Abigail’s Honey Bee 4-H Presentation

In March, I gave a report to share with my 4-H group. This is an edited version of my report.

Honey bees are insects. Honey bees have many features. Honey bees have six legs. The legs are attached to the thorax. Honey bees have five eyes. Two of the eyes are compound and three are simple. Honey bees have four wings. The wings are also attached to the thorax. When in flight, the wings hook together to create simultaneous motion. Because a honey bee is an insect it has three body parts, head, thorax, and abdomen. The honey bee has two antennae. They use the antennae to touch, smell, taste, and even hear. Honey bees use their antennae largely to smell. Honey bees also have two stomachs. One is for digesting food the other is to store nectar and is called a honey stomach. The honey stomach is not only a storage center for nectar, but also the nectar begins dehydration here. In order for the nectar to become honey the nectar has to be dehydrated. Honey bees have one stinger and proboscis. Honey bees only sting in self-defense and to protect their hive. The proboscis is like a straw. A honey bee uses it to slurp up nectar.

Honey bees live in groups called colonies. In a colony, there is one queen. The queen is a female bee. It takes her sixteen days to be completely mature. She is raised on a protein rich substance called royal jelly. Shortly after she emerges, she takes a mating flight. A mating flight is a trip a newly hatched queen takes to mate with drones. After her mating flight, all she does is lay eggs. A good queen can lay about 2,000 eggs a day. The queen does not eat or clean herself. Worker bees, specifically called attendant bees, clean and feed the queen. Workers are also female bees. The workers do all the work around the hive. They clean, nurse the brood, feed the queen and drones, clean the queen and drones, defend the hive, and collect and store pollen and nectar. Drones are the only male bees in a colony. They cannot feed or clean themselves. Drones exist solely to mate with virgin queens. After drones mate with a queen, they die. If any drones make it to winter they are forced out of the colony by the workers.

All honey bees start out as eggs. Eggs look like grains of rice. After three days a bee hatches out of its egg and it is a larvae. Larvae look like milky crescents. Workers and queens are capped on day nine and drones are capped at day eleven. Capped brood is cells that have wax over them. The wax is usually a yellow color. Drone brood sticks out more from the frame than worker brood. Finally, at the end of sixteen days (queen), twenty-one days (worker), or twenty-four days (drones) the bee emerges as an adult.

Here I am reading my report.


Here I am showing the hive and its parts.


I also showed my fellow 4-H-ers how a beekeeper inspects their hives.


Around the winter solstice, the queen starts laying eggs. During the summer, colonies start reproducing by swarming. In preparation for a swarm, the worker bees start raising queens. When the queens are capped, the old queen takes half of the population and leaves to find a new place to start a colony. When a new queen in the mother hive emerges, she goes throughout the hive and kills all the other potential queens. Sometimes a colony will swarm more than once. In this case the first daughter to emerge takes half of the remaining bees and leaves the colony. After the swarming season, the bees build up their honey and pollen stores in preparation for winter. The workers kick all the drones out of the hive in late fall. Then the remaining bees cluster up in the middle of the hive and the queen stops laying eggs. As the winter progresses, the bees move around the hive eating their stores as they go. To keep warm bees shiver. They rotate the bees on the inside and the outside of the cluster. The queen is always on the inside so that she is easy to keep warm. Around winter solstice, the queen starts laying eggs again in preparation for spring.

There are many reasons and ways to get started in beekeeping. One may get started because they want to help the honey bees. Both honey bees and native bees have been disappearing in the past few years. Many believe they are disappearing due to chemicals including: fungicides, pesticides, other plants meant to keep weeds and pests at bay, and the varroa mites. Varroa mites are parasitic bugs that attach themselves to bees and make the bees more susceptible to diseases. Others may get started because they want the products of the hive such as the honey and beeswax. Some may want bees for the pollination benefits they give and what they do for the environment. Some may even start a business from beekeeping. Although, it is really hard to make money off of beekeeping because the investment is so large.

There are a couple ways to get started in beekeeping. One way is to apply for the Iowa Honey Producers Association’s Youth Scholarship Program. You must be between the ages of 13 and 17 by November 1st of the current year, you must be enrolled in school, complete all the paperwork, submit the paperwork by September 30th of the current year, and be new to beekeeping with no immediate beekeeping family members. Recipients of the scholarship receive a beginner hive set up, hive tool, smoker, hooded jacket with an attached veil, gloves, free classes and a mentor for a year. I applied for the IHPA Youth Scholarship Program and was a recipient. So far I have attended most of the classes, built my equipment, and have even ordered my bees. I am keeping a record of my first year beekeeping on my blog Dassel Acres. Another way to start beekeeping is buying all the supplies yourself. For one hive, all the basic supplies and a package of bees would cost almost five hundred dollars. If you are going into beekeeping you need to know that beekeeping is an expensive hobby. All experienced beekeepers suggest buying two hives initially because you will be able to compare your hives to each other and will be able to share brood and resources between the hives.

If you do not want to be a beekeeper there are still things you can do to help the honey bees. One of the most important things you can do to help honey bees and native bees, is to reduce your pesticide usage. You can do this by not spraying your lawn at all, using pesticides nontoxic to bees, spraying between dusk and dawn (when bees are not active), and by not spraying dandelions. Not spraying dandelions is important because dandelions are the bee’s first food. If all the dandelions disappear, the bees will have a harder time finding food in the spring and more colonies will die off. Another way to help the bees is to plant pollinator friendly gardens. They best way to do this is to plant the flowers in your yard so that one type of flower is constantly in bloom. Having pollinator friendly flowers in bloom from April to October will insure that bees will have plenty of food while they are active. Because honey bees foraging range is up to five miles, you can support bees that live near by or far away. Finally, supporting your local beekeepers will always help the honey bees because beekeepers are helping the honey bees. You can support local beekeepers by buying honey and honey related products from them.

