Farm Tour

More than 850 Blount County students and teachers saw first-hand what beekeeping is like during the Blount Farm Tour earlier this month.

That exposure to bees came through the efforts of Blount County Beekeepers Association members Harlen Breeden, Pat Breeden, Darlene Parton and Charlie Parton. They were helped by UT grad student Heather Lowry, who is an assistant to Dr. John Skinner.

Below are pictures, courtesy of Harlen:




IMG_0650 IMG_0651 IMG_0652


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