Why is it important to help the honey bees? Like I have already said honey bees and native bees have been disappearing. Another reason is because bees are major pollinators. Without the honey bees one in every three bites of food you eat we would not have. We would not have very much produce or grains or any meat. We would not enjoy the vast amounts of food we eat if not for the honey bee.

I really enjoyed sharing my knowledge and love of honey bees with my 4-H group.


A Hive that Died Because of Varroa Mites

In March, my mentors came over to check on some of their hives that they think had died. Three out of four of the hives on our property had died. One of the hives died because they were overrun with varroa mites.


Here we are beginning to open up the hives. The three hive that are in front are the dead colonies and the one that is farthest away is the alive colony.




Julie is cleaning up one of the dead hive. That colony died because the treatment Mike and Julie used to kill the varroa mites did not work well.



This clump of bees died while they were tightly clustered.




These dead bees fell to the bottom of this hive.




This is a close up picture of the cluster of dead bees. The tip of the hive tool is pointed at the queen.




These poor bees did not have a chance of surviving winter.




Here we are looking at the frames. Lots of honey remaining is a sign that the bees died due to varroa mite invasion.




Here we are packing up the equipment.




In this picture, you can see that some of the bees died before they could emerge from their cells. Some of the bees never even made it to the point where they could try to emerge. Some of the cells have tiny holes on the top. These holes are where the varroa mites crawled out of the cells to go attach themselves to another bee.


It was really sad to lose these three colonies, but now we know more about what can kill honey bees over the winter.



On a brighter note, the fourth hive is thriving. Here is a picture of the bees leaving their hive on a warm day.




The bees also left their hive from their bottom entrance.




More bees left the hive through the top entrance then the bottom entrance because the cluster was in the top box not the bottom.









CIBA March Meeting

The Central Iowa Beekeepers Association (CIBA) had a meeting in March. At this meeting Jamie Beyer, the vice president of CIBA, talked about how to build and place swarm hives. This was an interesting topic for my sisters and I because we want to catch a swarm. I have written a couple blog posts about swarms already. A swarm, like I have said in other posts, is the natural reproduction of a honey bee colony when the mother queen and part of the colony leaves the mother hive to find a new home. A swarm is something all beekeepers like to catch because it is free bees.

The plan that was suggested was this plan created by Dr. Leo Sharashkin. This trap was designed to be lightweight, durable, weather-tight, economical, easy to build, easy to transfer from place to place, and it allows for standard frames. The trap is lightweight because it is built out of plywood. It is easy to carry up to place in a tree, but it is harder to carry down from a tree because it will be full of bees. It is both durable and weather-tight partially due to the metal attached to the roof. The metal keeps rain out. This trap is economical because you can get four traps out of two pieces of plywood. This is another reason we like this trap. It is easy to build. We have not built any of these traps yet, but everyone who has built one says they are pretty easy to build. Because the traps are so tall, they are easy to transfer from place to place. Being lightweight helps make them easy to carry too. Because the trap uses standard frames it is easy to transfer a swarm to a permanent home. One can simply place the frames and the bees into a ten frame hive to transfer the bees.

He suggested adding a couple things that were not part of the plans. One of them was to add a 3/4 inch ventilation hole in the upper part of the trap. The hole should be angled so that rainwater cannot drip into the swarm trap. The hole should be covered with insect screen so that the bees cannot use it as an entrance. Mr. Beyer also suggested using a ventilated entrance gate. This is a plastic round piece that has different settings that control how open the entrance is. Writing something like “Saving Local Bees” on the trap may help eliminate potential vandalism problems. He ties a piece of 14 or 16 gauge wire around the top of his traps so that he can attach his hive like a picture to the tree. He does this so that he does not need to drill into the tree more than necessary. He also uses ratchet straps to keep the swarm traps in place.

To prepare a trap for its first use, the interior should be generously rubbed with propolis. Propolis makes the swarm trap more desirable to the bees because it makes the trap smell and feel like the hive they just left. A few drops of lemongrass essential oil should be put on a cotton ball and the cotton ball should be placed in a small container or bag. This should be placed at the bottom of the trap. The lemongrass oil smells similar to the queen pheromone. Six frames should be inserted into the trap. Nails should be placed on either side of the six frames at both ends. This prevents the frames from shifting and squashing bees. If possible a couple of the frames should have old comb on it. This attracts the bees to the swarm trap. The covers should be secured to the hive using screws or nails. Putting tow hooks on the side that will be facing out makes it easier to mount the trap.

Here are some of the keys to success he gave. Making sure to bait the hive using lemongrass oil and propolis. It is important to make sure not to put too much lemongrass on the cotton ball. If too much lemongrass is put on the cotton ball, the scent will be too strong for the bees. Using dark comb attracts the bees. The frames should be frozen before they are placed in the hive to freeze and kill any pests. The best height to place the trap is 12-15 feet above the ground. This is the height the scout bees look for new homes at. The traps should be visible. If branches are blocking the trap they should be trimmed. The trap should be completely shaded and painted a light color. The traps should be placed near a large landmark tree. This helps the bees remember where the trap is. If possible the traps should be placed near an apiary. This increases the chances of getting bees. It is especially smart to place traps by other people’s apiaries. The trap should be placed near a nectar source. This will increase the amount of bee traffic nearby. It should also be near a water source. Traps should be placed out as soon as the weather is consistently in the sixties and seventies. In Iowa, it is suggested to get them out by the middle of April. This year it is cold and wet so the traps may not get placed until May. The entrance should be pointed where it can be easily seen. The tree where swarms are caught should be used repeatedly.

Here are some things to remember and do when a swarm is caught. Just because there are bees flying in and out of the entrance does not mean a swarm has moved into the trap. These bees could be seeing if they can rob the trap or they may be checking out the trap. When a swarm is caught, the trap should be moved at least six miles from where it was caught. The swarm should be left in the trap for a week after it is at its new location so that the bees can reset their orientation. Swarm traps should be retrieved at night when all the foragers are at home. If there are bees outside the hive they should be gently smoked or spritzed with water.

I am excited to build swarm traps and to try to catch a few swarms.



Friendly Beekeepers of Iowa March Meeting

The week following the conclusion of the FBI’s beekeeping class was their monthly meeting. The meeting was about swarm cells and supersedure cells and the difference between them.

There are many differences between swarm cells and supersedure cells. The differences include but are not limited to why they were created, where they are built on the frame, and what to do with them.

Swarm cells are created by the bees when they are preparing to swarm. Swarming is the natural reproduction of a honey bee colony. Bees make more then one swarm cell to ensure that they will have a queen when the old queen leaves. Supercedure cells are created by the bees when the old queen dies suddenly or when the old queen is failing. Like with swarm cells, the bees make multiple supercedure cells to ensure a queen. Queens that came about when the old queen died suddenly are not always good because the bees may have made her a queen from an old egg or a young larvae.

Swarm cells are built on the bottom of a frame. Supercedure cells, however, are built on the side of the frame. Supercedure cells are built on the side of the frame because the bees did not necessarily plan for a new queen.

In a swarm, the mother queen leaves the hive shortly after her daughter queens have been capped. In a supercedure, the queen is often, but not always, dead before they create the supercedure cell.

When a swarm cell is found in a hive, a beekeeper can do a couple things. He could make a split. A split is when one hive is made into two or more. This is done by placing frames with a few swarm cells, a few frames of resources, and alone with bees in a new hive body. Some frames with swarm cells, resources, and bees are also left in the mother hive. By doing this, the bees think they swarmed because there are less bees in either hive. The hive that does not have the mother queen will raise a queen and the other hive will hopefully keep the mother queen and kill the daughter queen. A hive usually should not be split until there is a strong drone population.This insures that the queen will be able to mate quickly and with enough drones. A beekeeper could also graft the queens into nucs. This more complicated then splitting and hard to explain, but basically the queen cell is removed from the mother hive and put on a frame in a nuc. Bees are then added to the nuc. Supercedure cells should be left in the hive. The bees know what they are doing when they make supercedure cells so it is best to just leave them alone.

Sometimes the bees practice making swarm and supercedure cells. They build the cells, but do not let the queen lay eggs in them. When they are done practicing they tear down the cells.




Bonus Fact: Queens go about a mile away to mate with drones. They do this so that they do not mate with drones from their hive. This helps to keep the honey bee genetics diverse.

2018 Beekeeping Class: Week Seven – Products of the Hive

The final FBI beekeeping class was about the products that the hive produces. This class was taught by Bruce and Jeannette Greiner. They taught how to get the most out of a hive and what to do with the products from the hive.

Honey is probably what most people think of when they think about the products of a beehive. In order to have honey a beekeeper must remove the honey from the hive. When picking a day to harvest honey, a beekeeper will pick a nice, sunny afternoon. Most beekeepers wear gloves and at least a jacket and veil when extracting honey. It is also good to have a smoker, bee brush, extra covers, and maybe even fumigant and fume boards during honey harvesting. Smoking the bees lightly will help calm the bees down, but it also makes the bees eat the honey that you are trying to harvest. When selecting what honey should be harvested, how much of honey that is capped on the frame is the main consideration. At least eighty percent of the honey on a frame should be capped. Capped honey is a good sign that the honey is ready to be extracted, but this is not always true. Some uncapped honey may be dehydrated enough to harvest and some capped honey may not be dehydrated enough to harvest. The moisture content of the honey should be 18.6 percent moisture in order for the honey not to ferment. A refractometer can be used to measure the moisture content in honey. Another less exact way to measure if uncapped honey is dehydrated enough to harvest is to tap the frame of honey against a hard surface. If the honey drips out, it is not dehydrated enough to harvest. If the honey does not drip out, it is most likely dehydrated enough to harvest. When harvesting honey, the beekeeper goes systematically through the super and removes any frames that he wants to extract the honey from. The beekeeper makes sure the bees are off the frames then places the frames into an empty super. Once the beekeeper is done harvesting the honey, he stores the honey in a safe place until he can extract. To extract honey a beekeeper either uses an extractor or the crush and strain method. Extracting honey using and extractor is the more common method. An extractor is a large cylinder that holds frames and spins them to remove the honey. Before placing the frames in the extractor, the beekeeper removes the cappings. A beekeeper uses an uncapping knife, cappings scratcher, or normal knife to remove the cappings. Then the beekeeper places the frames in the extractor and spins them until all the honey comes out. After extracting the honey, the beekeeper will strain it using food grade paint strainers or special honey strainers. Next, the beekeeper lets the honey settle in buckets. Once the honey has settled, the beekeeper will remove the foam from the top of the honey. Finally, the beekeeper bottles the honey. Two things a beekeeper needs to be careful about is honey crystallizing and honey absorbing moisture. Honey crystallizes fastest in cool, dark places. It also crystallizes faster when there is little honey in the container. To uncrystallize honey, all a person needs to do is slowly warm it up. To prevent honey from absorbing moisture, a beekeeper can simply run a dehumidifier in the area the honey is. There are different types of honey that can be bought and sold. Different season and flavor honey is one of the variations. Spring honey is a rare and highly sought after flavor of honey. Comb honey, chunk honey, and creamed honey are other types of honey, Comb honey is honey that is still in the comb. Chunk honey is a small piece of comb honey that is place in a jar then the remaining space is filled with honey. Creamed honey is crystallized honey. This is not, however, honey that is just allowed to crystallized, it is honey that is purposefully crystallized to create a smooth texture.

After the honey is harvested, honey supers should be frozen for twenty-eight to seventy-two hours. This kills any wax moth eggs that are in the supers. After the supers have been frozen, the supers should be placed in big, heavy duty garbage bags. The garbage bags should be sealed tightly to ensure that nothing can get in.

Beeswax is another product of the beehive. Wax is used to make candles, lotions, lip balms, and lubricants. New, bright wax should be used in lotions, lip balms, and other such products. Dark wax should be used in lubricants and candles that were not created using molds.

Burr comb is comb built anywhere except on the frames. Clean burr comb can be used in almost anything. Clean comb is comb that no brood has been in and no chemicals have been used on.



These are gift baskets that have been entered in the state fair. These baskets show just how much one can do with the products of a hive.



This picture shows honey in bear jars, both dipped and molded candles, and filtered beeswax.


This picture shows honey and creamed honey.


This is a broad picture of a variety of stuff entered in the state fair.

Pollen can be a product of the hive if the beekeeper is willing to put the effort into collecting it. Pollen traps can be bought to collect pollen in. Pollen traps are placed at the bottom of the hive. The bees have to go through the pollen trap in order to enter their hive. The pollen falls of the bees legs as they go through the trap. A pollen trap should only be left on the hive two to three days because if too much pollen is taken away from the bees, they will not have enough pollen to feed the baby bees.

Propolis is a sticky resin the bees collect from trees. Propolis has antibacterial properties. People who are interested in health may be interested in collecting propolis. Propolis can also be used to rub on the inside of a swarm trap.

There are lots of ways to use the products of the hive.




2018 Beekeeping Class: Week Six – Honey Bee Diseases, Parasites, and Nest Invaders

Week six of the beekeeping class was on honey bee diseases, parasites, and nest invaders. This is a very important topic because the list of diseases, parasites, and nest invaders of the honey bees has grown hugely in the last few decades. This class was taught by a special guest speaker, Pat Ennis.

A hygienic queen is one of the best ways to prevent diseases. A hygienic queen is a queen that produces offspring with the tendency towards cleanliness. Being careful not to spread diseases will obviously help prevent diseases. Good queens will help prevent diseases. Good queens are queens that have not been made by supercedure or emergency cells. Good queens are also well fed. Another way to help prevent diseases is to rotate treatments in order to help prevent resistant strings of diseases and pests. Keeping clean equipment and being careful when transferring frames between hives helps prevent diseases from spreading. Apiary inspections done by the state apiarist also help to catch diseases in their early stages.

Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) is a direct cause of varroa mites. The signs of DWV are unusual looking wings. Preventing varroa mites is the best way to prevent DWV. I will talk more about how to prevent varroa mites later in this post.

Chalkbrood was one of the first diseases he talked about. Chalkbrood kills brood before they are capped. At first, brood that has died due to chalkbrood are hard and white. They look like chalk which is why it is called chalkbrood. After a while, the dead larvae are grey or black. A hygienic queen will help prevent chalkbrood. Moisture can be a cause of chalkbrood. Worker bees are able to tell when sickness is in the hive and they usually remove any carrier of the disease. A way to prevent chalkbrood is to be careful not to spread the spores. One can do this by not making splits from a hive that has had chalkbrood and by not reusing frames. Requeening can help stop chalkbrood from continuing in a hive.

American Foul Brood (AFB) is one of the absolute worst diseases honey bees can develop. Signs of AFB is sunken, perforated caps, ropiness in dead brood, a random brood pattern, and the appearance of scales in cells. To test for ropiness in dead brood a  tooth pick or a small stick should be inserted into the cell that contains the dead bee.  If you can pull a rope of dead bee with the stick, it is probably AFB. There is no good treatment for AFB. Terramycin and Tylon can be used as a preventative. When purchasing an established hive or a nuc you should always, always get the equipment and bees inspected by your state apiarist. If you do have AFB, the only method to completely get rid of the disease is to burn the equipment and bees. Some states even require everything to be burned.

European Foul Brood (EFB) is a disease that is similar to AFB but not as bad. Signs of EFB is yellow, twisted dead larvae. The larvae die before they are capped. Terramysin and Tylon can be used as a preventative. To prevent EFB, one should keep the apiary clean, isolate the infected colonies, and requeen with a hygienic queen.

Nosema is an intestinal disease. Everything the bees do can spread the disease. Nosema reduces the bees longivity. Well-selected wintering sights and strong winter bees can help prevent Nosema. Flumagillan can help prevent nosema. A hygienic queen will help prevent nosema.

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is when bees just leave the hive. Sudden death, lack of adult bees, plenty of food left in the hive, a remaining queen, and delayed robbery and nest invasions are all signs of CCD. Replacing older combs with fresh frames or removing foundation is thought to help prevent CCD. Frames should be replace after three to five years of use. Sanitizing hive tools by sticking it in the smoker for a short amount of time may help prevent CCD. Keeping clean gloves and a clean suit may help prevent CCD. It is also important to be careful what frames you transfers between hives.

Wax moths are moths that eat beeswax, honey, brood, and the pollen the bees store. Wax moths go after weak hives. Storing equipment properly will help prevent wax moths from destroying colonies.

Small hive beetles also go after weak hives. If small hive beetles are in your hive something else is probably wrong with your hive.

Varroa mites are one of the worst pests to honey bees. Varroa mites are really hard to see on honey bees. They first attach themselves to larvae and pupae. Varroa mites spread diseases such as Deformed Wing Virus (DWV), Kashmir Bee Virus (KBV), Acute Bee Paralysis Virus (ABPV), Black Queen Cell Virus (BQCV), and sacbrood to name just a few. One sign of a high varroa mite level is bees with DWV. These bees wings are shriveled up or misshaped. If you see lots of varroa mites on your bees, the varroa mite level is extremely high.

This picture shows bees that died from varroa mites before they were even born. You can see little holes in the cappings of the cells. These holes are where the vorroa mites crawled chewed through then crawled out of the cells.

There are a couple ways to check for mites. One of the ways is to check any brood cells that are between the frames for mites. To do this you rip open the cells and just look at the larvae to see how many mites are on the bees. Another way to check for bee is to buy a screened bottom board. A screen bottom board is a bottom board that is wire. Under the wire is a tray. To test for mites, one spreads Vaseline on it. After a couple days a mite count can be taken. This number tells the beekeeper if he needs to treat and how he should treat. The most common way to check for mites is to do a alcohol, lighter fluid, of powdered sugar roll. The way to do this is to put some alcohol, lighter fluid, or powdered sugar in a jar. Then a half cup of bees (about three hundred) is added to the jar. The bees are then rolled in the substance. Finally, the bees and mites are poured out and the mites are counted. The beekeeper then knows how to treat the bees. The more mites there are the more likely the beekeeper is to treat for the mites. A mite count should be taken in spring and fall and before and after treatments are used. Treatments should be only used when the honey supers are off the hive unless the treatment states otherwise. The varroa mite population in a hive doubles every seventeen days. Some common treatments for mites are Apigaurd, Apivar, ocalic acid, and Hop Gaurd 2. Some treatments may not work for all beekeepers. One of these treatments did not work for one of my mentors hives.

Understanding what causes diseases and knowing how to get rid of pests is very important subject for every beekeeper to know.


Mom and Miriam smiling for a picture with Abigail photo bombing.



Doyle beginning the class.




Miriam was excited about the cappings scratcher we won.



Olivia reading the bee book and our littlest sister trying to avoid the camera.





2018 Beekeeping Class: Week Five – Off Season Management

Week five of the beekeeping class was on off season management. Off season management is very important for Iowans because our winters are cold and long.

Like I have said in other posts, beekeeping is local. Different strategies for off season management are used in different areas. In Iowa, disease and mite control, adequate food stores, and winter protection are the three main concerns of preparing a hive for winter. The strength of the bees going into winter will determine whether or not your colony will come out of winter alive. This is why disease and mite control, adequate food stores, and winter protection are essential to the bees’ survival.

A beekeeper needs to be thinking about winter in the fall, really, late summer. As soon as the supers are removed from the hives, a beekeeper needs to check and treat for varroa. Varroa mites can easily kill a colony if there is a large population in the colony. Beekeepers treat for varroa mites in the fall because there is a break in the brood cycle because the queen stops laying eggs.

In the fall, the bees need to also be fed 2:1, by weight, sugar syrup. A hive needs to have between 110-120 lbs. of honey in order to have a strong chance of over-winter survival. An entrance reducer and a mouse guard should be put on the hives. An entrance reducer allows the bees to defend their colony better and a mouse guard ensures that mice do not take up residence in the hive. Another thing that beekeepers in Iowa do in preparation for winter is a technique called mountain camp. A mountain camp is pilling sugar on damp newspaper at the top of the hive. This is important because it creates an emergency food supply for the bees and helps reduce moisture condensation.

Some beekeepers, to give their bees some extra protection from the cold, wrap their bees in tar paper. The tar paper absorbs heat from the sun and warms the hive. Almost all beekeepers put upper entrances on the hive to create better ventilation and allow the bees to go on cleansing flights. Cleansing flights are flights the bees take on warm winter days to relieve themselves. Upper entrances can save the bees if the bottom entrance becomes buried in snow.

The thing to remember about winter management is that you need to always be one step ahead. It is important to think about the next season well before it has started.

Here is a extremely general calendar for an Iowan beekeepers year. April 15th is time to install bees and feed them syrup and a pollen patty. Boxes should be added according to the 7/10 rule. When the bees basically stop eating from the feeder a beekeeper will remove it. Once both brood boxes are on and full to the 7/10 rule supers should be added. Honey should be removed in late July to early August. Immediately after supers are removed, a mite count should be taken and the bees should be treated for mites, if needed. In the middle of September, the honey bee’s stores should be assessed and they should be fed. Then in spring you start the cycle over again.

This class was rather short so Doyle talked a bit about the Iowa State Fair. He encouraged everyone to enter in the beekeeping categories. There are lots of categories in our state fair. Some of them are rarely entered in. We have entered both beekeeping photos and wax candles in the state fair. We are planning to enter these categories and more this year.



2018 Beekeeping Class: Week Four – Management for Honey Production and Pollination

Managing honey bees for honey production and pollination was the topic of the fourth week of the FBI’s beekeeping class. During this class, we learned different management techniques for keeping bees to harvest honey and for pollination. Eric Kenoyer taught this class. Some of the things brought up in the beekeeping class is probably only correct for the Midwest.

Three spring management techniques used in the spring are establishing a colony, caring for a new colony, and managing an overwintered colony. Establishing a new colony can be done a couple ways. It can either be done by installing a package, buying a nuc, buying an overwintered colony, or splitting a overwintered colony. Buying a package, buying a nuc, and buying a overwintered colony are all ways to get into beekeeping. Buying a package and buying a nuc are the most common ways to get started. Caring for a new colony is inspecting a new colony and building the colony up. One wants their hives to be healthy. A healthy hive has good nutrition, a young fertile queen, and should not have a damaging level of diseases and parasites. One can make sure that the colony will have good nutrition by giving them sugar water and a pollen patty before the spring bloom begins. Evidence of a young, fertile queen is a strong brood pattern with eggs and larvae of all stages. Usually, no extra honey is produced by the bees the first year. Managing an overwintered colony can include splitting the hive. Splitting the hive means taking part of the hive and part of the bees and creating two hives from one.

During spring the bees will be looking for food. The first food for the bees is dandelions. This is why beekeepers are always telling people not to spray dandelions. Another floral source for bees is clover. Yellow sweet clover and Dutch clover are especially good flowers for bees. It is important to have lots of floral sources for bees to forage. If possible, having flowers that are in bloom from early spring to late fall is ideal. Some of the best floral sources for bees are considered weeds.

One of the biggest factors a beekeeper has to consider when managing for honey production is swarming. Swarming is a colony’s natural way to reproduce, When a colony swarms, it goes from one colony to two or more. The colony size, the queen, congestion in the brood nest, and worker age can all be causes of swarming. A large colony will swarm. If the colony is two big for the space they have, they will swarm. As a general rule, if the bees have filled seven to ten of the frames in the top box they need another box. Whether a deep or a super box is added depends on the time of year. A deep is added in early spring if the colony only has one deep. If the bees already have two deeps, honey supers are often added. The queen can cause a swarm if her pheromone is not being distributed through to hive well enough. If this happens the bees will make a new queen then they will swarm. To prevent this colonies can be split. Congestion in the brood nest causes swarms because the bees simply do not have enough space. This can be prevented by making sure the bees have enough space in the brood nest. If there are too many worker bees in a colony, they will sometimes swarm. This happens because the young worker bees do not want to stick to their job. They want to become foragers, but because there are not any younger bees they are stuck with being nurse or house bees. There are many reasons that the bees swarm, but these are some of the main reasons.

When the bees are preparing to swarm, they make swarm cells. Swarm cells are enlarged, peanut-shaped cells that bees raise queens in when preparing to swarm. Swarm cells are found on the bottom of the frame. When the swarm cells have been capped, the mother queen will take half the colony and leave the hive in search of a new home. The first queen to emerge will take over as queen and will kill her competitors. If two queens emerge at almost the same time, they will fight until one kills the other. Sometimes the first queen to emerge will take half of the remaining bees and swarm again. In this case, the second queen to emerge will become the queen of the colony.

Sometimes a beekeeper will see swarm cells built off the middle of the frame. These are not swarm cells; they are either supercedure cells or emergency queen cells. Supercedure cells are queen cells that the bees make when they want to replace their queen. They will replace their queen if she is failing, not producing enough brood consistently, or if they do not like her. Emergency queen cells are queen cells the bees create to make a queen if she suddenly disappeared. If a colony does not have a queen there will be no eggs, more then one egg per cell, no brood, or only drone brood. If there is more then one egg and only drone brood, a worker is laying the eggs. A laying worker bee is a worker that develops the capabilities to produce eggs. Because workers cannot mate with drones they can only produce drones. A colony will die off if they are only producing drones. There are two ways to remove a laying worker from a hive. If it is a strong hive, you take the frames 150 yards away from where the hive is and shake all the bees off onto the ground. Then put the boxes back. All the bees, except laying workers, will go back to the hive. If it is a weak colony, the best thing might be to shake the bees off in front of a stronger hive. The bees will enter into this stronger colony and stay. Sometimes a new queen can lay multiple eggs when they first start out laying. Eventually she will stop laying multiple eggs. Sometimes it is essential to replace a queen. This can be done by either buying a queen or letting the colony raise their own queen. A beekeeper should buy a queen if the hive has no eggs. If a hive has eggs, they can create their own queen.





2018 Beekeeping Class: Week Three- Getting Started

Week three of the FBI’s beekeeping class was on getting started with bees. This class explained how to choose where to place a beehive, how to install bees into the hive, and the basic schedule for a beekeepers first year. Doyle Kincy taught this class.


Doyle is explaining how to begin beekeeping.



Doyle said that all beginning beekeepers should get two hive initially. This is important because then the beginning beekeeper will be able to compare what is normal in a beehive. This also means that resources can be shared between hives.

Things to look for in a location for beehives are how the sun shines on the location, where the nearest water source is, if there is a windbreaker, and how flat and dry it is. Beehives should be placed in a sunny location. The sun should shine on the beehives to encourage activity. If there is lots of morning sunlight, the bees are more likely to wake up early and get to work. A nearby water source is very important. Bees will go to the closest, strongest water source near by. Neighbors do not appreciate honey bees visiting their pools. The water supply should be monitored and kept full because on hot days the water will just disappear. Another thing the bees need in cold climates is a windbreaker. I live in Iowa and winters in Iowa are very cold and windy. We have a small woody area as a windbreaker. A tall fence or even a temporary windbreaker that is just put up in the winter would work as well. The windbreaker should be to the north of the beehives. The apiary should be flat and accessible. Beehives should sit on a somewhat flat surface. Leaning the beehives slightly so that water can drain out the entrance will help prevent moisture from building up in the hive. Hives should have sure, flat foundations.Concrete bricks, pallets, or hive stands bought from a beekeeping equipment suppliers are some of the more common foundations. An accessible apiary is important because it is easier to hull equipment to and from the apiary location. Avoiding damp, humid areas is incredibly important. Dampness is one of the bees worst enemy. If bees get damp, especially in the winter, they have a harder time staying warm and healthy. The front of the hives should face south. They should never be faced north because the cold northern winds will blow right into the hive, chilling the bees.

Three other things to consider when choosing an apiary location are neighbor concerns, pesticide concerns, and livestock concerns. Sometimes neighbors of beekeepers will have doubts about living near bees. It is the beekeepers responsibility to make sure that his neighbors know about his bees and try to make them okay that he has bees. One easy way beekeepers do this is by giving his neighbors a bottle of honey. Placing the beehives in out of the way, inconspicuous locations is a good idea if neighbors are uncertain about having bees nearby. Having a water source for the bees will help make sure that the bees will not go to the neighbor’s pool. Another concern is pesticides. This is an especially big deal in rural areas near farms. Just like with neighbors, beekeepers who live in rural areas like to talk to their local farmers. They tell the the farmers that they have bees near their fields and ask the farmers to give them a call the night before the farmers are planning to spray their fields. The beekeepers do this so that they can close up their bees the night before the farmer sprays. Some cities spray for mosquitoes. It is wise to contact one’s local government and ask to be called the night before they are going to be spraying to ensure that the bees will be protected. The final concern is livestock. If a beekeeper has livestock, the beekeeper makes sure that the beehives can not be knocked over by any livestock. Another animal consideration is if bears live nearby. If bears are in the area, it may be well worth the investment to buy an electric fence to protect the bees.

The time to order packages is early in the year, in January or February. Some suppliers will ship the package to the beekeeper, but others will require the beekeeper to pick them up. When we get our package we are going keep the bees in a cool, shady location such as a basement or garage until we can install them. Hopefully, we will be able to install our packages the day we pick them up. If the feeding can is low in the package, the bees should be sprayed with a 1:1 sugar syrup mixture. 1:1 sugar syrup is one part sugar to one part water by weight. If it is cold, it is unwise to spray them too much because the bees will get cold, but if it is warm this is not a concern.

When installing a package, a deep box should be set in the apiary location. The entrance reducer should be put on the smallest setting and put in the entrance. The entrance reducer creates a smaller entrance. This is helpful, because it creates a smaller entrance for the bees to defend. It is also important to wear a veil and to have a hive tool handy. A spray bottle of 1:1 sugar syrup and the feeder should be ready to use. This recipe is a good recipe for sugar syrup.

The temperature when installing packages should be around 50 degrees at the coldest. One deep box should already be set up and the feeder should be filled with 1:1 sugar syrup. First the bees should be sprayed with 1:1 sugar syrup. Then pound the package against something so that all the bees will fall to the bottom of the package. Now remove one of the middle frames of the deep. This space is where queen cage will be put. Next remove the feeding can. Cover the hole left by the feeding can with a piece of cardboard or wood so that the bees do not fly out. The next step is to carefully remove the queen cage. The queen cage will have a piece of cork stuffed in a hole on the bottom of the cage. If there is a candy plug behind this cork all that is needed is to pull out the cork. If, however, the cage does not have a candy plug behind the cork, the beekeeper will want to sit in a small enclosed area and carefully remove the cork and stuff a marshmallow in the hole. It is important that the queen is facing away from the cork when the cork is removed so that she does not fly out of the queen cage. After some sort of candy plug is at the bottom of the of the queen cage, the queen should be put in a loose pocket so that she stays warm. Next, the cover should be removed from the bees and the bees should be gently dumped into the box. Gently pounding the bees against the side of the hive to drop all the bees on the bottom of the package is a good way to clump all the bees up. It is not necessary to get all the bees into the hive. The package can be left tilted at the front of the hive so that the remaining bees in the package can crawl into the hive. The queen cage should be carefully hung between two of the middle frames.  The wired part of the queen cage should not face the frame so that the queen will easily be able to breath.

The bees should be inspected in three days to see if the bees have released the queen. If they have not, put the queen cage back, check the level of the sugar syrup, and close up the hive. If they have released the queen, check for eggs, check the sugar syrup level, and close up the hive. If you do not see eggs, but they have released the queen, you should check the sugar syrup level and close up the hive. After ten days from installation, you should inspect the hive again. You should definitely see eggs during this inspection. If you do not see eggs, you should try to find the queen. If you cannot find the queen you need to order a replacement queen. During most hive inspection a beekeeper will use a smoker. To light a smoker one lights newspaper, place it in the smoker, and slowly add your fuel. Pine needles, wood shavings, twigs, and similar fuel works well. Once a good flame is going, the smoker should be tightly packed and a cool, white smoke should be coming out of the smoker. Hives should be inspected roughly every ten days. Eggs, the queen, brood in all stages, ample supplies of honey and pollen, symptoms of pests parasites, and diseases, and signs of overcrowding should be looked for during every inspection.

Here is a general calendar for any beehives first year. Because beekeeping is local, this calendar is correct for a beehive in the Midwest, but is most likely not correct for any other area in the United States. In April through May, spring maintenance should be done along with swarm control (which I will write about in a later blog post), and certain pests should be treated for (I will write about this in a later blog post). The bees will begin building up the colony. May through July is when a beekeeper should start adding supers. Additional boxes, whether deeps or supers, should be added when seven to ten frames in the top box are being worked on by the bees. August is when the honey supers are removed and harvested. The bees should be treated after the supers are removed and before the bees are fed. August through September is when the bees should be treated for mites, and when the bees should be fed. 2:1 sugar syrup is most commonly used to feed the bees for winter alone with a winter patty. November through March is the time to read books on beekeeping, to take a beekeeping class, and to work on maintenance of equipment or make new equipment. The bees should be occasionally checked when the temperature is around forty-five degrees Fahrenheit.



Your younger sisters enjoyed all the treats.



Bethany and me ready to learn.



Here are my mentors who attended the class with us.








2018 Beekeeping Class: Week Two – The Hive and Its Accessories

Abigail and Bethany both had a prior 4-H commitment the night of this bee class, so I get to guest post on their blog.  – Susan (aka Mom)

The Hive and Its Accessories is the topic for this week’s bee class.  The colony of bees lives in a hive, a man made home for the bees. There are many different ways to keep bees and many different variations of each hive set up.  When we talk about a hive on this blog, we are talking about a typical 10 frame Langstroth Hive.  I am only going to cover the very basics of hive set up and tools needed to keep bees.  I know there will be a lot missing, but if you want more info, you can read one of the books the girls recommend in earlier posts.

A Langstroth hive consists of a bottom board, with an entrance reducer, two brood boxes (deeps), two or more honey supers (shallows), inner cover, and a telescoping outer cover.  Each box contains 10 frames, either wood or plastic and with or without plastic foundation.  Bees don’t start in that set up however.  Typically, bees start with one deep box and then another box is added when the comb is drawn out on 7 of the 10 frames.  Once the hive has two deeps on it, a honey super is typically added.  When 7 of 10 frames are drawn out, another super is typically added.  Since many hive kits come with 2 deeps (brood boxes) and 2 supers (shallows), if more supers are needed, the beekeeper has to decide whether to harvest honey or buy more supers.  That is a topic for a different day.

The most economical way to purchase hive equipment is non assembled. That means that you need to build the boxes yourself, but they are pretty easy to do because they are built to make it easy to assemble. If you know someone with a pneumatic nail gun, that is the speediest way to assemble them. You do want to make sure you have high quality wood glue.  Doyle recommends Tight Bond III.

This is what a typical late spring set up may look like. The hive on the left, has 2 deeps on the bottom and one super on top.  The hive on the right has 2 deeps.  The screen in front of the hive is a robbing screen.  It makes it harder for bees that don’t belong there to get into the hive.



This is what a frame of drawn comb looks like.  There is a sheet of plastic foundation under the beeswax that the bees built out.

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This is what a late summer set up can look like.  Notice they are not exactly like I described earlier.  Sometimes bees have a mind of their own or the beekeeper only has certain equipment available at the time so they do the best they can with what they have.  You would think this is 4 colonies of bees because you only see 4 stacks of hives, but in reality, there are 5 colonies here.  The tall stack of hives somehow a second queen was made above the queen excluder and then there were two colonies in that hive body, separated by a queen excluder.  I don’t even remember all the details of how it happened, but it was a pretty fun thing to be able to see as Mike and Julie worked their hives.



Another component of the hive is the hive feeder. When there is no natural occurring food available for the bees, it is important to feed them. This can be done in many different ways, in body hive feeders, feeder inside the hive, but not in the frames of the hive, outside feeders. Basically any way to provide the bees with sugar water that won’t attract bees from other hives.

If you look in a beekeeping catalog, you will find thousands of dollars can be spent on hive bodies and tools to work the hive. Experienced beekeepers will tell you that not all tools are necessary. Most companies will also sell beginner hive kits that consist of a complete hive and the basic tools necessary to get started. These tools include a hive tool, bee brush, smoker, bee jacket. Other helpful tools that you likely have already include duct tape, shims, lighter, fuel for your smoker, and a clean spray bottle. A few other tools that you might want to purchase include a frame holder, to make inspections easier, extra hive tools, because they are easily lost or misplaced, and a frame grabber.

One thing we are hoping to be able to do this summer is to catch a swarm or 2. There were some specific tools recommended for swarm catching, they include a nuc box (1/2 size of a regular 10 frame hive), handheld garden clippers, spray bottle for sugar water, duct tape, frames with drawn comb. If you don’t have a truck and the bees will have to ride with you in the vehicle, some sort of netted bag large enough to hold the nuc box or cardboard box of bees would be helpful.


Thanks for letting me guest post girls.